Red Pencil Thursday

Red Pencil Thursday

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A writer’s life is filled with all sorts of things that need to be done. For example, I just finished the final edits on Touch of a Lady (my upcoming Rock*It Reads novella. It’s a prequel for the Touch of Seduction series. It’ll be out later this month!). I’m polishing up the manuscript for Romanced by a Rake (the 2nd book in the Royal Rakes series) and brainstorming for a really fun Christmas novel set in Scotland for release October 2013. Then yesterday, the final copy edits for Waking Up with a Rake (The first Royal Rakes book due out January 2013) came back for review. Whenever I’m tempted to be overwhelmed, I focus on the writing and concentrating on craft gets me over the hump.

Our volunteer today offers some great examples of how unique details can set a tone, scene and character with an economy of words. My comments are in red. Tricia Quinnies’s responses are blue. Please add yours at the end of the post.


Lake Bluff Next Right

Mia: I get that she’s sailing past her exit, but I had to think about it for a minute. Could you have said something like this:

The Lake Bluff sign disappeared in her rear view mirror.

“Darn.” She missed the exit sign fiddling with ancient knobs in the museum’s rust-bucket. Instead, Claire found an eight-track tape player and a cigarette lighter, neither a help on an eighty-degree Indian summer day.

Mia: Way to set the scene. If the vehicle has an 8 track, it is a dinosaur.

After Larry had given her the VW key that morning, she drove out of the university parking lot and sticky heat blasted her. And on the freeway, she couldn’t reach to open the other window for a cross breeze. Jeez, wasn’t rolling down a window illegal and dangerous, like texting, while driving?

Mia: We know it’s not illegal to roll down a window. Maybe Claire should wonder why it’s not instead. I really like the way you’ve given us a good tight POV. We’re clearly in our heroine’s head and I like her already.

Tricia: Hi Mia, I pulled the rolling down the window because I think the 8-track player does the trick. But the old VW bus is sort of a character on its own which becomes pivotal at the end of the story and I may find a place to slip in the window rolling.

“This is worth it.” She tugged the turtleneck from around her neck and swung her hair to cool down. After this exhibit, I won’t have to play Larry Chambers’ indentured art servant anymore.

Mia: Did she take the sweater off? Tugging at her turtleneck won’t remove it, but the from around seems to indicate it did. I’m not getting the swung her hair thing. I have visions of head banging behind the wheel. If you mean she lifted her hair off her neck, state it plainly. Remember the Prime Directive: First, be clear.

Tricia: Sounds good.

Mia: Also a bit of housekeeping. You need quotation marks around “After this exhibit, I won’t have to play Larry Chambers’s indentured art servant anymore.”

Tricia: Oh, thank you. How many times have I looked at that statement?

Mia: I’d like the grammarians in the group to weigh in, but I believe you must have the extra s after Chambers when indicating a possessive. It’s only when the word is plural, like dogs’ collars, that you get to leave off the extra s. This is why I think long and hard before giving a character a name that ends in ‘s’. Of course, sometimes a character resists all my efforts to change his name.

Tricia: Drat, I’m not a fan of the s’s ending. Can’t wait to hear what the grammarians have to say. Since Lawrence is my bad guy maybe I can find a different last name. I’m always on the hunt for a good bad-guy name.

She glanced over her shoulder and exited. Bungee cords and carabiner hooks scraped across the van’s cavernous belly. Heading east on Wisconsin County N toward Reid’s Studio, the lady on the GPS announced ten miles to Sinjin Reid’s residence on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Mia: Oh, so she didn’t miss the exit. My bad. Since you said she missed the sign, I assumed she’d missed the exit. Of course, with GPS I regularly ignore signs anyway.

Love the auditory detail of the bungee cords and carabiners. You’re showing us that either Claire or Larry, whose vehicle this is, or both are risk takers. Beautifully done!

Tricia: Thank you. I’ve trimmed and re-trimmed the first two pages and the bungee cords and carabiners always make the cut.

Claire bit her lower lip. The prospect of meeting, the rock star of modern art, painter Sinjin Reid, reduced her to a giddy fan. He was a distinguished artist, not a teen idol. But she admired his work as though his oil portraits and sculptures were akin to top-forty hits, she lurved them.

Mia: No comma after meeting. Put a period after hits and make She lurved them it’s own sentence. Underline lurved to let the copy editor know this should eventually be in italics.

Tricia: Lurved is my shout out to my favorite movie, Annie Hall. But I’m not sure if it’s too obscure or even polarizing. I wanted to make sure Claire is read as lighthearted or beatnik. My voice tends to get snarky.

Mia: Snarky sells.

Her phone rang with the Funeral March. She batted her silver chandelier earring out of the way with her headset and slipped it on. “Hello, Lawrence.”

Mia: Ah. Having her call him “Lawrence” changes the picture for me. Now he seems older and if she set his ring tone to be a Funeral March, we know she doesn’t like him a lot. Those bungee cords and carabiners surely aren’t his.

Tricia: I’m think I’m going to stick with Lawrence on the first two pages. Claire refers to him as Scary Larry, but at this point it’s too confusing. Any thoughts?

Mia: I think readers would connect Lawrence with Larry pretty quickly.

“Ms. Raffen, have you retrieved Mr. Reid’s steam punk… ah…I mean the sculpture as of yet?” He tripped over his words then snorted his ever-present phlegm back up into his sinus cavities. Claire grimaced out the window as she sped past a pasture of grazing cows.

Mia: Ew. We don’t like him a lot either. No one likes phlegm.

Tricia: I’ve considered changing phlegm because it is so…yuck. But it does do the trick.

“I’m close to Reid’s studio. I finished installing the exhibit yesterday and readied the appropriate wall space for Coal or Steam. Reid’s tardy piece won’t delay the opening Thursday night. And his donation will find its new home into Lafferty’s permanent collection after the exhibit closes.”

“There’s still the question why the museum or you, didn’t receive Reid’s, Punk…or Steam sculpture directly.”

Mia: Think you don’t need the comma after you or Reid’s. I’m wondering if the titles of the art works need to have single quotes. Again, if one of the grammarians in our group could please weigh in…

Tricia: Grammarians please help. I’ve searched through grammar books and haven’t found an example of the title of a piece of art. I likened it to a title of a song and put it in italics. And thank you Mia for the comma intervention. I have a love/hate relationship with that little bugger. Another question for anyone out there interested in Steampunk. I’ve seen it capitalized sometimes and not others, and as two words. Through the ms I’ve tried to stay consistent, one word capitalized.

“I’m sure it’s just a hang-up in the paperwork. I left a message for him to say I would be happy to pick up the sculpture. I did the same for the Finster donation– drove to Atlanta to get it. Remember?”

She said it with more perk than Katie Couric, but neglected to mention that Reid hadn’t answered or returned her calls or, that his wife, who’d made the donation, hadn’t either. The glitch tempered Claire’s excitement, but Larry wouldn’t find out that tidbit.

Mia: Good. The first indication that there’s trouble on Claire’s horizon.

“I need to remind you that I’m the head curator on this exhibit. Mr. Reid is an artist whose repertoire of oils are beyond a fleeting trend that punks and steams. This museum cannot spare to lose him or a long-term legacy with his body of work. If you’re unable to procure this singular piece for your new-age dog and pony

Mia: And unfortunately, we had to cut off mid-sentence due to my strict 500 word limit. But let me say that I really like where this is heading. You’ve given us sharply delineated characters, set up a conflict—several actually—and treated us to close POV and some masterful showing rather than telling. Excellent!

Tricia: Thank you Mia! This has been fun and I really appreciate it.  Actually, I re-wrote the first page to clear up the confusion over the exit and went with your suggestion, clarity first.


Tricia Quinnies and her dogTricia Quinnies knew when she finished reading Perfect by Judith McNaught, she wanted to write a romance. But her three young boys kept her happily busy. In 2009, she carved out time for herself, usually at four in the morning, and set about writing her first romance. It was a love story inspired by her college time in London, England. At last check, it’s under the bed, waiting for a rewrite. A few stories later, she found writing contemporary romances and setting them closer to home, on the shores of Lake Michigan, much easier. But her heroes, of course, were still British because of their sexy accent and quirky expressions. Cheers and lovely make her sigh. While not writing, she tries to keep up with very social teenage sons, one sweet husband of twenty years and a mini long-haired dachshund that protects her ferociously.

Now it’s your turn to share your thoughts with Tricia. What suggestions or encouragement do you have for her? And if you’re one of our Grammar Geeks, please impart your secret knowledge!

25 thoughts on “Red Pencil Thursday

  1. Rickie Hohlt says:

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  2. I had the same thought as Berinn Rae– that “Darn.” She missed the exit sign is a POV break, because it requires us to know something that Claire is unaware of. Also, you’re mixing tenses in After Larry had given her the VW key that morning, she drove out of the university parking lot; stick with past perfect there (After Larry had given/she had driven) to indicate that the giving and the driving out of the parking lot were both completed before this scene began.

    Other than those nit-picks, I thought you did a beautiful job. The concrete details like the eight-track player, the carabiners, and the sound of scrapes on the van floor are all vivid touches that paint a clear picture: this is no luxury vehicle Claire is driving, and she’s a woman on a mission. Nicely done.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Good catch about the POV and shifting tenses, Alyssa. Oh, how I love it when the grammarians come out to play!

      1. Tricia Quinnies says:

        Thanks Alyssa. And Mia. I’m a grammar geek and I’m not alone! Yay!
        Thanks for all the help everyone.
        Any takers on the synopsis!? Ha! :)

  3. Jeanie Ryan says:

    I rely on the Chicago Manual of Style.

    Whether to end a possessive with ‘ or ‘s is section 7.19-7.22.

    Here is when you use just the ‘ besides plurals
    7.20 when the ending sound is eez
    7.21 when the ending is an unpronounced s
    7.22 when the next word begins with an s

    Since none of these apply, use ‘s

    Section 8.206
    Titles of paintings, drawings, statues and other works are italicized. Names of works of antiquities are usually set in roman. Title of photographs are enclosed in quotation marks

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Well, since Chambers ends in a “z” sound, I guess we wouldn’t need the extra “s” here. Good to know.

      I’m copying and pasting this response into a Grammar & Punctuation Rules Word.doc for future reference. I’m sure I’ll wonder about it again sometime. Thanks, Jeanie!

      1. Tricia Quinnies says:

        Thanks Jeanie and Mia.

      2. Jeanie Ryan says:

        Not “z”, “eez,” like Ganges’, Euripides’, Xeres’

        Any time you have a grammar question, you can contact me Mia. If I don’t know it, I can look it up. I keep the Chicago Manual of Style next to my computer, though the best resource I have is my high school English Grammar and Composition book. I recommend everyone get one at a used bookstore.

  4. Berinn Rae says:

    Very interesting first 500 words. The character drew me right in, and I’m glad Nynke addressed the grammar questions as copy editing is definitely not my forte. To throw out an opinion on the use of “s’s”, I believe the “s” was omitted traditionally, but it’s now more commonly accepted to be added for most modern writing.
    I know you’ve rewritten some of this, but her very first word nagged me. Was she saying, “darn” because she missed the sign? But, if she missed the sign, how’d she know she missed it? It felt like an omniscient POV, where the rest of the scene didn’t have that feel.
    Anyway, thanks so much for sharing. You have a great voice, and your heroine has spunk. I really enjoyed reading it.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      The reason I questioned it is because one of my manuscripts recently got flagged with extra added s’s by a copy editor. If it’s not supposed to be that way, guess they don’t know everything. Or maybe there are two schools of thought and it depends on the publishing house’s choice of style…

    2. Tricia Quinnies says:

      Thank you. I did cut out the word darn so readers were in Claire’s head without any confusion.

  5. Barbara Britton says:

    Hi Tricia and Mia,

    I really liked this opening, Tricia. I think we read it in Milwaukee and it received a positive review. Your characterization is spot on. I’m glad Nynke researched the grammar as that is not my strong point. Good to clear up the exit miss as that had me wondering too.
    I do not know the terminology of the art world so some of my questions may be irrelevant. Claire mentions wall space for “Coal” and “Steam” and then Larry refers to “Punk” and “Steam”. Could Larry just refer to sculptures?
    Also, I would have Larry state plainly that he is the curator of the exhibit and not state “I need to remind you”. He seems like a pompus guy who would say exactly what his position is.
    I also didn’t understand “a fleeting trend that punks and steams.” Could that sentence end with trend, and the art references be explained later? My inexperience with the art world is showing.
    Great job in building tension between Claire and Larry and hinting that this art idol is going to be a problem. Love it!!

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      The WISRWA group really rocks!

      1. Tricia Quinnies says:

        WisRWA rocks! A great group of supportive and talented writers!

    2. Tricia Quinnies says:

      Thanks Barb. I’ve been looking at these words a lot lately so it’s wonderful to get your outside perspective. I want Larry to sound pretentious, pompous and condescending. Not easy in the first 500 without distracting from Claire and Sinjin. Ha.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Thanks for dropping by.

    2. Tricia Quinnies says:

      Thank you Mia C.

  6. Rosie L. says:

    Hi Tricia & Mia,

    From the first sentence to the last sentence, I was instantly drawn into the story. I’m also very eager to learn more, and where it’s going! I like how in the beginning you describe the heat as “sticky” because I feel as though I’m in that character’s body, and can feel it for myself. Great description!

    I also love your picture, very beautiful! Good job Tricia, and I can’t wait to read more!

    Rosie L.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Tricia makes her details work hard–sticky conveying both temperature and a clammy sensation. I love that she uses the sound of bungee cords and carabiners rattling around, not the sight of them to let us know they are there.

      1. Tricia Quinnies says:

        Thanks Mia and Rosie.

  7. Nynke says:

    Hi there! I couldn’t resist the call for grammarian input. I looked it up to double-check, and you can in fact choose to make a possessive out of a name ending in -s by adding only an apostrophe. Apparently, it’s done especially often in classical and literary references, so you’re in good company! By the way, Mia, in your next comment you spelled possessive ‘its’ with an apostrophe…

    Italicizing titles of art works seems like a good option to me; single quotation marks could also work, but may sound a little artificial if you refer to the titles often.

    Steampunk: I’m not sure, but if you’ve seen different spellings around, it makes sense to choose one you like and stick to it!

    I found one more superfluous comma in the next-to last paragraph: ‘or, that his wife’. And in the last paragraph, ‘repertoire of oils’ is only one thing, so the verb should be ‘is’, not ‘are’.

    I really wonder where the rest of that paragraph and the story are going! I do wonder, however, why Larry is having this conversation now instead of this morning, when he gave her the keys to the van. Maybe it would be better if you mentioned she picked up the keys somewhere else – for instance, at the office where Larry left them for her?

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Thanks for keeping me straight, Nynke. It always embarrasses me that someone for whom English is not a first language knows more about the rules for English than I do, but I’m so glad I know you. The strength in Red Pencil Thursday is always the many minds gathered around my cyber-kitchen table.

      Good catch about the dialogue, too.

    2. Tricia Quinnies says:

      Yay! Thanks Nynke! Chambers’can stay. Woot!
      And I also questioned the key, so pulled it out on my latest edit.
      Tricia Q.

    3. Marcy W says:

      Thank you, Dr. Nynke, for your excellent (because they agree with mine, of course!) answers to all the questions I was going to address; now I don’t have to type that all out! (Especially, thanks for catching Mia’s little goof – heehee.)
      I also am immediately drawn into the story, and into caring for our heroine. Good start, and I’m eager for more. Thanks.

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