Red Pencil Thursday with Krista McKenna

Welcome to another Red Pencil Thursday, my online critique group. My volunteer today is Krista McKenna, whom I first met in Judi McCoy’s Aspiring Writer’s Workshops. I was one of the authors who came to the Romantic Times Convention a couple days early so I could give workshops for aspiring authors. (I’m happy to announce I’ll be doing it again next April. Hope you’ll make plans to join me in Los Angeles for Judi or Bobbi Smith’s aspiring writers program!)

I’ve done my critique on Krista’s opening. My comments are in red. Her responses are in blue. Please add your thoughts in the comment section. A critique group is only as strong as all its members, so be sure to give us the benefit of your opinion, too.

Shadow Cursed

I like the title. It suggests a paranormal element and sounds deliciously dark.

“If I wanted to live in earthquake central, I would have moved to L.A.!” Holly muttered span softly as the earth beneath her feet rumbled and swayed with the fifth small aftershock since last week’s 4.9 shaker.

Ok, if she’s not in LA, you have to tell us where she is after this opener.

Good Idea, I don’t think I mentioned she is in Seattle until later on.

Looking at her watch, she frowned silently, shaking her head as others, like her, looked around wearily before going on with their business as usual.

Dividing long sentences makes a passage read easier. I’d split this up like this:

Looking at her watch, she frowned silently, shaking her head. Others looked around wearily before going on with their business as usual.

Also notice that you’ve used 3 dreaded -ly words in as many sentences (I turned them purple so they’d leap out at you). I’m very anti-adverb because I think it keeps us from choosing active, descriptive verbs and specific nouns. I try to limit myself to 2-ly words per manuscript page.

You’re right. Breaking things up does flow better and I will be dropping some of those adjectives. 2-ly words per page sounds like a good rule of thumb

“You’re gonna be late!” mocked a sudden, grating, male voice from just behind her. Rolling her eyes, she sighed, quickly span resuming her path.

Angela James, executive editor for Harlequin’s Carina Press says, “Not every noun deserves an adjective.” You’ve given ‘voice’ three adjectives. Pick one. Your writing will be cleaner with fewer modifiers.

“Why me?” Holly groaned out between clenched teeth, readjusting the bag of fresh pastries she had just picked from the fourth street bakery, and picking up her pace.

Fourth Street should be capitalized. Maybe Bakery too if that’s the name of the business.

Duh, even I should have known that. Rookie move, lol. ;-)

Try not to use two prepositions in a row. Instead of out between, I’d use between alone. I’d also change picking to picked. Read it out loud as see if it sounds better to you. When you read it aloud, you’ll hear that you’re using picked and picking in the same sentence. To avoid this, how about saying she bought from instead of picked up from?

“Late, late, late,” the voice taunted further instead of just going away as she had hoped.

My paranormal antenna is twitching. Something’s happening here and I like it.

Refusing to acknowledge him, she pushed the button at the intersection waiting for the little cross walk hand to flash green so she could safely cross the street.

We don’t need the bit waiting for the cross walk hand. I’d cut from waiting to the end of the sentence. We know why she pushed the button. Less really is more.

Okay, it’s a given that the hand flashes and isn’t really anything the reader needs to know to enhance the story.

“So what is this, the third time this week? It’s shameful I tell you…just shameful.”

Growling low in her throat she fought not to turn. Come on Holly, just ignore him, she told herself silently as the hand turned green freeing her to go.

I’ve bolded all the times you’ve used just so you’ll see them. There are a number of “filler” words we writers like to use–even, just, still, always, that, etc. Sometimes they get stuck in our heads and flow out our fingers without our being aware of them. If you read your work aloud, you’ll hear them. You’ll also hear that you have an echo–turn and turned–in this paragraph as well. I catch more weakness in my own prose by reading it aloud than anything else.

Darn filter words. ;-) I have been working on getting my ‘that’s’ (something I am terrible with) under control only to have neglected the other words.(sigh) Something I’ll have to continue to work on. I am trying to get myself in the habit of reading out loud, It really does make a big difference.

I don’t know how you expect to run a business like this,” he continued, following right along behind her as she crossed the street, heading toward Westlake. “I mean really, if I—”

“Enough!” she yelled, spinning around to face the semi-transparent figure of the seventyish year old man who hung in the air just behind her. “I mean it Bob, I’ve had enough. Just… go haunt some one else, okay!”

I love it! She’s being haunted by a grumpy grandpa.

The ghost snorted inelegantly as he continued to hang in mid air, his face dower as always. In life, Bob had owned a small grocery store in the same building where she now housed her own beloved bookstore cafe. For forty years he had run his store and garnered the reputation of being a surly, nosy, grumpy, old, fart.

There is no other way to snort but inelegantly. I see this particular trope a lot and it always strikes me as being unnecessary.

I see what you mean, I’ll toss inelegant.

And now we know they’re connected by place. Good hook.

In death, Bob hadn’t changed much. He was still surly, nosy and grumpy, but since she was the only one who could see him, she bore the brunt of his frequent tirades.

“And just who else am I supposed to haunt, hmmm?” he asked floating around her as she turned from him sighing deeply as she resumed her course. “I don’t like it anymore than you do. It’s not my fault you’re the only one who can see and hear me. I had hoped if they…” he started pointing up to the sky as he ranted on about how terrible it was having no others like her so that he could choose who he wanted torture with his incessant negative babble. As another familiar tirade began, Holly shook her head in frustration, knowing she had to cut him off before he really got started.

You used tirade twice in close proximity. It’s an unusual enough word to be an echo.

I hadn’t even caught that one. ;-) You’re good.

“Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard it all before,” she began cutting him off. “I’ll say what I always say. If you don’t like me, GO AWAY,”

Good start, Kristi. Even though your ghost is a grump, I can see how he could be used as comic relief as well. If you do that, you might want to rethink your title which sounds dark. Which ever way you decide to go, as long as you’re consistent you’ll be fine.

The title is darker but it comes to make sense later in the story. Bob is a fun character who adds a bit of levity to the story when things get to intense. I think a little humor can add a lot to a story if done correctly. Holly ends up getting herself tangled up in some pretty dark stuff with her ability to see and talk to ghosts, hence the title.

Thanks so much for your time Mia. I think that with just the few small tips you have given me I go do a lot in tightening up my WIP and making it really great.

Krista’s Bio: I grew up in the Foothills of Northern California where I still live with my husband, 3 kids, a dog and a cat. I have been writing since I was in grade school, entertaining my teachers and family with my tall tales and huge imagination. After geting 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, writing was what I wanted to do. Since then I have been writing nearly every day and loving every sencond of it.

Now it’s your turn to give Krista some advice. Thanks!

22 thoughts on “Red Pencil Thursday with Krista McKenna

  1. Krista McKenna says:

    I have heard from several authors including Mia as well as Helen Rosenburg who is an editor for one of the big New york houses, that the use of exclaimation marks is a big no no and a sure sign of an unexperienced writer. As your friend said a good writer shows the exclaimation in her writing not with the puncuation.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I was told by a published author that using exclamation points is a sign of a beginning writer. A good writer, she told me, shows the exclmation with words. I do see it a lot in new writer’s work, but I also see it in established authors though not very often. Opinions on this please?

  3. Krista McKenna says:

    Marcy you are definitely correct. I wasn’t familiar with the word dower so I looked them both up. Perhaps if I wrote more historicals I would have known the difference but again you’re right they are certianly not interchangeble. Great catch, thanks:)

  4. Krista McKenna says:

    Dana, I would be honered to sit next to you at RT, but i do love your current pen name. It would have to be something great to change.

  5. Krista McKenna says:

    Lol, I have tried and tried but no matter how much i frown it doesnt make noise. I think you may have something here Stacy:)

  6. Laura S says:

    Hi Krista, I enjoyed your story and the banter of the critique between you and Mia. She makes some excellent points we can all learn from, and you have the makings of a wonderful story! Keep at it; I think you have the right feel for your paranormal piece!

  7. MiaMarlowe says:

    Stacy–LOL. I missed the silent frown. You’re right. There is no other way.

  8. MiaMarlowe says:

    Dana–Thanks for coming by to support Krista. Since you’re a writer too how about being our RPT volunteer sometime?

  9. MiaMarlowe says:

    Barb–Great suggestions for tightening.

  10. Stacy McKitrick says:

    Hey Krista!
    This story did pique my interest! It seemes like it might be humorous (I love humor in my stories). But I did have a problem with some of your adverbs (of which there were way too many, I have to agree). You put she frowned silently. Can you frown any other way? I don’t think mine makes any noise!

    Good luck. You can put me in the category of I want to read more!

  11. kristamckenna says:

    Thank you all so much. I really love this story and am having fun playing with both Bob and Holly as well as the others. All of your comments are so wonderful and helpful. Thank you so much for taking the time to read it and weigh in. I appriciate it more than I can say and will take every bit of advice I can get:)

  12. Anonymous says:

    I love the grumpy old guy and the premise keeps me wanting to read more. I agree with Mia’s comment about breaking up the sentence length. You know I’m reading your other work and I have noticed the same thing in a few places. It creates a rhythm that sometimes can be distracting.

    Keep up the hard work, I have no doubt you’ll be signing books at an RT convention soon. Hey maybe I should change my pen name so we can sit next together if I ever get so lucky too.

    Proud of you for putting your work out there!!!
    Dana M

  13. Barb H says:

    Wouldn’t you know, just is a word I have to go back and check for–I say it all the time and it has a way of creeping into my manuscripts–and I write medieval, so that’ really bad.

    I like your grumpy ghost and that he’s haunting a young attractive girl. You’ve created interest in this reader–I want to know what this haunting is all about. Does she see others? Why is he trailing her? Is there a mystery?

    I agree that it would be nice to know where they are, especially as you make it a point to say where they are not :) Also in the paragraph where he started pointing up… –you might be able to tighten that sentence by using only one verb, he pointed up. The rest of the sentence is amusing, but rather long and distracts a little from the snappy interchange between the unlikely pair. The sentence after it gives us the some of the same impressions, so perhaps you could eliminate all or part of it. If you need some of the information it contains, you might work it in elsewhere.
    EX: As another familiar tirade began, Holly shook her head in frustration. She had to cut him off or he’d rant all the way to the shop.

    Good luck with the story,Krista, and thanks for letting us share it.

  14. MiaMarlowe says:

    Maureen–Doing a search and destroy for those killer fillers is an excellent idea.

  15. MiaMarlowe says:

    Excellent catch, Marcy!

  16. kristamckenna says:

    I think that Just might be the case Maureen.Lol.

  17. Maureen says:

    Wow, I know I posted a comment earlier… Anyway, Krista…we all have favorite filler words. Mine is simply…yours may be just. Eventually you spot them and start figuring out how to be more precise. If you know them, do a search and highlight and it will help.

    My editor just did this in my second round of revisions and wow! I’ll be more on alert as I go from now on!

  18. Marcy W says:

    This is a book I’ll definitely want to read! I like both of these characters already; I always enjoy humor in any book, no matter how dark it can get; and I’m partial to stories that use bookstores as settings (well, some, anyway).

    Krista, if I may point out a wee error: in describing Bob’s face, you use dower. I think you mean dour. Both good words, but not interchangeable! :-) — Keep up the good work, this is going to be a good read!

  19. MiaMarlowe says:

    RevBritton- Good idea. She could be closer to her bookstore in the beginning. That would give us a chance to see the space Bob is still calling home.

    Oh! I wonder if ghosts wander. Would he be following her through traffic, or waiting to grouse at her once she steps into their shared space?

  20. MiaMarlowe says:

    Jane L–A course with someone like Angela James is a great suggestion. There is so much available online to help aspiring writers, but I also like to give Judi McCoy and Bobbie Smith’s classes before RT a plug too. It’s two intensive days of writing info.

  21. Revbritton says:


    I like your frustrated heroine and annoying grandfather of a ghost. I would like to get a feeling of the location that has brought them together. Their haunt can give us information about them sooner.

    Nice job!

  22. Jane L says:

    Wonderful to see another of Judi’s students! Good job Krista, sticking to your writing goals. I have also had a hard time with the ly- words, I found when I am using them, I am trying to tell to much, instead of show. Keeping that in the back of my mind has helped.

    Also repeating words, like cut, then cutting in the next sentance. (this is not the best example, but you see my point.) Try… She knew she had to silence him before he went off on a tangent.

    Also I took a great course on SAVVY with Angela James, on editing. She does a fantastic job of helping clean up writing. Like Mia suggested use one descriptive word. Instead of small,round, glittering, red bulb. Pick the one that would best describe what your trying to convey in that line or scene. You can sprinkle others in later.

    Great job sharing and you are doing awesome! Keep up the good work!

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