Thank you, brave soul, for trusting me with your work. I hope you find this helpful.
I chose this month's submission to explain the difference between 'good questions' you can leave readers with, and 'not good questions', and how to use emotion effectively in your writing.
A friend had a suggestion for me on these — to show the original in its entirety, then show my edits. Because he looks at the original first, does what edits he sees, then looks at my analysis to see how much he picked up (and what I missed). That seems a brilliant learning tool!
Here we go:
Black = original
Red = my thoughts/comments
Purple = text I added/altered
Heather Holbrook cried softly as she sat hidden in a dark corner of the Denver bar sipping a beer. The doctor’s unexpected words echoed through her brain triggering feelings of hopelessness and reminding her that life was not always fair. Listening to the details of her own medical problem was tougher than she’d imagined. The timing of this depressing news was off. Way off.
Staring down into her drink, she observed one of her tears drop into the golden liquid. The idiom Crying in your beer was no longer an idle saying, but rather her new reality. Still, she wanted no part of the pitiful sensation overtaking her body. That was not her style.
She tried like hell to snap out of it, though lecturing herself had little effect. Action. She needed to take some action, do something, anything. Heather knew from experience that if a funk saturated with negativity lingered at her feet long enough, she’d sink downward and become one with that funk.
She’d been there once before and vowed never to return. How would she cope with this devastating, life altering situation? This was far more personal, and, as her friends had said, she wasn’t getting any younger. Could she find happiness knowing what she knows? Saving others came naturally; saving herself, not so much.
The sound of multiple sirens zooming by outside caught her attention. Instinctively, her adrenalin flowed. She stood, ready. Then remembered. She was off-duty.
Waving the waitress over and ordering another beer was the only action she’d come up with. For the moment, it beat going home to an empty apartment.
There's some great stuff here - some great lines. But to me, the whole thing is awash in emotion, and we don't know why. What was her diagnosis? If you tell us, we can share her funk, worry and despair. But by not telling us, the author is saying, "trust me, this is really bad." Readers won't trust you. They want to experience the heroine's journey, and they can't without knowing what's wrong with her. It's an example of a 'bad question' a reader can have. There are tons of 'good questions' — for example, we can guess she's involved in the medical or emergency profession somehow — maybe a paramedic? Or perhaps a cop? I'm okay not knowing that right up front — it makes me want to read on, to discover the answer. But you've laid out the character's problem, but been coy about not telling us what it is. Readers get angry when they feel toyed with.
How much better would it be if you told us what the diagnosis is — if it's terminal, you have instant empathy. If it's debilitating, especially if she has a very active job, it could be even worse! The reader wants to feel, but in the absence of knowledge, the emotion seems overdone.
I think it needs tightening as well. Telling us over and over won't convince a reader.
I'm going to try to rewrite — and I'm making an assumption about her diagnosis that may not be right. But roll with me here:
In a dark corner of a Denver bar, Heather Holbrook sipped her beer, trying to hold hopelessness at bay. The doctor's horrific acronym echoed through her brain. How could two innocent letters combine to such cruelty? MS.
As if that wasn't bad enough, the timing of this news was off. Way off.
A tear dropped into the golden liquid in her glass, proving that crying in your beer wasn't an old saying; it was her new reality.
Saving others came naturally; saving herself? Not so much.
Action. She needed to do something, anything. She knew from experience that if this mood lingered long enough, she’d become one with the funk.
A siren's wail outside jerked her to her feet, heart speeding, spreading an overload of adrenaline. Then remembered. She was off-duty.
She waved the waitress over and ordered another beer she didn't really want. But it beat going home to an empty apartment.
I've pulled out a bunch of the emotion, because if we know what the diagnosis is, you don't need to tell us, you've shown us. We get it.
What do you think? Do you relate more, empathize more with the character? Any other tips for this writer?
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