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Saturday, February 17

Real Life Diagnostics: Is it Clear What's at Stake?

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: One 


Please Note: As of today, RLD slots are booked through February 24.

This week’s questions:

Is it clear on what's at stake? Do you start to get a feel for the character? Would you want to read more? 


Market/Genre: Fantasy

On to the diagnosis…

Original text:

A flash of tiny bright dots blinded Merryn from the cast spell. Rubbing them she stumbled onto the cobblestone walkway. The dangling coin pouch on her hip jangled, so she grasped it, silencing it. Giving it a double squeeze, it stretched out and slammed back down; compressing its contents.

The port and the book were at opposite ends of the city, hopefully, the map would have a few shortcuts marked on it. Paved jade streets and marble lined walls bled of status and wealth.

She pulled the map out from another pouch. Yes, it's off ahead; the northern district.

There was no point bothering to try to fit in, no time for such triflings. It was an elegant city at least by human standards. Such a stark change from a year ago. The looks of the men and women who passed by etched with disdain. Each haughty face and glare as subtle as a kick in the gut.

She frowned. It was bad enough having to learn the darker arts let alone be dumped into this human city. Couldn't blame the Elder Adapts, they were already pushed past their limit keeping everyone at home from succumbing to the dark ones.

Now wasn't the time to give in to that side. Concentrate on the mission, need to hurry now. They didn't say how long the runes would hold.

My Thoughts in Purple:

A flash of tiny bright dots blinded Merryn from the cast spell [has a spell been cast on her, or has she cast a spell?]. Rubbing them [who or what is ‘them? I tied this to being blinded, so assume it’s her eyes being rubbed] she stumbled onto the cobblestone walkway [I like this because it gives a sense of the setting/time the story is set in]. The dangling coin pouch on her hip jangled [this needs to be flipped around, as in: The coin pouch dangling from her hip jangled], so she grasped it, silencing it. Giving it a double squeeze, it stretched out and slammed back down; compressing its contents [a lot happening here just to stop assumed coins from making noise – perhaps a simpler ‘hexing’ gesture and result. The reader still ‘gets’ the magical inference without having it appear that Merryn & the pouch are in a fight].

The port and the book [don’t know which is the target/goal here] were at opposite ends of the city, hopefully, the map would have a few shortcuts marked on it. Paved jade streets and marble lined walls bled of status and wealth [this is an interesting visual, but it doesn’t match the cobblestone walkway in my mind, so I would ditch the visual until I learn more]. She pulled the map out from another pouch. Yes, it's off ahead; the northern district [Is this internal thought? Italics would be a cue to that].

There was no point bothering to try to fit in, no time for such triflings. It was an elegant city at least by human standards [assuming she can’t ‘fit in’ because she’s not a human – wondering what kind of entity she is]. Such a stark change from a year ago. The looks of the men and women who passed by etched with disdain [this sentence is broken—need a verb]. Each haughty face and glare as subtle as a kick in the gut.

She frowned. It was bad enough having to learn the darker arts let alone be dumped into this human city. Couldn't blame the Elder Adapts, they were already pushed past their limit keeping everyone at home from succumbing to the dark ones [this paragraph gains my solid attention and interest – I want to know more].

Now wasn't the time to give in to that side [I’m interested in what this means]. Concentrate on the mission, need to hurry now. They didn't say how long the runes would hold [this is deeper and I want to hurry along with her].

The questions:

1. Is it clear on what's at stake?

Not exactly (readers please chime in). She’s going somewhere, has a map, hopes for a short cut. I don’t know the objective – port or book. She has either cast a spell or triggered one. She has money. She’s not human. She’s been in the city before, people are now snobs and the city is oozing the trappings of wealth. She’s on a mission to… get a…special book?

(Here's more on getting what's in your head onto the page)

2. Do you start to get a feel for the character?

Yes, by the end of this snippet, I am interested and beginning to get a bit of their personality, commitment, and opinion of the area she’s been forced to be in.

(Here's more on character reactions and point of view)

3. Would you want to read more?

Yes, by the end, I would turn the page, but I would want some stabilizing info that allowed me to sink further into this character.

The first paragraph needs to present the character in the same tone as the last 2 paragraphs. Perhaps the abrupt, nearly terse style – brief sentences, etc. – could be implemented? Like with the idea of not blending in and no time to do so. Flip to a positive approach, instead of what can’t be done (which can read as passive) to what the MC is being forced to do.

(Here's more on five ways to hook your readers)

I liked several aspects of this opening and can see a complex situation happening, with an equally complex back story. I suggest mostly checking out Janice’s tips on tight POV, and then play with this opening. You have to piggyback your MC so we can crawl up there too. Good luck!

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

3 comments:

  1. An intriguing start, this desperately needs cutting. I would continue reading, but hope to have a few things solidified SOON!

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  2. I would suggest losing the entire first paragraph. No real hook -change bouncing in a pouch is not enough to grip me as a lead-in. Focusing on her mission (book or port) and getting zapped by (or zapping) a spell along the way, then losing focus and taking time to study the map along with her other observances might do that.
    Also, I know this is a fantasy world, but I'm already questioning how an entire city goes from rags to riches in only one year. It would seem impossible to pave streets with jade and create marble buildings in that short of time...no matter how advanced the tools :) And, as Maria pointed out, doesn't match up with the cobblestone sidewalks:)

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  3. I love fantasy, so I was really excited to read this! I really like what you have here. There are some good questions surrounding this character and the world.


    The main thing I'd like to comment on is the clarity in a few places, which Maria had mentioned too. I had to read your piece a few times before I figured the blinding flash from a cast spell was likely from traveling through a magic port that either she or another magical being cast. If that is the case, I bet you could easily add something (in your own words) along the lines of:

    A flash of tiny bright dots blinded Merryn from the spell she cast to pass through the port.

    I didn't get the idea that anything magic-like happened when she silenced the coins, or even the need to so. Is she sneaking around? But I agree with Maria's suggestion of saying that she use a hex or warding gesture to silence it, or whatever type of magic gesture you're using in your story.

    Personally, I think I understood the port and book being at opposite ends since you have the part about the map maybe having a few shortcuts, but that was in a different sentence. The only thing that may be a little unclear here -- that I can see -- is the port part. It isn't totally obvious that the port being mentioned is another port or the one the character arrived in. Maybe if you mention the port in the first paragraph, then you can just say that they, the character, are at the opposite side of the town as the book.

    I really liked this description:

    Each haughty face and glare as subtle as a kick in the gut.

    I definitely got a sense, towards the end, of Merryn being in a hurry, and I liked the way you did it. The questions of who the Elder Adapts and the Dark Ones are is a nice touch since you don't sit and explain about them since the read will eventually find out if they read on! And, what Merryn's place is with the Elder Adapts. A lot of good questions to keep me reading.

    A few suggestions. Maybe give the name of the book if it offers a slight clue as to what type of book it is. Is it magical? Is it prophetical? Historical? Evil?

    I would definitely read on! Keep up the great work. I really hope you send this back in after you make your changes so I can read it again.

    Happy Writing :)

    Kat

    ReplyDelete