Red Pencil Thursday

Red Pencil Thursday

Click to learn how YOU can be an RPT volunteer!

We’ve hosted authors in all genres on my online critique group, from YA and romantic suspense to historicals and paranormals. Today please help me welcome Genevieve Moultrie and her futuristic romance.

She says her story tops out at 65,000 words. Since I don’t write in this genre, I’ll have to rely on my reading and writing friends to let me know if that’s an appropriate word count. For single title, NY publishing houses generally want 80-90K, sometimes longer for women’s fiction and fantasy can run to 120K. I usually associate shorter works with category romance, but I’m willing to be educated about futuristics. The best way to be sure if you’re meeting the market expectations is to check publisher’s websites. They’ll list word counts for you.

Genevieve here! Since I e-mailed you this excerpt, I’ve upped the target word count.  I figured the best way is to just write it, then add or delete wordage as necessary to make the novel more marketable.

My comments are in red. As you can see, Genevieve’s responses are in blue. Please add yours in the comment section and tell your writing friends about Red Pencil Thursday!

When Time Stood Still by Genevieve Moultrie

The title reminds me of The Day the Earth Stood Still, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The purpose of a title is to telegraph what sort of story the reader can expect. Since this is a futuristic tale, the title works.

“You can still change your mind, Roger.”

Good hook. We know Roger is about to embark on something he’ll undoubtedly wish he hadn’t, but you resisted the temptation to tell all immediately.

“But I won’t.  I’ve thought it over thoroughly.  Remember what you told us in training?  ‘Never volunteer unless you can see the job through.’  Well I can.”

These are our hero’s first words, but they are sort of disembodied. Can you show him doing something as well, something that shows us what sort of fellow he is?

Okay.  Maybe he starts to make a nervous mannerism, and stops himself.  Also, I plan to show directly what he’s thinking.  He has a lot at stake, as will become evident before long (albeit not in this excerpt).  He might think something like, Careful, don’t let Koslovsky think you’re overconfident.  Or too eager.  Especially if you are.

Good! We want to be pulled in close.

Koslovsky sighed.  “I don’t question your qualifications or determination.  Just your motive.  You realize how dangerous this mission is.  Even our best astrophysicists know little about Charybdis.  Let alone what will happen to anyone who gets near it.  An ordinary black hole would be dangerous enough.  But an unstable one . . . .”

BTW, I picked the name “Charybdis” on purpose.  It’s the whirlpool monster in “The Odyssey”.  Any ship that sailed too close to it (as Odysseus’s ship almost did) got sucked in.  I thought it’d be a good name for a black hole.  But readers who aren’t up on their Greek mythology don’t have to get the allusion.  I’ll spell it out in an early chapter.

Good. A little more info ladled out with a spare hand. I know you read my post last week called My Husband Married a Hooker. You’ve learned to slip tantalizing bits of information neatly into your prose!

Roger nodded.  “I know, the Psych Team might suspect I’ve got some sense of invulnerability left over from my teen years.  Or a death wish.”  He leaned forward.  “But my motive is simple.  I want to find out if this anomaly really is a wormhole.  If it is, what’s on the other end?  What can we do with it?  Can  mankind finally achieve interstellar flight?  It’d be a discovery as big as—hell, I don’t know what to compare it to.  And discovery is why I became an astronaut.”

My teen years seems a little clunky. How old is he? Also be careful with his motivation. Curiosity is all well and good, but an unstable wormhole sounds pretty dangerous. If our hero is going to go into danger, he needs to have a driving reason. Otherwise, we’ll doubt his intelligence and we want him to be smart. Bear in mind that the most heroic motivation is mitigating danger to others. Do they need an emergency way out of the sector? What’s driving Roger’s need to hurl himself into the unknown? We don’t need to know it all, but we need to know enough to realize he’d not stupid.

Roger is around thirty.  He must be young enough to be in his physical prime, but old enough to have some experience on challenging space missions already.

I plan to work in early in the narrative—not all at once, of course—what drives him to seek out such danger.  Three motives, actually.

1)  Roger is genuinely fascinated by and curious about space.  His parents worked for NASA, and their enthusiasm for the agency and its purpose has been in the air he breathed from the get-go.  He manifests the traditional American pioneer spirit in the mold of a late-twenty-first-century scientist.

2)  Roger is an adrenalin junkie.  The thrill of danger is intoxicating and addictive to people—usually men—like him.  In many walks of life, this would, to put it mildly, pose a problem.  To an agency like NASA, it’s a trait his superiors can take advantage of and channel properly.  Or so they hope.  (I have reason to suspect this is true of military and governmental authorities in every age, in every nation.)

3)  Roger is ambitious.  The Charybdis mission represents the greatest challenge and most important space project of his generation.  Anyone who serves on it and lives to tell will be hailed as a great hero.  It’s a rare opportunity to make a most impressive career move.  It will make him famous and respected.  And where fame goes, money and power follow.

As you might guess, his dedication to his dangerous job will lead to problems a few chapters later, once Roger and Beryl fall in love.

Koslovsky glanced around the rec room.  “That sounds fine and noble.  But I’d get the same spiel from anyone.  Why should I recommend you to the other administrators on the NASA board?”

If you’re writing a futuristic, be careful about using archaic sounding words. Spiel leaped out at me a bit. Try looking for unusual ways to use older language that is fresh, but at the same time understandable. Check out the movie Serenity for an example of this. I conjure you’ll understand once you see it.


“Because of my experience.  My abilities.  And I’m the only astronaut with no spouse or kids.  If I fail, who’ll shed a tear?”

What year is this set in? Can you find a different word for astronaut?

2076.  I suppose I could use a different word, but the one we have now seems okay by me.  Anybody else with thoughts on this matter?

The reason I suggest using something different is because astronaut is a specifically American term while cosmonaut is Russian. I’m a little surprised that in 2076 NASA is still in existence and you’re not creating a more global entity.

“Makes sense.  Still, let’s not overlook another possible motive.  Your ambition.  Not for NASA or the US or mankind.  For Major Roger Kemp.”

Roger tensed.  His mind raced, trying to find an answer.

This is the first time I’ve been able to tell whose POV we are in. Can you find ways to pull us into Roger’s head earlier? Since you start with Koslovsky’s dialog, I thought we might be looking through his eyes.

Yes, I was already thinking along those lines.

Then, from near the rec room door, came a shout:  “You can’t confiscate my cam!  I’ve already cleared it with the admins!”

You don’t need to use a colon. A period will do.

“Doesn’t matter, lady.   No cams.  And you’ll leave NASA HQ now!”

Roger saw a female civilian and a male MP.  He clutched a 3-D camera; she tried to grab it.  Both were angry.  Only the MP tried to conceal it.

Roger rose.  He saluted the MP, then asked, “What’s the problem?”

Cut then asked. Since Roger is active, we don’t need a dialogue tag here.


“I caught this civilian filming on the premises.  It’s my section, and I say no.”

Her eyes flashed.  “You’re disobeying your superiors’ orders!”

“Just because they gave you permission doesn’t mean I must.”

Roger faced her.  “He’s right.”  To the MP:  “But if an admin were to order you to let her film here . . . .”

I think I’d split this last bit differently: “He’s right.” Roger faced her, then turned to the MP. “But if an admin…”


The MP pulled him aside and whispered, “Sir, she shot that expose of the organ-transplant racket.  And the one about Chinese mob.  She’s nothing but trouble.”

Should be exposé with an accent.

I’m still figuring out how to insert special characters.  Sorry about that!

Me too. I usually go to an online dictionary that has the accent included and cut and paste the correct version into my text. Then I can add it to my computer’s spell checker.

“Surely NASA has less dirty laundry than they do.”

Roger studied the seething filmmaker.  Around thirty years old.  Dark hair, blue eyes, pale oval face.  A taupe pantsuit.  Medium height and build.

And a beauty.  Like a vision.  She should be before a camera, not behind it.

Like a vision tells us nothing and it’s a cliche. I know you can do better. The use of short phrases is a good example of ‘guy think.’


Easy there, Roger!  The MP might be right.  Perhaps I should take her to my office and personally investigate this—what’s her name?

He glanced at her name tag.  Beryl Hesketh.

Thank for the chance to take a look at your work, Genevieve!

BTW, not that it matters, but this novel was inspired by a famous (for those who are interested in such things) episode of “The Twilight Zone”.  The title is “The Long Morrow”, scripted by Richard Matheson (who also wrote the novel on which “Somewhere in Time” was based).  It first aired in 1964.  This was even before “Star Trek”!

The premise goes like this:  Some time in the not-too-distant future, an astronaut volunteers for an interstellar space mission. Because of time dilation, he will be gone only a few years as time is measured on his space craft.  But on Earth, forty years will pass before he returns.  As fate has it, at this point he falls in love, with a project technician who likewise falls in love with him.  Still, he won’t pull out of the mission.  How does this man and this woman deal with the matter?

The original story dealt with it one way.  I deal with it somewhat differently, and a lot more goes on in this novel than in a short (thirty minutes) TV episode.

Oh yes, and any similarities between the flaky, pushy, obsessed, drama-queen heroine and the author are PURELY coincidental!

Genevieve MoultrieGenevieve’s Bio: I’ve become a guest blogger on The Romance Book Club, the blog for the major romance fiction website Eye on Romance.  My first post is the article “Off With Their Heads! Cropped Figures in Romance Cover Art”:

You can also find her on Facebook at

Now it’s your turn. A critique group is only as good as the writers (and readers) gathered around the cyber-table. I know Genevieve is looking forward to your comments!

3 thoughts on “Red Pencil Thursday

  1. Thank you, Mia and Barbara. I’ll use your suggestions in my revisions.

  2. Barbara Britton says:

    Hi Genevieve,

    My teenage son loves the Twilight Zone, so similar storylines should be exciting to write and hook readers.
    Roger sounds like an interesting hero, but I agree with Mia, we need to be in his head more. Show us the thrill he gets thinking about the mission–heartrate, adrenaline spike, etc.
    Also, with guy-speak, sentences are shorter. Especially, with an action lover. An example would be the sentence where Roger replies to why he should be on this mission…guy-speak it like this “My experience. Abilities. I’m the only one with no wife or kids.” See how it’s shorter–more to the point.
    With guys,too, Roger wouldn’t see the taupe pantsuit, more of what’s inside (nice rack, etc.) I just wrote a novel as a teenage guy and had to cut some flowery prose as it did not go with what’s inside a male’s brain. I have two teenage sons, and my house is full of their friends, so I get to hear their language and study it.
    I like your story. Ramp up Roger a bit and get us emotionally hitched to him wanting to go on this adventure, and these first pages will fly. Nice job!

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Thanks for your insightful comments, Barbara. How lucky for you to have such a testosterone rich environment. Makes it easier to glean “guy-speak.”

      Generally, if you have to wonder if a guy would think something, chances are he wouldn’t.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *