Red Pencil Thursday from NYC

Red Pencil ThursdayWelcome to my RWA Nationals Red Pencil Thursday. Our volunteer is Jody Lebel and I think you’re going to enjoy her adventurous romantic suspense excerpt.

As always on RPT, my comments are in red and Jody’s responses are in blue.  We’re counting on you to add yours at the end of the post. A critique group is only as strong as all the sets of eyes around the table. Be sure to let us know you’re here!


The announcement came over the tinny speakers in Farsi, French, Spanish, what she thought might be German, and then finally in English.

Mia: The first line is your promise to your reader about what sort of story they’re going to receive. This is a good way to let us know we’re in for a “fish out of water” tale!

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have begun our final approach to Iman Khomeini International Airport.  The weather in Tehran is 83 degrees and sunny with a light breeze.  We should be on the ground in twenty minutes.”

Twenty minutes. Jemma extended her left hand and studied the diamond that hadn’t been there yesterday.  In twenty minutes she would get to see Jack, the man who sent that ring.  A man she had never met and had never spoken to.

Mia: Ok! You’ve given us lots of information in a nice succinct chunk. The only thing missing is emotional content and it’s an oversight you can’t afford to make. Eliciting a strong emotion is the best hook you can set. Reading is about trying on someone else’s life for a while. Give us at least a peek at how Jemma’s feeling so we can slip into her shoes.

Jody:That is great advice and you’re so right.   Grabbing the reader emotionally right away is smart.

Mia: Also, on a personally picky note, I see you’ve used the non-word “get.” My one and only college writing prof had a bugaboo about that word and it stuck with me. If you tighten  your prose by saying In twenty minutes she’d see Jack… you eliminate the need for the dreaded “get.”

Jody: I’ll add the word ‘get’ to my no-no list.  That darn list is so long.

A seasoned author once told me to never use contractions when I’m in narrative. ‘She would see Jack’.  Do you find that to be a true unwritten rule or was that just his bugaboo?

Mia: I’ve never heard of that one before. I think it’s his personal pick.

Eastern European flight attendants in Royal Air Emirates uniforms, the color of ripe plums, began to move through the aisle.  The crinkle of an eye above their veils translated to a smile beneath as seat backs were righted and last minute trash whisked away.

Mia: Nice detail. I’d not thought about eye crinkles telegraphing a smile beneath a veil. This is the sort of specificity that gives a story the ring of truth.

The plane dropped with a light shudder, rattling the overhead bins. Fasten seat belt lights blinked. Air pressure adjusted. The cabin became uncomfortably warm. Jemma fumbled with the air vent above and fought to control the queasy roll of her stomach.  Rummaging around in her overstuffed bag for a mint, she pulled out the one image she had of Jack, a grainy photo printed off her computer a few days ago.  The paper, worn from being repeatedly folded and handled, left a permanent crease line across his forehead.  She ran her thumb gently over his image but there were no answers there.  He seemed normal enough.  No warts on his nose or humps on his back.  In fact, his eyes were large and dark, the kind that made women stop and take a second look.  A sudden sting of tears blurred her vision.  Blinking furiously, Jemma knew only one thing for sure.  She was tired; tired of tears, tired of death, and damn sure tired of putting out her own fires.

Mia: Instead of saying the air pressure adjusted, why don’t you have her ears popping or hurting? Ditto for the cabin warmth. Let a bead of sweat tickle down her spine. It’ll pull us closer into Jemma’s POV. Yay for the queasy tummy detail.

Jody: Deepening her POV through her surroundings is something I have to work on.  I actually forget to do it even though the opportunities are there.

Mia: I’d think about dividing this long paragraph into two. The info about Jack is important enough to need its own space. Actually, her tears might call for a third paragraph because they give us our first real look into Jemma’s thought life.

Jody: Okay, noted.

The plane vibrated violently then just as quickly smoothed out again. Please let this venture turn out all right.  Even if I don’t deserve it.

Mia: Please let this… and the subsequent sentence is her direct thought. Either italicize it or underline it to let the type setter know it should be italicized. (Each publishing house has their own preference about how this is indicated.)

Jody: Yes, I’m trying to stay away from ‘she thought’, but I see it does need to be underlined for clarity.

Jack had arranged to have her ticket waiting at the prepaid window in New York.  When she had been handed her boarding pass, the last piece of paper between her and Iran, the bud of hope that her little scam might work began to bloom.  But now, eighteen hours later, she realized her fire was just in a different country.

Mia: Oh, the delicious possibilities in that little word scam! Your heroine is walking on the wrong side of the law or at least her own personal code. That sort of internal conflict is always riveting. It’s so important to set a story in a place where conflict lives. Sounds like your heroine is bringing her conflict with her.

“Is that your husband?”

That came from the lady on the aisle seat in her row.  The woman hadn’t said a word the entire trip, and Jemma had forgotten all about her.

“Yes, it is.” The lie came so easily Jemma was impressed with herself.  She cleared her throat and added, “Actually, he’s my –- my fiancé.”

What a strange word.  She wasn’t used to it, the feel of it, the sound of it, the fact that it now applied to her.

Mia: I really like her sense of inner turmoil and can’t wait to find out what sort of trouble she’s jumped into.

Jody: Thank you, Mia.  This was a great experience.  I encourage others to jump in and participate in RPT.

Fast Fun and Felonious Romances.

Jody LebelAs a court stenographer by day, Jody is exposed to murder, mayhem and heartbreak.  But most of all it’s the black humor that makes writing romantic/suspense novels a breeze.  She admits she almost never falls asleep at the keyboard anymore.

It’s your turn to weigh in now. What suggestions do you have for Jody?

4 thoughts on “Red Pencil Thursday from NYC

  1. Great critique! I also use get, but have now added it to my no-no list. Thank you, Mia. As to contractions in dialogue, I write it as I would speak it. Why say ‘she had’ or ‘she would’ when you can just say she’d?

    1. Jody Lebel says:

      Pick up any book by any author right off your bookshelf. You will have a hard time finding contractions in the narrative unless the author is very new to the business. Same thing with exclamation points. Seasoned authors don’t use them. Newbies do.

  2. Really nice beginning, Jody! I like the voice, especially the patterns of your sentences and the visual detail you use. MIa’s given you some great tweaks that should be very easy fixes for you to make. I, too, am intrigued by Jemma’s sorrow and her scam. Thanks for sharing your work on RPT!

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      I too noticed that Jody chose unique details to share. That makes a reader feel they’re experiencing something fresh.

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