Saturday, July 21

Real Life Diagnostics: Let's Get Inside: Is the Internalization Working?

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, please check out these guidelines.

Submissions currently in the queue: Six

This week’s questions:

Does the internalization in the following scene work? Is the reference to Dracula in the last line too silly?

Market/Genre: Unspecified


On to the diagnosis…

Original text:

The sun had set and the moon risen again, bathing the city with silvery light. Lance stood at the window, lost in thought. This was the only natural light his eyes could now look upon--the sun would set him aflame if he was fool enough to go out in it.

But wasn’t moonlight simply reflected sunlight? How, then, was this safe for him? It must be only direct sunlight that was a danger--he could probably move around outdoors in the daytime if he was careful.

But he would have to be very careful.

He became aware of a burning sensation in his fingertips and looked down to discover that he was flipping a silver coin between his fingers and thumb, a habit he had picked up long ago from his father.

Strange. The coin was cool, and yet it burned.

Placing the coin carefully on the windowsill, he examined his fingertips. The skin was red and angry, but as he watched, the pain eased and the redness faded--the burns were healing right before his eyes!

Curious, he picked up the coin again--and quickly dropped it. Ouch!

There must be something in silver that reacted badly with his new physiology. Turning away from the window, he approached the mirror on the wall. His reflection gazed back at him, pale yet recognizable.

Well, that legend was proven false. He smiled wryly at his image. With his dark hair and black suit, all he needed was a black cape to complete the picture of Dracula.

My Thoughts in Purple:

The sun had set and the moon risen again, bathing the city with silvery light. Lance stood at the window, lost in thought. [This was the only natural light his eyes could now look upon--the sun would set him aflame if he was fool enough to go out in it.] Structurally, I feel like this is his thought, but it feels more like description than internalization

[But wasn’t moonlight simply reflected sunlight? How, then, was this safe for him?] This feels more like him thinking [It must be only direct sunlight that was a danger--he could probably move around outdoors in the daytime if he was careful.] This is his thought, but it feel more distant to me than the others in this paragraph, similar to the line in the opening paragraph.

[But he would have to be very careful.] Feels like his thought.

[He became aware of a burning sensation in his fingertips and looked down to discover that he was flipping a silver coin between his fingers and thumb, a habit he had picked up long ago from his father.] This section feels a bit told, but it's a great spot to flesh out. From his perspective, what does he feel and how does he react to it?

[Strange. The coin was cool, and yet it burned.] This sounds like his thoughts

Placing the coin carefully on the windowsill, he examined his fingertips. The skin was red and angry, but as he watched, the pain eased and the redness faded--[the burns were healing right before his eyes!] Feels a little distant, though this reads like it should be his thought.

Curious, he picked up the coin again--and quickly dropped it. [Ouch!] This feels like his thought, but it also feel tacked on. Perhaps if the ouch came before he dropped the coin, as if that was the first reaction? Something about the order here feels off to me.

[There must be something in silver that reacted badly with his new physiology.] Feels infodumpy Turning away from the window, he approached the mirror on the wall. His reflection gazed back at him, pale yet recognizable.

[Well, that legend was proven false.] His thought, but it feels distant, so it doesn't really sound like him, He smiled wryly at his image. [With his dark hair and black suit, all he needed was a black cape to complete the picture of Dracula.] Same here.

The questions:

Does the internalization work?

There are lines that feel like Lance thinking, others that feel like explanation and narrative, and some that fall in between. I think what's missing here is a sense of Lance's voice. I don't feel him as a character yet, so even lines that structurally read like his thoughts feel like exposition. He thinks things, but there's no sense of emotion or judgment to what he thinks. It's just facts, so it feels distant to me.

I'd suggest more emotional internalization. Is he shocked at being a vampire? Scared? Angry? Elated? How does he feel about things he's thinking about? What is his opinion about it?

(More on writing emotions here)

Is the reference to Dracula in the last line too silly?
I didn't think so, though it did bother me for a different reason. Lance seems surprised by the vampire traits he has, but I'd think anyone who knows who Dracula is would be aware of traditional vampire lore. The silver coin burning him probably wouldn't have been a surprise. It's a strange thing to be bugged by, but that disconnect kept me from being drawn in.

I also found describing the classic vampire traits off-putting. (And again, it's a weird thing, but it hit me funny). Readers of vampire lore are going to know these things, so describing them as if they're new felt unnecessary, especially as Lance clearly knows who and what Dracula is. I'd be more interested in how Lance is dealing with it, since that's something I don't know.

Maybe Lance is testing what he knows about vampires against what he is now and then reacting to what he finds? That would make it personal and allow you to show readers Lance's feelings and opinions as well as convey the facts about how vampires work in this story.

Overall, I think adding an emotional layer will help a lot, as the details won't just be details anymore, but what Lance thinks and feels about them. The borderline thoughts will feel more like his because they'll be colored by his voice and opinions.

(More on emotional layers here)

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. Hmmm... Lance seems very formal in his thinking. That makes me wonder if he's from a different time period -the eighteen-hundreds maybe?- but his thoughts make it clear he just turned into a vampire, otherwise he would already know about the coin. Is this historical fiction?

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  2. Ditto on the earlier comments. The voice sounds like someone in the more current times, but there was nothing to put it squarely in a decade or an era. Regarding the silver coin, is it a Kennedy half-dollar or a pure silver coin of Europe of a few century ago?

    Is he comparing himself to the movie version of Dracula? or something he's read/heard in stories? This will help ground it.

    Perhaps a thought in regards to how his friends or co-workers will react. "This will go down real well with the boys down at the pub." Or "What will my boss say when I can't make change behind the counter?" or whatever.

    This has got some good bones. You just need some fleshing out to make your fellow a real "person". Best of Luck!

    ReplyDelete
  3. By writing a vampire story, you're automatically setting yourself up for an extra-critical reading because it's been done so well (and so badly) before. And having pointed that out, I'm not at all saying it's not worth doing.

    But there will be extra pressure to make your story stand out. And spending a lot of time on vampire lore we already know (and depending on the time period, he likely already knows) is not the way to grab me personally.

    I suspect that you wrote this story because you had an idea for a different take or twist on a vampire story--so my advice would be to showcase what makes your story different. Take advantage of the fact that everyone already knows (or maybe thinks they know) everything about vampires, and surprise them with some unique-to-your-worldbuilding traits and situations.

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  4. If this is your opening, you might want to consider a character for him to interact with. I recently took a class from on openings. On the list of things not to do, it had opening a book with your character alone and spending too much time with internal character thoughts.

    Applying this advice might really fix this and show us the character doing something. Also, you can show who your character is by their reactions and relationships with others.

    Writing a vampire story, your going to need to show, quickly, how your story is different.

    I will tell you I loved vampires long before Twilight and always will. I think there are many vampire fans, so don't let the genre put you off. You just have to show how your story is unique.

    Good luck on this. I don't think this is your starting point. It took me a long time to find my own. Be patient - it will come.

    ReplyDelete
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