Thursday, June 24, 2010

Red Pencil Thursday with Barb Riley

Welcome to Red Pencil Thursday. Please welcome Barb Riley. She and I met at RT when she was one of the aspiring writers who came for a couple days of workshops ahead of the main convention for in depth training. I've been one of the presenters for that pre-con for the last 3 or 4 years and it's my favorite part of RT. It's always so energizing to meet with aspiring writers.

My comments on Barb's work are in red. Her responses are in purple. Please be sure to add yours at the bottom of this post.


“We got a problem, boss.”
Oh, excellent! If we "got a problem," we've got a story!

“Cut the drama and tell me.”

“The Scires… they know the Alkali is alive.”

His curse ripped through the bar, causing heads to swivel in search of the source. One look at his red-faced anger and they turned away in haste. The regulars knew him and discreetly ignored when things got interesting.

There's a teeny bit of a POV ambiguity here. We're in the Boss's POV. He can't see his own red face. You dropkicked us into the running action with the spare dialogue (excellent device, BTW), but now we've pulled away from the story to a more "omniscent" POV. It makes us less a part of the action. Is there a way to keep us more firmly in the Boss's head?
I agree – thanks for pointing that out! I will rework this!

“We are so close,” he whispered, drooping into the seat. He felt the beginning of one of his episodes coming on. “They can’t have her.”

Anytime you use "felt" it's a weak construct. Can you give us a specific symptom? A pinpoint headache? A twitch? A tightness between his eyes? What tells him an episode is on the way? I like foreshadowing that he has a problem like this.
I agree – I can certainly give stronger details than a “felt”.

“They ain’t found her yet. The dirty bastards got a seer, but he ain’t spilled the location. I’ll know when he does, boss, I will.” The large man across from him nervously tapped thick fingers on the table, his face anxious.

I'd really like some names for your characters. It's hard to keep track of them otherwise. If you don't want to reveal their real names, how about code names or nicknames for now?
I am not married to this person being male. I can certainly change him to female for ease reading. It’s important that I keep “Boss” secret for now.
When I was singing professional opera, we used to call the extras "spear-carriers." Every story has them--the person who delivers the telegram, the maid who brings in the tea. They don't usually have much to say. Is the person talking to the Boss someone we'll see again? If so, you need to have a more vivid characterization of him/her. Even the secondary characters deserve to breathe. If this person is the second in command, give them a nickname too if you need to preserve their anonymity. But we really need more than a pronoun in order to connect with a character.

A blonde, college-aged waitress set several small glasses before him. He turned on the charm, gazing at her through his wire-rimmed glasses, his lips curving into what he hoped she took as an alluring smile.

“Thank you, gorgeous,” he purred.

What is he, a cat? And even as I say that, I know I've used purred myself. It's such a temptation to spice up our dialogue tags, but we need to resist it. I know it seems bland, but most editors just want us to use 'said' and 'asked.' Honest.
I agree! I learned this after I wrote the prologue. I’ve learned my lesson, I will make changes. Thank you!

“Oh yeah, anything for you, hon.” With an obviously fake smile, she backed away from the table. The girls here loved taking his hefty tip, but hated when he talked to them. He wished he could do more than flirt with them, but every night ended the same-with him drunk and alone. He snatched a drink and gulped it down, wincing at the fiery bite of the liquor.

We're getting a clear picture of the Boss here of a nerdy loner. I'm wondering what he's done to inspire such fear and respect. He must have talents/powers not in evidence here. I'm not much of a drinker, but doesn't someone who gets drunk every night become so used to the "fiery bite" of liquor that they cease to note it?
Aha, perhaps he has does have powers! Thank you for your view on this – although he drinks here and there, he’s not a drunk and this does make him sound that way. I intended it to sound that every night he’s HERE, in this bar, he ends up alone. That’s not to say he’s home alone and drunk every night!
This is a common problem for writers. The story lives so vividly in our minds but the trick is to get it to live on the page just as vibrantly.

“If the Scires get to her first, they won’t kill her, but she may as well be dead to us. She doesn’t know who she is, or that her destiny lies with the District. She’d be brainwashed.”

Who said this? I need a tag here. ( I feel like the Queen of Hearts: "I need a pig here!")
I agree! I will work on this, and again, I think changing my second character to female may help with the confusion.
If you change the gender, you'll change the dynamic between them. Will the Boss be hitting on her?

Only one solution made sense to him; resorting to lies and manipulation. He sighed. “I’ll send someone to her. He’ll be there when her world crashes down and she finds the ugliness that’s hidden from the mortals. You and your boys follow them.”

Since you have two male speakers, using 'him' doesn't help your reader much. If this is the Boss, say so. I'm getting the sense that the Boss is the villain of this piece and what he sees as ugliness may not be what we'd see.
I agree! I struggled with the two hims. I will work on this! As for the semi-colon, you are right. This is YA, so I shouldn’t be using this as much as a dash. Thanks!

“Okay, boss.”

“If he can’t get close to her, then we take her. Against her will.”

The fingers stopped drumming.

“You sure, boss?”

Damn, he wished there was another way. But now that the Scires were on to them, it was past time for words. He had to act before they got to her and drained her before she even came into her power.
Good tease. The Alkali, whoever she is, has powers she's unaware of. I'm wondering about your choice of the name Alkali. It means a group of metals that form the basis for ionic salt. Salt is seen as a preservative, a flavoring, a caustic material. How does this symbolism relate to your character?Good research! You’re on the right path! Alkali is interchangeable with the science term, base. The Alkali in the story was named in a vision that became prophecy, and she is the only one of her kind. Or, the base for a different type of mutated individuals.
I also started thinking about alkaline batteries and the Energizer Bunny! But since you explained your etymology, it makes perfect sense.

“Don’t worry, my friend. We’ll try the easy way first, but when it comes down to it, it’s not the first time I’ve kidnapped an underage girl.” As bad as it sounded, it was true. As Director of the District, he’d been forced to do many distasteful things.

Well, so did Jack Bauer. Now I'm unsure whether or not the Boss is the villain.
Aha! Got you thinking!

“I sure hope you know what you’re doin’, boss.” The man shook his head uncertainly.

“Me too.” He laughed then, a sound so dark and unusual that a sickly expression came over the other man’s face. His team might follow him without question, but they seldom liked his ways.

I think we need something creepier than a weird laugh to cause the sickly reaction in the other man. You're telling a bit much here. Show us a little. If the Boss has a malevolent power, perhaps a tiny demonstration is in order. Like Darth Vader pinching off another guy's airway without touching him. I agree! I can certainly spice this up, to show why he’s creepy.

He only laughed harder, feeling the warning thud in his brain. When the pain came, he squealed in agony, hands gripping at his hair as if to

Oh, I hated pinching this excerpt off at the 500 word mark. This scene is winding up for something spectacular here. Your dialogue is crisp and realistic. This story is off to a running start, but I do have a couple caveats. It's very hard to get a clear picture of the characters without naming them. And confusing to have two men in conversation without names. You've tossed out a number of hints at the paranormal elements in this story. I think there may be an opportunity to show a bit of whatever gifts the Boss possesses. Great job!
Thank you so much, Emily! You have given me a lot to use to improve my story. Now I have a better idea of how the paranormal elements and the teasing/foreshadowing come across to a reader. I appreciate your critique!

Barb Riley lives in Central Ohio with her wonderful husband, 8 year old drama queen, and two fat cats. After attending the aspiring writers course at RT Booklover's 2010 convention, she jumped corporate ship to pursue her life-long dream of writing. She loves to read anything paranormal and urban fantasy, high fantasy, romance, and wants to write lots of the same!

My website is under construction, so for now, please look me up on facebook,

Thanks for sharing with us today, Barb. I probably won't be able to respond to comments today. As I told Barb, I'll be in the air most of the day. I'm on my way to the Midwest for a family reunion and to celebrate my Dad's birthday! So I'm really counting on all of you to give Barb the full Red Pencil Treatment!


Stacy McKitrick said...

I'm new to this, mainly wanted to say hi to Barb (since I was in the same class as her). So - Hi Barb!

One thing I missed from the opening was a sense of place and time. Should I know where and when all this is happening within the first 500 words?

Mary said...

Hello Barb,

This excerpt does a good job of dropping hints and getting me curious about what exactly is going on here.

I agree with Emily's comments about naming the second man in the scene to avoid confusion.

For me the 3 paragraphs about the waitress and the drinks from "A blonde..." to "fiery bite of the liquor" didn't flow well with the rest of the piece. It interrupted the conversation between the Boss and his subordinate, but it didn't seem to add anything to the story at that point. I may be totally in left field, but that's how it struck me at any rate.

Although I didn't necessarily feel the paragraphs belonged there, I liked your use of "purred", Barb. It's much more descriptive than plain old "said".

Emily, I'm curious about the bland dialogue tags. Why do editors prefer just said and asked? As a reader I don't like such bland dialogue tags. I'm reading Julia Quinn's newest. It's true she uses "said" and "asked" a lot, often with an adverb modifier. But there's also plenty of variety. I'm looking through the book and I see exclaimed, murmured, insisted, grumbled, demanded, admitted, protested, agreed. I'm just curious because I've heard many times that editors frown on using a variety of dialogue tags, but I truly don't get it.

Thanks for sharing, Barb. Best of luck pursuing your writing dream.

Jane L said...

Barb! I am so proud of you dropping by and letting Emily red pencil you!!

I love the hook in the first sentance! great job. I did get a little confused aboutwho was what, so I agree if you can add a name of something to distinguish the characters, it would read a little easier.

Stacy, good point! time and place would be valuable!

Ok Safe travels Emily!! Happy Birthday to your dad!

Nynke said...

Hi Barb - thanks for sharing your piece! I'm really curious what the Boss's episode will turn out to be, and what the deal is with the Alkali...

I mostly agree with Emily's comments, except I figured since the Boss is thinking so much about his ethics, I never really figured he was a villain.

Like Stacy, I was wondering about the place and time. I could only tell this was probably a contemporary story because the waitress is described as 'college-aged'. Otherwise, this might have been a historical or futuristic setting... could have been anything!
Of course, readers who bought the book would already know what kind of story this was, so we're at a bit of a disadvantage here.

Emily, have fun back home!

Gillian Layne said...

Hi, Barb! Sorry I'm a day late, but I do enjoy these Thursdays!

I love paranormals; every world is different, and it's fun to learn all the new rules. I have this "face in the shadows" vision of your "Boss" and it's working for me right now.

Good luck, and thanks so much for sharing!

Glynis Peters said...

Thanks for sharing with us Barb, I enjoyed what I read. I did need a name to feel a little more drawn into the story, but that is just me.

Scires, an interesting name. I recognise it as an Italian/Latin word - to know or have knowledge.

This was great as it gave your Scires something extra for me. They became mysterious with knowledge and powers. It made me think of an old paranormal power in a modern world.

Good luck with the edits. I have never looked back from my Emily treatment.

Thanks for the lesson, Emily. Interesting and useful as always.

EmilyBryan said...

Stacy--I got the sense that we were in an urban fantasy, which means contemporary time period. The setting is our world, but there are paranormal elements seething beneath the surface of which most people are unaware.

If this is not what's up with this story, then Stacy's got a point. We need more world building earlier.

EmilyBryan said...

Mary--The thinking about using said is that it disappears without jerking the reader out of the action. Sometimes, writers get so creative with dialogue tags, they can be jarring. I read one book once where the tag was for a forceful utterance so the writer used "he ejaculated."

Maybe it's just me, but that yanked me completely out of the fictive dream!

EmilyBryan said...

Thanks, Jane! I'll tell my dad you wished him a happy day!

EmilyBryan said...

Nynke--"College-aged" was my clue that we were in our own universe as well.

I'm having a great time with my family! Thanks.

EmilyBryan said...

Gillian--The nice thing about a blog is that a conversation can string out over a number of days and no one cares about the delay. Thanks for stopping by!

EmilyBryan said...

Glynis--Oh, well done! You're way ahead of me on the etymology of Scires. That certainly gives this an interesting twist. I wonder how Barb can clue in the rest of us who don't have your facility with Latin about the distinctives of this group of characters.

Barb Riley said...

Hi everyone! Thank you all for your comments - I was out of town myself for a few days, and just returned today. This is my first attempt at writing, so I love getting these comments about how YOU see what I'm writing, so that I know how to make it better.

Hi Stacy - I will keep that in mind about place and time. The prologue is short, and I think once Chapter 1 starts, you'd get that fix.

Mary - thank you for the comments. I'm trying to show that he comes off a bit creepy at times. He's about 50 years old, and making eyes at an extremely young woman.

Hi Jane - thank you! It's important that I keep the "boss" identity secret for now. I can name the other character, he's not an important player as of now.

Nynke - So you figured him as a good guy, but was there any doubt? Even bad guys usually think they are doing something for the right reason!

Gillian - thank you for your comments! I appreciate your support :) I am a huge fan of paranormals as well!

Glynis - Aren't you the smart one ;) I did put some thought into my names before I used them. The Scires are a group of scientists who create drugs to induce supernatural powers. Are they good or bad? Hmmm, depends on who you talk to!

Emily - You are right - Urban Fantasy

Barb Riley said...

I am pleased at Emily's critique, it gives me much to work on. I like to think I'm intelligent and have the talent to write this book, but I am the type of person who needs reassurance that I'm on the right track. So this was an amazing thing for me! THANK YOU Emily!!!!

Nynke said...

Barb, yes, there was definitely some doubt... I would at least put him in a grey area, morally. And I'm very curious how good or bad he turns out to be!

EmilyBryan said...

Barb--Thanks for volunteering! I'm glad you feel the experience was helpful to you. I hear from lots of writers who find it useful for them to "go to school" on the work of others, so thanks for sharing. Good luck with your writing and submitting!