Saturday, April 16

Real Life Diagnostics: Does This Opening Feel Rushed?

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: Three

Please Note: As of today, RLD slots are booked through May 7.

This week’s questions:

Does the beginning of this novel feel rushed? Am I leaving too many questions? I’ve resisted the urge to “info dump” pages and pages of worldbuilding, but are there places in which some “Telling” wouldn’t be remiss? Pacing questions, I suppose. I want to end chapter 1 where the main character meets the “squad” she’s eventually going to have adventures with, so that people know the mystery/conflict and how the male and female leads meet. But it feels rushed.

Market/Genre: New adult futuristic romance

On to the diagnosis…

Original text:

In front of the broken statue in Weaver Square, Hope Steele’s boyfriend kissed another woman. Vigorously. Their passionate clinch elicited cheers and suggestive comments from people passing by, while her boyfriend—former boyfriend—bounced lightly on the balls of his feet, as if he were so excited about kissing this woman that he couldn’t wait to spend the rest of the night making the neighbors turn up their televisions.

Hope scrunched her cold toes inside her boots and kept a death grip on her umbrella. She should cross the square and demand to know what was going on. She should start yelling, scatter some pigeons, whack her boyfriend over the head with his own hat. If the crowd knew the truth, they’d be cheering for her.

Unfortunately, showing up on the evening newsreel screaming like a banshee would send her back to prison.

Not fair. Not fair to banshees, really, who couldn’t help it when they had an allergic reaction to the atmospheric pressure on New London and suffered a spell. But it definitely wasn’t fair that the terms of her probation lacked an escape clause in case of cheating boyfriends.

Hope pictured what scans of her protest would look like on the news. Rain had washed her rubber boots clean of mud from her trek through the Dell, but they were still boots, not high heels. She wore a yellow slicker with a Works Department insignia on the back, not a clear, designer raincoat like the other woman. Her eyes were two smudged paint bruises. The camera would immortalize her humiliation sans lipstick, which would give her mother hives. Most importantly, the law expressly prohibited her from being caught in a public scandal.

At least this one would be domestic, not cyber-crime related.

My Thoughts in Purple:

In front of the broken statue in Weaver Square, Hope Steele’s boyfriend kissed another woman. Vigorously. Their passionate clinch elicited cheers and suggestive comments from people passing by, while her boyfriend—former boyfriend—bounced lightly on the balls of his feet, as if he were so excited about kissing this woman that [he couldn’t wait to spend the rest of the night making the neighbors turn up their televisions.] funny

Hope scrunched her cold toes inside her boots and kept a death grip on her umbrella. She should cross the square and demand to know what was going on. She should start yelling, scatter some pigeons, whack her boyfriend over the head with his own hat. If the crowd knew the truth, they’d be cheering for her.

Unfortunately, showing up on the evening newsreel [screaming like a banshee] I love that this feels like just a simile until the next paragraph would send her back to prison.

Not fair. Not fair to banshees, really, who couldn’t help it when they had an allergic reaction to the atmospheric pressure on New London and suffered a spell. But it definitely wasn’t fair that [the terms of her probation] interesting. I’m curious about this [lacked an escape clause in case of cheating boyfriends. ] funny

Hope pictured what [scans of her protest] nice futuristic detail would look like on the news. Rain had washed her rubber boots clean of mud from her trek through the Dell, but they were still boots, not high heels. She wore a yellow slicker with a Works Department insignia on the back, not a clear, designer raincoat like the other woman. Her eyes were two smudged paint bruises. The camera would immortalize [her humiliation sans lipstick] loving the voice, which would give her mother hives. Most importantly, the [law expressly prohibited her from being caught in a public scandal.] Also intriguing
At least this one would be [domestic, not cyber-crime related]. intriguing yet again

The questions:

1. Does the beginning of this novel feel rushed?


Not to me (readers chime in here). It starts with something going on, there’s clear conflict, and there are several interesting hints of larger issues floating around. I’m curious about why she’s on probation, what scandal she was part of before, and how she was involved in cyber crime. It has a nice flow and pulls me right in.

I think the universal and relatable “caught the boyfriend cheating” situation makes it easy to dive on in here. It’s so clean and understandable that you don’t need to spend a lot of time on it to get readers to get it. The focus can shift to Hope and how she feels, which it does in quite humorous fashion.

Her anger and need to control herself (and her powers I’m guessing), is the perfect vehicle for you to do a little world building and set the scene without being overwhelming. There are details, but only as they pertain to how she’s feeling at that moment.

(Here’s more on the difference between good and bad setup)

2. Am I leaving too many questions? I’ve resisted the urge to “info dump” pages and pages of world building, but are there places in which some “Telling” wouldn’t be remiss?

Feels like the right amount of questions to me (readers also chime in here). There are a few centered around (I’m guessing) her scandal and why she’s on probation. There are several that suggest the world. There are a few about the boyfriend. But they offer enough context for me to understand what’s going on, even if I don’t yet understand the bigger picture or the world. I’m not feeling overwhelmed by too much information, or too many different details that don’t feel connected.

(Here’s more on pacing and world building)

This is a different world from ours, and I love how banshee is used as if it’s just a word, then we find out there really are banshees. The mini-infodump after that feels like Hope’s voice and her opinion on the matter, so it flows smoothly with the text and doesn’t feel like an infodump. The world building is also flowing seamlessly into the scene. I’m getting information, but when it’s needed and when its relevant to what’s going on. I trust that more will come as necessary so I’m not worried if things aren’t yet clear. I’m getting enough to move forward.

(Here’s more on asking the right story questions)

3. Pacing questions, I suppose. I want to end chapter 1 where the main character meets the “squad” she’s eventually going to have adventures with, so that people know the mystery/conflict and how the male and female leads meet. But it feels rushed.

It feels well-paced to me, though full disclosure—I like fast-paced stories. But this didn’t feel rushed at all, and her reactions unfolded as I’d expect someone that angry and hurt, yet still careful of her reactions, would behave. I wasn’t struggling to keep up or confused about anything, even though I do have plenty of questions. But they’re the good kind.

I can see Hope deciding how to handle this, storming off to deal with her feelings, and encountering the squad you mention. She’ll be in a bad emotional state, which could cause all kinds of trouble in this meeting and maybe cause her to make some bad choices. Or not be as aware as she needs to if the squad needs to catch her off guard or something. Im not sure how it will play out, but I suspect it’ll be fun, because this first page is fun.

(Here’s more on fixing pacing problems)

Overall, I think this works well and I’d read on. It’s an interesting world and there’s good narrative drive to keep me reading. I love the voice, multiple lines made me chuckle, and I’m already rooting for Hope.

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.

13 comments:

  1. I like it and I would read on. The only thing that I questioned was whacking him with his own hat. It seem more logical to thwack him with her umbrella, not just for immediacy, but for impact too.

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  2. What a great job. Honestly, I wouldn't change a thing. You were right to watch the info dumps and too much world building up front. That would slow pacing and lose reader interest. It's not rushed at all. I'd like to read it when it's published!

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  3. I primarily lurk and pick up tips, but this opening brought me out of hiding. It's clean, tight, and has a well developed voice.
    Nice :)

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  4. I'm like Janet, in that I don't often make comments but felt compelled to do so here. I liked it and I'd definitely keep reading. I will admit that the banshee bit actually confused me--what about her situation isn't fair to the banshees? I didn't quite see the connection between her cheating boyfriend and the banshee allergies except for that little "screaming like a banshee" bit, and it kind of confused me a bit. But that is a suuuuuuper minor concern in an otherwise excellent opening, and I'm sure I'm probably the only one who didn't get it right away. Haha! Anyways, good job. I'm sold.

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  5. I'm like Janet, in that I don't often make comments but felt compelled to do so here. I liked it and I'd definitely keep reading. I will admit that the banshee bit actually confused me--what about her situation isn't fair to the banshees? I didn't quite see the connection between her cheating boyfriend and the banshee allergies except for that little "screaming like a banshee" bit, and it kind of confused me a bit. But that is a suuuuuuper minor concern in an otherwise excellent opening, and I'm sure I'm probably the only one who didn't get it right away. Haha! Anyways, good job. I'm sold.

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  6. Enjoyable voice and smooth writing. I'm not a fantasy fiction reader but this was done well and brought me in. My only thought was agreeing with Southpaw, I expected she would hit him with the umbrella, but then I thought, maybe the umbrella is too important to her. Good job!

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  7. I love this so so so much. I want to carry on reading. I love Hope's voice and phrases. I'm intrigued and would but this book in a heartbeat based on what I've read :) xx

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  8. buy this book, not but, argh!

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  9. Well done! Thank-you for resisting the urge to info dump. Beautiful weaving of world-building details into an interesting opening. Rushed? Feels like a gradual disclosure of the setting to me. Just right. I liked the banshee thing, but felt "and suffered a spell" is a little clunky and it distracts me from noticing you used the word "on" New London instead of "in." Nice touch.

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  10. Thank you so much! I am 20K words into this novel and just hit that part in Act 2 where you realize all the "oops" issues with Act 1. So, getting this crit today was incredibly motivating and encouraging! Thank you SO MUCH to everyone who read and commented, and especially to Janice for having this weekly column. I learn something every time! --long time lurker, first time poster :)

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  11. I loved it and would keep reading in a heart beat!

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  12. I absolutely love it. Everything about this snippet--interesting voice, quick pace, unique story (not a lot out there about banshees that I know of)--leads me to believe that I'm in the hands of a capable storyteller who is going to take me on a thrilling ride. Best of luck. I hope to be reading your book in the near future. :)

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  13. I agree it was well paced and I'm ready for more. Hope sounds smart and mischievous and the whole piece was just fun!

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