Saturday, January 10

Real Life Diagnostics: Adding Emotional Depth to a 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 site. 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: Six 


Please Note: As of today, RLD slots are booked through February 21.

This week’s questions:

Does it hook you? Does it make you feel?


Market/Genre: Young adult

On to the diagnosis…

Original text:

Background: The plot is that a teen named Dylan is under the delusion that the voice in his head is real. He goes to search for the voice, only to find he's dreaming.

I walked into that door with that saying I have been put on repeat in my head "we are a psychopath." What I see in front of me is Meredith, chained to the wall and a man dressed like a angel. For about 2 minutes I stood there in shock, that's when I realized that they were dead. There was not a drop of blood on the wall, now it's all over the wall. A piece of paper fell in front me.

It read: I don't exist, only you. You are a psychopath. Love, Meredith!

I woke up in a calm manner, which is strange. I conquered hardships to find her and she didn't even exist. I grabbed my pistol out the drawer by the bed. I stared at the pistol, should I kill myself. I've been searching for her weeks. Should I commit suicide?

My Thoughts in Purple:

[I walked into that door with that saying I have been put on repeat in my head "we are a psychopath."] I think some words are missing here, as this sentence doesn't make sense [What I see] This is present tense, yet the previous sentence was past tense in front of me is Meredith, chained to the wall and a man dressed like a angel. For about 2 minutes I stood there in shock, that's when I realized that they were dead. There was not a drop of blood on the wall, now it's all over the wall. A piece of paper fell in front me. As a whole, this paragraph was confusing to me

It read: I don't exist, only you. You are a psychopath. Love, Meredith! Nicely creepy.

I woke up in a calm manner, [which is strange.] Why? Does he normally not wake up calm? I conquered hardships to find her and she didn't even exist. I grabbed my pistol out the drawer by the bed. I stared at the pistol, should I kill myself. I've been searching for her weeks. Should I commit suicide?

The questions:

A quick note on this snippet...be aware that it's very difficult sometimes to offer helpful feedback on a small piece of a novel that's not the opening scene. There's no context for things that would probably be clear in the novel had I read the entire story to that point, so please read my comments with that in mind. Readers chime in with your thoughts.

1. Does it hook you?

Not yet, because I'm confused about what's going on. It's not clear that this is a dream until the narrator wakes up, and he refers to things I know nothing about. There's a definite creepy factor going, but I don't know enough about these images to understand what they mean overall or to the narrator.

Although readers might understand this in context, it might be worth adding a little internalization to show what this means to the narrator to help readers follow along. Is this image proof to him that he is a psychopath? Is he repulsed by it or does it excite him? I see the images, but I don't know how the narrator feels about them.

Since he wakes up calm and does nothing to make me think he's upset by this, him going for the gun and considering suicide doesn't feel credible to me. If this dream has upset him so much that he's thinking about killing himself, perhaps show that in his response in and out of the dream. Let's readers see how this has pushed him to the edge and what he's struggling with.

(Here's more on internalization)

2. Does it make you feel?

Not yet, because it's just random things with no context. Also, the narrator isn't "feeling" anything, so there's nothing for me to connect or relate to. He wakes up calm, acts calm, yet he contemplates suicide and I don't see or understand why.

To evoke an emotional reaction from the reader, you might try adding a strong emotional response from the narrator. I think if readers can see how affected he is by this dream and his fears (is he afraid?) that he's a psychopath, then they'll share those emotions with him.

(Here's more on adding emotions to your scenes)

Overall, this type of snippet is very difficult to critique, but I suspect adding an emotional layer/response from the narrator will help give this the emotional depth you want.

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.

2 comments:

  1. Actually I got a lot out of this because my ADD matches the prose. I can see a lot of potential. Treat this as a framework, finish the whole MS and follow through on the advice given to the point that the questions make sense.
    This needs more "air", it has too much in a tight space. Open up and take more time with what your saying, that will keep you from rushing the reader.

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