Red Pencil Thursday

Red Pencil ThursdayI don’t always know my RPT volunteers, but I was fortunate to meet Marianne Stephenson a few weeks ago when I visited MERWA in Brunswick, Maine. It’s a terrific group of writers, very supportive of each other and great fun to spend an afternoon with.

If you’re a writer and would like to take part in Red Pencil Thursday, check out the details on how to submit your first 500 words. And in the meantime, be sure to weigh on today’s first 500. Oh! And if you’re a reader, we really want to hear from YOU too!

Summer Rayne

Trent Kipson glared at his best friend over the rim of his glass and chugged the rest of his beer. “There’s no way in hell I’m making good on this freakin’ bet.”

Mia: And that’s how it’s done, boys and girls. This opening has everything it needs—tension, an immediate sense of place, the introduction of two characters and a succinct revelation of a conflict. Well done!

Marianne: Thank you!!

“The hell you say. You lost this bet just like I knew you would. Pay up, man,” Brian laughed and drank from his own mug.

Mia: A word about the vulgar tongue. Use of “hell” in the first paragraph emphasizes our hero’s vehemence. Repetition of it in the 2nd paragraph blunts its effect. I’m not opposed to swearing, but make sure it has the most impact by using it sparingly. “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” wouldn’t have had the same punch if Rhett had been swearing like a sailor through the rest of the story.

Marianne: Great point! I don’t have a lot of swearing in the book but I see how this sets the tone.

Mia: Begin as you mean to continue. ;-)

“I’m not gonna do it.” Trent signaled the bartender, who immediately filled another mug full of Guinness and slid it across the bar.

“Dude. It’s not my fault you’re—“

Mia: Good tease. I can’t wait to see what he has to do!

Marianne: He he he he

Brian was interrupted when a buxom college girl sidled in between them and put her flirt on. “Hey, aren’t you that guy? Like the Cake Boss or something?”

Trent heard a chuckle behind the blonde’s back. Now would be the perfect time to strangle his brother-in-law.

Mia: I’m not sure where the chuckle is coming from and it pulled me out of the scene for a second. If it’s Brian, say so. Remember the Prime Directive: First, be clear. When the plain sense makes sense, seek no other sense.

Marianne: Yup, it’s Brian’s chuckle at his friend’s discomfort. I’ll make that more clear.

“No.” He gritted his teeth and pried his eyes from the surgically enhanced globes falling out of the girl’s low-cut shirt.

Mia: You’ve done well with guy-speak so far. Would he really think of them as ‘globes?’

Marianne: Not that the reader knows this yet, but Trent is a baker. I’ll come up with a clever confection….

“Yeah, you are. My roommates and I saw you on TV last week. You’re even cuter in person,” she drawled, running her nails down his arm.

He never thought he’d grow tiresome of the song and dance of a woman hitting on him but the past month had tried his patience.

Mia: You mean ‘tired’ instead of ‘tiresome.’

Marianne: ;-)

Once again Brian chuckled making Trent regret coaxing him into a Man’s Night Out. Ever since his fifteen minutes of fame last month, he’d been inundated at the bakery. Who knew that a quick write-up in a paper and a mug shot of him decorating a celebrity wedding cake would go viral? The world was a strange place. Between the magazine articles in Yankee magazine, a few other high-end magazines in the New England area, and the airtime on the local news channels, he hadn’t had much time for hanging out with the guys—or girls.

Mia: Brian’s chuckling is starting to border on creepy. Can he do something else?

Marianne: Snorting? He’s totally enjoying this.

Trent’s bakery coverage put Portland, Maine on the map.

“Whatdoyasay?” The blonde stroked his cheek with one of her long talons, bringing him back to the present.

“Um, sorry. I’ve got plans tonight.” He smiled but turned on his barstool, facing the rows of liquor bottles behind the bar, signaling his disinterest. The blonde huffed and marched off.

“I take that back. You haven’t a clue when it comes to the ladies,” Brian laughed once again.

Mia: Take what back? I scrolled up to see what he was referring to and still couldn’t figure it out. When writing dialogue, keep it snappy. Pinging back and forth makes for a quick read and sucks a reader in. Don’t make them wonder where the thread of the conversation went.

Marianne: Ah, good catch. In a previous draft there was more dialogue…so he was responding to a statement that I since cut.

“I’m glad you’re having so much fun with this, Bri. Finish your beer. The game is starting soon.”

“Wanna make another bet on how long it will take for you to get hit on at the stadium? Let’s see…the blonde was the third in…” Brian looked down at his watch, “the twenty minutes we’ve been here. I wager you don’t make it to the opening pitch before some chick recognizes you and comes on to you.”

Mia: Before we have a new bet, I really want to find out what he has to do to satisfy the last one.

Marianne: You find out later…but I can tease now if that makes the reader happy.

Mia: Let’s put it to the rest of the RPT gang. What do you think? Have you been teased enough?

“Forget it, wiseass. No more bets.”

“Ah, but you’re paying up, Kipson. I’m gonna love watching you pay up on this one,” Brian said, slapping down a few bills on the bar.

No, Trent would not allow Brian to watch him pay his dues. It was going to be embarrassing enough as it was. God help him.

Mia: Ok, it’s a good hook, but don’t let us dangle too long. This is the sort of story that needs to click along. Love the bromance you’ve got going here, but is the heroine just around the corner? Please tell me Trent meets her while doing whatever embarrassing thing he has to in order to satisfy the bet.  Great start, Marianne!

Marianne: Spoiler alert—well, you learn in the next few pages. Trent has to endure six Zumba classes. The Zumba instructor is Rayne Wilde who thinks Trent is gay…well, what straight hot guy would go to Zumba, right? Thank you so much for your feedback! This was fun!!

Mia: Love it! Dancing like a stripper without a pole. I’ve done a few Zumba classes and NEVER have I seen a guy–gay or straight, hot or not!

 My bio:

MStephenson Head Shot-1Marianne Stephenson lives in southern Maine with her alpha-male husband (who may or may not be an inspiration for a character or two in her books) and three active children. She can be found shuttling her lovelies to a dozen different sports practices and games throughout the week. In her spare time–ha!–she write contemporary romance novels.


Now it’s YOUR turn, my dears. Please leave your comments, suggestions and encouragement for Marianne. And remember, I’m always looking for more victims. I mean, volunteers!

PS. If you haven’t yet, now is a great time for you to subscribe to my blog. Signing up is easy. Just click on the subscription links under the navigation bar in the left hand margin of this page. That way, you’ll never miss another Red Pencil Thursday! 

20 thoughts on “Red Pencil Thursday

  1. Chuck Robertson says:

    Sorry to be a latecomer to this group, but I had to work my day job. Here are my thoughts:

    First off, I love how the story sprints right out of the starting gate. It wastes no time showing the characters in dialogue. Also, there is conflict at the very beginning. The reader wonders from the start what the bet is about.

    A couple paras down, I found the phrase ‘Brian was interrupted by…’ awkward. I personally don’t like it because it is in the passive voice. I’d rather see ‘A buxom college girl interrupted Brian when she…’ That is, unless the use of passive voice is intentional, such as to draw attention to the interruption first.

    The phrase ‘surgically enhanced’ stands out to me. Part of me wonders how he knows her breasts aren’t real. Also, breast implants have a connotation of tackiness, thus defining her character better.

    A person can’t grow ‘tiresome’. They can grow tired or bored instead.

    I love the reference to the girl’s fingernails as ‘talons.’ It has some predatory connotations, as in birds of prey. That sums up her actions pretty neatly.

    To me, the voices of the two characters came across as vivid and realistic. I could almost jump into their heads as the conversation went on. Also, the bet is interesting enough that I as a reader want to continue on to find out what it’s all about. It may have very little to do with the story overall, but at this point it’s enough to keep a reader reading.

    I think you have accomplished your objectives for the first 500 words quite well. Any reader just picking up the book would be tempted to read on.

    – Chuck

    1. Marianne says:

      Chuck, Thank you so much for your feedback. So, from a guy’s perspective, how would you describe a chest that is…umm, too much?

  2. Thank you, Marianne and Mia. This opening caught my interest for three reasons.

    1) You present Trent Kipson well, Marianne. You’ve worked in bits of information about him without info dumps. Though we know little about him so far, we’re already getting a feel for him.

    2) This story deals with an aspect of contemporary culture that interests me, and probably quite a few other readers: the cult of celebrity. In particular, instant celebrity, imposed on someone who hasn’t sought it. And the consequences thereof. From the start, we can see that Trent is uncomfortable with the questionable benefit of fifteen minutes of fame. This makes me want to read his story all the more.

    3) The business about paying off a lost bet further snags my interest. But that also segues into the first of my problems with this excerpt. Here goes:

    • Just my opinion, but though talking about situation or event isn’t the worst way to open a story, neither is it the best. Instead of having Trent and Brian talk about the former doing something to pay off a bet, I’d rather see him doing it. A talky opening scene implies a talky novel. True, many readers like that. This one doesn’t.

    • A few details: How can Trent possibly know the blonde’s breasts are surgically enhanced? Also, “talons” isn’t the best choice of words. I’d pick “claw-like fingernails”. As for “mug shot”, that implies criminality. Just say it’s his photo. And the bit about Trent putting Portland on the map is an exaggeration in a context that doesn’t call for it.

    • The title doesn’t go over well with me. I dig puns, but not weak or forced ones. What’s more, on reading the title for the first time, I hadn’t a clue about what it refers to. I think titles matter; certainly they catch my attention. Or fail to.

    Good luck with your project!

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Thanks for weighing in Mary Anne. You always give us plenty to ponder.

      Not being comfortable with celebrity does make me like Trent. Interesting that you caught that whole 15 minutes of fame theme. It is such a part of our culture now and generally not a good part, IMO. Usually the worst behaved get rewarded. I would like to do what positive thing earned Trent his moment in the sun.

  3. Hi Marianne and Mia,

    I agree with most of the comments so far.

    When the blonde approached the guys, she was between them, so I didn’t know who she was hitting on at first. Maybe she could go up to Trent to avoid confusion. The chuckle was ambiguous as well as Mia pointed out.

    Kristan mentioned “liking” the main character (beyond being hot). Could Trent get promo in the newspaper for baking for a school? Homeless shelter? Senior center? I would like him right away.

    I haven’t read enough to know about your pacing, but we have to get through the ball game and then to Zumba classes. Could this banter occur as Trent waits to go into class? A woman in spandex could hit on him in the YMCA. Just a thought.

    Actually, my college-aged son did a skit recently with a bunch of guys doing Zumba. It was a hit. My son borrowed a skimpy, bold tank from a girl who took classes.

    This is a really fun opening. I like the tease about the bet, but I would make the outcome of the bet happen fairly fast.

    Kudos to you, Marianne. What a fun opening.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Tying Trent’s baking to a charity is an excellent suggestion to improve his likeability.

    2. Marianne says:

      Great idea!! We see his softer side a few pages later when he’s with his infant niece, but I like the concept of adding in a plug to his charitable work in this opening scene!

  4. Marcy W says:

    Ditto to all of the above … and this sounds like a winner. A guy who is a baker/artist, hot enough to garner a lot of attention — that he apparently doesn’t want … why?, and who has a close male friend. Sounds pretty perfect. Can’t wait to see what kind of woman captures his attention, and how they get together … let us know when we can read the whole book, please!
    Oh, and you need a comma: “Once again, Brian chuckled, making. . .

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Always the sharp copy edit eye, Marcy. Thanks!

  5. I’m agreeing with all of the above comments. I also want to know what bet he lost. Do they bet on sports or on anything that comes to mind? (Like getting hit on within a certain time frame.) Is this a regular deal but Trent usually wins? This is the first time he’s lost and it was a ‘sure thing’? He had too much to drink that night he made the wager? That would give us some insight into his character too, and the reason for Brian to gloat so much about winning.

    I like that he’s a baker and he likes sports. That gives him a soft side since he decorates cakes as well.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Good logical questions that need answers, Helen. Why he lost this particular bet, what the bet was about is at least as important as what horrible thing he has to do to satisfy this “debt of honor.”

    2. Marianne says:

      Great questions! I feel I have them answered in the next scene…when he makes due on his bet and meets the heroine. After the Zumba class he babysits his 6month niece. It’s adorable :-)

  6. jen says:

    Great start! I agree with the comments here about the teasing but it wouldn’t take very much to give us more info. The thing that caught my eye and interrup5ed the flow of you excellent writing was the paragraph where you use the word “magazine” three times in a row . You don’t need the first one (just say “articles”), use the second one (“Yankee Magazine”), and substitute another word for the third one (“publications”?). It will sound less redundant and improve the flow of that sentence.

    good luck!

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Good catch. I never see those kind of echoes. I can only hear them when I read my work aloud.

      1. Marianne says:

        Oh my! How the heck did I miss that!?!?!

  7. Hi, Marianne! Loved this opening, but I think Mia hit it on the head: a little too much teasing without getting into the meat of the story. About two lines before Mia pointed out that this was going on long enough, I thought, “Okay, let’s get to it.”

    I also wanted something to like about Trent. He’s grumpy, but what else? He’s a baker…he’s a grumpy baker and he’s cute…is he nice? Does he love his sister? Does he feel a little bad about rejecting the blond? I wanted a little clue about his personality and gooey filling (baking reference!) other than grumpiness.

    Otherwise, I thought it was great! Keep up the good work!

    1. Mia says:

      Thanks for pointing out that likeability is so very important, Kristan. I recently read “Save the Cat” which hammers home the need for protagonists to do something that makes us root for them right off the bat.

    2. Marianne says:

      Oh, he’s adorable, funny, and sexy with a smattering of sarcasm thrown in, but I see how the reader would want to know this asap. I’ll revise so the reader sees this in the opening scene.

  8. Very nicely done! I do agree with Mia…I’d love to see what the first bet was before moving on to the second. Maybe drop a hint?

    I don’t read a lot of contemporary romance, but I do believe I’d love to see how a guy does in a Zumba class! :D I’m pulled in and do want to know more. :o)

    1. Mia says:

      Thanks, Suzan. And I’m really looking forward to diving into YOUR first 500 words for next week. ;-)

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