Saturday, June 8

Real Life Diagnostics: Infodumps and Reflection: How Much Do You Need?

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 (+two re-submits)

This week’s questions:

This is mostly an info dump and reflection, but is it interesting enough to keep you hooked?

Is the writing flowing and clear?

Can you hear Cina's voice and character, even though it's in third person? Is this realistic for him to be thinking about?

Market/Genre: Fantasy

On to the diagnosis…

Original text:

Context: One of the main protagonists, Cina, is watching the Prince's public execution, an execution he and his partner caused, in order to kill the Prince. This part of the scene is when Cina is watching the execution and reflecting on how exactly they went about killing the Prince. (Cina is a Phoenix, which means he can create, control and manipulate a special type of fire - that's the "kind" he refers to.)

Cina let out a long breath, watching the execution arena closely. He was a few hundred feet away, yet he clearly saw the Prince’s jewels gleaming in the flames that engulfed his robes. Even the royal criminals were treated better than his kind, but as Leto always reminded him…when dagger turned to sword, he’d rather not be royalty. Royalty were uptight, strict and stubborn, even about being killed.

How many times had he and Leto tried to kill the Prince? Three times, he believed, in the past four days. First, Leto poisoned the Prince’s wine, but the stupid cat had decided to dip its wart-covered tongue into the glass before the Prince did and fell over, frothing at the mouth. Then he had tried slitting the boy’s throat at midnight, but the Prince’s maid chose that time to steal a few necklaces from his chamber. After much debate and a few drinks later, Leto had stolen one of the Prince’s rings, stabbed a few guards, dropped the ring near the bodies, and of course the King found out about that; it was amusing, really, how fast the rumors spread, once Cina invited the palace gossip to a late night wine at the nearby tavern.

So they tricked the King to set his own son for execution. But of course, then the Lady wanted the Prince burned with phoenix fire for “extra measure”, even though he was set to be hanged, and you couldn’t question the Lady, oh no, because the Lady had the final say. So what did Leto tell him to do?

“Oh, Cina, why don’t you burn the boy at his own hanging, because that’s not a waste of time,” Cina muttered, sliding out of the shadows.

Cina crept toward the sidelines, peering over the gate, where people were shouting in the havoc. They were perfectly fine with the Prince spontaneously burning, because no one really liked the Prince, and the people who watched the executions were, in Cina’s opinion, murderous barbarians. But the second the flames started spreading to the crowd... Cina smirked as he turned away. Phoenix fire didn't stop. It burned.

My Thoughts in Purple:

Cina let out a long breath, watching the execution arena closely. He was a few hundred feet away, yet he clearly saw the Prince’s [jewels] Weird thing, but would they really burn the jewels? This thought yanked me out of the text gleaming in the flames that engulfed his robes. [Even the royal criminals were treated better than his kind] I don't understand this, as being burned doesn't seem better, though it might make sense in context, but as Leto always reminded him…[when dagger turned to sword] Nice, he’d rather not be royalty. [Royalty were uptight, strict and stubborn, even about being killed.] I like the attitude, but I don't get what he means

[How many times had he and Leto tried to kill the Prince? Three times, he believed, in the past four days.] Perhaps combine these into one sentence? Reads a little awkwardly. Also, if he isn't sure, then I can see him thinking about each one to count them. But if he says how many then there's no need to count. First, Leto poisoned the Prince’s wine, but the stupid cat had decided to dip its wart-covered tongue into the glass before the Prince did and fell over, frothing at the mouth. Then he had tried slitting the boy’s throat at midnight, but the Prince’s maid chose that time to steal a few necklaces from his chamber. After much debate and a few drinks later, Leto had stolen one of the Prince’s rings, stabbed a few guards, dropped the ring near the bodies, and of course the King found out about that; it was amusing, really, how fast the rumors spread, once Cina invited the palace gossip to a late night wine at the nearby tavern.

So they tricked the King to set his own son for execution. But of course, then the Lady wanted the Prince burned with phoenix fire for “extra measure”, even though he was set to be hanged, and you couldn’t question the Lady, oh no, because the Lady had the final say. [So what did Leto tell him to do?] Staring to get a little confused as to the chronology here

[“Oh, Cina, why don’t you burn the boy at his own hanging, because that’s not a waste of time,” Cina muttered, sliding out of the shadows. ] I don't understand and I'm a bit lost at this point

Cina crept toward the sidelines, peering over the gate, where people were shouting in the havoc. They were perfectly fine with [the Prince spontaneously burning,] So Cina set the Prince on fire? The chronology feels off and I'm not sure when I am anymore because no one really liked the Prince, and the people who watched the executions were, in Cina’s opinion, murderous barbarians. But the second the flames started spreading to the crowd... Cina smirked as he turned away. Phoenix fire didn't stop. It burned.

The questions:

This is mostly an info dump and reflection, but is it interesting enough to keep you hooked?

Parts are, but I'm not sure it's working overall. I'm curious about things, but I suspect my questions would be answered had I read this scene in context with the rest of the book. It's always hardest to critique a non-opening scene snippet, because things the reader would know by now I don't. There are a few things that hit me though:

If they've spent this much time trying to kill the Prince, then I imagine the reader has seen those scenes, right? So going over them again in detail will likely feel redundant. If the reader hasn't seen those scenes play out, then why not? They seem like fun scenes.

Why was it so easy to frame the Prince? It seems odd that the King would kill his own son over a few dead guards. And the Prince would have professed his innocence, so the King would have believed a dropped ring and gossip over the word of his child. And the Lady (his mother?) wanted him burned with magic fire to be sure he was dead? That seems like overkill. (all this is possible and might be setup clearly in the book though. But in this snippet the motives are unclear)

Why execute him with his jewels? Whoever takes his body away will just steal them. And if he's a criminal worthy of execution, then why treat him as royalty?

What did grab me was the end part, where it looks like Cina set the body on fire and this fire will spread out and start burning the crowd. I'm curious what is about to happen there.

Had I read this in the book and knew what was going on, what might happen next and what they gain by killing the Prince is what would hook me. But as is, I'm not sure why this matters. Cina has killed the Prince, set fire to the crowd (more or less) and is walking away. What was the goal? What happens now? What does he get from killing the Prince?

It's seems that he might also be thinking about the next step in their plan (if they have one) or how this is going to get him what he wants. I'm wondering how this scene fits into the larger story, as little that happens here would change if you wrote this scene as "they killed the Prince the next day." Cina's fire going into the crowd changes things some, but again, I don't see why that matters or why he did it (aside from just being cruel because he doesn't like these people).

This snippet feels like a sequel, (the time after a scene where the character reacts, reflects, and decides what to do next) so I'm looking for the what to do next part. The hook will come from what this accomplishes and causes.

(More on infodumps here)

Is the writing flowing and clear?
I had some clarity issues, but they could be due to context. Since it jumped back and forth in time, I wasn't sure what was going on toward the end. I thought Cina was there to watch, and the Prince was already burning, but by the end it looks like Cina set him on fire. Again, if Leto told him to do this I imagine some of that would have come up earlier. Or at least we'd have seen Cina doing it. He goes from reflection to remembering Leto's order, to walking away and I never see him actually "set" the fire. The fire is burning before readers see that Cina caused it. You might consider reorganizing this and tightening the narrative focus.

(More on narrative focus here)

Can you hear Cina's voice and character, even though it's in third person? Is this realistic for him to be thinking about?
Yes. I like Cina reflecting on what a pain this was to do, as it shows his character. There's no remorse at all that he and his partner killed this guy. He has no care for all the people he's about to hurt or kill with his Phoenix fire. He's not a very nice guy, but I don't have enough of a sampling to know if he's likeable or not.


Overall, I'm curious how this snippet serves the story. It feels as though it's here to tell the reader they tried to kill the Prince three times. But wouldn't that already be known? So is the reflection needed or would it be more interesting to see Cina creeping up, setting the fire, thinking about how this affects him and his goals, and what he plans to do next?

(More on developing character voice 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.

1 comment:

  1. I got confused too, at most of the same spots. Your line "Even the royal criminals were treated better than his kind"--phoenixes get treated worse than most criminals, I understand that. But the following line about royalty being uptight seems a non sequitur.

    I'm intrigued by your fiery, hardbitten criminal. I want to know who the Lady is and why she wants the Prince burned with Phoenix fire. And you mention Leto three times, which piques my interest about him.

    All of that to say, can I read the story and get context??

    ReplyDelete