Saturday, October 29

Real Life Diagnostics: Is This Scene Too Much?

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: Five 


Please Note: As of today, RLD slots are booked through December 3.

This week’s questions:

Is this scene too much? Is the writing too choppy, or does it work to convey the tone? This is the lowest point in the story; I'm trying to show a normally mellow character going momentarily insane, and then coming back to herself.


Market/Genre: Unspecified

On to the diagnosis…

Original text:

Background: Everyone in this world has Influence over something; Tharia's is over nature. She has a mental bond with weapons called Lumelles or Stars, which put a lot of strain on her mind and are slowly driving her crazy. Having everything she cared about overturned or stripped away doesn't help. Senira has been mentally controlling her brother Thexel, which damaged his mind and put him in a coma. This is the moment when she finds him.

Verno dead. Marcus cracked. Rupert shattered. Thexel gone. All her anchors, the friends who’d been solid through all the turmoil, were slipping away into the depths. “Thex. Please say something. I know you’re in there.”

“Is he?”

Fury burned through her and she stormed out, down the hall, wrenching open the next door. The melon seeds still clenched in her hand burst into bloom, vines snaking out and mummifying Senira, holding him pinned while she stalked up and hit him as hard as she could.

“How do I get my brother back?”

Senira chuckled and echoed Asi’s words from before the war. “What if he doesn’t want to come back?”

“Tell me!” Her voice caught, and the Stars reflected her grief and terror back at her in a catastrophic feedback loop that forced her to her haunches, rocking with the energy, hands fisting until the nails bit blood from her palms. The melon tendrils curled tighter and tighter while Senira’s eyes bulged and he fruitlessly tried to gasp out a word. She watched him, wondering how hard she would have to push to kill, and maybe if she squeezed hard enough, whatever he’d taken from Thex would pop out and everything would be right.

“Stop it! Tharia!”

The furniture was burning. Marcus was shaking her, white-knuckled. Senira had nearly vanished beneath a truss of vines. Tendrils had crawled down his nose and mouth, and his face was slack, eyes vacant. She recoiled, clawing at her hands until the sticky seed shells sprang free and dangled from their growth, and then kept clawing, trying to erase the taint, but all she did was etch it deeper in blood.

My Thoughts in Purple:

Verno dead. Marcus cracked. Rupert shattered. Thexel gone. All her anchors, the friends who’d been solid through all the turmoil, were slipping away into the depths. “Thex. Please say something. I know you’re in there.”

[“Is he?”] Will readers know who says this? It’s unclear in this snippet, but the identity might have already been established

Fury burned through her and she stormed out, [down the hall] I got the sense the person who spoke was in the room with her, so her leaving confused me, wrenching open the next door. The melon seeds still clenched in her hand burst into bloom, vines snaking out and [mummifying] I’m not sure this means what you intend. I think you mean they wrap around him, but mummification is a different process Senira, holding him pinned while she stalked up and hit him as hard as she could. I wanted a little internal thought from her here.

“How do I get my brother back?”

Senira chuckled and echoed Asi’s words from before the war. “What if he doesn’t want to come back?”

“Tell me!” Her voice caught, and the Stars reflected her grief and terror back at her in a catastrophic feedback loop that forced her to her haunches, rocking with the energy, hands fisting until the nails bit blood from her palms. The melon tendrils curled tighter and tighter while Senira’s eyes bulged and he [fruitlessly] since a fruit is killing him, perhaps another word? It’s funny, which is probably not what you want here tried to gasp out a word. She watched him, [wondering] this pulls her away from the scene, but I really wanted to be deeper here as she unravels. This is a major emotional moment how hard she would have to push to kill, and maybe if she squeezed hard enough, [whatever he’d taken from Thex would pop out and everything would be right.] I like her voice here

[“Stop it! Tharia!”] who says this?

The furniture was burning. Marcus was shaking her, white-knuckled. Senira had nearly vanished beneath a truss of vines. Tendrils had crawled down his nose and mouth, and his face was slack, eyes vacant. She recoiled, clawing at her hands until the sticky seed shells sprang free and dangled from their growth, and then kept clawing, trying to erase the taint, but all she did was etch it deeper in blood. If there isn’t something internal from her next, consider adding it. I really want to feel what she’s going through

The questions:

1. Is this scene too much?


No, and I’d even suggest digging deeper to really show those emotions. Tharia feels a little detracted, which is understandable for someone losing it, but she has such wonderful anger and mania that I wanted to know what she was thinking and feeling. I liked how she wanted to squeeze Senira until he popped and I wanted more of that voice.

(Here’s more on writing with emotional layers)

2. Is the writing too choppy, or does it work to convey the tone?

Worked for me (readers chime in here). I’d suggest a line or two of internalization to take advantage of the emotions, but it read like someone struggling to hold on and losing it.

(Here’s more on controlling the pace)

3. This is the lowest point in the story; I'm trying to show a normally mellow character going momentarily insane, and then coming back to herself.

I didn’t see the mellow part, but I suspect it was there right before her anger hits. But I do get the sense of someone cracking in anger. What comes next will be important, since that will likely show her reaction to what she’s just done. Her emotions and how you show what she’s feeling and thinking will bring this to a satisfying conclusion.

(Here’s more on showing character emotions)

Overall, I liked it, and aside from a little more internal thought to really bring those emotions to the surface, and a few word choice tweaks, I think it works.

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 (many by new writers), not polished drafts, so be nice and offer constructive feedback.

6 comments:

  1. I agree, this is on the right track, and could go deeper. (After all, if we've been following the character to this point, we'd understand that she really has been pushed this far.)

    And "if she squeezed hard enough" was my absolute favorite line too. :)

    I think primal scenes like this could use more of that kind of simple, hard-hitting imagery, and need to watch out for constructions and words that are more complicated than they should be. For instance:

    "All her anchors, the friends who’d been solid through all the turmoil, were slipping away into the depths." --That's a great emotion. But the way the middle part is spliced into the sentence with the commas makes it feel more like someone talking who realizes they didn't say all of it the first time. Someone simply feeling it might be more likely to have the whole thought at once, or they'd let one thought lead to the next but not not twist back again. That "into the depths" at the end looked like a more promising place to let her thoughts move into the image it might lead to in turn, the same way squeezing Senira led to the thought that maybe she could crush the whole problem away. Letting the end flow onward feels more natural than clarifying parts in the middle.

    "and the Stars reflected her grief and terror back at her in a catastrophic feedback loop that forced her to her haunches, rocking with the energy, hands fisting until the nails bit blood from her palms." --The second part is much stronger than the first. Spelling out how the power feeds back (and using words like "catastrophic feedback loop") feels more objective and aware than she ought to be in that moment. Especially, naming emotions like grief and terror can be a way to push the reader out of that; the more you're in an emotion the less it feels like an emotion and the more it feels like the whole world falls away except for "get AWAY" or "he's gotta PAY" or whatever it is.

    It can be hard work just getting out of a character's way to feel what she does. But the deeper the scene is, the more it deserves that.

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  2. I assume the two lines we didn't know who speaks were Tharia's internal dialogue. I agree with adding more internal thoughts for deeper feelings. I struggle with this, too. I did feel the intensity. An overall good, vivid scene.

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  3. There's a lot to like here and what could be improved is minor. Yes, a couple of lines of dialog are difficult to follow. Too, there are opportunities to go deeper in places, to do less telling and even more showing. Well done!

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  4. I don't have much more to add other than I found myself caught up in the action and the writing. Nice job.

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  5. Thanks for the feedback! That fruitless thing *cringe* I didn't even notice that.... I guess I'll work on my word choice and internalization more when I go back through it! Who says what is much clearer in the broader context of the scene.

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  6. I liked the "telegraphic" style. The short, punchy sentences added to the sense of urgency, and let the long sentence at the end feel almost overwhelming, a good match for Tharia's predicament. I do agree with everyone else that you could make the POV closer to Tharia and give us more of what she's thinking and above all feeling, but overall this is a really good effort, and based on this I'd like to read more. Good job!

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