Thursday, April 15, 2010

Red Pencil Thursday with Jordan Rose

Time for another online critique. When the author of today's excerpt approached me about a spot on Red Pencil Thursday, she specified that I should identify her by her pen name, Jordan Rose.

Even for a pre-published author, this is very business saavy. In a writing setting, authors should always present themselves as their pen name. The only reason anyone needs to know your real one is if there's a contract in the offing.

As usual on RPT, my comments will be in red. Jordan Rose's responses will be italicized in purple.

“Lu? Are you okay in there?” Peter called from the hallway.

Jordan's using 1st person. Starting with dialogue is a brillliant method of telling the reader the POV character's name right off the bat!
I’ve been paying attention to your blogs! Everything may not have sunk in, but this important point hit home.
Which puts you ahead of me. As you may recall on my critique of my own sad first manuscript, I named the horse and the dog, but not the hero or heroine. Sheesh!

I stared at my reflection in the mirror. My eyes were doing it again, shimmering. The color was even changing, deepening. They were greener, like emeralds. But how could my eyes change? I leaned a little closer, opened them wide, squinted, blinked and focused. What the hell? How could this happen?

Ok, this is promising. You've raised some questions in my mind which is the writer's goal in every opening. Is Lu on drugs and hallucinating? If there's really something happening to her, her eyes need to completely change color, not just deepen. That can happen to anyone given the right lighting. A few unshed tears will also make someone's eyes shimmer. Do you mean her eyes were glowing? Was light refracting in them as if they were gemstones? Don't make your reader guess.

Point of formatting. In the version I received, Jordan had two spaces between sentences. That's what editors used to like. Now the standard is for only one. In case you're wondering, most also want 12pt Courier or Courier New and one inch margins all around.

Yes, glowing is more accurate. Although, her eyes have always been green, they are drastically different in this situation. There should be no possibility of wondering if it’s the light refracting or unshed tears. I think after describing them so many times in my drafts I assumed that anyone reading my description was right with me! I’ll work on clearing that up. Thanks for the formatting tip.

Ok. If her eyes are drastically different you need to be very specific on how. If they are normally the pale green of a new birch leaf and have now taken on the dark bottle green of a '48 Plymouth, say so. Do her eyes pulse between the two different colors? Make it significant so people know what type of story they are reading.

Deep inside, I felt the low, thrumming ache begin to build. “Oh, God. Not this again,” I whispered to my reflection as I leaned on the counter to steady myself.

Good. Now I have another clue that something out of the ordinary is going on, but I want specifics. Where is the ache? Her head? Her belly? Her chest? Thank you for resisting the temptation to have her give me a description of herself. Since Lu is standing in front of a mirror, your restraint is doubly commendable! Kudos for focusing on the unusual things happening to her instead.

But I can't resist the impulse to tighten your prose a bit. I have personal vendetta against -ly words and the word 'felt.' Try this:

Deep inside her chest, the low thrumming ache began to build.

Thanks for this idea. When I wrote ‘deep inside’ I meant in the pit of her stomach, building up through her chest, practically taking over her body. I like your suggestion and would probably go with- ‘Deep inside my chest, the low thrumming ache began to build’ as the next paragraph describes the ache.

I like the idea of it starting in the pit of her stomach, growing and spreading. You should go with that. Don't be afraid to give your readers specific details. This way, your reader experiences the sensation with your heroine as she does, instead of being told the heroine 'felt' it. Oh! And good catch on my correction. You turned your version back into 1st person. I always use 3rd, so I was running home to mama.

Thanks for the help with ‘felt’. It comes up a couple of times, and I’ve struggled with rewording to keep the reader active.

The constant pulse, separate from my own, called to me, almost like a warning of some sort. It quietly, steadily pulsed until it worked itself up into a cadence that my own heart tried to match. But it was too fast, too loud, too deep. My heart couldn’t compete. I clung to the counter, waiting for it to subside. The last thing I wanted to do was end up on the floor of the ladies room at the Christmas party.

I would cut every highlighted word in this paragraph. Read it aloud and see what you think. Sometimes, we weaken our prose with too many extra words, with qualifiers that negate what we're trying to say, or with redundancies.

Good way to place us at the Christmas party, BTW.

Thanks for cutting the extra words. Sometimes it’s hard to determine if I’m making the point with the less is more idea or missing the target, or am I just going that extra step of bogging down the prose with too many words.

The rule is always: Be clear. Use specific details and don't clutter it up with extras.

I took a deep breath in through my nose, held it for a second and closed my eyes. Concentrate Lucia. This will pass. You’ll be fine.

Is it crucial to know she breathed through her nose? Cut it otherwise. A second of holding your breath isn't long enough to be remarkable. Have her count to 10 in Mandarin or mentally sing 'Jingle Bells' or something as a grounding exercise. You might want to italicize Concentrate, Lucia. This will pass. You'll be fine. since all of this is her direct thought. The standard way to indicate a passage needs to be italicized is to underline it.
Good point on the breathing. I’d like to think she’s not a mouth-breather, so that detail is not necessary! Thanks for catching the internal dialogue error. I think I had removed the italics with the plan to underline the passage and didn’t follow through.

“Lu?” The door creaked, and a perfectly coifed head of blond hair appeared. Peter hesitated before leaning around the door. “Are you all right?” His midnight blue eyes locked onto mine, and in a flash they widened and narrowed. His eyebrows pulled together, and he stepped into the ladies room.

'Coifed' is both a historical sounding word and a feminine one. Is Peter gay? If so, you telegraphed it beautifully. Otherwise, a head of perfectly in place blond hair might be what you mean.

Okay! He’s definitely not gay- so out with coifed! I’ll rework that one.

My critique group in Seattle had a bug-a-boo about roving body parts. They'd be all over you about eyes locking. Technically, their gazes locked, not their eyes. As my gal pals would say, "Ew" for eyeballs touching.

I’ll have to agree with your critique group- eyeballs touching does sound gross! I’ll switch that for ‘gaze.’

“I’ll be right out,” I said and darted into a stall. Through the crack I watched him linger for a moment. He stared at the mirror as if he was watching my reflection in the glass. He fiddled with his tie and brushed lint from his tuxedo jacket before turning toward the door.

You can delete the 'said' diaglogue tag and just use the action I darted into a stall to indicate who's talking. The sentence 'He stared at the mirror as if he was watching my reflection in the glass' confused me. What are you trying to say? Was he watching the stall she'd darted into?

I stumbled a little bit on him staring at the mirror. In my mind, his gaze finds hers through the crack in the door. I’ll work on this too, he’s no superman, so he can’t see through the door! But I want to make it clear that he’s suspicious about her eyes.

In that case, you need for him to say something before she darts into the loo. As writers we have the luxury of knowing what all our characters are thinking all the time. Readers don't. And since you're using 1st person, your heroine doesn't either. She only knows he's suspicious if he says something or if she picks up on his body language. If you go with the latter don't make the reader guess. We need something concrete to show what's happening.

Up until this point no one had noticed my eyes. It was a blessing and a curse. I was terrified someone would notice and I’d end up in the midst of an exorcism. But at the same time, the fact that no one did notice made me wonder if it was really happening or if it was all part of my imagination?

I think you mean 'Up to this point' instead of until. No one has noticed them yet. Until makes it sound as if someone has.

Making changes to the description of her eyes in the beginning will help with this point. I think ‘until’ might be correct here, because Peter does notice them, of course, that may not be obvious enough in this draft.

Again, if it's only a slight change in pigmentation, that happens with hazel eyes especially depending on lighting and what the person is wearing. Even a total eye color change can be explained away by special contacts . . . unless the eye color is not one usual for humans, say orange or deep purple or pupils elongating into eliptical shapes or the color in her irises bleeding out to cover the whites of her eyes. I think something more drastic needs to be happening for her to be this freaked out.

I peered through the crack and watched the sparkling fade. My eyes were greener than ever before, but at the very least, they weren’t glowing.

Ok, now we've got better words, but even so, people's eyes are often described as sparkling or even glowing. But I doubt she could see her eyes in the mirror through a crack in the toilet stall. She'd just see the crack in the mirror unless her eyes were really doing some kind of space alien thing.

The onset of both the sparkling and the ache occurred around the same time the dreams increased. I’d been dreaming of the same man my entire life. We grew up together on a vineyard in Italy in the 1600s. Eventually we married. The dreams had always been nice dreams, nothing terrifying, nothing even remotely worrisome, until recently.

Lately I dreamt of Vittorio being attacked by a redheaded woman. I awoke more times than not in a state of grief so overwhelming that I’d rather die than take another breath. I was beginning to think I was losing my mind, or worse- being possessed by demons.

Now we're getting somewhere. Is this like a Somewhere in Time story? Could her eyes be changing back into the color they were when she lived with Vittorio? Does she think it's weird that she's always had these vivid dreams of someone she hasn't met?

This story is about reincarnation and searching for her ‘original’ husband. Her eyes have been green in every lifetime, but the changes in them symbolize something that she doesn’t learn about until later in the book.

Unfortunately, after a nice long bit of showing what's happening to Lu, you reverted to telling for the dreams. I think I'd rather not have this info dump here. I'd rather you let me in on one of her dreams in real time as she's having it. You could toss in a short hook about the dreams here. Or give her a short flash of a waking dream. Emphasis on short because you want to keep the story moving forward instead of bogging down in a flashback. If there aren't any demonic characters in this story, I wouldn't reference them or exorcisms here because you're setting the reader up to expect them. And if they don't get them, they'll feel cheated. Chekov said if there's a gun in the 1st act, it must go off in the 3rd.

Great point on the data dump. I’ll figure a way around this. The prologue to this book is one of her dreams, actually a nightmare and I was trying to make that clear with this, but I’ll work that out another way.
The story is an Urban Fantasy Romance involving vampires as the other main characters. So no demons, but for some people, vampires are not a far leap from demons!

Not being a vampire fan, I can't speak for others, but I am a bit of a theologian. Demons are angels who rebelled and fell with Lucifer. A vampire is a being who was once human, but has been infected through a bite from another vampire and is doomed to an eternal life with no soul and an unslakeable thirst. I still think the beginning of a story is when you set reader expectations. Begin as you mean to continue. What do you say, paranormal readers? Are demons and vampires synonymous enough that it's ok for her to mention them this way?

It's hard to reduce a story, especially one as complex as I suspect this one is, to a 500 word snippet. Thanks for letting us go to school on you, Jordan.

Thanks so much for the critique. I appreciate the insight.

Jordan doesn't have a blog or website yet, so I can't send you elsewhere for more info. (Time to get on that, Jordan!)

Now it's your turn. If you're here, you're a member of the Red Pencil Club with all the rights and privileges thereto. Please feel free to speak your mind. I may have gotten it all wrong, so feel free to say so!


Gillian Layne said...

Good morning, Jordan! Let me say right off the bat, I love vampire stories. To me, demons and vampires are very different creatures. I have no problem with either one, I'd just need different world building if the creature is some combination of the two.

My favorite line: "I awoke more times than not in a state of grief so overwhelming that I’d rather die than take another breath." Really evocative.

You might want the low thrumming ache to build, or to begin, but maybe not begin to build.

I would totally read this story. The whole Italy in the 1600's had me hooked. And a part of me is really hoping that in Lu's past life (I'm figuring past life from all of this) maybe she was the villain.

Thanks for sharing with us.:)

Nancy said...

I'm awestruck at how simple changes can make a manuscript so much stronger. To me, first person is so much harder to pull off. Jordan did a fantastic job. I love how the tweaks turned the screws and brought it up a notch. Wonderful writing.

EmilyBryan said...

Gillian--Oooo! Heroine as former villainess! How delightfully twisted your mind is, m'dear!

EmilyBryan said...

Obe--Tweaking is what writers do best!

For me, that's the fun part. I love to revise. It's ploughing the virgin page that's hard.

Jordan Rose said...

Hi Gillian. Thanks so much for the comments. Great idea on the ache- building or beginning- not both. I love the idea of Lu being a villain in a past life. You can sure bet that vampires see her as one! Take care, Jordan

Jordan Rose said...

Hi Nan. Thanks for the comments. It's always interesting to have someone read your work and share their perspective. Emily's critique was very insightful. I've gone back and made some tweaks based on her comments. I appreciate your kind words. Best wishes, Jordan

librarypat said...

Another enjoyable Red Pencil Thursday.
I agree with Gillian, vampires and demons are two different things and need different handling.
Emily, the paragraph with the highlighted words was an excellent example of editing to make it stronger. It is enjoyable to see what a difference little tweeks make in the flow if the words.
Jordan, this is a promising start to a story I'd be interested in. Best of luck with getting it published.

Glynis Peters said...

Jordan, thanks for sharing your WIP. How fascinating it all sounds.
I have never come across the word thrumming before, so learned something new. I will say that when you said low, I thought of lower abdomen, that is the nurse in me, LOL. However, another reader might think differently.

I thought Emily guided us through it so well.

Thank you both.

DeLane said...

I love "Red Pencil Thursday"!
Thanks for the soft touch style of coaching. I'm learning I and enjoy the special consideration you have for your victims.

EmilyBryan said...

Thanks, Delane. I think it's because I've been on the receiving end of critique and I know how it feels. I never want to discourage anyone. But, that said, everyone's work (mine included) has room for improvement.