Red Pencil Thursday with Helene Wallis

Welcome to another Red Pencil Thursday. My victim/volunteer is a brave member of Charter Oak RWA, the Connecticut chapter I spoke for last Saturday.

It requires courage to take your bath in public and I want to thank Helene for letting the rest of us go to school on her efforts. My comments are in red. Helene’s responses are in blue. A critique group needs input from all its members. Please add yours in the comment section at the end of this post!

The Spy and the Reluctant Bride

A title should set the mood and hook the reader into opening the book. The style of this title is a little “old school,” reminiscent of The Wolf and the Dove, or The Flame and the Flower. Take a look at the titles in the romance department in your local bookstore. Jot down some of the ones that pique your interest. It may spark a fresh idea for you and maybe our commenters will have a title suggestion for you too.

Thank you Mia for your input. The titles were to be a Brides series but then Stephanie Laurens came out with a bride series: The Untamed Bride, The Brazen Bride, The Elusive Bride and the Reckless Bride. The time period was just after mine. So my Abandoned Bride, Reluctant Bride, Vengeful Bride, etc. became The Twisted Killer Spy and Bride series. In fact, I am wondering if I should entitle the book The Twisted Killer Spy and the Reluctant Bride?

You mentioned in an email that you were considering a single word title like RELUCTANT. I like single word titles. They make a strong statement and work well if you hope to draw in male readers.

Bryon Dalton, Viscount Winship, reluctantly span disentangled himself from his newest love interest. He wanted one more session of lovemaking but he had that demned meeting of The Kings Men to go to and it was getting late.

Newest love interest/em sounds too modern for a historical. Also, the term emlovemaking/em as a euphemism for sex is fairly modern too (circa 1950!) You don’t name a date here, but it sounds Regency-ish. Lovemaking would have meant “to pay close attention to,” in other words, courtship, which is not what you’re describing here.

Yes, they are in the early Regency era.

Perfumed sheets and a willing warm body were most compelling. He certainly found himself at attention but there was nothing for it. He had to leave.

Found himself at attention made me smile. :-) There’s something to be said for not naming body parts before we’ve had a chance to like the characters enough to care about the state of their parts.

He leaned over to give a kiss, reluctantly, sadly. He wanted to, what was he thinking of? He had to leave. He shook his mind clear of those thoughts. He had to go to the meeting. He could see her on the morrow.

You’re missing her in the first sentence, but I’d really rather see the girl’s name here if she’s going to be an important character.

No one knows her name. Not even Madame. She is the woman in the blue room. Trust me, they will be looking for her. All of them, including the Spy.

Notice that I turned a number of -ly words purple. Try to limit the number of adverbs you use. Descriptive verbs and specific nouns will make your prose cleaner.

How about if he shakes his head instead of his mind?;-)

He and his friends had discovered a new place to help vent their frustrations and angst. Among themselves they called it The French Whorehouse because the Madame and all of the girls spoke with a very bad French accent.

Most guys wouldn’t think they were venting frustration and angst with a whore.

All that is except one. He had found a very real French woman in the house who was pretending to not be French.

OK, now you’ve hooked me. Good job. Is this the woman he’s been bedding? I’d really like to know her name and I think you’ve missed a chance to introduce her to us by not having any dialogue between Bryon and this young woman. By redoing the opening with dialogue between the two of them, you’ll avoid the trap of having Bryon ruminate in silence about things. You’ll be showing instead of telling.

It was a little amusing and at the same time a little sad.

I don’t understand this observation.

It was not difficult to understand how an émigré’ could end up in difficult circumstances. He did not want to know how she ended up here but he was interested in who her companions outside of the house were, if she had any. One of her other lovers was a French spy. Of that he was fairly sure. Unfortunately it was impossible to have the house watched. So many men came and went, including his fellow spies. The Madame certainly would not tell him who came to see her, not without him spilling his own secret connections.

Now you’re ratcheting up my interest. He’s a spy who spends his time in a brothel. Why? Did he have a connection to someone there before he met this girl or is it just a happy accident that he’s sharing a ladybird with a French spy?

For someone was seeing her and talking to her.

Someone who had a great deal of information on what was going on in France. Perhaps someone who also knew she was French and was being careless or boastful. Men like that were very dangerous. Perhaps someone in his cups who was careless with his speech? Perhaps someone she knew in France or was a connection of hers? Like a relative? And how and why was he giving her this information? The most likely explanation? Pillow talk, no doubt. Who ever he was he most likely did not know she talked in her sleep. Not rambling words but complete lucid conversations. He worried that someday her other lover would come to know this and do away with her. He grimaced when he thought of the methods of torture he was acquainted with. Not a happy thought.

We have a lot of information being dumped here. I wonder if you might start out with her talking in her sleep and having Bryon realize she was both a source of information and in danger because of it. Again, I’d rather have you show me than tell me.

Perhaps she would be lucky and he, whoever he was, would not guess.

You set me up to worry about her and then yanked the suspense away by saying “Oh, well, maybe she’ll be lucky.” I’d rather she stay in jeopardy for now. It’s a better hook.

He even considered telling her what she was doing, but the information she was supplying was too important.

Because I want your hero to be honorable, there needs to be a really compelling reason for him to continue to use this woman. Is she talking in her sleep about an assassination attempt on the queen? A military invasion? What is more important than the value of not letting a woman he at least likes remain in danger?

Too bad he could not have her ask questions of her Frog.

Tall, handsome and intelligent, and most importantly very generous with the ready, he was everything she could want in a lover. She hoped he

And here we have to end because we’ve reached 500 words. This last paragraph is in the unnamed young woman’s head. We’ve changed POV without a change of scene, which is a no-no for unpublished authors. I know Nora does it, but she’s Nora. If you must change POV within the scene, pull back with a paragraph that isn’t specifically in anyone’s POV–a more omniscent view–then come in with your new POV character.

Would she think of him as a lover? If she was his exclusive mistress, yes, but since she sees more than one man, I think you need a different word here. And since she does have other “regulars” this is a problem if she is your heroine. It’s a romance reader expectation that the heroine will not be promiscuous after she meets the hero (and vice versa). This is something you need to give some serious thought.

She is not the heroine of the story but a vehicle. She may end up at the end of the last book as a heroine of sorts but not before because when he goes back to rescue her (at the end of the first chapter) she has already fled. In thinking it over she has decided she fears the other man more than Madame.

Maybe I started in the wrong place and that this should have been a flashback. I could try that and see if it works better. I need to introduce her at some point, as she has a pivotal role in the last book and he is the last man to see her. So I will begin again and see what happens.

It’s not uncommon for an author to begin in the wrong place. I remember writing 12-15 pages on one story only to discover I was merely “clearing my throat” and getting acquainted with my characters. The story starts at a pivotal moment, a moment when everything changes for your main character. Hit the ground running and don’t look back. And think long and hard before doing anything as a flashback in the first chapter. A flashback removes the reader from the immediate action. Save it for later, when your reader is invested enough in the characters to wander down memory lane with them.

 Thanks for letting me take a look at your work!

Helene’s Bio: I am a single mother, twice divorced, who raised six children basically alone and now have eight grandchildren to brag about. When I retired after twenty years in nursing (as a psychiatric, forensic and home care nurse) I decided to reinvent myself as Regency suspense/romance novelist. I did win first prize in the Connecticut Authors and Publishers contest a few years ago for a personal essay on the Hartford Circus fire “A Day at the Circus(Fire).” My only writing experience, besides in charts was as a photographer and regional features editor for a weekly newspaper many years ago.

Thanks for being our volunteer today, Helene. Now it’s your turn. Do you have suggestions for her? Beginnings are a delicate time. Have you ever read a published novel that didn’t seem to start in the right place? /embr /pemHold the presses! Helene just sent me a revised opening that shows some definite improvement. One of the goals of Red Pencil Thursday is helping writers think in new directions. Click here  if you’d like to check out Helene’s newest version yourself.

17 thoughts on “Red Pencil Thursday with Helene Wallis

  1. Anonymous says:

    From Jody Lebel
    Helene, I loved the story when I heard it read at our retreat in October, and you have tweaked it and improved it since. Nice job. I love the lady pretending to be French. I think Mia is right though. I want to hear her talking in her sleep. We could learn more about him and her through this bedroom setting as he sits there quietly and listens to these secrets come pouring out. Who ever he was — should read whoever he was I think.

    “Perfumed sheets and a willing warm body were most compelling. He certainly found himself at attention but there was nothing for it. He had to leave.” I too love the reference to him being “ready” without body talk but I didn’t undersand the end: there was nothing for it.

    I don’t think a randy man who was “ready” would give a rat’s patootie about being late for a meeting. I also didn’t understand when you said her Frog. Does that mean French man?

    You used several nice words, gentle words, words that set the mood in this piece: disentagled for example. Also “most compelling” and “difficult circumstances”.

    I like him, but I don’t love him yet. I am very intrigued by her. I want to read this…

  2. Helene Wallis says:

    This is Helene and I have been out almost all day but have read all of your comments. I am so grateful, Mia, for your generosity of spirit and your very constructive comments. This is a wonderful, supportive envionment, in the greater writing community, for new and established authors to try their wings, whether it is for a first or second novel or perhaps a new genre in writing for a more established author. You all make one feel like we are all, well, friends and neighbors. And Anna, I am waving back. Helene

  3. Jeanne M says:

    I enjoyed looking at these comments from two different points of few. I think way back when (probably about 40 years ago) I read a book that was written with reflections from two protagonists from different prospectives. I don’t remember reading anything recently that has really address as issue like that.

    Does any story or writer come into mind with you?

  4. Bronwen Evans says:

    Hi Helene and Mia – I really liked this story but can understand Mia’s comment on where to start a book. A GREAT BEGINNING is action or tension packed. Nicole Jordon told me to start with Emotional Action!

    But I don’t think it matters whose POV a book starts in. My first Regency historical Invitation to Ruin (and my second book Invitation to Scandal), out in February starts in male POV, as many other Regency authors do. I also have a woman in the first scene who is not the heroine. Rules are made to be broken if it suits the story and makes it stronger.

    I think you have a fabulous hook in this story and the premise is strong. Keep going – I’d buy the book if it was published.

  5. kimberlyloomis says:

    Mia: Wonderful advice.

    Helene: I, too, love that line everyone is quoting. Most excellent. It takes a lot of guts to put your work up here and I applaud you for it. There’s nothing I can really add, but I did want to say I hopped over and saw the revised version and found it much improved and very intriguing; a very good opening to a story. Best of luck to you. :)

  6. Sandy says:

    Hi Helene,

    The concept for your story is very intriguing. I agree with Mia about starting with a little more information. Also, I read the new beginning, and it is much better.

  7. Anna Carrasco Bowling says:

    Hi, Helene “He had found a very real French woman in the house who was pretending to not be French” – there’s a whopper of a hook there, and it does immediately engender reader interest in this woman who is not the heroine. Not neccessarily a bad thing, but readers will often assume that the first woman presented is the heroine and that may confuse some.

    Voice is extremely important in any story, and the voice presented here is delicious and has an edge of danger.

  8. Kat Duncan says:

    I agree with the other comments that the woman pretending not to be French is definitely a hook. That’s the point where I really wanted to read more. I really also liked the hints at danger for the woman. It made the man sound protective. Thanks for sharing your work!

    Introspection sometimes makes it hard to get into a character’s head. Starting off with dialogue is a good idea and usually avoids this issue. I also have a couple of introspection examples of how to use your voice to write subjectively on my blog today.

  9. Barbara Britton says:

    Hi Helene,
    You have interesting characters and an intriguing plot. The mixed-up French whorehouse makes for a unique setting. I agree with Mia that some dialogue might help with plot movement and characterization. You certainly have me hooked!

  10. Jane L says:

    First kudos to you for raising your family alone. That in itself is an amazing accomplishment! Second, I also love your voice. I read the second draft. Much better and easier to be drawn into the characters with the addition of dialogue right away! I always start from my heros point of view,because I write stronger heros. I was told always focus on your strrengths first, the rest will come! I think this story is full of promise and look forward to reading more of your work Best of luck!

  11. Theresa Romain says:

    Helene, thanks for being here! MIa, thanks as always for your fantastic comments. I adore the setup of this book, and especially the sentence, “He had found a very real French woman in the house who was pretending to not be French.” I’m glad you kept that in your revision–it hints at all sorts of deceptions and secrets.

    I agree with Mia that it’s good to throw in something at the beginning besides rumination: some kind of dialogue or action. Your revised version is a real grabber, as we see more interaction between the hero and this not-French-but-French woman. I really like the way you are setting up the plot–and now I’m wondering who the heroine will be that completes the story!

  12. Janet Kay Gallagher says:

    Hi Mia
    Learned from your comments. Thanks.

    Hi Helene
    Thanks for letting me learn from you. I liked the revised version. He got up went to her clothes,was caught. Standing(no movement back to the bed-he was sitting onbr /the edge of the bed.) Are a couple words needed here? “He moved to the bed, sat on the edge…?”

    I am not as far along the writer’s path as you so this is just trying to learn how to do it.
    Sounds like a very interesting book. Best of everything with it.

  13. Rebecca says:

    Helene: I really like you beginning the story with the male POV – that draws me right in. You received some excellent advice from Mia (of course) – isn’t she great? :)

    This line of yours was my favorite: “He had found a very real French woman in the house who was pretending to not be French.” It’s intriguing and I instantly want to know more about her.
    Good luck with your writing!

  14. MiaMarlowe says:

    Nan–Starting with the male POV is not necessarily bad. My TOUCH OF A THIEF starts with Greydon Quinn, my sexy alpha hero.

    Your suggestion to check publishing house guidelines about flashbacks and prologues is a good one. In addition to visiting the website of the house a writer is targeting, I’d suggest reading all the new releases in the specific line to get a feel for the flavor of the stories they publish. Of course, you need to bear in mind the titles coming out now were acquired a year or two ago!

  15. MiaMarlowe says:

    Thanks for dropping by, Maggie! (The fabulous Ms. Robinson will be joining Diane Whiteside and me in a fun, sexy anthology called IMPROPER GENTLEMAN next July!)

    Funny you should mention starting a writing career later in life. I recently read about NYTimes Bestseller Connie Mason making her debut at the age of 50. She went on to top all the lists and still sells like crazy.

    Writers, like artists of all sorts (think Grandma Moses who hit her stride in the world of painting at 90!) can start at any age!

  16. Obe says:

    Hi Mia and Helene,
    First, Helene this takes a lot of courage to put up an excerpt. I applaud you. Starting places are very hard. I am guilty of always beginning with the male POV and usually end up with rejections.

    I think the idea of a flashback is not bad. Check the house you are targeting for use of prologues. I personally like this, if its the first of the chapter. AS a beginning this sentence really stood out for me “It was not difficult to understand how an émigré could end up in difficult circumstances.”

    What if this were the first paragraph an you sprinkled the other stuff in from the beginning and just before you switched to her POV put the part in about him kissing her goodbye then break and the last paragraph.

    I must say I am intrigued. I think this is quite an interesting beginning. I love a romance with lots of action and adventure because romance is the chase.

    I hope you receive lots of good advice today, you’ve got a whopper of a great story to tell.

  17. Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe says:

    I liked your voice so much I skipped right through the red and blue to get to the meat. I haven’t read your new opening but I’m going to.

    And you know what I like best? Your own story. I was a debut author this year at an age when a lot of women are looking forward to collecting their first retirement check. Brava for you!

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