Red Pencil Thursday

Red Pencil ThursdayYes, I know it’s Friday, but writers are sometimes on a schedule of their own. We tend to measure the passage of time in word count and plot points instead of days and weeks. So to the calendar purists out there, my deep apologies. To everyone else, welcome to Red Pencil Thursday–The Friday Edition!

We’ve had RPT volunteers from all colors of the publishing spectrum, from total newbies working on their first story to New York Times bestsellers. Our guest today is the fabulously successful Scottish historical writer, Suzan Tisdale! She’s been a volunteer several times and I love getting a sneak peek at the next installment of one of her Clan series.

My queue of volunteers is completely empty at the moment. So if you’ve ever thought about sending in your first 500, now would be a great time to step up! Click here for the details. 

And now to Suzan’s opener…


For years, Aggie McLaren had been well aware that her father was insane. Aye, that they were now on their way to see Rowan Graham to ask for his help in finding her a husband was all the proof anyone needed.

Mia: Love that first line! And then you succinctly gave us a peek at the major conflict, but what I really like about this opener is the deep POV you’ve created. We are absolutely in Aggie’s head, thinking her thoughts in her unique and sassy voice.

Mermadak McLaren was dying. Aggie had known for weeks now. She had overheard the conversation between her father and the healer. He had a disease of the lungs and not much time left. Mayhap, a year at best. Aggie hadn’t needed a healer to tell her what she had suspected for weeks. His coughing fits had increased, he wheezed whenever he took a breath and he was beginning to lose weight. Death seemed inevitable.

If her father would simply die and not worry over finding her a husband, she might begin to see a glimmer of hope for her future. But the arrogant, selfish man refused to die without leaving someone at the helm of his clan.

Mia: You’re telling, m’dear. I’d rather hear her in conversation with her father. Let her observe his coughing and weight loss between arguing with the ornery old fellow. I’m interested to know why she’s so indifferent to his coming demise. If I see him in action as a miserable, selfish fellow, I’ll be more likely to understand Aggie’s callous feelings.

’Twas why they were on this hopeless trek. Aggie was his only child and being a female, she could not inherit nor could she take over as chief of Clan McLaren. She knew it wasn’t kindness of heart or worry over his only child’s future that motivated him. She knew it was his greed.

Her father’s selfishness, his mean streak, would not allow him to simply appoint a successor. Nay, he wanted a young man he could mold into his own image. He wanted someone ruthless and unhindered by common standards of morality or decency to take over the reins. He wanted someone who could be just as brutal as himself.

Mia: Actually, Scottish laws of succession were more liberal than in England. A woman could inherit if the patents governing the title specified “heirs whatsoever.” If that’s the case, Mermadak’s heir could be his daughter, or a nephew or niece (a relative not in his direct line.)

Suzan: I know that Scottish law allows for it, but, in Aggie’s particular clan, their rules prohibit her inheriting or becoming chief. There are no other heirs in his direct line.

Mia: Got it. I’m a little puzzled as to why he wants to continue his pattern of brutality. Usually a brush with the Reaper makes people start bargaining for more time with better behavior. Is there a reason Mermadak wants the Clan McLaren to be ruled so harshly? Is there a problem that requires him to be brutal? Some reason he’s such a hard person? Be careful you don’t create a one dimensional villain. Even the most terrible villain needs at least one positive quality. Remember, he’s the hero of his own story. And you just might want to redeem him eventually.

Suzan: Later on in the story, you will find out why he is so brutal, but I can’t explain it in the first 500. I promise, we’ll find out he did, at least at one time, own a heart. He too went through something ‘ugly’ but I simply can’t get it in the first 500 or it would be a very short story! lol

Mia: Point taken.

Since he did not trust anyone within his own clan to carry on his legacy, somewhere in the twisted regions of his mind, he concluded that a husband for Aggie was the only route to take.

As they rode across the glen, she sat behind Donnel, her father’s first lieutenant, forced to hold on to the smelly man. A shudder of revulsion trickled down her back. Donnel was as mean as her father.

Mia: Ew for Donnel. I’m squirming on Aggie’s behalf.

Is lieutenant the right word? I’m trying to remember running into it in my Scottish research. After the chieftain, there were tacksmen who helped him collect rents and led the warrior elite class of the clan.

Suzan: I believe I’ll use the term ‘second in command’.

A husband, she mused.

By anyone’s standards, she was an old maid, long in the tooth at three and twenty. No one in his right mind would want to take her as a wife.

Mia: This is the sort of thing the men could be discussing over her.

Suzan: They will.

Any man who would agree to such a union would have to be as tetched as her da. Or just as old, mayhap older. With her luck, he’d be just as mean and vicious as her father. Aggie knew there was no hope at finding a decent man. Decent men simply did not exist. Her proof lay in her encounters with harsh, callous, brutal men over the years.

Mia: Remember that Angela James, editor for Harlequin’s Carina Pres, says, “Not every noun deserves an adjective.” You gave ‘men’ 3 of them—harsh, callous and brutal. Pick one.

Suzan: We’ll go with brutal.

Aggie was defective, damaged. With her scarred face, the slight limp left from an injury inflicted years ago, she could no longer be considered pretty. She no longer laughed, or sang. She didn’t even speak.

Mia: Ok, that explains the lack of dialogue. But there’s still a way to add some. If Mermadak discusses his plans with Donnel, his awfulness could be demonstrated in cruel words.

You’ve done something very smart here. Aggie is wounded. Because of that, we care about her and want her to have better luck in the future. FYI, it’s not necessary to have a character with visible wounds in order to elicit this response. Every time I meet a character who struggles with something in their past or suffers from an old hurt, I feel for them. We all have wounds. We all still fight the battles that started on the playground or the bedroom or the boardroom.

There had been a time, long ago, when she had been considered pretty. She used to laugh and sing, when her

Mia: And unfortunately, I had to cut the paragraph back so the excerpt was just 500 words. Just when I was starting to really like Aggie and root for her happiness, but that’s what you want to happen. ;-)


McKenna's HonorSuzan lives in the midwest with her handsome carpenter husband and the last of their 4 children – a 15 year old, 6’3″, built-like-a-linebacker son. They are currently accepting monetary donations in order to feed him and keep in in shoes. Being married to a carpenter translates to living in a perpetual state of remodel. Being an author with a vivid imagination helps Suzan cope with the perpetual remodel.

Suzan has been writing since childhood. She self-published her first novel, Laiden’s Daughter, in December of 2011. Since then she’s hit Amazon’s Top 100 multiple times and gone on to publish 4 more Scottish romances!


And now for the fun part–YOURS! Suzan and I can’t wait to hear your thoughts about her opener. Reader and writer alike, please leave your comments, suggestions and encouragement for her here.

Oh! and if you haven’t subscribed to my blog yet, now is the perfect time. The sign up is quick and painless and located in the left margin just under the nav bar. Just click on the link to submit your email address and you’ll never miss another Red Pencil Thursday (even if it comes out on Friday!) And of course, I’d never share your email with anyone.

20 thoughts on “Red Pencil Thursday

  1. Chuck Robertson says:

    Hello Suzan and Mia. Sorry about being a day late to a blog that’s already a day late, but I had some things come up too.

    Stories set in historical Scotland are very common, but I think for good reason. There are so many people in the English-speaking world of Celtic descent and they like reading about their culture. It’s also a very exotic place.

    I think your opening paragraph is effective. It puts the reader directly into the story and shows what her struggle will be.

    I’m hesitant to say anything negative about a published writer, but as a reader I found the following text a little too telly. Exposition tends to get boring after a while. It is my opinion you missed several great opportunities for scenes that would have shown the background for the story, and I think they would have been as interesting as any scene in the novel.

    I agree with Mia in that it was possible for a woman to become chief of a clan. I recall seeing a picture of a portrait somewhere in which a woman posed in the ceremonial garb of a clan chief. Maybe it would be a good idea to explain to the reader beforehand why this is not possible in her clan.

    I loved the way you described the lieutenant as a smelly man. IMO it said all there needs to be said about him and encapsulates her misery well.

    Also, I’m pulled in by her thoughts that there are no good men. It makes the reader sympathetic to her. She deserves one. Also, I’ve noted in Romance novels that’s what the heroine usually says before she meets the impossibly perfect man who poses bare-chested on the cover of the novel.

    There are my thoughts. From what I’ve seen so far, this should be an interesting novel once finished. If I were into the kind of Romance my wife likes, I’d buy it.

    1. Mia says:

      You can always buy it for your wife, Chuck. ;-) You raise some good points about the chieftainship, but it would take a stronger woman than Aggie seems to be to succeed her father. She’s pretty beaten down now, but that’s a good place for her to start the story. Aggie has room for a broad growth arc.

      Thanks for dropping by with your comments!

    2. :o) Thank you for your insights, Chuck! And as a heads up: No she doesn’t immediately fall for the hero lol. I don’t write ‘bodice rippers’ (I giggle) and bare chested men have only graced one of my five covers. :o)

      And yes, women could and did become chieftains. But in my story, Aggie’s clan doesn’t allow for that.

      Thanks again for stopping by! :D


  2. Marianne says:

    Hi Suzan!
    I agree with the others–the opening could use some dialogue. I love Sorchia’s suggestion of having the men discuss Aggie. Perhaps some banter about Aggie’s insane father as well. We could get a glimpse into his insanity as well as the treatment of his daughter. Do the other men dismiss her because of her age? Her scars? Great internal conflict in the opening pages! I’ll go check out your other books. Best of luck!

    1. Mia says:

      I’m so on Aggie’s side already and want to see her get her HEA. Thanks for your comments, Marianne.

    2. Thanks, Marianne! There is dialogue, but past the 500 mark. I could probably move it up a bit.

      They dismiss her for lots of reasons, mostly because the men Mermadak surrounds himself with are just as mean as he is.

  3. A great intro to the characters but I have to agree that it needs dialogue. Since we are on our way to get the husband, maybe a conversation among the men and her reflections on it. The old man can be wheezing; the others can exchange meaningful looks which she interprets; the whole situation can be discussed as if she were not there–she’s just a girl, after all.
    Add setting tags –it’s Scotland so wet, cold, but beautiful and dramatic, too. How does she interact with and register this place? Hard to do everything in 500 words :)
    I like the set up, though, and would happily gather my coco and cookies to spend the evening following her.

    1. Thank you so much Sorchia! :D Thank you for your insights. :D Cocoa and cookies sounds really yummy right now. :D


    2. Mia says:

      Since I was blessed to visit “Alba” last spring, I can attest to the need for an umbrella. But there are also many fine bright days when the world smells green and the sunlight sparkles on the loch.

  4. ann/alba says:

    Wow I got all choked up when I saw McLaren It was my Mothers Middle name ….
    I love Suzan’s work as I love Mia’s work too. Mia Having Suzan here Gave me a Teaser for the next Book in this wonderful Clan.
    I would have to research but is it not Steward for Second in Command, Maybe that’s just THE ENGLISH.
    Have a good one Ann/alba.

    1. Mia says:

      A steward was more like a property manager on an estate. He was over the butler in authority, answerable only to the lord. I don’t know if it would apply here, since I believe Suzan intends that Donnel be more of the warrior class.

  5. Diane Sallans says:

    I’d read it! This gives me a glimpse of the concept of what authors go thru in honing their stories.

    1. Mia says:

      Suzan’s books are terrific. I encourage you to visit her website and start on one of her Clan series!

    2. Thanks, Diane! :D It is a fun process!

  6. Mary Anne Landers says:

    Thank you, Suzan and Mia. My take: this opening has promise. We’re already getting a feel for the protagonist and sympathy for her. Aggie’s in a terrible situation, one with lots of possibilities. The setting seems real, even in this brief excerpt.

    However, I agree with Mia that there’s too much tell and not enough show. Nothing a revision can’t fix.

    But wait, there’s more. Meramdak looms larger than Aggie. Maybe he doesn’t in the complete scene, but allow me to note that IMHO a secondary character shouldn’t overshadow a primary. Especially in a crucial passage such as the opening of a novel.

    Also, Meramdak just doesn’t ring true. He’s an old man dying of (I assume) consumption, what we now call tuberculosis. Yet he’s hale and hearty enough for an arduous ride across the Scottish Highlands. I know these guys were tough, but still . . . .

    More importantly, a ruthless control freak wouldn’t be looking for someone just like him to mold into his successor. He’d look for someone he can, well, control. Otherwise, it’d be like two bullies on the same block. Ain’t gonna happen.

    In addition, if Meramdak has little time left, and he’s so sick, how can he groom his replacement? I know it’s a hackneyed expression, but I must say it. He should have thought of that sooner.

    The fact that Aggie is mute makes for a challenge to the writer. But it also can make for interesting dynamics, both within this character and between her and others.

    Good luck with your project!

    1. Thank you, Mary Anne! I have thought about those issues as well. He is sick, perhaps a tonic or something to help with the coughing fits? Or another ailment that would be less ‘noticeable’? He’s only in his 40’s which is old by 1350’s standards, lol.

      And you’re right about molding and controlling. I’ll work on that.

      And yes, Mermadak looms large right now for various reasons. Again, its hard to put everything into the first 500.

      Thanks again! Loved your insights! :D

    2. Mia says:

      A word about TB–think Doc Holliday in Tombstone. Yes, he was a “lunger,” but it rarely stopped him from doing what he wanted because his will was so strong. I had no trouble imagining someone as headstrong as Meramdak could make a trek across the Highlands.

  7. Thank you so much for having me here again, Mia! :o)

    1. Mia says:

      My pleasure, Suzan. Love taking a peek at your work.

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