Red Pencil Thursday
It’s been a while since I had a victim…er, volunteer for RPT, but today our online critique group rides again! I can’t stress my appreciation for our volunteers enough. It takes courage to put your words out there and invite the world to weigh in.
However, Red Pencil Thursday is a pretty safe venue. The goal is always to help writers think in new directions and for all of us to apply what we learn here to our own writing.
If you’re not a writer, please don’t feel you can’t comment. Readers often raise the most salient points! So be sure to share your thoughts with Melissa Limoges, our intrepid volunteer. And if you’re a writer, check the details for how YOU can get into the hotseat. I’d love to take a look at your work.
My Reckless Love
Lady Arabella de Perci of Penswyck grimaced at the forty feet or more looming below her and expelled a harsh breath. “Cursed hell.”
Mia: I love the juxtaposition of her being a lady while the first words out of her mouth are decidedly unladylike. Arabella is one of my favorite names too. I used it in A Duke for All Seasons for my heroine, Arabella St. George.
Melissa: I really love the name Arabella, and I didn’t particularly want her to be too much of a Lady. J
Without a doubt, this was the daftest plan she’d proposed in the entirety of her score of years. The daring task seemed sensible when she plotted her escape with her maid, Maggie, days before. Nevertheless, wedged against the wall of her family’s castle, clutching a makeshift rope of knotted gowns and bed linens, she had to admit her grand design to flee terrified the bleeding life out of her.
Mia: Sometimes too many words can get in the way of the story. Let’s see if we can tighten up this prose. See what you think of this—
Her daring plan had seemed sensible when she plotted with her maid days before. Nevertheless, wedged against the wall of her family’s castle, clutching a makeshift rope of knotted gowns and bed linens, her grand design to flee terrified the bleeding life out of her.
It’s not important for us to know she’s 20 or that her maid’s name is Maggie. You have us on the edge of a 40 foot drop. That calls for a brisker pace.
Melissa: That is a lot tighter and reads much smoother. Great suggestion. I have the tendency to be a bit too descriptive.
In spite of the frigid night air, perspiration seeped from Arabella’s scalp and rolled down her face and neck. She wiped the sleeve of her smuggled linen shirt across her forehead and shifted her bare toes against the chilled stone. One hand at a time, she released the rope to stretch her stiff, aching fingers, drying her damp palms on her trew-clad thighs.
Mia: I’d cut ‘seeped from Arabella’s scalp and’. I’m a little unclear on why her fingers are stiff and aching at this point. She hasn’t started climbing down yet, has she? Plus ‘released the rope’ means she let go of it. I think you can be clearer about what’s happening.
Melissa: Ah, okay. I see I didn’t really make it clear that she is, in fact, in the process of climbing down from the start. I’ll need to rework this area.
Wind ripped through the forest beyond the bailey wall, creating a barrage of whistles and howls. Coupled with her terror of heights, the daunting noise wrecked her concentration. She shut her eyes in an effort to dismiss the distraction and focused on the rapid thump of her heart echoing in her ears. She’d never reach the safety of her uncle’s keep if she didn’t get a hold of herself.
Mia: Not every noun deserves a modifier. ‘Whistles and howls’ is enough without telling us that the noise is ‘daunting’ as well. I think you mean ‘curtain wall’ instead of bailey wall. The curtain wall is the outer wall of a castle. The bailey is the open space it encloses.
Melissa: Ha, yes, curtain wall. Makes sense now, but for the life of me, I couldn’t quite find the right name at the time.
After several deep, reassuring breaths, she reopened her eyes and fixed her attention on the sapphire gown between her fists. You must do this. It’s the only way.
Arabella floundered on the next step, and her bare toes slipped on the moss-covered, craggy stone. Pain shot through her foot, eliciting a wince. She scrambled against the stone and managed to regain her foothold. The persistent, burning sting brought tears to her eyes, and she bit her bottom lip to stifle a cry. Damn but her slippers had made the task easier. Alas, both of them had fallen to the ground not long after she’d crawled from her tower window. No time to lament the loss, she’d endure the injury until she found a chance to tend it once the Scottish border lay behind her. Braced against the wall, she resumed her miserable, painstaking descent to freedom.
Mia: OK, now I know she’s dangling along the side, but the last I knew she was standing at the precipice having a bit of a rethink about this plan. Sometimes, we authors have a scene in our mind so clearly, we don’t realize that our vision isn’t being translated clearly into our readers’ mental theaters. That’s why my Prime Writing Directive is “First, be clear.” Why not start the story with one of her slippers tumbling to earth below her and you can place her without ambiguity in mid-descent?
Melissa: Your Prime Writing Directive is such a sound piece of advice. And you are absolutely right. I can see the scene clearly in my head. However, working it out on paper is much different. I also think you had a wonderful idea to begin the story with the loss of one of her slippers. To be honest, it never occurred to me to go in that particular direction, which would make more sense and probably clear up any confusion with her placement on the wall. I’ll have to play around with this beginning a bit and make her exact placement and actions obvious to the reader from the beginning.
With each bit of distance gained, a fount of bitterness deepened. Her thoughts lapsed to the villainous bastard who’d landed her in this repugnant position. Sir Geoffrey Ross. The man’s horrid name was enough to ignite a blistering inferno of rage inside of her. The fiend’s desire to obtain wealth akin her family’s was no secret, though she never conceived he’d resort to rape, murder, and imprisonment to achieve his goal.
Mia: This is a bit of an info dump while your heroine is in a precarious position. How about if you have her curse him for driving her to this desperate action, but leave some of the other info about his less than stellar deeds and character for later? Part of an author’s job is to tease her reader into continuing to read on by creating questions with little info hooks scattered through the prose.
Melissa: Another great point. Because of the position she is in, she does need to continue moving and not stall with too many reflections.
Her fury, along with the need to avoid discovery, bolstered her confidence and she descended the fragile line with haste. Once Ross arrived on the morrow, there would be no other chance to flee. She refused to willingly enter a marriage decreed by the king to the new Lord of Penswyck. In all likelihood, the imminent result of such a union would be her death.
Mia: You’ve certainly raised the stakes of the story here. Her life is in jeopardy if she weds Ross. And you have a gift for description. With very little tweaking, My Reckless Love is off to a roaring start.
Melissa: Hurray! Thank you so much for all of your helpful feedback and insight, Mia. Honestly, I feel a bit more optimistic about My Reckless Love now. You’ve given me some wonderful suggestions to work with. I feel confident that I can improve on the beginning and shape it into something more attention-grabbing for the reader.
Thank you so much again, Mia. I really appreciate you taking the time and effort with my first 500 words.
Mia: My pleasure, Melissa.
I was born and raised in Mobile, Alabama, and I’ve always been an avid lover of history. European history, in particular. Once I began reading romances, I fell head over heels with historicals. Recently, I combined my two loves to write my first novel, My Reckless Love.
Now it’s YOUR turn! What suggestions, corrections, or encouragement do you have for Melissa? And remember, I’m always on the look out for the next Red Pencil Thursday volunteer!