Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Jodie Renner Critiques First Five Pages

Editor Jodie Renner returns to critique another first five pages of a GFW Writer member's work-in-progress. Jodie is a freelance editor specializing in thrillers, mysteries, romantic suspense and other crime fiction, as well as YA and historical fiction. The author of the piece below has graciously allowed us to post the critique, but will remain anonymous.

“Who the hell does he think he is?!!” Charlotte Bellagio brooded as she considered the hurt that filled her heart. [A bit of a confusing beginning. Who is she mad at, and why? Also, can leave out “as she considered the hurt that filled her heart” and leave it at “brooded.”]
She willed a smile to her face as she nodded at her table companions [who is she sitting with?] where they  who had all gathered for this much anticipated event. Most of her breakfast went untouched;, but if her tablemates noticed her mood they didn’t acknowledge it. She kept her heart hidden and the other guests didn’t pay much attention to her anyway. [Why not?]
Charlotte’s fellow convention guests were not aware of [We’re in Charlotte’s point of view here and she doesn’t really know if the others are aware of her feelings or not. Don’t jump into other people’s heads – that’s called head-hopping] the tumult inside her as they waited for the TV show host to make his appearance. Even so she made an effort to relax her shoulders and took a deep breath. [Too many “as” phrases above and below (highlighted). Best to vary sentence structure.]
“That’s good,” she thought as her muscles began to relax. [What’s good? And why are her muscles relaxing now? Best not to have her relax now as nothing has really happened to make her relax, and it’s good to maintain tension. Tension and conflict are what drive fiction forward and keep readers turning the pages.]
Charlotte looked at the clock on the wall and realized that her sister had not come back down from their hotel room. [I’d take out “looked at the clock and realized,” as it’s not the clock that makes her realize her sister isn’t back. Instead, tell how she’s feeling about her sister not being back yet.] Her heart rate climbed. [Why does her sister taking her time coming back make her heart rate climb? A bit of an over-reaction, maybe?] Jen was taking too long to get the cell phone she had left behind; Char needed moral support if she was going to confront the man who had unceremoniously dumped her and broke her heart. [Best to avoid semicolons (;) in fiction, and definitely keep them out of dialogue. Replace with a dash, comma, or period, whichever works best.]
Where was Jennie? [No quotation marks for thoughts. Also, thoughts in italics should be in the present tense: Where’s Jennie? If in the past tense, use normal font, not italics.] Her heart started to palpate [It’s palpitate. Just say “beat faster” – more direct.] while she focused on the door and hoped to see her sister at any moment. Instead Mark Vale sauntered in. [below you have him come in again: “The handsome man strode in the room.”]
Charlotte’s heart squeezed a bit  [avoid qualifiers like “a bit”, “kind of,” “sort of,” etc.] with fear and longing. [I don’t know about “heart squeezed” – maybe “beat faster.”]
Char sat up straight and clenched her fists. She worriedly looked around then back at the door desperate for Jennie to walk in. Charlotte didn’t think she could do it with no visible support. [This idea of her waiting for her sister is repeated several times – best to just say it once or twice.]
There, across the room was Mark Valethe object of her ire. He hosts [need past tense here - hosted or was the host of] the Explorer Channel’s Location Encounters, one of her favorite TV shows. The handsome man [We already know his name so “the handsome man” seems strange, like she’s just seeing him for the first time and doesn’t know who he is.] strode in the room; [he’s already in the room – he sauntered in above] well-formed legs [I don’t know about describing a man’s “well-formed legs…?] filled blue jeans, snake skin boots, t-shirt covered biceps swelled a bit as his arm bent to wave while manly hands used to hard work the loyal fans greeted [Avoid body parts doing disembodied things, like they’re separate: “his arm bent to wave” “manly hands…greeted the fans”.]  while blue-green eyes sparkled at the crowd of adoring females. [Two “while” in one sentence.]
The convention crowd gathered at the Drake Hotel in Chicago by invitation only from Mark himself as a “thank you” [How does she know all this?] for all the work theydve done to help him launch the new online website that helpeds kids, teens, and young adults learn how to change their mindset so they cancould be the best that they can be. [Sentence started in past tense then switched to present tense. Stay in past tense.]
Mark had come [past perfect tense (“past past”) to show events that happened before this scene] came up with the idea while on various locations throughout the world. He had seen saw rural kids in non-industrialized countries working in the fields when they weren’t much more than babies. [How does Charlotte know all this?] They lived in dirt floored huts and often several generations lived within one dwelling. It was a simple way of life and as long as there was enough to eat the kids seemed happy enough. They didn’t know what they didn’t have. Parents of children in poor nations didn’t seem to have as hard of a time with discipline as the parents of children in rich nations did. [How does she know this, and is it relevant to the present story? Too much detail here, interrupting the story line. We’re losing the main focus – that Charlotte has been hurt by Mark and wants to confront him about it.] 
[Above and below, we’ve switched from Charlotte’s point of view to Mark’s POV. Best to stick with one viewpoint per scene.]
So he came up with an idea to take at risk, and spoiled kids, then putting them and an adult in a remote village somewhere far from the US. Too far from civilization to try to run away, the kids hads no choice but to live and work alongside folks that exist in a completely different way from the modern world. Mark believes believed that when kids are put in this environment, away from video games, permissive parents, non-stop TV, iPods, expensive clothes, drugs, alcohol, gangs, and generally negative attitudes, they learn what really matters in life. It’s for kids of any socioeconomic class, race, religion, etc. [Too much telling and backstory here. The story has come to a grinding halt while we’re filled in on Mark’s background.]
Mark and his crew were in Chicago to thank each fan who helped to get this off the ground. This is was the welcome breakfast portion of the day. [Above seems to be told from Mark’s point of view, then starting in the next paragraph, we’re back to Charlotte’s POV – head-hopping.]   
Although Charlotte no longer kept up with Mark’s website she had to come to the convention when the invitation arrived in the mail. She planned to [back to Charlotte’s point of view] confront Mark Vale and tear into him – right here in front of everyone. He had caught her off guard last time and all she could do was stand there and take it. Her mind went blank. Her muscles would not move. So now she would tell him off. With the newfound confidence she’d gained she couldn’t just let this go without at least saying something! How could he have done this to her? She was so angry she couldn‘t see straight. And she didn’t deserve what she got.
The festivities continued as Mark introduced each person who helped build the website and personally hands handed the awards to them. [Back to present tense – stay in past tense for the whole story.] Most of the ladies go went weak in the knees when given a kiss on the cheek. [We’re in Charlotte’s point of view, and she wouldn’t know how the ladies are feeling inside.] A few try  tried to go for his lips. One aims  aimed with her tongue.
Mark Vale’s looks are were robust, sturdy, yet proportioned well. His chestnut colored hair had has [need past tense] just enough wave to compliment the feathered style that reaches  reached his collar length in the back. His blue/green eyes twinkled twinkle with a hint of mischief, and he went clean shaven most of the time – unless his show dictates dictated otherwise. With his large [tall?] frame, around six 6 feet tall, he  and looks looked like he’d be equally at home in the woods hunting deer, fishing for crab on the ocean, or in the double breasted suit of a businessman. Especially when wearing a pair of Levi’s. [Maybe just “he looked like he’d be equally at home in jeans or a suit.”]
     When the morning merriment ends ended, her Charlotte’s breakfast companions returned and told her that Mark is was up on the platform posing for pictures with fans and signing autographs. [Previous sentence needs to be in past tense like the next one is.] Charlotte saw her chance and positioned herself at the end of a very long line. Good. This way she would be able to rip him an even bigger hole.
     When the crowd of guests thinned out she scrutinized him fraternizing with a couple of ladies who were getting autographs and pictures. As the women stepped away from Mark he looked up and his eyes widened with surprise when they fell on Charlotte. Not happily so either. She smiled. A big smile complete with teeth. When Charlotte reached Mark he growled softly through his teeth now in a mock smile,
     “Who let you in here?”
     At this Charlotte produced her invitation and held it up to his eye level. Charlotte challenged, “Why do you hate me so much? I never hurt you! What the hell is your problem?”
The story is starting to heat up here. Definitely getting interesting. Once you solved the head-hopping issues and put everything in past tense, and leave most of the backstory details about Mark for later, this story will really take off! Good luck with it!

Thanks for your help, Jodie! Please visit Jodie’s website at Jodie has published two e-books on the craft of fiction, Writing a Killer Thriller, and Style, Pacing & Voice. Both are available on Amazon.


Jodie Renner said...

Thanks, Ruby and Susie, for inviting me to critique the opening of a story here at Greater Fort Worth Writers!

I hope aspiring authors find my comments and suggestions helpful.

Thorne said...

My but you are thorough. Off topic with a question, what do you think makes one thriller stand out from others in the same genre?

Ruby Johnson said...

My pages didn't get chosen, but I wish they had. Getting a critique like this would be immensely helpful. I'm keeping your name in my file for the time my manuscript is ready for an editor such as you.

Jodie Renner said...

Thorne, what makes one thriller stand out from the others? That's easy: Character and voice.

Create a strong, likeable, charismatic, courageous, dedicated/tenacious protagonist with some vulnerability and flaws and inner conflict, and give him/her an appealing, authentic voice, and you've got it made.

Good luck with that!

Jodie Renner said...

Thanks for your kind words, Ruby, and thanks for inviting me to your excellent blog!

Claire said...

Thank you so much Jodie. Your comments and suggestions are most helpful. I appreciate it. :)

Jodie Renner said...

Good to hear, Claire! Keep on writing!

J. A. Bennett said...

Good stuff Jodie! Reading these always makes me think of things I need to clean up in my own writing. Thank you so much for all the detail.

Jodie Renner said...

You're welcome, J.A. Glad to be of help. :) said...

Jodie, thanks, I am wowed by your critique. I am going to apply the information you gave to my own work. A question: when and for what purpose are thoughts in italics used? I've used this technique to capture a random thought, but I could be wrong. Also thanks for your statement, "Thoughts in in italics should be in present tense." I learned something.

Bethany Spotts

Jeff Bacot said...

"Best to avoid semicolons (;) in fiction, and definitely keep them out of dialogue. Replace with a dash, comma, or period." I was a bit chocked when I read this. I use (;) all the time, and I write fiction. I have always operated under the premise that punctuation could be likened to length of time stoppage desired. (, 1 second, ; 2 seconds, :3 seconds, . 4 seconds.) Any thoughts on this Jodie?

Jodie Renner said...

Hi Bethany,

Thoughts can be in regular font for an indirect thought in third-person, past tense, like: She wondered what he saw in her, or What did he see in her, anyway? or in italics for direct thoughts, in first-person, present tense, like, What does he see in her? or What a loser. (These last two would be in italics.)

For more on writing thoughts, see my blog post: Expressing Thought-Reactions in Fiction at, or my e-book, Style, Pacing & Voice.

Jodie Renner said...

Hi Jeff,

I agree with you about the pauses, but semicolons are considered a bit too "correct" and maybe a bit stuffy in fiction. If you decide to use them, as some writers do, use them sparingly and not in dialogue, which is considered too casual to be so grammar-conscious and correct. So for dialogue, it's best to choose between a comma, dash or period.

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