Saturday, March 24

Real Life Diagnostics: Being Thoughtful. Can You Have Too Much Internal Thought?

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: Four


This week’s question:
Does this passage of internal dialogue work or is it too much internal dialogue?
Note: The narrator is a sever year old girl.

On to the diagnosis…

Original text:
With my clean hand, I pull up the covers and straighten my twisted pajamas. They used to be my favorite, pink with tiny purple flowers. I don’t like them anymore.

Two cuckoos.

Wish I could turn on a light and read. I trace the diamond-shaped ridges on my bedspread with my clean index finger, picking at tufts of thread and pulling them out one-by-one, a little here, a little there so Mommy won’t notice. Three cuckoos. Morning is far away.

I bite the fingernails on my clean hand. They’re so short there isn’t much to chew. I have to stop crying. What if he catches me? I pull one strand of hair, then another. Pain helps.

What just happened? My mind is one big ache. I take a breath and pull a hair. My face scrunches to cry. Pull a hair. Take a deep breath. Pull a hair. The ache doesn’t go away.

Do I tell Mommy?

Mommy gets drunk and says things that get him mad. She might tell.

Maybe, if she knew, she’d stop him.

No, she’s afraid of him, too. She can’t keep a secret.

I feel as if his hands are still pinching me.

Am I stupid, dumb and ugly?

Four cuckoos. The gook is dry and cracks when I close my dirty hand.

Finally it’s five o’clock and they get up.

I pretend to be asleep, but peek between my lashes.

Daddy walks to the bathroom in his underwear. He looks into my room. A shiver runs up my spine.

My Thoughts in Purple:
With my clean hand, I pull up the covers and straighten my twisted pajamas. They used to be my favorite, pink with tiny purple flowers. [I don’t like them anymore.] This really lets me know something bad has just happened

Two cuckoos.

Wish I could turn on a light and read. I trace the diamond-shaped ridges on my bedspread with my clean index finger, picking at tufts of thread and pulling them out one-by-one, a little here, a little there so Mommy won’t notice. Three cuckoos. Morning is far away.

[I bite the fingernails on my clean hand. They’re so short there isn’t much to chew. I have to stop crying. What if he catches me? I pull one strand of hair, then another. Pain helps.] The almost detached way she describes her actions really adds to the dread of the scene.

[What just happened? My mind is one big ache. I take a breath and pull a hair. My face scrunches to cry. Pull a hair. Take a deep breath. Pull a hair. The ache doesn’t go away. ] I like what she thinks here, trying to make sense and deal with it, but perhaps move it to earlier in the scene? This is when she actually wonders what happened, and it feels odd after she's already thought/not thought about it for several hours.

[Do I tell Mommy?

Mommy gets drunk and says things that get him mad. She might tell.

Maybe, if she knew, she’d stop him.

No, she’s afraid of him, too. She can’t keep a secret.

I feel as if his hands are still pinching me.

Am I stupid, dumb and ugly?

Four cuckoos. [The gook is dry and cracks when I close my dirty hand. ] Terrifying.

Finally it’s five o’clock and they get up.

I pretend to be asleep, but peek between my lashes.] I like the way each thought is on its own line, like these questions are just zinging into her head as she sits there plucking at things.

[Daddy walks to the bathroom in his underwear. He looks into my room. A shiver runs up my spine.] Chilling.

The questions:
Does this passage of internal dialogue work or is it too much internal dialogue?

I'd say you got a winner. The internalization worked for me. It conveyed fear and confusion, just enough hints to know something horrible just happened (though I assume the reader has just seen what happened, so this doesn't rehash that). It was very gripping and creepy, and I really felt for this girl.

The balance felt right. Enough thought mixed in with actions, and even the descriptive bits felt strong in a child's POV.

Easy diagnostic this week. This was very well done.

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.

8 comments:

  1. Absolutely. Full of confusion and dread. But enough action and passage of time to show how these thoughts and wakefulness goes on all night long. Repetitive actions speak of the shock she is in.

    I ache for her.

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  2. Wow! This was actually good! Very good!! I am impressed.

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  3. This was so creepy. The one-clean-hand thing was awesome. I am also writing a story where a young child is the narrator. I'm always afraid that my Protag will sound too adult if I write like me, or that I'll be limited to certain words if I write like a child.would think or speak. What are the rules, if any?

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  4. Creepy. I think it has the right amount of internalization. I agree that the single-line thoughts, back and fourth, to tell or not to tell, are very effective.

    Can I second Norman's question about writing with kid protagonist? That always gets me, too.

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  5. Thank you for your comments. I am grateful that what I wrote is effective. And yes it is creepy - but it is not fiction, it is memoir and sadly the story was true. It took time for me to get the seven year old voice, I had to go back to think about it. I really did have to keep my hand over the side of the bed until I could wash it in the morning after my father went to work. And then my mom hit me with the shocker of a question, "I heard him in your room last night, tell me what he did." For several years I had to report what he did and she filled up two notebooks with details. Never did anything to stop him.

    I'm hoping my memoir will show how healing is possible in spite of intense abuse. But I want people to feel the pain of that child.

    Thanks for reading.

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  6. The only thing I'd change is to move the "What just happened" paragraph to the beginning. It sets the scene, makes us read further.

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  7. Oh my word that was part of a *memoir*? The scene was powerful and painful enough when I thought it was part of a novel.

    Write that story of healing, Heather. I'm sure it is amazing.

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  8. I've recently read quite a few stories with too much internalization. This is not one of them. Here, through the internalization, information is conveyed and the suspense is ramped up. This is done well. I'd keep reading.

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