A Day Late & a Dollar Short
That’s what my dad frequently accused me of being as I was growing up. This week he’d be right. My Red Pencil Thursday post is coming out on Friday because of a Series of Unfortunate Events involving a setback of my chronic lung condition, a computer in the shop for the 3rd time since May, a fall after hurrying out the shower to answer the phone and finally a pulled muscle between my ribs that practically rendered me immoveable. (Doing better now on all counts except the computer, but somebody stop me. This is so sounding like “The dog ate my homework!”)
I want to thank my RPT volunteer, Brenda Gallaher, for putting her work out there. It’s always a test of nerves to expose your WIP and I applaud her. I hope you’ll take a moment to leave a comment & encouragement. And if you’re a writer, please consider becoming a volunteer. We can’t have these online critique sessions without YOU! Check the details here.
So without further ado, on to Brenda’s WIP:
Magnolia stared out the window at the English countryside as the carriage bumped along the rough road. She took in a deep breath, held it for five seconds and then released it. Magnolia was glad to be back in England. Before the war, her father took her and Penelope to England every summer. But then the war came and America was torn apart. Then the South lost and things got worse. Although her father was a doctor, he was on the losing side, and received a two year federal jail sentence. He had one year left and insisted that she and Penelope go to England with her uncle and cousins.
Mia: Your first paragraph is a crucial one. You must introduce your protagonist in a compelling way that poses questions in the minds of your readers. So far, Magnolia is passively riding in a carriage and breathing. You’ve not allowed us to form any questions either because you’ve loaded up the paragraph with backstory about her father and how she came to be there.
Look for a way to introduce Magnolia with a little irony, a twist. Something that marks her as unusual. Here’s a snippet from the opening of my current WIP to give you an idea of what I mean:
“Christmastide is no time for such a Friday face, Kat.”
Katherine forced up the corners of her mouth. The frozen smile felt almost natural now. Heaven knew she’d had enough practice. But her sister-in-law Margaret had caught her in an unguarded moment and that would never do. She flashed her teeth, praying no one in her father’s hall would know the difference.
Do you see what I mean about irony? It’s Christmas. Katherine should be happy, but she’s clearly not. We don’t know why, so that raises reader questions. We know she’s good at hiding her true feelings. What secret is she covering up with her cat’s smile? Hopefully, this is enough to make readers want to know more about her.
Think about Magnolia. What is her secret? How does she feel about where she is in her life? How can you hint at those things without giving us an info-dump?
Magnolia gazed about the carriage they had been riding in for hours. It was quite beautiful. The wood was a warm cherry with just the right stain on it to bring out the grain in the wood. There was a wood working shop on her plantation and when she was a child she loved to go in and watch the men work with the wood. She would stand there for hours and silently watched as the men turned table legs or fix a chair that had been broken. If Penelope couldn’t find her, then she would look for her in the woodshop.
Mia: Choosing the right details to include is how a writer advances her story. Ask yourself if these details push your story forward or take it back.
The workmanship on the wood was as exquisite as the emerald green velvet that lined the seats of the carriage along with gold plated door handles. The windows that Magnolia looked out were generous and clean. She smiled to herself at the beauty that was all around her. For the first time in over six years she felt at peace.
Mia: It’s ok for things to be all right with your protagonist’s world in the beginning, but only for a moment. The story doesn’t really start until there’s an imbalance, a disruption to her peace. Think about starting your story closer to that “inciting incident.”
Magnolia and Penelope sat in the front facing seat. Her two cousins, Aspen and Willow sat in the rear facing seat with their father. Aspen shifted in her seat and pushed her younger sister into the wall of the carriage. “Arrrr…” Aspen whined. “This has to be the smallest carriage ever.” She folded her arms and put a scowl on her face.
Mia: Now we’re getting warmer. Magnolia’s world has other people in it. Start your scene with Aspen’s whine. (Quick side-bar on names: Are Aspen or Willow names that would have been used in the Victorian era? They sound more 1970 than 1870 to me. If you’re going to give your characters names that are unusual for their time period you must have a very good reason—like their father works at an arboretum and names his children for his favorite trees. It can work. One of my favorite MM Kaye heroines was named Winter–not a Victorian name. But her mother was sweltering in the heat of British India as she brought her into the world and was thinking of the cool winters of England as she named her daughter with her last breath.)
“That doesn’t mean you need to push me into the wall. My arm hurts,” Willow whined back as she rubbed her elbow.
Mia: ‘Whined’ is a unique enough word that you shouldn’t use it twice in such close succession.
Uncle Mike picked up his walking cane from the carriage floor and knocked on the roof. The carriage slowed down and then stopped. The driver jumped from his seat and opened the door. “Is there a problem, Sir?” He had a rich English accent, almost an educated accent.
Mia: Is the driver truly an educated man or does his accent merely sound that way to Magnolia’s American ears? An American miss in England is a “fish out of water” story. Everything seems out of place to her, when in reality, she’s the one out of her element. Think about ways you can play this up.
Her uncle answered, “The young ladies are restless. Would it be a problem if we stopped for a little while so that they may stretch their limbs?”
Mia: Huzzah for the use of “limbs!” A Victorian gentleman would never have said “legs” before ladies, even if they are related to him, unless he wished to shock them. Is Uncle Michael (for a historical, I like the more formal Michael instead of Mike) irritated to be gallivanting around with 4 unattached females? Look for ways to add conflict to your scene. Conflict=Story.
“Yes, of course, Sir.” The driver responded and stepped back as he opened the door wider.
Aspen placed her hand into the driver’s hand. “You may help me down first.” Magnolia could hear the snobbery in Aspen’s voice. The driver helped her down. Again he offered his hand to Magnolia. She smiled at him as she accepted his help. He then helped Penelope and Willow down from the carriage and Uncle Mike followed on his own.
Mia: Too many words spent on unimportant material. It can be replaced with something as simple as: They all clambered out of the coach after Aspen, who always had to be first at everything.
The point of Red Pencil Thursday is to give authors some new directions to think about in their work. I hope I’ve given you a few things to chew on here. Happy writing!
Brenda: Mia, thank you for the feedback. Yes, what you have said does make sense and it does help. It gives me things to think about on how to make changes that will make my story better. Thank you for having me as your guest this week on Red Pencil Thursday. Along with the your comments and comments from the beta readers I am sure my story will improve immensely. Thank you for your time!
Mia: My pleasure, Brenda.
Brenda: A note on the use of Mike, it is told later in the story that his father was also Michael and he is so used to being called Mike that he doesn’t think he could ever answer to Michael.
Magnolia was named for all of the blooming trees on their plantation. Her mother and her cousins’ mother were best friends so she followed with tree names for her girls, also explained later in the story. I was told not to put everything at once in a story, to spread out information.
Mia: Well, that explains a lot and you can certainly make those names work then without going into detail right up front. I wish you could have seen my first manuscript. I waffled on for pages without naming my hero once. I did however reveal the name of his horse!
Brenda Gallaher’s Bio: I wrote my first book at 13 and it was awful. Tried again at 20 and it was better, but too busy to really work on it properly. I was in college and had joined a sorority so life was busy for me. I have thought over the years to write again, but never made the time for it. Now that I’m unemployed I have the time and I write.
At the present time I have finished the third edit on my historical romance and it has been sent off to three beta-readers. I am hoping to get the feedback I need.
I am single, in my mid 50s and love to tell stories. I like to do a whole book in my head and I’m a big genealogy geek. I have a cat named Malachi and at the present time we live in Utah although I am from Mississippi originally.
Mia: Now is when the magic of Red Pencil Thursday really kicks in. We’re counting on your comments & suggestions for Brenda. Thanks in advance for weighing in.