Thursday, July 29, 2010

Red Pencil Thursday with Abigail Lama-Gaffney

One of the great things about RWA Nationals is the chance to learn from other writers. The workshops cover craft, career, publishing, research, and the writer's life. Here on Red Pencil Thursday, I offer a modest craft workshop each week and hope it helps you improve your writing or enhances your pleasure in reading as you begin to recognize some of the techniques writers use.

This week, please welcome our volunteer/victim, Abigail Lama-Gaffney. My comments on her work are in red. Her responses are in purple.

I'm not wild about this title. You want the title to be your first hook and this doesn't surprise/entice/delight me. Do dreams figure prominently in this story?

They invaded his mind last week. An annoying tingle between his brows had been the only clue his life was about to change.
Whoa! Good first line. You've teased me with a tantalyzing bit of info, but I'm afraid it's not quite enough. I don't know who they are or who he is. I need more so I'll have a reason to care.
‘They’ are her emotions. I tried to make that clear about a page from now, but I should insert something about it here, instead of later.
I would never have gotten that from what you've given us here. The Prime Directive of writing is: First, be clear.

Xander Stone pressed his fingers to the spot, massaging the area before he stepped out of the car into the muggy air. With no stars or moonlight, the sky hung low and black.

He searched the featureless void, sensing her movement toward him.
He's looking for someone in the sky?
Ha ha. No, he’s not looking at the sky. I’ll make that more clear.

On either side of the road, the rustling corn leaves mingled with insect songs filling the night with a low hum of noise.
Excellent sensory detail. As an Iowa girl, I so remember that sound. However, I'd call them corn stalks instead of leaves and end the sentence with low hum. Of noise is unnecessary. Less is more.
Less is More :-).
Guess I'd better amend that to Less is More if the less is clear.

He turned his head straining to hear. The rhythmic pounding of her shoes on the pavement, interspersed with the steady inhale and exhale of her breath, resonated through the night. She traveled closer and closer, until she stopped.

How about straining to listen since presumably he has no hearing problem. You've done such a good job using sound to show us where she is, I was a little disapointed with she stopped. How about if the slap of leather on the asphalt stopped?

Wow! I hadn’t thought about that, but it makes good sense.

He blinked to focus in the blackness, but only her vague outline materialized.
Materialized makes it sound like she's traveling between dimensions. It's wonderful to have a story that bends the edges of reality, but if you're doing that, you need to give us enough detail to be sure. You want your readers to wonder what's going to happen not wonder what's happening right now.
She’s not traveling between dimensions. It’s just really dark and he can barely see her. I’ll work on changing that word.

The annoying pins and needles between his brows intensified. Across his forehead the muscles knotted in spasms of pain.

Her confusion and fear burst into his awareness.

In the same inexplicable way he knew his hand was still attached to his body after he closed his eyes… He couldn’t explain how her feelings invaded his brain.

Sometimes, it's important to break up long paragraphs. I feel like these sentences all need to be combined into one instead of three because they're all about the same thing.
Good point. I didn’t notice that until you pointed it out.

"It's okay," he called to her.
None of this seems ok to me. What is he trying to say? It's ok is too vague to advance the story.
He’s not exactly thinking clearly here. A few pages after this section, he reflects on that and how stupid he sounded. Maybe I should include that piece now? Or just axe it all together?
Yes, include his self-recriminations now. Absolutely axe any scene where a character is reflecting on what's past. A story grinds to a halt when you set up a scene advancing the action-scene ruminating on what's just happened structure. It's death.

No response.

For Christ’s sake, it was the middle of the friggin’ night. If he drove all this way for nothing…

"Say something, damn it." The moment the words left his mouth pain stabbed him like a knife between the eyes. Her fear blazed into his mind.

“God damn it,” he muttered under his breath, pressing his palm to his head.

There's a lot of profanity in a small space here. The function of impolite words in literature is for emphasis or shock value. By using so much so soon, you're diluting its effectiveness. I'd limit it to one here.
The funny thing is, I didn’t even realize how many ‘impolite’ words there were until I saw it in this format. I will definitely change that.

The initial agony faded to a red hot ache. His body and attention turned to the field. Despite her hiding among the corn, he sensed her exact location. He followed her movements as she tried to glide past him.

Despite her hiding is a bit awkward. How about Even though she was hidden . . .? What are you trying to convey with He followed her movements? Is he shadowing her? Moving with her? Or just watching her?
He’s just figuring out he has the ability to sense her location, no matter where she is. That’s how he knew she was on this road and knew where she was in the cornfield. I need to make that much more clear.

He softened his voice to sound reassuring. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

She stopped.

He perceived the indecision in her mind.
This sentence should join the previous one in the same paragraph. If you separate out every single sentence you aren't giving the important ones emphasis.
Oops. I’ll definitely change that.

“I won’t hurt you.”

She sprinted down the corn row, the leaves whispering in her wake.

The farther she got from him, the less scared she felt.

He didn’t bother following her.
The three previous sentences need to be combined into one paragraph instead of separated.
Again—I see what you’re saying.

Tomorrow morning when he met her, he’d pretend none of this happened.
Excellent final hook. Abbie, you have some good bones here, but we need some flesh. There's not enough specific detail for us to know exactly what's happening. How does he know this girl? How did he know to drive into the middle of nowhere to have this encounter? What exactly is going on in this passage? Thanks for letting us take a look at this inventive beginning.

Looking back over it, I realize I edited out why he’s there (which would answer all your questions). Reflecting on why I did that—it seemed like it was a lot of back story and took away from the immediacy of the situation. Those questions you posed above are all answered within the first 15 pages. But it seems that without the reason for him being there—this part is confusing. And I don’t want confused readers. I’ll work on integrating the answers to your questions into the piece.
It's possible to weave in backstory without it seeming like an info dump if you do it in such a way that how he feels about the backstory is paramount. Emotion is the strongest hook a writer can set. Use it.
This has been a really awesome experience. Thanks for the feedback! This is a really wonderful thing you’re doing for us aspiring authors. Thank you.

My pleasure. Thank you for letting us all learn something along with you, Abbie.

Abbie lives in Central Ohio, with the man of her dreams and two ornery doggies. Currently, she is a mental health therapist, but her goal is to be a published author. When she's not working or writing, she enjoys running, except for the times when she hates it.

Ok, now it's your turn. Do you have a suggestion for Abbie? How about an "atta girl?" The strength of this critique group is in the many voices around the cyber-table. If you're here, you have a right to a say.


Nynke said...

Thank you, Abbie! I'm definitely curious now who these two characters are and how they're linked!

I do agree with Emily that the opening is a bit vague at present - I was a bit confused about where both characters were. At first, when you told us Xander could sense her experiences, I figured she would be in a totally different place from him, so 'movement towards him' could still be miles and miles away. In the same way, I didn't automatically take 'straining to hear' literally; he might be straining to hear her in his mind... I think if you clear that up and give us some of that backstory that I'm dying to know more about, you'll have a really good story opening!

Good luck with everything!

Anonymous said...

Nynke--Good info. I'd never thought about 'straining to hear' being interpreted that way, but it makes sense. Thanks!

Maria said...

Hello Abbie and Thank you for sharing with us...I have to agree with Emily that I'm not wild about the title and I was lost a couple of times in the excerpt provided. I know that alot of authors are worried about the backstory being too present at the start of the story but I really think that in this case it would beneficial to put more of it up front, the concept sounds good though overall and like it could be a very interesting story.

EmilyBryan said...

Nynke--Your insights always amaze me. Especially when I remind myself that English isn't your first language.

EmilyBryan said...

Maria--Maybe what's needed isn't backstory, but just a little more specifics on what's happening now.

Xander is an interesting character with an unusual problem. We need a little more detail about his psychic connection with this woman, as well as who she is to him, since it's obvious he knows her.

What she's up to in a cornfield is another mystery. That may be another reason I thought she existed on another plain and was somehow poking through to his in an entirely unsuitable location.

In some ways this reminds me of La Sonambula, an opera about a sleep-walker, because I can't figure out why else the woman would be out in the boonies. I'm interested in hearing more about her.

You see, Abbie,you've created lots of good questions in our minds that need answers.

Nynke said...

Emily - you're making me blush! Half the time, I just read really fast, wanting to see what happens and not really taking much time to think about what I'm reading. That's what happened here, too... But if I misinterpret something, I figure I probably won't be alone, given enough readers :).

The idea of her being a sleepwalker, that would be a nice twist! I wonder what it'll turn out to be... Abbie, will you keep us posted?

Anonymous said...

Thank you Nynke, Maria, and Emily for your helpful comments and suggestions. I value each and every one! This is such a great opportunity! Thanks again.

EmilyBryan said...

You're welcome, Abbie. Choosing unusual and vivid sensory details is a strength I see in your work. Keep writing!