Thursday, June 3, 2010

Red Pencil Thursday with Paisley Kirkpatrick

Happy Red Pencil Thursday! Please welcome Paisley Kirkpatrick, our cheerful voluteer. She's a pre-published author who's beginning to win some contests. This is an important step. Contest wins show she's on the right track and is a wonderful way to get your foot in the door.

My comments for Paisley are in red. Her responses are in purple. Please feel free to add your ideas in the comment section!

Great title. Sounds like a good strong heroine


Sierra Mountain Range, California, Fall 1853
This is a good way to ground your readers in the world of your story and lots of writers use this device. However, I'd rather see touches of fall in your text instead of being told the time of year here.
Okay, but as she steps out of the cabin we start seeing and feeling the Fall – leaf colors, crisp breeze, it snows…. I can certainly take this off if it takes away. I thought it staged where and when.
That's great. I'm glad to hear you'll show it later, but readers don't like to be told, then shown. Better just to skip telling and go straight to showing. (Can you tell I'm originally from Missouri?)

Rebecca Ryder gaped at the ramshackle cabin. She must have misunderstood the directions or turned the wrong way somewhere. Grandpa had told her he was doing well with the mine, pulling out enough gold to pay her school tuition in the East and still live comfortably, too. This shack told an entirely different story. He’d given no clue he was struggling, or had he and she’d turned a blind eye?

Well, Paisley, you did the same thing I did with my first manuscript. You introduced your heroine with no one for her to talk to, so we have a long, silent exposition. If she's been going to a fancy Eastern school, is it logical to assume she'd go to an abandoned cabin in a remote location alone? Who's your hero? Might he be dragged out as an unwilling guide on this expedition?

Sanity called her back to town after the long dusty trek into this remote wilderness, but curiosity overrode the urge to immediately head down the mountain. After coming this far, she should at least check out the rest of her tattered legacy.

You're telling instead of showing with the Sanity sentence when we need to really get inside Rebecca's head and feel what she's feeling. Give us some sensory details that put us in the scene. The last sentence in this paragraph smacks a bit of something called 'author intrusion.' You're stepping in and telling your character what she should do.
I had intended this last sentence to be her internal thoughts. Will rework it.

Determined to give grandpa the benefit of doubt, she stepped out of the saddle. A few of the boards dipped as she trod across the narrow porch. Turning the door handle, she let out an impatient sigh as the crude planks protested. She shoved the door just enough with her shoulder to slip inside. The breath caught in her throat. Oh, Grandpa, no! Her spirits plummeted.

Point of equestrianship. She'd step out of the stirrup or dismount the horse, not step out of the saddle.
I knew this wasn’t quite right, but for the life of me I couldn’t come up with something that did. Embarrassed after the years of riding horses… 
We want to like our heroine. Be careful you're not making Rebecca a little unlikeable here. She's impatient and judgemental with a man who has obviously sacrificed for her welfare.
I can fix this – she wasn’t meant to be judgmental, but horrified that her grandfather lived in such a horrid state because he paid her tuition. He supposedly had found a lucrative gold mine and had a lot of money. He’d been writing and telling her this. The reason for the state of the cabin is something she soon discovers is a ploy to cover the fact that he has found a huge gold strike and is hiding the fact from those who would want to steal it.
Ooo! That's good.

Rows of newspapers stood side by side from floor to eye level. Stale, vanilla-scented pipe tobacco permeated the air barely disguising other repugnant odors that she couldn’t identify. She cringed and brushed away lace-like cobwebs that hung from the rafters, sticking in her hair and tickling her face.

Where would a miner get all those newspapers?
Her grandfather owned the local newspaper and the reason why all these newspapers are in the cabin has an important bearing on the story.
Ok, that makes sense, but since newspapers are an unusual item for most miners, you might tuck that little nugget of knowledge in there for us.

I love the vanilla-scented pipe tobacco and wish you hadn't added the unidentified repugnant odors . Here's an opportunity for that familiar smell to trigger an emotional response in your heroine. Scent is tied to memory. I still remember my tough-guy dad tearing up when he smelled cinnamon in the kitchen cupboard of his grandparent's tumbled-down cabin.
My grandfather had a vanilla scented tobacco in his pipe and you are right, vanilla always makes me think of him.
It takes a while for cobwebs to build up to that level. How long has the cabin been empty?
Her grandfather has been dead over two weeks and he was sick before then for a while. However, here in the mountains (I live where this takes place) it doesn’t take long as we share the woods and our house with spiders. I can take webs down daily and never run out of them unfortunately.
Silly me. My citified, condo-dwelling roots are showing!

A few steps along a narrow opening brought her to a wooden platform. She ran her fingers over the sparse mattress and rumpled bedding. Three broken bricks propped up the corner of a woodstove placed in an area she’d hardly consider a kitchen. She fingered a chipped cup sitting on the shelf of a small cupboard.

Sparse mattress? Do you mean thin? I like the tactile elements of this paragraph. Now we're getting sensory details. Yay! Can you add her emotional response to them?
Yes, thin mattress. The cool thing is that at the museum in Coloma we got to see the inside of a cabin that was used during this time of history so I had a visual to rely on.
Cool about the museum. That kind of hand's on research is so much richer than cracking a book or surfing the web.

The lawyer informed her mountain men passing through his property happened to find grandpa dead. They probably were the ones who’d tossed the rotted food remnants in a bucket without care. The stench of decay curdled her stomach, but not half as much as the thought of her grandfather dying up here in the mountains alone.

I didn't know until this point that her grandfather was dead. I expected to see him stagger in or something. I wonder if it would be easier for the reader if we knew this information right up front.
I thought tattered legacy told that this was her inheritance, but certainly can make it clearer. ;-)
Sometimes you have to hit me over the head with things. Let's see if it strikes others the same way before you change it.

The rotten food is certainly a pungent detail, but I wonder if its necessary. It marrs the previous tobacco smell that could have conjured up a bittersweet moment and seems like a distraction from the first visceral reaction from Rebecca.
I was trying to make the cabin repugnant to her because she needs to decide whether to stay and accept the property or give it up. The lawyer doesn’t want her to accept the property because he is trying to secure it for the hero’s family at a good price. He purposely sends her to see it alone because he is dishonest and can taste his fee when he can secure it for the MacGregors. She grew up on a farm in Texas and I didn’t think it was out of the question that she would be independent enough to ride up the road to look at the property.
Ok. Greedy, blood-sucking lawyer is kind of an over-used character. What if the lawyer was honest, but his clients were the bad guys? Just a thought. At this point, I don't know Rebecca grew up on a Texas ranch. I'm thinking cossetted tenderfoot wandering in the wilderness, because all I've been told is that her Grandpa paid for her Eastern school tuition. If you want readers to consider her smart, let us know she has the background for this remote gallivanting. I worry about her otherwise.

A small table scattered with wooden matches and a lantern sat next to his oak rocking chair.

Tears filled her eyes as she touched the carved back of the treasured antique. It was the only piece of furniture he’d taken when her father ran him off their Texas farm five years ago.
She dropped into his rocker and slowly moved her hands back and forth along the smooth-as-silk armrests. As a young child her grandfather had welcomed her on his lap in this very chair. They’d spent hours reading her favorite stories together. If only she could hear his voice one more time. Run to him for comfort. But she couldn’t. After he’d sent the letter to come, she’d rushed to reach Paradise Pines. His heart gave out two weeks before she arrived. She slumped over and sobbed into her hands. Grandpa, why’d you leave me?

Oh, yes, I've sat in a chair with smooth as silk armrests. Ordinarily I'd say smooth as silk is an overused expression, but this is the first time I've seen it applied to wood.

Oops! Young child. Is there any other kind?

I'd care more about Rebecca's tears if there was more of a lead up to them. A quivering chin, a lump in her throat--there are a number of ways you can show how she feels about losing her Grandpa throughout this opening. I really like this idea.
And I like some of the elements you've got going in your story here.

As I mentioned to Paisley when we talked about her comments, I'm not the final arbiter here. Paisley is. This is her story. She's the only one who can decide the best way to tell it. The goal of Red Pencil Thursday is always just to give the volunteer writer something to think about and maybe a few suggestions to make their work better. Thanks for being here today, Paisley.

Thank you for the opportunity, Emily.

Paisley Kirkpatrick is a ten year veteran of RWA along with Sacramento Valley Rose and many online chapters. She is unpublished, working on her fourth story, and starting to win contests. Because she lives where the 49er gold rush occurred, she finds interesting living history to add reality to her stories.

Her website URL is:

Now it's your turn. What was I wrong about? Do you see anything you'd like to change? If you're here, you're a member of the critique group, so your voice is important. Just remember Paisley can decide to ignore us all if she likes!


Anonymous said...

This is the first time I've heard of Red Pencil Thursday. I like the whole idea.

Now I'm going to go in and crit both the author and the critter. :)

First off, the critter has some misspelled words. voluteer should be volunteer. judgemental should be judgmental.

Now on to the sample. The only thing I'd leave out of the chapter opening is the Fall, because I agree, showing that it's fall adds nice description and places the reader into the setting.

I don't believe dialogue is needed for the opening paragraph, nor do we need to see the hero in the first paragraph. Paisley did an excellent job of introducing her conflict in the first paragraph.

I do agree on the stepping out of the stirrup. It'd be hard to step from a saddle. :)

Boy, I'll say that spider webs can show up overnite. The nasty things.

Keeping in mind that this is only the first 500 pages, the author can't bring in everything. I personally don't think that as a reader I need to know yet that her grandfather owned a newspaper. At this point in the story, does she even know her grandfather owns a newspaper?

I do like the critters thoughts leading up to the heroine's tears. Let us feel her sorrow.

Paisley, this is an excellent start to what I'm sure will become an awesome story.

Overall, a job well done by both Paisley and Emily.

Thank you for sharing.

EmilyBryan said...

Oops! You caught me, Anonymous. Spellcheck is a wonderful thing!

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. This is a weekly feature, so please drop by again.

Anonymous said...

Love this feature! I still recall good advice I once heard on crafting the beginning of a novel... "something important happens to someone important". I would like to see a stronger emotional kick right from the get-go, to let me start rooting for heroine right away. Can we start with her clearly feeling strong grief as she approaches the cabin? Or have her verbalize her main conflict right at the onset? It just seems to take awhile for something "important" to happen to her, so to speak. Otherwise great opener.

Mary said...

I enjoyed your story excerpt, Paisley. Thanks for sharing it.

As a reader, one thing that bothered me was your sentence about the repugnant odors she couldn't identify and then two paragraphs later it mentions the stench of decay. It pulled me out of the story and made me think "Isn't that a little contradictory?" I think it would be better to say "...barely disguising other repugnant odors." and leave off the rest of that sentence.

As far as the grandpa goes, I did sense that he was probably dead.

Just my 2cents.

EmilyBryan said...

Jenna--"Something important happens to someone important." Great way to think about beginnings.

One of the reasons I ask for the opening of the WIP for RPT is because the beginning of a novel is such a delicate time. It has to work so very hard. We must introduce our protagonist, drop kick him/her into the heart of conflict and hardest of all, make our reader care.

You're so right about the need for strong emotions. It's one of the best possible hooks.

EmilyBryan said...

Mary--I think the phrase "Determined to give grandpa the benefit of the doubt" is what made me think he was still alive. Why would a dead man need the benefit of the doubt?

Mary said...

Emily, That's true. It wasn't completely clear, but it was not a big surprise either when she revealed that he wasn't just gone, but dead.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

Thank you for all the ideas to improve my first chapter. I am giving consideration to the suggestions. :)

Thanks, Emily for giving me the chance to have my words read.

Unknown said...

I find the time period Paisley's chosen to be fascinating. I don't really have anything new to point out, but I wanted to comment and let her know I read.:) Good luck!

Gillian Layne said...

I'm late, but Paisley, I think your time period is so compelling. Congratulations on your contest wins.

I'm a huge fan of dialogue--often to the determent of my description--so I admire those who can effectively start a story with only one character and make it come alive. If you want to add dialogue, she could simply talk aloud to herself.

Best of luck with your work, and thanks for sharing with all of us!