Red Pencil Thursday Goes to Italy
I’m so delighted to bring you a new RPT volunteer–Molly Maka. Her WIP is called Angel and it’s set in WWII. I know conventional wisdom says historical romance should be plunked down squarely in Regency England (and I love a good Regency as much as the next girl) but I get excited by out of the box times and places.
As you know, we can’t have our online critique group unless someone steps forward to take the hot seat. So, if you have a manuscript you’re working on, let me encourage you to volunteer for Red Pencil Thursday. Check out the “how to” details.
Monte Cassino, Italy
“Incoming!” someone screamed from outside.
The first explosion shuddered the ground beneath Ginger’s feet. A thin fog of dust floated down from the roof of the dim, olive drab tent. She steadied the metal tray of medical supplies and went back to rebandaging Sergeant Armstrong’s leg.
Mia: First, kudos for dropping us into the heat of action. So often the opening of a story is tentative or bogged down with backstory. You’ve hit the ground running. Yay!
Molly: Thank you! That’s exactly what I wanted to do. This story does not warrant flashbacks or connections to letters in my mind. I wanted to put the reader right in the midst of World War II.
Mia: The first explosion sentence structure is a little awkward. It’s not the explosion that shuddered. It’s the ground. I’d rework it like this:
The ground shuddered beneath Ginger’s feet.
Molly: I like that. I could never figure out why it didn’t sound right.
Mia: You don’t know it’s the first explosion at this point. It may be the only one. Now pull us in close with a visceral reaction from our heroine. What is she feeling? Does she lean over to shield the sergeant’s wound with her own body from the debris falling? Does she struggle to maintain her composure for the sake of her patient?
Molly: All awesome questions and it really gave me an idea on how to tighten this up. I was trying to keep the action moving and was afraid getting into her head would slow things down. Also, good point about the explosion. I’m trying to make it out to be basically the start of the attack, but I see what you mean.
It had been so close…closer than normal. A second explosion followed the first. What was going on? It had been quiet for days.
Mia: One way to really pull your reader in is to take her inside the mind of your protagonist. Instead of ‘It had been so close…’ how about giving us her direct thought–That was close! A second explosion followed. What’s going on?
Molly: I like that. I think again, it was me being afraid that I would slow down the pace.
Mia: As long as you’re not setting up camp in her head, you’re not in danger of slowing the pace. What’s quicker than a thought?
“Move! Find cover!” a short dark-haired medic shouted, pushing through the tent. His head streamed blood, and most of his combat uniform was in shreds from just below the knees showing the peppering of shrapnel up and down his legs.
Mia: At this point, we don’t need to know the medic is short or dark-haired. We’re in the thick of the action. Give us the essentials and we’ll fill in the rest. If he has a name, use it here.
Molly: Sadly, he has no name. I jokingly called him Random Medic #3, so I don’t know if I ought to differentiate him since he doesn’t have a name.
“They’re bombing the unit!” he continued to yell, trying to push off the nurses who came to attend to him.
Mia: They’re bombing the unit is pretty obvious. If you’re going to put that in there, at least tell us who they are. It’ll give us more of a sense of who’s fighting where.
Molly: Good point. I think I just assumed that the reader saw Italy, 1944 and could infer that it was the Battle of Monte Cassino against the Germans.
He started aiding the wounded soldiers. “Get up! We have to evacuate!”
Ginger stared at the chaos, motionless. It was as if the world had changed to a film running far too slowly and she couldn’t find a way to speed it up.
Mia: Nice use of a newly emerging technology for this time. ;-)
Molly: Thanks. I love keeping my readers fully entrenched in the time period. I think it’s the historical reenactor in me.
Another explosion screamed just outside the tent. The force was enough to send her flying backwards against the empty cot next to Sergeant Armstrong. A searing pain seeped up the back of her skull.
“Ginger! We’ve got to get you out of here!” the sergeant yelled over the deafening explosion.
He had managed to pull himself off his cot and held onto one of the wooden support poles of the tent. His rough and calloused hand reached out for her. Ginger grasped it, and though he was still weak, his strength hauled her up as though she weighed nothing.
Mia: As though she weighed nothing is a bit of a trope. Plus the guy is wounded. If you end the sentence at up, we still get that the good sergeant is strong.
Molly: You totally helped me again tighten and tidy where I could not figure it out.
Without thinking, she draped his arm over her shoulder and helped him make his way to the exit. All around them, nurses, medics and doctors scrambled to get their patients up and out.
She searched the chaos for her medic, Boots. Finally, she caught sight of him.
Mia: Boots is a great name! Is he the medic speaking earlier? Please name him the first time we see him. We’re in Ginger’s POV. If she knows someone’s name, we should know it too.
Molly: No, he’s a different guy. Since the earlier medic is only there for really that short moment, do you think he needs a name?
Mia: No, I think you only need to use one medic. Have Boots do the speaking earlier. You have enough going on without cluttering up the cast with nameless ‘spear carriers.’ It’s always a good idea to combine smaller characters and let them wear different masks depending on the needs of the scene. First Boots is a herald, announcing a change in action. Then he acts as a threshold guardian, directing traffic. (See The Hero’s Journey by Vogler for more about character archetypes.)
He stood at the tent flap barking orders to get the men onto waiting trucks or to foxholes. His mousy brown hair had fallen into his face and partially obstructed his round glasses.
“Boots! Which way?” she screamed over the racket of warfare.
Mia: Always go for specific nouns. Shelling is more specific and descriptive than warfare.
Molly: I like that much better!
“They’re strafing the hospital. No place is safe!” he shouted back.
She desperately made her way over to him with Sergeant Armstrong in tow. His broad, heavy frame weighed her down, but she kept moving until she reached Boots. The chaos outside looked gruesome.
Mia: I can’t see where they are exactly. How far are they from Boots? What’s in their way? Chaos is a unique enough word that you shouldn’t use it twice in the first 500 words. Plus The chaos outside looked gruesome is telling. Show us by giving specific details what Ginger is experiencing.
Molly: Good point. I think I was seeing it in my head and not getting all the details on the page.
“Ginger, take me to a foxhole. If I can get a rifle, I can help repel ‘em!” Sergeant Armstrong said.
Mia: We like Armstrong very much! Please tell me he’s your hero.
Molly: Unfortunately, he is not, but I want to give him his own story one day.
“Are you crazy? You’re wounded!”
“Don’t need my leg to fire a gun,” he countered. “Let’s go before more people get hurt.”
Ginger looked out at the carnage, then back at the strapping young sergeant in her charge. “All right.”
An eerie silence surrounded the pair as they emerged from the tent. A few of the jeeps sat engulfed in flames. Fiery fingers grasped at whatever they could consume.
Mia: Oh, I had them outside the tent already for some reason. Didn’t she move toward Boots? This is a good example of how we as writers can see our scene in great detail, but the reader doesn’t always get the same message. The Prime Directive of writing is “First, be clear.” Don’t make your reader wonder how your scene is playing out. Be direct. Be specific. Show. Don’t tell.
Molly: Thanks for pointing that out. I do need to be more clear in that section.
Mia: Great start!
Molly: Thank you so much for a great critique. You really gave me good ideas to tighten what’s already there. I knew it needed to as much as I kept it action packed but this gave me a clear direction.
Molly Maka is an aspiring author and a 1940’s girl at heart. When she isn’t writing or at work, you can find her traipsing through various time periods as a historical reenactor or volunteering with the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight.
Facebook Fan Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Molly-Maka/164155096939854
Now it’s your turn to offer Molly your opinion. The point of Red Pencil Thursday is helping each other improve our storytelling skills. I hope you’ll share your thoughts and Molly does too!