Saturday, June 23

Real Life Diagnostics: Let Me Tell You What I Think: Too Much Interior Monologue?

Critique by Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

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: Three

This week’s question:

Is it too telling? Most of this is interior monologue, and I'm afraid it's too much.


Market/Genre: YA Fantasy (Retelling of a fairy tale)

On to the diagnosis…

Original text:
Elise lives in a country that has just barely survived the bloody War Against the Witches. All her life, she's been told to stay away from the witches and follow three rules: One must fear the witches. One mustn’t associate with the witches. And one must never, ever cross the witches. Now her father is marrying one, and every single rule Elise has followed is shattered.

Father is breaking the rules.

That’s the only thing I can think about all through the wedding. As the minister binds them together with pretty vows that can’t – can’t – mean a single thing, I have to look away. And when they are pronounced man and wife, I pick up my skirts and flee from the room.

How can I watch my father wed a witch?

I’m well aware of the thousands of eyes watching me and the thousands of mouths proclaiming I disgrace the royal family, but I don’t care. They don’t understand. All they see are Odette’s golden eyes and her dark hair and her flawless alabaster skin. They see her beauty and the false smile dancing on her lips as she looks up into Father’s eyes. They coo with appreciation as they watch their king take on a new bride, while all I want to do is retreat to my chambers and vomit.

And I do. Retreat to my chambers, that is. I was too revolted to eat anything today, so vomiting is out of the question.

I throw my things on the ground and watch them shatter to a thousand tiny, broken pieces. It feels good, though I know Father would kill me if he knew that I was destroying palace property.

I used to think that Father personified wisdom, with his gray beard and his easy smiles. Not anymore. Now all I see his is newly dead eyes and the disgusting looks of pure adoration he throws at her. At a witch.

My Thoughts in Purple:
Elise lives in a country that has just barely survived the bloody War Against the Witches. All her life, she's been told to stay away from the witches and follow three rules: One must fear the witches. One mustn’t associate with the witches. And one must never, ever cross the witches. Now her father is marrying one, and every single rule Elise has followed is shattered. I love that the submitter added this blurb. Not everyone provides context (they don't have to) and this was perfect.

Father is breaking the rules.

That’s the only thing I can think about all through the wedding. As the minister binds them together with pretty vows that can’t – can’t – mean a single thing, I have to look away. And when they are pronounced man and wife, I pick up my skirts and flee from the room.

How can I watch my father wed a witch?

I’m well aware of the thousands of eyes watching me and the thousands of mouths proclaiming [I disgrace the royal family,] Love this, as I had no idea she was royal until now, and that sheds new light on what's happening. A political peace-bringing wedding perhaps? Intriguing but I don’t care. They don’t understand. All they see are Odette’s golden eyes and her dark hair and her flawless alabaster skin. They see her beauty and the false smile dancing on her lips as she looks up into Father’s eyes. They coo with appreciation as they watch their king take on a new bride, while all I want to do is retreat to my chambers and vomit.

And I do. Retreat to my chambers, that is. I was too revolted to eat anything today, so vomiting is out of the question. At this point I did feel that I wanted something more than internalization to occur. Perhaps have her speak to someone, or do something active, even if it's only a line or two. (Like she enters her chambers and slams the door vs saying she retreats there)

I throw my things on the ground and [watch them shatter] This feels a tad told to a thousand tiny, broken pieces. It feels good, though I know Father would kill me if he knew that I was [destroying palace property.] Intriguing. She doesn't think of it as hers, but the palace's.

I used to think that Father personified wisdom, with his gray beard and his easy smiles. Not anymore. Now all I see his is newly dead eyes and the disgusting looks of pure adoration he throws at her. At a witch. If this goes into dialog and action from here, you'd probably be okay. Though this is a great spot for her to react by throwing or smashing things. You might consider swapping this with the previous paragraph and see how it flows. Show her anger and frustration in how she shatters her things.

The question:
Is it too telling?

Nope. Toward the end I did want a little action or dialog to break up the internalization (readers chime in here), but I felt in her head and in her POV. It was her voice all the way through. If this is all the monologue you have and it gets out of her head after this, you're probably fine. If she continues on in her head, I'd suggest mixing it up some more.

You really don't need much to give that sense of movement and showing. A few lines of dialog here and there, some physical action. I've personally found that when you get to good hook line enders, those are natural breaks to switch to dialog or action. For example:
I was too revolted to eat anything today, so vomiting is out of the question.
This is funny, in a sad, sympathetic way. And it feels like the end of a thought, so it's a great spot to transition out of her head. Same here:
Now all I see his is newly dead eyes and the disgusting looks of pure adoration he throws at her. At a witch.
Great reaction spot to show the emotions she's been thinking about so far. Especially since she gets physical and breaks things. "At a witch" really felt like a "last straw" thought to me. I can easily see her losing it here and smashing something.

Overall, this was well written and intriguing. I'd read on for sure.

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.

12 comments:

  1. I am really intruged by this, to the point of wanting more. I'm especially curious about whether the dad knows he's marrying a witch, and how the daughter knows.

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  2. I like this! The concept is great and the writing is good.

    I agree with Janice that:

    "I throw my things on the ground and watch them shatter to a thousand tiny, broken pieces"

    would be an opportunity for some action if it was shown rather than told.

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  3. Agree with everything said. Great voice!

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  4. I enjoyed this. Definitely has me wondering which fairy tale....Snow White, maybe? I'd read on.

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  5. Great comments on this. I enjoyed reading this section and would want to read on.

    But I did wonder what her "things" were that she threw on the ground. Maybe something more specific there?

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  6. I too liked this. The little things I found problematic were actually about the writing rather than the internalisation. But I'm just being super-picky.

    For example, "I throw my things on the ground and watch them shatter to a thousand tiny, broken pieces. " Broken here is redundant.

    And "Now all I see his is newly dead eyes and the disgusting looks of pure adoration he throws at her." Disgusting kind of confuses the sentence when the focus should be on "pure adoration"; also a loving look may be better off "cast" than "thrown" which is suggests violence and displeasure.

    But apart from being overscrupulous in that manner, I really did enjoy the perspective. One of the authors I admire is Robin McKinley, and she can go for whole chapters just using internalisation. So I don't think it's a problem, and I do think you've applied it well here. :-)

    Snow White, I assume? Have fun writing! :-)

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  7. This is great -- I really enjoyed it, and would definitely keep reading. The internalisation seems fine to me, too.

    My only thought for change would be the paragraph that starts with her breaking things. I'd much rather see that happen than hear her thinking about doing it.

    As Janice said, maybe swap around the last two paragraphs and then turn the 'breaking things' paragraph into more of an action one rather than an internalisation?

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  8. Actually, I take it back :-) I've been thinking about this excerpt since I read it, and I've come to believe all the hard-hitting words like disgusting, vomit, throw, and the contemptuous use of "coo", reveal the anger and violence of the character's mind, and create a dark mood in which the father's adoration is all tangled up with the wrongness and badness. So ignore what I said and keep them!

    (Not that you should care what I say anyway :-))

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  9. It was a solid piece - I guess it's not an opening as you provided the context, but I think it's good enough to be near the start. It hooks the reader!

    I was thrown by the use of 'golden eyes' - maybe I was expecting golden hair - and I ended up with an image that was creepy rather than gorgeous.

    I agree that the 'disgusting looks of pure adoration' is a little clumsy, probably because it's too close to 'disgusted', and his looks sound as if they are anything but! Maybe something like 'lingering looks of pure adoration...'

    Otherwise, I agree - the level of internalisation is quite appropriate. I like first person present for that very reason.

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  10. I just wanted to say that I really like this and would keep reading. I agree with others comments about the movement of the breaking things after the final straw. Good job! I like your premise - nice twist.

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  11. Also enjoyed this piece and was intrigued with the royalty, witches theme. I would replace "things" with something more specific. I had to reread the line to understand what she meant. Not very telling, in my book. Makes me just about ready to share my WIP on your blog!

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  12. Interesting. The parts you brought out could be tweaked a bit, but as a draft this certainly draws the reader and makes her want more. Angie

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