Saturday, March 10

Real Life Diagnostics: Take a Look at This Guy: Describing Characters Through 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: Six
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:

1) Does the POV work here? Or will it be better if I changed it to the 1st POV?

2) I wanted this scene to show the physical appearance of the character using another character. Just to make it different from the usual. Does it work here? Or is it too dragging?

3) Are the feelings of the girl conveyed properly? Or do you, as a reader, feel something here?
*** This scene happens somewhere in the middle.

On to the diagnosis…

Original text:
She had never felt more like a thief than she had for the past 5 hours. It was like her eyes became kleptomaniacs. She just couldn't help her eyes from stealing glances every so often.

Seeing him again made all sorts of memories and feelings resurface. She had been so desperate for help that she didn't have time to think things through. Only now, when they were a feet apart, did she realize how horrible of an idea it was. Her past was meant to stay buried and having him here only increased the chances of uncovering it.

And if he found out? How would he react? Would he welcome her like that of a lost friend? Or will he push her away, as she so rightly deserves?

All these thoughts kept wandering around her head only to be interrupted by her eyes' heists.

Dorian certainly grew into a fine young man. He was now taller than her. He wasn't heavily built, only slightly lean. A perfect build for a man trained in all sorts of weapons. The tone of skin suggested that training required a few hours under the sun. Stubble was growing on his chin, a trivial thing for a man. But she remembered the time before; A time wherein his face was free of any hair as well as any worry. It made her heart contract a little.

But her eyes had yet to steal the jewel, the most valuable in the collection. She hadn't had the nerve to look him in the eye. Standing beside him didn't give her the opportunity to look into his eyes without being caught. So she simply bowed her head, closed her eyes, recalling the memory of innocent blue eyes that once looked straight at her. She was trying to piece together the same pair of eyes with the grown man beside her. For some reason, it was extremely difficult. Could it mean that he no longer had those eyes?

What a shame, she thought. To have such beautiful blue eyes- as blue as the deep sea- be lost forever.

"Are you alright?" Dorian asked, bending down to her height.

And that's when she saw perfectly blue eyes fit in the puzzle of the man.

My Thoughts in Purple:
She had never felt more like a thief than she had for the past 5 hours. [It was like her eyes became kleptomaniacs. She just couldn't help her eyes from stealing glances every so often.] I love the concept here, but it feels a little overdone. Perhaps combine these sentences to tighten up.

[Seeing him again made all sorts of memories and feelings resurface.] Telling a bit here. What kinds of memories? Good ones? Bad ones? [She had been so desperate for help that she didn't have time to think things through. Only now, when they were a [feet] foot apart, did she realize how horrible of an idea it was. ] A good spot for some internalization as to why this is bad thing. Also, these two sentences basically the same thing [Her past was meant to stay buried and having him here only increased the chances of uncovering it.] If the reader knows what this is this might be fine, but if not, there are a lot of vague "worries" in this paragraph, but nothing concrete. This paragraph also doesn't follow through on the eyes as a thief concept it started with. Especially since it says she's been stealing glances for five hours, but this feels more like she just walked up to him.

And if he found out? How would he react? Would he welcome her like that of a lost friend? Or [will] would he push her away, as she so rightly [deserves] deserved?

[All these thoughts kept wandering around her head] It says twice in two paragraphs that she has a lot of thoughts/memories in her head. [only to be interrupted by her eyes' heists.] Again, I love the concept here, but I'm not seeing it. Perhaps show her "stealing" looks at him and being the thief she claims.

[Dorian certainly grew into a fine young man. He was now taller than her. He wasn't heavily built, only slightly lean. A perfect build for a man trained in all sorts of weapons. The tone of skin suggested that training required a few hours under the sun. Stubble was growing on his chin, a trivial thing for a man.] This doesn't really go with the stealing glances idea. She sees everything all at once. You might consider slipping in these observations as she does other things. [But she remembered the time before; A time wherein his face was free of any hair as well as any worry. It made her heart contract a little. ] I like the comparison here from boy to man.

[But her eyes had yet to steal the jewel, the most valuable in the collection.] Feels a little overwritten. [She hadn't had the nerve to look him in the eye. Standing beside him didn't give her the opportunity to look into his eyes without being caught.] These say basically the same thing. Also, before it said she was a foot away, so this seems odd. Is she standing there not looking at him for a long time? I can't place where these characters are or what they're doing. So she simply bowed her head, closed her eyes, [recalling the memory of innocent blue eyes that once looked straight at her.] You might consider trimming out some of the memory references. [She was trying to piece together the same pair of eyes with the grown man beside her. For some reason, it was extremely difficult. Could it mean that he no longer had those eyes? ] I love the idea of her trying to reconcile the innocent eyes of the child she knew with the man she's seeing, but there's a disconnect here because I don't know where these two are in relation to each other. I also don't know anything about the boy vs the man except for the man's grown looks and the boy's eyes.

[What a shame, she thought. To have such beautiful blue eyes- as blue as the deep sea- be lost forever.] Does she know they're lost? She hasn't looked yet has she?

"Are you [alright] all right?" Dorian asked, bending down to her height.

And that's when she saw perfectly blue eyes fit in the puzzle of the man.

The questions:
Does the POV work here? Or will it be better if I changed it to the 1st POV?

Third person is fine, but I'd suggest letting the POV describe her world a bit more. I'm feeling a little distant because things are describe from afar, not her experiencing them. The details are also all general and a bit vague, so it's hard to connect to what's going on (this could partly be from reading a snippet from the middle without context though).

There's not a lot of actual information conveyed in this. She's worried about her past and seeing this man again, but I don't know any specifics. I'd suggest more internalization to show why these things matter and how they affect her, not just that they affect her.

I'd also suggest more setting details. I had a difficult time understanding where these two were in the scene. There are no hints at all about where this is taking place. It could be any time, any place, any genre. It reads as if she's standing there in front of him with all these things going through her head.

I wanted this scene to show the physical appearance of the character using another character. Just to make it different from the usual. Does it work here? Or is it too dragging?
I love the concept of her eyes stealing the looks, but it's not quite working for me yet. Part of that is due to repetition of ideas (easily trimmed), but part is due to not fulfilling the promise of that interesting concept. If she's being an eye thief, stealing looks because she can't help herself, I'd love to see that carried though to the entire scene. She wants to meet his eyes, but can't face them, doesn't want to look at him but can't help herself. Show that great struggle, mix it in with her fears and concerns about the past. Show her trying to get up the nerve to go talk to him and not just sneak looks from afar.

Are the feelings of the girl conveyed properly? Or do you, as a reader, feel something here?
I can see she's upset, but not about what. She has a past with this man from when they were children, but I don't know more than that. I don't feel connected to her yet because I don't feel in the POV's head. I don't know her well enough to feel anything for her plight. This could be because it's in the middle, but there's also little to show me who she is here. It's more description of her emotions and his looks. Try tossing a little substance about what those things mean to her.

Overall, I think the eye thief idea is very cool and could work well if applied to the entire piece. Make her the eye thief, let her steal glances as she moves around the setting, and show us what's going on her head. Let readers feel the conflict and turmoil she's facing about seeing this man again.

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.

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