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

Saturday, August 24

Real Life Diagnostics: Does This Women’s Fiction 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 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: None

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

This week’s question:

Does this opening work?

Market/Genre: Women's Fiction

On to the diagnosis…

Original Text:

The tuning of guitars started flowing from the basement business of my Victorian, signaling the beginning of a star-studded day. I rushed to put finishing touches on the perfect outfit, including a leather jacket and red lipstick, more than ready to glide downstairs and greet my favorite musician.

Skipping down the steps and along the hallway lined with autographed photos, I entered my recording studio’s control booth. Sliding into my seat, I counted musicians on the other side of the glass partition.

My studio manager and childhood friend, Delaney, sat in his large leather chair, his long ponytail dangling behind him. "Hey, Emma."

"Morning. Looks like everyone's here. Ready?" I flipped on my mic switch “Hey, guys. I'm ready to hear what you’ve put together before Cam gets here to record the vocals.”

The four bandmates jammed and I closed my eyes, imagining Cameron sitting near, strumming his guitar with a serenity he transferred from his soul to the listener's.

I flipped on my microphone and spoke to the musicians. “Sounds great and you're almost there, but I’d like to hear the acoustic guitar begin a few measures before the drums.” I picked up a pencil and pointed it at the drummer. "And lighten up on those cymbals." I smiled. "Please."

Mumbling arose between band members and the skin-beater, Stuart, who waved a drumstick at me. “Dude. We thought the last take did total justice.”

“Cameron likes his intros a bit softer. Just try it and see how it feels." I leaned closer to my microphone. "Should I sit in and play the percussion parts myself?"

The guitarist winked at me while Stuart moved beside his drum set, maybe running through his options. Take orders from a woman sound engineer or get tossed from my studio. Permanently.

My Thoughts in Blue:

The tuning of guitars started flowing from the basement business of my Victorian, signaling the beginning of a star-studded day. I rushed to put finishing touches on the perfect outfit, including a leather jacket and red lipstick, more than ready to glide downstairs and greet [my favorite musician.] Who isn’t here yet, so there’s a slight disconnect here when she counts them. Perhaps a thought about how she’s happy to see him or something internal and personal?

Skipping down the steps and along the hallway lined with autographed photos, I entered my recording studio’s control booth. Sliding into my seat, [I counted musicians on the other side of the glass partition.] I wanted to know if she got the count she was expecting, as it seems like a setup for someone missing. Could be a spot for her to feel disappointed that her “favorite musician” wasn’t there yet if you wanted.

My studio manager and childhood friend, Delaney, sat in his large leather chair, his long ponytail dangling behind him. "Hey, Emma."

"Morning. Looks like everyone's here. Ready?" I flipped on my mic switch “Hey, guys. I'm ready to hear what you’ve put together before Cam gets here to record the vocals.” Could be a potential spot for her to think about him

The four bandmates jammed and I closed my eyes, imagining Cameron sitting near, strumming his guitar with a serenity he transferred from his soul to the listener's. I wanted a bit more about what she was hearing here, as she seems to be focused on Cam, and not the actual music. This is a good spot to show her skills in how she hears and analyzes the music

Perhaps have her make a decision here about the music before she speaks. I wanted a little more sense of her doing her job and how she dos that I flipped on my microphone [and spoke to the musicians.] don’t need “Sounds great and you're almost there, but I’d like to hear the acoustic guitar begin a few measures before the drums.” I picked up a pencil and pointed it at the drummer. "And lighten up on those cymbals." I smiled. "Please." Be wary of too many I-I-I sentences. You might consider just smoothing the flow in this paragraph

Mumbling arose between band members and the skin-beater, Stuart, who waved a drumstick at me. “Dude. We thought the last take did total justice.” How does she feel about someone contradicting her? Possible spot for some internal thought

“Cameron likes his intros a bit softer. Just try it and see how it feels." I leaned closer to my microphone. "[Should] Perhaps, “Or should I..”? To make it more teasing and less order? I sit in and play the percussion parts myself?"

The guitarist winked at me while Stuart moved beside his drum set, maybe running through his options. Take orders from a woman sound engineer or get tossed from my studio. Permanently.

The Questions:

1. Does this opening work?


Note: I’ve read multiple drafts of this, so some of my comments are based on what I know of the story.

Mostly, yes (readers chime in here). It’s the best version I’ve seen so far, and I think you could polish it a bit to really make it shine with little effort.

I like the sense of her getting up and going to work, and this is her day, but there’s no tension or conflict yet to draw readers in. However, you’ve actually put the groundwork for that in the scene already.

If I remember right, there was a previous version that had Emma worried because Cam was late or wasn’t there. I think her worrying about him and being a bit annoyed that he hadn’t shown up yet would help add some conflict and tension to this until it gets to the big reveal and her grandfather’s letter.

(Here's more on 5 Ways to Write Stronger Opening Scenes)

I’d suggest taking advantage of what you have lurking here. Perhaps…

Let Emma look forward to seeing Cam as she gets up and dresses to look nice for him.

Let her notice he’s not there and she’s short one musician, and react to that. Disappointment at first, then annoyance. She might even waffle between girlfriend and professional and feel conflicted over that.

She might worry about something that is a later or upcoming issue in the story, and nudge the plot towards that a bit (if applicable).

If it fits, it might even be fun to connect Cam not respecting her time with the drummer giving pushback over her instructions. For example, if she’s even more annoyed of the pushback because she know if Cam were there this wouldn’t happen.

(Here's more on Goals, Conflicts, & Stakes: Why Plots Need All Three)

You might also consider adding just a few internal thoughts here and there to show her love of music and that she’s good at her job. Readers will need to see what she’s giving up when she has to make that tough choice later in the chapter for it to really have an emotional impact.

(Here's more on How to Write First-Person Internalization)

I don’t think it would need much tweaking. I line here, a thought there. Minor tweaks to strengthen her emotional side and add a little problem to her day.

Overall, I think you’re just about there. This whole opening has been about finding the balance between her life, her love life, and the letter, and it’s really close to balancing. I think slipping just that hint of conflict back ought to do it.

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

2 comments:

  1. This is solid groundwork. Looking just at this, and not the other versions, I can't tell what it's trying to ground.

    Emma is in her element, looking forward to seeing Cam, and dealing with one moment of conflict easily. All this is pleasant, but I think until it's used to play off what you want to build, it doesn't have the specific direction or hook that readers want from an opening.

    It could be more hints about Cameron being late and what it means, it could be doing more with Emma coping with a problem at work (that's the fastest way to get us on her side and show her specific strengths), or it could be the whole other shoe that's about to drop.

    Without threads like that, this textured, cheerful picture of Emma's daily life is appealing, but all it tells the reader is that this woman belongs in her studio and her life is good. We don't really see what makes her tick as a person (her strength and tact with Stuart is good, but it's a small moment), or where the story might be going. Some readers just won't read past this quiet opening, and others will reach the rest of the scene feeling you could have prepared them for it better.

    Just a few references here and there can start to change that. Maybe hints of how this is going well *because* Cameron adds his charisma to hers (so we'll hate to see trouble with him), or you could go further in showing daily problems as a microcosm of how capable she is. You could build this around a slow change of the mood, maybe leaving a problem outside so that being in the studio is her reward and her best chance to make everything better -- until it isn't -- or it could be the reverse and tensions slowly escalate. You could drop a specific clue of trouble, or even start with an arbitrary "On the day Emma's life fell apart..." There are any number of ways you can make this more compelling and more specific to what the story needs, and many work *with* most of the flow you have here.

    You're showing Emma in the studio to convince us it's a life worth fighting for. You convince us that that life is, but do you want it to seem like it's the whole story?

    ReplyDelete
  2. I do recall reading the other versions (sometimes you have links to them, Janice, don't you?) and I'm sorry to say I think this one is the most lack luster. A few of the word selections in the opening sound a bit juvenile to me. Such as her hurrying to get ready in her jacket and red lipstick to glide downstairs, then skipping down the hall to meet the guys.She's almost giddy. If I only read that, I would think this was YA.
    I would agree with Ken, there is not much of a "hook" in the opener here. He made some good suggestions. I recall the letter was a big hook before, what happened to that? She could find it in the pocket of the leather jacket and have some inner thoughts about it, perhaps. That would pull us in right away.
    I appreciate your working hard to make this a solid opening. I've changed mine several times as well...so I get it! Keep at it. As Janice said, you're almost there! Hope to see a future version :0

    ReplyDelete