Saturday, January 11

Real Life Diagnostics: Hooking the Reader With a Deep POV

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: Seven

Please Note: As of today, RLD slots are booked through February 15. The Sunday diagnostics will shorten that some when my schedule permits, but I wanted everyone to be aware of the submission to posting delay.

This week’s questions:

Does this piece sound like/work for YA? Are the MC’s “reactions”/thoughts appropriate for his age? Is he an interesting/captivating enough MC? Does this piece sound like it’s in a deep enough POV that there’s no authorial influence, or can you still “hear” the author coming through in places? Do you think I need to go deeper with the POV? Finally, the infamous question: does this beginning “hook” you/the reader?

Market/Genre: Young adult


Also Note: There's a revised piece up for the football snippet for those curious to see how the writer revised

On to the diagnosis…

Original text:


I raced up the eight floors of the dingy downtown apartment with record-breaking speed for the third time that day. Not bad for a guy who’d had the god-awful plague eat away at him all sixteen years of his life. My backpack, which didn’t have any Valuable Objects in it, bounced airily on my shoulders.

The rest of the VOs had better still be there. The thought ran through my head faster than I did up the stairs. The chances were pretty good they were, though, since I’d found them in a very well-hidden closet that morning. And I made sure it was just as well-hidden after I stashed some of its VOs in my backpack and brought them all the way back to my faction—fast as I could. Twice. Sure, I’d made certain to take the most precious of them the first two trips, but the rest were still way too valuable for somebody else to find and snag while I was gone. On the last day of the Tournament of Prestige, they could be just what pushed my faction into the top spot to finally win the whole thing this year. And this was my last year, my last chance…

I finally made it to the eighth floor. My chest heaved.

Scrap—the second door on the right stood wide open! Not a good sign. My heart rate doubled as I crept up to the door so quietly a bug a millimeter from my feet wouldn’t have felt the vibration.

I peeked inside the room.

My Thoughts in Purple:

I raced up the eight floors of the dingy downtown apartment with record-breaking speed for the third time that day. Not bad for a guy who’d had the god-awful plague eat away at him all sixteen years of his life. My backpack, [which didn’t have any Valuable Objects in it,] This seems a little authorial because if he knows that, he'd not think it bounced airily on my shoulders.

The rest of the VOs had better still be there. [The thought ran through my head faster than I did up the stairs.] Feels a tad authorial The chances were pretty good they were, though, since I’d found them in a very well-hidden closet that morning. And I made sure [it] they? Plural, right? was just as well-hidden after I stashed some of [its] the? [VOs] this feels like a better spot to call them Valuable Objects in my backpack [and brought them all the way back to my faction—fast as I could. Twice. Sure, I’d made certain to take the most precious of them the first two trips, but the rest were still way too valuable for somebody else to find and snag while I was gone. On the last day of the Tournament of Prestige, ] All this feels a little infodumpy, since he's explaining what he did this morning instead of focusing on the here and now they could be just what pushed my faction into the top spot to finally win the whole thing this year. And this was my last year, my last chance…

I finally made it to the eighth floor. My chest heaved.

Scrap—the second door on the right stood wide open! Not a good sign. My heart rate doubled as I crept up to the door so quietly a bug a millimeter from my feet wouldn’t have felt the vibration.

I peeked inside the room.

The questions:

1. Does this piece sound like/work for YA?


It does. It has that casual, breezy tone, a sense of urgency.

2. Are the MC’s “reactions”/thoughts appropriate for his age?

Yes. He's trying to recover hidden goodies for his faction for something big, it means a lot to him, and he thinks someone else may have gotten to his stash.

3. Is he an interesting/captivating enough MC?

So far. The focus is more on what he did this morning, not on what he's doing now, but I like him, the world seems interesting, but I don't have enough details to know more than a general feel of both. I'd read on to get to know him better though.

This feels like a science fiction/post apocalypse setting, "factions" make me think of Divergent so I instantly get that vibe. (If that's not the vibe you want or you don't want the association, you might consider a new name. Those two words are going to be linked for a while). There's a major contest that is clearly a big deal to the protagonist, so I can see where the conflict will likely come from and what the goal is. All are vague pieces still, but it's enough to make me want to know more.

(More on writing characters reader care about)

4. Does this piece sound like it’s in a deep enough POV that there’s no authorial influence, or can you still “hear” the author coming through in places?
This one paragraph feels explanatory, there to catch the reader up:
And I made sure it was just as well-hidden after I stashed some of its VOs in my backpack and brought them all the way back to my faction—fast as I could. Twice. Sure, I’d made certain to take the most precious of them the first two trips, but the rest were still way too valuable for somebody else to find and snag while I was gone. On the last day of the Tournament of Prestige, they could be just what pushed my faction into the top spot to finally win the whole thing this year.
It's all good information though, and in his voice so it's not bad as infodumps go. If this wasn't the opening, scene, you could probably leave it. If you wanted it more in his head, you might rephrase it so it's more about what he's thinking now as he races back up the stairs. Maybe he hopes no one else came by, or no one found his hiding place. He might think about the items still left and how bad it might be if they were gone. Maybe he's thinking about what he could use them for in the tournament, or how they might get him the top spot and isn't that great. A slight shift to inside vs outside would pull this right back into his POV.

He's already done it, so he has no need to think about it. He'll be thinking about the right now and the very near future, maybe a little on the final goal.

(More on internalization here)

5. Do you think I need to go deeper with the POV?

It's first person, so it's hard to go deeper, but I'd suggest shifting the explanation passages into his voice and putting it firmly in the here and now. Just show the scene and let him be him, and the world building details will unfold naturally. Try not to explain unless that's the only way a reader will understand something.

If you want to explain what he did that morning, then perhaps find a reason why he'd be thinking about it now in this fashion.

6. Does this beginning “hook” you/the reader?

Yes, I'd read on. Something is about to happen and there are stakes to losing the VOs, and the protagonist wants those to get something he needs. All the right pieces are there and working to draw me in.

(More on hooking the reader here)

Overall, I liked it, I'd read on, and it's off to a good start.

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.

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