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Sunday, March 31

Real Life Diagnostics: Revising for a Closer Point of View

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: Zero

Please Note: As of today, RLD slots are open.

This week’s questions:

Am I closer to what is expected in close third person, or am I still off? Do you have a better sense of the scene/place he is? Can you see what is happening or do I need more description? Is there a character voice coming through now? Did I do better with hinting at magic sooner? Is there enough information about what he is trying to do?

Market/Genre: Fantasy

Note: This is a recent (and well done) revise and resubmit. Here’s the original if you’d like to see how the author revised. 

On to the diagnosis…

Original Text:

Wendell unfolded the napkin Seth had scribbled directions on, and moved beneath the inferior glow of a street lamp. The directions were terrible, and this had to be the only neighborhood not yet using everlit lanterns. He crumpled the napkin and tossed it to the side with all the other useless scraps collecting along the cobble road.

When Seth had suggested — no insisted — he purchase alicorn from his contact to regain control of his misbehaving magic, he imagined strolling into an apothecary in a hidden nook of the town center and not skulking through the slums of Terrell.

He crinkled his nose. Strange odors came from a wide drainage ditch running alongside the street. Its contents overflowed onto the lawns, creeping toward the rotted cabins. He covered his mouth and nose with a sleeve. At least none of the “houses” matched the location for the meeting. He should have know with Seth being a bounty hunter that it would take him into the more unsavory corners of the city. Where else would one find criminals selling illicit—

Searing heat blossomed throughout his palm. He gasped, clutching the hand to his chest, and glanced back the way he’d come. Bright pinks and reds highlighted clouds in the distance. He pulled his coat collar over his exposed neck and picked up his pace. He needed to get his hands on some alicorn and fast, or risk turning in to a walking torch.

My Thoughts in Blue:

Wendell unfolded the napkin Seth had scribbled directions on, and moved beneath the inferior glow of a street lamp. The directions were terrible, and this had to be the only neighborhood not yet using everlit lanterns. He crumpled the napkin and tossed it to the side with all the other useless scraps collecting along the cobble road.

When Seth had suggested — no insisted — he purchase alicorn from [his] perhaps italicize to make it a bit clearer this is Seth’s contact contact to regain control of his misbehaving magic, he imagined strolling into an apothecary in a hidden nook of the town center and not skulking through the slums of Terrell. [This is your opening line. It does everything you need to setup the scene. Then it flows nicely into the napkin line]

He crinkled his nose. Strange odors came from a wide drainage ditch running alongside the street. Its contents overflowed onto the [lawns,] lawn gives me a different image that what I suspect you mean here. I picture suburbia creeping toward the rotted cabins. He covered his mouth and nose with a sleeve. At least none of the “houses” matched the location for the meeting. He should have known with Seth [being a bounty hunter] A little tellish. Perhaps, “Seth’s bounty-hunting contacts” or the like? that it would take him into the more unsavory [corners of the city.] Does this worry him? Is he concerned about buying "illegal drugs?" Where else would one find criminals selling illicit—

Searing heat blossomed throughout his palm. He gasped, clutching the glowing? Flaming? hand to his chest, Perhaps a little internal though there? Such as, “Not now, not now” or the like? I wanted something to show this is his internal problem, not an outside attack. He’s in a bad neighborhood, so it could have been and glanced back the way he’d come. Bright pinks and reds highlighted clouds in the distance. He pulled his coat collar over his exposed neck and picked up his pace. He needed to get his hands on some alicorn and fast, [or risk turning in to a walking torch.] You could cut this if you wanted to leave a little more mystery about what's wrong with him. But it's also fine as is

The Questions:

1. Am I closer to what is expected in close third person, or am I still off?


Yes. This reads more in Wendell's head. I feel as though I’m seeing the world through his eyes and not the author’s.

(Here's more on POV Basics)

2. Do you have a better sense of the scene/place he is? Can you see what is happening or do I need more description?

I get the slum nature better, though I had a pause with the word lawn. I pictured suburbia and houses on square lots, and I don’t think that’s what you have here. I did want a tiny bit more about what his magic looked like when it flared. I know he feels pain, but there's no sense of "fire" in what happens. If you added a detail or two, you could even cut the "human turn" line to keep the mystery about what's wrong a little longer if you wanted to.

(Here's more on Is Your Description Helping Your Story or Holding it Back?)

3. Is there a character voice coming through now?

Yes. You could add a few more bits of internal thought to flesh it out even more, but I’m hearing Wendell now. I wanted a few thoughts when his power flared to show how he feels about it and how he worries about it.

One thing I wasn’t sure about, is whether or not Wendell is scared about being in the slums. He seems more annoyed than concerned for his safety or worried about doing something illegal. You might consider adding a touch of emotion in there—a line of internal thought would be enough.

(Here's more on Can You Hear Me Now? Developing Your Narrative Voice)

4. Did I do better with hinting at magic sooner?

Yes. I’d suggest swapping your first and second paragraphs—you set up everything succinctly in the second, and that would make a great first line. I know Wendell is there to buy alicorn for misbehaving magic, and it’s a sketchy deal. I don’t yet know what that means for Wendell, but it provides enough context and lets me wonder what misbehaving magic looks like. In a few paragraphs, I get a glimpse and see the threat.

(Here's more on The Difference Between Setting and World Building)

5. Is there enough information about what he is trying to do?

Yes. I may not know everything yet, but that’s good. It gives me a reason to keep reading. But I know why he’s there and what for, even if what that means to him is still vague.

Overall, this is a great revision and sets up the scene well. It has just enough details to provide context, but also leaves enough unsaid to create mystery and provide questions for readers to want answers to. Nice job.

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. 
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3 comments:

  1. Nicely fleshed out! This adds so much detail from what the scene had been before, and it uses it all to get us on board with what Wendell is doing. With all this laid out, everything you change now would only be looking deeper for ways to make it even stronger.

    Janice suggested moving the "Seth, alicorn, misbehaving magic, apothecary" line to the top. That's a good simple way to start the story strongly... but it might only work for some authors' styles, because it spells the situation out so completely. Giving that full rush of information works well for an author who likes a bit of whimsy, or who embeds it in a really strong voice. Other writers might give only some of the pieces at first, to make us eager to know the rest: "Boarded windows, dim streets-- like he was really going to find a dose of alicorn *here*. But time was running out." They're all methods that work, and you want to choose which works for you.

    Mood is what you're trying to perfect now. This scene has everything it needs, so think about how you could make it even stronger, tighter, more full of hooks. Think of the scenes you've read where a character's stalked by a killer and the suspense slowly rachets up to unbearable levels, or where they're wallowing in guilt or walking on air from first love. How compelling can you make this, so that the reader is sucked into Wendell's desperation?

    The magic might be the biggest part of that. Wendell's moment of trying to keep control is good, but the strongest way of all to show that is to have it happen several times so we can see it building from a twitch to a real moment of risk. Or, do you want to keep it only strongly implied, so we're eager to know what he's so afraid of within himself?

    Also, how can Wendell himself be clearer in this? We know he's got a problem, and we see a little about his life because the slum makes him uncomfortable but not frightened. But is he young, rich, poor, a planner, a hothead, what? You do want to be careful slowing the scene down to show these, but you can do so much with one well-chosen line in passing about the apprenticeship he'd lose if his magic's revealed, or the faces he fears he'll burn. Best of all is if you can make his way of looking at a problem --impulsive, hesitant, guilt-stricken, whatever-- and make the reader think the same way while they're following this.

    This scene has everything it needs. That also means it has all the components to be even stronger, so it becomes absolutely irresistible.

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  2. Thank you, Ken! I appreciate the positive feedback and your suggestions. I really like the idea of anticipation of someone doing stalked. It makes a lot of sense. Yes, looking at it now I can see that I didn't make his feelings clear on how he felt about going to such a place. And I can see a spot where I can slip in his financial situation, which can also add to a level of suspense in the scene. Thank you so much.

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  3. I read the original, and definitely see an improvement. It's only a snippet of a scene, but draws me in and I want to read your book. I hope the rest is as good as this. My hat's off to you if you can do that.
    Gale

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