From Fiction University: Enabling third party cookies on your browser could help if you have trouble leaving a comment.

Saturday, July 28

Real Life Diagnostics: Does This Opening Have a Strong Emotional Impact?

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 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 August 4.

This week’s questions:

1. Does the story qualify as literary fiction?

2. What are your thoughts about the story? Did it have an emotional impact on you without being overly sentimental?

3. What are the strengths and weaknesses of this short story?

4. If this were the opening story of a short story collection, would you proceed to read the whole collection?

5. Has this story done justice to the depth of tragedy of the situation?

6. Which adjectives would you use to describe this short story?

7. What advice will you give to improve the craft of the story?


Market/Genre: Literary short story

On to the diagnosis…

Original text:

Note: This is a new writer, so please keep that in mind with your comments.

The infinite sky of August was wrapping Kio and Hiroaki with infinite love full of countless dreams. It was their first summer together and Kio still felt shy around Hiroaki. Their marriage was arranged by their parents and they had not known each other before that. They both were a mystery to the other which they wanted to solve but were hesitant. The only thing Kio knew was her husband was a good man and that was sufficient for her. The question of love was not worth considering. And for Hiroaki it was enough that his wife was a lady of good character. Nothing else mattered.

It was the local festival eve. Kio look resplendent in a bright pink kimono, and her braid trailed across her shoulder like a waterfall Hiroaki wore a black Hakama and his hair draped over his entire forehead.

Kio's fair face bathed in the fluorescence of fireworks. Hiroaki didn't know why but he felt a powerful urge to kiss Kio's lustrous cheeks. She looked at the iridescent display of the fireworks with wide eyes.

"You love fireworks?" Kio was startled by Hiroaki's voice. Kio had not realized that Hiroaki was there too.

"I love all things bright," Kio replied, still lost in the firework display.

"You never told me about it," Hiroaki said. He was hurt that what he knew about his wife was next to nothing.

"You never asked," Kio said, without looking at Hiroaki.

Now Kio and Hiroaki were sitting side by side on a platform, overlooking the Hiroshima lake which looked like a liquid rainbow.

"Kio," Hiroaki cupped Kio's face, "Tell me what you love."

"Me?" Kio was surprised by Hiroaki's aberrant behavior, "I love the pink petals of sakura. I love the red-tinged sky at sunrise. I love the reflection of lights on the Hiroshima lake. I love smoke rising from the chimney. I love the full moon night. I love red velvet."

Hiroaki was looking at Kio with tears in his eyes. Kio chirped, forgetting her shyness around her husband, "Tell me about you love"

Hiroaki said in a choking voice, "I...I love the sound of raindrops falling on the tin roof, I love the ripples formed on Hiroshima lake on throwing pebbles, I love when a fast train passes in front of me. I love when a crane lifts something heavy. I love when a boat cuts through water and I love you."

Kio looked at Hiroaki with tender eyes. She held his hand and put her shoulders on his chest. Hiroaki caressed Kio's hair and looked at the scintillating stars dancing with panache in the dark sky.

Suddenly multiple suns burned over the horizon blinding Hiroaki and the embrace of Kio and Hiroaki vaporized in the town, the first victim of an atomic attack.

My Thoughts in Purple:

The infinite sky of August was wrapping Kio and Hiroaki with infinite love full of countless dreams. Infinite is used twice, but it doesn’t feel intentional It was their first summer together and Kio still felt shy around Hiroaki. Their marriage was arranged by their parents and they had not known each other before that. They both were a mystery to the other which they wanted to solve but were hesitant. The only thing Kio knew was her husband was a good man and that was sufficient for her. The question of love was not worth considering. And for Hiroaki it was enough that his wife was a lady of good character. Nothing else mattered. There are a lot of good things in this opening, but it’s all being told to us, so it reads more like a summary of the characters. Think about ways to show these details in how the characters act, think, and say

It was the local festival eve. [Kio looked resplendent] whose thought is this? An outside narrator or Hiroaki? in a bright pink kimono, and her braid trailed across her shoulder like a waterfall. Hiroaki wore a black Hakama and his hair draped over his entire forehead. I'm not sure who the POV character is yet

Kio's fair face bathed in the fluorescence of fireworks. [Hiroaki didn't know why but he felt a powerful urge to kiss Kio's lustrous cheeks.] This makes me think the point of view character is Hiroaki She looked at the iridescent display of the fireworks with wide eyes.

"You love fireworks?" [Kio was startled by Hiroaki's voice.] The dialogue is Hiroaki’s, but since Kio’s name is used first, I think it’s hers. This sentence is also telling and outside of Hiroaki’s POV [Kio had not realized that Hiroaki was there too.] Also telling and a POV shift. Hiroaki can't know what Kio is thinking

"I love all things bright," Kio replied, [still lost in the firework display.] I like the concept here, but “still” doesn’t work with her just being startled. Perhaps, “returned” or something to show she went right back to watching

"You never told me about it," Hiroaki said. [He was hurt that what he knew about his wife was next to nothing.] Telling. How might you show his hurt by how he acts or thinks?

"You never asked," [Kio said, without looking at Hiroaki.] With just two people speaking, it’s easy to keep track of who says what. You don’t need to tag every line of dialogue

[Now Kio and Hiroaki were sitting side by side on a platform,] What were they doing before? There’s no sense of setting or location until now overlooking the Hiroshima lake which looked like a liquid rainbow.

"Kio," Hiroaki cupped Kio's face, "Tell me what you love."

"Me?" [Kio was surprised by Hiroaki's aberrant behavior, ] This is her POV view, not his. Also, what’s aberrant about his behavior? "I love the pink petals of sakura. I love the red-tinged sky at sunrise. I love the reflection of lights on the Hiroshima lake. I love smoke rising from the chimney. I love the full moon night. I love red velvet."

[Hiroaki was looking at Kio with tears in his eyes.] Telling. It’s a lovely emotional moment, so consider how he would feel and think Kio chirped, [forgetting her shyness around her husband,] telling and POV shift "Tell me about you love"

Hiroaki [said in a choking voice,] telling "I...I love the sound of raindrops falling on the tin roof, I love the ripples formed on Hiroshima lake on throwing pebbles, I love when a fast train passes in front of me. I love when a crane lifts something heavy. I love when a boat cuts through water and I love you."

Kio looked at Hiroaki [with tender eyes.] telling [She held his hand and put her shoulders on his chest.] I’m not sure what she’s doing here Hiroaki caressed Kio's hair and looked at the scintillating stars dancing with panache in the dark sky.

Suddenly multiple suns burned over the horizon blinding Hiroaki and the embrace of Kio and Hiroaki vaporized in the town, the first victim of an atomic attack.

The questions:

1. Does the story qualify as literary fiction?

Possibly. The focus is more on the emotion, language, and characters and not on plot. Unless this is flash fiction and the complete story, then it's "flash fiction."

2. What are your thoughts about the story? Did it have an emotional impact on you without being overly sentimental?

It didn’t have much impact on me, because the characters were kept at a distance and I never got to know them. There was no solid point of view character to ground me, though I think Hiroaki was trying to be. He seemed to be the one driving the scene. He could easily become the POV character with some tweaking.

(Here’s more on understanding point of view) and (a little more on knowing who your narrator is)

It was also mostly told, explaining the emotions and how the characters looked at each other instead of showing them doing it. For example:

Hiroaki was looking at Kio with tears in his eyes. This is an outside narrator describing Hiroaki in a passive manner. It’s not Hiroaki looking at his new wife and tearing up.

Kio chirped, forgetting her shyness around her husband This is also an outside narrator explaining what Kio forgot, since Kio isn’t going to notice she forgot to be shy, she’ll just do it. And if this is Hiroaki’s POV, then he would know what was going on inside her head.

(Here’s more on what writers need to know about show, don’t tell)

Without that personal connection to the characters, it’s hard to create any emotion. They’re distant people, not a character readers invest in.

(Here’s more on writing emotion)

3. What are the strengths and weaknesses of this short story?

I’m not sure if this is a complete short story or an opening to one. I think the imagery of the fireworks and the bomb blast, as well as the blossoming love, all work nicely as a thematic element. New love blooming as a city ends is another nice concept.

The telling and lack of a strong narrator are weaknesses. As is the lack of a strong goal or story question to hook readers and pull them into the story. This is about “two young lovers who die at Hiroshima,” so there isn’t anything to make a reader want to know what happens.

(Here’s more on three things every story needs)

4. If this were the opening story of a short story collection, would you proceed to read the whole collection?

No, because there’s no story here yet (readers chime in). It’s a moment, and has some potential, but a story is about a character struggling to solve a problem. There’s no problem here to solve.

(Here’s more on different types of story structure)

5. Has this story done justice to the depth of tragedy of the situation?

I’d say no (readers chime in), because the blast doesn’t mean anything or accomplish anything beyond killing the characters. Any bomb would have done the same thing. The atomic bomb works thematically with the imagery created, but there’s nothing that says “tragedy” to me here. It’s a sad and terrible thing, but there’s nothing that makes them anymore tragic than the other young lovers who died.

6. Which adjectives would you use to describe this short story?

Distant and colorful. The story’s not letting me in as a reader, but there’s a lot of beautiful color and bright imagery at work.

7. What advice will you give to improve the craft of the story?

Find the goal, conflict, and stakes that will turn this from a vignette to a story. Right now, it’s a snippet of a scene, but has none of the pieces needed to make it a story. What does Hiroaki want? There are hints with him wanting to get to know his new wife, but it’s not strong enough yet. What’s keeping him from getting that? There’s no conflict, since she’s happy to tell him things, and it looks like these two will talk and get to know each other. Dying isn’t a conflict, so there would need to be more. What are you trying to say with this? This doesn’t look like a happily ever after type story since they die, so what’s the point you’re trying to make? The tragic loss of love?

Perhaps add more of the hooks that this is Hiroshima right before the bomb to add to the tension. Play off the fact that there’s so much hope for the future between these two, yet readers will know they have no future.

(Here’s more on creating tension in a story)

Overall, there are good elements to work with here, with the bright imagery and the sadness of new love dying in fire. I’d suggest studying point of view some to build your skills and help you ground the story and eliminate the telling. Look at this from Hiroaki’s POV and what he wants, and build the story around that. That would help give the story drive, and allow readers to connect these characters and feel dread at what’s coming.

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

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The ShifterBlue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize (2011), and The Truman Award (2011). She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.

She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing, including Understanding Show, Don't Tell (And Really Getting It)Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structureand the Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series. 
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Indie Bound

6 comments:

  1. This has a lot going for it, in seeing the characters start to work toward their understanding, and managing the images of fire. I also think it's a real challenge to make this work.

    The story is simply the combination of the couple and the explosion. That's a powerful concept, but the disconnection between them is outside what normally makes a story work: getting to know characters, seeing choices made, watching those choices affect their lives and understanding that a decision like that really could save or ruin lives. Here the disconnection and unfairness is the point.

    One approach might be to very slightly thread the war into their conversation. He could be trying not to mention that he might have to enter the army soon, or she might hint she's hoping the country surrenders and lets the losing war end (she'd be very afraid to say that out loud, considering the period). If you found just the right delicate touch to hint at that while their own story was happening, the war coming to them would have a more particular meaning for the story, based on how you hinted it and balanced it with the rest. Of course there's nothing the couple does that changes their fate, but showing his reluctant willingness to fight or someone's wishing for a way out would set up the idea of being trapped.

    Another idea might be to put this in a shorter form. Choose moments of description and dialog that tell the story in its essential, most evocative elements. That quicker pace would show that the story isn't trying to draw us as deep into the moment (though each moment is vivid, and the sense of how much story "space between them" there is lets us fill in the gaps), and that it's really making a point and moving quickly on to its end. That might also give it a more stylized Japanese feel.

    Meanwhile, I second all of Janice's points, especially about "telling" someone's reaction rather than bringing it to life before us. This story needs to pull us along (whether it's quickly or not), so it doesn't have room for a description that holds us back at a distance.

    Those are a couple of directions you might explore this. It's a powerful concept, and it's also a challenging one that's a real test of how well you can master your writing tools. I hope you keep experimenting to see how good you can really make this. Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your ideas and suggestions are very helpful particularly blending the thread of war in the conversation. It will enhance the impact of the story and express the tragedy of the situation.

      Delete
  2. Yippee, a flash fiction review.

    I have read several flash fiction anthologies. Most stories have no conflict. They are scene snippets or a philosophical observation of some type.

    In this story, it is possible there is a philosophical observation - despite one's dream and hopes, God or fate will intervene in an unexpected manner.

    I love the "The question of love was not worth considering" sentence. It would make a great opening line.

    Thanks.


    ReplyDelete
  3. To the Author - conflicts are almost a mandatory requirement for crime/mystery stories. Here are three examples for study:
    Short Sentence - Parker Bilal
    The Spy's Bedside Book - Graham Greene
    Little Tales of Misogyny - Patricia Highsmith

    ReplyDelete