Saturday, July 15

Real Life Diagnostics: Does This YA 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: Four

Please Note: As of today, RLD slots are booked through August 12.

This week’s questions:

1. Does this opening work? I focused on the voice of mc, but I'm not sure if the pacing works. Is it too slow, too boring for an opening scene?

2. Can you tell that I'm not a native speaker?

Market/Genre: Young Adult

On to the diagnosis…

Original text:

Every runner knew one word in Swedish: fartlek. I even had a track t-shirt that said, “I fartlek when I run.”

It might sound funny, but this workout was no joke. It was all about speed play, so I sprinted on the straight stretches and jogged on the curves. Fast. Slow. Fast. The pattern of the rain kept shifting from drizzle to downpour, to drizzle again. It fartleked, too.

This set was almost over. I almost limped.

A bolt of lightning ripped the clouds apart. On the count of three thunder snarled. The forecast for today was rain and pain. More pain was expected tomorrow.

Every step knifed through my leg, gnawing at my shin bone. Even training on the grass instead of track didn’t help. The field was soft and squishy. The pain was sharp.

Inhale. Exhale. Repeat.

It was the last work out before U.S. Juniors. There was only one more lap till there was only one more till there was only one more. Tough it out.

Too bad my body didn't feel like cooperating and instead of pushing past the pain, turned on the waterworks. Well, the sky was crying, too. At least I had a good company.

“Kylie, lead with the knee! You’re a hurdler, not a Jackie Chan,” our coach bellowed.

Poor Kylie.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he started calling her Jackie or Chan by the end of the practice. My real last name was Levashonok, but Austin took to calling me Baryshnikov.

My Thoughts in Purple:

Every runner knew one word in Swedish: fartlek. I even had a track t-shirt that said, “I fartlek when I run.”

It might sound funny, but this workout was no joke. It was all about speed play, so I sprinted on the straight stretches and jogged on the curves. Fast. Slow. Fast. The pattern of the rain kept shifting from drizzle to downpour, to drizzle again. It fartleked, too.

[This set was almost over. I almost limped. ] Could cut to tighten

[A bolt of lightning ripped the clouds apart. On the count of three thunder snarled.] Could cut to tighten The forecast for today was rain and pain. More pain was expected tomorrow.

Every step knifed through my leg, gnawing at my shin bone. Even training on the grass instead of track didn’t help. [The field was soft and squishy.Could cut to tighten The pain was sharp.

Inhale. Exhale. Repeat.

It was the last work out before U.S. Juniors. [There was only one more lap till there was only one more till there was only one more. Tough it out.] Nice

Too bad my body didn't feel like cooperating and instead of pushing past the pain, turned on the waterworks. Well, the sky was crying, too. At least I had a good company.

“Kylie, lead with the knee! You’re a hurdler, not a Jackie Chan,” our coach bellowed.

Poor Kylie.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he started calling her Jackie or Chan by the end of the practice. My real last name was Levashonok, but [Austin] Is this the coach? I don’t think so, but it feels like it since she mentions him in the same context as the coach and his nicknames took to calling me Baryshnikov.

The questions:

1. Does this opening work? I focused on the voice of MC, but I'm not sure if the pacing works. Is it too slow, too boring for an opening scene?


Pretty much, yes. I like the voice in it, and there are some good lines and imagery. I also like the way the text has a similar rhythm to running. I can see the protagonist is pushing herself hard for U.S. Juniors, and even though I don’t know exactly what that is, I get enough context to know it matters to her enough to suffer to train for it. Her goal of competing (and I assume winning) is clear.

I don’t see a conflict yet, though that could appear shortly after this. There’s a certain foreboding with the storm and the pain that suggests trouble on the horizon, so I can see that’s it going somewhere and I’d stick with it for a few more pages.

It does feel a little slow to me in the middle from “This set was almost over” to “At least I had a good company,” (readers chime in here) but you could trim out a few lines and tighten it right up. You get the point of the rain and pain across fine, so you wouldn’t lose anything by cutting some of those extra lines out. That could also help you get to the scene’s problem quicker as well.

Or, you might add a little internalization to show more of the protagonist’s personality and what she’s training so hard for. It just feels a little too “rain-run-rain-run” in that section and drags a bit, but adding something to break it up could work as well as cutting some out.

(Here’s more on controlling the pacing)

2. Can you tell that I'm not a native speaker?

Not at all. I’d never have guessed if you hadn’t said anything.

Overall, this is a solid start, and a few tweaks would pick up the pace. You have options on how to do that, so either a few small cuts or a few lines added and I think this will work nicely for you.

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. I agree with Janice's comments.

    For me, I like the opening paragraph... It was funny and it had good voice.

    But, you lost me on the next 2 paragraphs. I didn't connect to the workout and weather... After that it picked back up.

    All-in-all I liked it and would continue to read.

    I think a little more focus on writing so reader can visualize scene or actions clearly would help tighten pros.
    Like when I see a flash of lightning build on that visualization to lead me into the difficulty of the intense work out and it's chance of pace and direction. When you start with action before scene it pulls me out of the story to change my mind's mental picture of what's going on, making it clunky and disconnected.

    Yet again, I am only one opinion.

    Thx for sharing

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi, I liked your opening as well. I think your piece needs to ground the reader before saying the set is almost over and I almost limped.
    Give a sentence to describe the setting like a race track or high school or where ever the m/c is so the reader can visualize the scene. I almost limped also sounds like it was over, so if you start talking about the pain of the race, it's a bit confusing. And then a bolt of lightning out of nowhere. Include the stormy skies in your description of the track and then the storm doesn't come clear out of the blue. The rest reads nicely with good imagery and description. Maybe add my comical boyfriend, Austin, might call me..... Good start!

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  3. Overall, good job. I felt the pacing was a little slow in the middle. Could cut from "even" to "repeat". At least I had a good company...if the rain was the company, I would say the statement without the "a". If referring to her group,then fine. However, you refer to the rain in the sentence above. I would have thought it was a typo. I didn't feel there was a foreign speaker. Imagery is superb. Great start.

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  4. I love your first line. It intrigued me right from the start; however, I didn't realize that "fartlek" means "speed play" until I looked it up just now! Perhaps the second sentence of the second paragraph could go something like, "Fartlek was all about speed play."

    I agree that the pace slowed in the middle of the sample. The running rhythm is fantastic but maybe you can cut some to get us to the conflict a little sooner.

    I'd keep reading!

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  5. Opening needs a lot of work. It has too much internalization. It could be balanced out with much more descriptions. What is the protagonist wearing? What does the field look like? Is it an open field? Is it located in an urban city?

    ReplyDelete