Red Pencil Thursday 10th Century Style

Red Pencil Thursday

Click image for details on how YOU can be a Red Pencil Thursday Volunteer!

My RPT volunteer is someone I’m looking forward to meeting in Chicago next week. She’s Karen Limbrick, one of the aspiring writers who are gathering in Illinois a couple days before the Romantic Times Convention begins in earnest to focus on the writing craft. Working with the ‘aspirings’ is my favorite part of RT and I can’t wait. There’s something so invigorating about being surrounded by creative people–people who also hear those character voices in their heads and don’t find it strange that you do, too.

As you know, we can’t have our online critique group unless someone steps forward to take the hot seat. So, if you have a manuscript you’re working on, let me encourage you to volunteer for Red Pencil Thursday. Check out the “how to” details.

The evil seed sown

Wipes love asunder.

Two souls searching

For an eternal resting place

From the evil that dost embrace them.

Mia: I love a little vignette like this to begin. It sets a great tone. However, I wonder if it should read ‘the evil that doth’ instead of ‘dost.’

Karen: Well I went on my gut there.

Prologue; Wessex England 958 AD

Mia: Brave girl. A prologue and an out-of-the-box time period. You have my complete attention.

Karen: Excellent – that is my intention! Besides being in love with the tenth century, I wanted to write about a time period not addressed often. Other than as Viking stories that is.

She sighed in relief, having reached the safety of the dimly lit corridor. The danger of discovery was not yet over, however. She prayed to the Virgin Mary while keeping her head lowered and stepping quickly down the long hallway.

Mia: Dropping us into a suspenseful situation is a strong beginning? If ‘She’ is our heroine, I’d really like to know her name.

Karen: Well I did struggle with whether or not to reveal her identity right away because she is not the heroine but the reason for my heroine’s “story”. My heroine, Alys appears in chapter one, in present day.

Lost in her quiet supplication, she didn’t notice, at first, as another set of footsteps softly echoed hers in the silence of the darkened hall. Only one rush light burned without much vigor, casting shadows where there were none to be cast. It was late, she was worried Ælfgifu would come looking for her, or so that was the reason she gave herself for having a prickly feeling of apprehension course through her. She hurried her pace.

Mia: You set us up for danger in the first paragraph, then seem to be walking it back here. I’d rather see the tension still racheted up. Plus you make your heroine look a little flaky if she’s panicking one minute and making up reasons why she shouldn’t the next. Keep the pressure on and we’ll be riveted.

Karen: I see your point. The danger she is wary of is different than the danger that is stalking her, which is revealed later in more detail. It was my thought that we tend to second guess ourselves when we sense something but have no evidence for it to be happening, “so it can’t be” so to speak. I can work on adjusting that if it’s too confusing.

Was it her imagination or was the other set of footsteps quickening, keeping pace with hers? She stopped and spun around, intent on assuaging her rapidly growing fear by confronting the other party. She peered into the darkness. No one was there. Nor were there any footsteps. No breathe in the air around her. Just stillness and the shadows dancing from the rush light. She scolded herself for her silliness and continued on.

Mia: Since you’ve given her no one to speak with, consider doing a quick internal dialogue. Try this:

What was that? It sounded like another set of footsteps quickened, keeping pace with hers.

Karen: Mia I agree – while this is to be a silent exodus, internal dialogue makes complete sense!

Keeping her thoughts focused on arrival of her destination she remained alert. There it was; the whisper of a shoe on the dirt floor, the swish of fabric from a cloak she knew not to be hers. She was not imagining it. Spinning again to face her would be nemesis, she didn’t feel the pain as the blade of a dagger plunged into her belly; shock took that privilege away from her consciousness.

Mia: The first sentence is awkwardly constructed. The destination isn’t arriving, she is. Love the details you include here, the whisper of a shoe, swish of fabric.

Karen: I see it now!

Mia: While I have never experienced a knife wound, I can’t imagine that she wouldn’t feel pain. Is there someone from among the online gang with more info for us?

Karen: I am working on the premise that shock keeps pain at bay when the body endures a sudden and violent injury. It’s the bodies interior defense mechanism … Often the pain we feel from an accident isn’t the first thing we feel, we just think it is… But I will research this more specifically or would love feedback on this.

She felt the steel grip of a hand on her shoulder and the pressure of another body embracing her. She felt the impact as the blade was pulled out and plunged in, stabbing, slicing, over, and over again by her unknown assailant. But she did not feel the pain. She tried to defend herself. She put her hands up to shield her face and felt the numb tingle of the blade as it swiped across her palms and fingers. She didn’t even know if she screamed. Everything was sticky with blood. She was losing the ability to fight; the blood streaming in her eyes blurred her vision. She reached and grabbed for her assailant, grasping at whatever she could to try to stop the madness, holding on to whatever her hands could. Slowly, she sunk to the floor in weakness, desperate for the assault to end, landing in a heap, blackness taking over, her life blood seeping out around her in a pool, soaking Ælfgifu’s beautiful blue mantle. Her eyes staring but unseeing, she heard the footsteps running away from her, leaving her to lie here on the dirt floor of the corridor until someone stumbled upon her. Poor Ælfgifu. Who would protect her now? Her breathing became a rattle of death. She squeezed her fist tightly around the object within. She wouldn’t let go. It was her only hope. It was her last act of protecting her mistress, her Queen, her friend.

Mia: This paragraph is pretty dense and long. There’s a lot going on. I’d like to see it broken up into smaller chunks. The action is brutal and quick. Consider mirroring that in your prose. Use shorter sentences. Tighten the action. For example:

She reached and grabbed for her assailant, grasping at whatever she could to try to stop the madness, holding on to whatever her hands could.

Could be shortened to:

She clutched at her assailant, trying to stop the madness.

It says the same thing, but it keeps the momentum roaring forward. Also still not buying that she doesn’t feel pain. Unless the first swipe of the blade is across her larynx, she’s going to be screaming. I think you need to rethink a few things here.

Karen: Mia – I see your point, I work on that. As for not screaming – I felt she was so taken by surprise and so wrapped up in literally fighting for her life that she has no breath for screaming. I will consider your thoughts, I may have to do a little research on accuracy of reactions.

Another lay, not far away in the recesses of an alcove, in a pool of blood from wounds dissimilar to Edwinna’s in that the knife wielded cruelly, sliced through muscle and sinew of the legs, crippling its victim, leaving her to die a long, slow and agonizingly painful death. Death brought on by loss of blood as the body lies helpless in a wake of being crippled. Not the quick death that Edwinna now succumbed too.

Mia: Finally, we know her name! I really want you to put it in sooner. If you want us to care that she dies, we need to know who she is and why she’s being stalked.

Karen: Okay – so that settles the conflict I had about revealing her name earlier.

Mia: Now a word about omniscient POV, which is what you’ve drifted into here. It removes the reader from the immediate action. It’s as if we were in the midst of the scary, gothic painting you’ve created and now we’re shoved beyond the frame to peer at it from outside. How essential is it that the reader know about this other victim at this moment?

Karen: hmmm. So, do you think I’ve misused Omniscient POV? Regarding the other victim: I felt very important as it is a crucial part of the story and the murder my heroine has to solve. I felt introducing it here in this way would pique the readers interest.

Mia: There’s not enough about it to yank us away from the immediate brutal murder we just witness. Right now, we care about what happened to poor Edwinna, the valiant friend of the Queen we don’t know yet. By moving immediately to another unnamed character you’ve diluted our capacity for empathy. I’d wait till another time to reveal that there has been another killing.

Karen: I will examine the placement of the other victim later in the story. Now that you mention it, while its crucial to the story its placement here may be out of touch with the primary thread. I didn’t see it before.

Mia: Also there is no dialogue at all in this opener. Is there something the killer might say when they attack? Does Edwinna see her killer’s face? Does a name slip through her lips with her final breath? Is it not the killer’s name, but the person she’s protecting if you want to engage in misdirection?

Karen: Again – good point and I will address that – I wrote with the thought that any clues she may have to her killers identity are revealed later in the story as this whole scene is unraveled in detail as well as the victims murders in relation to each other as well as my heroine

Mia: Give it some thought. Good start. Thanks for letting me take a peek at your work.

Karen: THANK YOU very much Mia. It’s an honor to be in the hot seat! I Look forward to meeting you next week at the convention and learning more!!!!

Mia: Oh, no. Five kittens bite the dust. (In case you haven’t visited RPT before, I often quote editor Heather Osborn’s sage advice “Every time you use an exclamation point, you kill a kitten.” However, I think that applies only to fictional prose, not to general blogging. ;-0)

Karen LimbrickKaren’s Bio: I am an aspiring writer, mother of 5, and co owner of a business with my husband. My primary occupation is bookkeeper for the business. I currently live in North Carolina, on the coast with 3 of my children and my husband as we start a new business. I am also deeply into geneaolgy and someday hope to write a romance novel based on my own great grandparents trials and tribulations settling in IL in the mid 1800’s.


Now it’s your turn to weigh in. What suggestions or encouragement do you have for Karen?

12 thoughts on “Red Pencil Thursday 10th Century Style

  1. Karen says:

    To Mia and everyone who commented – Thank you, very much, for this very excellent critique. I am eager to retrace my steps and see where I can improve my work based on all you have shared.
    I appreciate the time you made to help me be a better writer.

  2. Barbara Britton says:

    Hi Karen,

    I like your time period and your wording really pulls us into the setting–good job.

    I have to agree with a lot of what Mia has pointed out. I would like to know more about Edwinna and who she is before she is brutally murdered. Make me care a bit before you kill her. And a clue to why dead bodies are piling up would be helpful to me as a reader.I don’t want to have to work too hard to figure things out in the first few pages.

    I like your premise. Thanks for sharing it with us at RPT.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Thanks for your comments, Barb. Always love to have you drop by.

  3. Marcy W says:

    Wow, Karen, exciting beginning. I enjoy time periods out of the ‘norm’, and your prose seems to me to echo the time beautifully; there’s a cadence and vocabulary to it that helps put me into the story right away. And I agree with other comments about the wonderful descriptions you write — very evocative.
    I also agree with many of Mia’s comments. When you get to the rush of action, the cadence needs to change, too. As her breath comes faster, ours needs to, too, and it can’t if the sentences are so long. I do think naming her earlier makes her more real; I agree with you about her not screaming as she’s stabbed — I think I’d be lucky to be able to take any breath, let alone waste it screaming. But, while shock might put off the pain of the first stab, I doubt the second and third could not be felt; that kind of assault must surely cause agony as tissues are torn. She might even black out from pain even before from loss of blood.
    The second body in the corridor really pulled me out of the story. I think ending the prologue with Edwinna’s death makes more sense. Perhaps having the second body turn up later in the story can enhance the puzzle to be solved? But here, I think it is confusing, and not helpful.
    There were several spelling, grammar, and punctuation issues my eye caught, but at this stage in writing, they’re not important. You will want to find someone with a good eye for those to go over your ms before you send it to anyone in the publishing field, though, IMHO.
    Thanks much for sharing this beginning of what promises to be a riveting story. I’m eager to see more :-)

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Spot on about the language. Every story has its own unique vocabulary.

    2. Karen says:

      Thank you . And yes – grammar/punctuation – I get caught up and over think it sometimes, so I tend to ignore until the end. It is not my strong suit as my daughter would tell you! I apologize for that element.

  4. Jeanie Ryan says:

    This is intense in idea, but in execution, you could go deeper. For example, “she prayed to the Virgin Mary.” Is this aloud, in her head, her lips silently moving? Show us her praying. You have a beautiful poem at the beginning. Give us a beautiful prayer here.

    There are words that take us out of deep third, such as felt, noticed, knew, heard and intent.

    ” It was late, she was worried Ælfgifu would come looking for her, or so that was the reason she gave herself for having a prickly feeling of apprehension course through her” This is awkward and can be changed to read more active.

    The big paragraph needs to be cut up and the sentences need to be shorter. That will keep the pace and tension up.

    My problem with the other victim is if she was attacked first, she would have screamed and Edwina would have been warned. If you don’t want Edwina to scream, have him grab her from behind, cover her mouth and then stab her from behind.

    There are some great sentences in here. Some of my favorites:

    Only one rush light burned without much vigor, casting shadows where there were none to be cast.

    as; the whisper of a shoe on the dirt floor, the swish of fabric from a cloak (we don’t need knew. If she says it’s not hers, we know she knows this)

    grasping at whatever she could to try to stop the madness, (take out try)

    Good Luck

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Excellent suggestions all, Jeanie. I especially like the way you zeroed in on the verbs that pull us away from the action–felt, noticed, knew, etc. If you set your spell checker to “find” these words, it’ll make it easier to remove the unnecessary ones.

      1. Jeanie Ryan says:

        I have a macro that highlights a list of weak words. sometimes I even remember to run it.

        1. Karen says:

          Jeanie, I would love to know more about that macro that pulls out weak words.

  5. Jane L says:


    Wonderful job, stepping up and putting your work out there for others to learn from. Love the time period you are venturing into.

    Oh, I am the queen of !!!!!! now I will never use another fearing for those kittens! oops.

    In my opinion, when you give a character a name right away, it draws the reader in more quickly. They identify with her, making an emotional connection to her/him.

    With reguards to the ‘pain’ issue, while she is being stabbed. I wonder if you could elaborate on the intensity of the pain. Make the pain physical and emotional. The agonizing fear, she may die, giving her some sort of inner strength to keep fighting for her life.
    A friend of mine once told me, when you are stabbed, you dont always feel the pain, UNTIL you see the wound or blood, then it is like a extreme hot sensation. like someone is burning you with a hot poker. (long story, but excellant source of information) lol.

    I think pov is a hard issue for many new writers, myself included. You will get so many good tips at RT about this subject. As a reader I really want to form some of my own conclusions. As a writer, I get so excited about my story, I want to share everything with the reader. There is a fine line there.

    Your story is very, intriguing and I am looking forward to reading more and meeting you next week. Thanks Karen! Oh poor kitty :(

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Thanks for sharing your friend’s stabbing expertise. Let’s hope it’s the result of research instead of experience.

      Can’t wait to see you in Chicago! (Oops. Yet another feline bites the dust.)

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