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What do they mean, "Make it more personal?"

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by tbgg, Apr 11, 2017.

  1. tbgg

    tbgg Sage

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    I am working on my first novel, so I'm new to all the tricks of the trade. Please go easy on me if this is a dumb question. I just posted the first chapter of my WIP in progress on another site to get some feedback. Among the other feedback that I got was to make the chapter ending "more personal", and I'm struggling to understand what that means, especially since I understand the chapter needs to end with a hook to keep the reader engaged. One of the downsides to the site is you can't ask people who give you feedback what they mean.

    The action in the first chapter is this: Heroine meets with one of her father's guardsmen, who tells her he and his partner have found the man she asked them to look for and he's dead. She asks to be taken to see the body, they try to talk her out of that, but because she's both the daughter of the second most powerful man in the province and the assistant of the best healer in the province, they reluctantly take her to see it. The body is in a dim grain storeroom at the local mill, it's very dim, but she's able to confirm he's wearing the clothes of the missing man. The face has been beaten and the face can't be seen clearly. She heads back to the Castle to alert the Castle healer that there's a body that can't be positively identified so he can go claim it for a closer look.

    The hook? The man appears to be my heroine's secret fiancé.

    So yeah, I get that she would have ALL sorts of emotions going on about this, but from her perspective, she's got to lock all of them down. Dear old dad is a jerk (not to mention a major villain in my series - but I'm not planning for HER to know that until book 3 - I have ideas for 3 whole books already!) and if he finds out about her secret engagement, he'll do something like refuse to turn the fiancé's body over to his family for burial because dad is (among other things) the head of what passes for law enforcement in the Province and he's a nasty enough piece of work to do that. And he'll make her life hell in other ways, too.

    Obviously, most of the previous paragraph is backstory and can be woven in at some point after the first chapter, but how do I make her reaction "more personal" when she can't afford to show her feelings? I have a few items that it might make sense to weave into a "more personal" chapter ending, like a gold marriage band on a silver chain that belongs to the fiancé's mother, who's a widow, or the perch of a flying geskril named Flyt who belongs to the fiancé and has been carrying secret messages between the two lovers nearly every night for the past two years. Flyt has in fact been notably absent, which is partly why my heroine got worried enough to initiate the search in the first place.

    Can anyone out there offer some suggestions on how to make my chapter ending "more personal" while still preserving the "hook"?

    The fiancé's death is not intended to be the inciting incident - but when that incident occurs, her grief over his death will make it easier for her to leave.

    Thanks, all!


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  2. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    Can you post it here? or is there someplace we could visit to see the first chapter in question?
     
  3. tbgg

    tbgg Sage

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    What do they mean, "Make it more personal?"

    I'm not sure if you'll be able to see this, but try here:

    Continue Writing your Book Now | Now Novel

    Edit: Looks like you can't, not without signing in.

    I need to make some other edits - for one, I have too much backstory in my first chapter and I need to go over that with a fine-toothed comb still. I was hoping to make the ending more personal before I started that edit.

    Can someone not speak to my question in a more general way?

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    Last edited: Apr 11, 2017
  4. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    It's really hard to respond with help of any sort without first seeing the narrative in question. If you want answers, posting the chapter here would be your best bet. Otherwise, we're all blindly guessing here and that's not going to help you in any way.
     
  5. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    I agree, in this instance it can be difficult to pin it down without seeing the text. But I'll give it a go based on the information you've given.

    First, does your main character struggle with any of her emotions in the scene? Does she come to the brink of tears or any sort of emotional outburst? A person's exterior can be calm, but beneath the surface they can be a total wreck and nobody would know.

    If your character doesn't show any of that inner turmoil, then maybe that's were you're lacking in the personal aspect.

    Second, if it's not in your character's nature to be an emotional wreck inside, or that's not the way you want to portray them, then IMHO, you'll have to find something subtle that will show that she's struggling. For example, the ring. Maybe she's hiding the ring in a pocket or up her sleeve during the whole scene. Nobody knows it exists but her. As the scene plays out have her be constantly fiddling with it, while memories of what the ring means to her try to come to the surface. But she always catches herself before they do and pushes them down, while letting go of the ring. But her fingers always drift back to the ring unconsciously. Make the reader wonder why she's doing this.

    The ring becomes a symbol for her emotions, and her struggle with them.

    So when the reveal that it's here fiance, there's an AHA moment.

    And if you want to continue a little further, you can have her scurry off somewhere private at the end and break down.

    Hope this helps.
     
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2017
  6. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    I hate to throw around conjecture without reading it, because frankly, the advice could be wrong. And if it is right, still, any suggestions could be so far off base as to be damaging. I'm always game to give an opinion on a short piece if you wanted to post it in the showcase here.
     
  7. evolution_rex

    evolution_rex Inkling

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    What exactly did the guy say, in his words? Did he elaborate on what he meant by more personal at all? Because, if not, then you're rightfully confused. It's a very broad statement that could refer to a lot of things. But otherwise I can only really echo what everyone else said; it's hard to give advice without reading it.
     
  8. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    Sure, but even with full access to a piece, people can give wrong and damaging advice. Seen it plenty and in person. IMHO part of learning to be a writer is learning how to assess the advice given to you, whether it helps or not. Because the more someone writes, the more they put themselves out there, the number of varying opinions they'll receive will increase.

    A writer has to sift through all the feedback given to them and pick out what works, not just assume it's good because the person giving it read the whole piece. Suggestions that aren't useful can be just as helpful, because it shows the author a direction that they don't want to go, and can help them figure out the direction they do want to go in.

    The author is under no obligation to take the advice of everyone who offers up an opinion. And there's nothing wrong with trying to start a dialogue, by asking questions and giving opinions, as long as everyone understands the opinions are based on incomplete information.
     
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2017
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  9. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    No argument from me there, learning to ignore advice can be important as learning to take it. But everybody has a better chance of hitting the piñata with the blindfold off, particularly with a specific but vague question.

     
  10. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Well, the most obvious thing that comes to mind is to show her internal dialogue. Even if she can't show her emotions on the outside, her inner thoughts should be in turmoil.
     
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  11. Annoyingkid

    Annoyingkid Banned

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    The premise already sounds plenty personal to me. Just have show emotion with subtle cues.
     
  12. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    What do they mean, "Make it more personal?"

    The question pushes me toward creating a long response.

    I am irritated by the question, because the critic's comment was so bloody vague and could easily be a signal of personal taste, rather than objective criticism, prompting it.

    I am wondering if "personal" is a comment on the lack of emotion in the character or a lack of subjectivity—and these aren't the same thing, necessarily.

    Alternatively, the term could be a sign that the critic doesn't feel a personal connection to the character and event, rather than that the character is reacting in a purely objective, distant way to seeing her fiance in such a state.

    There could be some combination of these things happening.

    But I'm going to try to avoid a long commentary on the criticism, heh. [Eh, but nearing the end of this post, I'm seeing that it has grown large, heh.]

    I think Penpilot's suggestions and Mythopoet's suggestion are pretty good if your character's reaction is what's driving the criticism. I have difficulty understanding how the scene could be written without some emotional or subjective reaction from the MC. Nearest I can imagine, that'd be a kind of aloofness or clinical, objective delivery of the discovery. It'd be like some character walking down a hall and noticing through a window that the clouds have parted and let the sun shine through for the first time that day: an objective fact, but no subjective or emotional response from the character.

    If that's the issue, maybe for inspiration you could consider the five stages of grief:

    1. Denial
    2. Anger
    3. Bargaining
    4. Depression
    5. Acceptance

    The info you've given prompts me to believe that maybe this isn't really her fiance. A man dressed in his clothing but with the face very beaten (possibly unrecognizable) in very dim light. But regardless of whether this turns out to be him, and regardless of whether she's already been suspecting something happened to him, I'd imagine that denial would be her most natural response. Even if in her heart she absolutely fears this is truly him, her objective mind might be trying to find objections to the evidence she's seen.

    How you deliver this internal conflict will depend on what you want to do. Internal dialogue, a fidgeting (she steps forward instinctively to inspect the body more closely but stops herself because witnesses might read too much into it), etc., are options.

    A note on the emotional vs subjective distinction: Personally, I'm quite turned off by extreme displays of emotion when those displays are created merely to accentuate emotional effects. Sometimes, that works great. But not all characters and not all situations call for that. But "make it more personal" could signal the fact that the scene is written too objectively, the character is too aloof and clinical. You could add purely subjective info. E.g., some bit of clothing on the body reminds her of the wonderful evening they had together during some festival when everyone else was busy at the festivities. Perhaps that encounter was in a highly scented place, involving wildflowers and/or scented candles—but here, the room is dry and dusty (or moldy), a grain storage room. So perhaps extreme emotion could be indicated by subjective remembrance of facts rather than utilized directly with an "OMG MY HEART'S DESTROYED!" heh.

    As far as emotion goes...there are different types of emotion. She could cycle into anger even while still holding giant kernels of doubt, start making plans for revenge on the spot. Again, though, this doesn't necessarily need some direct display. Some subjective response could be used. Perhaps the thought flashes through her head: Far from wildflowers and moldy grain, the killers will smell their own blood strong in their noses in their final moments.

    A final word on "personal"...

    The critic's response may signal that the chapter doesn't connect to the reader, regardless of how the character is shown to react. This might mean there is a lack of tension. Perhaps everything is delivered matter-of-factly, seemingly completely, with nothing left to inspire a reader to feel curiosity, intrigue, wonder, etc. Perhaps you haven't left room for these things in your chapter ending, and this leaves the critic feeling as if the chapter is like an entry on Wikipedia, full of objective information, a full account, but lacking personal or subjective significance. Sometimes, withholding information or allowing ample room for subtext, using indications of what may be happening but not making everything explicit, can help to build that connection to the reader.

    Also, if you are in fact allowing the character to have subjective thoughts and emotions, it's possible that these are not being presented in a way that helps a reader connect to those on a personal level. This could be a signal that everything's a bit too on-the-nose, expected, ordinary. (It'd be like reading an account on Wikipedia about a historical figure having a nervous breakdown: Yeah, ok, but so what?)
     
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2017
  13. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Archmage

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    Heroine glanced at Flyt's empty perch. She grabbed up a pen and a slip of paper. Dammit, Fiance, she wrote, then ripped it up and threw it in the trash. She started again. Contact me when you get this. I really need to hear from you right now. She wrapped the message over the perch arm. She had to trust that Flyt would know what to do with it.
     
  14. tbgg

    tbgg Sage

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    Nice idea, except Flyt doesn't just pick up random scraps of parchment. Someone has to slide them in the pocket of his message harness. Plus, most people in this world don't know what geskril are - if they saw one flying around, they might be inclined to shoot it. And since she has to keep the perch in her room and has to tell everyone it's a just bit of wood she thought was artful, she usually doesn't take messages during the day because her personal maid, who's a bit of a busybody, would blab it if she saw an unknown creature in the MC's room. I've had my MC work around all of that by having her fiancé send Flyt only between 11 pm and midnight at night. Then there are no maids, less chance of being seen, and she doesn't have to keep the window open all night. (She's a healer's assistant when the story opens, so doesn't have a set nighttime schedule - if she's helping the castle physician with a patient during message delivery hour, Flyt just returns to the fiancé and he tries again the next day.)


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  15. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Archmage

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    The idea is there, though, that she does something that shows how her emotions are affecting her actions/behavior, and her struggle to keep them under control, rather than you explicitly telling the reader how she feels or what she's thinking.

    Maybe she clenches the ring in her fist. Maybe she glances at the empty perch, walks to the window, opens it, and looks out. Maybe the maid comes in and asks if something is wrong, and Heroine closes the window, saying she just wanted some fresh air. Subtle and symbolic.

    Without our being able to read the material, it's difficult to offer suggestions, as others have already said.
     
  16. tbgg

    tbgg Sage

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    I'm working on revising it - including trying to "make it more personal." However, I also found a gap in the logic surrounding where the body was found, so I'm trying to fix that as well, and I've had to do some research, which is why it's still not up. I'll post it here once I think I've improved it and let you all know.


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  17. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Without reading the chapter, it sounds like they're saying you need to show her emotions to the reader, through a deeper POV. For instance, you could show the readers how she struggles not to show her feelings, instead of simply not showing them.
     
  18. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    I watched Frozen for the first time recently and this actually makes me think of that.

    Now, like others have said, without seeing it there's a limit to what advice can be given.

    Two things I can suggest though;

    >Even though she can't let others see her emotions, let us see. Can you work in a moment or a scene where she's by herself and can let her guard down? You can see this in the beginning of Frozen pretty easily.

    >Body language can make a world of difference. (I'm horrible at it though.) Again, in Frozen, Elsa had a habit of crossing her arms. Crossed arms, making her closed off, along with how her powers normally come from her hands. There's plenty of other small things that can be used to communicate impatience or being closed off. Things like tapping her feet or opening and closing her hands for impatience, keeping her hood up even when inside to communicate being closed off, things like that.
     
  19. RedAngel

    RedAngel Minstrel

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    It is hard to judge what they mean when you are giving a second hand comment of a critique of a chapter we have not read.

    I would suggest that if her lover is to die (it is unclear if you intend to ressurect his body through the castle healer in the next chapter) that you should open the chapter with the two of them showing their secret relationship in action. It would give a deeper meaning to killing him off. You could easily have them nearly get caught and decide to meet later outside the castle where nobody can see them to show how tense their secret romance could become if they were discovered while showcasing how worthwhile this secret romance is to justify the danger somewhat.

    Or sprinkle in the fact that she has already been promised by the king to some other prince. Or that she has a limited amount of time to change the kings mind. Not necessarily that but something that raises the stakes or starts the sense of an impending timeframe. Maybe they plan to run away that night or something more outragous.

    Also if this star bound secret romance is going to end abruptly go out with a bang. Kill the poor man in style. Have her watch him die so that she knows it is him. So that she knows someone else knows. So that she questions the loyalty of those around her or who could stand the most to gain. So that the event obviously has an emotional impact. One that forces her to react even if she has to keep herself from screaming or sobbing quietly as they smash her lovers face in before her eyes. Then following it up with not having the ability to show her emotion until she returns to the castle at an appropriate time while trying to keep herself together.
     
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  20. tbgg

    tbgg Sage

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    Thanks to everyone who took the time to respond. After correcting a logic gap, removing some text where I was telling not showing, giving my heroine more evidence of suppressed emotion, and rewriting the chapter ending a couple of times, I finally got something I didn't totally hate - I told the reader the band was a marriage band and showed her hoping the body wasn't her fiancé, but the whole thing felt unsatisfying to me. The most obvious conclusion is that he's her fiancé, and I want the story to open with something unexpected.

    So I started asking the question, "How can I add a zinger?" I started thinking about the fact that magic is known in this world, but not accepted or practiced by most people in my heroine's country, and I think I have an idea. Soooo...it's off to rewrite land for me.

    @RedAngel: I like the idea of showing them together first. Maybe I can show him giving her the ring and them planning their elopement or something. I may have THAT be the first chapter, and then put the search in the second.


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