My goal for RPT is to provide authors with a chance to think in new directions about their work in progress and to give readers a peek behind the curtain into some writerly issues. As you know we can’t have our online critique group without a volunteer. So I was tickled to receive an email from Zoe York offering to send in the first 500 words of her current WIP. If you’d like to participate in a future Red Pencil Thursday, check out the details here.
The strength of RPT is the many minds gathered around this cyber-table. Be sure to leave your comments and suggestions for Zoe.
It was only three hours into her first shift at The Rose and Thistle, but Kate Harrington already knew this wasn’t going to be the easy working vacation she had planned. That was okay by her, it wasn’t work she was trying to get away from. As long as her well meaning family stayed on the other side of the pond and she got to just be Kate for a while, she’d pull pints until her arms fell off.
Mia: Good beginning. There’s already an imbalance in the heroine’s life. We know something isn’t as she expected, and she’s a bit of a fish out of water. I think Pond needs to be capitalized when you use it to mean the Atlantic. (Grammarians, please weigh in!)
Zoe: Thanks! I’m excited to participate in RPT. Already I see things I want to tweak myself – the first sentence can be tightened up, for example: Three hours into her first shift, Kate Harrington knew it wasn’t going to be the easy working vacation she had planned.
Mia: Good change!
“Don’t tell me that pubs in New York don’t get a crush after work. I’ve heard about your happy hours.” Kevin White flashed a good natured grin at his new bartender. He couldn’t believe his good fortune when she’d walked past his pub two days earlier as he was plastering a poster in the window advertising for temporary help. It was obvious that despite her words, Kate had been happy to work hard this afternoon and he hoped she’d pick up all the shifts his younger brother had abandoned. Daniel might not have a job to come back to if Kate decided to stay in Hastings.
Mia: Oops! We just had a major POV shift. We started in Kate’s head and in the next paragraph, we’re looking through Kevin’s eyes. You’ll give your readers whiplash. Head-hopping is tempting and I did it blithely throughout my first manuscript (which richly deserves the obscurity it enjoys collecting dust under my bed.) Think about who will give you the most interesting insights and stick with that character for the whole scene.
Also, be careful about introducing characters that are not part of the scene in the opening. We don’t need to know about Daniel while we’re getting acquainted with Kate and Kevin. I asked readers on my FB the other day what makes them stop reading and one of the complaints was too many characters too soon.
Zoe: Good catch. I agree with your readers, and this is a bit of backstory that probably only I needed to know. How about:
“Don’t tell me that pubs in New York don’t get a crush after work. I’ve heard about your happy hours.” Kevin White flashed a good natured grin. Kate had lucked out two days earlier, walking past the pub just as he was plastering a poster in the window advertising for temporary help.
Mia: Much better. It keeps us in the now and in the right head.
“We’re closer to Buffalo than New York City, and happy hour in Elmvale is more about half priced potato skins than anything else. This might look like the pub I worked in back home, but that’s where the similarities end. Don’t worry, I’m not complaining, I’m just happy to find a job for the next few weeks.”
Kate took one last swipe at the bar with her towel and grabbed a seat next to Kevin and his plate of french fries. A few patrons remained, obviously regulars, and she was sure more would join them as the evening progressed, so the break was much appreciated.
“Tell me more about the thriving metropolis of Elmvale,” Kevin teased.
Kate shrugged. What was there to tell? Her hometown was the best place in the world, but the last place she wanted to be. She couldn’t understand it herself, so explaining it to a brand new boss seemed like a bad idea. “It’s lovely. Classic small town America, very pretty, known for a big winter festival. I’ve lived there my entire life, so this trip is a big deal.” Okay, that didn’t sound neurotic. Good. She munched on a fry instead of saying anymore, best to quit while ahead.
Mia: I like Kate. She’s the head you should be in at this point. A Brit point: They call them ‘chips,’ not ‘fries.’ The whole “divided by a shared language” thing could give you some fun repartee between Kate and Kevin.
Zoe: I’ll be honest, I was a little nervous about crossing the line and just using British vocabulary because it’s quaint – so I stuck with Kate’s language (later in the book she goes to Paris, and I had the same internal debate … would she call it the metro or the subway?). But you’re right, there’s lot of room for authentic banter. Must find a cute Brit to practice some dialogue with!
Kevin tilted his head as if debating whether or not to ask more. Was it that obvious that there was more to Kate’s adventure? Surely she wasn’t the first backpacker looking for short term work to come around.
“You’re not the first backpacker to come around looking for a bit work,” her mind reader started again. “But you don’t seem quite as carefree as most. And after an afternoon like today, most would be looking for other work.”
Mia: Oops. You told us, then showed us. In the narrative, Kate is sure she’s not the first backpacker looking for work, then Kevin says the same thing, almost verbatim. Cut one or the other.
Zoe: Argh, showing AND telling in the first 500 words! Rookie mistake.
Kevin tilted his head as if debating whether or not to ask more. Was it that obvious that there was more to her adventure? “You’re not the first backpacker to come around looking for a bit work. But you don’t seem quite as carefree as most. And after an afternoon like today, most would be looking for other work.”
“Carefree isn’t in my genetic code. My parents don’t care what we do with our lives, as long as we work hard.”
“But yet you’re backpacking across Europe.”
Mia: Love “Carefree isn’t in my genetic code.” A great way to give us a sense of her upbringing in a very few words.
Since we don’t have a lot of action or emotional content in these first 500 words, I’d love a little more of a hint at why Kate is bumming around the UK. What is she running from? To? Hook us with her emotions about her trip and we’ll stick around for the whole ride.
Zoe: This is very helpful feedback. My next draft will be entirely from Kate’s POV and show more of her hopes and fears.
Thank you so much for taking the time to critique my work! I’m really looking forward to comments from others as well. This is a fantastic exercise.
Zoe’s bio: Zoe York works in academia by day, and chases after two amazing kids the rest of the time, but her lunch hours and some very late nights are spent spilling the conversations she hears in her head onto paper. She is currently working on her first novel, a contemporary romance. A long-time lurker, Zoe has recently started blogging and tweeting: www.zoeyork.com and @zoeyorkwrites.
Now it’s your turn! What suggestions or comments do you have for Zoe?
Have fun and good luck!