The critiques have been extremely popular and generated boatloads of comments, so I’m going to continue a bit longer. Today’s submission is by John Emerson, who posted two quite long paragraphs:
As she focused on the radio controls, Destiny never saw the two inch galvanized pipe protruding from the bed of the delivery truck that had quickly stopped in front of her. Except for a very loud noise, she had no sense of the pipe penetrating her skull and destroying her brain. Nor did she notice that the golden retriever puppy had broken its neck as it careened into the dash.
Bob Elliot could scarcely believe his eyes as the tiny sports car ran under the back of the flat bed truck without attempting to stop. He had been a medic in Viet Nam and acted instantly to attempt to save the young woman’s life, although he instinctively knew that the petite blonde-haired person would not survive as he began his resuscitative effort. Following the initial impact, the truck had pulled ahead a few feet removing the pipe from Destiny’s head. She had fallen partially out of the car onto the street, so he began CPR right there. AIRWAY, BREATHING, CIRCULATION, AIRWAY BREATHING CIRCULATION, AIRWAY BREATHING CIRCULATION. When the paramedics arrived four minutes later, Destiny had never been without a pulse or oxygen. Bob was relieved when they took the brain dead woman away in the ambulance.
Randy sez: This is a pretty exciting scene, with plenty of drama and trauma. I see a couple of issues that are keeping it from reaching its potential. First, there are some point-of-view problems. Second, there is some narrative summary (a fancy way of saying “there’s some telling going on here”).
Let’s deal with the point-of-view issues in paragraph 1 today and we’ll come back tomorrow and deal with the narrative summary issues in paragraph 2.
Remember how we keep score in fiction. We are trying to create a powerful emotional experience in the reader. We do that by creating the illusion that the reader IS one of the characters in the scene. The chosen character is called the point-of-view character (POV character for short). (I am giving you a lightning review of a topic I have covered at great length in my Fiction 101 lecture on Character.)
If you want to persuade the reader that she IS the POV character, then you can’t show the reader anything the character can’t see. So any sentence that begins, “Joe Schmoe didn’t see the…” is a sentence that violates POV.
The question then is how to show poor Destiny meeting her surprise demise because of the pipe that she never saw coming.
The answer is that it can’t be done. I’m sorry, but it can’t. And it shouldn’t be. If you want your reader to empathize with Destiny, then by gum, you’d better show us something to empathize about. Destiny doesn’t feel a thing. Therefore, neither does the reader.
We have two choices here. We can show the scene in Destiny’s POV, but make her aware of the pipe coming at her. OR we can scrub paragraph 1 and show the collision and aftermath completely from Bob’s POV, so that he sees the pipe coming at Destiny. I’m not entirely sure which is a better choice here. Let’s try it both ways and then you all can vote and tell me which works better:
Option 1: Destiny’s POV:
Destiny twisted the radio controls. A hiss of static filled the car.
A screech of brakes ahead.
Destiny jerked her head up.
The truck ahead, fully stopped, loomed enormous. A pipe protruding from its back came spearing at her face. In the final instant before it struck the windshield, time froze.
Destiny began a scream.
* * *
Randy sez: OK, I didn’t do a great job here. It’s a little overwritten, but it’s almost midnight and I’m too tired to do it right. This is the kind of scene where you either smash it out in about 30 seconds and it’s perfect, or you take two hours to grind it out, word by word.
I hope you get the idea, here. We need to show this from within Destiny’s head, showing what she sees, feeling what she feels.
Tomorrow, I’ll try Option 2: We’ll look at paragraph 2 and fold in a couple of pieces from paragraph 1, but it’ll all be in Bob’s POV.
Thanks, John, for showing us a tough, tough scene. You could have given me an easy one to work with, but this kind of scene is intrinsically hard to write.