Saturday, July 14

Real Life Diagnostics: A Desperate Situation: Are You Feeling it?

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, and 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 guidelines.

Submissions currently in the queue: Five

This week’s questions:

Do you get a sense of desperation in the beginning? Am I showing or telling (mostly)? Is my internalization okay?

Market/Genre: Unspecified


On to the diagnosis…

Original text:

Aeja was summoned to take a test, a test only the best could come back from. She had heard about something like this from her Grandfather. You enter and slowly start to lose your memory. Get out the right way and you get your memories back. Now, she's stuck in her test, a dream that she can't wake up from. Wake up, and she passes. Loose all of her memories, and she fails.

This can’t be happening! No. Ten – nope, nine – minutes before I have to call in, and I’m stuck in a closet. No cell phone. No land line. No way to even text them! Great. Now I’m going to be deleted.

“Hello?” I yelled.

Not like anyone would hear me. I’ve been trying for two hours.

I slumped against the door. This was not fair. I’m this close to getting out, and does it happen? No. I get locked in a freaking closet!

Sorry… Who told me not to play? ‘L’. ‘L’. It starts with an ‘L’! I pulled out the crumpled sheet of paper in my pocket with the list of everyone I knew on it. I was even smart enough to divide it up into family and friends. ‘L’. ‘L’. Lea! I closed my eyes and tried to picture him. Blonde hair? Blue eyes? Has a Seal on his arm? Yeah, that sounds about right.

I glanced at my watch. Seven minutes left.

“Someone get me out!”

Nothing.

Well, it was worth a shot.

Then I was tumbling backwards. A pair of eyes were looking at me.

“Aeja! It’s you! Lea told me to find you, and I did! I did! I thought it’d be impossible. Such a big dream and all. Lea knows how to maneuver his magic alright. If it weren’t for him, I’d probably be somewhere in Groghogans or something.”

“Can I see your phone?” He handed it to me, and I dialed. “Aeja checking in.” I handed him back his phone. "Now, who are you?”

“Who am I? Did you hear that, Lea? She forgot me. She forgot me! Man, this puts a damper on my finding you celebration.”

My Thoughts in Purple:

[This can’t be happening! No. Ten – nope, nine – minutes before I have to call in, and I’m stuck in a closet. No cell phone. No land line. No way to even text them! Great. Now I’m going to be deleted.

“Hello?” I yelled.

Not like anyone would hear me. I’ve been trying for two hours.

I slumped against the door. This was not fair. I’m this close to getting out, and does it happen? No. I get locked in a freaking closet!] I'm getting more frustration than desperation from this. Solid frustration, though, so emotion is coming through well.

[Sorry… Who told me not to play? ‘L’. ‘L’. It starts with an ‘L’! ] I'm a little confused here, since the "sorry" makes it seems like responding to someone. I'm not sure what triggers this thought. I pulled out the crumpled sheet of paper in my pocket with the list of everyone I knew on it. [I was even smart enough to divide it up into family and friends.] This could be a good spot to have her wonder why she did this and how she knew this was smart, tuck in a detail about what she's doing ‘L’. ‘L’. Lea! I closed my eyes and tried to picture him. Blonde hair? Blue eyes? Has a Seal on his arm? Yeah, that sounds about right. I think more context in this paragraph might help with the clarity. A little telling would actually help in this case.

I glanced at my watch. [Seven minutes left.] A good spot for some explanation. How does she know there's seven minutes left? Left of what? Might she wonder that same thing?

“Someone get me out!”

Nothing.

[Well, it was worth a shot.] This feels resigned and a little flippant, which lessens the sense of desperation you want. Could be a good spot for her to sudden get scared, know that failing is bad but not remember why. Know she has to act, get out, but the reasons are fuzzy.

[Then I was tumbling backwards. A pair of eyes were looking at me.] This feels a little distant, like she's watching this happen to herself, not her in the middle of it.

[“Aeja! It’s you! Lea told me to find you, and I did! I did! I thought it’d be impossible. Such a big dream and all. Lea knows how to maneuver his magic alright. If it weren’t for him, I’d probably be somewhere in Groghogans or something.”] Who says this? There's suddenly a faceless person here.

[“Can I see your phone?” ] Does Aeja say this? He handed it to me, and I dialed. [“Aeja checking in.”] With whom? A good spot for some clues about her situation. I handed him back his phone. "Now, who are you?”

“Who am I? [Did you hear that, Lea?] This sounds like there's another person there, but I don't think there is. She forgot me. She forgot me! Man, this puts a damper on my finding you celebration.”

The questions:

Do you get a sense of desperation in the beginning?

Aeja sounds more frustrated than desperate to me, though that came through well. I'd suggest adding in more words or phrases that signal "desperate and scared" to the reader. Perhaps some physical details as well, like sweat, shivers, racing heart, etc. I like her attitude, but without that sense that she's scared she's not coming across as you want yet. But with some fear/desperate clues, you can probably keep that attitude and still get the fear across.

(More on writing emotions here)

Am I showing or telling (mostly)?
Except that one line, it all feels shown to me. This is actually a good example of where a little telling can be a good thing. There were a few paragraphs that left me confused. I think they probably make sense if you know the story, but there wasn't enough context or information for me to get what was going on. A little telling there (in Aeja's voice) would give the reader the context. I don't think you need a lot, probably just a line or two so we get that she's struggling with her memories (I think that's what's going on).

Perhaps have her take a moment to try and figure out where she is and what's going on. If she thinks about taking a test (even if the details are left vague) then readers at least know the framework for what's happening. She might know what she needs to do but not know why. Perhaps expand a little on the note in her pocket and what she feels compelled to do because of it.

I also wanted a little more explanation when the person appears and starts talking to her. I wasn't sure if it was real or all in her mind. That section is written as if I understand who these people are, but I don't, so I feel as though I missed something. (if they've been introduced earlier and readers will know, then this might not be a problem)

Her trying to figure it out would probably clear this up as well. Again, it wouldn't need a lot, just enough hints so readers can figure out the basics of where Aeja is and what she's trying to do. They don't even need to know what's going on, as long as Aeja's goal is clear and what she's trying to do is moving the story. Wondering "what is she part of?" could be a good hook to keep them reading, and "will she get out?" might be the plot-driving goal. I can see readers wondering, "Get out of what? Where is she? What test is she taking?" All good hooks.

(More on when it's better to tell here and some information on infodumps)

Is my internalization okay?
Yes. There was a good mix of thought, action and dialog and it flowed nicely. The internalization felt like Aeja and I got a good sense of who she is from how she thought.

(More on internalization here)

Overall, the only issues I had were clarity ones. I was confused about the "sorry" paragraph, and then when the person shows up. I think a little more explanation internalization would fix this right up though.

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.

2 comments:

  1. Wow… I can’t really add anything (technically) that Janice has not covered.

    I’ll add an opinion on how it read to me: it jumped around a bit too much, it left me confused more than not… but, the story intrigued me, I want to know more.

    I assume getting locked in the closet is the test? Since she shows signs of forgetting, and the boy acts like he knows her well? I would suggest clarifying this point, since the test is brought up in the first sentence— a test only the best could come back from—

    This does not strike me as a hard test, only the best could survive, if it is indeed the actual test.

    Keep it up...

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  2. he idea is intriguing. I felt confused most of the time by this snippet. It could just be that its out of context.

    I am not getting desperation from this. Annoyance - yes. This doesn't feel like life or death stakes.

    You might consider The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglist. Good luck.

    ReplyDelete