Thursday, September 9, 2010

Red Pencil Thursday with Darcy Carson

Please welcome Darcy Carson, my critique partner from Seattle. Even when I moved away from Seattle, she stuck with me, e-critiquing and giving me appropriate kicks in the rear when I needed it. I can honestly say without the help and encouragement of this fantastic woman, I would not be published. And I'm not the only writer she's helped. NYTimes Bestseller Elizabeth Boyle has sat at Darcy's kitchen table and Darcy was the founder of Eastside RWA, the chapter that really set my feet on the right writing path.

Darcy and I are used to tough love from each other and she knows that this is a smorgasbord. She'll take what she likes and leave the rest. My comments on Darcy's paranormal are in red. Her responses are in purple. Please add yours at the end. ;-)

I like this title because it fits the story well. Since Darcy's been my crit partner, I know a little more about where it's going. Her heroine is a witch sent by a magic policing organization to investigate the hero, who may or may not be dabbling in weather magic. It's an inventive premise and sets Darcy's characters in conflict even as they are drawn to each other.

Chapter One

Was he causing this terrible storm?
I'd love to see a stronger first sentence. Asking a direct question is a gamble because the reader doesn't know enough to care about the answer yet. We don't yet know who he is or why he thinks he might be powerful enough to cause a storm. Maybe a little involuntary dialogue from the hero when lightning strikes near him?
I like the idea of internal dialogue. Maybe something along the lines of: He hated his weather WynnCasts. They might be accurate predications, but he couldn’t control them.
I didn't mean internal. I meant involuntary, like Brax swearing at the weather or something.

The answer frightened Braxton Wynn, lead meteorologist for KIDU TV on Channel 3.
Yesterday on the evening news, when he’d delivered his WynnCast predicting torrential rainfall, Brax had known they didn’t always hold true. But the compulsion to forecast always proved so overwhelming, he couldn’t resist. He never could.
Ok, I've said several times not to start with the weather unless the hero is a meteorologist, but by golly, that's what Darcy has here. So in this case, a weather beginning can work. You've given us a hint that he has a special skill when it comes to weather by mentioning the compulsion he feels when he forecasts. However, I really don't want the first thing I learn about my hero to be that he's afraid. Could he feel something else?
I’ve heard the ‘rule’ not to start with weather, but wasn’t sure how to overcome that problem. At least I didn’t start with ‘It was a dark and stormy night’. I agree about the ‘afraid’ bit. Deep down Brax is probably angry that it has happened again.
Since your hero is a meterologist, you have a free pass on the no weather beginning rule! ;-)

And the rains came.

Now, another urge—stranger, stronger, more compelling—rose within him as he listened to the breaking news of serious flooding south of Seattle. He had to see the damage with his own eyes.
I know sometimes people are looky-loos when it comes to disasters, but I've never thought it seemed like a smart thing to do. Can we give him a better motivation than curiosity? Maybe if he thought he caused it, he might be able to stop it? That would be walking the hero's path.
Dang, Emily, you hit the nail on the head here. My little pea brain didn’t follow through. He drove to Orting to see if he could stop the storm by being in the middle of it.

Three-quarters of an hour later, he turned his truck off the interstate toward Orting, a little town tucked beneath the shadow of Mt. Rainer. For several miles, he followed signs for the designated lahar evacuation route, in case the mountain erupted and a lava or mud flow inundated the valley. At last he reached Orting where the worst of the flooding was being reported.
What's lahar? Is it something most people know that I don't? We've got a bit of a problem because Brax is by himself with no one to talk to. Could he have the radio on and hear a recording of his own voice giving his WynnCast? And then maybe tell himself to shut up or something? I'd like to see dialogue of some kind here. Listening to someone talk is a great to get to know them and we want to know Brax.
A lahar is an Indian word and is actually printed on the evacuation signs. I do like the idea of the radio being on. And I need dialogue much sooner than I currently have. That will solve the problem.
When we were in Seattle, we lived right downtown. We didn't drive all that much then, so I guess I missed those signs. Is the word capitalized on them?

Clouds gave way as he drove the two blocks to the end of town before realizing he’d missed his turn. He pulled a U-turn and looked at the sky that had been behind him; pockets of blue sky taunted him from above. Within minutes the storm had vanished, leaving a soggy disaster in its wake.
Pockets of blue sky. Very fresh. So did he actually cause the storm to dissipate? Or think he may have? It would be ok to let us have a peek inside his head here.
Actually we are in the eye of the storm, but you don’t learn that until later through the heroine’s POV.

Driving over a two-lane bridge, he glanced out the truck’s window at the Puyallup River, filled with raging water, dirty foam, and uprooted trees.
Very clear imagery.
Yeah, I got something right!
You get a lot right, Darcy!

A dorsal fin split the torrent. That couldn’t be a dolphin.

Braxton shook his head to clear his vision. The image didn’t change. A sleek, gray, bullet-shaped animal dipped and swam in the strong current.

Impossible. River dolphins didn’t exist in Washington.
I know what the dolphin signifies because I've seen parts of this story before. I'm trying to read it as if I don't know and this passage comes across as a little confusing. A reader wouldn't be able to puzzle out why it's there or what it means. I'd drop it for now.
Not sure I agree with you on this, Emily. Gotta think about it.
That's ok. This is what I mean when I say RPT is a smorgasbord. What I share is only one person's opinion. The author is the only one who can tell her story, and ultimately is the only one who can decide how it should be told.

He felt that strange compulsion again, that same impulse to drive here. At the far end of bridge he pulled over and parked on the shoulder. Even as he watched, water spilled over an elevated levy and began to surround an old white house nestled next to the bridge, just below him.
Can his compulsion have a physical manifestation? A twinge in his shoulder or a tingle of some sort? Maybe a soft humming when he gets where he's supposed to be? If he's being led by magic of some sort, I'd like it to have a magical feel.
Oh, I like this suggestion, especially the humming that reminds him of a chant.

Brax spotted a lone woman in a bright yellow rain jacket, looking like a Gloucester fisherman, running along the jagged top of the levy. One of her rubber boots stuck in the gooey muck between the rocks. He jumped out of his truck just as she lost her balance on the slick rocks, her arms flailing like a windmill. With a sharp scream that carried over the thunder of millions of gallons of debris-filled water, she fell and disappeared from sight.
Ok, this is where it gets exciting. We've got another person for Brax to interact with. This needs to come sooner. If you start the story with him already in the truck driving through the slanting rain, he could get here much quicker.

A quick word about tightening your prose. Angela James, editor for Carina Press says not every noun deserves an adjective. Jacket has 8 words to support it in your text.
Instead of:
Brax spotted a lone woman in a bright yellow rain jacket, looking like a Gloucester fisherman, running along the jagged top of the levy.
How about:
Brax spotted a woman in a Gloucester fisherman jacket running along the top of the levy.

When action is high, word count should be low. Shorter sentences read faster and communicate urgency.

“Hang on,” he cried. Could she even hear him?
I'd cut Could she even hear him? It's not necessary.
Great editing, Emily. Wish I had thought of this myself.

Racing down the driveway, he leaped a toppled lawn chair and double-timed between scattered trash cans. Pale hands clung to the boulders as unrelenting water twisted and pulled her body. He snagged the hapless woman below the wrist.
Love the action here, especially double-timed. The author's goal is always to surprise and delight our readers with our word choices. A fresh way to express what's happening will keep readers reading.
I agree with you about word choices. Sometimes the words are something we hear everyday and sometimes they just pop into our heads.

“Wynn?” cried Katrina Bishop, KIDU’s newest assistant producer.
Since he knows her, instead of giving us her name in a dialogue tag, why not have it explode out Brax's mouth? That way you show us he's shocked to find her here instead of telling us.
Good point. And an easy fix.

“In the flesh.” He was shocked to find a co-worker here, and how cold and wet her skin felt. His hand began to slip and he lost his grip. Scrambling, he caught her again.
If there's a way to move this action to the beginning of the story, I think you'll have a stronger start. The hero's trying to do something heroic and we like him for it.
I agree wholeheartedly with you, Emily.
It's been a while since I saw any of MAGIC. Thanks for letting me take a crack at it, my friend.

Darcy's bio---Darcy Carson is published in romantic comedy. She founded RWA's Eastside Romance Writers and is on the the board of Pacific Northwest Writers Association where she chairs the annual literary contest. She writes high fantasy with dragons trying to re-establish themselves on a planet where they'd been destroyed thousands of years before and paranormal contemporary with witches who work for the magic police.


Now it's your turn to add your voice to the critique group. What suggestions or encouragements do you have for Darcy?


Barbara Britton said...

I liked your hero, especially his name-Brax. His rescue of his co-worker really drew me into the story. Most of us have seen tragic scenes of people and homes threatened by currents, so this played out vividly in my mind. I agree with Emily and would start at the rescue. Good hook!

Unknown said...

I agree with Emily, specifically about a stronger first sentence. Also with his motivations to go look. I think stronger wording would make him a stronger character.

Right now, his POV feels passive, that he's content to just be carried along wherever the mood takes him. I think to define his urges with stronger language, making it a compulsion that beats him and twists him if he doesn't obey, it would give us a stronger sense of him as the hero and make his voice more definitive.

I do like the premise and I would definitely keep reading.

I liked the mention of the dolphin. I think it adds to the paranormal essence of the story and seems to be a foreshadowing of things to come. It makes me wonder if the woman in the slicker has something to do with the dolphin or if she could *be* a dolphin, all sorts of things that makes me want to know more.

Good luck with your work, Darcy!

EmilyBryan said...

Hi Barb,
Darcy always has inventive names for her characters. You should read the stories about her dragons! I love them.

Thanks for stopping by.

EmilyBryan said...

Good point, Saranna. We want our heroes to be self-directed, not compelled to act.

There you go, Darcy. Chalk one vote up for keeping the dolphin! ;-)

darcy said...

Thank you, everyone, for your comments. Barbara, I'm glad you like Brax's name. Me, too. Saranna, Trina isn't a dolphin, but she summoned them. BTW, I'm keeping the dolphins.

Nynke said...

Hi Darcy,

this looks like a very interesting story! I agree with Emily that starting the narrative with Brax having to save Katrina would be a good idea. I actually liked the fact that he was so worried about maybe causing this distruction (internal conflict!), and I think if you make him worry about it while at the same time doing something heroic, his alpha-male status won't be at risk :).

I also liked the dolphin - Brax's thoughts make it very cleat that that dolphin shouldn't be here, and something mysterious must be going on :).

As for Katrina's yellow jacket, I agree with Emily that it has a little too many adjectives, but please don't ditch the fact that she's wearing a yellow jacket in favour of comparing her to a Gloucester fisherman - I had no idea what they look like! Now, this may just be because I'm not an American, but I guess there may be more readers who could do with a bit more detail :).

EmilyBryan said...

Nynke-Gloucester is actually pretty regional--a little fishing town on the coast of MA, but the guy in the yellow jacket is the advertising image for a line of frozen fish here in the US, so it's pretty well known here. Good point about it not be universally recognizable.

EmilyBryan said...

Darcy--Thanks for being my REd Pencil Thursday volunteer. Hope you found it helpful. Sending Hugs!

Glynis Peters said...

A dorsal fin split the torrent. That couldn’t be a dolphin.

Braxton shook his head to clear his vision. The image didn’t change. A sleek, gray, bullet-shaped animal dipped and swam in the strong current.

Impossible. River dolphins didn’t exist in Washington.

I didn't balk at this. I enjoyed how it 'popped' out at me. Having seen a chicken in a whirlwind, I could relate. ☺
The image made me want to continue reading.
I think the rescue would make a great opening. I switched off a little with the weather opening. (Rude I know, sorry).

Brax is a fantastic name. A chunky male comes to mind. Yummy.

Thanks Emily and Darcy for an interestign RPT.

Glynis Peters said...

Interesting...sorry typo.

EmilyBryan said...

Thanks, Glynis. A chicken in a whirlwind. Now there's a picture.

The support for Darcy's dolphin continues to mount!