Red Pencil Thursday

Red Pencil ThursdayOne of the things I love about the romance genre is the wide range of sub-genres it encompasses. Today our Red Pencil Thursday volunteer offers up an Urban Fantasy with strong romantic elements.

My comments are in red. Berinn Rae’s are in blue. We hope you’ll add yours at the end of the post! And if you’re interested in becoming an RPT volunteer, check out the details here!


It wasn’t the first time a good idea had come back to bite me in the ass, but I was afraid it might be the last. Making a quick sign of the cross, I stepped into the ship, the flashlight slicing through the blackness while a persistent beep broke the silence.

Mia: Excellent first sentence. Not only is it clever, it introduces the protagonist in a memorable way as a bit of a snark and it dropkicks us into a potentially dangerous situation. I like that you’ve used auditory details as well as visual to set the scene. Well done.

Berinn: Thank you! :-)

It took no time at all to find the pilot in the ultra-modern cockpit. Built like a quarterback, he was intimidating even slumped over the instrument panel. Covered head-to-toe in a silky black flight suit that gave no glimpse of skin, it was impossible to see if the man was injured. Or worse.

Mia: He’s slumped so unless he’s a heavy sleeper, it’s safe to assume he’s at least injured. However, pilots are usually not the quarterback type. One of the surprising things about the Mercury astronauts was how small they were as a group of men. They couldn’t be taller than 5’11” or weigh more than 180 lbs. But maybe your ship is bigger than the Mercury capsules. ;-)

Berinn: Good points. Since this isn’t a human spaceship, it’s got to big enough to hold sexy alpha-male aliens. It sounds like I need to add another sentence about the ET-ness of the spaceship.

Shaky with cold and a hefty injection of fear, I held out my palm an inch from his covered face and felt the heat of shallow breathing through the thin fabric. The breath I’d been holding rushed from my lungs in a frosty puff of relief. He was alive.

Mia: Covered face? With what? I need more info.

Berinn: Will do!

As I began to check for injuries, a small sound caught my ear. Shining the beam toward the rhythmic plip-plop, the light froze on rivulets flowing down the wall toward a crumpled mass of sparking instrument panel. Bending down on one knee, I dipped a finger in the liquid and smelled. My heart stopped.

Mia: Well, that’s the end of your story then. Her heart better not stop. It can skip, lurch, or do the bugaloo, but don’t let it stop.

Berinn: Shoot. I’ll fix that. Good catch.

Oh, crap.

The airplane—or ship or whatever this freaking thing was—was going to blow.

Mia: Part of worldbuilding is giving your readers some unique details. Have her name this dangerous liquid specifically. Since you’re doing a futuristic UF sort of story, make something up and we’ll believe she knows her incendiary stuff.

Berinn: Good catch. I’ll add a description on how the smell reminds her of jet fuel.

In a rush, I fidgeted with the peculiar seatbelts. Something clicked and, with a blur, they retracted into the floor. He fell, and I slid my hands under his arms to keep him from hitting the floor. At the risk of hurting him more, I pulled him from the seat. It took a few grunts and several seconds to get the man to the doorway, pausing just long enough to gape at the trail of fuel that had now become a river.

Mia: I don’t think she’d pause in this situation. How about having her see the river of fuel from the corner of her eye or having the smell of the fuel grow stronger?

Berinn: Never thought of that. Easy fix.

The thought of being blown up inspired me to move faster. Even with the adrenaline rush, it took every ounce of strength to pull the brute to safety. With one last heave and a small miracle, I dropped him onto the back of the ATV, the rack not quite wide enough for his torso, his arms and legs dangling over each side. I leaped onto the seat in front of him and gunned the throttle. The engine roared and tires kicked up dirt.

Mia: If this guy is going to end up being the hero, do you want to call him ‘brute’ here? When the action speeds up, it’s a good idea to use shorter sentences. They read faster. Give this paragraph another think and see how you can simplify it. Here’s an example:

The threat of being blown to tiny bits made me haul ass. Adrenaline screamed through me as I pulled the pilot to safety. I dropped him onto the back of the ATV.  His arms and legs dangled over the sides of the narrow rack. I leaped onto the seat in front of him and gunned the throttle. The engine roared, tires kicking up dirt.

Play with it till you end up with something you like.

Berinn: Wow. I really like how you reworded the paragraph. I’ll definitely play around with this paragraph and the following ones to amp up the action.

Mia: Rewriting is the fun part. Getting the story out is my challenge.

Ignoring the small branches whipping at my face, I tore around trees and slashed through gullies like an axe-man on speed. I drove no more than a hundred feet before a massive boom rocked the ground and a blast of air came out of nowhere. I held onto the ATV to keep from being sucked back toward the ship. Holding my passenger down with a one arm death-grip, I hunkered over the handle bars and pushed the throttle in all the way. The ATV chewed its way forward inch by inch through the ravenous blast.

Mia: As a historical author, I’m not up on modern culture at all. I don’t get the “axe man on speed” reference. Is this something your readers will understand? I’m also having trouble visualizing her driving hunkered over the handle bars and holding down the guy who’s presumably behind her. It was all she could do to haul him out of the ship with two arms. Is there a way she could strap him in quickly instead?

Berinn: I had struggled describing what she was doing in this paragraph. I’ll give it another shot, and I love the idea of strapping him down. Definitely makes things easier.

Mia: I always advise authors to hit the ground running and this opener certainly qualifies! You’ve set us up for an adventurous story with a kick-butt heroine.

Berinn: Thanks so much for the help, Mia!!! I absolutely love Red Pencil Thursdays and have gleaned some great tips off your posts (especially this one ;-)). I welcome any/all feedback to help me launch Sienna’s story off right.

Author Bio:
Berinn Rae is the author of steamy romantic fantasy. Berinn lives in the Midwest with her husband and an incredibly spoiled sixty-pound lap dog. She flies a decent airport pattern and throws a very bad game of darts.

Now it’s your turn. What suggestions do you have for Berinn?

40 thoughts on “Red Pencil Thursday

  1. Carole Somol says:

    Being married to someone who worked with astronauts, who is 180lbs and 5’11”, I disagree with the concept that a “hunk” cannot be shorter, lighter. How tall, large is the heroine. Even my sons at 5’9”, that work out all the time are well built and can handle physical situations. I know height attracts romantically and physically, but don’t throw out the shorter Romeos just because they are short.
    PS I don’t write and have never responded to these. Just got turned off by that criticism.

    1. Berinn Rae says:

      Carole –
      I love that you commented on Mia’s site. For one thing, 5’9″ is not short ;) and yes, definitely most of the best built guys (including many quarterbacks) out there are under 6′. I like my beefcakes of all sizes. Thanks so much for your feedback!

    2. Mia Marlowe says:

      I’m so glad you commented, Carole, because it gives me a chance to clear up my previous comment. I didn’t say a hero can’t be shorter or lighter, but I did note that a pilot wasn’t likely to be a big hulking “intimidating” fellow even when unconscious. The height and weight restrictions were for astronauts, but no one can argue that those guys weren’t alpha males.

      On our recent road trip to the midwest, we listened to SEA BISCUIT on tape. Jockeys are required to be very small fellows indeed, but after hearing that story, I have fresh appreciation for their testosterone levels. A man isn’t defined by his size, any more than a woman is. However, if you give your hero a certain occupation, there may be restrictions as to what his body type can realistically be.

    3. You are so right, Carole. I have researched SEALs heavily to write my SEALed books.

      Most SEALs are not big men. Ripped, absolutely, with beautiful masculine proportions, but must are average height. I read of one who was 5’3″, my height, and weighed 125–less than I have weighed in 20 years!

      The hero of SEALed with a Ring is 5’9″, and my fans LOVE him.

      Writers of romance, free yourselves from the stereotype!

  2. I WISH I could write an opening as rip-snorting as this! You do action narrative very well, and I can only add some minor points to the wisdom already before you.

    First, because this is first person, it can all feel like TELL writing. You can break it up even when one character is unconscious with muttered asides, creative curses, or your protag speaking into a recording device. This breaks up the march of paragraphs down the page visually and lets your character say something that gives us an insight into personality (“Moses in the bulrushes!”) as opposed to narrating incessantly.

    Second, if you’re going for strong romantic elements, please give us one itty bitty glimpse of Our Hero’s arresting, compelling, whatever, countenance (or glutes). Give us some clue we’re meeting The Swain, even if it’s only a phrase noting that he’s ripped or tatted or whatever.

    Third, give us a hint your protag is female, and make it a hint that sheds light on what kind of female–we’re supposed to identify with her from page one. Is she a brainiac who doesn’t do crash rescues? Is she an Amazon who’s trained for search and rescue her whole life? The action is interesting, but action alone won’t generate that all important empathy that tows the reader into the book (and up to the cash register).

    Thanks for giving us all a chance to think analytically about our craft. Now I believe I will go take another look at my WIP’s opening!

    1. Berinn Rae says:

      Thanks Grace! Great points!!

    2. Mia Marlowe says:

      Brilliant suggestions, Grace! Thanks. And congrats on your latest release hitting the NY Times list!

    3. Berinn Rae says:

      BTW, I noticed HEIR is only $.99 on Kindle today. Since I haven’t had a chance to read your work yet, I quickly picked it up! Yay – a new book to read this weekend!

  3. Thank you for your excerpt, Berinn; and everyone for your comments. A fast-paced, vivid action scene like this naturally draws the reader into the story.

    Most of what I was going to comment on has already been taken care of by other commenters. Maybe I can mention a few details.

    If the explosion of this spaceship is anything like explosions of large modern aircraft, the protag and the guy he saves would probably have to travel more than a hundred feet away when the ship blows. Otherwise, they’re going to get knocked off the ATV, which itself might get knocked over. But you know better than I do the size and impact of this explosion, so I’m not sure this comment is relevant.

    Also, it’s my understanding that in explosions, first there’s a shock wave moving outward, then a rush of air moving inward toward the explosion. So these two characters would be affected by both phases. The heat generated by the explosion might also factor in.

    Also, in the last paragraph, I’m not sure “ravenous” is the right adjective for “blast”. To me at least, “ravenous” should be used only in reference to a living being, or to an inanimate object that’s being personified as a living being. I don’t think either applies here.

    Finally, around the middle of the excerpt, there’s the passage: ” . . . the light froze on rivulets . . .” Can you reword this? Light can’t freeze on anything.

    Good luck with “Collision”!

    1. Berinn Rae says:

      Mary Anne – Thank you for the suggestions, and I’m taking them to heart. I’ll rework details around the explosion as well as the wording. Thanks!

      1. Mia Marlowe says:

        I love it when we get so many thoughtful comments. Thanks, Mary Anne!

  4. Jen says:

    Nice writing, I enjoyed it.

    However, since it’s first-person, it’s not clear whether the POV character is male or female. I actually thought it was a man since “he” had relatively little trouble pulling the quaterback-physiqued body to safety and getting it up on an ATV. So if your protag is female, she must be super-ripped or an Amazon or both.

    Also, when the protagonist described “him”self as “axe-man on speed,” it confirmed for me that he was a man!

    Thanks for sharing your work!

    1. Berinn Rae says:

      Shoot, Jen. My protag is a “she” so I’ll definitely drop a hint in the first couple chapters. Thanks for pointing that at. I never would’ve thought of that otherwise. Oops. (*sheepish grin*).

      1. Berinn Rae says:

        oops again. I meant “sentences” instead of “chapters”. Geez. Need more caffeine.

    2. Mia Marlowe says:

      Interesting, Jen. I assumed the protagonist was female because of the way Berinn constructed her sentences. The dependent clauses seem like a more feminine construction. Guy-speak is more “subject-verb-object.”

  5. Perfect opening – Mia has offered great ways to tighten. I’d want to read more and that is what a first page/s should do. Well done.

    1. Berinn Rae says:

      Thank you so much, Bronwen!

    2. Mia Marlowe says:

      Hi Bronwen! Glad to see that you’ve finished INVITATION TO SCANDAL. After your fab debut, INVITATION TO RUIN, I’m ready for more!

  6. This was fantastic. Really great first page and I loved Mia’s edits. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Berinn Rae says:

      Anita – Thanks so much for stopping by! BTW, Awaken the Highland Warrior looks hot. On my way to check it out on Amazon now!

    2. Mia Marlowe says:

      Thanks for popping by again, Anita!

  7. Marcy W says:

    I agree with all of the above, so won’t repeat. I got hooked with that great first sentence, but realized by the end that I need more clues that we’re into the farish future and dealing with aliens/their ship/etc. Without going into too much detail that would get in the way of the action you do so well . . . there must be ways to give us a bit of an overall picture. With that, I think you could focus on the action, and not have to be careful about as many of the details right off. — Just a thought. — I like the name Sienna, and really wish Mia could allow more than 500 words for RPT, as I’d like to see how we learn her name, and that of the guy/alien? she just rescued. Am I right that he’s not going to be very grateful?? :-)
    And kudos to Barb H for catching that grammatical point. Since it affects the cadence of your writing, probably easier to deal with it now, before you get to the editing phase?! — Keep going, Berinn!

    1. Berinn Rae says:

      Oh Marcy, you nailed it. The alien pilot isn’t going to be happy at all! The first chapter has lots of different kinds of action, and I’ll leave it at that. ;)
      Also, it’s a piece ‘o cake to add hints about timing, location, etc. Sounds like ‘details’ is definitely an area I can improve upon. Thanks!

    2. Mia Marlowe says:

      I hear what you’re saying about the 500 word rule, Marcy, but by the time I make my comments and my volunteer responds, that word count can easily treble. Posts that stream on forever tend not to get read. My goal is to suggest fixes that can be incorporated into the rest of the manuscript as well. Weakness that shows up in the first 500 words is likely repeated later.

  8. Really, really good first page! I absolutely wanted to keep reading. I agree with everything Mia says, particularly about the substance dripping. If your protagonist knows what it is, say so. Wondering about it distracted me from the story, and when I learned it was fuel, I was distracted even more. I mean, would an alien craft operate on an Earth type of fuel? And even a substance as volatile as gasoline requires a source of ignition. How could she tell there was one?
    Raising questions in a reader’s mind can be an excellent storytelling device, but those questions don’t advance your story. Consider having her smell smoke as soon as she boards the craft, and as the odor becomes stronger, realizes the danger of explosion. No complicated explanations needed.
    The word “ship” confused me. I saw a wharf or pier with a waterborne vessel drawn up to it. Since a boat can be “piloted” too, and could have an instrument panel that looked like a cockpit, it took a while for the confusion to clear. Indeed, I only knew it was not a normal “ship.”
    Later, the protagonist calls it an “airplane or ship–or whatever this freaking thing was…” I pictured a ship that looks like an airplane, a hydrofoil, or tri-hull maybe. It sort of looks like a ship with wings.
    To me, what we have here is a lesson in why writers are told to always use the most specific words they can. I suggest using some word(s) in that second sentence to indicate that the protagonist boards an aerial vehicle of some kind.
    Let me reiterate that even though I was forced to read slowly since I was trying to square my mental picture with the actions being described, I was engaged, I was curious, and I wanted to know what happened next.
    Again, because I had accepted reading slowly, I wasn’t bothered by the slow-paced sentences. In fact I appreciated “and a small miracle.” Imagining a normally strong woman lifting a man large enough to be called a “brute” was straining my credulity. With “miracle” I thought okay, sometimes impossible things just happen.
    All the points I’ve mentioned are easily fixed by asking yourself “Do the words on the paper match the picture I want the reader to see?” Overall, good job!

    1. Berinn Rae says:

      Mary Margaret – Your feedback is awesome! I realize I take things for granted, and need to better translate what I envision into words. GREAT suggestion! Also, loved the idea of adding smoke to the scene. Love it! Thanks so much for the help. I’m giddy with all the help I’ve gotten today!

    2. Mia Marlowe says:

      Excellent point about specificity, Mary Margaret. The cardinal rule for writing is “First, be clear.”

  9. Hi Mia and Berinn
    My advice get this written and let us know when it is ready. It opens all kinds of speculation on where you will take them. I want to know what you do with this story.
    Thanks Mia for teaching us in such a wonderful kind way.

    1. Berinn Rae says:

      Janet – Isn’t Mia absolutely fabulous? ;)
      Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll definitely let Mia know (so can share the news) when this story finds a home!

      1. Mia Marlowe says:

        Stop, you two! You’re making me blush.

        Honestly I’ve been given so much help by other writers along the way. RPT is my way of giving back.

  10. Barbara Britton says:

    Hi Berinn,
    Your opening is interesting. I wanted to read more! I agree with Mia’s comments on shortening sentences for action scenes, and the caustic liquid–what is it.
    There were a few descriptions that sounded awkward to me…stepped into the ship (boarded), crumpled instrument panel (I’m thinking metal is more resilient) and peculiar seatbelt (pilot’s seatbelt, or describe it) Nothing major.I just had to stop and think.
    Also, the ATV came out of nowhere. Could we say waiting ATV or my parked ATV?
    You’ve done an excellent job making this action packed. Super job.

    1. Berinn Rae says:

      Barbara – Great suggestions. Thanks so much for helping improve my story!

    2. Mia Marlowe says:

      Good catches, Barbara!

  11. Barb H says:

    Oops–should be ‘a dependent phrase/clause.’

  12. Barb H says:

    Talk about hooking your readers with an opening line–you do it :) Love that beginning. Great active verbs–the light ‘slicing’ through darkness; she’s ‘hunkered over the handlebars;”the ATV chewed its way….’ You’ve established a compelling opening that will keep your readers turning pages. I don’t usually read UF (or 1st person), but I would this one.

    Mia’s suggestions are excellent on story and pacing, so I’ll mention a little grammar thing that you probably wouldn’t worry about until editing.

    What I noticed were the number of sentences that began with a dependent phrases/clauses–probably because I have a tendency to do the same thing. It establishes a certain rhythm that after a while can call attention to itself. And I have to remember that the intended subject of those opening phrases must be the same as the subject of the sentence, or the sentence can have a clarity issue.

    Thanks for being brave and submitting your story. Be sure to let us know when it’s published. Good luck.

    1. Berinn Rae says:

      Barb –
      I had never noticed my obsession with dependent clauses before until you pointed it out. That’s a relatively quick fix that I can make to the entire MS. Thanks so much!

    2. Mia Marlowe says:

      Oops! YOu’re right. We have some dangling participles here. One that leaps out at me is “Shining the beam toward the rhythmic plip-plop, the light…” The light isn’t shining itself.

  13. Edie Ramer says:

    What a great first page! I loved Mia’s suggestions, but even without them, I wanted to keep reading.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Thanks for dropping by, Edie!

      I always say my suggestions are like a smorgasbord. Take what you like and leave the rest. The author of the piece knows how best to tell her own story. The point of RPT (or any critique) is to get the writer to think in new directions and decide for herself how things should go.

    2. Berinn Rae says:

      Edie – Gosh, thanks! I’m so excited to make Mia’s RPT day to get fresh perspectives on how to improve the opening pages of my story. Mia really has a great (and generous) thing going here.

Leave a Reply

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