Sunday, March 11

Real Life Diagnostics: Show Me Your Mind: Deepening Your POV

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: Five
Note: Due to the RLD backlog, I'll be running them on Sunday as well for a few weeks to catch up.


This week’s questions:
This is a snippet from the third act in my novel. How can I deepen the POV? Where could I be showing instead of telling?

NOTE: The following snippet contains strong language.

On to the diagnosis…

Original text:
He hacked the vines away and found the handle. Finally. He took a deep breath and wiped the sweat from his forehead then pulled the door open and entered a passageway. Where in the seven circles of hell was he, perhaps an old escape route? It ran long and narrow, and candles burning in wall sconces exposed its low height. It was clearly too small for a person to walk down, they would obviously had to crawl, but who could have built it? He squatted and rubbed his beard. Shit, of course, it must have been one of those old Sirosi tunnels; it’s likely they ran all across the area. Those scrawny cowards had used them with brutal effect, repelling the Ishbar advance during the winter of Ozark, but hadn’t Command commissioned them all closed once the war ended, sealed them shut? He smiled. Apparently, those geniuses missed one, because some fucker had obviously used them recently. He shook his head and laughed.

He rose and went outside. Gunfire erupted, he ducked, and dropped his machete. An explosion shook the trees twenty feet away. He shielded his head using one arm, grabbed the handle of the door with his free hand, and pulled it shut and backed into the tunnel. He rested on the ground and ran his fingers through his hair. Shit, shit, those fuckin fools. Why couldn’t they have held the line for a few more hours until he’d crossed the border? Fuck. The jungle would be crawling with those scumbags.

My Thoughts in Purple:
(I made a few paragraph suggestions here to help break up the text)
He hacked the vines away and found the [handle] to the what?. Finally. He took a deep breath and wiped the sweat from his forehead then pulled the door open and entered [a passageway.] You could use "the" here to show he's entering a specific passageways he's been looking for. I assume he hacked through the vines to get to this, right? If not, a reaction to finding a handle and a passage would show his surprise.

Where in the seven circles of hell was [he,]? perhaps an old escape route?

[It] You might say "The tunnel" just to clarify what it is and where he's going ran long and narrow, [and candles burning in wall sconces [exposed] this doesn't sound like the kind of guy who would use "exposed" like this. its low height.] Feels a little told. It was clearly too small for [a person] perhaps "him" since I assume he's checking this out for personal reasons? to walk down, [they] he? would obviously had to crawl, [but who could have built it?] This feels a bit tacked on. Is he interested in the tunnel itself or who built it?

He squatted and rubbed his beard. Shit, of course, it must have been one of those old Sirosi tunnels; it’s likely [they] it? Is he referring to all the tunnels or this particular tunnel? ran all across the area. [Those scrawny cowards had used them with brutal effect, repelling the Ishbar advance during the winter of Ozark, but hadn’t Command commissioned them all closed once the war ended, sealed them shut?] This feels like him thinking this.

He smiled. Apparently, those geniuses missed one, because some fucker had obviously used [them] it? recently. [He shook his head and laughed.] What's his plan for the tunnel? What does it mean to him that he's found it?

He rose and went [outside.] For what? I'm not sure what his plans are here [Gunfire erupted, he ducked, and dropped his machete.] Feels a little choppy. A good spot for some internalization after the gunfire. An explosion shook the trees twenty feet away. He shielded his head using one arm, grabbed the handle of the door with his free hand, [and pulled it shut and backed into the tunnel.] the order of events fells off here. You might break this into two thoughts. He [rested] This feels too calm a word after what just happened. How is he feeling right now? on the ground and ran his fingers through his hair.

[Shit, shit, those fuckin fools. Why couldn’t they have held the line for a few more hours until he’d crossed the border? Fuck. The jungle would be crawling with those scumbags.] I feel very shown and in his head here.

The questions:
How can I deepen the POV?

It's pretty good for the most part. A few spots where the word choice didn't fit the tough guy voice, or the description seemed a bit distant from the action. I'd suggest taking what you have and think about everything he does from his perspective, not yours as the author. You know what happens, but what does he do and think specifically? For example:
Gunfire erupted, he ducked, and dropped his machete.
This is someone watching the situation. I imagine he has a reaction to the gunfire, even if it's just holy shit! Then he drops the machete and dives for the ground. Think about what he personally experiences vs what you know happens.

Another example:
It was clearly too small for a person to walk down, they would obviously had to crawl.
I assume he's looking into this tunnel for a reason, so he'd probably not judge it so abstractly. It's not too small for "a person," it's too small for him. He'd have to crawl if he went inside, not some generic "they." A subtle change in pronouns, but now he's judging it as it applies to him personally. Little tweaks like this really put the descriptions in to the POV's head.

Where could I be showing instead of telling?
Luckily enough, the same spots. The reason they feel told is because it's not as tight in the POV as it could be. Think about how your POV would see it and tweak to show that personal connection and judgment about what he's experiencing.

Overall it's a decent snippet. The character voice is strong, and it's just a matter of tweaking a few spots to make the narrative match that.

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.

6 comments:

  1. Janice has given such excellent feedback here. The only thing I could add is a personal response as a reader - I don't mind foul language, and I can see it is relevant to your character. But here it feels little over done. Or perhaps that's just me. It was several years ago when I was advised by a publisher to remove all the swear words from my manuscript - obviously that doesn't count now! But vulgarity still has power, if not overused. That last fuck, and "those scumbags" just tipped the balance for me and took away the power of the words. Just my opinion. Otherwise, good job.

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  2. Sarah, thanks for the comment. Your point about the swearing was really interesting.

    Janice, this was bloody awesome, thank you so much. How you laid it out made it so easy for me to understand what you were talking about.

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  3. Wow! The comments made a strong passage even stronger.
    My only quibble was that as the entrance was covered in vines (suggesting nobody had been there for ages), how was it that there were lit candles within the passage?

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  4. Anonymous, thanks for the comment. When I rewrite it, I'll have to make sure its as clear as possible. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

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  5. I found the comments on the original text very useful. Inventing curse vocabulary is a good way around the problem.

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