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Saturday, October 19

Real Life Diagnostics: Is This Rewrite Working?

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: Zero

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

This week’s question:

1. Is this rewrite working?

Market/Genre: Middle Grade Science Fiction

On to the diagnosis…

Original Text:

If Intrec couldn’t snatch a serpent from Earth, Granddad would die.

Tears blurred his vision as he trudged past houses in his neighborhood. He needed to sneak into the experimental lab and collect the antidote—Granddad’s life depended on it. Dad had already died. I can’t lose my grandfather, too.

Daylight’s warmth glistened over him, and his heartbeats quickened. He caught a glimpse at the snow-capped mountains, urging to reach for a handful of snow and throw it over his head At least he’d worn a top with sleeves that didn’t reach past his elbows, otherwise he might’ve broken a sweat. If a lab scientist smelled his body odor, it’d ruin his plan. However, a gust of dry wind wafted over him, rustling the palm fronds.

A rodent with gray fur, a pink tail, and beady eyes slunk into view, blinking at him. His jaw clenched. The creature carried Tapergnaw’s disease, the deadly plague that had suddenly spread on planet Harte over ten years ago. Intrec jogged several steps down the pavement as the creature scampered into a dirt hole under greenery. If the rodents would’ve just stayed underground, Dad and millions of other Hartians would still be alive.

Someone tapped his shoulder and then shook his hand. “Thank you for finding the cure to Tapergnaw’s disease.” Tears brimmed in the gentleman’s eyes. “Now my daughter will live a full life.”

Earth’s serpents cured Tapergnaw’s disease, but at limited supply, elders couldn’t receive treatment. Youngsters were always treated first.

“You’re welcome,” Intrec forced a smile, even though all he gained from his effort was worldwide fame. What eleven-year-old youngster wanted to be noticed by everyone in public? If he’d found the cure sooner rather than a few months before Dad died, it might’ve been worth losing his privacy.

“Your discovery spared my life, too,” said another lady who had halted beside the gentlemen. “I’ll always be grateful to you.”

Intrec nodded and exchanged glances between them. His palms moistened. Would the Hartians ever stop approaching him? If anyone figured out his mission, they might alert the authorities. Still, if Granddad didn’t receive the antidote within the next several days, he’d die soon, too. His chest ached.

My Thoughts in Blue:

If Intrec couldn’t snatch a serpent from Earth, Granddad would die.

Tears blurred his vision as he trudged past houses in his neighborhood. He needed to sneak into the experimental lab and collect the antidote [how is this tied to the serpent? Or is it?]—Granddad’s life depended on it. Dad had already died. I can’t lose my grandfather, too.

Daylight’s warmth glistened over [is this meaning it’s hot? Or is there a special ‘look’ to the daylight?] him, and his heartbeats [or does he have two hearts?] quickened. He caught a glimpse at the snow-capped mountains, urging to reach for a handful of snow and throw it over his head At least he’d worn a top with sleeves that didn’t reach past his elbows, otherwise he might’ve broken a sweat. If a lab scientist smelled his body odor, it’d ruin his plan. [ah! so he's on his way to the lab?] However, [this suggests a comparison or disclaimer, but I don’t know what that would be here – you could drop ‘however’ and it would read just fine.] a gust of dry wind wafted over him, rustling the palm fronds.

A rodent with gray fur, a pink tail, and beady eyes slunk into view, blinking at him. His jaw clenched. The creature carried Tapergnaw’s disease, the deadly plague that had suddenly spread on planet Harte over ten years ago. Intrec jogged several steps [is this to get away from the creature?] down the pavement as the creature scampered into a dirt hole under greenery. If the rodents would’ve just stayed underground, Dad and millions of other Hartians would still be alive. [this paragraph works well now – good pacing and just the right amount of info]

Someone tapped his shoulder, [where did this person come from? behind?] and then shook his hand. “Thank you for finding the cure to Tapergnaw’s disease.” Tears brimmed in the gentleman’s eyes. “Now my daughter will live a full life.”

Earth’s serpents cured Tapergnaw’s disease, but at there was a limited supply, so elders couldn’t [or didn’t? or were last to?] receive treatment. Youngsters were always treated first. [nice job – the goal is now clear]

“You’re welcome.” Intrec forced a smile, even though [this is conflicting – could we refer to his efforts gaining him worldwide fame, but what eleven-year-old…etcetc?] all he gained from his effort was worldwide fame. What eleven-year-old youngster wanted to be noticed by everyone in public? If he’d found the cure sooner rather than a few months before Dad died, it might’ve been worth losing his privacy.

“Your discovery spared my life, too,” said another lady who had halted beside the gentlemen. “I’ll always be grateful to you.”

Intrec nodded and exchanged glances between with them. His palms moistened. Would the Hartians ever stop approaching him? [why is this a problem?] If anyone figured out his mission, [I’m not getting the connection here – how are these people a threat?] they might alert the authorities. Still, [I wanted this to be ‘And’] if Granddad didn’t receive the antidote within the next several days, he’d die soon, too.

His chest ached.

The Question:

1. Is this rewrite working?


It’s better and the thought you’ve put into your rewrite shows. (readers please chime in with your thoughts!)

I would still like to know where he’s going – right now. He’s trudging, which shows exhaustion or perhaps feeling the weight of his troubles. It also seems that he’s made a decision, and the mention of the lab seems to indicate that he needs to go there first, before the whole serpent snatching thing. But again, I’m guessing. His current goal might be explained or told in the previous chapter.

Wherever he’s going now, I want to understand what’s causing him to trudge instead of being in a hurry. Perhaps no one hurries, and for him to do so would bring attention to his doings?

(Here's more on Goals-Motivations-Conflicts: The Engine That Keeps a Story Running)

We have new information in the ‘daylight’ paragraph that points to this character having some pretty ripe BO that would alert the lab scientists to who (or what?) he was, and this is at the root of his apprehension that the warm daylight might make him sweat. Also, if the warmth of the daylight is the treacherous point, I suggest sticking with descriptors that have to do with how warm the daylight is or could become. Being grateful for wearing shorter sleeves also now makes better sense. I suggest moving this new info to the front of the paragraph, then relating it to the shorter sleeves and how he wishes he could grab snow from the mountains to cool off.

From this paragraph, I feel I can conclude that he’s currently headed for the lab. (do readers agree?) This would support his paranoia about his mission being found out. I also like the final sentence about a gust of wind, as it serves to pull things back to the present.

(Here's more on What's My Motivation? Tips on Showing Character Motivations)

The brief paragraph about serpents curing the disease, and the limited supply would be stronger if the fact that young patients were treated first, which meant that older patients ‘couldn’t’ be treated. I wanted a bit of explanation about the use of couldn’t. Is it against the law? Are there still so many youthful cases that all adults are left to die?

At the ending, I was curious as to why he wanted everyone to stop thanking him, realized (again) that he must be very well known, which would make sneaking around difficult, and then wondered just how illegal his plan was…which brought me to: who is the enemy?

(Here's more on Where Does Your Novel's Conflict Come From?)

This iteration has filled in information that has enriched the scene and given some nuance. Good job! And remember: a reader can ask questions, but your story might need to hold back the answers for a bit.

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.

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1 comment:

  1. Liked the rewrite, but one thing jumped out at me. In this short segment, there are six references that either Granddad or dad would die...and more Hartians too. To me, it seemed redundant. The deadly disease and his dad, granddad, and citizens dying from it is established early on.Maybe consider rewording a bit to get the point across in a different way? Could be just me. Might work for Middle Grade readers :)

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