For the last couple of weeks we’ve been analyzing various snippets of fiction posted here by my loyal blog readers. I think I’m getting ready to switch topics to something new. Any suggestions? What’s a burning problem in your writing life right now? Post a comment here to let me know. It’ll help me decide what to talk about next.
For today, we’ll look at the next submission on the list, which was posted by Lynn. It is clear from the few paragraphs posted that this does not take place in the present time. I can’t quite tell which century or country this is, however:
There stood Sarah Brown. A low growl rumbled over his
adam’s apple. She should know about Mark. His jowls
drooped and he rubbed them.
Sarah turned, and her face blanched at the sight of him.
He wanted to be angry this moment, but the pain of betrayal, the pain his own son brought him—he was not without sympathy. “You are as wicked as Anne Hutchinson.”
Her hands trembled as she set the pot she held down on the board. “Sir?”
“You told Mark he was free from sin.” Twas not that the essence?
“As Anne Hutchinson denounced holiness, so has your influence on my son led to his unholy acts.” Even as he spoke the words his conscience stabbed him. He pressed his hand against the burning in his chest. He could not admit that Sarah’s influence on Mark was to any good.
Randy sez: This could be America or England; could be the 18th or 19th century; I can’t tell on either score. We also aren’t told the name of the point-of-view character, though his son is apparently Mark. Let’s look at each Motivation and Reaction in turn:
Motivation #1: There stood Sarah Brown.
Reaction #1: A low growl rumbled over his adam’s apple. She should know about Mark. His jowls drooped and he rubbed them.
Randy sez: I would recommend putting these in separate paragraphs to highlight the fact that they are Motivation and Reaction. To me, the Reactions seem to need some work. It seems a bit impersonal to say that the growl is rumbling over his Adam’s apple, as if it’s happening TO him, rather than him causing it. Also, it’s a rare guy who will admit he’s got jowls. Since this is his point of view, I’m not sure he’d think of them in those terms. And I don’t see why he’d rub his jowls because they’re drooping.
Motivation #2: Sarah turned, and her face blanched at the sight of him.
Reaction #2: He wanted to be angry this moment, but the pain of betrayal, the pain his own son brought him—he was not without sympathy. “You are as wicked as Anne Hutchinson.”
Randy sez: I am lacking the context to understand what is going on here, but it seems like our POV character is awfully undecided about what he’s feeling right now. And it makes it hard for me to identify with him. At this point, I’m REALLY wondering what his name is. There are an awful lot of pronouns here. Can’t we see one use of his name?
Motivation #3: Her hands trembled as she set the pot she held down on the board. “Sir?”
Reaction #3: “You told Mark he was free from sin.” Twas not that the essence?
Randy sez: These are pretty straightforward dialogue, with an action tag in the Motivation and some interior monologue in the second. However, again, without the context, I’m not quite sure what to feel here.
Motivation #4: “Sir?”
Reaction #4: “As Anne Hutchinson denounced holiness, so has your influence on my son led to his unholy acts.” Even as he spoke the words his conscience stabbed him. He pressed his hand against the burning in his chest. He could not admit that Sarah’s influence on Mark was to any good.
Randy sez: I wish I understood better what was going on here. There is clearly some theological difference between our characters, but I don’t really understand it enough to know whom to like. The POV character is awfully conflicted here. It seems that he’s not sure what he believes. I can’t tell whether that interior conflict is good or bad, because I don’t have any context for making that decision. One thing I like is Sarah’s repeated use of the word “Sir?” She’s playing fairly tough here, while our unnamed POV character is playing fairly weak.
Mary Hake says
Since I have opportunity to be the first to comment (motivation) I better grasp it (reaction).
I have learned from these critiques of MRUs and they’re getting less and less foggy.
What about discussing time transitions and flashbacks?
I desperately need to know how to come up with more plot. My novels are all running pretty short. Based on your example in the Snowflake Goodies Package you average about 1000 words per scene. That’s 90 scenes for an average book in my genre (crime thrillers), but I’m lucky if I can come up with half that many. How do I beef up my plot without padding my scenes? Help me, Randy, help help me, Randy! 🙂 Um…sorry ’bout that.
I’ve been told that if you don’t seem to have enough story, add a character. Another character adds additional complications, additional conflict, and more story. It worked for me on a previous draft (which has since been discarded for other reasons). I didn’t have enough story, so I took the advice to add another character, and I doubled the story just by working out how that character knew my other characters. It added a whole new dimension to the story and improved it a lot.
Unfortunately, it also messed up the timing of key events, and I gave up trying to fix it–hence the discarded mss. However, if I’d added the character sooner in the story development, I think I could have written the story better from the beginning, without the problems that have caused me to set the whole thing aside.
Lois Hudson says
Mary, I like your style. Seeing MRUs in everything.
I also like the suggestion of “transitions and flashbacks.”
Unlike Rob’s problem, my current WIP is headed toward too much story, and because it covers quite a few years, I’m trying to axe some of the past and touch on backstory with flashbacks. There are five characters over the years, not all of them in all parts of the story, but connected by a trickle-down event. I do know the full story and where it’s going, but need help getting there.
Flashbacks are very timely for me. I was told to use them sparingly, but how sparingly? My MC suffers from post traumatic stress syndrome and his flashbacks carry the storyline.
Lynn Squire says
Randy, I want to give you a big thanks for looking at my piece. I can certainly understand your confusion as I cut it from the middle of a scene where Isaiah (the POV character) learned some bad news. You are right, he is conflicted about what he believes and what he feels, and this is the conflict of his story. In the overall plot however, he would be viewed as the villain and Sarah as the protagonist. And it is set in the 17th century Massachusetts Bay Colony. Theologically, Isaiah holds to Puritan teachings, but his motives for doing so is to hold his position within the colony. Sarah, however is the daughter of an Anabaptist.
My intention for this bit was to show Isaiah’s inner turmoil and struggle to be perfect in a community that demands perfection. Yet, his family doesn’t follow the rules. He loves his family, but hates that they are turning away from the strict Puritan lifestyle.
Mark desires to marry Sarah, a person who is beneath his position and a dissenter. Mark lived a rebellious life before he fell in love with Sarah. A rumor was repeated to Isaiah that Mark returned to that life.
Isaiah blames the dissenters for all the evils occurring in their colony, even though he is aware that such a blame is not entirely well placed. Sarah, for him, is the face of these dissenters (which is only a part of his conflict with her). Does that give you enough of a background?
I see I can improve the first paragraph.
There stood Sarah Brown.
Isaiah growled. She should know about Mark. He rubbed his jawline.
However, does this give the picture of his sorrow? And the sentences seem to be all the same, short and choppy.
Isaiah growled. He rubbed his jaw, pressing his fingers into his sagging face. She should know about Mark.
I’m curious to know what you think of the changes, and how you handle a deep POV while still giving the reader a picture of how the POV character looks. He can’t see himself, but he can feel what his face is doing. Yet, is the above enough to portray his sorrow?
Mary Hake says
I like your last attempt best so far. Being Anabaptist myself and a history buff, your book sounds interesting to me.
Randy asked for some new topics before we did MRUs and there was a pretty good list. It seems like a number of people agreed on a couple, but I forgot what they were. I’m too lazy to go back and look. 🙂
I don’t know if my burning need applies to anyone else. I’m about 4 scenes away from wrapping up my first draft and will set it aside for just a few minutes to read my Margie Lawson Empowering Character’s Emotions Lecture packet – (thanks Randy for suggesting it – it looks great!) Then I will go back through my novel and deepen where I need to. (I also have some chapters to rewrite and stuff to add due to changes made later in the story.) I need to do some layering, deepening and polishing. Make it all shiny and pretty for that nice, pretty agent lady who is patiently waiting for it but probably won’t wait forever. 🙂
Someday, I’d like to know how to write WELL and FAST, if there is such a thing. But if 20 years if good enough the the Supreme Dictator for Life, then it’s good enough for me.
Lois Hudson says
I agree; much improved, Lynn. I confess I thought Sarah Brown was a man, with the next sentence starting with “He…” Just the simple separating of sentences into paragraphs resolved it.
In defense of many of the snippets we’ve reviewed, some are taken mid-story and therefore we don’t know the details that would build up to the specific MRU. Character identification and situation dynamics can’t be included in every scene, so uninitiated readers (Randy and the rest of us) don’t get the whole picture. Readers of a published book have the advantage of build up, assuming we successfully “build” the characters and situations.
Andra M. says
I like the second example better, but in order for us to see your character’s sorrow, we need more. It’s difficult to convey it in such short sentences and paragraphs.
I’m with Lois Hudson in that we can’t “get” everything from a mid-story snippet.
I like the idea of tackling flashbacks next.
Pam Halter says
The burning problem in my writing life right now is Harper Collins approaching Brooke Shields and asking her to write a children’s book. She was amazed and gushed, “I never even thought about writing a children’s book!”
But I guess that’s a rant and not really something we can blog about. 🙂
Carrie Neuman says
I could still use some help with dialog. I went back and reviewed the articles in the monthly e-zine, but knowing I need to bring the drama and actually being able to make my characters say mean things to each other is entirely different. I don’t like it when they’re mean. 🙁
Lynn Squire says
Thank you all for the kind and helpful comments.