Red Pencil Thursday

One of the things I love about Red Pencil Thursday is that my volunteers come with a wide range of writing experience–from aspiring newbies toiling on their very first manuscript to New York Times Bestsellers honing their craft. Today we welcome Kiwi author Bronwen Evans. Bron is an award winning, multi-published author whose work I love. It’s an honor for me to take a peek at her WIP.

Red Pencil Thursday

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Invitation to Passion

Late April, Hascombe near Cambridge, 1802

“We can wait all day for you to come down.”

Mia: Sometimes we learn most from observing what others do right. This spare first sentence is brilliant in its simplicity. It raises questions, sets up an immediate conflict and prepares us to identify with the one who’s being waited upon with nefarious intent. Brava!

Bron: Gosh, thanks, Mia.  

Madeline Knight wiped the tree sap from her eyes and fought to keep her bottom lip from quivering. She would not cry. She wouldn’t give them the satisfaction.

Mia: I’ve never gotten tree sap in my eyes, but I’m pretty sure I’d cry if I did. I wonder if pollen might not be better. Sap in someone’s eyes sounds like it might be a permanent threat to their vision. Do we have a medical pro out there who can weigh in?

That said, I really enjoy a peek at the characters during their childhood. So much of who we are is determined on the playgrounds, in front of an unforgiving chalkboard or hiding in a tree.

Bron: Hmmm – agree, pollen would be better. Or maybe dirt. It could be the dirt from the missiles below?

Another clod of earth hit her shoulder. The artillery more effective than she thought. Her tormentors were mean and clever. They’d wrapped the earth around jagged stones, far more effective when wishing to cause an injury.

Mia: Oh, dear! She’s seriously being bullied. One thing to consider is how old Madeline is. Try to tailor the narrative to her age and sensibilities and we’ll be drawn even further into her POV.  Would a girl of that time use words like artillery? If so, give us a hint why she’d know such a military term.    

Bron: LOL. I didn’t even think about a word like artillery being too old, but you’re probably right. Okay, what could I use? Perhaps dirt-balls – keep it simple as a child would?

She didn’t care about the pain. Her concern was for the charcoals she’d left at the bottom of the tree. They were a present from her brother Rufus. He’d given them to her yesterday, her thirteenth birthday, on one of his rare visits home. She’d been ecstatic to think he’d remembered her special day. Her lip quivered again as she recalled his arrival had been a coincidence. He’d only come home to authorize expenditures on the estate, before heading back to France tomorrow. He’d barely wished her happy birthday.

Mia: This paragraph seems a little self-contradictory. Her brother brings her a gift for her birthday, but he barely wished her many happy returns of the day? If he’d merely brought the art supplies as a random gift and had to be reminded it was her birthday, her hurt is understandable  but it’s not clear that’s what happened. Can you rework this paragraph so we feel her elation, then deep sadness over her beloved brother’s lack of attention?

Or on second thought, you might scotch this after They were a present from her brother Rufus completely at this point because it’s backstory and will be more effective later if the children destroy her precious charcoals.  

Bron: This is where an author forgets that readers might not have read the previous book in the series. If you’ve read Invitation to Scandal, Rufus’s story, you’d understand why he was rarely home and that he does care but is too busy. So, how to convey that better…here goes

She didn’t care about the pain. Her concern was for the charcoals she’d left at the bottom of the tree. They were a present from her brother Rufus. He’d given them to her yesterday, her thirteenth birthday, on one of his rare visits home. She wished he could be home more. She missed him. At least he had made the effort to come home for her birthday, but as usual, he took the opportunity to combine her special day with his need to authorize expenditures on the estate, before heading back to France. Clearing their father’s name of treason, took precedence over everything.

Mia: Much better! You’ve obeyed the PRIME DIRECTIVE of WRITING—First, be clear.

Now she feared her tormentors might tread on her precious present. Already her sketches were scattered over the grass and being gently blown along the ground. Her afternoon’s work ruined.

Mia: Tormentors is a unique enough word to only use once in this small excerpt. Are they classmates? Cousins? Is there a word that shows us the rock throwers’ relationship to her?

Bron: True. How about…

Now she feared her horrid neighbors might tread on her precious present. Already her sketches were scattered over the grass and being gently blown along the ground. Her afternoon’s work ruined.

Mia: Yes! It gives us new information.

“We’ll keep throwing until you come down,” Timothy Chesterton yelled at her.

Madeline wasn’t stupid. If she came down from her perch, high in the oak tree she’d been sketching, they’d likely pummel her. The last time they’d caught her unawares she’d been black and blue for weeks. No, the only thing keeping her safe was the fact that none of the Chesterton bullies liked heights.

Mia: Madeline is a wellborn young lady. Surely there is an adult in her life who’d have seen those bruises. If she kept the abuse secret, why?

Bron: She keeps it secret because she doesn’t wish to worry Rufus. She knows he’s trying to clear their father of treason. He has enough on his shoulders. You find this out later in the prologue. Does it need to come earlier?

…The last time they’d caught her unawares she’d been black and blue for weeks. She’d explained her injuries as a fall from her pony. Something she did on a regular basis given she was learning to ride. She didn’t tell her mother. Rufus had enough to worry about. No, the only thing keeping her safe was the fact that none of the Chesterton bullies liked heights.

Mia: This is much stronger. Concern for her family is an understandable reason for her silence on the abuse. It makes us like her all the more.  

Her hands clenched the branch harder. She’d thought her awful neighbors had left for London. They were renowned for heading to London well in advance of the Season. She would never have ventured so far from Hascombe Court if she’d known they were still in residence.

The four children prowling at the bottom of the tree, as tenacious as rabid dogs, ranged in age from thirteen down to six. She grimaced. At least it wasn’t all of them – there were two older Chesterton’s. Charles was the eldest at twenty-four, the same age as her brother, yet he would not have raised a finger to help her. Charles had been at school with Rufus, and he hated her brother. Over the years Madeline had heard the story many times: Rufus had beaten Charles Chesterton to a pulp shortly after their father’s death, for being stupid enough to call their father a traitor in Rufus’s presence.

Mia: Wow, this is a very bad brood.  I get the whole ‘Lord of the Flies’ dynamic, but the thought that a 24 year old wouldn’t help a girl in her situation seems more in keeping with a contemporary gang. I may be wrong, but gentlemen during the Regency often aided people they didn’t even esteem. Think of how Mr. Darcy went out of his way to protect Elizabeth’s very foolish younger sister. Just a thought.

Bron: Agree, but Charles is the villain of the book and I want to set him up as such and also his hatred of Rufus. He is pretty awful and wouldn’t have helped the traitor’s daughter. Charles is no Mr. Darcy! However, he is a villain that is understandable, when we learn the plot, if you get what I mean.

Mia: You write so beautifully, I’m willing to trust you on this. ;-)

Taking courage from Rufus’s previous victory, she leaned out and yelled down at them. “You’d better go away. You’re on Strathmore land and my brother, Viscount Strathmore, is in residence.” Madeline hoped she sounded braver than she felt.

Mia: Yay for her finding her courage! Is there a way for her to speak up sooner?  

Bron: Good idea. I’ll look at that. She is a quiet and subdued young girl given her isolation from society due to her father’s treason. Perhaps I need to bring this fact in much earlier too!

The answer to her bravado was a palm-sized dirt ball that hit just above her eye, making her cry out in agony. She felt the trickle of blood. Her yelp set the small gang below into a laughing frenzy.

Mia: Oh, I so dislike the Chesterton twits. I want them to get their comeuppance. However, be careful not to make them too completely bad. This is something I struggle with too, but villains who have some smidge of goodness in them, ones you think might have actually been the hero but for a bad choice or two, make the most interesting bad guys.

I’m totally in Madeline’s corner and want to see how she grows up to overcome this rough beginning.

Bron: Oh, they get their comeuppance in the next couple of paragraphs actually. None of these children are the villains, only their elder brother who is not with them. The hero is the person who plucks her form the tree and scares away the Chesterton bullies.

Thanks for having me over today. It’s given me loads to think about. I look forward to the comments.

About Bron:

New Zealander Bronwen Evans grew up loving books. She’s always indulged her love for story-telling, and is constantly gobbling up movies, books and theatre. She writes both historical and contemporary sexy romances for the modern woman who likes intelligent, spirited heroines, and compassionate alpha heroes.

Her debut Regency romance, Invitation to Ruin, won the RomCon 2012 Readers Crown Best Historical, and was an RT Reviewers’ Choice Nominee Best First Historical 2011. To Dare the Duke of Dangerfield was a FINALIST in the Kindle Book Review Indie Romance Book of the Year 2012. Look out for her first Entangled Publishing Indulgence release in Fall 2012, The Italian Conte’s Reluctant Bride.

Find her at:


Ok, now it’s your turn to weigh. We’re counting on you. And be sure to visit again on Monday when Bronwen will be my guest blogger!

14 thoughts on “Red Pencil Thursday

  1. Maurine H says:

    I hope I’m not too late to comment. I have trouble deciding what information should be included in the very beginning, too, so I sympathize with your dilemma here. Before I make any comment, I have to confess that I don’t read many historicals. I may be off on any perceptions I have, so take my comments with a big grain of salt. I read mostly romantic suspense, so perhaps I tolerate being left with unanswered questions more than your average reader.

    I really love the first line. It tells us a lot about Madeline’s (love that name, btw) predicament. Her tormenters have her cornered and she can’t escape on her own without fighting them or being overcome by them.

    “The artillery more effective than she thought.” reads like a sentence fragment to me in case you hadn’t intended it to be. Also, the last sentence in that paragraph (“They’d wrapped the earth . . .”) repeats what was said before and isn’t necessary.

    I may be alone in this, but I didn’t feel you need to go into a lot of detail as to why her brother doesn’t spend more time with her. I personally like the unanswered questions, as long as they are explained fairly close to the beginning, just not this close. To me it slows the pace, but as I said, I’m a romantic suspense reader. May I suggest: Leave out “They were a present from her brother Rufus.” Then rewrite the rest: “Her beloved brother Rufus had given them to her the day before, her thirteenth birthday, on one of his rare visits home. She wished she could see him more often but clearing their father’s name of treason took precedence over everything.” The rest of that paragraph could be expanded on later. Knowing that the charcoals are a gift from a beloved brother she rarely sees because he is doing something noble (clearing their father’s name) makes me sympathize with her and want to root for her.

    I was surprised to learn she was thirteen and cornered by only four mostly younger children. Knowing their ages and genders may help, but I felt she could get away from four of them. Maybe if there were twice as many? Or she was only six and they were older? It’s just that thirteen seemed awfully old for her to feel threatened by so few younger ones even if they threw dirt-encased rocks at her.

    All in all, I think you have a very intriguing story beginning here. It’s well-written and leaves me asking a lot of questions–the good kind. I would love to read the rest of this, meet the hero who saves her from these ruffians and see how this story plays out. Good job.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      It’s never too late to comment, Maurine, especially such a detailed and thoughtful comment. I appreciate the perspective of an RS reader. It can shed a fresh light on things.

      However, I think a young girl could be intimidated by only one other person. Four assailants, even if some are younger than Madeline, makes her climb up the tree sensible in my mind. But then I’m an admitted wuss who ran home from school because I was being chased more often than I care to admit.

      1. Maurine H says:

        Mia, your comment makes sense to me and I was the only one who mentioned the age thing. I was going by personal experience, but my children weren’t aristocrats, so they had a totally different set of skills and experiences. My apologies. Plus, our heroines don’t always have to be braver than the average person and she is a teenager after all. (I’m thinking emotional turmoil.) And what a wonderful way to meet the hero. After he rescues poor Madeline, in the reader’s eyes he can do no wrong. Well, almost no wrong, but you know what I mean.

  2. Marcy W says:

    Agree strongly with all of the above … great first sentence, love our heroine, hate the awful Chestertons (no apostrophe needed, by the way), and can’t wait to read more! Thanks for sharing :)

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Thanks for dropping by, Marcy. A little bird told me you have a birthday coming this weekend. Hope you have a wonderful day.

  3. Hi Barb

    You’ve asked great questions and I need to review the work to ensure they are all answered without slowing pacing. I think it would make for a richer reader experience. Thank you.

  4. Barb Bettis says:

    Oh, it ended too soon!! I want to see the hero rescue her! I agree with the others about the dirt rather than sap, etc.

    As I read it, I did wonder where they were located on the land. Had the others come all the way up to the environs of the house to torment her? Had she wandered farther away from the house toward their property? How did they know she was there? Were they taunting her about something (traitor’s daughter, etc.) as well as throwning rock-laced dirt balls? Definitely looking foward to the brats getting nabbed! Of course, all that probably is covered just beyond where our tantalizing taste ended. LOL.

    Like the others, I’m very much looking forward to reading the entire story as soon as it’s published!!! Good Luck.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      The excerpt did raise plenty of questions which is one of the goals of the opening.
      It’s tricky to get everything into the first 500 words, but Bronwen has a good start here.

  5. Thanks ladies. I’ve got some areas to look at now. It always pays to listen when you get similar feedback from several people.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Hi Bron! There you are. I’ll leave this post up tomorrow too so more folks can comment.

  6. Debbie says:

    I do love that opening line. I also agree that dirt may be better than sap, but somehow the idea of the girl’s hands being sticky with sap just highlights her misery.

    I did want her age earlier and something more about the bullies. I assume they were of the same social station since the brothers attended the same school, but what are their ages, their gender? The opening sentence seems to come from a mature mentality. Just like Mia’s point about Mr. Darcy, I would question an upperclass young man participating in physical bullying. It would seem her art to be a logical target – close at hand and of value to her.

    I learn so much from reading other writers, thanks Bronwen for sharing. I definitely want to read more.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      I agree that seeing her art destroyed might hurt her even more than the dirt balls.

  7. I love Red Pencil Thursdays! ;o) It is often difficult to get everything into those first 500 words.

    I agree, dirt is better than sap — sap is usually quite sticky. I like the changes you made per Mia’s suggestions. I also agree that we needed her age early on.

    I also like the rewrite about the gifts.

    I also am disliking the gang of heathens picking on this young girl. I’m looking forward to reading how she gets her revenge. ;o)

    I give it a bravo and do look forward to reading the finished product.

    Best wishes to you!

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Thanks for dropping by, Suzan. Since Bronwen’s about a day ahead of us here in the States, I’m sure she’ll be around soon.

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