Saturday, April 13

Real Life Diagnostics: Is This Opening 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: Seven

This week’s questions:

Does the dialog flow? Am I showing enough? Do you want to read on? Can you get enough sense of the characters? Before Hope addresses Sabrina directly, can you tell the narrator is a girl? Does this work as an opening?

Market/Genre: unspecified


On to the diagnosis…


Original text:

“You better have a damn good reason for not telling me what’s wrong.” Hope looked me dead in the eyes. I looked away.

“Nothing’s wrong…” I muttered.

“Liar. I know you. I know when something is wrong with you too. I’m your girlfriend for God’s sake!” Pulling the girlfriend card. Wow.

I shifted my gaze to my converse. How am I supposed to tell her what’s wrong? How am I supposed to phrase it? If I say one thing wrong, the best thing that has ever happened to me leaves me. Maybe for the better on her part, but I’d still die inside.

“Do you like a guy?” she prodded on.

I shook my head.

“Um, is this making you uncomfortable – us?”

“No! Of course not! I got over that after the first couple of weeks! You know that!”

“Then tell me!”

“Nothing… Alright? Just…drop it.” Please – PLEASE – don’t drop it.

She sat down on my bed next to me. She placed one arm around my hips. She took her other hand lightly lifted my face with two fingers. “If Jason liking me is bothering you, Sabrina, it shouldn’t be.”

I pulled my face away from her soft hand. Why shouldn’t that bother me?! She’s my girlfriend! Mine. But I’d give her away if it meant she was happy… I felt tears well up in my eyes. I pulled my knees up to my chest and buried my head in them.

“Baby…” She pulled me closer to her. “He shouldn’t be bothering you, okay?”

My Thoughts in Purple:

“You better have a damn good reason for not telling me what’s wrong.” Hope looked me dead in the eyes. I looked away.

“Nothing’s wrong…” I muttered.

“Liar. I know you. I know when something is wrong with you too. I’m your [girlfriend] traditional gender roles will key this as the narrator being male for God’s sake!” Pulling the girlfriend card. Wow.

I shifted my gaze to my converse. How am I supposed to tell her what’s wrong? How am I supposed to phrase it? If I say one thing wrong, the best thing that has ever happened to me leaves me. Maybe for the better on her part, but I’d still die inside. Makes me curious what's wrong. I especially like the "for the better on her part" line. That feels ominous. 

“Do you like a guy?” she prodded on.

I shook my head.

“Um, is this making you uncomfortable – us?”

“No! Of course not! I got over that after the first couple of weeks! You know that!”

“Then tell me!”

“Nothing… Alright? Just…drop it.” Please – PLEASE – don’t drop it.

[She sat down on my bed next to me. She placed one arm around my hips. She] the three She sentences in a row hit my ears funny took her other hand lightly lifted my face with two fingers. [“If Jason liking me is bothering you, Sabrina, it shouldn’t be.”] Reads a little awkward to me

I pulled my face away from her soft hand. Why shouldn’t that bother me?! She’s my girlfriend! Mine. But I’d give her away if it meant she was happy… [I felt tears] telling a bit well up in my eyes. I pulled my knees up to my chest and buried my head in them.

“Baby…” She pulled me closer to her. “He shouldn’t be bothering you, okay?”

The questions:

1. Does the dialog flow?

Yes. It flowed well, felt real. The internal voice matched the exterior dialog. Aside from that one line that felt awkward, it was good. (Readers chime in on that line)

(More on voice and dialog)

2. Am I showing enough?
Yes. I felt there and in the moment. Things didn't feel explained, and information was kept in the narrator's voice. A bit more setting would be nice to help ground readers. I got the sense they were in Sabrina's room, but aside from bed there's nothing to clue readers into where this takes place.

(More on common words that tell, not show)

3. Do you want to read on?
I do. I'm curious about this relationship and what Sabrina isn't saying. There's a lot of inherent conflict here and the stakes clearly matter to these girls.

4. Can you get enough sense of the characters?
Enough to be intrigued, though there's not a lot yet to really flesh them out in a snippet this small. But it's clear they're gals in a relationship and that Sabrina is probably new to a same-sex relationship and still working that out, there's an issue with a boy liking Hope, and Sabrina has a secret, possibly a bad one. From the language, it feels YA to me, but there's nothing specific that says that in the text, except maybe the converse. I have a good sense of the situation, though not as much yet on the characters, but that doesn't bother me since I'm curious about what's going on. I know enough to pique my curiosity.

(More on ways to create characters)

5. Before Hope addresses Sabrina directly, can you tell the narrator is a girl?
It read sexless, but the world girlfriend will make readers think she's a guy. However, I imagine it'll be clear on the cover copy that this is a same-sex story, so readers will likely go into it knowing that. Either way, it states it fairly quickly, so even if readers don't know, they shouldn't be too thrown. You could always add in a little setting that's feminine to suggest it as well.

6. Does this work as an opening?
I'd read on. There's a conflict in progress, characters who intrigue me, something I want to see an answer to. The writing is clean and flows well (barring as bump or two).

A pretty easy RLD today.

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.

4 comments:

  1. The first four paragraphs lost me - and then I analyzed why. The alternation between the girls (which is fine after the fourth paragraph) should keep dialogue + observable actions of Hope in HER paragraphs, and dialogue + thoughts + actions of the Narrator in HER, separate, paragraphs. That's what I try to do.

    ---
    I would rewrite them as:

    “You better have a damn good reason for not telling me what’s wrong.” Hope looked me dead in the eyes.

    I looked away. “Nothing’s wrong…” I muttered.

    “Liar. I know you. I know when something is wrong with you too. I’m your girlfriend for God’s sake!”

    Pulling the girlfriend card. Wow. I shifted my gaze to my converse. How am I supposed to tell her what’s wrong? How am I supposed to phrase it? If I say one thing wrong, the best thing that has ever happened to me leaves me. Maybe for the better on her part, but I’d still die inside.

    ---
    without changing a word.

    I dunno, maybe it's just me, but it reads better - and there's a logic to it.

    Sometimes it's a fine line - such as when I have to decide if something is the pov character's thought OR something the pov character is observing about the other(s) - because in my system that determines which paragraph the information goes into.

    What do you think?
    ABE

    ReplyDelete
  2. The previous commentors suggestion for additional character separation made a positive difference in my reading experience.

    The dialog is great though I would not have figured the narrator to be a girl, at all. I would have wondered about it when it got to the Jason line, but even then, the world is a wide open place.

    I'd certainly read on to find out more.

    ReplyDelete
  3. “If Jason liking me is bothering you, Sabrina, it shouldn’t be.”

    Rewrite could read "Sabrina, If Jason liking me bothers you, it shouldn't."

    I think the repetition of an "ing" verb makes it feel a little awkward.

    ReplyDelete
  4. A bit awkward in places, but for me this worked nicely. I could not tell that the narrator was female until it was made explicit, though.

    Thoughts on initial reading:

    Is "Hope" a person, or a metaphor? On my first reading, I took it to be a metaphor

    >I shifted my gaze to my converse."

    Talking about her sneaker? Has to be...but it's not clear.

    > Please – PLEASE – don’t drop it.

    Loved this. I bonded with the narrator in this line.

    Last, her being immediately willing to give Hope away didn't quite feel realistic to me.


    Overall, though, despite the nits, very strong. I'd read on.
    Loved

    ReplyDelete