Red Pencil Thursday
When I was in middle school, an English teacher accused me of turning in a story written by one of my parents. She didn’t think a kid was capable of writing that well. My volunteer today is proof positive that there are other young people with a flare for words too. Laura Kantore is only 15, but you’d never know it from her command of language and clear prose.
As usual, my comments to my volunteer are in red. Laura’s responses are blue. Please add yours in the comment section.
Mia: If something is muted, it’s softer than usual, faded perhaps. This title gives the sense of love that’s not quite what it should be. Is that what you meant to convey?
Laura: Yep, that’s pretty much what I wanted. The main character ends up falling in love with the “bad guy”, so their relationship is always slightly messed up and at times almost fades away. Also, the main character is mute, so I tried to incorporate that into the title. I’ll probably end up changing the title eventually, but for now I think I’ll stick with this one.
Mia: I’m so not a math person. It took me a minute and reading ahead to realize this was a problem from your heroine’s text book. Are the numbers decimals or are you multiplying, then dividing? I’m so confused. Oh, math is so not my thing! (Ask my DH, the man who took calculus in college “for fun.”)
Laura: Oh, shoot! The formatting must have gotten messed up when I emailed this. On my laptop, it looked exactly like a multiplication problem from a textbook. I’ll have to figure out a way to simplify the problem or keep the formatting from changing. I’ll probably just simplify it to make sure people don’t get confused.
Kaia glared down at her math book. Three years ago, she would have cursed at the impossibly complex problem. But now a perturbed sigh was all she could manage.
Mia: Well, I’m with her right away. I’d curse the math too! I like her name and you’ve signaled that something has changed in her life since she can’t seem to muster more than a sigh.
Laura: I’m glad you like the name! I was worried it was too odd and would turn readers off. But her unusual name actually ties into the plot.
She closed her eyes to block the problem from sight. Around her table, the café bustled with sound; the grinding of coffee machines, the clattering of cups, the soft hum of the heater. And then there were the conversations; some boisterous, others solemn. All off limits to her.
Mia: Excellent use of auditory cues to place us in the coffee shop. I like the way you’ve used specific details to call up the feel of the place. Your last sentence, All off limits to her, is a good hook. It makes us want to know why she’s a social pariah.
Laura: Thanks! I’m glad that last line hooked you.
“Do you mind if I sit here?”
Her eyes snapped open. She couldn’t have kept them closed if she wanted to; there was something unusual about the voice behind the question, an almost sickly sweet tone that was at the same time alluring and disturbing.
Mia: I’m very attuned to voices, but I’m having a hard time hearing this one. Is it male or female? I can’t imagine sickly sweet being alluring. I think the problem is that you’re tellling instead of showing. What does the voice sound like? A rumbling purr, a nasal twang, a nervous sing-song? We need more specifics.
Laura: This character’s (Jacoby’s) voice is very hard to describe, and now that you point it out, I realize I didn’t do a great job of explaining it. This is an Urban Fantasy novel, and in it Jacoby isn’t human. So, his voice is extremely odd and something that would definitely stand out. I’ll need to revise this to make sure his odd voice comes across more clearly.
A teenager about her own age stood beside her table, one of his hands resting on the empty chair across from her. Besides having sharply handsome features most guys would envy, he looked normal. It took Kaia a long second to realize the silky voice and inquiring words belonged to him.
Mia: Most guys would never admit to noticing, let alone envying how another guy looks. That sounds more feminine to me. Now you’ve said his voice is silky. To me, that says he sounds like Alan Rickman, a man whose voice grows both more menacing and more compelling the softer he speaks. Is that the voice type you had in mind?
Laura: Good point about the envying thing. I’ll definitely have to change that. And that’s not exactly the kind of voice I had in mind. Jacoby’s voice would sound strangely silky and sweet no matter how loud or soft he spoke. It would just sound pretty unnatural.
She made a noncommittal gesture toward the empty chair and forced her attention back to her algebra book. He wasn’t worth her time. Well, he was worth her time. She’d die to be the sole interest of his ice-blue eyes. But she knew he wouldn’t consider her worth his time. Even the loneliest geeks at school didn’t give her a second glance.
Mia: I like the way she sort of argues with herself. He’s not worth her time. No, he really is. Then the admission that she’d die to be his sole interest is a great peek inside her heart and you manage to sneak in another tidbit about his appearance as well. I really like seeing this sort of thing salted into the body of the story instead of giving a several paragraph catalog of attributes.
Laura: Thank you!
She absently listened to the empty chair scrape across the tile floor. A quick glance up confirmed that her table guest had flipped his chair around.
He sat in his backward seat and shot her a smile. The corners of his lips were vaguely uneven, just enough to give his expression a perfectly friendly look. “Hey,” he said. “I’m Jacoby.”
Mia: How about he straddled his backward seat? It’s a more descriptive verb than sat. Making your verbs work hard will keep your prose crisp. Be careful about using too many –ly words. Just for grins circle every adverb and see if some of them are superfluous. If your nouns are specific and your verbs active and descriptive, you’ll need fewer modifiers.
Laura: Great advice, thanks so much!
Well, at least I’m not the only one in the room with a crazy name. She nodded, and then turned back to her homework.
Mia: Underline Well, at least I’m not the only one in the room with a crazy name. This lets the editor know you want it italicized because it’s Kaia’s direct thought.
Laura: I originally had it italicized, along with a few other sentences in here. But it looks like all the formatting was lost through my email! Underlining sounds like a great idea, because I think that formatting is easier to keep.
His chair creaked as he leaned forward. “Do you have a name?”
He chuckled at her response. The sound was even sweeter than his voice. “Well, do I get to hear it? Or are you the local Jane Doe?”
Mia: Sweet again. I don’t know that I’ve heard a guy with a sweet voice. Not one whose voice has changed anyway.
Laura: Yeah, it’s just kind of an unnatural tone. His voice is supposed to be the first hint to the reader that he’s not exactly human.
She looked back up from her book. He was still smiling at her, his blue eyes bright with friendliness despite their icy color. Kaia, she wanted to tell him. I’m Kaia, and you’re extremely hot. Instead, she just shrugged.
The cheerfulness behind his smile dulled. “Are you mute?”
Mia: I almost hear him finishing that question with “or just unfriendly?” as if he’s making a lame joke. I’m not sure I’d be quick enough to realize someone refused to speak to me simply because they might not be able to.
Laura: I agree, most people might not immediately jump to the conclusion that she’s mute. But in the novel, Jacoby already knows a lot about Kaia when he meets her, including the fact that she’s mute. He’s just putting on a show of pretending like she’s a stranger to him.
She gave a quick nod and hoped he didn’t notice her cheeks reddening. Three years had passed since the accident. But no matter how much time passed, she still couldn’t get used to answering that question.
He bit his lip for a single second. “Sorry to hear that. That must be rough.”
Mia: If he was a bit flippant with his question about her not answering him, this would give him an opportunity to score some points with an apology.
Laura: That’s a good point. I’ll include that in revisions.
If his glacier eyes hadn’t been so hot, she probably would have flipped him off for his understatement. Transitioning in a matter of seconds from reigning champion on the debate team to perfectly mute had been rough. Living with the overpowering silence for three years had been absolute hell.
Mia: Since Jacoby says it must be rough, Kaia needs to one up that with more than rough. It’ll give extra punch to your last sentence.
Laura: Okay, I’ll revise that, too!
Mia: Laura, I’m blown away by your ability to set the scene and create such sharply drawn characters at only 15. You’ll be a wicked awesome writer when you’re my age! I can’t wait to see what you do with your talent.
Laura: Thanks so much! I really appreciate the time you took to look over this and critique it. Your comments are very helpful!
Laura’s Bio: First and foremost a reader, Laura Kantore is also a writer of YA Urban Fantasy novels. She has a strange obsession with finding grammatical errors in published novels, which is probably why her career goal is to become an editor. She is currently fifteen years old and has been writing for two years.
Well, that was pretty amazing, wasn’t it? I hope you’ll leave a comment, suggestion or word of encouragement for Laura.