Red Pencil Thursday

Red Pencil Thursday

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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.

Muted Love

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.

Chapter One

92∙1015∙1/4 ∙1928=

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?”

She nodded.

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.

19 thoughts on “Red Pencil Thursday

  1. librarypat says:

    It is so nice to see the work and “hear the voice” of a literate young writer. It is discouraging to hear so many young people talk and read their writing. Laura, you have gotten some good feedback from Mia and other visiting authors. Listening to their suggestions will improve your already admirable work.
    Best of luck. I expect to see your work on the shelves of libraries and book stores in the not too distant future.

  2. Look out world, here comes Laura, and we can all say we met her before she was published! Big atta girl to you, Laura, for putting your stuff out there where wild beasts howl and roar (aka other writers can see it).

    Coupla things: The math problem you laid out is not complex. It’s simple multiplication (unless you consider the 1/4 a dose of division rather than multiplying by .25). By ninth grade most of the bibliophiles have had at least a year of algebra, so I’d at least put in some variables, maybe make it solving simultaneous equations.

    If you want to impress the daylights out of your readers, open an Algebra II text and copy a problem.

    Second point, which is equally nit picky. “All off limits to her,” doesn’t just modify conversations, it modifies everything that has come before (grinding this, clattering that, humming the other). This confused me, and it’s your first oblique reference to her muteness so you MUST be specific.

    Maybe “each word off limits…” or “every discussion beyond her grasp.” This problem of antecedent consequent agreement (what exactly does a pronoun refer to), indicates a writer who is living inside her scene–you KNOW what “all” referred to because you could hear every sound in that cafe and catch snatches of each conversation as you sat at your computer.

    You have a natural gift for setting, your initial efforts at pacing are right on, your prose is appropriate to your readers, and tossing your pearls before this crowd suggests you’ve got guts aplenty. Now all you have to do is never, never, never give up and we’ll be seeing this book on the shelves.

    1. Mia says:

      Listen to her, Laura. Grace recently hit the NY Times bestseller list!

  3. Clair Carter says:

    Hi Laura
    I loved your scene setting. And I loved the line “She’d die to be the sole interest of his ice-blue eyes.” That whole paragraph took me right back to my teenage years! I can imagine it’s quite tricky to describe a voice that is so otherworldly and still make it attractive, but Jacoby is already coming across as very appealing. I would love to read more. You have a real gift and I’m sure you will be a successful author. Keep on keeping on!

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Ah, yes. The angst of adolescence when everything is a life or death matter. Wouldn’t go back to high school on a bet. It was hard enough the first time.

  4. Brenda says:

    I’d read your book. I like Urban Fantasy and your opening draws me in. Thanks for being brave enough to post it.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Brenda, I popped over to your blog the other day and really enjoyed The Otherworld Diner.

  5. Marcy W says:

    Thanks, Laura … for writing and for sharing. You’re smart, brave, and clearly a superior young woman — and not only because you’re the first person I’ve ‘met’ who shares my slightly odd hobby of looking for (and finding an amazing number of) grammatical errors in books!! I’ve concluded that best-selling authors’ books are not edited at all beyond spell-checkers; one wonders what all those Ivy League English graduates are doing for a living, since publishing houses clearly are not hiring entry-level editors … I think you have a better chance with writing! :-)
    Anyway, I was immediately caught up in Kaia’s story, and am eager to read more. Having your heroine be mute is going to allow for all kinds of interesting circumstances, and I already like her. Jacoby I’m not sure about yet, but am intrigued. Please be sure to let us know via Mia when your book is available.
    Mia, thanks for bringing us this fresh new voice; what a great opportunity for Laura to learn from the writers who read your blog, and to be encouraged by us readers. I so enjoy how your generosity spreads ripples a long way across the world …

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Thanks, Marcy. You know how I appreciate your keen eye and good taste.

  6. R. A. Gates says:

    Great beginning, Laura. I agree with Wanda. Find a good description of his voice and leave it. I know you want to emphasize his voice, but the changing descriptors confuse me and pull me out of the story.

    You describe Kaia’s frustration very well. I already sympathize with her and want to read the rest of her story. Great job!

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Good point, R.A. Too many different takes on Jacoby’s voice, or on any character’s single attribute for that matter, will pull a reader out of the story.

  7. I’m VERY impressed! You’re great with description — using the senses. You have a wonderful writing career ahead of you:)

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      I was very excited when I read Laura’s excerpt. If she hadn’t told me her age, I’d never have guessed.

      Thanks for dropping by, Jennifer.

  8. Wanda says:

    I could visulize the coffee shop really well and her feeling of being left out. I would also agree you describe his eyes and voice too often. Work on strong descriptions and you only need them once. Great job!

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Absolutely right, Wanda. Say it right and say it once.

  9. Barbara Britton says:

    Hi Laura,

    I’m impressed. I have a fifteen-year-old son, and he’d be impressed too.

    I agree with Mia’s comments. I only have a few nit-picky ones of my own. I write YA, but not UF. Most of my characters have special needs, but none have been mute.

    I did not understand the math problem in your opening. The decimals made me think it was a code. I am used to the “x” for times symbol–if that’s even what the decimal means. So, run this by your teen friends and see what they pick up (math vs. ?)
    Your description of the coffeehouse transported me to Starbucks. I would lose the “soft” before hum of the heater. With all that clanking going on it would be hard to hear.
    You describe Jacoby’s eyes quite a bit w/ color. I would pick one shade of blue, mention it, and then not revisit it. Same with his voice. Nail the sound of his voice with something a teen can identify with, and move on. We know Jacoby’s hot, so even if his voice was unusual, a lot of girls would overlook that if he’s kind (which it seems he is–instant like factor).
    I would also cut the thitd “worth his time” statement and have the sentence read “But she knew he wouldn’t consider her.” That has the same power without the re-use of worth his time.
    I would also cut the beats in your dialogue, so it flows faster. You mention his mouth before he speaks. Just have him speak unless he’s doing something weird or there’s some physical feature we need to know about.

    I like your opening. Your characters are likable, interesting, and unusual, so I want to read more. Great Job!

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Excellent catches, as always.

  10. Barb Riley / Riley Darkes says:

    Hi Mia! I haven’t stopped by in a while, but I saw your FB post and wanted to see what a 15 year old can offer the world! ;) Impressive, WTG Laura!

    I’m writing a YA UF as well, and I sympathize with writing a mute character – my MC is deaf, so I have to be very aware not to include any sounds, and I have to be creative in my dialogue and communication. It’s tough, because I’m staying true to her character that she’s not a master lip-reader, she’s just kinda ok. Anyway, great excerpt, I think Mia had some great, constructive points for you to consider.

    Good luck!

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Glad you popped by Barb. Don’t be a stranger.

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