Red Pencil Thursday

Red Pencil ThursdayWelcome back to my online critique group. Our volunteer author is Krista McKenna, who writes urban fantasy. She’s finished her manuscript and tells me it tops out at 128,000 words. At first, that word count raised a warning flag in my head. Most publishing houses are looking for 80-100K length, but then I remembered that fantasy stories are typically longer. Does anyone know if the reader expectation of a longer length also applies to urban fantasy?

My comments are in red. Krista’s are in blue. Please add yours at the end. We need your opinions too!

A Kiss of Darkness

This is an evocative title, but a quick search on Amazon revealed no less that 4 different Kiss of Darkness books. That’s not to say you can’t use it too. You can’t copyright a title, but do you want people to type in your title and have to choose between your book and say, NYTimes bestseller Heather Graham’s?

Yes I realized this after I titled it but haven’t been able to think of anything else yet that felt right and had the same feel to it.

Berlin: Two Weeks Ago

I like that you’ve said “two weeks ago” rather than giving a definite date. Since this is a contemporary setting this helps your story retain its freshness. Good thinking.

The morning was still wrapped in inky velvet but Dimitri could feel the sun pressing against the horizon, breaking down the darkness and forcing the night to fade to a steely gray dawn. He had been tracking non stop for weeks now, making his was across Europe. He’d been hunting, stalking and doing so with great pleasure. Tonight’s mission was no different.

When possible, tighten your prose by eliminating “helping” verbs. In the first sentence, change could feel to felt. In general, if you can write without too many –ing’s , the prose feels stronger and more immediate. See what you think of this:

The morning was still wrapped in inky velvet but the sun pressed against the horizon, breaking down the darkness and forcing the night to fade to a steely gray dawn. Dimitri had tracked nonstop for weeks now, making his way across Europe. He was a hunter, a stalker and he did his job with great pleasure. Tonight’s mission was no different.

I see what you are saying. I liked the message I was trying to convey but it almost feels as if my sentence is running on. I also liked that as a being who is ruled by day and night that Dimitri could feel the sun and knew instinctively day break was coming but I like the flow of how you wrote it so I will definitely have to play with that.

It had been many years since he had been able to hunt so freely, since he had been able to feed with out fear of the Vampyre council discovering his existence. Were his true nature to be discovered he knew he’d be killed on sight. There was a time when all of his kind were hunted down and eliminated, deemed to dangerous to live. The fact he had managed to remain undetected was in large part to his own craftiness along with his desire to live.

You’re developing a pattern of repetitive clauses, different ways of saying the same thing. Is there a way to combine the two clauses in the first sentence into one so you don’t have to use 3 had been’s (another prose vitality sucker.) You don’t need to tell us Dimitri knows something. We’re in his POV. We know what he knows, so it’s a given. Cut he knew.

I am the Queen of repetitive clauses, lol!

You’re right we are in Dimitri’s head. Certainly a given.

You missed a chance to world build a little. Give us some details about when and why his kind were nearly exterminated and by whom. Not a lot. I never advocate a back story dump, but how about this: In 1503, the Vampyre High Council deemed his kind too dangerous to tolerate and they were hunted to near extinction. The fact Dimitri remained undetected was due to his craftiness along with his desire to live.

I know. I thought about that after I sent it to you. I had a little more world building before but I had to rework this scene from Dimitri’s perspective because it was from another minor character’s POV.  I agree with you though that I am missing an opportunity do give a little more, not a lot, but a little more detail here.

This tells us your hero is considered a bad dude, even by vampyres. He’s cunning, smart and he has a goal–survival.

Dimitri is actually the villain but he is a tortured bad guy who knows he is bad but is to far gone to change it. He does much to temp our heroine who finds herself unnaturally attracted to this sexy bad boy much to her chagrin. I do convey more of this just a paragraph or two after where I ended my 500 word submission. You think I should relocate that information?

Interesting. With the advent of the dark hero, it’s easy to mix up the villain and hero. I think you should let your readers decide which Dimitri is.

Turning his attention to his current prey, the female vampyre who was his quarry, he followed the pair in silence, keeping a fair distance as they walked hand in hand.  The woman shivered glancing around nervously before pulling her coat tighter around her as they descended into the subway.

The pair of what? Are there two female vampyres? The first rule of fiction is : Be clear.

I agree completely. I stated later that it was a human male which Dimitri immediately disregards as collateral damage. I think I need to move that to here and make that clear from the get go who he is following.

The terminal was quiet for the most part since the trains quit running at 1:00 am and didn’t resume until early morning. Even then, most of the commuters were traveling into the city this time of morning rather than out. This left the terminal all but deserted with the exception of a few night owls waiting on the platform to depart.

Way too much information for this tense situation. If you want to ratchet up the tension, don’t give us train schedules. The important information is that the platform is all but deserted.

TMI(too much Information), I get it. ;-)

Taking a deep breath he cocked his head to the side focusing to better assimilate the information he gleaned from the scents around him. The industrial smell of steel and creosote hung heavy in the air causing him to wrinkle his nose slightly at first and then her scent wafted to him making his body react as if she had just fisted his **** in her slender white hand.

I don’t think you need the word focusing in the first sentence. Read it aloud and see what you think. Love the detail of the smell of steel and creosote. Sorry about the ****. If you’ve read my work, you know I’m not shy about using this word, but this is a PG-13 blog. It’s entirely appropriate since we’re in his POV and this is what Dimitri is thinking. However, you have an echo if you use it here because he ‘cocked’ his head earlier in the paragraph. I’d suggest you change the word in one place or other.

Good catch, I missed the echo. I’ll replace the word, and I agree on Focusing, its reads fine without it. I thought you might censor that for the blog but I hoped you wouldn’t be personally offended with the use of the word since, as you said, you use it in your own wonderful writing.

Sweet. The female smelled sweet, like a mix of honeysuckle and roses. He could feel her emotions rising and swelling like the tide, a mixture of anxiousness laced with weariness and a fair amount of suppressed sexual desire. Oh but she was a feast of feeling and Dimitri couldn’t help but to let his eyes flutter closed for the briefest of moments as he siphoned off some of her emotions feeding off them like other vampyres fed off blood.

Substitute felt for could feel. Very evocative way to show us how Dimitri’s kind feeds on others by tasting their emotions. I like the way you handled this, but why did other vampyres find his availability dangerous? Is there a negative effect on his victim?

He is dangerous because wraiths (Vampyres who feed on emotions are called Wraiths in my world) can feed to the extent that they are not just siphoning emotions but actually consuming part of your soul. They can feed on everything that makes a person what they are until they are dried up husks of nothingness. Also the type of souls Dimitri feeds on affect who he is, if he feeds on evil and darkness he takes those traits into himself corrupting him (which he has done). Once a wraith begins to feed on souls (which kills the person they feed from) he will always crave that rush and that is what makes them so dangerous.

He savored the taste of her, envisioned himself running his hands over his body, touching her, taking her, consuming her.

There are 4 -ing words in one sentence. How about: He savored the taste of her. In his mind, he ran his hands over her body. He touched her. Took her. Consumed her.

I like that, It also seems more active voice rather than passive.

By using fragments you achieve more of a “guy-speak” voice. Generally speaking, guys use simpler, shorter sentence construction. Take a look at your next sentence. Breaking it into two sentences will make it sound more “guy-like.

Okay. That makes sense. I guess I need to pay more attention to guy speak if I’m going to write from a male perspective.

Shaking his head he opened his eyes feeling almost drunk from her essence, though she hadn’t even realized he had fed on her.

Just for grins, go through your manuscript and circle every -ing word. Think long and hard about which ones you have to leave and how you might change the others. For example, you can remove feeling from the sentence above with no change in the meaning. You’ll find it makes your work read stronger without all the -ing’s.

I think I might have to change half of my MS then, lol. ;-)

Entering the empty train just one car behind them he watched unseen as the woman flopped herself down on a seat and sighed in exhaustion. “I hope Natasha’s okay,” she said to her companion, a human male Dimitri immediately dismissed. “It’s not like her to just disappear like this,

By starting with Entering you give the sentence a passive feeling. How about: He entered the empty train one car behind them and watched unseen as the woman flopped down on a seat. She sighed.

Yes, active voice, I agree.

Note you don’t need herself. What else would she flop down? Also, since we’re not in her POV, you can’t tell us she sighed in exhaustion. Dimitri can only see her sigh unless he uses his abilities to know she’s exhausted.

Oops. This was the character who’s POV the scene was written from originally. I’ll need to scan through again and make necessary changes.

This is a strong opening, Krista. With a few tweaks, I think you can make it even stronger. Good work!

Thanks Mia. I really appreciate the chance to have you look at it and get your opinion. I have learned a lot of things I now know to look for in the rest of my MS (like the ING’S and the active voice). ;-)

Krista’s bio: I grew up in the foothills of Northen California where I still live with my husband , three kids an a few critters. I have been writing since I was in grade school entertaining both my parents and teachers with with my tall tales and huge imagination. After getting a Degree in English from the College of Southern Idaho I sat down to write a short story. That story turned out to be over two hundred pages long and I realized then that writing was what I wanted to do. Since then I have been writing every day and loving every second of it and I plan to keep on writing till my fingers quit working and my imagination runs dry.

If you’re a writer and would like to be a volunteer for a future Red Pencil Thursday, click HERE for details.

Now it’s your turn to talk back. What suggestions or encouragements do you have for Krista?

10 thoughts on “Red Pencil Thursday

  1. Sandy says:

    Very good critique, Mia.

    Krista, I liked it that you will rework the the things Mia told you about, but not necessarily using her words. Whatever you do; do not change what you’re trying to convey.

  2. Maurine H says:

    I like how you introduced us to Dimitri by having him first appear in the darkness. Makes him feel dark to a reader.
    I think one of the common things beginning writers do is construct sentences with -ing verbs, especially was -ing constructions. My first mss were loaded with them. Like Mia said, if you rewrite to -ed verbs, you’ll like how it sounds.
    You have an interesting premise with the type of vampire Dimitri is and I enjoyed reading your submission.
    I wish you the best.

    P.S. If I’m late with this, I didn’t get the notice until today. Don’t know if it’s my provider or yours, Mia. Probably mine.

    1. Krista McKenna says:

      Thanks Maurine. You and Mia are so right. Axing those ings makes a big difference and i like the way the story flows much better. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Sometimes it is so hard when your just starting to know if your on the right track, so thanks for letting me know.

    2. Mia Marlowe says:

      It’s my fault, Maureen. I’m sort of flying on auto-pilot while I’m getting ready for Touch of a Thief’s release.

  3. Krista,
    Your blog is very nice.
    Hope you will update. I like your short pieces. I need to upddate mine too. Will try
    adding more posts only shorter. Thanks.

    1. Krista McKenna says:

      Thanks Janet. I love those little things that inspire me to blog. My goal is to try to blog more, if only life would cooperate and get less hectic:) Thanks for weighing in. Im glad you like what you have read. Im working on revisions now thanks to Mia’s suggestion and hope to make a story I love even better.

  4. Hi Krista and Mia
    (Mia this came into my e-mail tonight. ORA Almost midnight Friday 22 April 2011.)
    Looks like an interesting story. I like what I have read.
    What a neat way to do a critique.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      My email provider seems to be getting my messages out rather slowly of late. Thanks for dropping by.

  5. Barbara Britton says:

    Hi Krista,
    I liked your story. It teases to be an action-packed, thrill of a ride.
    I agree with Mia that changing the “ing” words to “ed” and shortening sentences will heighten your tension.
    My WIP is from a male POV, and even though I loved my flowery descriptions, I scrapped them to be more true to an 18 yr. old guy. It’s hard to do, but worth it for authenticity.
    I agree that the train station slows your pacing. Get to the action as soon as possible in the opening. We have a good feel for Demetri in your first paragraphs.
    Your story is good–tighten the prose and it will race to the end.
    A job well-done!

    1. Krista McKenna says:

      Thanks so much for weighing in Barbara, I am definetly going to have to delve into the male psyche to make it seem more realistic and make some changes by cutting those ing’s and being more active in voice rather than passive. I do love Dimitri though, he’s bad but he’s good at it:)

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