Red Pencil Thursday

Red Pencil ThursdayThe reason we use the first 500 words for RPT is that they are the most important in the whole book. They carry a ponderous load. In those few words, we must set the tone, introduce a protagonist to whom readers can relate and give at least a hint of his/her coming conflict.

That’s why starting the story in the right place is so important. My volunteer, Chuck Robertson, is struggling with that issue and would like your help. Please leave a comment, suggestion or encouragement for Chuck. Thanks! And if YOU’d like a turn in the Red Pencil Thursday hotseat, please click on the image for details about how to submit your material.


The sky was now completely dark. I could probably put off sleep for a few more hours if I tried hard enough. After that, I supposed I’d just have to take my chances.

Mia: Since we really want to grab our reader from the get-go, starting with a character who’s fighting sleep probably isn’t going to do it. In the beginning we want a peek at our protagonist’s Ordinary World before the Inciting Incident propels us into the special world of the story. There was a time when readers would accept a leisurely start. That time is past.  Now, if you can give us a surprising reason (or even a hint of one) for why our hero doesn’t want to go to bed that would make a difference. “Take my chances” is a start, but I need more.

Chuck: I was intending the ‘take my chances’ line to be a hook. I agree, if that were the hook line I should have front-loaded it.

I plodded into the living room and sat in front of the television. Dad reclined on the couch, reading his newspaper even though the TV was on. It didn’t matter the volume had been muted. That hot news reporter was on the screen.  I enjoyed watching that blonde hair fly around every time she tilted her head.

Mia: Guy POV. Gotta love it. They are so easily distracted by shiny things like blonde hair. Are we going to see her later in the story? I hope so since you gave her some time in these all important first 500 words.

Chuck: She is a character in the story. She occurs again in this scene at around word 700. Since I can only present 500 words, her second appearance was cut off.

He peeked over the top of the paper.  “You look beat.  Is something wrong?”

I forced myself to smile. “Everything’s fine.” It wasn’t exactly true but I didn’t feel like having another argument tonight.

“How’s the new job going?” Dad fixed his eyes on me, as if he were staring straight through my body.

Mia: This dialogue is very realistic, but that’s sort of a problem. People may actually talk like that, but readers don’t want to read like that. In fiction, dialogue has to propel the story. This dialogue is marching in place. Can you think of something one of them might say to each other that would be surprising?

A brick dropped into my stomach. There was no way I could lie to him when he looked at me like that. Besides, the truth would come out eventually.  I had no choice but to be honest, no matter how pissed off it made him. I swallowed. “About that, Dad. I was kind of fired.”

Mia: Love “A brick dropped into my stomach”. It’s visceral and very male POV descriptive. However, you weaken its impact with the next three sentences. How about this:

A brick dropped into my stomach. I swallowed. “About that, Dad. I was kind of fired.”

I’m a big proponent of  “less is more.”

Chuck: Agreed.  If I use this para again, the other two sentences will be cut.

He dropped the paper into his lap.  “Fired?  How do you get fired from a fast food job?”

Mia: What would you think about making this your opening sentence?

“Fired? How do you get fired from a fast food job?”

It’s surprising. It raises questions. I know your protagonist is in trouble from the get-go.

Chuck: I have a list of possible openings and am trying them one at a time. One version starts with ‘Dad was going to kill me when he found out what I did at work today.’ That’s a variation of this idea.  I may try that one next.

My chest tightened. I braced myself for a tongue lashing at the very least. “I fell asleep at the fryer.”

Mia: I worked in a fast food place when I was in college. (Graduated with no school debt, thank you! It can be done and on minimum wage, too.) There was no place to sit down . Anywhere. If I was able to take a break, I had to go out into the customer area to find a place to get off my feet. How can your hero fall asleep standing up at the fryer? Is he narcoleptic?

Chuck: The point is, his dreams are so severe he is unable to get enough sleep. If I stay with this, I’ll have to make it clearer sooner.

Dad took in a deep breath, then forced it out. “Good Lord, Mark, what am I going to do about you if you can’t even hold a simple summer job without screwing up?”

I knew exactly what he was going to say next.  He had given that speech so many times that I had it memorized.

“Listen, Mark. It may just be a fast food job to you, but it’s also a matter of character.  Life’s tough. You need to be just as tough if you’re going to make it in the World. There isn’t any such thing as easy money.”

Mia: World doesn’t need to be capitalized.  Actually, I wouldn’t mind if you left off the Dad’s speech with some … and took us deeper into Mark’s POV with what he thinks about it since he has the spiel memorized. Especially if you can give us a quirky, unique insight from him that lets  us know more of who Mark is.

Chuck: That is a good idea.  Will do.

I cleared my throat. “It’s not my fault.  These dreams keep waking me in the middle of the night. I can’t get any sleep.”

Mia: We want to like our hero. Is there a way to make him sound less whiny?

Chuck: Sure.  I was trying to present the dreams have him very distressed and he feels helpless to cure his situation.  I think I overdid it.

“Dreams aren’t real.  This is all in your mind.”

That was the problem.  I couldn’t get them out of my mind.  The one I had last night was still stuck in my head.  The image of that man lying in his bed, his lifeless eyes staring straight up and his throat bitten out wouldn’t go away. Who would have thought a bear could do so much damage? A tingle ran down my spine every time I thought of it.

Mia: Granted, this is a wicked dream. But it’s only a dream. I’ve had a few I was grateful to wake from myself. Even a few that left me gasping, but they never made me afraid to go to sleep again. Now, if he recognized the man in his dream that would tingle my “spidey” senses a bit. Or if he dreams something one night and reads all about it in the paper the next day, he’d have my complete attention. But just having nightmares doesn’t engender sympathy. If our hero is afraid, we want him to be afraid for someone else, not himself.   

Chuck: Roughly around word 700 of this story, the words BEAR KILLS LOCAL MAN scrolls across the bottom of the TV screen.  However, it looks like this first 500 words does not hold the reader’s interest long enough to get there.

Mia: If you make a few cuts, this astonishing news would appear in the first 500 words.

I swallowed. “If you were the one with the dreams, you’d think differently about it.”

“What I do think is I have a seventeen-year-old son who’s afraid of the dark.”

“Not the dark, Dad, the dreams. Last night I had one about a guy getting his throat bitten out by a bear.  Try carrying that memory around a whole

Mia: The function of the protagonist in any story is to be the character to which your reader will relate most strongly. He’s someone they want to understand and maybe they’ll want to try on his life for a while. It’s ok for Mark to be fearful at first. We all know what that’s like, but we want him to show a little backbone, to be a higher and better version of us. I’d like him to want to overcome this problem and I’m not seeing any glimmer of that. He’s coming across as the sort of person things happen to rather than being someone who makes things happen. What is his goal in this story? We need at least a hint of it in these first 500.

Trying to find that perfect starting place is one of the things we writers struggle with. I’m sensing this is not the right place. Starting in a dream state is tricky. I did it for Sins of the Highlander and you can check out the excerpt to see how I handled it. But I wonder if you might not consider beginning right at that breathless moment when Mark wakes from a nightmare, clutching a scream in his throat. It would be an opportunity to show us how they affect him rather than simply telling us. If we feel what he feels, we’ll be rooting for him more.

Thanks for letting me take a look at your work, Chuck. Remember these are only my opinions (and probably worth what you paid for them!) but I hope I’ve given you some new directions to consider and some new ways to think about how to tell your story.  

Chuck: No problem, Mia. My greatest fear is that this is the first example of my writing a lot of people are going to get and it’s far from the best.  While it’s pretty well accepted my novel is well written and the MC is relatable, it does not come across in the first 500 words.  If I can’t come up with a good first 500 words, it won’t matter what’s in the next 59,500.

I’ve moved the entry point up and down, but it has not solved the problem yet. I have written another opening in which the MC wakes up around dawn, immediately after having the dream, as per one of your suggestions. My concern is that is echoes the cliché of starting a story with the character waking up in the morning.

I’m not sure what to do next.  I’m open to suggestions. Thanks for the opportunity to present my problem to a group.

Mia: Ok, gang. You heard him. How do you think Chuck should begin this story?

ChuckRobertsonChuck Robertson’s bio: As a teenager, I dreamed of becoming the next Isaac Asimov.  My first professional job was teaching science in a local high school but now I work in the technology industry. I have had two short stories published and two more are due to be published this coming fall.  It will take a published novel to make me feel I have arrived as a writer, however. I live with Brenda, my wife of nineteen years and two (mostly) well-behaved teenage children.   When we go on vacation we never go far.  When you live in the Ozarks, you’re already there.
Facebook : Chuck.robertson.7547
Twitter Handle: ChuckRobertson9


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We interrupt this Red Pencil Thursday for a brief semi-commercial message. My 20th book comes out next week. It’s Plaid to the Bone, the prequel to my new Scottish series Spirit of the Highlands. To celebrate, I’m having a 20Day/20Book Blog-a-thon right here. Starting August 27th, there will be daily giveaways of not only my books but also those of my special guests. Some of my writer buddies who’ll be helping me with the party include: Grace Burrowes, Katharine Ashe, Shana Galen, Vanessa Kelly, Erin Kellison, Norah Wilson, Samantha Grace, Ashlyn Chase, Alexandra Hawkins, Theresa Romain, Carolyn Brown, Terry Spear, Katherine Garbera, Susan Castille, CL Wilson and VK Sykes!

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19 thoughts on “Red Pencil Thursday

  1. Maurine H says:

    I realize I’m coming to this quite a bit late, but felt I had to put my two cents in for what it was worth, lol. Actually, it would help if I knew whether this was supposed to be a thriller or something else. To me, it reads like a possible thriller–nightmares becoming real, etc. So if that’s not your intention, my comments probably won’t fit what you want to accomplish. I apologize for that.

    I agree with Mia about the beginning sentence–How do you get fired from a fast food job? BUT I question the firing over him falling asleep at the fryer unless he inadvertently set the restaurant on fire. I don’t really think he would be fired over JUST falling asleep. Besides, like Mia said, it’s hard to fall asleep standing up. I’ve known only a few people who did that and they all had medical problems–hypothyroid, sleep apnea, etc. That’s not to say I think you should throw the whole firing thing out. It’s been a while since I was seventeen, but I could handle sleep deprivation better then than I can now at midlife. However, even then if I’d had more than one sleepless night, I wouldn’t be able to think very well, be more likely to make stupid mistakes. Like falling for a scam artist or giving the wrong change back to a customer. Putting the bills in the wrong slots. (I work as a cashier now and yes, that’s something the supervisors look for–bills in the wrong place, money left out of the registers, hitting the wrong key by accident and selling a customer a 16.97 dollar bra for 1 cent, or so it looks. But I digress.)The protagonist wouldn’t be fired over one incident. Make it at least his third. Most places give you three chances to screw up before they fire you. Unless you really screw up, like setting the place on fire. And that would show that this has been a recurring problem for him, not just one dream. Or nightmare. Don’t call it a dream. Call it a nightmare; it’s probably closer to what he’s feeling it is. Father might refer to it as a dream, but protagonist should think of it as a nightmare. I also think it’s important to let Dad and the reader know this is not the first time he has had a prophetic dream. Others have had some pretty good ideas. Play around with them, try out a few, see where it takes you, what you like. Telling a story is an exciting exploration.

    I also agree with Mia about leaving out Dad’s speech since we’ve all had the parental “Life’s Tough, You Need to Grow Up” speech–or at least most of us have. Trail off anywhere you like. Maybe at Life’s tough or It may be just a fast food job to you. If you leave it off, the reader will automatically fill in his/her own parental “Life’s Tough” speech, making it more personal for the individual reader. They’ll identify with your protagonist sooner that way. Then you can fill in the reader with more of Mark’s thoughts, like Mia said.

    I like the sentence “A brick dropped in my stomach.” But, I think you deflate it later when you say Dad dropped the paper. Find another verb to show what Dad did with the paper (my opinion only. If you disagree, ignore it.)

    Your premise intrigues me, the idea that a teenager may have prophetic dreams that he has to learn to deal with and we can go on that journey with him. I say just toy around with different ways of starting, see what you like, what would grab your attention. Throw the reader into the middle of the action. Go for the jugular, so to speak. Good luck with it.

  2. Sorry I’m a day late.
    Here’s another long critique but first. I understand what Jackie is saying. I worked as a long distance telephone operator. I started answering the phone with “Operator 724. How may I help you?”

    Para#1, #2 (I’ll lose track soon) I would tgrash your opening. I’d start with Mark getting fired by an irate jerk boss. The walk home would be like walking to the gallows. Your opening made me wonder if the “danger” was about staking a vampire or asking Dad for the car keys.

    You are overwriting. (para#4) Why can’t you just say “I couldn’t lie to him. He’d learn the truth anyway” If he’s like most young people lying isn’t a problem unless they will get caught. (I t wasn’t for me when I was young.Of course, I was the family wild child)

    On overwriting. Overwritng is okay if you know that you do it (like I do.When I revise, a whole lot of junk comes out cuz I know I overwrite. Lots of writers overwrite and then “fix” it.

    I agree with Mia about the fryer. Can someone phone him so he needs to go into the boss’s office and sit down. When call is finished, he falls asleep>

    I’d leave off Dad’sspeech. I never got a speech. Yelled at or the “look” The “look” was the absolute worst.

    I despise when people say “it’s notmy fault”. I bet the readers would too.

    I agree with Mia about the dream. Let him recognize the person or have the dream come true a few days later.

    I don’t think he Dad would disrespect his own son about being afraid of dark. I think the Dad would be on high alert that something wrong and depriving his son of sleep. Therapy, anyone?

    You need to plan a story goal for main character. Yes, it might not be apparent in first 500 pages. But, the story goal and reason for wanting that goal is what moves story forward.

  3. Jackie Horne says:

    I was thinking along the same lines as Grace, starting in the fast food restaurant (I spent my high school years working at one, and often found myself answering the phone at home “Hi, welcome to McDonald’s drivethru. May I take your order, please?”).

    If the restaurant was busy, there’d be no way the protagonist could fall asleep on the job. Fall into a daydream/terror, perhaps? Perhaps the dreams have been escalating in violence, hence the protagonist’s growing fears? Can you give some indication of how long this has been going on?

    Having Dad come in to the restaurant, and the TV in the restaurant, too, would also be a great idea. Feeling ashamed in public is far worse than feeling ashamed at home…

  4. Random thoughts:
    Maybe he doesn’t fall asleep at the fryer, but he’s so dazed–so preoccupied with the bear dream–he screws up on the job in front of Hot Crush on the register line, and Dad comes in and catches the tail end.
    The line, “I think I have a seventeen-year-old son who’s afraid of the dark,” is packed with information, shame, and relate-ability (I slept with the light on until I was in my thirties).

    Can you open with a variation of, “Do you want fries with that?” that’s so clever, so “I didn’t just say that, please. I did NOT just say that…” that we’ll feel for this kid immediately because we’ve all said things like that.

    Example: My grandpa’s boss had a huge nose. Gramps warned Grandma, whatever she said when the boss came for dinner, no comments about the nose. Gram did so well, until it was time for dessert, when she asked the nice boss, “Would you like some coffee with your nose?”

    The fast food setting will be more YA, will have more characters rocketing about, will have a TV monitor up in the corner that allows you to close the scene with the tag trailing across the bottom of the screen… Man Killed by Bear… as your closing hook.

    The material has potential–don’t give up on it–but the setting might benefit from a tweak, and the addition of character you can do more with.

    Thanks for a peek at your bestseller in progress.

  5. Mary Anne Landers says:

    Thank you, Chuck, Mia, and everyone. I think this story has promise. And I think you can hook the reader in 500 words.

    If it were my story—which it’s not, but allow me to play around with it—I’d start it with Mark’s dream of a bear biting into a man’s neck. Not just the sight of a corpse with his throat torn out; an image may be powerful, but action is more so. And this isn’t a generic bear attack. Mention specific details. Why? I’ll get to that later.

    Then Mark wakes up. He’s trembling, in a cold sweat. He reflects on how this is the fifth night in a row he’s had a nightmare. Or some such thoughts to directly establish that frightening dreams keep recurring.

    At breakfast, with the TV on and the female reporter doing her thing as already described, Mark and his dad talk. The father discovers his son got fired. They get in an argument. Dad is furious; Mark handles the matter badly (few teens would handle it well). Ratchet up the drama and the emotion in this scene. Dad walks off to work in a huff, leaving Mark alone with the TV news.

    Then the reporter goes into a story about a man killed in a bear attack. The report includes specific details that match those in the dream, and were mentioned in the opening description of the attack.

    Mark is stunned. This can’t be a coincidence! Suddenly, everything else going on in his life no longer matters. What’s happening? Why is it happening to him? He’s badly shaken, but he’s got to get to the bottom of all this. And the first place to start is with that reporter!

    I think it’s possible to cover all the above in 500 words. But of course, it’s your story. So take it in any direction you think is best. And good luck!

  6. Hi Chuck and Mia,

    I like your premise, Chuck, but I think you can add some tension to this opening. I liked the comments Kris had about adding inner-turmoil in Mark. Does he have to hide the dreams because they’re dangerous or driving him crazy? Is he going to be kicked out of the house if he doesn’t get his life in order (depending on if he has graduated high school)?

    Also, dialogue between guys is short and can be harsh. I live with a household of teen guys.
    Something like…
    Dad peeked over the paper. “What’s up? You look like crap.” (actually my son said his friend told him this the other morning)
    “Thanks, man.”
    “You get off early from work?”

    I was told once that there has to be greater conflict/tension than an argument. I read a book recently where the characters argued over whether to make another pot of coffee. That argument is not a big stakes argument. Mark has to achieve/gain/overcome something with this conversation.

    I like the dream coming to fruition on the TV. I’d get to that sooner.

    You have an intersting story here. Keep fleshing it out.

  7. Chuck Robertson says:

    To begin with, I’d like to thank you all for your help and extend a special thanks to Mia for giving me the opportunity to present my problem to the group. I especially appreciate all of you trying to pick me up rather than beat on me while I’m down.

    What I’m taking from this is to cut my 700 word opening even further, to a 500 word opening. Also, I will give Mark a little backbone. He has a problem he thinks is insurmountable at this moment but is actively trying to deal with it. Finally, I will make it more compact and flow faster.

    I’m writing several openings using the suggestions of the group and when done will compare them to see what works best. One will be Karri Lyn’s suggestion of having him late for work in the morning because the dream made him oversleep. Another version is close to Mia’s and Monica’s suggestion of starting with his dad asking about the job. The final version will use Kris’s idea of starting in the same place, but tightening it and improving the pace.

    We’ll see how it works. Thanks again, all.


  8. Barb Bettis says:

    Wow. Arriving late, I see so many great comments. You’ve gotten some excellent suggestions. I’ve jotted a few down to use myself :)

    Chuck, I really like the premise of this story and once it gets rolling, it pops.

    But I will agree that, yes, we need to feel a bit more tension at the beginning.

    However, for another perspective — No matter where your point of entry into the story comes, I do kind of buy the hero’s internalization being stressed, frantic, uncertain, while the conversation with Dad is the antithesis–a tension between what he’s thinking and what he’s saying–ordinary at first but building. So that we can feel his heart pounding while he’s struggling to be calm so not to set Dad off again. But of course he does. It’s Dad, after all :)

    I’ve actually had dreams that were so real, they stayed with me for a good part of the day–upset me for a good part of the day.

    His dreams can be terrifying. And even more so if he gets himself mixed up as one of the participants of them.

    You’re definitely on a good track here. Best of luck.

  9. Susan Keene says:

    I don’t know the answer. Your voice is strong and characters are believable and the story moves right along. I think you have a winner here. Put is away a couple days and then pick it up with fresh eyes.
    Mia is right about the action. Readers want to be in the middle of it.
    It is a great story.

  10. There are several different ways this story could start, so long as you create and maintain the tension. I love Kris Kennedy’s comments about that.

    I also like Mia’s suggestion to start with the dad’s dialogue. Maybe something like:

    “Fired? How do you get fired from a fast food job?” A vein bulged on the side of Dad’s neck. (You could add a simile here to amp up the tone.) “Forget that. How the hell do you fall asleep at the fryer? You were standing up, for Christ’s sake.”

    I avoided his gaze. I couldn’t tell him I hadn’t slept for days, afraid to fall asleep like a 5-year-old terrified of the monster under the bed. He’d never understand about the nightmares. Nightmares so impossibly, horrifically real I could taste the blood and feel the flesh ripping.

    It’s an idea. Make of it what you will. Beginnings are tough, but keep at it. You’ll find the right combination soon!

  11. Kris Kennedy says:

    Caution: this is a long-arse comment!! :)

    I have to say, I think your opening paragraph could really work, Chuck! Nothing like hearing differing feedback, huh? LOL

    The reason I say that is b/c I immediately felt there was going to be a big reason the protag was fighting sleep, and I wanted to know what it was. It started a cascade of questions. And the phrase “I’d have to take my chances” were very intriguing! He’s taking chances? With sleep?

    I don’t know what genre this is, but that opening para felt like thriller to me, for what it’s worth. As a thriller-lover, those 3 lines totally worked for me.

    The problem was the following lines didn’t deliver the promised ‘punch.’ The stuff that followed –“plodding” through the house, the way the ensuring conversation developed– was anticlimactic. A let down. A tension-reducer. I think that’s what the others have been pointing out.

    There’s lots of ways to you could amp up the tension & deliver on your promise to the reader, in ways that are in keeping with your voice and vision for the story. For me, dreams are not powerful, b/c they’re not real, so a dream opening would lose me in seconds, but again, that’s personal taste, and it could work for others, so it’s not the kind of advice to take too strictly–you’ve got to do what your voice and vision say, b/c everyone’s going to have an opinion. :)

    The vital thing is to layer on the tension, however you do it.

    All writers have their own fun ways of inadvertently reducing tension, b/c who likes tension??? Readers do. :)

    I love how Mia pointed out one really common way to reduce dramatic ‘punch’: by adding unnecessary lines. I do that way too much. Also the ‘marching in place’ conversations– what a great way of describing it, Mia!

    Another way writers reduce tension is to not make the characters fully ‘commit’ to whatever they’re doing in a scene.

    In other words, if they’re angry, make them be fully angry. If they’re disgusted, make them fully disgusted. etc. If scared, be really scared. If avoiding, be the most avoidant person there is. :)

    So, for example, in the conversation with dad, the lines: “I forced myself to smile. “Everything’s fine.” It wasn’t exactly true but I didn’t feel like having another argument tonight.” Those are fine, but they’re not dramatically powerful.

    Phrases like “wasn’t exactly true” and “didn’t feel like” reduce tension. The speaker isn’t committed the lie, nor to the desire to avoid an argument. A simple reframe can make a world of difference as far as tension. Ex: “I forced myself to smile. “Everything’s fine.” It wasn’t even close to true but there was no way I was getting into another known-down argument with Dad. Not tonight. Not after another dream.”

    I will add, though, that even though the conversation w/ dad felt emotionally anticlimactic, I really liked the protag’s insistence on the dreams being too frightening to stand–it made my reader-radar go on too, which is good! When your protag thinks something is fishy, your reader starts to think so too–i.e. it builds tension.

    But as Mia pointed out, he runs the risk of sounding whiny.

    One way to combat this is to retract the dialogue back inside and put it in the character’s head. Make their outward, public personna be one of strength, etc, & we only see their doubts/fears inwardly. That can also help build tension, b/c tension derives from conflicting emotions.

    So, for instance, aloud your protag might say something stalwart like “Yeah, you’re right Dad. Just a dream,” while inwardly, he thinks, “A dream that’s going to kill me/someone else one day, I just know it. But that’s crazy. Right?” Or whatever.

    Another way is to combat whiny-ness is to have the protag argue with himself, & try to ‘reason’ himself out of his fears/whiny-ness, so we see he’s fighting it. As in the above example.

    I think this will help a great deal, b/c all those lines right at the end of the sample…for me, that’s when he starts to veer towards whiny.

    It’s happening for one reason–he’s trying to get other people to agree, to see it his way. As Mia said, this indirectly makes him sort of passive & not terribly unique or ‘stand out.’ I think you’ll have a much stronger character if instead of trying to convince others, he tries to talk himself OUT of believing it. But he can’t. B/c it’s really happening.

    Anytime you have a character who has to do things no one else would do &/or be someone no one else would want to be, & the story’s not working, try revising so that the protag hates that thing/action/insight as much as the next guy, and make them try to fight/deny/avoid/ignore/dismiss it. Often, that makes the protag golden with the reader–it makes them sympathetic.

    This approach has the added (big) advantage of being a way to reveal plot, b/c now the protag has to be convinced this weirdo thing is actually happening, rather than putting the protag in a position of convincing others (secondary characters or the reader).

    I agree with Mia about cutting some words to move up the awesome bit about the news story flashing across the bottom of the screen, the one that echoes his dream. It’s terrific, and I like your way of getting it in there.

    Okay, for real, I’m done blathering now. :)


    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Kris, may I say you’re brilliant? You just gave us all the most succinct primer on how to strengthen a character. I LOVE the idea that he’s trying to convince himself his dreams aren’t real/scary/terrible. And presenting a “stiff upper lip” to the world while he’s still quaking inside, oh, yeah! That works for me. It totally removes the whininess.

      1. Kris Kennedy says:

        It makes such a difference in how we feel about a character, doesn’t it, Mia??

  12. Monica burns says:

    It’s difficult for me to give any feedback without being able to read the 500 words all one fell swoop, but I think the story really opens with Dad asking about the job. I also think because this first person POV, that the tone might be a bit too formal. Then again it could be your voice, and I I wouldn’t want to mess with that. Mia mentioned the formality of the dialogue, which further emphasizes he distance between and the story, i think that’s because the first person POV isn’t as conversational in tone as it could be. When I read First Person, I want to feel as if I’m being taken into the protagonist confidence as they share their sorry with me. JM2CW


    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Good point, Monica. I’m not well-versed in first person writing, but I get that we should be immersed in the protagonist’s thought life, mannerisms and way of speaking. It should read as if we ARE the protag.

  13. Wanda says:

    I’ve been in on critique of Chuck’s story. I think we all agreed the beginning was weak. It is so hard to decide where to start, but Mia is right about readers today want to be thrown into the story right away. I agree Mark seems a bit whimpy in this passage but he does become a stronger character later. His dad tends to brow beat him throughout. I think maybe starting with him looking at the pretty news lady, rubbing his eyes and then seeing the news scroll about the bear. Keep at it Chuck, it’s a good story.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Thanks for your suggestions, Wanda.

      A strong growth arc is important for a protagonist, but it’s essential that readers see something in Mark that gives them hope that he will grow even in the very beginning. Bilbo Baggins was a reluctant hero, but he was a sharply drawn character from the get go. The fact that he was so adamant against an adventure made me want him to have one. I’m looking for that spark of individuality in Mark.

  14. Karri Lyn Halley says:

    From your comments, Chuck, I can see where the story is going, but I think you’re both right that this isn’t the place to start. How about a traumatized Mark waking up too late to make it to work on time. He is reliving the bear dream when he stumbles into the living room and the bear attack announcement is on the tv. Then we can see immediately what the issue with the dreams is and he can interact with his Dad in a way that lets us know whether or not his Dad believes him. I like the idea of the story. I, too, have trouble with where to start. Sometimes, when I go back and read my beginning, I bore myself silly!

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Good suggestions. Thanks, Karri. The fact that Mark is trying to listen to the TV instead of his Dad’s scolding will ratchet up the tension between them even more.

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