Saturday, May 18

Real Life Diagnostics: Internal Dialog and Pacing: How Much is Too Much?

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: Eight

This week’s questions:

1. I want to use internal dialogue to heighten the urgency and provide insight, but does it hinder the pace too much?

2. I don’t want to add a pile of ‘he thought’ into the mix, so I chose italics without the single quote mark. Is this appropriate or is there a better styling method?

3. Did it hook you for a story opener?

Market/Genre: Regency Romance 


On to the diagnosis…

Original text:

“Alt! Voi piccoli demoni!”

The colorful invective reverberated across St. James Park and destroyed Anthony’s first peaceful moment in a fortnight. He couldn’t translate the diatribe, but concluded that heaven had crowned the foreigner ‘the bravest of idiots.’ What lunacy possessed the female shouting the firestorm? Didn’t she realize she stampeded towards her grisly demise?

While his brain cataloged the rest of the scene, his feet already had begun thumping down the path. He counted six street-hardened boys, kicking a lumpy burlap sack. Were they armed? He patted his pockets and tallied a couple farthings for his arsenal. Need a weapon. Perhaps a stick. What the…?

With equal folly, the chit hitched her dress for the entire world to gawk at her full-length boots. He would have tossed his sister over his knee if Pip displayed such indecency. Nevertheless, the protestor’s speed impressed him. He ventured that she could best an alarmed rabbit back to its hole. No time. Blast her. He dismissed the notion to pause and scavenge for a makeshift cudgel. If he slowed, she might die. Oh, Lord. No.

He lifted his pace to an Olympian’s dash. No dying. Not on his watch. He should throttle her. Yes! Shake the naivety right out of her skull. Despite the sunny morning, the frosty March air burned his lungs. Just another five seconds should do it. For the first time in his life, he prayed for angels to trip a woman, smearing her face through the mud.

Thunderings.

Ten steps too late. The goosecap-girl had barged headlong into the pack.

Failure. No. Not again.

My Thoughts in Purple:

“Alt! Voi piccoli demoni!”

The colorful invective reverberated across St. James Park and destroyed Anthony’s first peaceful moment in a fortnight. He couldn’t translate the diatribe, but concluded that heaven had crowned the foreigner ‘the bravest of idiots.’ [What lunacy possessed the female shouting the firestorm? Didn’t she realize she stampeded towards her grisly demise? ] The thought feels disconnected from the text. It mentions a running woman, but there's nothing that clearly shows that.

While his brain cataloged the rest of the scene, his feet already had begun thumping down the path. He counted six street-hardened boys, kicking a lumpy burlap sack. [Were they armed?] Since the POV is more omniscient, the thoughts aren't flowing as well in italics. He patted his pockets and tallied a couple farthings for his arsenal.[ Need a weapon. Perhaps a stick. What the…?] Same here. Part of the reason I think, is that the text feels formal and the internal dialog feels casual. I'm also not sure what's going on.

[With equal folly, the chit hitched her dress] It's a little unclear what's going on in this scene. Equal folly to what? Who's the girl? for the entire world to gawk at her full-length boots. [He would have tossed his sister over his knee if Pip displayed such indecency.] This is a good example of internalization in the text. This feels like his thought but no need for italics. Nevertheless, [the protestor’s] I don't know who this is speed impressed him. He ventured that she could best an alarmed rabbit back to its hole. [No time. Blast her.] for what? Though this feels more natural as an italic thought, because of the emphasis. [He dismissed the notion to pause and scavenge for a makeshift cudgel. If he slowed, she might die. Oh, Lord. No. ] The thought doesn't mesh with the matter-of-fact way her explains the situation. It's also telling a bit.

He lifted his pace to an Olympian’s dash. [No dying. Not on his watch.] Feels anachronistic, and a bit stuck in [He should throttle her. Yes! Shake the naivety right out of her skull.] This feels like a good thought for the situation and reads naturally Despite the sunny morning, the frosty March air burned his lungs. [Just another five seconds should do it.] Feels stuck in For the first time in his life, he prayed for angels to trip a woman, smearing her face through the mud.

[Thunderings. ] I don't understand this thought.

Ten steps too late. The goosecap-girl had barged headlong into the pack.

[Failure. No. Not again.] The "failure" doesn't seem to fit. I can see thinking no, not again though.

The questions:

1. I want to use internal dialogue to heighten the urgency and provide insight, but does it hinder the pace too much?

The italics aren't working for me for several reasons. Most of them are more internalization than internal dialog (a subtle difference, but important) so italics make them stand out more than they should and not flow well with the narrative. They also feel more casual and modern vs the rest of the more formal omniscient text.

They also obscure more than provide insight, because there's not enough to understand what's going on in the scene. The descriptions don't match the thoughts. I suspect there's more being seen than the narrator is conveying to the reader.

I'd suggest just making them part of the narrative and doing them more as internalization than internal dialog. Pick only the one you want to emphasize (Like the "oh no" types) and let the rest flow with text.

The pace does drag a bit, because what's going on the importance of these events is unclear. More internalization and description would actually help here. I'd also suggest a little more clarity and consistency in how things are referred to. There's a female, then a chit, then a protester, then a woman, then a goosecap-girl. Is this all the same person? Who's shouting? Running? Who does he chase after and why?

(More on pacing here)

You might consider doing a little more to set the scene and establish who's there and what the reader is looking at. It's hard to follow right now. A few lines is probably all you'd need, and you can even do that through internalization. It doesn't have to be a long descriptive passage. There's a bit of telling and explaining right now as well that could be tweaked to be more in Anthony's head to further establish the scene, get that insight you want, and show more to hook the reader.

(More on setting the scene here)

2. I don’t want to add a pile of ‘he thought’ into the mix, so I chose italics without the single quote mark. Is this appropriate or is there a better styling method?
I agree with the "he thought" reservation, but I think some kind of tag to show that it's the character thinking would help clarify things. I'd suggest the old "touch your face" trick. Draw attention to the character's head or face before the thought, which positions it "in the head" of the character for the reader. For example...
The colorful invective reverberated across St. James Park and destroyed Anthony’s first peaceful moment in a fortnight. He couldn’t translate the diatribe, but concluded that heaven had crowned the foreigner ‘the bravest of idiots.’ He frowned. What lunacy possessed the female shouting the firestorm? Didn’t she realize she stampeded towards her grisly demise?
The text itself reads like a thought, so with just a little nudge to put it in the head of the character, it flows naturally in the narrative and doesn't stick out.

(More on internalization tricks here)

3. Did it hook you for a story opener?
Not yet because I'm lost as to what's happening. Anthony is reacting to things the reader doesn't see (or see clearly) so I feel like I'm only getting half the picture. I also don't understand why any of this matters to him or what he's trying to do, so I have no clear goal to hook me or stakes to worry about.

Your instincts about internalization to keep the pace up and provide insight are dead on, so perhaps add more there to establish what's happening and why it matters. Let Anthony set the scene for the reader by what he sees, thinks, and feels is important as the story opens. I get the sense important things are afoot, but it's not coming across in the text yet.

(More on describing action here)

Overall, I think a little more fleshing out will help get this where you want it to be. There's more in your head than it making it to the page, and as soon as you add some details to get the reader on board, this will probably tighten right up.

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 internalization, with the tweaks Janice suggested, would work for me. But I have *no* idea of what's going on with the girl. What danger is she running toward? What are the boys kicking? If she crashes into them, will they bludgeon her to death?

    Some loudmouth racing heedlessly toward doom is an interesting start, but I don't know who the loudmouth is or what the doom is, so I'm not engaged as yet.

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  2. My second novel starts with internal thoughts so I was curious to read Janice's response to the use of Italics. The first line in Latin or Italian isn't helpful. I have no idea what it is and sending the reader to google it in the start of the novel isn't wise. I'll write it in English. I'm not sure that the readers need to know the many thoughts of the MC in the first pages. More actions and less thoughts might make it more interesting. But I'll continue to read to the next page. Good luck.

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  3. I agree with Janice that there is far more in your head. It just isn't transferring onto the page yet. I am lost about why the girl is there shouting, lifting her skirts, and running into trouble.

    As your MC moves forward, perhaps add a little more description woven in with the action. I don't know who your MC is or why he cares to help either.

    This sounds interesting and when you find the right mix, I would keep reading.

    Good luck

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  4. Thunderings!
    I'm still giggling. It's like Zounds!

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