Every couple of weeks, my husband and I meet with the local writing critique group. While there, everyone shares relevant announcements, and we usually critique a small section of each other’s work.
Last week I brought in an episode of The Multiverse Chronicles. My husband plots and writes the first draft, which I then polish. Most of the other episodes haven’t been too problematic, but this particular episode was giving me issues. I’d already tried editing it a few different times, but it still sounded… flat. I knew the transitions weren’t quite working, but something else was missing, too.
Once I read the piece aloud, the group pointed out that it lacked the usual description and emotion I tried to invoke. Thus, having someone who is familiar with our work can be helpful.
Critique partners can see the things which usually embody our work, even if we can’t.
So, after applying the basic suggestions the group made, I went back and sought ways to deepen the emotions of the main character, along with boosting the imagery in each of her “flashbacks” so that the reader would feel better grounded in the reality of the story.
For example, this is what one section looked like while I was still having difficulties editing it:
Trish had been at camp for seven days now, and thus far her training had consisted of textbooks, tests, practicing basic commands with her pterosaur (which, she noted as she stared at the starry sky, still remained nameless), and meeting with Colonel Pearson.
The meetings were the worst.
“Ivers, you seem to be making good progress,” the colonel would say, trailing his finger along a clipboard of notes, “but—” Always, that annoying ‘but.’ “—you need to work on your skills. Have you remembered to meditate with your drake?”
She flexed her shoulders. Maybe he never mentioned meditating with the pterosaur, but he usually gave her some unimportant task that she needed to complete.
“Ah-ha! Now here is a test that will measure your skills on meditating. Don’t forget to read chapters seven through nine of The Honor of Tactical Flying.”
Trish sighed and bit off another chunk of her granola.
The camp had only one copy of each book, which meant Trish had to go to the quartermaster to check them out.
Not only does the scene need a bit of tweaking in regards to transitioning the flashbacks, it also lacks a sense of the surroundings, and the emotion behind it feels dull.
This is what the section looks like now that I’ve added more description and focused on the emotion:
This was her seventh day at camp, and thus far her training consisted of textbooks, tests, practicing basic commands with her pterosaur—which, she noted as she stared at the starry sky, still remained nameless—and meeting with Colonel Pearson.
(Note that using em dashes instead of parentheses have improved the flow of her thoughts)
She inhaled the brisk air at let it out slowly, counting down from ten to relax her thoughts.
The meetings were the worst thing about being here.
(We’re starting to get a sense of her impatience)
The colonel would trail his finger along a clipboard of notes, tap his chin thoughtfully, then meet her gaze with his piercing blue eyes. “Ivers, you seem to be making good progress, but—”Always that annoying ‘but’ “—you need to work on your skills. Have you been meditating with your drake? Surely you haven’t forgotten.”
(The use of ‘would’ following colonel suggests that she’s thinking about this, not that it’s happening right now. Plus, ‘piercing’ eyes (however cliche) denote that she’s uncomfortable). Adding ‘Surely you haven’t forgotten’ gives her that feeling of being put on the spot. Already, we’ve got a lot more emotional details and descriptors to ground us in the scene)
Trish flexed her shoulders. Maybe Pearson had never mentioned meditating with her pterosaur, but he usually gave her some unimportant task that she needed to complete. Like checking the feed levels of the other pterosaurs, or cleaning the cages while the riders were out, or reading.
(By saying ‘Maybe Pearson had‘ shows that we’re back in the present. And the list of complaints continues to show mounting agitation)
So much incessant reading.
“Ah-ha!” Pearson had exclaimed upon skimming through a tiny red booklet that Trish was fairly certain should have been titled A Thousand Ways to Torture Private Ivers. “Now here is a test that will measure your skills! Read chapters seven through nine of The Honour of Tactical Flying, then report back for your next assignment.”
(By having the line ‘So much incessant reading’ on it’s own line, and then going to ‘ “Ah-ha!” Pearson had…’, we make room for another flashback. The choice of ‘incessant’ further shows Trish’s annoyance. And then we have ‘A Thousand Ways to Torture Private Ivers.’ She feels she’s being treated harshly.)
Colonel Pearson had grinned, tossed his clipboard on a stack of papers, then dismissed her to her chores.
(I’m debating on the phrasing of this, but currently, saying that Pearson ‘had’ done this cues that we’re coming back to the present)
Trish sighed and bit off another chunk of her granola.
On the bright side, she didn’t have to go through all the same physical drills as the other riders. She got her exercise from running tent-to-tent, trying to locate the miscellaneous items she needed to please her superior officer. The camp had only one copy of each of the primary textbooks, which meant Trish had to go Corporal Smith, the quartermaster, to check them out.
(Adding the bits about her having to run from tent-to-tent and locating miscelleneous items adds to the feeling that she doesn’t think this is important… especially since she doesn’t bother to consider what those miscellaneous items are)
Overall, I think the edited section reads more like the other scenes now. The flashback transitions read smoother, and there’s enough detail to ground me as a reader in what is happening. Plus, we now have a sense that Trish is genuinely annoyed and impatient, rather than just ‘ho-hum’ about her daily life at camp.
I’m still in the process of editing the rest of the episode, but now that I know where to go with it, I think editing will go much smoother.
If you’re in a problem spot, see if you can find a trusty beta reader or critique partner to take a look, even if it’s just a small scene. They may be able to see what you’re missing, especially if they’re familiar with your work.
I hope you enjoyed this post. Have you found any tricks to adding emotions to a scene or transitioning flashbacks?
By the way, author Jordan Elizabeth was kind enough to feature my book on her blog, Kissed by Literature. Check it out to find another sneak peak of Magic’s Stealing, and to see what other books she has featured. 😀
Also, Cathleen Townsend has written the first review of Magic’s Stealing! Find it (and other reviews) at her blog, The Beauty of Words. 😀