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Saturday, September 12

WIP Diagnostic: Is This Working? A Closer Look at Mixing Internal Thoughts into a Third-Person POV

Critique By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

WIP 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 WIP Diagnostics, please check out these guidelines.

Submissions currently in the queue: One

Please Note: As of today, critique slots are booked through September 19.

This week’s questions:

1. Am I getting closer to an acceptable opening?

2. Does this sound realistic, like something a 10 year old would gripe about?

3. Did I ground the setting?

Market/Genre: Middle Grade

Note: We’ve had a lot of resubmits lately, and here’s another. The previous versions are here: first, second, and third for those curious to see how this revision has developed.

On to the diagnosis…

Original Text:

The screen door closed behind him with a bang, and his grandmother's warning about slamming the door went unnoticed. Freddy swiped the sweat rolling down his face and squinted up at the sun. It was too dang hot to outrun the bad guys today or run a race, or the cops, or whatever his imagination conjured up. The heat seemed to add to his already aggravated state of mind. What's worse, the school year was starting in a few days, and his summer vacation was coming quickly to an end.

Why cain't Dad find a place and stay put? I'd like to know how come Gran Mamie don't make him stay put! I'm sick of always bein the new kid. I'd like to see him try it—just ONCE! Bet he'd stop movin around so much then!

He double-checked the playing card pinned to the frame next to the back wheel of his bike before taking off. Sometimes he replaced the card with a balloon, which also made a sweet sound.

Guess Dad don't care if he has friends or not. Well—I CARE! It's always "Freddy, we movin," or "Freddy guess what—you get to be the new kid again. Won't that be fun?" Kids always ask the same dang questions—"what's your name? Where you from? How come ya'll move around so much? Your dad a criminal or sumthin? Ya'll runnin from the law? Ya'll in the witness protection program like on t.v.? How come you ain't got no mama?" DANG!

He carefully guided his bike down the concrete steps to the street and watched the freight train chug-chugging down the tracks.

I'm TIRED of always gittin snatched outta schools all the dang time!

He threw a rock and hit a tree with it.

What's the dang use in even tryin? If Dad cared enough to ASK ME if I wanted to move—I'd tell him how I REALLY FEEL! But noooo! I reckon Cause I'm ten, my opinion don't count. Dang, it!

My Thoughts in Blue:

The screen door closed behind him with a bang, and [his grandmother's warning about slamming the door went unnoticed.] Since Freddy wouldn't know what he didn't notice, this clues readers in that this is an omniscient narrator Freddy swiped the sweat rolling down his face and squinted up at the sun. It was too dang hot to outrun the bad guys today or run a race, or the cops, or whatever his imagination conjured up. The heat [seemed to] You have an omniscient narrator, so they'd know if the heat did or didn’t affect Freddy. Perhaps just say “added” since it does affect him add to his already aggravated state of mind. [What's] This feels present tense. Perhaps “what was” worse, [the school year] could use the grade to show his age — fourth grade was starting in a few days, and his summer vacation was coming quickly to an end.

Why cain't Dad find a place and stay put? I'd like to know how come Gran Mamie don't make him stay put! I'm sick of always bein the new kid. I'd like to see him try it—just ONCE! Bet he'd stop movin around so much then!

He double-checked the playing card pinned to the frame next to the back wheel of his bike before taking off. Sometimes he replaced the card with a balloon, which also made a sweet sound.

Guess Dad don't care if he has friends or not. Well—I CARE! It's always "Freddy, we movin," or "Freddy guess what—you get to be the new kid again. Won't that be fun?" Kids always ask the same dang questions—"what's your name? Where you from? How come ya'll move around so much? Your dad a criminal or sumthin? Ya'll runnin from the law? Ya'll in the witness protection program like on t.v.? How come you ain't got no mama?" DANG!

He carefully guided his bike down the concrete steps to the street and watched the freight train chug-chugging down the tracks.

I'm TIRED of always gittin snatched outta schools all the dang time!

He threw a rock and hit a tree with it.

What's the dang use in even tryin? If Dad cared enough to ASK ME if I wanted to move—I'd tell him how I REALLY FEEL! But noooo! I reckon Cause I'm ten, my opinion don't count. Dang, it!

The Questions:

1. Am I getting closer to an acceptable opening?


Yes. I have a good sense of what Freddy is unhappy about and how he feels. Freddy is sick of moving and just wants a home. He wants his father to stop moving them around. He’s likely to get into trouble of some type at school, and his father possibly being a criminal might be another problem. I’m curious why they’re always moving and if any of those issues are true. Will Freddy and his father finally settle down and be happy?

(Here’s more on Seven Deadly Sins (If You're a First Chapter))

2. Does this sound realistic, like something a 10 year old would gripe about?

Yes. Freddy has real issues here, and they’re things any kid who moves around a lot can relate to. Even those who haven’t probably know or have seen someone new and can imagine what that must be like. It's easy to imagine how awful it must be to live this kind of life.

(Here’s more on 5 Tips for Using Voice in Dialogue)

3. Did I ground the setting?

Yes and no. It’s someplace hot, right before school starts. And it’s very near train tracks. For page one, that’s a good start, though you’ll probably want to slip more details in after this. For example, I’m not 100% sure of the time frame (though the cover copy might tel me that).

There’s a very “old fashioned” sense in the tone that suggests this is in the past, but it also mentions TV and witness protection, which makes it feel a little more modern. It has a 50’s 60’s feels, and Stand By Me pops to mind. One of two details that clearly place this is a particular era would do it. Such as, what major events happened the year this is set? Could you mention, say, the moon landing, or who was president, or the like.

(Here’s more on 3 Secrets to Writing Vivid Settings)

Although you didn’t ask, I want to talk about the change with Freddy’s internalization.

I really like this personal glimpse into his mind and how he feels, and it brings me much closer to him as a character. However, having all of his thoughts in first person italics is going to wear on readers after a while. Italics are usually used sparingly for immediate thoughts. It also makes the book feel broken in two between his thoughts and the narrative, which hurts the flow.

I’d suggest either shifting some of this to third person and making it part of the narrative like you did the “It was too dang hot to outrun the bad guys…” thoughts, or writing this in first person. Freddy really came alive to me in this version.

Here’s an example of how you might mix the first person internal with third person internal narrative:
Why cain't Dad find a place and stay put? How come Gran Mamie didn’t make him stay put? He was sick of always being the new kid. He’d like to see Dad try it—just ONCE! Bet he'd stop moving around so much then.
Or…
Why couldn’t Dad find a place and stay put? Gran Mamie oughta make him stay put. Freddy was sick of always being the new kid. He’d like to see Dad try it—just ONCE! Bet he'd stop movin around so much then!
Something like this allows you to show Freddy’s voice and thoughts, and a little of the dialect to set the tone, and still maintain the third person narrative. Pick one or two of the most important thoughts to emphasize, but keep the rest in third person.

This also lets you get a sense of the dialect without overdoing it. Too much dialect is difficult to read after a while. The common adage is dialect is like a strong spice--a pinch is good for flavor, more than that ruins the dish.

(Here’s more on Dialect in Dialogue: A Little Goes a Long Way)

Overall, this has come a long way and I’m really starting to feel it come together. Freddy and his issues feel solid, and I’m curious to see how his first day will go and if he'll finally get his home.

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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5 comments:

  1. I have been reading this story through its changes, and this revision certainly has come a long way and reads well. Great job. I agree with Janice that minimizing the italics will be helpful.

    My father moved a lot. He hated it. He always dreaded being introduced as the new kid. So, you have a very real conflict for Freddy.

    Soon after this intro, I would expect we will see the beginning of a conflict that will drive the book forward. Not wanting to move is one thing, but what will be that inciting incident that will change things and change Freddy's world?

    Also, relative to time, it has been quite a while since kids put cards in their bicycle spikes, so grounding us to the time period would be helpful.

    Overall, lots of work since the first submission, all of which paid off. Looks great and I'm sure you will continue to build this story into a great read. Good luck!

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  2. thanks again for the great insights and advice and encouragement. I feel I'm coming closer to getting this right.

    Roxie

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  3. This is just the emotion we need. This absolutely works.

    Freddy definitely feels like ten -- and you do work the number itself in to make that clear. His frustration is visceral, it works in background for why he's moving to make it more real, and the biggest part of it what he always hears as the new kid, really zeroing in on your priority. Moments of pure emotion like this make strong scenes, especially when the problem is this real and they are laced with moments of the setting.

    The one thing this doesn't have is that because it's so focused on Freddy, there's very little happening around it. You're impressing us with your ability to capture emotion and the layers of it, but you haven't yet given us an unusual situation or event to play off of that. So you want to start showing that creativity within say the next few paragraphs of what Freddy heads into.

    (Or if you want to weave some of that into this passage itself so it starts earlier, that would be stronger still. But this certainly works without it.)

    One idea: the first paragraph is six lines of anger and setting, without yet hinting what he's angry about. Is there a way to put one thought about him being the new kid in there, maybe as italics (if you reduce the number of those elsewhere) or as part of splitting off just a line or so at the top as a bit-sized first paragraph? That would make it even smoother to follow where this is heading.

    A great start. We can feel Freddy's anger here, and that's just what we need.

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  4. Yeah, I agree with Lynne above. "You've come a long way, baby!" Keep up the good work!

    Paul

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  5. thanks Ken and Paul for your comments and advice. This is definitely a WIP.

    Roxie

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