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edit 2: I included an excerpt of the working draft of the problem conversation. The characters are bug people. They have a mix of human and bug-like features. I'm sorry I am struggling with the format issues. There should be paragraph breaks but it didn't paste over.

The soldiers remained where I last saw them. Not much had changed. Benly sat a little higher with his head propped on his elbow. His crooked antennae poking at the same tray of food from lunch time.

I stared at Benly. His abdomen carried a huge dent in the center segment. His body glistened under the overhead lamps. His left antenna bent downward making it droop lower than his right.

Frisly lifted his antennae and lightly poked Benly's upper right shoulder with the flat side of his fork. “You should eat. Or at least try. I'll get some fresh food. Something warm?”

Benly flinched and rubbed his shoulder. In the process he covered a faded dark green vine shaped tattoo. “Don't bother. Please,” he said.

Frisly stood up and turned towards the line of soldiers near the buffet table. “You need to eat. I don't want you to starve. Not after all we went through. We can't lose you. Not again.”

“Listen Frisly, I don't give a damn about my life!” Benly slammed his fist against the table.

Frisly sat down and stared at Benly.

Benly lowered his antennae and looked down at his tray of food. “The only way I could convince them to take on the last mission was to promise if they were to die in battle, I-I was to die with them.”

“Benly, What is going on?” asked Frisly.

“Couldn't this strange miracle have happened to anyone else?”

“Why do you wonder this?”

Benly looked up and stared off into space.

Frisly leaned forward and stared into Benly's eyes. Benly slumped his head on the table. Frisly poked Benly's head with his antennae.

Benly lifted his head and stared at an empty water glass. Frisly poked Benly harder.

“Dear friend, please tell me, what is going on inside your mind? I'm concerned.”

Benly sighed. “You're always concerned about me. How about you? How are things going on in your life?”

Frisly folded his arms. “No Benly you're not changing the subject. I want to know how you're doing? I get that you're upset about–”

“I wanted to die.” Benly took a deep breath. He reached out an arm and held the empty water glass. “You would hate me dear friend if I told you, I...”

edit:

Would it help if I pasted an excerpt of the dialogue from story in question?

I'm new here, so I am unsure if I am asking the right questions, but this is burning me up at the moment. A possible weakness: I'm constantly going over my rough drafts as I write them. I kind of stall myself in the process of editing as I write. I'm kind of participating in the November writing challenge, though I haven't officially signed up. I'm more so using it as a motivator to keep me focused on finishing a story.

"The plot is great but your writing style needs improvement" "It is better than the previous book you showed me, but it is still not near being publishable."

This is the feedback I am getting from a close friend who is reviewing a book I am rewriting in a series I am working on. He says I don't need to change much. He really likes the plot, finds it interesting and well developed but not how I am saying it. I'm a bit confused. My logical mindset tends to freeze up and wonder where the problem is, but I am stuck in a rut. The suggestion is rather vague and chalks up to saying "you lack experience and it shows." and a bit of "I wish you'd read more fiction." (my reading choice leans towards towards non fiction and scientific articles.)

One criticism he had was there needed to be less external dialogue and more internal dialogue. How is a good way to portray internal dialogue on a main character who is not the POV character? (He will be a POV character but isn't the POV character in the scene I am portraying.)

I am trying to set up a scene introducing a soldier character who is feeling suicidal (and plotting a suicide plan) after losing all of his troops in battle. Their side won their war. He is talking with his best friend/ mentor figure who is trying to talk him out of it. Neither characters in the conversation are the POV character. The POV character is a 5 year old child who happens to be watching/overhearing the scene. The story's POV is divided up between the protagonist's current adult perspective his past tense child's perspective. Present Situation: he's making an attempt to change the past and save his world, and is seeing memories linked to key characters from the past. He experiences outside POV's but isn't fully in their mind.

First draft: I had the soldier character talking about how upset he was losing his troops, feeling he lost his friends. Friend pointed out: There needs to be more to it to jump from losing his soldiers to feeling the need to commit suicide.

2nd draft: I explored a bit more his motives, etc. Following a reckless/ ruthless commander and having to justify such orders and feeling tired of following along, feeling like he could have done better, etc.

Friend: That's great, but having him say it makes it sound less genuine.

Me: ??? How to convey this information, enough to concern the child POV and have the adult narrator both reflecting over this scene.

Things the reader really liked: The 1st person narrator and the switching between 1st person and the 3rd person. He liked the idea of seeing the adult narrator and his child self. Things he didn't like: Felt plot points are mentioned in a way too heavy handed or clunky in how they are portrayed. Times I am too direct.

  • The secondary challenge the reader gave me was to change some of that dialogue into internal thoughts. But since "Benly" is not the POV character in this scene, how would one go about conveying that information? – BugFolk Nov 9 '17 at 8:09
  • Use two linebreaks (enter/return presses) to have line breaks in the excerpt. – FFN Nov 9 '17 at 12:20
  • It seems I'm better rewriting the scene and reworking the dialogue. Should I worry about that now or should I finish writing the story and then go back to reworking the weak areas? (this is a rewrite of a draft I've been editing since year 2000) So it's not quite a rough or 1st draft, but it isn't quite a 2nd draft either.) – BugFolk Nov 9 '17 at 15:30
  • This is probably personal, but I try to finish the draft before revising it. Otherwise I'd end up never finishing it. Don't worry about bad writing, don't worry about plot holes. Writing and revising are very different activities and I dislike mixing them. – FFN Nov 9 '17 at 15:55
  • Maybe that's where I'm getting myself into a rut and why I have lots of partially finished short stories, or complete rough drafts that haven't evolved from that point. I get excited, then go into editing mode, then get stuck. – BugFolk Nov 9 '17 at 16:00
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Basically, what you are being told is that you need to train your writing skills.

To better understand the critique you are getting, compare it with a similar critique given to a musician or a language learner: "The song you attempt to play is great, but you don't really play it well." and "I like how you try to speak in French, but you lack the vocabulary to express your thoughts and your pronunciation makes it difficult to understand you."

What would you suggest to the musician and the language learner? Probably that they train more, before they get on the stage or apply for that job in Paris.

You need to do the same.

You are at a level where you have read a lot and have your head full of ideas for stories that you want to tell, but you haven't yet properly learned to write (in the sense of writing as story-telling). What you need to do, therefore, is to learn how to write. For the musician it is not enough that he has the manual skills to hold the instrument, he must also learn to play it. For the language learner it is not enough that he knows what he wants to say and can form sounds with his mouth, he must also learn French. For you, it is not enough that you have great story ideas and have mastered written language, you must also learn to write stories.

How do you do that? By practicing. Just as the musician will have to spend endless hours playing his instrument before he will be able to play well enough that he can entertain an audience, and just as the language learner has to spend endless hours pracising pronunciation and learning vocabulary and grammar, you have to spend endless hours writing one story after another, until you have built the skill to write at a publishable level.

What you need now is not a critique of what you have written until now, but to throw it away and write the next story. And the next. And so on until you no longer get that kind of feedback.

Diligence and perseverance are the key to becoming a master.

  • Thanks for the hard truth. I guess the hard thing was I feel really passionate about the series I want to write and the characters, that I don't want to give up that story, series or the characters. This is my first reboot of the series. I started writing the series dealing with the characters around 1995-1997/year 2000. (I was in 5th 6th grade when I came up with the first ideas) I've been writing off and on with 3-5 year breaks where I may not write at all. The last break I took was 2012-2016 of no writing. The ideas have been with me for a very long time. I don't want to just scrap them. – BugFolk Nov 9 '17 at 14:35
  • Maybe it's also a personal weakness, but when I did try to just move away and write a different story unrelated to the series I am passionate about it, I lose interest, quit writing and end up pursuing other creative hobbies. I have a weakness that I usually am passionate about something for a year at a time, but then grow tired of it and move on to something else for a year or two. It is really hard to get good at anything if I can't sustain focus. – BugFolk Nov 9 '17 at 14:40
  • I may try rewriting that scene, but should I worry about it now or focus my attention on finishing the rest of the story and then make mental note of what I need to rewrite for the next draft? – BugFolk Nov 9 '17 at 15:28
  • @BugFolk No one said you have to give up! It's great to be passionate. Maybe write a story that isn't the one you are most excited about. Practice typing and getting a feel for your writing that way. Then once you have enough practice, you can go back to your real series and write it the way you want it to be done. Never give up on something you are passionate about. Just use that passion to feed into the hard grind of practicing. – ggiaquin16 Nov 9 '17 at 15:52
  • I could probably switch to writing other stories dealing with the characters and then figure out later if those stories are needed for the series. I have quite a few practice stories relating to character backstories and some world building stuff. I should probably keep going on and finish the story that I am writing. My mind is taking me towards the end of the story mentioned. I was reading I should just get the rough draft down without trying to edit as I write, but I find that really difficult. – BugFolk Nov 9 '17 at 15:57
3

Oh, bugs. Great. Not!

Let's start: The soldiers remained where I last saw them.(not much description here but maybe you already said where they are in a paragraph before this) Not much had changed. Benly sat a little higher (where was he seated then? on a higher stool, on a wall?)with his head propped on his elbow. His crooked antennae poking (change to poked) at the same tray of food from lunch time. I stared at Benly. (remove this last sentence since we already know the MC is looking at him.) His abdomen carried a huge dent in the center segment.(made by what?) His body glistened under the overhead lamps.(I would join these sentences with an 'and' cause you have too may sentences starting with 'His') His left antenna bent downward making it droop lower than his right.

(From what I see from the 1st paragraph, you tell us about Benly, but what is the character 'I' feeling when he looks at him? You don't say anything other than the 'I' is staring. Is 'I' feeling sorry for Benly, are his eyes filling with tears when he stares at him?)

Benly flinched and rubbed his shoulder. In the process he covered (I'd place a comma and remove 'In the process he covered' and change to 'covering') a faded dark green vine shaped tattoo. “Don't bother. Please,” he said.

Frisly stood up and turned towards the line of soldiers near the buffet table. “You need to eat. I don't want you to starve. Not after all we went through. We can't lose you. Not again.” “Listen Frisly, I don't give a damn about my life!” Benly slammed his fist against the table. Frisly sat down and stared at Benly. (Why did Frisly stand up in the first place? This- he stood up and in the next second he sits down- gets boring so remove it and let Frisly keep on sitting. The dialogue is fine with him sitting. And then he stares at Benly. How? What emotion does he show? Pity, pain? Remember you can show it, since the POV lies with the character 'I' here and what he sees.)

“The only way I could convince (remove 'could convinve' and put 'convinced') them to take on the last mission was to promise if they were to die in battle, I-I was to die with them.” (I think this is too long for such an impassioned speech. He's hurt, angry, he wouldn't use such a long sentence. Maybe- "I-I promised them I'd die with them. That's how I convinced them to take the last mission.")

“Benly, What is going on?” asked Frisly. “Couldn't this strange miracle have happened to anyone else?” (Why does he ask 'What's going on?' Doesn't he already know? Delete it and just say- "Benly, couldn't this strange miracle happen to someone else?"

Benly looked up and stared off into space. Frisly leaned forward and stared into Benly's eyes. Benly slumped his head on the table. Benly slumped his head on the table. Frisly poked Benly's head with his antennae. Benly lifted his head and stared at an empty water glass. Frisly poked Benly harder. (Your sentences are short and choppy, imo. I'd change this: Benly looked away, but Frisly leaned forward into his line of vision. He slumped his head on the table to escape his friend's scrutiny, but Frisly poked his head with his antennae. Benly turned his head toward an empty water glass, but Frisly wasn't deterred. He poked harder.)

Frisly poked Benly harder. “Dear friend, please tell me, what is going on inside your mind? I'm concerned.” (I don't know if this is the 'Bugs' personality, but for soldiers and friends, to me seems too polite, the dialogue between them. I'd change this- "Come on friend, let me inside your head. I'm concerned." but apart from saying that he's concerned, you need to show it as well. I'd removed it from the dialogue and show it through his eyes, tone of voice or actions. Again, the 'I' should be the POV here and can see everything.)

Benly sighed. “You're always concerned about me. How about you? How are things going on in your life?”

Frisly folded his arms. (Here how does he look? Angry at his friend?) “No Benly you're not changing the subject. I want to know how you're doing? I get that you're upset about–”

“I wanted to die.” Benly took a deep breath. He reached out an arm and held the empty water glass. “You would hate, me dear friend, if I told you, I...”

(Ok, so in all this, apart from the first part, the character 'I' who is watching isn't shown anymore. How is that 'I' feeling when he sees Benly acting so closed off to his friend? About your dialogue, as I already said, it's not so realistic at times. These are friends who fight together, they should be more at ease with each other. And they don't seem like soldiers, the way they speak makes me think of accountants. Not that I'm around soldiers much, think never, but I doubt they are so polite to each other since they are always together and face bad situations together.

And you can't convey internal thoughts, but you can use the body language.

I hope this helps a little. Sorry if I sounded harsh, wasn't in my intention. I just pointed out what I thought might help. If it doesn't, just ignore me.)

  • Thanks for your suggestions. I will work on editing a lot. A bit of backstory: They are friends from their recovery group. AA for bugs. Frisly is the mentor/ sponsor character. – BugFolk Nov 9 '17 at 8:42
  • As for them not seeming like soldiers that is unfortunately my lack of experience showing. I need help figuring how to convey they are soldiers when I am not sure how soldiers should sound. – BugFolk Nov 9 '17 at 8:43
  • Movies are my go to when I need to see how someone acts and the rest is imagination. You can also read books that have soldiers as characters, there are many free books around just to get an idea. But even as just friends, they're too polite. Soldiers, like sailors, are rough. If Frisly is his mentor, I'd make him grab Benly and shake him to get him out of his misery a little. – A.T. Catmus Nov 9 '17 at 8:55
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    Ok, noted. I'll try to refrain from doing it, although I re-did it a few minutes ago. Sorry. – A.T. Catmus Nov 9 '17 at 16:01
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    Okay. Good to know so I don't fall into doing critiques either. Thanks. – BugFolk Nov 9 '17 at 16:23
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I'm new here, so don't judge my answer too harshly. Since I haven't seen/read the story, I can't really say but from what you say above, it came to me that it could be a case of too much tell vs too little show. Your MC might tell us what he's doing but he's not showing us with his emotions. I have to agree with the external dialogue. If they feel suicidal, (to me) a person closes up when alone. Thoughts would be running through his head, although you don't want to fill the page with just his internal thoughts. You have to show it. Maybe he gets angry and starts to throw things, then the next second, he falls on the ground and stays rocking there in a fetal position, crying his heart out. Even the child should be experiencing emotions and you have to show them. Hope I didn't mess this up too badly. Sorry if I did.

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    I have him leaning on the table, head in arms staring at his empty water glass. I'll see if I can grab an excerpt. – BugFolk Nov 9 '17 at 7:35
  • I wouldn't rule out that much telling going is on too. I'm getting better at spotting it but not quite there yet, so I pasted an excerpt, even if the format from the Open Office Odt file got jumbled. – BugFolk Nov 9 '17 at 7:48

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