Red Pencil Thursday
Yes, 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. ;-)
Suzan 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.
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