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Saturday, March 25

Real Life Diagnostics: Does This YA Fantasy Opening Work?

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: Eleven 


Please Note: As of today, RLD slots are booked through June 10.

This week’s questions:

1. Does this scene work?

2. Is there anything I can do to improve the clarity of the setting?


Market/Genre: YA Fantasy

On to the diagnosis…

Original text:

Background: It takes place in a world created from pieces of time that have fractured off of earth's history. The MC and POV character is a teenage Norse prince, Peters, who is at market to buy wares from the people of modern day time.

They say if someone pushes you, you push back harder.

I could not help but feel whoever said that had never bartered with the likes of Joey Jefferson on market week.

By the afternoon, most vendors lost the passion of morning trades, the yelling and heat having left them disheveled, parched, and without the smell of morning baking to rouse them.

Joey was not most vendors.

“Peters! Are you deaf?” He hollered with his typical Tech charm.

I blinked. Years of experience allowed me to tune him out … for the most part. Despite his steep prices, and five loaded pistols ready for anyone who dared to steal his wares, his stuff was genuine. Unlike much of the junk the Techs tried to barter.

Hyvale was built around the trades made every other month with the Techs, yet the only thing they were good for as a whole was medicine.

And no one could get enough cows.

Even with the cattle auction on the far end of market, the roaring cries of the cow-crazed populace could be heard market round.

“Uh. Money. Right.” I opened the little bag on my belt, reaching in for the—

The older teen snatched the pouch from my grasp, his long hair falling over his sweaty face. “Thank you.”

I opened my mouth to protest but closed it. He was sure to take all my money if I said anything. Even without his guns, Joey had a great deal of muscle for a Techie.

My Thoughts in Purple:

They say if someone pushes you, you push back harder.

[I could not help but feel whoever said that had never bartered with the likes of Joey Jefferson on market week.] Nice. I like the voice

By the afternoon, most vendors lost the passion of morning trades, the yelling and heat having left them disheveled, parched, and without the smell of morning baking to rouse them.

Joey was not most vendors.

“Peters! Are you deaf?” He hollered with his typical Tech charm. I expected more here, like the repeat of whatever he just said that Peters didn’t hear.

I blinked. Years of experience allowed me to tune him out … for the most part. Despite his steep prices, and five loaded pistols ready for anyone who dared to steal his wares, [his stuff was genuine.] Good spot to say what some of his “stuff” is here Unlike much of the junk the Techs tried to barter. I wanted to get some sense of what he was trying to buy here

[Hyvale] not sure if this is the market or the town it’s in was built around the trades made every other month with the Techs, yet the only thing they were [good for as a whole was medicine.] Does this mean he’s buying medicine? And are the Techs good for medicine, or is Hyvale just good for medicine?

[And no one could get enough cows.] Funny. But I’m not sure how this relates to the medicine line. But I think it refers to the market. A little more explanation about what Hyvale is and how the market works would help clarify things around here.

Even with the cattle auction on the far end of market, the roaring cries of the cow-crazed populace could be heard market round.

[“Uh. Money. Right.”] There’s a lot between what Joey says and this, and they don’t really line up, so this jarred me a little I opened the little bag on my belt, reaching in for the—

The older [teen] Would Peters use this term? snatched the pouch from my grasp, his long hair falling over his sweaty face. “Thank you.”

I opened my mouth to protest but closed it. He was sure to take all my money if I said anything. Even without his guns, Joey had a great deal of muscle for a Techie.

The questions:

1. Does this scene work?


Yes and no. I really like the voice, and it’s an interesting situation with Peters there to buy something (potentially medicine) he needs. The market seems like a cool place with low and high tech things mixed in. There’s enough unexpected details to make me interested in the world, with cows, guns, medicine, etc. I get the sense Peters isn’t familiar with money, and perhaps most of his commerce is done through the barter system (though if he’s been trading with Joey for years, he’d probably know what Joey wanted).

I wanted a little more from Peters though, to understand what was going on. He tunes out Joey, but never says why he’s there. I assume it’s medicine, but that’s not clear, nor is there a sense of immediacy that he needs it right away. It feels more as though this is a regular bi-monthly trip to the market and he’s putting up with Joey’s attitude because he wants what Joey sells.

The setting and voice are drawing me in, but there’s not a strong enough hook yet to really grab me. But I’d read on a little more to see where this goes and then decide.

(Here’s more on the difference between setting and world building)

2. Is there anything I can do to improve the clarity of the setting?

With fantasy, a little telling is okay since readers can’t guess the details of the world just by watching. I’d suggest adding a little more explanation about the market and what’s going on, and why this is different from any other market. Perhaps show a few more examples, or let Peters think about what he’s already bought and still needed to get. Maybe he notices things he wants to buy but can’t afford or doesn’t really need. Whatever works for the story.

Being inside Peters’s head a little more could also help clarify things. He might think about the other wares Joey has, or why he needs what he needs. He might notice others in the market that show the various time periods and the chronological diversity of this world.

Since Peters calls Joey “Techie,” you might let him think about what that means and how it’s different from him. Compare and contrast a little to show how these two characters fit into this larger world. Maybe when he’s tuning out Joey he can looking around, or thinking about something that helps show the setting or world.

The three paragraphs about Hyvale and cows felt a little stuck in where it was, but it’s a good spot to set the scene a little more. It might worth shifting a few things around. Perhaps Joey says something besides “Are you deaf?” that causes Peters to tune him out and then think about Hyvale and what he sees around him. Then, Joey can yell, “Are you deaf?” and this can bring Peters back into the conversation. It might flow better that way and give you an opportunity to describe the set some.

(Here’s more on painting your story world)

Overall, it’s fairly close. I think a little more on why he’s there and what the goal is to give the scene some momentum would draw readers in better. A few lines or details to flesh out the uniqueness of the market would make that more clear. With a first-person narrator, he can think about what he sees fairly easily and it won’t feel like an infodump if you keep the details short and in his voice.

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.

5 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for the feedback! It's always so good to get a fresh pair of eyes, and there was a lot of valuable insight here.

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  2. The premise for this story is really interesting, and I can see it leading to a complex and intriguing world. Fragments of time meshed together, and pieces of different worlds and lifestyles clashing could be really neat! It's hard to tell just from this intro, but I agree with much of what Janice has said. I'm drawn in, but not completely hooked. I want something that grabs me right from the start, and then holds on as the story progresses. Overall, though, great job!

    -Caitlin @ Quills & Coffee
    www.caitlinlambert.com/blog

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  3. I agree with janice and Caitlin about everything they mentioned. The concept is so cool. I mean, it's so original, but it's hard to picture, so the readers will want to read to see what you mean by "world created from pieces of time." I mean, that's what will get the audience curious about the book. It's a strong hook. Bravo! Because this is the hook of your story, it is a good idea to make this figure right away, to make the reader want to know more about the concept. Because this is historical in essence, I would have liked to see the hero travel to this place and how he crosses through the time barriers. How is this world put together? I would have liked to see the hero going through the world and have more world building to hang onto before the meeting with the trader. Make the meeting shine. Build the world around the meeting to make us want to know more about the trader. You did use descriptions, but there was nothing out of the ordinary and your premice is telling me this world is everything but ordinary. Show me the uniqueness of your world and you will get me to read. Also, I would have liked a sense of urgency, a sense that something important is about to happen, and a hint at why you wrote this story and why I should care about this character and what happens to him. I hope I get to read this story. Good luck.

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  4. I agree with Janice. A few tweaks and I would continue reading. I like the voice. Nice job. :)

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  5. I really liked the first two lines--I was immediately intrigued and wanted to know why Joey was different.


    I didn't see any indication he was a prince. There were no bodyguards following Peters and none stepped in when Joey took his money bag (did Joey steal a lot more than he was owed or just a little over the asking price), Joey showed no deference (and I would expect at least some would be shown to royalty, even if the vendor is a jerk) and why was he doing his own shopping? Is he in dire need, trying to acquire contraband or something he didn't want others to know he was seeking, stripped of royal privileges, or something else? What was he buying?

    It's hard to really give all the details for setting up a scene in 250 words, so many of our questions about this blurb may be answered if we could read on. Good start!

    ReplyDelete