Thursday, September 16, 2010

Red Pencil Thursday with Eliza Knight

Welcome to another edition of Red Pencil Thursday. And welcome Eliza Knight, published author, blogger extraordinaire and professional critiquer. This week Eliza is also our victim, er . . . volunteer.
When I sent a note out on my writer loops for volunteers, Eliza thought I was looking for a guest critiquer, so we decided that next week, we'll turn things about. She'll be back next Thursday with her critique of the first draft opening of my Mia Marlowe novella from IMPROPER GENTLEMEN.

But this week it's my turn to take a look at her medieval. My comments are in red, hers in purple. Please add yours to the bottom. A critique group is only as strong as all its members and if you're reading this, consider yourself part of the group! Every opinion is only one person's opinion, but please voice yours!
England, 1415

The distant clang of metal on metal hung in the sky like music, before reaching Michael’s ears. His blood surged with power and lust for a good fight. He’d traveled nearly a month to reach this location. Shouts of pain and triumph floated in the air. He smiled.
I love this opening. You use a sense other than visual to show us something special about our hero's goal. Very fresh.
Thank you, Emily! That is very nice to hear.

England—home, from now on.

How long had he yearned to return to the place of his birth? Nearly twenty years. He couldn’t believe it had been that long, and yet at the same time the wait was unbearable. Although he’d called Ireland home for that long, he’d dreamt of returning. His goal since childhood had been to set foot permanently on English soil. Excitement filled his veins, his muscles flexed and un-flexed with his need to work them out. He took a deep breath. The air was different, dryer. There always seemed to be a mist in the air of Wexford.
I think I'd ditch the question and just state he'd longed to return for 20 years. And speaking of long, looks like you've got an echo here. Sometimes a word gets stuck in a writer's head and flows out our fingers multiple times. There's a mini echo with air in the last two sentences as well.
Lol, yes Michael does like the word long and air doesn’t he? It’s always great to have someone else read your work, since I’ve been over this passage 100 times and never caught that! Thanks! If I read my work aloud, the echoes ping a little louder and I can catch them.

Michael sighed, and gazed up at the sky. It was early in the morning. A few clouds hovered above, but other than that, it appeared the sun would shine for him today.

“Sir?” one of his squires, Colin, inquired.
Yay, Michael has someone to interact with! A canvas too empty of characters is a frequent problem I see in beginnings here on Red Pencil Thursday.
I too like the characters to interact with other people. I think it’s a great way to get some action, dialogue and more than just inner thoughts in there.
Internal thoughts and character ruminations are death to a scene.

“Prepare the tent,” he ordered. He turned toward the fields. “I’m going to the lists. Fletch, come with me.”

Blood pumping and his heart beating a battle tune, Michael urged his mount forward, his lead squire following. Nothing sent a thrill spiraling through him like a tournament. Although the real tourney games had yet to commence, the list fields were abuzz with knights training, squires running here and there. Roars of laughter could be heard from the crowds that watched all manners of entertainment. Bear-baiting, cock-fighting and boxing had all begun.
Multiple squires lets us know Michael is a man of pretty high rank. You've provided good details in setting this festive scene for us. Be careful not to use passive voice. Roars of laughter could be heard is weaker than The crowd roared with laughter.
Good point and great example!!! One of things I find often with my work is I have to go over passages two or three times to pick up on the passive stuff. I think my voice is naturally passive, so I have to work that much harder to make it active.

They reached the main field and dismounted. Michael and Fletch approached the men who were checking armorial bearings and pairing knights for the competition.

“My master, Sir Michael Devereux, wishes to join the list,” Fletch said.

“Devereux, eh? Son of Sir Lucas Devereux?” the balding older man asked. Grease stained the front of his tunic. His beard held the remainders of what looked like more than one meal. Was that a hunk of moldy cheese woven between the snarls? Red rimmed the man’s eyes, and his cheeks were ruddier than pig’s flesh. Dark crescent shaped shadows were smeared beneath his eyes. His sidekick, just as old, but not bald, didn’t fair much better, in fact he looked ready to keel over.
Vibrant description and very fresh. I've never seen ruddier than pig's flesh anywhere else. We read to be surprised and delighted. You're off to a great start. Sidekick tickles my ear as too modern for a medieval. Sure enough. When I checked my online etymology source, it tagged this word as a 1906 invention.
Ruddier than pigs flesh is pretty good huh? It came to me actually from that movie, Babe, while watching it with my daughter, one the characters who kind of looked like a pig had very ruddy skin, more so than her little piggy!

Thanks for the tip on sidekick. I looked up other words, and cohort, was established around 1475… I could use it since it was close enough, or just go with companion…

Michael suppressed the urge to sneer at their disheveled appearances. Apparently the men were enjoying this tourney quite a bit already. Normally, Michael would cheer them on, but his mood was soured as the reason for his being here came to the forefront of his mind.
Watch how often you use -ly words. Here we have two sentences beginning adverbs. Specific nouns and descriptive verbs make for stronger prose.
“ly” words are my enemy!
Repeat after me: "Adverbs are of the devil."

It's been a while since the men asked Michael a question. You might think about having his answer refer back to it. "Aye, Sir Lucas is my sire."
I’m glad you pointed this out, because it was actually something I had thought of, and now that you’re saying it, you’ve confirmed my thoughts!

The men nodded. “You’ll be jousting at mid-day. If you do not arrive at the list fields on time, you will be disqualified.”

He bit back a retort. He was no fledgling. Michael twisted his neck from side to side, trying to ease the tension that made his muscles stiffen. “I understand.”

“Today is the joust, tomorrow—” The man actually swayed in his chair and had to grip the table to catch his bearings. His partner laughed aloud, causing himself to almost topple over.
I really like this beginning. The contrast between your hero and the people he meets is stark. We like Michael for his seriousness of purpose and yet, I get the sense that jousting is not going to satisfy him long. Thanks for letting me take a look at it, Eliza!
Thank you so much Emily for your critique, advice and suggestions, and for allowing me to come on Red Pencil Thursday! This was a lot of fun! Everything you’ve said will really help to make the opening of my story much stronger, and I can use your suggestions for the rest of the manuscript as well!

Eliza's bio:

Eliza Knight is the author of several historical romance and time travel erotic romance novellas. She is also a professional critiquer and presents workshops to writers on craft, research and history. Coming soon--Eliza writes historical fiction under the name Michelle Brandon. Visit Eliza at, or
Thanks for stopping in, everyone. Be sure to leave a comment or question for Eliza today!


Calisa Rhose said...

Nice to put a face with my instructor Eliza! Hi. What a wonderful story beginning. Very insightful piece. But, to play devil's advocate...

*The distant clang of metal on metal hung in the sky like music*

I don't think I've ever heard a sound 'hang in the sky', as something tangible might, so much as in the air.

Just my thoughts. Good writing.

Eliza Knight said...

Thanks Lisa!!! Good thoughts there... I'll have to think about an alternative to that.

EmilyBryan said...

Hi Calisa. The 'hang in the sky' seemed poetic to me. As a musician, I often visualize sound as if it were tangible. When I spin out a note, it's like a long thread, vibrating in perfection.

Guess it just goes to show when it comes to language, we all bring different frames of reference to the same words and get a very different sense of them.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

Great post and great suggestions, Eliza and Emily. I had my turn at Red Pencil Thursday a while back and learned so much from your fresh eyes, Emily. Your story sounds great, Eliza!!! I'm glad I stopped by.

Marcy W said...

Interesting discussion! I too stopped for a moment at "hung in the sky like music, before reaching Michael's ears". . . but it wasn't the 'sky' part that bothered me, it was wondering how we could know it 'hung in the sky' if Michael didn't hear it!? Kind of 'if the tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound', I guess. In the end, it doesn't matter, as it blended into the scene very well, but I don't like to be stopped in my reading in the first sentence -- that's not so good. That said, I really liked your characterizations, Eliza. I have a good mental picture already of Michael, and of the two geezers at the tourney, so I'm hooked and eager to know more about why Michael has been longing to get back to England, what kept him in Ireland, and what's going to happen now that he's back!

Oh, and I liked the repetition of "air" in the last two sentences of the second paragraph ... it seemed quite lyrical to me. Which goes to prove Emily's point about bringing our own perspectives to what we read!
Love the idea of Emily/Mia being on the receiving end of next week's Red Pencil! No surprise, as she's never lacked courage ... and it'll be fun, I know. Thanks to both of you.

Joelene Coleman said...

I've found a new favorite haunt for Thursdays, one of many great things I'm learning from Eliza. Like Calisa, its nice to put a face with our teacher. Great story, great suggestions. One creative thought - in the paragraph starting with "Excitement filled his veins.." you go on to describe a visual of his muscles, etc. Would something like "pulsed in" or "surged through" fit better than "filled?" Thanks for the glimpse.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely loved "ruddier than a pig's skin"! And the food snared by the old guy's beard--wonderful description that totally captured my imagination and gave me a vivid mental image of the old goat!

However, my inner red pen couldn't help but notice that later in the same passage, you accidentally used the word "fair" (an adjuective) when you really meant "fare" as a verb.
Just sayin' happens to all of us!

Beth from MRW

Lexi said...

Great job, ladies! I definitely want to read more!

Maeve Greyson said...

I really enjoyed this passage, felt like I was there. Well done!

I believe I also learned from the comments and can apply them to my own WIP's. Isn't it helpful what a fresh set of eyes can "see"?

Mary McCall said...

I am so looking forward to this book!

EmilyBryan said...

Paisley--It's hard to overestimate the value of fresh eyes. We live in our stories so thoroughly sometimes, we think our words are adequate to make other people see the same things we do.

EmilyBryan said...

Marcy--Isn't it amazing how what intrigues one person stops another cold?

Jeannie Ruesch said...

Eliza! You know I love your work. :) This is fabulous and I love the comments made along the way by Emily. I'll definitely be back on Thursdays - this is fun!

My only comment would be this: When he says "England--home, from now on." Then goes to describe the air, at first (probably because of all the regencies I read), I see "England" and I think "London." Maybe you could add a few descriptors to how the air smells, so we know immediately he's in the country. :)

Very intrigued to find out his purpose at the joust and where this goes from here.

EmilyBryan said...

J.--I'll look forward to having you drop by on Thursdays! We have lots of great commenters and fresh thoughts.

EmilyBryan said...

Beth--You have very sharp eyes! This is a great example of how everyone around a critique table brings a different strength.

EmilyBryan said...

Thanks for dropping by, Lexi.

Maeve, I'm glad this is helpful to you. Being able to take the ideas and apply them to the whole manuscript is sort of the point!

Mary--I wonder if this story is under contract. Eliza?

EmilyBryan said...

Jeanie--Glad you found us!

I guess I immediately thought English countryside because the Brits do love country life. They might spend time in London, but the idea of getting out into the country is never far away.

Besides, cities reeked so badly in medieval times, with open sewers in the streets and tanners sheds along the Thames, I doubt anyone would praise the London air.

Anonymous said...

I, too, liked the opening utilizing sound and the vivid characterization. Another variation to consider for the first line: The distant clang of metal on metal hung in the sky like musical notes, teasing Michael's ear. I was also bothered by the speedbump of "before reaching Michael's ear" part.

I LOVED the characterization of the two geezers. One suggestion would be to delete the sentence "His beard held the remainders of what looked like more than one meal." and jump right in with "Was that a hunk of moldy cheese woven between the snarls (of his beard)?" You're telling us first then showing us. The impact is much greater without the added telling sentence. You could add in another comment about a greasy piece of meat to give the reader the sense of multiple meals being stored in his beard. He's got a walking pantry in his beard!

I really look forward to reading more of this story. I'm intrigued by Michael's homecoming and the characterization hooked me.

Happy writing!
Julie McMullen

Loretta Wheeler said...

This was an interesting read:) I've found I have to read my manuscript aloud too, to catch all the repeated words. I'm always horrified lol. I can't believe I can get stuck on a word and carry it through paragraph after paragraph so often. It was refreshing to see I'm not the only one!

Great post:)

Loretta Wheeler

EmilyBryan said...

Julie--Excellent catch! Show, for choice. Tell if you must. Never do both!

EmilyBryan said...

Loretta--I think of word echoes as a writer's tick. A certain word will get stuck in our subconscious and we don't notice it flowing out our fingers. And we often don't hear it when we read it silently.

Eliza Knight said...

WOW!!! Look at all these great comments! Thank you all so much. I will use your suggestions and tighten this baby up! Thanks for having me Emily!