Red Pencil Thursday

Red Pencil Thursday

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

Please welcome another member of CTRWA as our RPT volunteer this week. It’s Joy Smith, author of romantic suspense. I continue to be blown away by the generosity of our volunteers. It’s scary to put yourself out there for a public critique, but because Joy and others are willing, they benefit everyone. I hope you’ll find something you can use in your own writing today. And please consider jumping into the hotseat as a volunteer!

A critique group is only as strong as all the eyes around the table. Be sure to add your comments and suggestions for Joy at the end of the excerpt.


Green Fire is an intriguing title, but if I try to guess the type of story from it, I come up with paranormal. Of course, the cover treatment will slant how a reader interprets a title, but without it, these words are giving me visions of tall, handsome elf-lords.

How much longer could he go on with this charade? Victor Novak felt the woman’s eyes slide over his body, taking in every inch of skin, every mole, and every crease. Out of habit, he squeezed his buttocks to make them look firmer and tighter and sucked in his stomach. He’d been slacking off on the workouts and it was showing.

By starting with a question, you’re telling us what’s going on with your hero before you show us. Also, any time you use the word “felt” you remove your reader from the action by a degree. Try it this way and see how you like it:

The woman’s gaze slid over Victor Novak’s body, taking in every inch of skin, every mole, and every crease. Out of habit, he squeezed his buttocks to make them look firmer and tighter and sucked in his stomach. He’d slacked off on the workouts and it showed.

Do you see how this version of your own words is more immediate and we’re sucked into a deeper POV? In addition to a little trimming, I changed eyes to gaze because I have a personal bugaboo about roaming body parts. Let’s keep the woman’s eyes in her head and let her gaze do the traveling. Notice I also changed some verbs to get rid of  –ing’s. Verbs that need helpers are inherently weak. Avoid them when you can.

Victor tugged on his black silk briefs, all of a sudden anxious to cover himself from the woman’s assessing eyes. The woman. That’s how he thought of Gloria Van Cleff, Eileen Rockefeller, and the other lonely matrons who had used him since he had been a clueless teenager.

Good emotional hook. Society doesn’t do as much to protect teenage boys from sexual predators as it does young girls, but the psychological damage is just as profound no matter the sex of the victim. I’m already pulling for Victor.

“Come back to bed, Victor,” his client moaned.

The woman was nice enough. She filled the loneliness that set in once his mother passed on, so he hadn’t minded kowtowing to her every whim, but now it was time to zero in on a long-term commitment.

Ok, did he have an unhealthily dependent relationship with his mother? This paragraph makes me wonder. If so, it’s a good hook. If not, I’m wondering why it’s mentioned here.

Without turning, Victor caught her reflection in the mirror behind the door—cow-brown eyes fixed on his ass—and noted the plump white envelope on her bed table. He checked his Rolex. His cab should arrive soon.

The cow brown eyes is a brilliant descriptor. It subtly shows what he thinks of her. The Rolex shows us he’s been successful at his chosen profession as a gigolo. Good job of showing!

“No time, my sweet.” He brushed his hair straight back from his face and secured it with an elastic band like the movie star Antonio Banderas in Zorro. The style was passé, but combined with his dark hair and olive skin, it gave him continental look older women seemed to like. Leaning closer to the mirror, he frowned. Even though he’d exfoliated in the shower, the fine lines around his eyes and mouth hadn’t budged.

I’d cut the movie star. If your readers don’t know who Antonio Banderas is, calling him a movie star won’t help matters.

You’re missing an article before continental look. Add the before continental. I find reading my work aloud sometimes helps me catch those missed words.

Victor turned from his reflection. A glycolic facial would knock off a few years, but then what? He couldn’t think about that now. Surely, the woman would come through today. The positive thought eased the tightness in his shoulders. He would quit that pay-nothing job shuttling trays on the cruise ship and continue to enjoy the perks of being a kept man.

It’s fascinating to see a guy fixated on aging for a change. However, I hope we’re going to see another goal for Victor besides finding a steady sugar-momma. In addition to the disdain he feels for his client, he seems full of self-loathing over his current gig. Does he really want to continue?

He would dress casually today, Victor decided. Colombia was off the northwest coast of South America, after all. Pushing past the Armani suits his client had supplied, he selected a Tommy Bahama floral shirt and tan silk slacks. He slipped into them, covering his bareness, and wiggled his bare feet into a pair of Gucci shoes.

We have an echo in the last sentence with bareness and bare. Again, reading aloud will help you catch that sort of thing.

The woman continued to watch him from her canopied king-sized bed. His clients liked him best when he was naked, but he knew he wore clothes well. Touching he emerald studs he wore stacked one over the other on his left earlobe for luck, he pasted on a smile. Showtime.

In the third sentence, after touching, I think you meant to say the instead of he. This really emphasizes the importance of an objective set of eyes. Along with my crit partner (the lovely and talented Ashlyn Chase) I depend on my insightful and thorough beta reader, Marcy Weinbeck (many regular readers of my blog will recognize Marcy as a frequent commenter) to help me find and fix this sort of error.

As he turned toward her, she said nothing, nor did she smile. Not a good sign. He’d have to pump up his charm or he’d be on the make again. Tipping up his chin, he took his time going to her, so she could appreciate him.

Very well written beginning, Joy. You’ve given us a great intro to your main character. Even though Victor is using the women who are using him, and I generally dislike users and those who allow themselves to be used, I find myself sympathizing with him because some of his concerns (aging, body issues) are innately feminine.

A word or two on having a semi-unlikeable hero at first. I think it’s totally workable. I did it with A DUKE FOR ALL SEASONS. How can we not dislike a powerful man who contracts a new mistress every three months and then dumps her like clockwork? The trick is giving the reader a reason to hope for better from your hero fairly early in the story. In DUKE, I used his friendship with Lord Granger to suggest something new is coming. Neville is a decent fellow who’s trying to steer Sebastian toward a meaningful relationship with a woman that will last instead of his current habit of brief serial monogamy.

Do you have something in the first chapter that gives us reason to hope Victor doesn’t really want to devote his days to being a boytoy? (Though my DH assures me he’s ready to be mine as soon as I can afford him! ;-))

Joy: Thank you for the insightful critique and positive comments about GREEN FIRE, which is not about elves. In Colombia, SA,where my novel is set, those who lust for emeralds (and the wealth they will bring) are said to have a “green fire” in their bellies. I’ve already implemented each of your suggestions-especially the first sentence, Much better!  I have worked to make my anti-hero likable- embarrassed about his means of money making, but can’t deny the feeling of wealth and prestige he has as a live-in companion. He longs for someone to care about him.

To answer your “boy toy” question–as the opening continues, Victor is fired and realizes he needs a new means of acquiring wealth–one that doesn’t require him selling his body. And–the man he is en route to visit in hopes of finding family just happens to reside in Bogota, Colombia, the heart of the emerald trade.(end of scene 1)    What begins as Victor’s hunt for a new career peaks when he is drawn in a world of crime and must make important choices about his future.   Yea, Red-pencil Thursday. Mia. You’re the best!

Joy Smith is the author of The Empty Nest Cookbook, The Perfect First Mate, and Kitchen Afloat.

Green Fire is a 75,000 word Romantic Suspense. In it, a high-end gigolo searching for a career in the Colombian emerald market must choose between attaining his dream of wealth and privilege and the love he never thought he deserved.

Now, I know Joy would welcome your comments! Thanks for helping us out today.

14 thoughts on “Red Pencil Thursday

  1. janet Sarno says:

    Joy, I’m so proud of you and the progress I see you ha’ve made from your last effort. Great to have a Mia and the other supporters in your circle. How i wish I were closeby.
    I’m hooked on your Victor already. He can leave his shoes under my bed any day. I’m good for the hugs I believe he needs and really wants far more than the sex he’s giving and getting.

    1. janet Sarno says:

      Joy, I’m so proud of you and the progress I see you’ve made from your last effort. Great to have a Mia and the other supporters in your circle. How I wish I were closeby.
      I’m hooked on your Victor already. He can leave his shoes under my bed any day. I’m good for the hugs I believe he needs and really wants far more than the sex he’s giving and getting.

    2. Joy Smith says:

      Thanks, Jan. You always were one of my best supporters.

  2. Joy Smith says:

    I can fix the green fire issue with a modifier. the confusion on location is cleared in the next paragraphs–this is not the whole scene, just the first 500. Joy

  3. Barbara Britton says:

    Hi Joy,

    This is a captivating opening. You make Victor sympathetic in a controversial profesion.

    I didn’t realize “green fire” related to the emerald earrings. You mention the emeralds are for luck, but like Marcy said, if they mean more to Victor, you may want to hint at that meaning.

    I thought Victor was on a cruise ship. Am I right?

    Thanks for doing RPT. I would definitely keep reading!

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Agreed. At the first mention of the emeralds in his ears, we need a connection to Green Fire.

  4. Gail Ingis says:

    A positive, productive critique. Mia took your words and gave it brevity,cadence and polish.

    I love the story and the concept and the opening sentence before and after Mia. It’s great he desires a strong,lustful body and facial features w/o lines. Although he wants to find other work will he still take care to look youthful? Must I wait until the book publishes?

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Like you, I was taken with his fixation on his appearance. I don’t think about guys doing that, but given his profession it would be important.

    2. Joy Smith says:

      No,Gail, just til I finish editing this bear. Want to beta read? Joy

  5. Marcy W says:

    Joy, this sounds like a fascinating story. Your beginning is certainly different from most romances I’ve read recently — which is a good thing! For me, settings are important, so finding a way to slip in that we’re in Colombia would add to the appeal. And, since many of us American readers won’t know this meaning of “green fire”, when Victor touches his emerald earrings for luck, if there was a way you could emphasize that — mention their importance to his future, perhaps? — that would help give me a peek into his motivations. (I’m hoping the cover art will feature emeralds prominently, and that will prime the pump, too.)
    I’m eager to read more of Victor’s story, so keep on writing, please! Thanks for sharing this beginning.
    And Mia, thanks for nice compliment :-)

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      You know I can’t do without you, Marcy!

    2. Joy Smith says:

      Thanks for the encouraging comments. Will fix the green fire issue. Joy

  6. Marian Lanouette says:

    Wow, that was a powerful critique. I’ve read most of the story and I love how it made the story stronger. Marian

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Marian–The principle to remember is that less really can be more. If we strip out extraneous words, our prose will shine.

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