Saturday, February 18

Real Life Diagnostics: A Voice From Afar: Voice in Third Person

Real Life Diagnostics is a weekly column that studies a snippet of a work in progress for specific issues. Readers are encouraged to send in work with questions, and I diagnose them on the blog. It’s part critique, part example, designed to help the submitter as well as anyone else having a similar problem.

If you're interested in submitting to Real Life Diagnostics, check out the page for guidelines.

Submissions currently in the queue: Eight

This week’s questions:

This is the beginning of my WIP, which is written in 3rd Person. I find it difficult to establish voice in 3rd Person, but it feels like the best POV for this story. Does this create a voice that is distinct enough to keep a reader engaged? Is there enough of a hook to keep you reading? I've also read that too much description about clothing is the mark of a novice writer, but shortly after this scene, the reader learns that Sameen and her uncle are ostracized by the prejudicial villagers because they look and dress differently. Is this brief description of the stranger's similar manner of dress too much, or will it help establish a natural connection between the two characters?
On to the diagnosis…

Original text:
Unlike the rest of the villagers, the Magicians didn’t ignore her. She would have taken a different route had there been one, but the only road out of the city took her past their stalls. They leered at her as she passed. “Buy a trick?” they caroled, and laughed when she shook her head, not meeting their eyes. One of them leaned close enough to whisper, “Here’s one for free, then,” and Sameen jumped as the road near her feet exploded in a cloud of colorful smoke. She pressed the leather purse tighter against her waist to try and muffle the clinking of the coins as she ducked under their arms and hurried on.

Someone called to her out of the crowd, but she kept her eyes on the road and continued walking until a hand took her by the arm. Startled, she spun around to face an older man she did not recognize—at least not completely. There was something familiar about his face, yet it felt like a memory that belonged to someone else. She wondered how he knew her.

“Excuse me,” he said. “I did not mean to frighten you.”

It took Sameen a moment to understand his words through his accent, but it was not as strange to her as she first supposed. He talks like Kenlin, she thought, recognizing the same stressing of unusual syllables that had long made neighbors suspicious of her uncle. The man even dressed in the same peculiar style—a white, embroidered tunic and a long overcoat over loose-fitting trousers and a pair of tall leather boots—and his hair was as dark as her own.

My Thoughts in Purple:
[Unlike the rest of the villagers, the Magicians didn’t ignore her.] Intriguing. What about her draws their attention I wonder. This makes me curious. She would have taken a different route had there been one, but the only road out of the city took her past their stalls. Too add a touch more voice, you might consider some internalization from her here about what this means for her They leered at her as she passed. “Buy a trick?” they [caroled] Small thing, but do you mean cajoled, as in coax, or caroled as in sing? If it's sing, you might consider a different word as carols have a religious connection in popular culture that feels out of place in a fantasy world, and laughed when she shook her head, not meeting their eyes. [One of them leaned close enough to whisper, “Here’s one for free, then,” and Sameen jumped as the road near her feet exploded in a cloud of colorful smoke. She pressed the leather purse tighter against her waist to try and muffle the clinking of the coins as she ducked under their arms and hurried on.] I love this, but it feels a tad told. Perhaps try showing this through her eyes? Something like:

One of them leaned close. “Here’s one for free, then.”

The road near her feet exploded in a cloud of colorful smoke. Sameen jumped. [good spot for some emotional internalization] She ducked under their arms and hurried on, pressing the leather purse tighter against her waist and muffling the clinking of the coins.

Someone called to her out of the crowd, Good spot for internalization to show how she reacts to this call but she kept her eyes on the road and continued walking [until a hand took her by the arm] telling a bit here with the "until". Startled, she spun around to face an older man she did not recognize—[at least not completely. There was something familiar about his face, yet it felt like a memory that belonged to someone else. She wondered how he knew her.] This is the first time so far I've felt Sameen as a person, which is where the voice comes in. But I'm still not getting a strong sense of who she is yet because I'm not in her head.

[“Excuse me,” he said. “I did not mean to frighten you.”] Aside from "startled" I don't feel that she's scared, but I imagine she must be overall. Showing more of her fear and what's going through her mind would help readers connect to her better and get her voice across.

It took Sameen a moment to understand his words through his accent, but it was not as strange to her as she first supposed. He talks like Kenlin, she thought, recognizing the same stressing of unusual syllables that had long made neighbors suspicious of her uncle. The man even dressed in the same peculiar style—a white, embroidered tunic and a long overcoat over loose-fitting trousers and a pair of tall leather boots—and his hair was as dark as her own.

The questions:
Does this create a voice that is distinct enough to keep a reader engaged?

It sounds like a fantasy novel, which has both good and bad points. Good, because it does fit the genre you're writing in, bad because I'm not yet getting a sense of who Sameen is. There's little here so far that's her seeing and experiencing this world and feeling one way or another about it. I'd suggest adding some internalization so we see her personality and how she views her world. That will allow you to show her voice (and yours) in how she thinks. Tastes vary here, but for me, voice comes through best when you can feel the person behind the words. You know there's a soul in that character.

Is there enough of a hook to keep you reading?
I find the trickster sales Magicians very interesting, and that detail alone makes me want to see more of this world. I'd read on.

Is this brief description of the stranger's similar manner of dress too much, or will it help establish a natural connection between the two characters?
I think the description fits naturally with the situation and flows fine in the text. There's just enough to show why she recognizes him and what makes him different, but not so much it bogs the story down.

Overall, this is a good start, and I'd suggest fleshing it out just a tad to get Sameen's personality in there. You mentioned you have trouble with third person, and I suspect this might be because you're staying too far above the narrator and not seeing the world through her eyes. (this is just a guess) You clearly have a solid grasp of what's happening here, but it feels like I'm watching it from the outside. (easy to do in third person when you feel that you are describing the scene as is unfolds).

Internalization can help with that. You've got a nice sense of place and descriptions, the action is working, so try adding in her thoughts and opinions on what she sees for that emotional layer to tie it all together. Show Sameen's reactions, not just in what she does but what she thinks. Maybe even rephrase a descriptive detail or two to how she'd see it.

For example, one line says "not meeting their eyes." Sameen might describe those eyes in a certain way that would tell us about her and the Magicians. "not meeting their greedy little eyes" or "not meeting their souless eyes" or even "not meeting their desperate eyes." You don't want to overload the text with descriptions, but a word or two here and there can make the descriptions Sameen's and not "the author's."

Thanks to our brave volunteer for submitting this for me to play with. I hope they – and others – find it helpful. I don’t do a full critique on these, (just as it pertains to the questions) and I encourage you to comment and make suggestions of your own. Just remember that these pieces are works in progress, not polished drafts, so be nice and offer constructive feedback.

10 comments:

  1. Hey, here's a tip that works for me:
    When I want to write in third person but in a particular character's close up perspective, sometimes I'll write the scene in first person, then just change the "I"s and such to "her/she"s. That way, when writing in first person, you get lots of the character's voice and internalization. Hope this helps!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I really enjoyed this. I don't think the clothing description seems out of place at all. And 3rd works for it, too. Janice's comments about internalization are right on.... something I'm working on myself. I'd definitely keep reading.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I think this is a great first page. I'd keep reading.

    3rd person is hard to write. I think if you follow Janice's suggestions and add some internalizations here and there, the reader can discover who the character is. Rebecca's tip is also good. I'll have to try that with my own writing.

    As for the clothes - if the differences are important to the story - if the characters classify others by their clothing - then by all means mention them. I thought the way you did it was very unobtrusive.

    Great sample and good luck.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I like the example but as mentioned internalizations will help loads. I don't think the clothing matters. Although I love 3rd person, for me, it's difficult to write. I wish you luck.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Not a reader of fantasy, I have no idea where this story might head, but it intrigued me. It seemed like a very good start, and the suggested Tweeks were great (and very helpful with our own WIP's).

    Wishing you all the best!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I would keep reading. I don't know your story, but it feels like right spot to start. This alone is huge. Bringing in her internalization will help the reader feel her fear and connect with the character more. Tweak - good start.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Nice opening! You might also consider tweaking the opening line to help anchor it in Sameen's POV.

    The way the line currently reads, we're introduced to "the rest of the villagers" and "the Magicians" before we actually get to Sameen. A simple change like "Sameen drew the Magicians' eyes as she walked past their stalls" would help put her front and center from the beginning.

    Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
  8. I also find it difficult to find my voice while writing in the third person POV. The feeback from Janice is definitely helpful.

    Good luck on rewrites!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thank you all! Janice, your advice is invaluable, as always. And all of these lovely and helpful comments have absolutely made my day. Thanks to all of you, I have a plan and I'm excited to get to work!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Most welcome Jess, thanks for submitting! Good luck with your book. And thanks to all who offered such great feedback.

    ReplyDelete