Red Pencil Thursday with Stacy McKitrick

One of the things that will continue from the Emily Bryan blog is Red Pencil Thursdays. I enjoy doing these online critiques and hope you find them entertaining and useful as well.

Today our victim/volunteer is Stacy McKitrick. My comments are in red. Her responses are in blue. Be sure to add your 2 cents in the comment section. Not only will Stacy appreciate your input, strongyou’ll be entered in the daily drawing for one of my books!


I’m not sure about this title. It doesn’t really tell me anything about what type story it is or give me a hint what it’s about. Only that someone is uncommon, which can be good or bad.

I had the hardest time coming up with a title to begin with. I used that because both the hero & heroine are uncommon. She’s an uncommon human, he’s an uncommon vampire, although it’s more on her than him. I’m not sold on the title, so if anyone suggested something better, I’m not against changing it.

If Sarah Daugherty was smart, she’d live somewhere it never got cold. If she was smart, she’d have never married Steven. If she was smart, she’d have never let her mother get the best of her.

Yeah, if she was smart.

Brilliant opening. I love using a set of threes. If, if, if… one less would have been too few to establish a rhythmic pattern in the prose, one more would have been overkill. Because you added ‘Yeah’ before the 4th if, you broke the pattern and made the last sentence the stinger. Excellent! Plus we’ve learned some important things about our heroine in short order. She’s not happy with where she lives, her marriage is/ or was trouble and she has issues with her mother. Most readers can relate with at least one of those universal problems. We’re immediately on Sarah’s side.

Thank you! I did struggle with getting the right opening paragraph.

She stared at her reflection in the mirrored doors of the elevator. Somewhere beneath the white down-filled coat and pink scarf was a pathetic twenty-four-year-old divorcee, waiting for the doors to open and blast her with air that belonged in a freezer. They didn’t disappoint.

After the brilliant opening you committed a cardinal sin—using a mirror so your heroine can describe herself. It’s done to death and will make editors’ yawn. I love your details, down-filled coat, pink scarf. I can see her shivering. Why not skip the mirror and go into deep POV with Sarah? Make us feel her shiver even though she’s wearing the white down-filled coat and pink scarf.

They didn’t disappoint stopped me for a second. I had to go back to see which noun They was standing in for.

I guess because I always look at myself in mirrored elevator doors, it didn’t seem strange that she would too, but I get what you’re saying. I’ll change it with her shivering inside her coat and go from there.

Her friend, Lori laughed. “You are such a wimp. We’re not even outside and you act like it’s below zero.”

“It is below zero in Celsius.” Ever since the events that unfolded prior to her divorce, she’d been cold. No matter what she did, she couldn’t get warm enough. Winter wasn’t helping any, either.

Ever since the events that unfolded prior to her divorce is a little clunky. Something important obviously happened and it’s good to put a hook in here for it. We need a bit more for a hook to be effective in pulling us forward.

I’ll have to think about how to change that (I’m not quick when it comes to making changes!). I wanted to convey something happened, but not what – at least not right away.

Three cheers for giving your heroine someone to talk to! It’s important to see the protagonist in action and interaction instead of rumination.

My beginning used to just involve Sarah, but I read somewhere it was better to have her interact with someone, so I thought introducing her friend earlier would work.

“Yeah, but last I saw, we were still measuring temps in Fahrenheit.” Lori stepped out of the elevator and then looked up. “Gee, what happened to the lights? It looks like a freakin’ tomb in here. You’re the workaholic. Do they normally go off after seven?”

“They never did before.” The public garage was not known for its brightness, but the difference from the moderately lit elevator was noticeable. Now it wasn’t only cold, it was dark – just like a dungeon.

There’s a place to tighten your prose here. If you cut but the difference from the moderately lit elevator was noticeable, you don’t lose anything and the pace is quicker. After all, the important part of this sentence is the comparison to a dungeon. May as well get to it sooner.

You’re right, it does sound better. I must constantly tell myself that sometimes “less is more.”

Sarah glanced at the ceiling and was able to spot some broken bulbs before her light source was cut off. When she looked back at Lori, she was greeted with her departing figure.

Another tightening suggestion. Instead of was able to spot, how about simply spotted? Also there are times when plain prose is best. You don’t need to tell us your character looked at something. We’re in her POV. Just tell us what she sees and we’ll follow. Was greeted with her departing figure is wordy for action that’s speeding up. How about Lori did an about face and headed back toward the elevator?

Guess I’ll have to re-look at this paragraph again, too. I see what you’re saying, though. Crap.

After being propositioned in the morning by Brian – a stranger she had met on the way into work – and now with the missing lights, did she really want to be left alone? At least there wasn’t any sign of Brian. In fact, the garage was eerily deserted.

She trotted to catch up with Lori.

“So, you coming in late tomorrow like Mark suggested?” Lori opened her purse and pulled out her keys.

Ok, I misunderstood. I thought Lori was freaked by the dark too and went back into the building. She must be heading for her car. If that’s the case, we need to know. The Prime Directive in writing is: First, be clear.

Thanks. No one else caught this and it’s so ingrained in my mind, I didn’t see it, either.

“No, I have a client scheduled at eight-thirty.”

Lori shook her head and rolled her eyes. “Why am I not surprised? You work way too much. Your client wouldn’t have cared if you postponed preparing his taxes. No one has to tell me twice to come in late. I’m sleeping in.”

Yes, it was only January, and yes, she could have rescheduled. But damn it, she liked going to work. Being a minion at a tax accounting business wasn’t glamorous, but it paid the bills and filled her days. And she was only on a temp-to-hire basis. She needed this job. Maybe if there was a special man in her life, she would act differently. Who knows, maybe he was out there looking for her, wanting to love her for herself and not some stupid agenda. Until she met him, work was all she had. At least her job gave her some satisfaction of helping people.

This feels a little like author intrusion. You’re giving us an info dump once you start in about a special man. I’d cut everything after She needed this job.

I really try to avoid the info dump, too. I guess in trying to show her motivation I went a little overboard!

They came up to her friend’s car first and stopped. “Told my sister I would babysit tonight

And we end mid-sentence because I have a 500 word limit on RPT excerpts. Now I know I tell writers it’s good to tease their readers, but you also have to deliver sooner rather than later. Is something bad going to happen in the dungeon-like garage? You’ve set us up for it. If it’s not coming fairly soon, we’ll feel as if you’ve misled us a bit.

Yes, something bad does happen in the garage and it happens as soon as Lori leaves. I just didn’t want to rush into it. I wanted the reader to get a feel for Sarah and maybe root for her, too.

I was rooting for her from the get-go because of your very strong start, Stacy. Resist the urge to go slow. Hit the ground running and don’t look back. The reader will keep up with you and bless you for taking them on the ride. If it feels as if I’ve been a little tough on you, it’s because I see some real promise here. Keep up the good work!

Thank you, Mia! Your comments have been great. I don’t mind tough at all. I won’t improve if I don’t see what I’m doing wrong. All I want to do is write the best damn book I can. I love these characters and want others to love them, too!

Stacy’s Bio:

Born and raised in California, Stacy McKitrick now lives in Dayton, Ohio with her husband of 30 years. She has worked many jobs, including a stint in the US Army. After spending many years looking for her passion, she finally found it in writing. Blog:  Website: Facebook:

If you’re an aspiring writer who’d like to be a Red Pencil Thursday volunteer, please contact me through the Contact page and I’ll send you the details.

25 thoughts on “Red Pencil Thursday with Stacy McKitrick

  1. librarypat says:

    Good lesson. I have really missed Red Pencil Thursdays.

  2. Stacie Carver says:

    Great Job Stacy, Glad to see you are still working on it. How about the title quot;Uncommon Groundquot;

  3. MiaMarlowe says:

    Cassy–It#39;s easy to fall into wordiness. I slash and burn my own stuff constantly, but fortunately, revision is the fun part of writing for me. Once I get the bones of the story down, rearranging the flesh on it is easy. Boy, that sounds rather ghastly, doesn#39;t it? A little Frankensteinish. Guess I#39;m still in Halloween mode.

  4. MiaMarlowe says:

    Louisa–Great title suggestions, some with a bit of humor, some dark and delicious. Stacy needs to think about what tone she wants to set and pick a title that matches the mood of her story.

  5. MiaMarlowe says:

    Stacy–Having a teachable spirit will serve you well as a writer. I#39;m always looking to improve my craft and learn more about storytelling. br /br /That said, it is daunting to take your bath in public. Thanks for being courageous enough to help others by volunteering to do it!

  6. MiaMarlowe says:

    Jan–It#39;s still me, by any name! ;-) Believe me, changing pen names is not something I#39;d planned on, but it seems to be a publishing requirement at this time.

  7. Cassy Campbell says:

    Great critique! Helpful to me, as I#39;ve committed some of the same mistakes. I#39;m constantly editing out the #39;was able to#39; and #39;managed to#39; and substituting the active verb. I loved the opening as well-it really is brilliant! Makes me want to read on immediately. I was also confused by her being greeted by Lori#39;s departing figure. Just saying that she suddenly noticed Lori wasn#39;t following her or that she turned to see Lori beelining for her car would be more /br /As for the title, what about Darkness Uncommon, or Vampire Uncommon? br /br /Whatever you call it, I can#39;t wait to find out what happens next!

  8. Louisa Cornell says:

    Oh and one morebr /br /An Uncommon Darkness

  9. Louisa Cornell says:

    Really great critique,Emily. And Stacy you have some good solid material here with which to work. br /br /The title could use some work. Here are a couple that came to mind after I read your /br /A Guide to the Not-So-Common Vampirebr /br /The (Un)Usual Vampire Suspectbr /br /One Undead – Straight Up with a Twistbr /br /Sorry, it#39;s late ! Definitely need to get some sleep before I try to come up with more! Good luck with this one, Stacy! Look forward to reading it!

  10. Stacy McKitrick says:

    Thanks, everyone, for your comments. They mean a great deal to /br /I understand if I want to be published, and I do want that, I need to get my work out there, no matter how hard it is. Expecting to be picked apart (what writer isn#39;t?), I was encouraged by the many positive comments. It really uplifted me!br /br /Thanks, Mia, for taking the time to critique my work. It gives me a lot to think about.

  11. Jan says:

    Hi Mia! I will miss emails from Emily, though! :Dbr /Enjoyed you red penciling!br /br /Stacy your story in very interesting. Good luck!br /br /Jan

  12. MiaMarlowe says:

    Ann–I#39;m glad you quot;re-foundquot; me. I too love print books, but I#39;ve been reading ebooks on my phone lately and really enjoy the convenience of always having a book with me. Unfortunately, it really eats up the battery life. I may have to bite the bullet and get a dedicated ereader. Maybe. br /br /My Emily Bryan books are only available as ebooks now unless someone happens to have one in stock. However, my Mia Marlowe titles, starting with TOUCH OF A THIEF next May, will be issued in print and ebook simultaneously. I#39;m glad readers will have a choice. Thanks for putting me on your TBR list!

  13. MiaMarlowe says:

    Good catches, Nynke. The bit about the creepy guy earlier is really tossed away without making it more than a minor annoyance. Every word needs to count, especially at the beginning of the story. br /br /That#39;s why I love having a critique group! Only one more set of eyes is never enough.

  14. Ann Best says:

    You#39;ve done an excellent job of critiquing /br /I was a follower, and now I#39;m back re-following after a blogger glitch forced me to get a new blog (almost the same name, but lost my followers; blogger doesn#39;t export them).br /br /I read one of your earlier posts about print versus e-books. I love print books, but what can we do? It#39;s the e-revolution. I#39;ve got you on my list of quot;books to read,quot; in e if I have to (I have a nook; it#39;s not TOO baad).br /a href=”” rel=”nofollow”iAnn/i/a

  15. Nynke says:

    Hi Stacy!br /br /I#39;m rooting for Sarah and worried about what will happen in the dark, so I think this will be a really good opening, especially after you work the comments /br /I was confused when Lori walkad away from Sarah in the dark: I figured she was making a quick getaway on purpose, leaving Sarah open to some attack. But that wasn#39;t what was going on at all. Does that mean the garage didn#39;t look dangerously dark to Lori? Otherwise, she might want to stick to Sarah…br /br /What also confused me was the fact that Sarah had been propositioned by a stranger but actually knew his name – how did that happen? It probably makes sense if you know what happened, but the reader doesn#39;t at this point, and it feels a little strange to me. I do wonder now whether Brian will be the bad guy – that#39;s interesting, but he#39;s also the only man introduced so far, so if he is, it isn#39;t a great whodunnit plotline. Might it be better to leave him out for now, and make the shock of whatever#39;s gonna happen in the dark in a few minutess all the more awesome?br /br /There#39;s my two cents – good luck with your writing!

  16. MiaMarlowe says:

    Barb–I#39;m just the opposite–never cold, but Stacy convinced me her heroine is.

  17. MiaMarlowe says:

    Jane–If you can, spread the word about RPT to the rest of Judi McCoy#39;s aspiring writers. I#39;d be happy to host more of them here before I meet them next April at RT!

  18. MiaMarlowe says:

    Carol–Never say you#39;re quot;only a reader.quot; You are why we writers write!

  19. MiaMarlowe says:

    CL–One of the things I really love about Red Pencil Thursday is hearing other opinions and you know I respect yours, my friend. The idea of using the mirror to reveal more than outer appearance is a good one and really deepens the /br /However, I shared my aversion to using a mirror in the first 500 words because of an editor panel I hosted a RWA National a couple years ago. I read the opening of several dozen stories and the editors stopped me when we hit something they disliked. The first no-no, and one repeated often in beginner#39;s manuscripts, was starting with the weather. The close second was the schtick of using a mirror to sneak in a description of the protagonist. br /br /I hear what you#39;re saying about breaking the rules. As long as you give the old saw a skillful twist, it#39;s probably ok. br /br /(As an aside, let me just encourage everyone to run out and buy CL#39;s newest release CROWN OF CRYSTAL FLAME. It#39;s amazing!!!)

  20. MiaMarlowe says:

    Edie–Thanks for stopping by! I know Stacy will appreciate the support.

  21. Revbritton says:

    Stacy,br /You#39;ve got me hooked. I like Sarah and sympathize with her. I#39;m a California girl who lives where it#39;s freezing!br /Barb Britton

  22. Jane L says:

    Stacy, WOW! It is wonderful to see some of Judi#39;s students over here visiting /br /I was a little confused at so many characters or names in the first 500 words. I have this issue myself. As a writer, I want to lay my cards on the table and dump all the conflict in my opening. As a reader I want it to be more simple. Does this make sense to anyone else?br /br /I think you have a great concept and with a little tightening, you will have an intriguing story. Kudos to you for allowing Mia to critique your work. Thanks for sharing.

  23. Carol L. says:

    As a reader I found the opening very encouraging. I liked your suggestions and they can only make for a better book for the reader.But I#39;m only a reader and just had to put my 2 cents in. lolbr /Carol /

  24. C.L. Wilson says:

    Excellent critique, Emily, and good opening, Stacy. br /br /Emily I#39;m going to disagree w/you on one small point. I think since the protaganist doesn#39;t really describe herself at length in the mirror – more a quick impression of her appearance as it relates to the the invisible aspects of the character – the mirrors are fine. Mirrors exist in the world. To never have a protaganist see her reflection is contrary to reality. Rather than deleting, use the mirror to show us something more that can#39;t be seen. For example, maybe have her close her eyes to block out the reflection of the pathetic divorcee all bundled up against the cold. Maybe the husband accused her of being cold in everything – including bed? Ouch! br /br /And I#39;ve used a mirror before when my heroine was getting dressed and being critical of her own appearance. My editor had no problem with it. The scene made sense in the plot and for the character. Later when the hero sees her, his view of her is totally different, so having the contrast (her feelings about her appearance vs. his) was what I was /br /Of course, I admit I hate rules. Can#39;t stand being told quot;You can#39;tquot; because my immediate response is quot;Watch me!quot; So take my advice w/a grain of salt. Could be everyone else is right and I#39;m just hard headed :)

  25. Edie Ramer says:

    I liked the beginning, too, and with the changes it will be page-turning. br /br /Great catches, Diana!

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