Red Pencil Thursday

Red Pencil Thursday

Click image for details on how YOU can be a Red Pencil Thursday Volunteer!

Last Saturday, my DH and I drove to Connecticut so I could speak for CTRWA. What a creative, fun group of writers! And fortunately, they’re brave too. Several of them stepped forward to volunteer for Red Pencil Thursday and contemporary author Jamie Pope was the first. Unfortunately, I didn’t get her responses to her critique back in time to post them this morning, but if she weighs in, I’ll be sure to share her thoughts with you.

As always, my thoughts are in red. Please add yours in the comments section. If you’d like to volunteer for a future RPT, check out the details for how to submit.


Mia: Do you have a title yet? Even though when you sell, you may not be allowed to keep your working title, you need to come up with a great one. Sometimes, the title is enough to hook the editor into taking a more serious look at your work.

“Ellison? Is that you, honey?”

Not today. Please not today. Ellis Garret shut her eyes and prayed hard as she stood in line at Hot Lava Java. Really, really hard. Maybe if she appeased the right god she would be spared the torture that was Mrs. Agatha Toomey.

Mia: I’d underline Not today. Please not today. because those are Ellis’s direct thoughts. Underlining lets the copy editor know you’d like the text to be italicized.

Let me say a bit about names here. Jamie has nailed it with Mrs. Agatha Toomey. Even if her name wasn’t connected with the word torture, we’d know she’s not a pleasant person to be around. There’s something about the sound of her name that makes you want to spit tacks.

However, I’m going to ask you to think about Ellis. First, I thought it was a guy’s name. Then, I sort of graded down for it because it ends in an “s.” It makes every possessive awkward. Ellis’s gym shoes, Ellis’s boyfriend, Ellis’s nemesis… you get the idea. In the course of a manuscript, the reader will do a lot of mental hissing with all those “s’s.”

Jesus? Buddha? Zeus?

“Ellison? Yoo hoo!”

Are you there God? It’s me, Ellis. Can’t a girl get a miracle here?

Mia: Again, underline to indicate her thoughts.


Apparently not.

Mia: LOL! Too cute.

All she really wanted was a cookie and not just any cookie, but one of those super big Black and White cookies, with the yummy icing and the oh-so-soft cake-like texture. She knew she wasn’t supposed to be eating delicious giant cookies. It was only Tuesday. Cookies- any and all junk food were off limits today. She was supposed to be good on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and everyday that didn’t start with a Sat or a Sun. Thou shall not eat high calorie snacks on weekdays.

Mia: Very cute. The Thou shalt  pronouncement ties back to her frantic prayer. This is a great peek into Ellis’s secret thoughts about herself. We empathize with her rationalizations and weakness.

“Yes, Mrs. Toomey. It is me.” Ellis said plastering a smile on her face that she hoped looked genuine. She turned to face the annoyingly slender woman holding a cup of green tea. Is that you? Mrs. Toomey asked the question as if she didn’t know. Well, duh. Ellis wasn’t one of those girls that was easy to miss.

Mia: Too much time has passed since Mrs. Toomey asked if it’s her. I had to scroll back to see what you were referring to. Definitely not what you want your reader to do. You’ll need to cut this, even though it’s cute, unless you have Mrs. Toomey say something like “Well, I thought it was you.” closer to this inner dialogue. Again. Remember to underline whatever you want us to recognize as Ellis’s direct thought.

“I’m a little surprised to see you. What are you doing here?” Mrs. Toomey looked Ellis up and down with her judgmental eyes, seeming to already know why Ellis was there. Fat girls shouldn’t eat cookies. “Have you patched things up with Jack yet?”

Mia: Can you think of a more descriptive verb than looked? How about raked? Or strafed? Something that indicates an invasive scrubbing? If you make your verbs work hard you can cut some of the other stuff. We’ll already know Ellis is being judged without you having to say so.

Ellis had known the woman half her life. Agatha was Jack’s aunt and the person who set them up. She was also the owner of a very successful a weight loss clinic and her mother’s long time friend and jogging partner.

And she is an undernourished hag.

Mia: By switching tenses you have made this a direct thought. Really needs underlining.

“I wanted a cookie,” Ellis said ignoring the woman’s last question. She would run ten miles naked before she talked about her ex with this woman.

Mia: It’s also telling (and I mean that in a good way!) that she’ll admit to wanting a cookie before she talks about Jack. I like the way you’ve made this important.

“We sell cookies at my clinic. Very healthy cookies, dear.” Mrs. Toomey told her, a disapproving frown on her face. “They are sugar free,gluten free and we don’t use any butter or oil. Only natural sweeteners.”

Mia: Of course the frown is on her face. Where else would it be? Change this to Mrs. Toomey told her with a disapproving frown. Before you smack your forehead over this, let me assure you I catch myself in this sort of obvious mistake with dismaying regularity. The last pass through my most recent manuscript revealed a villain removing a blindfold from the heroine’s eyes. Where else would he have put a blindfold?

They must taste like poop.

Mia: I’m assuming this is her thought again.

“I really wanted a Black and White cookie and you don’t sell those,” Ellis explained, trying really hard to mind her manners. “Plus your shop is all the way on the other side of town. I figured it would be better for me to stop in and get one instead of robbing a Girl Scout.”

Mia: I really like Ellis. She’s wickedly funny, but I’m not sure how old she is. Sometimes she seems very young. Her fear over seeing Mrs. Toomey made me think she was in middle school. Now she’s trying to mind her manners. I spend 11 years in North Carolina, so I really appreciate good manners, but if Ellis is an adult, why is she giving Mrs. Toomey so much power to make her feel powerless?

“Excuse me?”

Ellis shook her head sadly. “I ate fifteen boxes of cookies last time I robbed a Girl Scout. And then I gained three pounds. And then I got arrested and they forced me to do all that community service and let me tell you, my big ass does not look good in neon orange.”

Mia: This outburst doesn’t sound sad. It sounds as if she’s finally decided to stand up for herself. If she’s going to explode, let’s see more of a build up to it. (However, just FYI, I’d gain a lot more than 3 pounds if I ate 15 boxes of cookies!) ;-) 

Mrs. Toomey stared at her horrified.

A deep male chuckle erupted behind her and Ellis shut her eyes for a moment choosing to ignore it. Not only did she fail spectacularly at not being rude but now she had brought attention to herself.

Mia: Lovely! This is a great capper for her outburst. You’ve done a great job of giving us one-two punches of comedy all through here. I’d definitely read on!

Jamie Pope’s Bio:

Jamie Pope is a school teacher by day and a romance writer by night. She writes humorous contemporary romance and is Monday’s Scribe on the Secrets of 7 Scribes.

BTW, Secrets of 7 Scribes is a terrific blog, chock full of writerly advice and issues. Several different subgenres of writing are represented. I urge you to check it out.

Now it’s YOUR turn to offer suggestions and support to Jamie. Thanks in advance for taking time out of your day to help an aspiring writer.

15 thoughts on “Red Pencil Thursday

  1. Ashlyn Chase says:

    Hi Jaime,

    (waves) I spoke to your group a while ago too. I wish I’d know you write such wonderful comedy! I love your voice!

    I agree with everything Mia said (not just because I’m her critique partner and all) but I want to point out that the italics disappearing happened to me when I posted my opening here.

    Mia? Did she have italics or underlines before her entry was posted? I can’t imagine all that internal dialog without it. Is there a way to fix the posting process so it doesn’t remove them?

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      It didn’t come through with any italics, so something may have been lost in translation. If the post is sent as part of an email, I get lots of $#)@ instead of apostrophes and such. If I cut and paste from a Word doc, we might have better luck, but it may also be that my blog program strips them out.

  2. Casey Wyatt says:

    Hi Mia & Jamie,

    I can attest that the rest of this story is just as great as the beginning. Jamie – I love your humor and your style. It totally appeals to the snark addict in me.

    Mia – thanks for the shout out to the Scribes. We appreciate it!

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      The 7 Scribes totally deserve their shout out!

    2. Jamie Pope says:

      Yes, ditto about the shout out! Casey thanks for being so supportive of my snarkiness.

  3. Marcy W says:

    This is fabulous! I love the humor … and I will respectfully disagree, I think the ‘rob a girl scout’ thing is hilarious! And the ‘shook her head sadly’ is fine with me, as I’d already gotten a visual of Ellis’ expressions as she faced Ms Toomey (yes, Mia, I agree, good name for her), and could just ‘see’ the fake-sadness about her supposed GS cookie attack. This book would make me laugh out loud, and that’s a good thing!!
    However, Jamie, I have to agree with Mia about Ellison’s name: first, I did think it was male; and the caveat about names ending in ‘s’ is a valid one. I like it being a bit unusual, and I’m sure you can come up with another that will do the same things for your intriguing character.
    And I can’t help but comment on your photo: your smile is totally contagious, and tells me a lot about how you can write with such a wry humor! I’m eager to see more of this, I’ve got a feeling the Ellis character will totally resonate with me … cookies, and ‘big ass in neon orange’, and all! :-) Thanks for sharing!

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Jamie does have a gift for vivid visuals–“big ass in neon orange” being a prime example.

    2. Jamie Pope says:

      Aww thanks! You are right about the name, but I am having a hard time changing it. I explain how she gets it later. I’m hoping it doesn’t put too many people off.

  4. Karri Lyn Halley says:

    I really enjoy the humor and sarcasm in your story. This opening makes me want to read more–like now. I need to know about that “deep male chuckle!”

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Jamie does have a good snark going on, doesn’t she?

  5. Barbara Britton says:

    Hi Jamie,

    I loved this opening. It is so fun. I could eat cookies everday so I can relate to Ellis.

    I really couldn’t find much wrong with this opening. I do agree with Mia that it would be nice to know her age. Is she a struggling teen, twenty-something or beyond?

    The last paragraph about robbing the girl scout made Ellis a bit unsympathetic. Can you really do that with a den mother around?
    You could say something more fun–like your tone–She’s so desperate right then that she’d grab a girl scout by the sash and shake the thin mints out of her (you get the idea). Just a suggestion.

    Great start!

    Shouting out to Mia and Tricia too.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      The visual of shaking the thin mints out of the GS is funny. However, shaking a kid is likely to offend because in real life it’s so dangerous. Comedy is often offensive. You have to weigh the risk–belly laugh vs possibly losing a reader.

    2. Jamie Pope says:

      Hi Jamie here,
      Ellis really wouldn’t ever do that. It was just a joke to get at Mrs. Toomey. That being said I’m really attached to the line and can’t find it in my heart to get rid of it.

  6. Tricia Quinnies says:

    Hi Mia,
    Thanks for Red Pencil Thursday,as a newbie writer I find your tips entertaining and helpful. I have two technical questions related to Jamie’s intriguing story. For direct thoughts do you underline or italicize? I’ve been italicizing. And the other question, the word “poop” throws me. Am I too old or have I changed too many diapers to appreciate this word? I’m judging a contest and have seen it several times and wonder if it’s a trendy new expression that I don’t get! Would like your opinion.
    Tricia Q.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Since I write historicals “poop” doesn’t come up often, but I have on rare occasion used the word “shite”.

      Whether to italicize or underline to show direct thoughts is determined by what your publishing house requires. Mine asks that I underline because it’s easy to miss italics in Courier New. My critique partner used to write for Ellora’s Cave and they asked her to use italics. To be safe, I’d underline until you know for sure what your publisher wants.

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