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Saturday, December 2

Real Life Diagnostics: Can You Visualize the Setting?

Critique By Maria D'Marco

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 we 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: Two 


Please Note: As of today, RLD slots are booked through December 16.

This week’s questions:

1. Is the voice consistent?

2. Can you visualize the setting?

3. Is the show/tell balanced?

4. Would you want to keep reading?


Market/Genre: Science Fiction

On to the diagnosis…

Original text:

Mosslo loitered under the port side wing and stared across the ramp. Sheets of rain reduced visibility to maybe a couple hundred meters and absolutely soaked the man-made island airport of Chek Lap Kok. Every attempt to light a cigar in the past fifteen minutes had failed. Mosslo sighed, checked the time again. Hurrying up and waiting on the diplomats.

"What time is it, JoSoLo?" The newest crew member decided to brave the lovely weather and sloshed up a little too close, poncho flapping in the wind. Not in the mood for you kid.

"Mosslo, el tee, Major Mosslo. And it's twenty-one thirty hours." The copilot kept a steady gaze down the ramp. The sheets of rain had settled into merely a downpour. One could almost make out the main terminal across the runway. The storm was sort of passing.

"Where's your fancy watch, lieutenant? Lose it gambling again?" Major Mosslo fixed him with a disapproving glare.

"Ahem. Uh, not exactly, major." Lt. Eduardo Filabaust looked down as he answered and noticed Major Mosslo fidgeting, thumb twisting a wedding band.

"Never mind, Primo. I probably don't want to know." The rain was tapering off finally but Mosslo forgot about it as distant sirens and alarms demanded attention. Overhead and to their left, the number one engine began spinning up.

"What the hell?" Mosslo spun toward the front of the massive cargo jet where the loadmaster was beckoning from the doorway. Husker's face white as a ghost.

My Thoughts in Purple:

[Mosslo loitered under the port side wing and stared across the ramp.] Port side makes me think of a boat. An airplane type would help, but perhaps is qualified earlier. Ramp also prompts a boat. Perhaps, tarmac? Sheets of rain reduced visibility to maybe a couple hundred meters and absolutely soaked [the man-made island airport] Unsure if Chek Lap Kok is the name of the island or a city. of Chek Lap Kok. [Every attempt to light a cigar in the past fifteen minutes had failed.] Why? Is the wind blowing? Mosslo sighed, and checked the time again. [Hurrying up and waiting on the diplomats.] Is this internal thought? Hurry up and wait is a common saying, but this reads oddly to me.

"What time is it, JoSoLo?" The newest crew member had decided to brave the lovely weather and sloshed up a little too close, poncho flapping in the wind. Not in the mood for you kid.

["Mosslo, el tee, Major Mosslo.] This was confusing, not knowing why Mosslo is apparently correcting the crew member. And it's twenty-one thirty hours." [The copilot] I assumed this was Mosslo, also assumed this role is established earlier. Otherwise, it could be the new crew member. kept a steady gaze down the ramp. The sheets of rain had settled into merely a downpour. One could almost make out the main terminal across the runway. [The storm was sort of passing.] Either it was passing or not. Establishing the change in the weather could be done by combining this and the 3rd sentence, which gives a stronger lead-in to the 4th sentence.

"Where's your fancy watch, lieutenant? Lose it gambling again?" Major Mosslo fixed him with a disapproving glare.

"Ahem. Uh, not exactly, major." Lt. Eduardo Filabaust looked down as he answered and noticed Major Mosslo fidgeting, [thumb twisting] I would leave out ‘thumb’ here.a wedding band.

"Never mind, Primo. I probably don't want to know."

[The rain was tapering off finally but Mosslo forgot about it as distant sirens and alarms demanded attention.] This signals the end of the storm and waiting, and trouble coming. Consider leaving out ‘finally’ and focusing on Mosslo’s attention. It could be split between hearing sirens and the engine spinning up. Overhead and to their left, the number one engine began spinning up.

"What the hell?" Mosslo spun toward the front of the massive cargo jet [where the loadmaster was beckoning from the doorway. Husker's face white as a ghost.] Beckoning seems too weak for what appears to be a ‘hurry-up’ situation. If the last sentence is to stand, it needs a verb. It could also be the ending of the previous sentence. I would use the character’s name instead of ‘loadmaster’, and then ‘his face’ instead of the character’s name.

The questions:

1. Is the voice consistent?


I would say yes. (Readers chime in here). Since this is from the third chapter, there are pieces of information and character relationships we don’t know about, so some assumptions were necessary, but the narrative seemed consistent.

(Here's more on finding a character's voice)

2. Can you visualize the setting?

Somewhat.

It’s raining, which is the repeated theme, confined to the intensity of the rain, which is related to lighting a cigar and lack of visibility. The setting includes a presumed airplane, assumed to be sitting outside a hanger, at an airport located on a man-made island. I was uncertain if the name given was for the island or a city on the island. As this is Chapter 3, I presume more description has been given in prior chapters.

Since there is little reaction or interaction between the characters and their environment, the scene setting is a bit sparse. Understanding that these are probably established characters, with personalities already built, I still wanted some reactions from them to their surroundings.

This could be something as small as showing Mosslo pulling a coat tighter (cold rain-not all islands are tropical) or showing his irritation at being soaked, again (perhaps the rains happen every day here? Is it seasonal? Was it keeping the plane grounded?).

The ‘ramp’ Mosslo stands on is confusing, as I wanted to know where it came out of and went to – a hangar and the runway?

Finally, since the size of the plane is not indicated until the end of this sample, I envisioned the characters to be standing under the wing of a smaller aircraft. Small enough that standing under the wing would actually give sanctuary from the rain.

(Here's more on choosing the right words for your setting)

3. Is the show/tell balanced?

The material feels more tellish to me, mostly from the multiple observations of the rain intensity. For example, we are told of the fifteen minutes of attempting to light a cigar. This serves to illustrate how hard it was raining. However, showing Mosslo attempting to light the cigar and giving up would allow us to see the tenacity of this character, or how stubborn he is, as well as showing the intensity of the rain.

This scene is simply two guys waiting in the rain, and then two sounds burst into the scene, changing the dynamic. Without knowing what they’re waiting for (the weather to clear?) or who and why authorities might be after them, it’s tough to engage.

Showing the time of day, how long Mosslo has been waiting, and why the co-pilot is on the ground, not in the plane prepping for take-off (is the pilot in the cockpit? We assume so…) would enrich this segment.

(Here's more on what you need to know about show, vs. tell)

4. Would you want to keep reading?

Yes. (Readers chime in, please.) Although I’ve not been given a lot to hold onto, I have sufficient questions that could only be answered by reading on. Again, this material being from Chapter 3 forces many assumptions, and perhaps my questions would be moot, having read chapters prior to this.

Overall, this sample hints at a story that may explore betrayals, power plays, and hidden agendas – and could be filled with exciting action, close calls, and mysteries. I’d like to see the author push toward setting a scene through character reactions and observations, so what the reader is shown is colored by that character’s opinions and preferences.

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.

About the Critiquer

Maria D’Marco is an editor with 20+ years experience. She specializes in developmental editing, and loves the process of wading through the raw, passionate words of a first draft. Currently based in Kansas City, she flirts with the idea of going mobile, pursuing her own writing and love of photography, while maintaining her fulfilling work with authors.

Website | Twitter

7 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed this and would definitely keep reading. Only critique would be maybe to pare down how many different ways the two characters are referred to until the reader is more comfortable and able to understand the references. But since this isn't the opening scene, the reader might already have a better grasp on the variety of names, professions, ranks, etc. Thanks for sharing!

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  2. I totally agree with Leila - found myself scrabbling to keep up with the names. Also I felt the changes to the weather (storm fading etc) too fast for what appeared to be just a few minutes. Thanks for sharing. Seems interesting. I got a Casablanca vibe 😊

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    1. Hi Elizabeth, and thanks. I’ll simplify the names.

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  3. Not enough setting for science fiction, and it's missing the character's opinion about it. If he's in the military, he's going to be complaining through the description about the rain. I didn't really get the "feels right" that these are a pair of military officers (I'm former military). I had to read it a couple of time, and it still feels wrong. You got the rank right, sort of, and yet it doesn't feel like two officers talking.

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    1. Hi Linda, would love more of your insight. Could you provide a simple example of the right rank and how they might talk? Thanks.

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  4. I liked the scene and would keep reading, it needs some polishing tho. Great work too Maria!

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    1. Hi Silva, yep it does need a little polish. I just did NaNoWriMo last month so it was just a ton of writing. Thanks.

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