Red Pencil Thursday

Red Pencil ThursdayWelcome to my online critique group. Each week I host a new volunteer who’s submitted the first 500 words of her WIP. I ask for the opening because it’s such a crucial part of any story. Often the seeds of future problems can be uncovered and corrected at this early stage.

If you’re interested in volunteering, please check out the DETAILS. I look forward to hearing from you!

My comments are in red. My volunteer Lorraine Nelson’s responses are in blue. Please add yours at the end of this post. And if you care to share the link with your reading and writing friends, that would be grand!


“Don’t move!”

The sudden crash and tinkling of glass had Poppy rushing to the kitchen. Nathan had dropped the pitcher of juice. Broken glass surrounded him and Becky. One at a time, she lifted her kids clear, only then retrieving supplies to clean up the mess.

Mia: You started with action, but your prose tends toward passive. In grammatical terms, you’ve put the object before the subject a couple of times. Poppy rushed to the kitchen at the sudden crash of glass is stronger, for instance.  It puts the emphasis on your active heroine. In the sentence Broken glass surrounded him … your structure puts the stress on the glass, not the kids.

BTW, we like Poppy because she’s more concerned about the kids than the mess. Good job.

Lorraine: Never thought of it like that before. The glass broke and then she ran, but I do see what you mean. I like Poppy, too!

Dressed in formal attire for the Memorial Day Parade and commemoration service, she was thankful they weren’t hurt or drenched. It was almost time to leave. Carl would be there shortly to pick them up.

Mia: Alert the media! We’ve had an actual miracle. The kids really didn’t get covered with juice? Mine would have been dripping with it. If Nathan and Becky escaped the grape stains, more celebration is in order than just she was thankful.  Poppy’s reactions are what will draw us into her frenetic world. Make them memorable and specific.

Lorraine: Okay, so Poppy should have breathed a heartfelt sigh of relief when…

BTW, mine would’ve been covered as well.

Right on cue, the doorbell rang.

“Nathan, that must be Uncle Carl. Go let him in, okay?”

He didn’t answer, just ran to the front entry, Becky running close behind. She smiled as she heard their delighted squeals and knew Carl was treating them to hugs and whirls in greeting as always.

Mia: Place Poppy for us. Is she on her knees with a roll of paper towels? Did she get out the mop? You did a good job showing us with auditory cues what’s happening with the kids, but we’re still in Poppy’s POV and we want to know her better.

“Nathan, that must be Uncle Carl. Go let him in, okay?” Poppy said as she donned protective gloves and bent to pick up the shards of broken glass.

Poppy’s heart ached, dreading yet anticipating another parade. When Peter was alive, she’d stood proudly on the sidelines, watching as he marched with the troops, straight and tall; so handsome in uniform, but he’d never march again.

Mia: Oh, now we get to the heart of it. Can you foreshadow this heartache? Maybe something about how her life had been shattered as thoroughly as the pitcher as she’s sopping up the mess? Once the kids leave, do tears catch her suddenly, the pain overtaking her without her being aware it was so close to the surface?

Lorraine: Sounds great! Can I use your wordage to layer in more emotion? I knew this was missing something but couldn’t put my finger on it. Thank you!

Mia: My Red Pencil Thursdays are always a smorgasbord. Take what you like and leave the rest.

“Ouch!” Her lack of concentration cost her. She grabbed the paper towel, ripping off several sheets and wrapping them around her injured hand to soak up the blood.

Mia: “Ouch!” gives us a chance to guess what happened. It’s an example of ‘showing.’ Her lack of concentration cost her is ‘telling.’ There is a time and place for each type of storytelling, but they rarely happen so close together. Pick one style here.

Lorraine: Ok, good call!

Footsteps sounded in the hall. She fumbled in a drawer, blood seeping through while she searched for tweezers to pull the broken glass out of her palm.

“Can I help?” asked a husky voice.

Mia: A husky voice is a sexy voice. If this is Uncle Carl, I assume he’s not her brother, but Peter’s. So soon after her flash of grief over her dead husband, this jarred me a bit.

Lorraine: “Can I help?” asked Carl from directly behind her.

“No, it’s nothing. I just got a little careless.”

“You’re bleeding all over the place. Here,” he said, turning on the faucet, “Hold your hand under the cold water. It’ll help slow the blood flow.”

Poppy did as told and could see the protruding sliver of glass once the blood cleared.

Mia: You don’t need to tell us that Poppy sees something. We’re already in her POV. Just describe what she sees and we’ll follow her around.

Poppy did as told and her stomach churned at the sight of a sliver of glass protruding from her palm once the blood cleared.

“May I?” he asked, holding his hand out for the tweezers.

Feeling slightly nauseous, she handed them to him. How could one little cut bleed so much?

Carl held her hand palm up and gently removed the offending glass. It had been a long time since a man held her hand. An uncertain flutter of desire skipped through her system, but she firmly tamped it down. This was Carl! Peter’s best friend!

Mia: Oh, he’s not even really Uncle Carl. It may just be me, but calling him “Uncle” when he’s not gives this a bit of a creepy factor. You’ve set this up as sort of a family saga since there are young children in the scene. Because of that, I’d drop of desire in the third sentence. We’ll get that she’s hyper-aware of Carl without it and a more subtle touch fits the tone of a woman whose heart is both grieving and still alive.

Lorraine: Right on the mark! Thanks again, Mia.

“Keep your hand in the water until I can find your first aid kit,” he instructed.

“I have one right here, under the sink.”

He bent and retrieved the little white box, but when he opened it, she could see it was nearly empty.

Mia: Again, don’t tell us she sees something.

Lorraine: Ok

“Sorry. Nathan, run to the upstairs bathroom and get the first aid kit from there. Okay, honey?”

“Sure, Mom.”

Mia: Usually I’m in favor of all the dialogue I can get, but we need to make sure it’s “fictional quality.” That means it’s not necessarily realistic. This dialogue sounds like it could actually happen, but it’s not interesting enough for the first 500 words of your story. Instead of “Sure, Mom” have Nathan dart away and scramble up the stairs, scuffing his good shoes, his shirttail working free of his baggy trousers. Poppy’s life is swirling out of control around her, along with her feelings.

Lorraine: Yes, I see what you mean here.

“Is Mommy going to be all right Uncle Carl?” Becky asked.

“Mommy’s going to be fine,” he replied.

Mia: How does Poppy feel when he says that? Her heart isn’t fine. She’s conflicted. Has she considered that Carl might be the one who truly will “make it all better?” Pull us into tight POV with Poppy and we’ll care more deeply about what happens to her.

Lorraine: More emotion…seems like I’ve missed a few opportunities for it.

Mia: Emotion is always the strongest hook a writer can plant.

“It’s just a tiny cut, sweetie. We’ll stick a bandage on it and it’ll be fine.”

“No more owie?”

“No more owie,” she assured her daughter.

Nathan returned with the first aid kit and Carl made short work of applying antibiotic ointment, then bandaging her hand.

Mia: If you’re going to set up a romance between them, give us some details. Are his hands warm, firm, callused? Is his touch surprisingly gentle for such a large man? Is he no-nonsense and ruthlessly efficient? Has he done this lots of times or does he use too much gauze and tape? Use the way he cares for her to show what sort of man Carl is.

Lorraine: Excellent advice! I can think it all I want but unless it gets onto the page, the reader doesn’t know. I’ll have to watch that.

“Keep that hand dry for a couple of days and it should heal nicely.”

“Thank you, Dr. Anders.”

Mia: Is he really a doctor or is she being facetious? If he is an MD, I’d like to know sooner.

Lorraine: She’s being facetious.

Mia: I like your cast of characters and the internal conflict you’ve set up with Poppy is a strong and compelling one.  Look for ways to add specific and memorable details and you’re on your way!

Lorraine: I’ve enjoyed working with Poppy and Carl although it is still very much a work in progress.

Thank you so much for having me and for critiquing my work, Mia. Now that you’ve taken the time to point out these things, I can easily see what areas need work to make this a better read.

How thoughtful of you to provide such a service. If you need another 500 to critique at any time, let me know. I value your input. Thanks again.

Mia: My pleasure, Lorraine. The point of RPT is encouraging writers think in new directions. If I’ve helped you do that, I’m happy.

You can find Lorraine at, Facebook, and Twitter.

Now it’s your turn to weigh in on this selection. Please let Lorraine know how you think she can improve her work.

9 thoughts on “Red Pencil Thursday

  1. To all who chose to comment and, of course, Mia,

    Thank you so much for your insight and suggestions. I know just where I need to go with this story. You definitely have me thinking in new directions.

  2. Lorraine And Mia
    I enjoy the Red Pencil Thursdays even though I got here Saturday.
    It would help to know if this memorial is for her husband. If so I would wait on any awareness of the “Uncle” until later. Show he is a dependable friend, strong, etc.
    Kids would have to change clothes. I can’t see how they wouldn’t get juice on them. Especially if she had to extract them from the glass and mess.
    While kids are changing, she can clean up the mess, cut hand etc.
    Keep up the good work.

    1. Mia says:

      Calling Carl “Uncle” bothered me more than a little. Did it strike anyone else that way or is it just me?

  3. Maurine H says:

    I like your opening and characters. The broken juice pitcher is something every mother has to contend with and it always seems to occur when you’re in a hurry and need to go somewhere. So how did the kids manage to not get any juice on themselves? If they didn’t get drenched in juice, you could have Poppy be thankful there wasn’t much juice in the pitcher. It’s been my experience though that usually the kids are a mess and it adds to the time constraint. I think you could use it in your story, maybe by Carl helping Poppy get the kids changed so they won’t be a mess going to the parade. You just need to let the reader know why they wouldn’t be a mess or we’ll have trouble following your story.

    I was thrown at first by the second “Nathan, that must be Uncle Carl.” I’m guessing it’s a typo and you only meant to have that statement once. If so, I think you should add Poppy donning the gloves to the first one.

    At the mention of a husky voice, my first thought was that the man wasn’t Carl because I figured she would recognize his voice, therefore, it would read “said Carl” instead of “said a husky voice.” Incidentally, if Carl is the hero, I like him already. And I can relate to Poppy. Good job creating these characters.

    You haven’t said how old the children are, but by the dialogue and how Poppy relates to them, I imagine Nathan to be older, maybe 9 or 10 and Becky younger, maybe around 5 or 6. Maybe you can describe them a little bit more (Mia’s description of Nathan as he runs is a good one for a nine or ten-year-old boy). When she reassures her daughter (“No more owie”) you could have Poppy reach down and gently touch her daughter’s hair or whatever other ways you see Poppy’s mommy actions.

    Your starting incident is attention-grabbing and realistic for a mother with young children. I like how you have the hero come in and take charge when your heroine needs it. Shows he’s someone she can depend on. It makes me want to know how things turn out for these two people. You have a wonderful beginning. Good luck with it!


    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Thanks for sharing your insights and suggestions, Maurine.

  4. Barb Bettis says:

    Hi Lorraine,
    Your opening grabbed me right off. I like how you’ve established us in Poppy’s everyday life–with a twist. An incident every Mom (and G/mom) will identify with. Everyone’s cleaned up, ready to go, and then something happens. Usually the least expected. I did wonder why they were dressed up in ‘formal attire’ for Memorial Day.

    And I must agree about Poppy’s reflection about Peter, then the immediate appearance of the ‘husky’ voiced Carl. Other than what Barbara and Mia mentioned, I couldn’t see anything else to mention.

    That said, the story sounds like a heartwarming tale of love and renewal. Good luck with it.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Agreed. Lorraine has set Poppy up as an “everywoman” type which works very well.

  5. Barbara Britton says:

    Hi Lorraine,

    You have a heart wrenching story here and an interesting one. I agree with Mia that we need to amp up the emotion, especially in Poppy, to show that sadness. I was confused at first when you mentioned formal attire for a parade. You could add emotion and ground us in setting to explain her dress.
    Also, frazzle Poppy more. We’ve got a glassy mess, injury, blood, rambunctious kids and a potential love-interest, so you have lots to work with here in the opening.
    As Mia said, you can give us a glimpse of Carl in his bandaging skills…Army medic? Clueless bachelor? Grew up in a large family with younger siblings?
    I really liked your story. Nice job.

    1. Mia says:

      Thanks for the suggestions, Barbara. I sort of glossed over the dress for the parade because Lorraine also said memorial service, but you’re right. We could use more detail here and in a way that reflects Poppy’s emotions.

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