Red Pencil Thursday

Red Pencil ThursdayEvery genre has a different set of reader expectations. Today’s volunteer, Kat Duncan, is offering the opening of her mainstream WIP. My suggestions are in red and Kat’s responses are in blue.  Since my published experience is exclusively with romance, I’ll be counting on your comments to help Kat out.


“Live from the Rogue Rash studio in Washington DC it’s our own pile-it-deep pundit, the rascal of the right, Ty, ‘Dr. Rogue’ Wilcox!”

I don’t think you need a comma after Ty. This is a good example of how choosing the right words means you don’t need a dialogue tag describing how something was said. I can hear the announcer’s cadence in this opening.  Well done.

I’m all for dumping extra commas. I’m glad the cadence of the announcer comes through. That’s important to set the scene.

Amid sparks and smoke, the back doors of the auditorium exploded open. In rolled Ty on an over-chopped Harley. Brassy spiked hair, jet-black goatee, his bulked-up torso straining through wrestler’s tights. He gunned the throttle in a ripple of roars like a warrior trying to psych-out enemies.

Popping the clutch, he burned a wheelie down the center aisle. Flames shot from the tailpipes. The concussion flattened the grinning, cheering fans against their seats. A ramp vaulted the bike up onto the stage. Its tires scored another set of permanent black streaks into the flooring as he side-slid to a stop and killed the engine.

Wow, can this guy make an entrance or what? Excellent specific details and you used all the senses in your description. However,  pyrotechnics aside, emotion is the best hook you can sink into your reader. There’s a lot of sound and fury in this opening, but I’m wondering what it signifies.

Yup, emotion is lacking here, but we’re still omniscient as to POV, so the psychological distance goes with the territory. What the reader is getting here is just a “slice of life” introduction to the story world. Can anyone think of a way to add emotion here?

I can. You’re actually not in omniscient POV here or at least  you shouldn’t be. Akira is watching this but you haven’t introduced her yet. Get your POV character into the mix sooner and you can provide some emotional context to this opening. And while you’re at it, give her a buddy to talk to.

He arched his deeply-knotted arms over his head and pulsed his muscles, his arms and chest doing a hoola as the frenzied crowd screamed. A searing guitar riff from the Rogue Rash Band tore through the studio.

“Yeah!” he bellowed.

“Yeah!” the audience chorused.

“Talk about the Second Amendment right to bare arms! Yeah! That’s what I’m talkin’ about!”

Akira Clayton rolled her eyes and pushed the mute button on her TV remote.

I’m with her on the eye rolling bit. I need a reason to care about Tyler before I put up with these kind juvenile antics. Maybe I just don’t watch enough professional wrestling. Is he our hero? Or is there someone else coming?

He’s the protagonist along with the Akira character. You’ve got the juvenile antics right, that’s a great way to describe what he’s doing and he’s doing it on purpose.

“Tyler Benjamin Wilcox,” she murmured. “Look out world…”

She called his middle name. Is this a subtle signal that she knows him? If so, it’s a nice touch.

You nailed it! They’ve known each other for a long time. They have similar goals, but very opposite approaches.

After coaching the president through twelve hours of hand wringing in the Oval Office, watching this pointless show was the last thing Akira wanted to do. But with the country falling apart at the seams, the president was desperate for every bit of political spin she could wring out of the daily news. Unfortunately, this was how America was getting its news. She sighed and took a sip of warm green tea.

Did not see this coming. That’s a real pivot from Wrestle-Mania to the Oval Office. Our goal as writers is to surprise and delight. You surprised me.

Great! I’m glad you were entertained. That was my goal.

On the silent TV, Ty moved to the host’s desk. Instead of the usual late-night talk show metro scene, behind him a snow-boarder did a flip. Exactly 4.7 seconds later, a surfer tunneled down a tube of water, then an air-borne four-wheeler flashed across the backdrop.

A picky point. We’re in her POV. How would she know 4.7 seconds passed?

She doesn’t hopefully know exactly how long 4.7 seconds is, but since this is a mainstream novel, we can slip into omniscient without troubling over it. The 4.7 seconds was meant to indicate how contrived the show was. Any other suggestions on how to do this?

Ok. This is why it’s important to be aware of reader expectations. Since I don’t write mainstream, I’m not sure what the parameters for POV are. However if you want your readers to identify with Akira you need to stick with her longer than three paragraphs. Don’t pull back into omniscient till we’re firmly in her camp. The 4.7 second detail isn’t that important. Reader identification is.

This was America, as Ty saw it.

Akira shook her head. “Grow up already, Ty.” She toggled the sound back on.

Ty held up both hands to quiet the screaming studio audience. They yelled even louder. He half stood and glared, his fists knuckle-down on the desktop, threatening to pummel anyone who disobeyed. Instant silence. He snorted satisfaction.

The knuckle-down posture reminds me of a silver-back gorilla, which I’m guessing is what you’re going for. Maybe I’m just having an off day, but so far, I’m not really liking this guy. I do however, feel a real affinity for your heroine. It’s ok for me not to be wild about your hero at first. Just bear in mind that you’ll have some rehabilitation to do for him later.

Oh yeah, he’s a real Teddy Bear in a Gorilla suit. It’s all for show and both of the protagonists know it. During the course of the novel, they both undergo some rehab.

Akira had to watch this absurd debacle every night. And every night deny that this yahoo was the same man who’d been her PhD classmate at Columbia. Not that they’d ever agreed on anything. They’d always been opposites. She, a poor black girl who’d clawed her way up out of the slums of Philadelphia on federal scholarships. He, an aristocratic prodigal son who’d never worked a day in his life.

They’d fought countless battles over politics. As had their families for over two hundred years, all the way back to the very formation of The Constitution itself. The only reason she watched him now was because she had to. At least that’s what she told herself.

I don’t think you need to capitalize The Constitution.

Constitution definitely needs caps. I’ve capped the The to add emphasis because the premise is about The Constitution.

The last two paragraphs are bordering on an info dump, but you did it quickly so that’s in your favor. Please tell me you jump quickly into the action and give Akira a flesh-and-blood person to interact with very soon. Watching someone watch TV makes for a flat scene.

Good point! Akira’s character development is slow. I’ll be taking a closer look at that on revisions.

Thanks for letting me take a look at your work, Kat. Your prose is fresh and sharp. You make good use of descriptive verbs and specific nouns. I’d like to see where this goes. ;-)

Thanks! I’ve enjoyed being part of Red Pencil Thursdays and have found it interesting and enlightening. I look forward to the comments from your visitors.

Kat DuncanBio: Kat Duncan obtained her Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry and German from Regis College in Weston, MA. She is a Fulbright Scholar who spent a year in West Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. After a successful career as a computer geek, she decided she needed something different to do. She homeschooled her brilliant daughters, then snagged a Master’s Degree in Special Education from Gordon College in Wenham, MA and now tutors students from elementary through college and beyond in all subjects as well as in study skills. An active member of the New England Chapter of RWA, and RWA-PRO, she has written a series of popular newsletter articles on grammar and style and teaches online classes in writing. Kat writes romantic suspense for The Wild Rose Press and is an Indie publisher of romantic suspense, historical romance and non-fiction shorts on writing.

Social and Web links:Website: Blog: Twitter:!/write_about

Now it’s your turn. How can Kat make this opener stronger?

27 thoughts on “Red Pencil Thursday

  1. Mary Margaret D…
    I disagree. Many Blacks were in public office in the early years of our government.
    And well respected in their communities.
    I was surprised when we studied this recently.

    1. Kat Duncan says:

      Hi Janet, where have you studied about blacks in office in the early years of our government? I’m a fool for research so my curiosity is piqued. Would you mind sharing some resources? You can email me at kat (at) katduncan (dot) net. Thanks!

  2. Hi Mia and Kat,
    I didn’t pick up on wrestlers tights until you mentioned Wrestle Mania. I thought he might be a rock star. After hearing wrestler,
    connected with The Constitution and her job in the White House, I decided he must be running for office. Like Jesse Ventura.
    Thanks for being here today. Good luck with this book. I am sure it would become clearer as we read along further.
    You asked how to add more emotion at the first. I didn’t know how he feels about this tv show. Is he excited or bored,tired or…” pasting a smile on his face as he gunned the throttle.” ?

    1. Kat Duncan says:

      Hi Janet, yes, Ty is a bit like Jesse Ventura, that’s a good connection. Thanks for stopping by to read and comment. “Pasting a smile” could work. I’m not used to writing in omniscient, so I’m still learning the ropes…

  3. Kat Duncan says:

    Thanks, Mia, for letting me take over your blog today. I received some good feedback on my first mainstream WIP. I’m pleased with the comments and reactions overall as well as the with the many excellent suggestions. Thanks to one and all! :)

  4. Barb says:

    Wow, Kat,
    What an energetic, action-packed opening. I’m with the rest that Ty is an obnoxious jerk (and I say that with the greatest affection LOL), but I see CHANGE in store for him ;)

    I was right there in that auditorium, feeling the breeze hit my face as his bike roared past. But when we pulled back to Akira watching TV (I assume since she had ‘her’ remote she was in her apartment, but…)I was pulled out of the action for a moment until I re-adjusted. I could see this being the opening scene of a film-easy to do an establishing shot with the camera pulling back to show the ‘show’ was being watched on a living-room TV. So perhaps a bit more location anchoring?

    Her comment right after she muted the TV–I didnt’ quite get the emphasis of that–except to introduce his full name and see that she knew him. In fact the second time I read the excerpt, I skipped that that sentence and it seemd to transtion more smoothly for me.

    I do agree with the comments others made about the families fighting back to the formation of the Constitution. And the two sentences about their backgrounds read a bit awkwardly.

    OK–the only ‘real’ change: you don’t have to hyphenate “ly” words as in deeply knotted. :)

    I really like political stories and I’m looking forward to this tale of political opposites that isn’t a romance. I want to see what the story’s all about.

    1. Kat Duncan says:

      Thanks for the great pointers, Barb! It’s so helpful to see how readers react to what’s written. I can see a number of ways of improving this all-important opening. And you’re right. Ty is in for some change! :)

  5. Ashlyn Chase says:

    Hey, Kat!

    Great active writing. Not a “was-ing” anywhere. LOL.

    Now, I need to point out something Mia usually has to tell me (we’re crit partners.) You need to ground me in the setting, clearly, much earlier on.

    I didn’t know where she was or who she is for quite some time. I’m still unclear as to where she’s watching this TV show. Is she still in the oval office? It sounds as if she is. It popped me out of the story trying to figure out why she and the president are watching TV.

    I agree with Margaret on the rest. The ‘info dump’ wasn’t a dump to me. It was a little info we needed to connect the POV character with the guy on TV.

    I had no idea the POV character was black and had pictured her as a buttoned-up, well shellacked, professional white woman in a grey tweed suit.

    Maybe you can add a line of dialog and work in a bit of setting too. “Good god, Ty. Is there nothing you won’t do to get your mug on the news?” Akira perched on the edge of her living room sofa and grimaced at her ex, hamming it up on TV. “What an entrance!”

    Then, I agree with Mia. It would be helpful for her to have a friend or somebody with her to whom she can explain while we, the readers, eavesdrop. (grin.)

    I tend to write a lot of dialog, but it keeps the pace moving.

    1. Kat Duncan says:

      Hi Ashlyn! Thanks for stopping by and for giving such a great suggestion. I can think of several things to try to “ground” the reader as to place. You’re right in that the reader doesn’t realize they are watching TV (something I never do, so I wouldn’t know, LOL!) Thanks again! :)

  6. Kat, I too had trouble visualizing torso tights.

    “Circus strong man tights” conveys the image perfectly and furthermore underscores the carnival-act show he’s putting on.

    1. Kat Duncan says:

      Ok, thanks for commenting on the tights, too. I really want to get this picture of Ty right from the beginning.

  7. Loved the wit of “Rogue Rash!” J

    You give ‘omniscient POV’ as the reason for a lack of emotion in the opening paragraphs, but in fact, I think there’s plenty of emotion present in the scene, it just hasn’t made it onto the page. You haven’t exploited omniscient’s big strength which is a panoramic view that can see everywhere. Instead, you focus tightly on Ty, effectively excluding his audience.

    Presently the only reference to an audience in the first paragraphs is “The concussion flattened the grinning, cheering fans against their seats.”

    “Grinning and cheering fans” getting “flattened”by Ty doesn’t covey excitement, adulation, and riveted attention. But isn’t the whole point of his antics to stir people up, to elicit a visceral–as opposed to thoughtful or civil– response?

    Personally I find Ty cringe worthy, but he’s successful because some people do go wild for him. The reader needs to see fans on their feet laughing, screaming “Rogue, Rogue, Rogue,” and cheering him on. To hear the crowd roar louder with every wheelie and sparkler. Then when he silences the pandemonium with one gesture, the reader would have a gut-level experience of the power and control Ty (for good or for ill) wields.

    Moving on. I had no trouble with the few sentences of background. I felt it stopped way short of “info dump” and as a reader, I appreciate backstory which lets me see the characters in a more fully formed way.

    If you’d like to shorten it, I suggest cutting “Not that they’d ever agreed on anything. They’d always been opposites.” It seemed to belabor what was already implicit in their disparate backgrounds. I did like learning that this guy with the antiestablishment, road warrior shtick was from the upper class. J

    I also thought “As had their families for over two hundred years, all the way back to the very formation of The Constitution itself” required so much explanation that it might be best to cut it here and bring it up elsewhere. (Two hundred years ago very few blacks had the education, and none had the power to fight anyone over the Constitution. So who exactly were her ancestors?)

    On the whole, I see some good writing, an engaging plot hinted at, and a fascinating character in Ty. The kind of character you might not like, but you can’t look away from.I definitely wanted to keep reading.

    Best of luck!

    1. Kat Duncan says:

      So glad you liked the wit, Mary. Insightful comments on the opening viewpoint as well as how to trim the emerging info dump. Thanks so much!

  8. Marcy W says:

    Wow, talk about ‘showing not telling’! Great beginning, really grabs me and puts an immediate visual in my mind. I do find Christine’s idea (above) about using this scene later and introducing us to the characters in an interaction with each other, it’s something to play around with — but this is also a strong beginning.
    Nit-picky edits: “hoola” should perhaps be “hula”?, and I think the ‘president’ should be capitalized, assuming we are indeed talking about the President of the US. And, if linking the Second Amendment and “bare” arms (rather than “bear”) is a joking pun, it feels too early for that to me … it stopped my reading as I went over it to figure out just what was meant.
    Strong characters and intimation of all sorts of interesting political goings-on … sounds like a good read. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Kat Duncan says:

      Hi Marcy, I’m thinking about the opening interaction, but it’s not a romance, it’s mainstream, and while Ty and Akira are the protagonists, they’re not a romantic couple. Hm..hoola vs hula…I’ll have to look into that…president doesn’t need caps unless you give his specific name. Interesting reaction to the pun…don’t want to stop you from reading…:) Great comments, thanks!

  9. Kat – just because I’ve had a similar problem – are you sure you’ve started in the right place with this ms? Why not start where the two physically meet for the first time after so many years? That would put the reader immediately into the action, rather than watch someone watch TV which, while it’s well-written, isn’t that interesting.

    You don’t have to dump this scene – just keep it for later, when we know more about Ty.

    Just a thought…and good job!

    1. Kat Duncan says:

      Another interesting idea I hadn’t thought about. Thanks for the suggestion, Christine!

  10. Marian Lanouette says:

    Hi Kat,to be more in the action with Akira have her flash to an argument they had in college–you grabbed my interest. Marian

    1. Kat Duncan says:

      Huh! I hadn’t thought of a flashback to an argument. Great idea, Marian. Thanks! :)

  11. I really liked this opening. I wasn’t sure I would. In a world that is so bombarded with information, politics and publicity stunts, you took one of these situations and completely changed it around to make us care.

    I did have one little poke.

    “…his bulked-up torso straining through wrestler’s tights.” This imagery is a little awkward. When you think tights, one usually pictures something that stops at the waist.

    Otherwise, I don’t have anything else to add.

    Good luck!

    1. Kat Duncan says:

      You picked up on a good point, Saranna. I did “wrestle” with making that image of him in wrestler’s tights come through. These are not your typical medieval tights or ladies tights and there are various designs. I was trying for that old-fashioned circus strong man look, but I don’t think I captured it. Back to the drawing board for that one. I’m glad you like the odd combination of publicity and politics. Thanks!

  12. Edie Ramer says:

    Besides the info dump bit, this is great! If the blurb had caught my attention, it wouldn’t bother me that the first few short paragraphs are about Tyler’s antics. For one thing, they were interesting and well-written. I could easily visualize the action and hear the roar of the Harley.

    I agree with Mia about the info dump paragraphs at the end. They can be sprinkled in elsewhere. But even with that, I was sorry when the page ended.

    1. Kat Duncan says:

      It’s good that you could visualize the action. I’ve had trouble with that before. Antics like Ty’s may hold our interest long enough to see what the situation is. Thanks for your helpful comments, Edie!

  13. Karri Lyn Halley says:

    I, too, don’t think Ty is likeable at this point, but I think that IS the point. He’s an over-the-top character, but we know who is in the political arena. I’m interested in knowing where this story is going and that’s a good thing for an opener!

    1. Kat Duncan says:

      I agree, he’s not really likeable. He’s using his “fame” to make a statement and it’s not a statement everyone wants to listen to. I’m glad to know you’re interested in where the story is going. Thanks, Karri!

  14. Morning Mia and Kat.

    Kat- great job on this. It’s a tough one to offer any suggestions for improvements. I agree that Ty is not particularly likable in this piece. He’s so over the top that you cringe. I think the word choices are very strong in the beginning and help with delivering the emotion that an omniscient POV might lack. Smoke, exploded, straining, spiked, ripple, roar, warrior- all set a defined tone.

    I agree with Mia that the couple paragraphs regarding Akira and Ty’s history almost get to data dump. You might consider having her comment aloud- “Just like in college” or something to that affect to get across the point that they have a history.

    Thanks for sharing, Kat. Good luck. Jordan

    1. Kat Duncan says:

      I could certainly trim back the dump a bit more here. There’s plenty of time to sprinkle more of that in as the chapter progresses. I do think you’re right that the strong wording acts to tug at emotional strings before we know whose head we’re in. I’ll keep tweaking that aspect. Thanks, Jordan!

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