Saturday, October 5

Real Life Diagnostics: Avoiding the Triple Threat: Show vs Tell, POV Shifts, and Passive Voice

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 it 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: Ten (+ two resubmits)

This week’s questions:

Is this a good start? Does it show and not tell? Did I manage to stay in the hero's POV? Did I use strong verbs and avoid passive voice?

Market/Genre: Contemporary Romance


On to the diagnosis…

Original text:

Damien turned off the water and listened, his heart hammering in his chest. Dammit, it wasn’t his imagination. Rubbing a hand over his unshaven jaw, he groaned as the familiar, female shriek grew louder. No doubt, that pitch just made every dog in the building run for cover. Shit, what’s Harley Taylor doing here?

Wrapping a towel around his waist, he hurried toward the front door positive his homeowner’s association fees were about to skyrocket in direct correlation to the disturbance in front of his penthouse. Throwing open the door, he frowned as the shouting match between the feisty, petite blonde and Jordan, the three-hundred-pound security guard escalated to the roar of a packed stadium for an SEC football game. If asked who would win, he’d place his money on Harley without thinking twice.

“Don't tell me I can't go in there! You're not the boss of me, you wanker. If you lay one finger on me, I’ll grab your balls and twist them so hard you’ll sing soprano for the rest of your life. Do you hear me, you drittsekk?”

Whoa, she’d called Jordan a dick and an asshole. She really was pissed. Her mixture of English and Norwegian insults had always fascinated Damien.

Harley’s cobalt-blue eyes flashed like fire at the red-faced security guard, and her chest heaved, drawing his and Jordan’s attention to the blue t-shirt stretched taut across her braless, perky breasts. It read Bite Me. Damien found the thought disturbing... and tempting.

My Thoughts in Purple:

Damien turned off the water and listened, his heart hammering in his chest. Dammit, it wasn’t his imagination. Rubbing a hand over his unshaven jaw, he groaned as the familiar, female shriek grew louder. No doubt, that pitch just made every dog in the building run for cover. Shit, what’s Harley Taylor doing here? You might consider shifting some sentences around here. I was a bit confused at the start because he's reacting to something the reader hasn't seen yet.

Wrapping a towel around his waist, he hurried toward the front door positive his homeowner’s association fees were about to skyrocket in direct correlation to the disturbance in front of his penthouse. Throwing open the door, he frowned as the shouting match between the feisty, petite blonde and Jordan, the three-hundred-pound security guard escalated to the roar of a packed stadium for an SEC football game. If asked who would win, he’d place his money on Harley without thinking twice.

“Don't tell me I can't go in there! You're not the boss of me, you wanker. If you lay one finger on me, I’ll grab your balls and twist them so hard you’ll sing soprano for the rest of your life. Do you hear me, you drittsekk?”

Whoa, she’d called Jordan a dick and an asshole. She really was pissed. [Her mixture of English and Norwegian insults had always fascinated Damien.] Telling a bit here. This explains he finds this fascinating instead of having him think something that would let the reader figure that out.

Harley’s cobalt-blue eyes flashed like fire at the red-faced security guard, and her chest heaved, drawing his [and Jordan’s] Slipping away from his POV a bit here. attention to the blue t-shirt stretched taut across her braless, perky breasts. [It read Bite Me. Damien found the thought disturbing... and tempting.] Great line.

The questions:

1. Is this a good start?


I'd read on. The bite me line hooked me and made me laugh, which made me think this will be a funny and fun read. I like Damien and how he can compliment the odd things about Haley even when she's acting like a lunatic. She's clearly a problem, yet he's not bashing her or being mean. I'm curious what a conversation between these two will be like.

(More on first chapter sins here)

2. Does it show and not tell?

Mostly showing. It's a slightly more distant POV, which can make things feel a little more tell-ish. For example, he mentions his unshaven jaw, which feels more like someone outside Damien describing it, not him. But an outside narrator who sits inside his head might say this, so that one narrative step away from the character works. From what I've read of the genre that's a common narrative distance, so it fits and works for that genre (Romance fans chime in here).

(More on show vs tell here)

3. Did I manage to stay in the hero's POV?

One little shift with noting what Jordon was looking at, but otherwise yes. What makes that feel like a shift is because if Damien is staring at Haley, he probably won't see Jordan doing the same thing.

(More on POV shifts here)

4. Did I use strong verbs and avoid passive voice?

Yes. The writing flowed smoothly and I felt in the scene. Everyone was active, and I didn't feel like the narrator was just sitting back relaying information to me.

(More on passive voice here)

Overall, a good scene. A few minor tweaks and you'll be good to go.

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. These are all things I've been guilty of. Thanks for such a great way to illustrate what not to do.

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  2. Hi Janice
    Thanks for this post, I love the diagnostics.
    I struggle with lines like the one you highlighted regarding the Norwegian insults. I do this a lot, and spotting them and then finding ways to do what you suggest can be a real challenge.
    It's nice to see I'm not the only one!
    thanks again (and to the mystery submitter!)
    Mike

    ReplyDelete
  3. As usual, great post. Good for my writing students who are talking about POV these days!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great example. I found my submission far more tell not show. It's important to get straight to the action. That means being less fascinated by our ability to write or our desire to be witty and more willing to give the reader what they want, action, right off the top driving the story.

    ReplyDelete