Red Pencil Thursday
The beginning of any story is a delicate time. An author has to introduce her characters in a memorable way, set up the major conflicts and hit the ground running. It’s a lot to ask of 500 words, but that’s about how long you have to hook your reader or risk having them lay your story aside. Today on RPT we tackle an excerpt from Clair Carter with motivation problems.
My comments are in red. Clair’s responses are in blue. Please add yours to the end of the post! A critique group is only as strong as the minds gathered around the table. We’re counting on YOU!
Do you think the navel jewels are too much?” Sammy’s fingers scrabbled nervously through the tub of stick-on gems.
“You’re asking the woman in the Cleopatra wig?” Lisa looked up from applying make-up at the makeshift ‘dressing room’ mirror and snorted. “Sammy, I think they’ll have their minds on other things – or their eyes at least.” She arched an eyebrow in the direction of Sammy’s breasts, plumped up and prominently displayed in a tight-fitting sequined bikini-style top.
Love You’re asking the woman in the Cleopatra wig! But Lisa has extremely talented eyebrows if she can make them arch in a direction other than up, down or meeting above her nose. It’s her gaze that is directed at Sammy’s breasts. Can you rethink that sentence?
LOL – although my eyebrows are quite wayward, I take your point. She dropped a significant look in the direction….perhaps. I think looks and gazes and glances etc are quite challenging to write without getting repetitive.
Sammy groaned and shook her head. She couldn’t believe she’d allowed her PA to talk her into putting on this harem get-up. Okay, so Lisa was more than a PA. She was a good friend, a much-needed first line of defense at Lyman Evans and, worse, she knew where the bodies were buried. So appearing at Lisa’s husband’s Company Fundraiser was a favor she owed, sort of. But even so… did she have to go and choose a costume that exposed so much of her body? A body whose charms she usually kept well-hidden in professional, understated workwear.
I’m having a bit of trouble imagining a boss doing this sort of favor for her PA. It would be more believable if the two women were on equal footing at work. The reference about where the bodies were buried makes it sound as if Lisa is being coercive. If that’s the case, we’re disposed not to like her immediately and it makes us wonder about the heroine’s intelligence if she’s allowing herself to be forced into something she doesn’t really want to do.
You hit the nail on the head. This whole first chapter had ‘issues’ of that nature. I have had similar relationships at work, even with bosses, but I am clearly in a small minority (and have had unusual bosses!)
She began to pace the room, the beads on her virtually transparent skirt susurrated tantalizingly. “I should have insisted on one of my own dance outfits.”
Ok, she’s a dancer too? Is Sammy leading a double life? Buttoned up lawyer by day, exotic dancer by night? If so, why is she nervous?
The dancing is middle eastern and part of her cultural heritage – she dances at family events in culturally appropriate clothing, but not usually in ‘public’ or in westernized, ‘hollywood-ized’ belly dance gear. Not clear at this stage, but becomes so later. Although obviously this is something else that doesn’t work if it is confusing for the reader.
In that case, giving her a middle eastern name would help clear up reader confusion. Taking a little time to explain these differences now would change how I perceive her.
Also, you might want to think about another word besides susurrated. It’s a perfectly good word, but whispered says the same thing and won’t send readers scurrying to their dictionaries. Obviously, you have a terrific vocabulary, but be careful that your word choices don’t yank the reader out of the story.
Agree – I wanted that sound that pebbles make on the shoreline when they’re being sucked back, but it doesn’t work!
Lisa capped her lipstick and shimmied so that her coin belt jingled. “And I would have over-ruled you. I’m running this show.”
“You’re a power-mad, control freak. Lisa Camilleri.”
Comma before her name, not a period.
“Hark at the kettle calling the pot black.”
I like the byplay between the two of them. Makes me feel their friendship.
Lisa laid a reassuring hand on Sammy’s arm which was trembling with the fear of stepping out onto that stage in front of those people in this outfit. The confidence she felt performing for family events had deserted her completely.
She performs at family events? Everything up to this point says she’s about to shake her tail feathers in a skimpy outfit big time. I’m confused.
See note above. It’s all to do with her culture, and that will form part of the conflict, as she is very much operating outside her family’s expectations. But this scene needs totally rewriting to eliminate the confusion, I agree.
“Relax. You’ll be a knockout. And once you’re out there you’ll have a ball.”
“You do know if it weren’t for your charity I’d never do this in a million years, don’t you?”
OK, now we have a motivation for the heroine doing something she doesn’t want to do. Any way to move this up and make it stronger?
Good idea. I could open with it.
“I do. And it’s just one of the many reasons why I love you. Just close your eyes and think of all the lovely money you’re raising for the Centre. After everything they did for mum. Dave is so grateful. We both are.”
“And you swear that no one out there will know who I am?”
“Why would they?” Lisa soothed. “It’s just Dave, the other partners and a load of drunken corporate lawyers with their WAGs.”
“Because you know what it would mean for all my hard work at Lyman if word ever got back to Robin Neville and the rest. And with the new boss arriving any day I can’t afford to hand them something like this on a plate.”
We’re back to wondering about her intelligence again. You can make a character do something that’s counter to their own interests and we’ll buy it if you motivate strongly enough. There has to be an overwhelming reason for her to take this risk and you need to show us what that is. Otherwise, she’s like a teenager in a slasher movie heading down to the creepy basement for no apparent reason…
Yes, I agree. I am forcing a situation for dramatic convenience. And because I wanted to write the scene that follows LOL!
Sammy shuddered. She’d not actually seen the new head honcho in the flesh yet. But Dominic Sanborn’s ruthless reputation went before him – he wanted heads to roll in a bid to drag the company back on track. Some top personnel had already gone and everyone was worried about their job. And Sammy had enemies in high places.
Just a punctuation thing. Split the third sentence into two instead of using the -.Is Dominic the hero? It would be cool if he was since you’ve set up an adversarial situation already.
Yes Dominic is the hero and this is how she meets her new boss, performing in a completely ‘out of character’ way as a favour to a friend. It’s too unlikely and that’s what set this chapter up to fail I think (among other things!)
I’m having a bit of a problem with your heroine’s motivation at this point and you need to be careful that her stronger willed friend Lisa doesn’t outshine her. A secondary character can steal a scene or two, but don’t let her overshadow the heroine while we’re being introduced to her.
I have a great weakness for strong secondary characters. And I like multiple characters and multiple points of view. I sometimes wonder if romance is what I should be trying to write because of these tendencies! I like romance, but I like a lot of plot as well, if that makes sense.
You’re very good at this! You quickly got to the heart of why this doesn’t work and I think that’s a real skill. I felt quite ambivalent about this whole novel – I dragged those 50,000 words out kicking and screaming and it shows in the flawed characterization and motivation. I’ll keep on keeping on and find the story I really want to write. Thanks so much for finding the time to look at my work, Mia. Good luck with the sales for the wonderful Touch of a Thief.
Clair, you have a lot going for you, not the least of which is your teachable spirit. The willingness to rethink, rewrite is the difference between a published author and an aspiring one. And just to assure you that you are not alone, let me share that I laid aside 300+ pages of my first “training wheels” manuscript once I realized it was hopelessly flawed.
Clair Carter’s bio: Married mother of two living in the north west of England and working as a researcher. Won a couple of writing contests in my teens but put aside childish things to work ‘in the real world’. Now happily back to Plan A – writing and writing in the hope of improving and improving…until I get published!
It’s your turn to weigh in. Can this manuscript be saved? I think so. Help Clair find the right motivation to make this scene work!