Sunday, December 2

Real Life Diagnostics: Does This Opening Grab You? A Meeting of the Gnomes

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: Seven

This week’s questions:

Does the opening work? Does it grab you?

Market/Genre: Middle Grade


On to the diagnosis…

Original text:

Prologue

The heavy wooden door creaked open; it’s hinges groaning from lack of use. Three fat Gnomes stood in the doorway. “We’re the first ones here,” one of them commented as they shuffled in.

There was only one window in the far wall, which cast a strange glow into the otherwise dull room. There was a large square table in the middle of the room surrounded by chairs, “How are we supposed to sit on those?” asked one of the Gnomes, “They’re twice our size!”

The Gnomes tried various ways of getting on the chairs, including climbing on each other’s shoulders, but when the Gnome at the top brushed through a cobweb it made him sneeze so hard they all toppled over.

Just as the Gnomes landed on the floor after another failed attempt they heard a fluttering noise from the door followed by a tinkling sound, the three Gnomes turned to see a group of fairies hovering in the doorway, laughing at them.

“Having trouble are we?” The fairies giggled as they fluttered in and headed for the beams that ran across the ceiling of the room. They quickly brushed away the cobwebs and dust that had gathered over the years then settled comfortably.

The Gnomes didn’t want to look stupid in front of anyone else so they decided to go and sit on the floor in the corner. They would have to rethink the situation.

My Thoughts in Purple:

Prologue

The heavy wooden door creaked open; it’s hinges groaning from lack of use. Three fat Gnomes stood in the doorway. “We’re the first ones here,” one of them commented as they shuffled in.

[There was] only one window in the far wall, which cast a strange glow into the otherwise dull room. [There was] Two sentences in a row starting with "there was" hits my ears funny a large square table in the middle of the room surrounded by chairs, “How are we supposed to sit on those?” asked one of the Gnomes, “They’re twice our size!”

The Gnomes tried various ways of getting on the chairs, including climbing on each other’s shoulders, but when the Gnome at the top brushed through a cobweb it made him sneeze so hard they all toppled over.

[Just as the Gnomes landed on the floor after another failed attempt they heard a fluttering noise from the door followed by a tinkling sound, the three Gnomes turned to see a group of fairies hovering in the doorway, laughing at them.] This paragraph feels a little told, even with the third omniscient POV. Falling down is also quite funny to this age group, so perhaps show this happening for the laugh.

“Having trouble are we?” The [fairies] Gnomes are capitalized, yet fairies are not. Aren't they both proper names? giggled as they fluttered in and headed for the beams that ran across the ceiling of the room. They quickly brushed away the cobwebs and dust that had gathered over the years then settled comfortably.

[The Gnomes didn’t want to look stupid in front of anyone else so they decided to go and sit on the floor in the corner. They would have to rethink the situation.] Funny. I like the voice in this line a lot.

The questions:

Does the opening work? Does it grab you?

Mostly. I get the sense that a group is gathering for some kind of meeting or something, though I don' know what, so it's a little hard to follow. The gnomes are cute and funny, and I love the last line. That alone would make me turn the page. The voice there is strong and I really like the humor in it.

Despite it being a solid middle grade, there's nothing to hook me yet. The omniscient narrator doesn't give me a character to connect to, so I don't feel that the story has started (especially since this is a prologue). I feel like this is just setting the scene or showing a bit of past history. However, it's likely that had I read the cover copy I'd have more context and this would mean more to me.

(More on omniscient narrators here)

I'd suggest adding a teeny bit more about what's going on here so readers know why these folks are getting together. One line early on is probably enough to ground the reader in the scene. You don't have to give it away if there's a secret or anything, but a little context to add stakes or a goal would help increase the drive of the story. Right now, it's "a bunch of nameless people I don't know gathering in an dusty room." If I knew a little more about what was going on and why it mattered, then I'd be hooked.

(More on hooking the reader here)

Overall it's fairly solid. Minor tweaks and I think this would be a good opening. Though I'd have to caution against prologues in general (grin). In most cases, cutting them makes the story stronger. You'd have to look at the overall story to decide if this is one of those cases or not.

(More on prologues 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. Thanks Janice!
    Thought I'd got all those Fairies (capital F indeed) so thanks for pointing it out.

    Got some things to think about. Really appreciate your feedback. :D

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  2. Sweet story, although I would have pegged it for better suiting a younger age group.

    A couple of picky points: in your first sentence you want a comma, not a semi-colon. Also, I would wonder if you could use a more evocative word than "fat", but there's my prejudice showing - I hate it when people use fat as a short-cut term for stupid, clumsy, greedy, etc.

    When the gnomes are trying to get on the chairs, you have an opportunity for slapstick comedy. I'd show here, rather than tell.

    I like the gnomes already, and think this is probably going to be a really cute story :-)

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  3. I agree that I'd like to have a sentence or two about the meeting. I'm also curious how the dwarves, who can't manage to sit on chairs, manage to get the door to open. I would assume the door was built by the chair owners and the knob might be high for the dwarves to reach.

    It does sound like a MG or YA story, and initially I thought it sounded a lot like the Hobbit meeting with Baggins.

    Your writing is solid and the dialogue is good.

    Heather

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  4. I agree this is a pretty solid opening, except for the hook, which could be hinted at just by describing what the gnomes feel about the fairies being there.

    I will also disagree slightly with Sarah's comment above in that if this is MG, there is nothing in the actual writing that corrupts the meaning of 'fat'. Their clumsiness is clearly shown to be due to their height. That said, I do agree with Sarah's point in general.

    Overall, good stuff. Thanks for sharing.

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  5. Overlooking the grammar for now, "it's hinges groaning from lack of use" works better as "its hinges groaned". Even a middle grade reader will know why a door creaks or groans. An explanation might be needed if it was animated.

    A "strange glow" is simply telling. In a world where Fairies exist, is it strange to the gnomes, or to the narrator? Either way, if it is important, perhaps describe what kind of light it is.

    Although the narrator is omnipotent, "...had gathered over the years" is not necessary detail here. Perhaps the dust was simply "thick"?

    To answer your question of whether it grabs me or not: not yet.

    Why exactly do they want to sit at the table? The fact that they temporarily gave up at the bottom of the extract was frustrating. However, it had a bit of an Alice's Adventures in Wonderland feel to it because of this. I don't know how this will continue, but just like when Alice looks again to find a "drink me" bottle that was not there moments earlier, perhaps the Fairies were laughing because the Gnomes didn't realise how easily they could get up to the table?

    Good luck with this one! :)

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  6. I must admit - The gnome/faerie genre might not be for me. But a story is a story.

    In my opinion we have a slow start here. What is the main thing that happens here? The gnomes fail to sit in a chair. Meh...

    Instead the story should start us right in the middle of the action. Why are the Gnomes/Faeries meeting? Start us in the middle of meeting as all of the fey creatures argue about what to do about the goblin invasion.

    Bam, Interesting

    ReplyDelete