Red Pencil Thursday

Red Pencil ThursdayRobert Burns was so right. The best laid plans of mice and men oft times gang agley…

Ordinarily, I send the critique to my volunteer ahead of time and she adds her responses so I can put both our comments together for Red Pencil Thursday. Unfortunately, my email has been a little glitchy lately and I’m not sure my volunteer’s critique reached her in time. If her comments come in, I will surely add them as the day goes by.

I want to say a word about the extraordinary courage and generosity of my volunteers. Because they are willing to submit their work to this process, we are all able to learn a few things about how best to tell a story. I appreciate them so much. Taking your bath in public is a scary thing, but my goal is always to give constructive suggestions. My volunteers are free to accept or reject any of them because ultimately each writer is the only one who can tell her story. Thank you, Christina (my volunteer today) and all those of you who have been part of Red Pencil Thursday in the past.

One Bite is Never Enough.

6:30AM Update: I received Christine’s responses and managed to plug them in here. YAY!

New Manhattan 2023.

Someone wanted the undead, dead.

Mia: Catchy. I’m wondering if you need the comma. Any grammarians out there who can give us the definitive answer?

Christine:  Thank you for this great opportunity, Mia.  Strangely enough, I fiddled about with that comma for ages and ended up deciding to put the emphasis on the word ‘dead’ in the hope that it would sound spooky and threatening, lol!

From the back seat of her official car, Commander Azalea Kanbi of the World Health Protectorate sat at attention and studied Hemo Global Pharmaceuticals’ Head Office as it speared into the sky.  The building, one hundred and eighty floors of re-enforced mirrored plexi glass, was specially designed to keep out UV/UB rays along with the eyes and ears of the curious.

Mia: Naming your characters is so important. You can convey so much with such economy of words. I like the juxtaposition of Commander with a name like Azalea. She tough, but feminine. Plexiglass is one word, but I really know more about the building than I want to here. You’ve told me its a skyscraper with speared into the sky. I’m far more interested in Azalea. If you’re going to spend more time on the building, try to do it in context of what she’s thinking or feeling. Has she been there before? Has she tried to get in and been denied entrance? Does she know anyone who works there?

Christine:  Good point and no she hadn’t been there before – I’ve just missed a great opportunity for character development and why didn’t I pick up plexiglass?  I’ve just slapped my own wrist!

Her driver brought the sleek limousine to a halt.  The electric engine hummed with a gentle whine as it powered down.  Lea slid dark glasses over her nose and swung long legs shod in lethally high heels onto the sidewalk.

House calls were not in her remit these days.  However, this was an emergency.  They couldn’t wait for diplomats to dance around each other for a week.  When the man with all the answers was a philanthropist and as rich as Croesus, the powers that be sent their top investigator.   Constantine Mabille obviously had a huge ego too, Lea mused, if the huge glass phallic symbol that was his Head Office was anything to go by.

Mia: This doesn’t seem like a house call. She’s calling on an organization.

Remit stopped me. I’m all for using language in fresh ways for futuristics. Loved the unique dialect in Serenity, for example. But even though they used words in unusual context, I was able to follow the meaning. What word is remit short for?

Rich as Croesus is an old saw and one better suited for historical dialogue. For a futuristic, how about a more recent rich guy? Bill Gates, Donald Trump… you get the idea.

Now that last sentence is how to show what Lea thinks about the building and the guy in it! Good job.

Christine:  Good point and it’s a cliché too.   Thank you.

Lea’s ground eating stride ate up the one hundred yards to the entrance.  Her aide, and bane of her life, medical sergeant Petal Jones scrambled behind her carrying disc evidence, including authorizations for information and various legal documents.   Lea blinked as she caught her aides’ reflection and stopped to look at her.

Mia: Wait a minute. We’re in Manhattan and she has to walk 100 yards to the entrance? That’s the length of a football field. I’m having trouble imagining this.

Christine:  We’re in New Manhattan, later in the chapter we learn that earth has been decimated and a new city is emerging, but yes 100 yards is too long, what was I thinking?

The aide sort of materialized out of the blue. If she’s in the car with Lea, you missed a chance for dialogue to set your scene and introduce your characters.

Christine:  It’s interesting you’ve picked this up because I did mull over how to introduce Jones and in my head she was lurking in the car, of course that’s of no use to the reader!

“Jones, what have you done to your hair?”  Voice cool, tone clipped, Lea whipped off her sunglasses and peered at the pillar box red crazy curls.  Her aide’s long, skinny body was dressed in regulation medical military khakis, the crease in her combats razor sharp and her black boots gleamed.  But her cap battled to stay on her head.   Jones gave her a sulky look and would have blushed if she was able to.  Vampires, Lea knew, did not blush.  She narrowed her eyes.  “And do I see fangs?  Haven’t you fed today?”

Mia: Angela James, the editor for Carina, says not all nouns deserve an adjective. You’ve given curls four. If Petal was in the car, why didn’t Azalea notice her hair then? Was she preoccupied with something important? Interesting way to let us know her assistant is a vampire.

Christine:  I was trying to flash a picture into the reader’s mind of what Jones looked like, but less is more, I agree.

Jones’s wide eyes changed from blue to black, the only outward sign of inner turmoil and she retracted her fangs.

Mia: Now you’ve discovered why I try not to have characters names end in s–the dreaded s’s whenever you have a possessive. If it’s not too hard for you, you might want to rethink her last name. However, I know sometimes a character  completely resists all attempts at changing his or her name and won’t cooperate a bit.

Christine:  Yes, absolutely, and I have been fiddling about with another name, one will come to me that will click with her character.

“I did too, this morning.  I had my usual half litre of globuflakes with water and coagulated blood with extra vitamins on toast.”   Frowning, Jones slid a hand to her hair, and lifted her chin at Lea’s bland stare.  “I fancied a change and the new stylist came highly recommended.”  Jones gave her a hurt look.  “Don’t you like it?”

Mia: I like Jones. However, you’ve given me a better idea of who she is than your heroine. Jones has already shown emotions–embarrassment, defensiveness, defiance, hurt. Azalea has been an emotional blank slate. If you want your readers to slip into her killer heels, you need to hook them with her emotions.

Christine :  Yes, yes, yes!  I knew it, I knew I did that and it’s not the first time.  Why is that I wonder?  I really ‘know’ Azalea, so why is that not on the page?  She’s in my head, but to the reader she’s one dimensional.  This is a eureka moment for me Mia, because I’ve been struggling to get the heroine’s character development out of my head and onto the page.   Azalea is a tough cookie who doesn’t put up with any nonsense.   I think I’m trying not to ‘tell’ too much to the reader.

Mia: Close POV is the answer. Let us into her head. Get her talking. Give her some defining mannerisms.

“May I remind you, sergeant?”  Lea continued walking.  “We’re here to investigate anomolies found in synthetic blood produced by Hemo Global Pharmaceuticals.  Which has resulted in the death of key pure-blood vampires.”

Mia: I’m glad to know why they are there, but this dialogue smacks of info dump. Is there a way to give it to us in smaller chunks worked into more natural conversation? Can she ask if Jones used a different brand of synthetic blood? You could have Jones remind her that she’s not pure-blood so she’s not as vulnerable or something like that.

Christine:  And now I’ve told you too much, but I can see how I can show the reader Azalea’s character through her dialogue with Jones.  In fact I’ve just made notes on a conversation that takes place in the car.

Mia: Excellent!

In the good old days, Lea’s tone would have reduced her aide to a quivering wreck.   But fear had turned into respect and more than a little hero worship, so she cut her a bit of slack.   “You don’t look like yourself … I miss the sleek, not-a-hair-out-of-place look.”

Mia: When you have two characters of the same gender, be careful with pronouns. In the second sentence, replacing her with Jones would clear up any confusion.

Christine:  Absolutely right and it would make it crystal clear to the reader.

Plus, she knew exactly why her aide was all of a flutter.

Mia: Very good embedded hook! Now we want to know what flusters a vampire too.

Christine:  Wow, Mia, fantastic work.  You’ve really made me think and I can see exactly what you mean.  I need to work on clarity and character development.   Hehehe, there’s plenty to fluster both of them, trust me.

I’ve had the best time with this story and it rocks along at a pace.  It came fifth in the Romance Junkies competition sponsored by Carina Press.  I just missed out on getting editorial feedback, which was why I entered it in the first place.

Thank you for casting your professional eye over the work, you’ve no idea how much this experience has helped me.

Christine Carmichael’s Bio:  Christine is a married mother of three.  After a brush with breast cancer eighteen months ago, she lost the fear of failure and decided to devote herself full time to doing what she loves best – writing sexy stories which make you laugh and cry.   Her dream is to receive an email from a reader telling her that a story had ‘made her day’.   One day, one day.

Chris started the Romance Angels Network with Jo Terrero in December 2009 and have been steadily working towards publication ever since.  Chris recently finalled in HQ’s Valentine’s Secret competition and Romance Junkies competition, sponsored by Carina.

Now it’s your turn to give Christine a helping hand. What have I overlooked? Paranormal futuristics are not my usual ballywick, so I may have missed some key reader expectations. A critique group is only as strong as all the eyes around the table, so here’s your chance to weigh in. Thanks!

23 thoughts on “Red Pencil Thursday

  1. Nynke says:

    Those 500 words always end so soon!

    Christine, your characters sound really interesting – I bet you’ll be able to show much more of that in the intro with all the critique you’ve already received.

    I’m going to let out the factoid geek in me and ask two questions. One: if Petal has a reflection, does that mean all vampires do in this world? Interesting, and a cool thing to show in the first scene. Two: Petal is carrying disk evidence. Is the medium important to your world? And are you actually referring disks? This stopped me when I read it, because I don’t expect people to still store data on disks in 2023… On the other hand, people may well say ‘disk’ when they mean other media, of course. But it did make me wonder what you meant, so maybe you want to think about that.

    Good luck with this story, and I’m curious to see where you take it!

    1. Christine Carmichael says:

      Hi Nynke,

      That’s the great thing about writing fantasy. You can re-work the myths surrounding the undead. All vampires have reflections in my story. If they can be seen by the human eye and touched by a human hand, then they have reflections. And Jones is a half-blood and only 78yrs old, a baby apparently.

      Good point about disc evidence in the future. I did mull over how people would communicate. How would they use technology? How would they ‘serve’ a warrant for example and transport evidence? Rather than a paper warrant, I hit upon an encrypted disc warrant. I am brainstorming what the future may hold with my nineteen year old son – he persuaded me to avoid religious conflict in the story since (he said) that’s been done to death.

      Thank you for making me think!

  2. As always I enjoy seeing Mia’s Red Pencil at work. She is a genius at asking the right questions or offering a tiny change when we are handcuffed by our own words.

    About the “undead dead”, I think either a comma or the … is needed to indicate a clarifying pause.

    Thanks, Mia!

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Stop, AY, I’m blushing. As far as genius is concerned, has it occurred to you that I ask questions because I don’t know the answer? ;-) Thanks, sweetie!

  3. Well done, ladies! Christine, you have a winner in the making here. So proud of you. Now for comments… I took the liberty of doing a quick edit and this is what I came up with. Feel free to comment. :-)

    * * *

    Someone wanted the undead… dead.

    As her driver brought the sleek limousine to a halt, Commander Azalea Kanbi of the World Health Protectorate studied the façade of Hemo Global Pharmaceuticals’ Head Office as it speared into the sky. Amazing! One hundred and eighty floors of mirrored plexiglass, specially designed to keep out UV/UB rays along with the prying eyes and ears of the curious.

    The car’s electric engine hummed with a gentle whine as it powered down. Lea slid dark glasses over her nose and swung long legs shod in lethally high heels onto the sidewalk. Her ground eating stride ate up the one hundred yards to the entrance.

    Petal Jones, her personal aide and bane of her life, scrambled behind her carrying disc evidence, including authorizations for information and various legal documents.

    In the normal scheme of things, they wouldn’t be here, but this was an emergency. The powers that be couldn’t wait for diplomats to dance around each other before acting. When the man with all the answers was a philanthropist and as rich as Rockefeller, they sent their top investigator. Constantine Mabille obviously had a huge ego too, Lea mused, if the huge phallic symbol that was his Head Office was anything to go by.

    Lea blinked as she caught her aide’s reflection in the magnificent glass doors and stopped to look at her. Voice cool, tone clipped, Lea whipped off her sunglasses and peered at the red, crazy curls adorning Jones’s head.

    “Jones, what have you done to your hair?” Her aide’s long, skinny body was dressed in regulation medical military khakis, the crease in her combats razor sharp and her black boots gleamed. But her cap battled to stay on her head. Jones gave her a sulky look and would have blushed if she was able. Vampires, Lea knew, did not blush. She narrowed her eyes at the aide. “And do I see fangs? Haven’t you fed today?”

    Jones’s deep-set eyes changed from blue to black, the only outward sign of inner turmoil as she retracted her fangs.

    “Of course I did! I had my usual half litre of globuflakes with water and coagulated blood with extra vitamins on toast.” Jones slid a hand to her hair, frowning as she lifted her chin at Lea’s bland stare. “I fancied a change and the new stylist came highly recommended.” Jones gave her a hurt look. “Don’t you like it?”

    “May I remind you, sergeant?” Lea said as she turned back to the entrance. “We’re here to investigate anomolies found in synthetic blood produced by Hemo Global Pharmaceuticals, which has resulted in the death of key pureblooded vampires.”

    In the good old days, Lea’s tone would have reduced her aide to a quivering wreck, but fear had turned into respect and more than a little hero worship, so she cut her a bit of slack. “You don’t look like yourself… I miss the sleek, not-a-hair-out-of-place look.”

    Plus, she also knew exactly why her aide was all of a flutter.

  4. Cynthia Bristow says:

    Hello Christine,

    What an intriguing first 500 words! I would agree with Barb about the dash. Makes it stand out a bit more.

    As far as “remit” goes (being from the other side of the pond) it stopped me in my tracks. Over here remit has many meanings including “to lay aside”; “to release from guilt or penalty”; “to send money to a person”, etc.

    I do like the relationship you are showing us between Lea and Petal and find it fascinating that they have names associated with flowers. Your future world has truly gone “green”. LOL!

    Best of luck!

    1. Christine Carmichael says:

      Hello Cynthia,

      Thank you for that. And I’m going to ‘out’ you as one of my crit partners. You’ll be green when I get hold of you, lol!

  5. Christine Carmichael says:

    Hi Clair Carter,

    I learnt a huge amount from Mia’s forensic critique of your 500 words. You were the first one of our group to take the plunge.

    Red Pencil Thursday is a great idea. It’s incredibly generous of Mia to give her time and expertise to wannanabe authors.

  6. Clair Carter says:

    Remit is in common usage in English-English. It probably equates to ‘jurisdiction’ in American-English. Something falls within your remit (ie it’s in your job and you’re allowed to do it) or is ‘outside your remit’. You’ll hear it a lot on the news eg for government ministers, police officers etc. Another case of two countries divided by a common language!LOL
    Christine, you already know I love your style. The humour and ideas in your writing make it highly entertaining. Mia’s suggestions are great!

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Remit. I’ll file that away for future use. Thanks!

  7. Barb Bettis says:

    What an intriguing premise for your story, Christine. It drew me in for sure. Mia and the others’ comments are great.

    The only two observations I might offer: If you want to emphasize ‘dead’ from ‘undead’ in that opening hook you might try a dash rather than a comma or even the (also grammatically correct) no comma. Don’t know how you feel about dashes, but it would highlight that dichotomy between dead and undead.

    The second: In the ‘house calls’ graph, beginning of the third sentence, I was a little confused on who ‘they’ were. I think they were ID’d at the end of the next sentence “the powers that be.” Is there a way to use the noun earlier?

    Good luck, Christine. I’ll definitely read it when it’s published.

    1. Christine Carmichael says:

      Thank you very much Barb.

      Dashes don’t bother me as long as they don’t breed and multiply, if you know what I mean?

      And I’ve taken on board ‘they’ too. I need to slow down my thinking when I write because I tend to romp through the story, especially on the first and second drafts – as my crit partners will tell you – bless them.

      I hope you like a sexy story, Barb. When I wrote the first love scene between the protagonists I was crying with laughter. I don’t believe a couple can truly fall in love without finding humour in an emotionally charged situation. Azalea cries ‘You’re not coming near me with that. I mean it, Constantine!’ Yes girls, he’s well endowed, bless him.

      If I’m lucky enough to find a publisher, you girls will be the first to know, after Mia.

  8. Barbara Britton says:

    Dear Christine,

    You’re a mother of three and breast cancer survivor? You can do anything!

    I liked your opening. You have set up an interesting premise.
    I do agree with Mia’s comments that we seem to know more about the setting (limo, building, Petal’s hair) than we do about the main character, Azalea. Bringing in dialogue sooner, say inside the limo, between Azalea and Petal could give the reader insight into these ladies.

    Also, I liked the “lethally high heels”. is Azalea trying to be feminine in a man’s world? Does she love to buy shoes? This could be a way to reveal her character.

    The rest of my comments are mainly housekeeping ones. “They couldn’t wait”–who?The first reference to Lea (instead of Azalea) made me stop and think there was another woman present. Azalea uses personal names in dialogue which makes the words seem less personal…Jones, Sargeant. Is she a no-nonsense woman?
    You have me intrigued. Super job!

    1. Christine Carmichael says:

      Hi Barbara,

      Thank you for your kind comments and excellent insight. When you love characters and know them intimately, its sometimes hard to see the wood for the trees.

      Azalea is not human. She’s that rare thing, an Untouchable, which is a witch from an ancient celtic coven. She’s a pistol and no nonsense character who speaks six languages and studied Interdimensional Communication at the Sorbonne in Paris. She’s proud to be a feminine, powerful woman who has more pairs of shoes than the entire cast of Riverdance.

      LOL!

      I’ll tell you something, Barbara, having cancer puts being nervous about my writing into perspective. I’m one of the lucky ones, they caught it in time and I’ve been reconstructed. I have a bionic breast, lol!

      My crit group will be visiting and they’d better comment or I’ll want to know the reason why, lol!

      1. Mia Marlowe says:

        Wow, Christine. You have to give us more of this info about Azalea in the opening. She sounds wonderful!

        As a fellow cancer survivor, may I say how happy I am things turned out well for you too!

        1. Christine Carmichael says:

          I’ve been incredibly lucky, Mia. I’m delighted things turned out well for you too!

          I will put more information about Azalea in the opening. My worry is how much is too much?

  9. Karri Lyn Halley says:

    I don’t read much paranormal, but I do read some futuristic and really enjoy seeing how the author creates a future world and makes it all cohesive. It sounds like you have a great start there. I really like the way you introduce the fact that Jones is a vampire and set-up the “rules” for vampires. One thing–it should be reinforced mirrored . . . just like reinforced concrete. (My day job is a civil engineer and I work with a lot of reinforced concrete pipe! Ha-ha.)

    1. Christine Carmichael says:

      Hi Kerri,

      Wow a civil engineer – so you’re a logical thinker and planner. Sounds like a recipe for success as an author, lol! The great thing about a futuristic urban fantasy is I can do what I like with it.

      It’s just a shame that in 500 words you didn’t get to meet Constantine, the hero who is a Precendential Elder and a vampire. By the time I’d finished with him, I wanted to marry him myself, lol!

  10. Christine Carmichael says:

    Thank you Jody, I suspect that particular comma’s days are numbered.

    Want to bet someone puts it back?

    1. Nynke says:

      I think I would emphasize the second ‘dead’ by italicizing it – at least until an editor took it out!

  11. Jody Lebel says:

    RE the opening line comma. I can find no comma rule that covers it. I say take out. It’s a good line. Tells you right off what this story is all about.

  12. Christine Carmichael says:

    How did you know I was Scottish?

    Yes, I’ve sent my comments in. I’m six hours ahead of you Mia.

    Thank you for the opportunity for your critique group to run their eagle eyes over the story. I can’t tell you how helpful your comments have been.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Thanks, Christine. I’ll zip over to my email and see if I’ve got the comments back.

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