One of the things I love about Red Pencil Thursday is that my volunteers come with a wide range of writing experience–from aspiring newbies toiling on their very first manuscript to New York Times Bestsellers honing their craft. Today we welcome Kiwi author Bronwen Evans. Bron is an award winning, multi-published author whose work I love. It’s an honor for me to take a peek at her WIP.
As always, the strength of this online critique group is in the minds gathered around my cyber-table. We need your comments, so be sure to let us know what you think. If you’d like to take the hotseat for a future Red Pencil Thursday, please click on the image for details on how to become a volunteer!
Invitation to Passion
Late April, Hascombe near Cambridge, 1802
“We can wait all day for you to come down.”
Mia: Sometimes we learn most from observing what others do right. This spare first sentence is brilliant in its simplicity. It raises questions, sets up an immediate conflict and prepares us to identify with the one who’s being waited upon with nefarious intent. Brava!
Bron: Gosh, thanks, Mia.
Madeline Knight wiped the tree sap from her eyes and fought to keep her bottom lip from quivering. She would not cry. She wouldn’t give them the satisfaction.
Mia: I’ve never gotten tree sap in my eyes, but I’m pretty sure I’d cry if I did. I wonder if pollen might not be better. Sap in someone’s eyes sounds like it might be a permanent threat to their vision. Do we have a medical pro out there who can weigh in?
That said, I really enjoy a peek at the characters during their childhood. So much of who we are is determined on the playgrounds, in front of an unforgiving chalkboard or hiding in a tree.
Bron: Hmmm – agree, pollen would be better. Or maybe dirt. It could be the dirt from the missiles below?
Another clod of earth hit her shoulder. The artillery more effective than she thought. Her tormentors were mean and clever. They’d wrapped the earth around jagged stones, far more effective when wishing to cause an injury.
Mia: Oh, dear! She’s seriously being bullied. One thing to consider is how old Madeline is. Try to tailor the narrative to her age and sensibilities and we’ll be drawn even further into her POV. Would a girl of that time use words like artillery? If so, give us a hint why she’d know such a military term.
Bron: LOL. I didn’t even think about a word like artillery being too old, but you’re probably right. Okay, what could I use? Perhaps dirt-balls – keep it simple as a child would?
She didn’t care about the pain. Her concern was for the charcoals she’d left at the bottom of the tree. They were a present from her brother Rufus. He’d given them to her yesterday, her thirteenth birthday, on one of his rare visits home. She’d been ecstatic to think he’d remembered her special day. Her lip quivered again as she recalled his arrival had been a coincidence. He’d only come home to authorize expenditures on the estate, before heading back to France tomorrow. He’d barely wished her happy birthday.
Mia: This paragraph seems a little self-contradictory. Her brother brings her a gift for her birthday, but he barely wished her many happy returns of the day? If he’d merely brought the art supplies as a random gift and had to be reminded it was her birthday, her hurt is understandable but it’s not clear that’s what happened. Can you rework this paragraph so we feel her elation, then deep sadness over her beloved brother’s lack of attention?
Or on second thought, you might scotch this after They were a present from her brother Rufus completely at this point because it’s backstory and will be more effective later if the children destroy her precious charcoals.
Bron: This is where an author forgets that readers might not have read the previous book in the series. If you’ve read Invitation to Scandal, Rufus’s story, you’d understand why he was rarely home and that he does care but is too busy. So, how to convey that better…here goes
She didn’t care about the pain. Her concern was for the charcoals she’d left at the bottom of the tree. They were a present from her brother Rufus. He’d given them to her yesterday, her thirteenth birthday, on one of his rare visits home. She wished he could be home more. She missed him. At least he had made the effort to come home for her birthday, but as usual, he took the opportunity to combine her special day with his need to authorize expenditures on the estate, before heading back to France. Clearing their father’s name of treason, took precedence over everything.
Mia: Much better! You’ve obeyed the PRIME DIRECTIVE of WRITING—First, be clear.
Now she feared her tormentors might tread on her precious present. Already her sketches were scattered over the grass and being gently blown along the ground. Her afternoon’s work ruined.
Mia: Tormentors is a unique enough word to only use once in this small excerpt. Are they classmates? Cousins? Is there a word that shows us the rock throwers’ relationship to her?
Bron: True. How about…
Now she feared her horrid neighbors might tread on her precious present. Already her sketches were scattered over the grass and being gently blown along the ground. Her afternoon’s work ruined.
Mia: Yes! It gives us new information.
“We’ll keep throwing until you come down,” Timothy Chesterton yelled at her.
Madeline wasn’t stupid. If she came down from her perch, high in the oak tree she’d been sketching, they’d likely pummel her. The last time they’d caught her unawares she’d been black and blue for weeks. No, the only thing keeping her safe was the fact that none of the Chesterton bullies liked heights.
Mia: Madeline is a wellborn young lady. Surely there is an adult in her life who’d have seen those bruises. If she kept the abuse secret, why?
Bron: She keeps it secret because she doesn’t wish to worry Rufus. She knows he’s trying to clear their father of treason. He has enough on his shoulders. You find this out later in the prologue. Does it need to come earlier?
…The last time they’d caught her unawares she’d been black and blue for weeks. She’d explained her injuries as a fall from her pony. Something she did on a regular basis given she was learning to ride. She didn’t tell her mother. Rufus had enough to worry about. No, the only thing keeping her safe was the fact that none of the Chesterton bullies liked heights.
Mia: This is much stronger. Concern for her family is an understandable reason for her silence on the abuse. It makes us like her all the more.
Her hands clenched the branch harder. She’d thought her awful neighbors had left for London. They were renowned for heading to London well in advance of the Season. She would never have ventured so far from Hascombe Court if she’d known they were still in residence.
The four children prowling at the bottom of the tree, as tenacious as rabid dogs, ranged in age from thirteen down to six. She grimaced. At least it wasn’t all of them – there were two older Chesterton’s. Charles was the eldest at twenty-four, the same age as her brother, yet he would not have raised a finger to help her. Charles had been at school with Rufus, and he hated her brother. Over the years Madeline had heard the story many times: Rufus had beaten Charles Chesterton to a pulp shortly after their father’s death, for being stupid enough to call their father a traitor in Rufus’s presence.
Mia: Wow, this is a very bad brood. I get the whole ‘Lord of the Flies’ dynamic, but the thought that a 24 year old wouldn’t help a girl in her situation seems more in keeping with a contemporary gang. I may be wrong, but gentlemen during the Regency often aided people they didn’t even esteem. Think of how Mr. Darcy went out of his way to protect Elizabeth’s very foolish younger sister. Just a thought.
Bron: Agree, but Charles is the villain of the book and I want to set him up as such and also his hatred of Rufus. He is pretty awful and wouldn’t have helped the traitor’s daughter. Charles is no Mr. Darcy! However, he is a villain that is understandable, when we learn the plot, if you get what I mean.
Mia: You write so beautifully, I’m willing to trust you on this.
Taking courage from Rufus’s previous victory, she leaned out and yelled down at them. “You’d better go away. You’re on Strathmore land and my brother, Viscount Strathmore, is in residence.” Madeline hoped she sounded braver than she felt.
Mia: Yay for her finding her courage! Is there a way for her to speak up sooner?
Bron: Good idea. I’ll look at that. She is a quiet and subdued young girl given her isolation from society due to her father’s treason. Perhaps I need to bring this fact in much earlier too!
The answer to her bravado was a palm-sized dirt ball that hit just above her eye, making her cry out in agony. She felt the trickle of blood. Her yelp set the small gang below into a laughing frenzy.
Mia: Oh, I so dislike the Chesterton twits. I want them to get their comeuppance. However, be careful not to make them too completely bad. This is something I struggle with too, but villains who have some smidge of goodness in them, ones you think might have actually been the hero but for a bad choice or two, make the most interesting bad guys.
I’m totally in Madeline’s corner and want to see how she grows up to overcome this rough beginning.
Bron: Oh, they get their comeuppance in the next couple of paragraphs actually. None of these children are the villains, only their elder brother who is not with them. The hero is the person who plucks her form the tree and scares away the Chesterton bullies.
Thanks for having me over today. It’s given me loads to think about. I look forward to the comments.
New Zealander Bronwen Evans grew up loving books. She’s always indulged her love for story-telling, and is constantly gobbling up movies, books and theatre. She writes both historical and contemporary sexy romances for the modern woman who likes intelligent, spirited heroines, and compassionate alpha heroes.
Her debut Regency romance, Invitation to Ruin, won the RomCon 2012 Readers Crown Best Historical, and was an RT Reviewers’ Choice Nominee Best First Historical 2011. To Dare the Duke of Dangerfield was a FINALIST in the Kindle Book Review Indie Romance Book of the Year 2012. Look out for her first Entangled Publishing Indulgence release in Fall 2012, The Italian Conte’s Reluctant Bride.
Find her at:
Ok, now it’s your turn to weigh. We’re counting on you. And be sure to visit again on Monday when Bronwen will be my guest blogger!