Saturday, October 13

Real Life Diagnostics: A Friendly Problem: Starting With Narrative

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:

I've chosen to begin with narrative in order to--I hope--establish character and the story problem. Is this is an effective opening?

Market/Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary


NOTE: There's also an updated submission from July--the "angry girl basketball player" scene for those curious in how the author revised.

On to the diagnosis…

Original text:

I figured grown-ups told kids things “for their own good” at least four times every day. Since I was ten years, two months and six days old, that was a lot of “for my own goods.” And I could have found out exactly how many, but it was summer vacation and I’d promised myself not to think about math, especially math that looked like multiplication problems with big numbers that went wonky-sideways down the page whenever I tried to solve them.

But nowhere mixed in with all of the “look both ways before you cross the street,” “wash your hands after you sneeze,” “don’t share a glass with your brother,” did anyone ever say the one thing that could have kept me from having the ginormous problem I had.

No one ever said, “Make sure you have a spare best friend.”

It wasn’t that I didn’t know about spares. Dad once had to put a spare tire on the car on the way to our vacation at the lake. Mom always told me to pack a spare pair of socks–and underwear–when I spent the weekend with Gran. And I always made sure to have a spare pen for school–at least after the time I had to borrow one from Trevor Ming and I spent the whole day trying to make sure my fingers never touched the chewed on bits. But one kind of spare I never thought I would need was a spare best friend.

I was wrong.

My Thoughts in Purple:

I figured grown-ups told kids things “for their own good” at least four times every day. Since I was ten years, two months and six days old, that was a lot of “for my own goods.” [And I could have found out exactly how many, but it was summer vacation and I’d promised myself not to think about math] great line, especially math that looked like multiplication problems with big numbers that went wonky-sideways down the page whenever I tried to solve them.

But nowhere mixed in with all of the “look both ways before you cross the street,” “wash your hands after you sneeze,” “don’t share a glass with your brother,” did anyone ever say the one thing that could have kept me from having the ginormous problem I had.

[No one ever said, “Make sure you have a spare best friend.”] Another great line

It wasn’t that I didn’t know about spares. Dad once had to put a spare tire on the car on the way to our vacation at the lake. Mom always told me to pack a spare pair of socks–and underwear–when I spent the weekend with Gran. And I always made sure to have a spare pen for school–at least after the time I had to borrow one from Trevor Ming and I spent the whole day trying to make sure my fingers never touched the chewed on bits. [But one kind of spare I never thought I would need was a spare best friend.] This line feels repetitive. Perhaps transition from "chewed on" to the problem? I like the image of her feeling like she's a chewed on pen now that her friend is gone kinda thing. Could make a nice bridge to continue with the problem .

I was wrong.

The question:

I've chosen to begin with narrative in order to--I hope--establish character and the story problem. Is this is an effective opening?
Yes. The spare best friend paired with parental advice is very cute, and I wasn't expecting the hook so it worked well to surprise me. I want to know why she needs a new best friend and what happened. The narrator has a wry sense of humor and I like her, so I'll keep reading.

I think the narrative works well to establish the character and I already know she's funny, doesn't like math, has a brother and two parents, and learns from her mistakes (as shown by the pen example). Her problem is clear: she needs a new best friend. The story question is clear: Why does she need a new best friend?

(More on inciting events here)

My only stumble (and a minor one at that) was on the second "I needed a spare best friend" line. That's already been established with great punch, and repeating it weakened it for me. I'd suggest using that wonderful chewed on pen image to transition into the narrator's emotions and what she plans to do now to get into the goal part of the scene. It's set it up well, so a strong push into the plot would really hook readers.

Easy diagnostic today. This works.

(More on different types of openings 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.

8 comments:

  1. I have to agree with Janice: this works. I loved the hook, and I definitely wanted to keep reading.

    For some reason, perhaps because I can't remember the last time I've actually seen it written, but the word "ginormous" pulled me out of the story.

    If the reason for needing a spare best friend is because of something serious, such as a death, then this word betrays the protag entirely. The same would go for "humongous", "epic" and so on.

    I'm assuming the reason is humorous because of the set up, but personally I would have chosen a word other than ginormous. The simpler "enormous" would suffice.

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  2. This is a terrific opening. You've got me hooked. I agree with virtuefiction....I'm assuming the reason for needing a new best friend is a funny one. Or at least something not too serious, based on the tone in the opening. Great job.

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  3. I wanted to keep reading too. The story would be right up my daughters alley because of the Best Friend Issues (she's had plenty). Using the word "ginormous", to me, by a teen, sounded appropriate. It added a bit more drama to the problem. When I saw the repetitive (great) line, it reminded me of something that I just realized today of my own work.

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  4. Reading this was like reading from a published novel. The voice was perfect. I don't want to say "good job" because that sounds condescending especially since you obviously know what you're doing; instead, I'll say "thank you" for the enjoyable read.

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  5. Thank you all so much for your kind comments. You've given me a needed boost of confidence to press on and figure out the "murky middle."
    This blog is such an incredible resource and go-to for me - it's been a bit of a thrill to be featured:)
    Thanks again!

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  6. Loved the spare best friend line, carried the teen voice well

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  7. "...promised myself not to think about math." I relate so much to that, it isn't even funny.

    Brava!!

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  8. I'd suggest using that wonderful chewed on pen image to transition into the narrator's emotions and what she plans to do now to get into the goal part of the scene. It's set it up well, so a strong push into the plot would really hook readers. www.rx247.net/acyclovir.html

    ReplyDelete