Wednesday, March 6, 2013

What's Broken? #3

TITLE: Bazza'Jo
GENRE: Upper MG Fantasy

The MC has just discovered that a war is about to erupt between the people of her town and the people who live in the forest surrounding the town. Her uncle and father are deeply involved in the conflict on both sides, and are trying to keep the girls "safe" by locking them down and restricting their activities, unaware that the MC is key to keeping the peace. The difficulty I am having with this sequence is how to "infodump" a lot of information without actually doing an infodump. I have revised many times but it still sounds like exposition to me!

Raina collapsed on her bed with fatigue, despite her seething anger and frustration. Ibli crawled into bed with her.

"Raina,"she said in a low voice, "I think there's something very wrong."

You think? Raina thought sarcastically, but she hugged her sister anyway and tried to be reassuring. "I know, Ibli. But Kal is going to do something about it. And I am going to help him, I don't care what Septimus and Lalia say."

"I know a lot of things." Ibli said after a few minutes of silence. Raina waited for a clarification, but Ibli just seemed to be thinking.

"Um, I know a lot of things too, honey. But what are you talking about?"

"I know where you and Kal went last night. I know why you are mad at Uncle Septimus. I know why Nana Lalia is mad at you. I know about Mr. Widestock's Negators, and why father is afraid of them. I know all these things but I don't understand any of them."

Raina nodded sympathetically. "It's the Seeing Baz that you Cast, right?" Ibli nodded. Raina cringed. She had no idea that Baz could be that strong. It made all her plans feel weak in comparison. If Septimus knew everything she and Kal had been doing, then he would always be one step ahead of them.

"I know more than Uncle Septimus does." Ibli seemed to answer her. "He is too angry to See anything he doesn't want to find."

"Excuse me?" Raina considered what her sister was telling her carefully. "How can you know that? Part of Seeing is blocking it, right? Maybe he just-"

Inappropriately, Ibli started giggling. "I Saw it when I started Casting. I'm a Seer, Raina." Ibli paused as Raina tried to get her mind around the idea of her tiny sister being able to out-Cast her famous Bazza'Casting uncle. "Raina," she continued, "If I tell you things, will you decide what to do?"

"What a weird question, Ibli! Of course I will. That's what I do."

Ibli looked relieved. "I feel bad that I know all these things but don't know what to do about them. I don't think doing is what I am good at. And I don't like what father is doing, or what Uncle Septimus is doing, or what Nana Lalia is doing. I think what you do will probably be fine."

Coming from Ibli, that was a great relief to Raina. "So what do you know?" she asked.

"It's very confusing if I think like that, Raina." Ibli bit her lip. "I See most clearly when I look for it. When I know everything at one time it just makes me feel sick. Maybe you should just ask me questions. It's easier to tell you what you want to know." Raina had to say that part in her head slowly twice before she understood it. Then she nodded enthusiastically - anything to avoid the confusion and distress of the first time she tried to use Ibli as a Seeing glass.


  1. The main sticking point I had here was that I felt Ibli had an inconsistent voice.

    From the genre and your description, I assume she's a young child. But there are snippets where she sounds too mature to me. The following lines did not feel 'true to voice' for me:

    "I know these things but I don't understand any of them."

    The 'I know these things but' in particular sounds too stilted.

    "He is too angry to see things he doesn't want to find."

    I imagine she'd use 'He's' here instead of 'He is'

    "I feel bad that I know all these things but don't know what to do about them."

    You can probably do without the 'about them' here. And possibly making 'I feel bad' one sentence.

    "It's very confusing if I think like that, Raina."

    Would she use the word 'confusing' as a child?

    Now, I could be totally off-base here with the voice of your character. But her voice felt just slightly too old and inconstant to me.

    Also, a niggling point: I would avoid having a character say something, and then mention that minutes had passed before they said it. It throws off my concept of time. Instead say that minutes (or however long) pass, then say what is said. Or even better, describe what happens in those minutes (even if only in a sentence) and then start talking again.

    Good luck with this!

  2. I agree with the comments above, but that was not what I got caught on.

    My main problem with this piece was pacing. Raina's thoughts are getting in the way of the dialogue and the scene. I would suggest removing the side comments and letting the characters speak. Then if there is something Raina doesn't want to say, add that. I think that will help with the pace of the scene and get the reader to the next page when the questions get answered.

    Good luck!

  3. First, let me say this did not come across as an infodump. You wove the information in well with Raina's surprise at her sister's ability and Ibli's uncertainty about how to handle things she shouldn't know at her age. On the whole, I thought it was a very believable conversation.

    I agree with Chro's observation that Ibli's voice is inconsistent. I would also say that both characters overuse the other's name.

    I also agree with Patchi that the dialogue would flow better with fewer side comments. In place of those side comments, maybe you could through in one or two physical descriptors to keep us grounded in the scene. Right now, after Raina gets into bed and hugs her sister, it's all talk. Have them move around (sit up, lie down, plump the pillows) or interact with their surroundings in some way, so we can see where they are.

  4. ^^ "throw" not "through"

  5. I understand your concern about this being an infodump, but I don’t think it is since Raina does not seem to know most of the information Ibli is telling her. You might be able to cut "I Saw it when I started Casting. I'm a Seer, Raina." Since Raina would already know this about her sister. Instead maybe just say, “I don’t know. I just saw it. When I was casting.” Or something like that so it feels a little more organic.

    I agree that Ibli’s voice sounds too old sometimes. Even if she is a really bright young girl, I still think she’d sound young. Especially when talking to her older sister. She’s confessing things and I think she’d be a little more timid. I also agree that you should add some sort of small action to break up the dialogue. Really set the scene and show us how they interact with each other to make the conversation have a stronger impact. (Does she cuddle her sister like she wants to protect her? Is she scared of what her sister is saying and she puts space between them?) Use body language to back up the feelings behind the characters.

    Good luck!

  6. At a meta level Exposition problems usually indicate an issue with the world/setting you are using.

    Exposition can be thought of as explaining the world in detail setting the stage for act 3.
    There are things I like about the world and plot you are creating. But I would personally be scared telling a story about battling fortune tellers.

    This might get into the 'if I know he knows but he does not know I know...' 'what will he do?' confusing reasoning story problems. (most authors dodge this paradox by having seers not be able to see other seers futures, your idea of not uncle not being able to see x due to his feelings/preconceptions is a flavor of this)

    The above being said you appear to write well and deft navigation could overcome a cumbersome premise.

    So the exposition problems are probably a combination of not enough plot foreshadowing (you are putting plot development in the middle of explaining competitive fortune telling). _OR_ the arc of your plot is not hefty enough. Example ... does the Kin vs Kin plot really highlight the fortune teller war or not?

    for example... could the uncle be turned into the evil lord who could foretell the future and therefore is a tyrant due to this ability? Do they have to be related??? (thus cutting down on the exposition perhaps?) could you rework into a Revolt Plot? see 36 plots for ideas here.

    Tactical ideas... terminology could be used to hint rather than beat explanations into the ground though expository text.

    Example: "It's the Seeing Baz that you Cast, right?"
    As a reader I would look at this as "casting a seeing" could talk about distance "seeing" not temporal "seeing". If you used the term "Foreseeing Baz" I believe that you could clue the reader into your world and premise. (again perhaps cutting down exposition overhead).

  7. This didn't come across as an info dump, but it did seem a little forced to me. Ibli sounds... weird. Not like a child at all. And even though I can tell what she's trying to say is SUPPOSED to be emotive, it's somehow not coming across - maybe because she's SAYING how she feels, rather than Raina just being able to tell - and especially because she's very, very coherent. Real emotion is rarely that coherent.

    So, my main suggestion is to try and sort Ibli. It's not what she's saying; it's the way she's saying it - and the way she seems way, way more mature than Raina.

    But honestly (though I was a little confused as this is just an excerpt), this sounds really interesting. I can see there's a good scene here - for me, Ibli's voice just puts me off.

  8. I agree with the others - this didn't feel like and info dump, but there are a few tweaks you could make:

    1. Ibli's voice. I can't tell if she's a little girl or a teenager or what. Since your genre is upper MG and Raina seems to be in an older-sister role, I'm assuming Ibli is supposed to be something like 7 or 8?

    2. This is jut my personal preference - and I don't know what you want Ibli's personality to be like - but I think you could make her revelations about being a Seer more dramatic if she's not the one telling Raina about her ability, but rather have Raina pick up on it through what Ibli says. I'd also love to see more of Raina's inner thoughts/dialog. You may be able to tackle conveying the information in this passage in a different way if you try a different perspective.

    3. Exposition is ok! I think a lot of online sources tell you not to info-dump and rely too much on exposition, but outright telling the reader a fact or two can help ground the work and give you more space to play with within the dialog. It's a balance.