Saturday, October 19

Real Life Diagnostics: Question it All: Things to Ask in Any Scene

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:
1. Is it too choppy? Do I need more sentence variety?
2. Are the characters real to you? Do their reactions seem believable and realistic? (For fourteen year-olds)
3. I know this is an opinion based question, but is there enough description? If not, how do you weave that in there?
4. Do the characters, from what you can tell here, have their own voice? Or do they blend together?
5. Is it showing or telling?
6. Is there too much dialog?
7. Is the internalization good here? Or is too little or too much?


Market/Genre: Unspecified

On to the diagnosis…

Original text:

Background: This is in the smack middle of the scene. Kyrstin has already seen someone hurt and been hurt herself from Vincent's power.

He looked at me perplexed. “Why would you think I’d ever do something bad?”

I shrugged. I can’t believe I just asked him that. But at least I know he’s not doing anything troublesome like Daniel accused him of doing.

“You don’t want to tell me. That’s cool. But, hey, Kiki! Look what I learned how to do!” Vincent hopped up from the bed. “Now, don’t be scared.”

Wait. How’d he learn to do something new already? It’s not even time for that class!

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He put his hands in position to bow. He thrust them up, palms to ceiling. His shadow engulfed him.

“Vincent!” I lurched from the bed. What is he doing?! Those shadows could kill him!

The shadow dropped back into a swirling circle around his feet. He looked at me. My stomach dropped through the Earth all the way to China. Those eyes…weren’t his. They were yellow pupils that bore down into your very soul.

My breath shook almost as much as I did.

He reached out toward me. Black tentacles rose from the vortex at his feet and licked at my wrists. They were trying to grab me. I jumped away.

“Vincent!”

Our eyes met yet again.

“Vincent!”

These things were going to get me.

“Vincent! Stop!”

They’d pull me into his shadow.

“Vincent! Please!”

I’m trapped. There’s no way out for me.

“VINCENT!!!”

He looked confused for a second. Maybe he heard me? He blinked. Then again. The yellow faded from his eyes.

I looked at Vincent. He was a normal fourteen year-old boy again. No swirling vortex of doom at his feet.

“Kiki, I-I’m sorry…!”

My vision blurred. H-he…tried to…hurt me…

“Kiki…I – I don’t know what just happened. I lost control of it again.” Vincent stepped toward me. I back away.

“D-don’t…” I mumbled.

He backed away slowly, hands up innocently. “I thought I could control it…I’m sorry.”

My Thoughts in Purple:

He looked at me perplexed. “Why would you think I’d ever do something bad?”

I shrugged. I can’t believe I just asked him that. [But at least I know he’s not doing anything troublesome like Daniel accused him of doing.] He doesn't deny it, he just asks her why she'd think it, so I'm not sure why she thinks he's not doing anything here. What made her change her mind so fast?

[“You don’t want to tell me.] I wasn't sure at first who was speaking here That’s cool. But, hey, Kiki! Look what I learned how to do!” Vincent hopped up from the bed. [“Now, don’t be scared.”] she just asked him about doing bad things, so it feels weird that he'd immediately do something he has to warn her not to be scared about

Wait. How’d he learn to do something new already? It’s not even time for that class!

[He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He put his hands in position to bow. He thrust them up, palms to ceiling. His shadow engulfed him.] Feels a little choppy and list-like here with the He-he-he-his.

“Vincent!” I lurched from the bed. What [is] was he doing?! Those shadows could kill him!

The shadow dropped back into a swirling circle around his feet. He looked at me. My stomach dropped through the Earth all the way to China. Those eyes…weren’t his. They were yellow pupils that bore down into [your] my? very soul.

My breath shook almost as much as I did.

He reached out toward me. Black tentacles rose from the vortex at his feet and [licked] hit my ears funny, as tentacles have no mouths to lick with, and licking doesn't suggest grabbing at my wrists. They were trying to grab me. I jumped away.

“Vincent!”

Our eyes met yet again.

“Vincent!”

These things were going to get me.

“Vincent! Stop!”

They’d pull me into his shadow.

“Vincent! Please!”

[I’m] I was? trapped. [There’s] There was? no way out for me.

“VINCENT!!!”

He looked confused for a second. Maybe he heard me? He blinked. Then again. The yellow faded from his eyes.

I looked at Vincent. He was a normal [fourteen year-old boy] would she think of his age at this moment or just think he was normal? again. No swirling vortex of doom at his feet.

“Kiki, I-I’m sorry…!”

My vision blurred. H-he…tried to…hurt me…

“Kiki…I – I don’t know what just happened. I lost control of it again.” Vincent stepped toward me. I [back] backed away.

“D-don’t…” I mumbled.

He backed away slowly, hands up [innocently.] don't need, and I'm not sure innocent is the right emotion here. “I thought I could control it…I’m sorry.”

The questions:

1. Is it too choppy? Do I need more sentence variety?


One paragraph that felt choppy, and the "Vincent stop" section felt a little long (she yells his name six times), but the rest sounded fine. It's a fast-paced scene that's cranking up the tension, so the shorter sentences work to help create that. I'd suggest trimming it down to three "Vincent!" and let the internalization help build the tension. Longer thoughts at first, then a little shorter, then the realization of how bad this really is.

There was some word repetition you could make stronger, though. Lots of eyes, looked, backed, etc. You might look for ways to revise to eliminate some of those and flesh out the sentences there. For example, instead of "looked confused" you might think of ways a confused person would look and describe that instead. Or cut "I looked at Vincent" since she describes him, so we know she looked at him.

(More on sentence structure here)

2. Are the characters real to you? Do their reactions seem believable and realistic? (For fourteen year-olds)

There's not enough here for them to feel real yet, but they do sound like teens to me. The focus on more on what's going on than character development. That's not a bad thing due to the nature of this snippet though. It's about what Vincent does and how this is bad.

(More on developing characters here)

3. I know this is an opinion based question, but is there enough description? If not, how do you weave that in there?


They were in someone's bedroom. I get the feeling it's his room since she says he hoped up from "the" bed and not "my" bed. I got a sense of the shadowy vortex and the tentacles. I got enough to get what was going on (readers chime in here). Has this an opening scene I would have wanted more to ground me, but knowing this is a snippet from a later scene already in progress, I assume a lot of the description already occurred. Too much would bog down the action at this point.

(More on weaving in description here)

4. Do the characters, from what you can tell here, have their own voice? Or do they blend together?

They do blend together a bit in this section, but there's really not enough to tell yet. Vincent feels a tad more excitable and eager to please though, so in a longer passage the differences are probably more apparent.

(More on crafting character voices here)

5. Is it showing or telling?

Feels shown. I didn't stumbled over anything that felt like author intrusion.

(More on show don't tell here)

6. Is there too much dialog?

A few too many "Vincents," but it felt like a good balance otherwise. No one made speeches, and there was a steady back and forth.

(More on dialog here)

7. Is the internalization good here? Or is too little or too much?

A pretty good balance, though I would have liked a little more to understand what the shadows and vortex meant to her. She's scared of them, but never questions or remarks on what they are or how he did it, so I'm uncertain how much she knows about them. I would have expected either recognition or confusion about them to provide context.

(More on internalization here)

Overall, a decent scene that feels like it's driving the plot to something interesting. There will be repercussions from this I bet, and the POV is likely to find herself in a tough spot. A few tweaks here and there could help clarify spots and deepen the emotions and kick everything up a notch.

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.

3 comments:

  1. I liked it quite a lot; the moment when he advances on her while she panics was well done. The number of "Vincents" didn't bother me because it was mixed with internalization and building the scene.

    My nit was that you switched a lot between past tense and present. I understand that you're conveying her thoughts, but I found that a little confusing. All in all, a very interesting submission!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I see that my question matches Rachel's. I thought that when writing in past tense, the thoughts should also stay in past tense, even when it seems as if the MC is talking to us. Janice, can you explain the proper way to do this? Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Typically, you stay in one tense. You can switch to present tense if you're showing internal thoughts, though those are often done in italics to show they're different.

    I prefer to keep internal thoughts in the past-tense narrative unless I want to emphasis them, then I'll do present-tense italics. Taste does vary some on this.

    ReplyDelete