Red Pencil Thursday

Red Pencil Thursday

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If it’s Thursday, it’s time for another RPT online critique. Pour yourself a real cup of coffee and pull out your virtual red pencil so you can give my volunteer the benefit of your advice and suggestions. The strength of any critique group is the diversity of viewpoints gathered around the table.  Thanks for adding your voice to the mix.

My volunteer today is a return visitor, Kimberly Meyer. She found the process helpful once before, so hopefully she’ll gain some new insights today as well.

The Real Farmwives of Harvey County

Mia: I love this title. It’s a clever take off on popular reality shows.

Fear gripped Andi Brynn hard as she white-knuckled the steering wheel, trying to navigate the snow covered road. Each new flake on her windshield ratcheted up her heart rate until she feared it would beat out of her chest. All of the strange crunches and swooshes her tires made as they rolled through the disgusting white stuff agitated her further.

Mia: Huzzah for white-knuckled. I love it that you turned a noun into a verb! But for some reason agitated her further doesn’t quite do it for me. For one thing it’s hard to be more agitated than having your heart beat out of your chest. Be careful you don’t overwrite here.

Kim: Maybe this would work better: The strange crunches and swooshes her tires made as they rolled through the snow agitated her. Each new flake on her windshield ratcheted up her heart rate until she feared it would leap out of her chest.

She’d never driven in snow before, but she should have expected crappy weather. It was Ohio in February, after all, and she was a smart girl. Or, so she thought. She had to admit this road trip wasn’t her brightest idea.

She followed the instructions of her GPS, making the next right so gradually that if she went any slower she’d be going backwards.

And still her car fishtailed.

Mia: Unless there’s ice beneath the snow, she won’t fishtail if she’s going this slowly.

Kim: Eek! I need to clarify right away she’s driving a sports car. I can’t believe I overlooked such an important detail.

Mia: If she’s driving a rear wheel drive, she’ll be less stable, but still she shouldn’t fishtail if she’s going as slowly as you describe. All my wintertime fender benders (and the Iowa Romance Novelists will remember the time I wrapped a car around a light pole on my way to speak to them!) have involved not snow, but ice.

The loss of control sent her careening into the past—the sudden shift of gravity as her car skidded sideways and flipped, the panicked screams, the smell of hot metal.

Mia: The Prime Directive of writing is “First, be clear.” This sentence confused me. Is she flashing back to a previous accident or having one now? I thought she hadn’t driven in snow before.

Kim: For some reason, all of my em-dashes disappeared. There should be one after past, and I think that alone would make it clear she’s thinking back.

Mia: I’d think long and hard before doing a flashback here. You want your readers to relate to your heroine right NOW, not in some further distant timeline.

Stop. She couldn’t think about that now. She only had a few miles left of her God forsaken road trip and she would make it.

Mia: So does she come to a complete stop? Is she in a ditch? Still on the road? I need more specific info here.

Kim: The ‘stop’ was intended to be internal dialogue—her telling herself to stop thinking about her previous accident. It would be easy to remove it though, and the point would still come across with the second sentence.

After a few deep breaths, she pressed the accelerator again. She was strong. She was woman. She was

Mia: If her train of thought it interrupted here I’d advise adding a – .

Kim: Again, a formatting issue with my em-dashes. There should be one here, after was,

A loud hip-hop song blared suddenly from her phone.

Kim: And again here —sick and tired of her cell ringing. Michael was calling. Again.

Mia: I think something must have gone missing from this sentence, but I like that you’ve introduced the reason that our heroine in making this desperate journey. She’s obviously running from Michael.

She couldn’t take it anymore. He was only making her edgier, escalating the tension of an already tough situation. She needed to be able to concentrate and she couldn’t as long as he continued to call. Letting go of the steering wheel was a bad idea, but if she heard his ring tone one more time, her head would explode. That would piss her off because today was a good hair day.

Mia: If your heroine is going be snarky, and it’s a good idea, she needs to start out that way. Everything has been tense and serious up till now. See if you can come up with a good snarky bit of dialogue to begin the story with. It’s always important to begin as you mean to continue.

Kim: In my original version of this, snark is coming out her nose. I will be sure to add the snark back in!

She snatched her phone out of the cup holder and held it up so she could see the screen while keeping an eye on the road. Thirteen missed calls, all from Michael, all within the last hour. Add that to the hundreds of calls he’d made over the past seven days since she’d walked out on him and geez. Didn’t his fingers hurt from all the dialing? Hadn’t he realized when she left she didn’t want to talk to him?

Mia: And yet we want her to take one more call so we know why things are going bad with this relationship. Consider letting them have another conversation here so we can understand what’s happened through dialogue instead of narrative.

Kim: I see your point, but there’s a reason why she wouldn’t take a phone call while driving in this. I wondered if something was lacking in this beginning, and now it’s very clear that is true. The extent of her fear and the reason why she’s about to pee her pants isn’t coming through.

Using one hand and her teeth, she slid the back off her phone, pulled the battery out, and tossed it over her shoulder. It landed somewhere in the back seat with a thump. She set her phone on the passenger seat and

Mia: Again, an interruption needs a – .

A speck of red in her peripheral vision caught her eye. She looked up just in time to see the stop sign.

Dread crippled her for a moment. Then she reacted too quickly. She slammed on the brakes. The ABS kicked in with a shake and a buzz. The rear of the car pitched to the side, sliding her around in the leather seat. Oh, God. She imagined herself in a tangled heap of twisted metal at the bottom of the embankment. Just like that day

Mia: If you cut the first two sentences in this paragraph and start with She slammed on the brakes, it will speed up the momentum, which is what you want with high action sequences.  If she has another accident in her past, can you give details to us in fragments instead of complete sentences? I think in this sort of situation, her memories would flood her mind in flashes and snippets.

Thanks for letting me take a look at your beginning.

Kim: Thank you Mia! There are actually two versions of this beginning—one way more intense than this, with more flashbacks to the past, and this version. Long story short, I’ve had a lot of mixed reviews from different people who have reviewed my first chapter. Some thought I came on too strong in my original beginning, so I cut back and started looking for outside input. You’ve already proven to me this isn’t the way to start, but I’d love to hear what others have to say.

And by the way, what you do for aspiring authors is wonderful. Thank you very much.

Bio: Kimberly Meyer lives on her family farm with her husband, two children, and an ornery St. Bernard.

Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/Kimberly_Meyer

Now it’s your turn to weigh in on Kimberly’s opener. Please leave your comments for her here and if you’re on a writer’s loop, consider letting them know about Red Pencil Thursday. It’s hard to put a value on a set of unbiased eyes on a writer’s work. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

4 thoughts on “Red Pencil Thursday

  1. Karri Lyn Halley says:

    I’d like to read the other version because the title and the idea of a snarkier start are very interesting! I enjoy your style and the intensity of driving in unfamiliar weather is a great place to start. I have to agree on the ice vs. snow issue. Ice, bad; snow, good. Too much ice here in Missouri!

  2. Kimberly Meyer says:

    Thanks for the input guys! I’m already working on amping it up!

  3. Marcy W says:

    Hi Kim,
    I’m not sure how helpful this will be, but my reaction to reading your excerpt and the comments by you and Mia is that your voice in the comments is really funny and appealing: “snark coming out her nose” is hilarious! The contrast between that and your excerpt is striking. I understand that might not fit the book you’re writing, but I’m just saying …
    As for the excerpt itself: I found it confusing (even apart from the formatting problems). The action in the ‘now’ is good, the tension comes through clearly even if not the reason for it, apart from the weather; but when you add in the memories from a previous accident and then the troubles with Michael … it all gets a little muddied to me. They seem to have equal importance to the story, and that’s too much for a beginning. Unless the story demands it, could you downplay the previous accident some? A mention of her being more nervous while driving in adverse conditions because she’d had a bad experience in the past: would that be enough, at least for now? Then focus more on the problems with Michael, which is what I assume is the story is about.
    I agree with Mia and Barbara Britton about the details. Anyone who’s driven in weather like that will feel “off” when they read your beginning. The tension is good, but her actions aren’t quite right, especially the battery-out-of-the-phone — unless she’s so scared by Michael or something else that she’s not thinking at all!
    Your beginning definitely draws me in; I want to know what’s got her in this state. So keep writing!! And thanks for sharing.

  4. Barbara Britton says:

    Hi Kimberly,

    I think you have a good opening. I would rearrange a few things as Mia said.

    First of all, ice is scary, snow is a friend. I’m a former California girl who has learned to drive in snow, but I don’t like ice. The pings of ice crystals would add more tension than snow.
    I would also move her accident flashback to the end of your posting when she misses the stop sign. As Mia said, it slows the immediacy of the moment.
    I agree with Mia, that I would have her take the call. Give us a glimpse of who this guy is and why she broke up with him. If he has been bothering her for a week like this, she should be at the end of her rope (I would be).
    And being in Wisconsin, I would never disable my cell phone in an ice storm. She may toss it in the passenger seat, but ripping the battery out takes up too much time when your trying to drive on ice.

    Anyone living in snow states, would identify right away with your heroine. Tense opening.
    Nice job.

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