Valet de Poulet – Some Thoughts on Self-Care (Guest: Bill Cameron)

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

A man and his chicken

It’s my pleasure to have my friend, Bill Cameron, join us today. I’m a big fan of his writing ever since I read his debut book LOST DOG. Bill was in my debut authors group for the International Thriller Writers (ITW) in 2008. That book featured an unlikely kleptomaniac anti-hero smart ass, Peter McKrall, with his unique voice that has always stuck with me. It launched Bill’s detective series that features Detective Skin Kardash.

I also follow/harass Bill on Instagram (@bcmystery) where he posts pics of his urban chickens. His daily videos and pics of his chicken drama are tons of fun and addictive, like his writing. Thanks for being our guest, Bill. Shake a tail feather and take it away.

***

Much of my day was spent chasing chickens around my yard—an act of pure slapstick if there ever was one. Usually the ladies will come right up to me (probably because I often have treats), but today they sensed I had something else in mind. So they fled, making comical “bock-bock-bock” sounds as they went. I was no doubt equally comical, trying to both run and scoop up indignant chickens simultaneously. The result was a kind of bow-legged lurch with my hands flapping around near ground level. I may have fallen, but if you don’t have video you can’t prove anything.

My problem, or rather the chickens’ problem, was a possible infestation of scale mites. These awful little bugs burrow under the skin of a chicken’s legs, drink blood, and can wreak havoc on the well-being of a flock. (Do not image search for “chicken scale mites” unless you want to see true horror.)

Now, I say possible infestation because until the the situation gets really bad, the vermin are difficult to see. Some discoloration on the legs of our oldest hen, Hinie, was the only indication something might be amiss. That discoloration could also mean nothing at all, but since we don’t want the mites to get a leg-hold, I decided to address the problem proactively.

The treatment is basically Chicken Spa Day, which probably sounds nice to you and me. And in fact some chickens enjoy a soak in a warm bath and maybe a massage. (Do image search for “chicken taking a bath” for some entertaining pics.) Not so much our ladies. But I was not deterred.

In advance, I’d prepared a warm Epsom salts bath with a little mild soap. As I caught them, the girls each got a soak and a mild scrub to clean off any mite eggs or mites that hadn’t yet burrowed. Then, after they were dried off, I coated each hen’s legs with Bag Balm to suffocate the pestilent buggers who remained.

The good news is all went relatively as planned, though it took me more than an hour to get all four into the tub. (Farm Fact: chickens are fast.) The girls had a lot to say about it, probably in the form of chicken swearing. But the endeavor was a success—though I got wetter than the girls did.

So what does this shenanigan have to do with self-care?

Well, for me, taking care of chickens is a lot like writing. It can be rewarding, fun, challenging—and also a source of heartbreak. Right now we have four girls: the aforementioned Hinie, plus Cheeks, Tuchus, and Buns. (Do you detect a theme? Guess what!) Earlier this summer, one of our first hens, Fanny, died unexpectedly. And last year, two others (Moon and Patootie) turned out to be roosters, which are verboten within city limits. That’s the heartbreak side of things. But the rest of the time there’s the slapstick comedy and the reward of eggs and affection from smart, engaged birds who each have their own personality.

When I’m away from the keyboard, I find chicken care is a good way for me to get my “I’m not an incompetent buffoon” fix—something that can be rare in my writing life. On days when things seem especially dire (“wait, did you say there’s no market for that manuscript I spent five years on?”), time with the chickens can give me a sense of worth. They need me—for food and water and spa days, and for a lap or shoulder to cluck on. And I’m up to the task.

The day Hinie pooped on Bill’s head

But as with writing, there’s no guarantee of success. They might get scale mites, and while I’m confident I have that problem in hand, the next problem might cost me a beloved pet. In the morning, I might get a manuscript rejection, but in the afternoon I might get a fresh egg and a nuzzle from a bird named after a butt.

Chicken Tending (think about it) isn’t the only thing I do for self-care. But the ways it’s like writing helps me deal with the tribulations of my writing life. Sometimes we just need a little success. For me, chasing birds around the yard goes a long way toward keeping me grounded and believing I can make a difference—on the page as much as in the coop.

Fanny (RIP) & Hinie by Bill’s daughter, Jessica

FOR DISCUSSION:

What do you do to take care of yourself?

 

Bill Cameron BIO

Bill Cameron is the critically-acclaimed author of gritty, adult mysteries featuring Skin Kadash. His short stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery MagazineKiller YearPortland NoirFirst ThrillsDeadly Treats, and West Coast Crime Wave. In 2012, his novel County Line received the Spotted Owl for Best Northwest Mystery. His latest book, the young adult mystery Property of the State, was named one of Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2016: Teen.

Bill is currently at work on a mystery set in the Oregon High Desert.

Bill’s Books

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5+

Even Sasquatch Needs Love – First Page Critique

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

By Gnashes30 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15715649

The title of this anonymous submission is ISKOLA. I’m not sure if Sasq’ets is Sasquatch, but that’s how we dubbed it. It conjures an image of the “Skunk Ape.” If this isn’t the author’s intention, a character name change might be in order. Please enjoy this submission and I’ll have my feedback after.

*****

Sasq’ets can’t help staring at the swarm of people standing on the side of the road. There are so many of them, and they look so small from where he stands. He scans each person quickly, moving his eyes from body to body, face to face, until he comes to a woman with a black hood around her head. Then he stops, lifts his nose high in the air, and tries to catch her scent. He strains his ears to hear the faint echo of her voice. It’s difficult from so far away.

As Sasq’ets watches the woman, he notices her pointing at a man who appears to be climbing down the side of the road. It looks like he is headed towards the woods – towards him – but Sasq’ets can’t be sure, so he squints his eyes to try to get a better look. It doesn’t matter. He shouldn’t be so close to people anyway, especially not in the light of day and after what has happened. He needs to start moving, so he turns around and walks the other way, maneuvering his massive frame carefully through the trees, dangling his arms loosely by his thighs.

He walks deep into the woods and doesn’t look back until he reaches the creek that marks the beginning of the path towards home. He needs to turn right to follow the burbling water until it winds into the river, but before he changes direction he stands behind a cedar, his body shielded by its 5-foot trunk, and puts his hands on his hips, bending at his waist to relieve some of the pressure from the wound in his stomach. The bleeding has stopped – when he puts a cedar bough up to the cut and pulls it away, it comes out dry – but the injury is still painful, and it aches if he thinks about it too much.

Sasq’ets focuses his mind on taking long sips of air – in through his nose, out through his mouth, and starts to calculate how long it will take to get back to the cove. At least a day, he figures, if he goes the long way. Which he should, to be safe.

He moves slowly to his left and peers around the tree to make sure no one has tracked him into the woods. Sasq’ets is pretty sure he would have smelled them if they had, or heard their heavy footsteps through the brush. But still, he needs to be careful.

Nope. No one. They’re probably all still back on the side of the road, hovering over the girl’s body.

FEEDBACK

In full disclosure, when I was a kid, we had a neighbor boy we nicknamed Skunk Ape. He lumbered like a walking grizzly, had big feet and he smelled. He remained my brother’s friend and we still run into him (although he’s married and he doesn’t stink anymore), but I’m not a stranger to Sasquatch. There, I said it.

TITLE: A title like Iskola needs work. This might only be a working title, but this word would not mean something to most people.

CREATURE POV: I’m making an assumption Iskola is a creature, Sasquatch to be exact. He appears to be an outsider and a loner, hiding from people. Whether he’s a creature or not, the Point of View should reflect his cagey, wiry nature.

The narrative is too wordy for a cautious creature, afraid of getting noticed. He also knows words like “road” and “people” which seems odd to me. It would be a challenge to create a believable POV inside the head of a creature. The author would have to invent a world as seen through the eyes of a beast that has evaded mankind enough that it wouldn’t know what to call things in a man’s world.

Personally, I would tell this story through the eyes of another character who tries to reach out to the creature in an adventure plot. I would recommend more of an element of mystery on what is disrupting the town and leave clues that are ambiguous. Is it Sasquatch or someone living in town who wants people to think it’s a creature.

I’m not sure why the author chose to put the reader in the head of a creature from page 1. It would be a hard sell to an editor or agent. Even if this is not Big Foot and is maybe a loner who lives in the woods, I’m not sure I understand the point of hinting at Sasquatch with the name Sasq’ets either.

PICK A POV: In this scene, I want to know why these people are gathered and what’s happened? The author can’t provide this information if the POV is seen through Sasq’ets. In order for the reader to care about this creature/Sasq’ets and his world, the author might need to ground the reader into the town and the people first. What happened that threatens both their worlds? (A girl is hurt or dead.)

CREATE the CREATURE: Let’s start with POV. 3rd person narration for a creature would allow the reader to see the character’s movements and actions, without delving too much into the head of the creature like 1st person would. The way this intro is written, it’s in 3rd POV, but the author has put the reader very deep into the head of Sasq’ets. Some distance might make it more believable. The creature’s actions would SHOW the emotion without having to TELL the reader too much.

How intelligent is the creature? What senses would he use? It might help to do research on animals and how they react or operate when threatened. Service dogs are interesting to study – how they use their senses and their reactions to certain situations. I would recommend using real animals even if the author is creating a mythical creature. Put the reader into the senses of an animal the author thinks is closest to Sasq’ets.

How does a wild creature, that is part human maybe, survive in the woods? I like how the author brought in cedar boughs to stop the bleeding. Maybe survivalist research would be in order.

Even if the creature is a human being living on the fringes of society, it might still be interesting to keep the reader in suspense whether Sasq’ets is human or something else. Instincts and senses and animal reactions would help build on that suspense.

The author might consider how Sasq’ets lives when he is safe and home versus when he is threatened like a wild animal. What would he do? His wild nature, when confronted, should be explored. Can he ever live with humans? What would happen if he is forced into captivity?

ANOTHER START SCENE: If the author started with danger and a situation readers might be intrigued by, the creature’s POV might be brought in later, if that’s what the author wants. To make it read authentic, the creature must have his own world and manner of thinking and moving in obscurity. Below is a brief start suggestion – first from a Sheriff and a brief one in Sasq’ets POV. I didn’t spend a great deal of time doing this, but I only wanted to show a quick difference.

Another beginning with townspeople to start the action:

“There’s blood. I got him.”

With his chest heaving, Sheriff Jason Tate knelt near the base of a tree and stared at the tip of his finger, smeared with blood.

“It’s still warm.”

“I don’t like this.”

His deputy, Gloria Mendez, had her service weapon drawn as she stared into the deepening shadows of the dense woods.

“We need to get these people out of here. What if it comes back?”

Creature POV:

Sasq’ets ran into the darkness of the forest and kept to the deepening shadows. He followed a scent he knew well. Water. He needed water…and water would take him home if he followed the river.

His belly hurt and the bleeding hadn’t stopped. He didn’t mean to hurt the small female, but she had been scared of him and fell. He hadn’t touched her, but that wouldn’t matter. They would hunt him.

SUMMARY: I didn’t spend time working with what the author submitted, because I don’t see this as commercial unless changes are made. Normally I like to work with what the author submits and try to capture their vision, but I had too many other points to explore.

When I talked about service dogs, I had done research on them for another book and found it fascinating. The images of how dogs smell scent in layers and in a conical fashion influenced how I described the dog “working a scene.”

I think the author can still work with the challenges of creating a world for Sasq’ets, but maybe start with human beings that readers can relate to more.

DISCUSSION:

What comments would you have for this courageous author, TKZers?

 

2+

First Page Critique – “New to the Neighborhood”

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

By Jeffrey Beall – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21002061

For your reading enjoyment is another brave author open to feedback. My comments will follow. Feel free to share your constructive criticism in your comments. Let’s nurture this author, TKZers.

***

The words, sprayed in red, dripped like blood down the white siding of the ranch house on the corner. “They could have at least gotten the spelling right,” I called from the curb, loud enough for the woman in the yard, scattering grass seed from a coffee can, to hear.

Maggie looked up. She stood – a scarecrow with choppy, flaxen hair under a straw hat, worn jeans, and flannel shirt rolled to the elbow – and we looked at each other. She called toward the backyard: “June. We have company.”

A second woman approached along the slate flagstones that curved between a pansy-and-petunia border. Knee-length shorts and a Hawaiian shirt showed dimpled limbs and rose quartz skin. A halo of gray-flecked, light brown curls accented the cherub face. The tight line of her mouth loosened into something like a smile. Then her lips began to tremble and her eyelids flutter. She wrapped me in an airtight hug, which I returned with less vigor.

Maggie pressed June’s elbow. “June, get us some chairs. Can you sit a while, Kelly?”

They’d arrived two months before, in March, setting the block’s antenna twitching. Two single women, the wrong ages for mother and daughter, no men in sight. Sue Hoycheck said they seemed nice enough, but Sue was a kind-hearted grandmother who thought everyone seemed nice enough. They told Edie Isom they’d moved from St. Paul. One or the other –Edie couldn’t remember – had been hired to manage the art mall opening in the old Amtrak station downtown. When Olin Frey murmured that he’d seen just one bed – queen-size – come off the moving van, all the pieces fit together.

“It’s no big deal,” Lynn Franklin insisted. I’d come to Franklin’s Hardware to order specialty paints, coffee bean brown and French olive green, for a dining room trim. “As long as they return the rototiller they rented from us, who they sleep with is their own business.”

I smiled with mischief. “And if they don’t return the rototiller, who they sleep with is . . .?”

She frowned. “It may seem funny to you. You probably met a lot of them in New York. But around here . . .”

“I don’t know how many I met,” I said. “I’ll bet you don’t either.”

***

FEEDBACK

Overview: There is a lot for me to like in this intro. The inciting incident is a disturbance established with graffiti. It’s the first image the author draws our attention to. The idyllic setting is marred by red paint on the white siding of a ranch house. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of the women. Very visual and easy to imagine. I also appreciated the underlying emotion in this scene when the visitor & the narrator console with a hug.

After I read and reread this intro, I noticed things that I would edit if this was my work. I had questions on POV and the characters as I read on. I sincerely enjoyed reading this intro. The talent of this author is very apparent, but some housekeeping is in order.

ESTABLISH GENDER: Since this is in first person, the gender of the narrator would be important as soon as possible from the start. This is minor, but add a word to this line:

I called from the curb, loud enough for the OTHER woman in the yard,…

Good call for the author to establish June’s name by having Maggie call out to her.

SENTENCE CLARITY: This is me, being nit picky. The sentence below might flow a little better:

BEFORE: “…loud enough for the woman in the yard, scattering grass seed from a coffee can, to hear.”

AFTER: “…loud enough for the other woman in the yard to hear as she scattered grass seed from a coffee can.”

STICK WITH ONE POV – If this scene is told from June’s singular POV, the intro should consistently be seen through her eyes. In the second paragraph, when Maggie looks up at June, this line follows”

and we looked at each other

I would suggest that the author stay in June’s head and try to imagine what she might see in Maggie’s eyes – worry, fatigue, hurt, concern, wariness? Or simply change the line to: “When my eyes fixed on Maggie’s, something passed between us.”

Another line switches the POV from June to Maggie: Maggie pressed June’s elbow. If this is truly meant for June’s POV, this line would read: Maggie pressed my elbow.

In paragraph 5, that begins with “They’d arrived two months before…”, the author switches from June’s POV to telling a “THEY” story. The POV should be consistent throughout this intro scene, so that line might read “I had moved with Maggie two months ago…”

But from this writing, maybe June and Maggie aren’t the “they” the author is writing about. Perhaps the author is writing about Kelly and her significant other. It’s not explained who Kelly is or why June is reticent to embrace her. By the time I got down to reading Lynn Franklin’s lines, I realized the hardware store owner was talking to June, as if June was an insider to the town. Some clarity is definitely needed.

If June and Maggie are the newcomers, other lines should be fixed for POV as follows:

BEFORE: Two single women, the wrong ages for mother and daughter, no men in sight. Sue Hoycheck said they seemed nice enough, but Sue was a kind-hearted grandmother who thought everyone seemed nice enough. They told Edie Isom they’d moved from St. Paul. One or the other –Edie couldn’t remember – had been hired to manage the art mall opening in the old Amtrak station downtown. When Olin Frey murmured that he’d seen just one bed – queen-size – come off the moving van, all the pieces fit together.

AFTER: We were two single women, the wrong ages for mother and daughter, no men in sight. Sue Hoycheck told others that we seemed nice enough, but Sue was a kind-hearted grandmother who thought everyone seemed nice enough. Word spread through town busy body, Edie Isom. It didn’t take long for folks to know Maggie and I hailed from St. Paul. Edie didn’t remember which one of us had been hired to manage the art mall opening in the old Amtrak station downtown, but I guess that didn’t matter much. But what set the town on fire came when Olin Frey murmured that he’d seen just one bed – queen-size – come off the moving van. That’s when all the pieces fit together for folks with small minds.

But if the “they” is Kelly and her partner or wife if they are married (unsure of the time period of this piece), then “they” should be explained with names.

EMBEDDED DIALOGUE – I would recommend to draw out dialogue lines so they are not embedded within a paragraph. It allows the reader to follow more easily and keep track of who is speaking.

The words, sprayed in red, dripped like blood down the white siding of the ranch house on the corner.

“They could have at least gotten the spelling right,” I called from the curb, loud enough for the woman in the yard to hear as she scattered grass seed from a coffee can.

Maggie looked up. She stood – a scarecrow with choppy, flaxen hair under a straw hat, worn jeans, and flannel shirt rolled to the elbow. When my eyes fixed on hers, something passed between us. She nudged her head and called toward the backyard.

“June. We have company.”

TIGHTEN SENTENCES WHERE NECESSARY: In the BEFORE line below, if the visitor’s lips are “beginning to tremble”, they are already trembling. A cleaner sentence would be:

BEFORE: Then her lips began to tremble and her eyelids flutter.

AFTER: Her lips trembled and her eyelids fluttered.

SHOW TIME LAPSE: When the dialogue line “It’s no big deal…” comes up, time has passed and June has left Maggie & Kelly or it’s another day or a memory. It would be nice to clarify this and I changed the flow a little in the AFTER example.

BEFORE: “It’s no big deal,” Lynn Franklin insisted. I’d come to Franklin’s Hardware to order specialty paints, coffee bean brown and French olive green, for a dining room trim. “As long as they return the rototiller they rented from us, who they sleep with is their own business.”

I smiled with mischief. “And if they don’t return the rototiller, who they sleep with is . . .?”

She frowned. “It may seem funny to you. You probably met a lot of them in New York. But around here . . .”

AFTER: Two hours later, I stared at the weary face of Lynn Franklin, owner of the local hardware store in town. I’d come to Franklin’s Hardware to order specialty paints, coffee bean brown and French olive green, for a dining room trim.

“It’s no big deal,” Lynn Franklin insisted. “As long as they return the rototiller they rented from us, who they sleep with is their own business.”

I smiled with mischief. “And if they don’t return the rototiller, who they sleep with is . . .?”

She frowned.

“It may seem funny to you. You probably met a lot of them in New York. But around here . . .”

“I don’t know how many I met,” I said. “I’ll bet you don’t either.”

SUMMARY: I really like how this ends. If the author adds clarity on the areas I brought up, the conflict is apparent, but I’m wondering where this will go and if it’s enough for a whole novel. The characters intrigue me. I would read on.

DISCUSSION:

1.) What changes would you recommend, TKZers? Would you read on?

2.) What possible plot twists can you see stemming from this introduction?

5+

A Writer’s Imagination is a Nurtured Gift

Jordan Dane

@JordanDane

One of our TKZ regulars reached out and sent me a photo of his Davy Crockett attire when he was a lad after he read my post – “Nostalgia time: What TV show from your childhood Influenced you?”Nice raccoon hat, Dave. Don’t shoot your eye out.

Remember when we were kids and a TV show could inspire adventure in your life where you imagined YOU were Davy Crockett. We didn’t need much to entertain ourselves. An empty cardboard box became a fortress or a robotic monster. Things that people discarded became whatever we imagined them to be. Entertainment was cheap.

Dave’s photo reminded me of all the things my family did as kids. I came from a big family of 5 siblings and 2 parents. We were all about the same age as kids, around a year or two apart, so we hung out together in “the hood.”

TKZs Dave Williams as Davy Crockett

Nice bike, Dave. You and I have clothes lines in common.

When I was Dave’s age in this photo, I loved my westerns and read every horse book I could find. As kids during our summers out of school, my sibs (2 brothers and 2 sisters) would leave our home after breakfast and we stayed out all day. We built forts from fallen tree limbs and old boards, searched for arrowheads, rescued wounded baby animals, or launched rotten fruit fights with our rivals. We lived in a rural setting outside San Antonio and didn’t have many neighbors, especially girls. We had to make due with boys as friends.

Photographer: Sarachit

When fireworks were in season, we changed our weapons of choice to include bottle rockets shot from empty Coke bottles and staged a major offensive with the neighbor kids. A turned over picnic table was our command bunker. My older brother (our General) thought he’d be invincible if he wore a heavily padded and hooded jacket so the bottle rockets would bounce off him. That worked…for awhile.

I stood at his side when he took aim at a neighbor boy standing in his yard two houses down. My big bro held his Coke bottle and I lit the fuse. When the rocket took off, it switched course and zeroed back on him – got caught in his hood – and his head turned into spiraling, scorching roman candle with the pungent stench of burning hair. Yes, he could’ve lost an eye, but a scorched head is funny to a kid and gave him bragging rights that he survived. My older brother later served a career in the US Air Force and even became a base commander. Needless to say, stories from our “hood,” stayed in the “hood.”

During long summers, we had time on our hands and plenty of imagination. Even then I had a passion for writing and I would write parody scripts based on some of our favorite TV shows, complete with mock commercials. The Tremenderosa was born, replete with sound effects and recorded on audio cassette. My siblings would act out the parts, we’d experiment with sound effects and had a blast making our own audio recorded productions. Later, when I had access to my high school video equipment, we would do class projects with better equipment and my sisters and I did our own production of JABBERWOCKY, a nonsensical poem of made up words by Lewis Carroll that inspired us. My sisters and I still know the words.

My dad wasn’t allowed to have pets as a kid. His mother didn’t approve, but he made up for what he didn’t have by seeing his kids had a menagerie of odd animals in our backyard. We charged admission to the kids in our neighborhood, just to see our ZOO. We nursed wild animals back to health for release into the wild and we raised goats, dogs, horses, fish, exotic birds (a Toucan and various parrots), an iguana and baby crocodile, rabbits, raccoons, lizards and snakes, and various breeds of exotic chickens and guinea fowl (nasty buggers).

Wikimedia Commons

We never wanted for anything. We didn’t have a lot of money, but my parents made sure we attended private Catholic schools, had food on the table and nice clothes. At Christmas, we had all the excesses – including a weird metal roller coaster set up in our front yard and a zip line from a tall tree that dropped us at the mailbox at the street. We had toys, but we still preferred roaming the acres around us with our neighborhood “gangs.”

When we got a Ouija Board, all of us got into it and conjured ghosts we thought would scare the others. Halloween was a great time to scare the neighbor kids and we set up our house with sounds and things that rustled through the brush as kids would make the long trek up our driveway for candy. They would rarely make it to the front door. My young bro would rig wires to make things move across the porch and zip out from nowhere to attack them by air. Once they started to run, the rest of us would chase them in the dark, screaming. We got to keep the candy they didn’t stick around for.

My dad fancied himself a gourmet cook, even though my mom always made better homemade food. But that meant dad was always trying new stuff, like pig roasting or goat over a fire pit. We were always trying weird foods. Again, it helped us become adventuresome and willing to try new things.

All of these memories inspired my imagination when I became a writer. I didn’t have to rely on scary movies to get the adrenaline pumping. I created my own horror show on the front lawn with neighbor kids as guinea pigs. We learned stealth and war time strategy from our firework assaults and as girls, my sisters and I learned about boys and how they thought and acted.

My childhood became a treasure trove of inspirations for me as a writer that I still draw upon. One of my greatest joys is to relive those years with my siblings since we are blessed to still have our parents with us. When we go on our annual family retreats, we still play jokes on each other and play games and tell stories around a campfire. I’ve been blessed with life experiences that fuel my passion to write. How about you?

For Discussion:

1.) Share some of the childhood stories that still inspire you as a writer.

2.) When you write a particularly scary or dramatic scene, what experiences do you draw from to make those scenes real?

 

8+

Nostalgia Time – What TV Show from your Childhood Influenced You?

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

ABC Television

 

What show from your childhood or younger years would you bring back and why? Who would you have star in it?

Something that always influenced me–and ultimately teased me into becoming a writer–was my love for Westerns and HORSES. I read every Louis L’Amour I could get my hands on. When I was a young girl and in elementary school, I loved horses and read every book they had in my school library. Literally every book, no lie. As I became a teenager, I got a job and my parents allowed me to save toward buying a horse of my own. We ended up with five horses and it became a big thing for my family.

I shoveled a lot of horse poo and mucked stalls, but it was a great experience. As I grew older, I became enthralled with the men who rode those horses in the 1800s. They were mysterious loners, good guys who lived life on the edge of civilizations and made their own version of the law and justice. The ultimate anti-heroes for me. My first perceptions of manhood came from these TV shows and the many books I read. It definitely influenced how I write men in my books. The brooding loner type.

http://pixabay.com/en/horses-blm-wyoming-mustangs-61158/

 

I watched anything Western as I grew up and continued to read every book I could get my hands on. TV shows on Wild Bill Hickok, Alias Smith & Jones, Lancer, Big Valley, Bonanza, Branded, Maverick, Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel, High Chaparral, Laramie, Laredo, the Lone Ranger, Lonesome Dove, The Magnificent Seven, My Friend Flicka, Ponderosa, Rawhide, Rifleman, Shane, The Virginian, Wild Wild West, and even Zorro.

My sisters and I would sneak out of our bedrooms to watch TV in our pajamas if the shows came on after our bedtime. Mom told us that she caught us many times, but didn’t say anything. She knew how much it meant to us and appreciated the making of childhood memories. Girl first crushes.

Louis L’Amour hooked me into reading, but thriller authors like Robert Ludlum kept me going (Bourne Identity series). I got into crime fiction and espionage thrillers. Ludlum made me pay attention to how to pace a book and the structure of cliffhangers. He opened my eyes to writing and my desire to write never left me.

BONUS QUESTION – So help me cast a great Western. Who would star in the TV show or movie?

For Discussion:
1.) What show from your childhood or younger years would you bring back and why?
2.) Who would you have star in it?

4+

What Character Age Do You Find Most Challenging to Write?

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

Yes, how did she get my book title backwards? MAGIC

I’ve written a few sub-genres, but the most different or diverse ones I’ve attempted were writing mainstream thrillers and young adult novels. I’ve always loved reading crime fiction (my big umbrella), so my comfort reads were always any sub-genre of adult crime fiction novels from espionage thrillers to police procedurals to romantic suspense. Although my YA books were suspense oriented, the YA voice was a real departure for me. It took quite a bit of reading it and researching the craft, but since I had grown to love these cross-genre books as a reader, the idea of writing them hit me hard and influenced me. More on that later.

When I first started writing in 2003, my main characters were in their thirties and maybe edged into their forties when I first wrote original mystery suspense novels. The first books I sold were in my comfort reads of crime fiction, yet with a cross-genre approach because that’s the kind of stories I liked to read. With as many books as I devoured as a reader, I figured I was the market. I wanted to write the books I would read.

In 2009-2010, as I sold my first YA novels and series, writing for teens influenced even my adult writing and my characters drifted downward into their mid to late twenties. Of course, my YA books covered teen protagonists, generally 16-18+. I’ve never written New Adult (characters in their early twenties or college age). I’m not sure why that is, except to say that I can relate more to my teen formative years (my rebellious teen self) and writing my other characters to be 25-35ish years old. (It’s like the lens of my creative world had focused on an age I had fun living.)

I had many ways to research my teen voice, including eavesdropping on teens in groups and using my nieces and nephews as lab rats. My aspiring author niece worked with me on my first YA novel – In the Arms of Stone Angels – and we had a blast. But that writing definitely influenced my other suspense books and I noticed the ages of my characters had dropped. On gut instinct, I was targeting the ages I thought my readers wanted to read about so I could bridge the gap between those reading my YAs and the ones who had transitioned into my adult books. From what my readers have said, that plan worked and my YA readers transitioned into my adult books and my adult readers seemed to enjoy my crime fiction YAs. Win-win.

I wrote one novella length story from the perspective of an older woman in her late 50s. I wrote her with an honest truth and I loved being in her head, but I wasn’t sure how readers might take her so I never wrote a repeat.

I’d like to hear from you, TKZers.

For Discussion:

1.) Have you ventured out of your writing comfort zone with trepidation only to learn something new where you grew as a writer? Please share and explain.

2.) What character ages do you find the most challenging as a writer? How did you get better at it? What resources or advice can you share?

3.) Is there a main character age that you DON’T like to read about? Do you find that your reading preferences gravitate toward a certain character age?

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“In the Heart of a Child, One Moment Can Last Forever” – Share Your Moment

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

I hope you all had a great July 4th holiday. I hosted my parents for a ribs dinner for my holiday celebration. I’ve been on a ketogenic diet (more of a lifestyle than a diet) and have been feeling AMAZING. I’m more energized and have been sleeping well and waking up refreshed and ready to go. As I’m writing this, I’ve had my Keto Coffee, which is like a buttery latte with strong coffee. Yum!

For today’s post, I wanted to share the idea behind a book that a friend recommended me to read. JUST A MINUTE by Wess Stafford is based on a theme that touched me – “In the heart of a child, one moment can last forever.” Although this is a Christian-based book, it holds stories that can touch anyone. Its chapters are split into several categories: moments for rescue, to build self-worth, to form character, to discover talent, to awaken the spirit, to stretch the mind, and to realize one’s calling.

If you think back in your life, can you remember times when the special attention of an adult helped define who you became as an adult? These moments don’t have to be earth shattering. Just moments you have never forgotten, for a reason, because they meant (and still mean) something to you all these years later.

My parents have given me a lifetime of these moments. They recently celebrated their 67th anniversary and I wanted to share their wedding pictures with you.

My mother has given me many of these life-altering moments. She is the first person I think of when I ponder who I was as a child and who I became as an adult. My father had his influence, but my mom was in the trenches with us growing up while dad worked long hours to keep my five siblings in private school in a house he designed (as an architect).

Under the category of TO DISCOVER TALENT – my mom had the opposite effect. After it took me a few years to decide what my major would be in college, I called her to say that I had made up my mind and that I would be getting a B. S. (Business Degree) with an emphasis on Accounting. The first words out of her mouth were, “You’re not good at math.” Yeah, thanks for the vote of confidence, mom. In complete irony, I proved her wrong (sort of). I had 6 hours of deficiencies in math that kept me from taking a necessary course – Statistics. I was advised to bite the bullet and take the 6 hours in other math courses before I would be considered proficient enough to endure Stat. With my Irish dander up, I called B.S. on that and just took the damned Stat class. I finished with a B, one of my lowest grades. When it came time for my graduation, I realized I was still short those 6 hours before I could graduate. I went to the Dean of the school (someone who knew me well from all my hours on the Student Council) and asked him to waive the 6 hours. It obviously was a mistake if I could pass Stat. He agreed and said he would remove the deficiency if I could tell him a good joke. For the price of a good joke, I graduated with honors. Yes, my mom stirred up my competitive spirit and raised the Irish in me–a skill that has served me well.

Under the category of TO FORM CHARACTER, My mom once caught me sneaking out a small bottle of aspirin filled with liquor when I was going to a party of teens. I had planned to share that little bottle with a few of my girlfriends. When she found it in my purse, she told me I was busted and couldn’t go to the party. I told her I understood and was prepared to take my lumps. I didn’t make a fuss. But after a short while, my mom rethought her position and came to me with a moment that changed my life forever. She said that if I promised NOT to take a drink at the party, she would still let me go. She trusted me. That moment of trust made me feel like an adult. At the party, even though alcohol was present, I did not take ONE SIP of it. I told all my friends that I had made a promise to my mom that I would keep. That life lesson stuck with me. After that, I never lied to my mom. I learned that lies diminished me, then and now. If I couldn’t face the truth of who I am as a human being and had to resort to a lie to fake it, what did that make me? I learned to own my truth.

Mom also learned a lesson. If she didn’t want to really know something about me, she shouldn’t ask if she couldn’t handle the truth. I loved shocking her whenever she asked me about things happening in my life. This was the woman who said on my wedding day, “I’d tell you about the birds and the bees, but I’m afraid you’d correct me.” Reality isn’t in her wheelhouse.

What about YOU, TKZers? Who influenced the adult you have become? Please share some of your stories and what you learned from them.

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Cops at Your Door & a Mystery Unfolds – First Page Critique: Healing Wounds

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

For your reading enjoyment, we have the first 400-word submission from a work-in-progress introduction from an anonymous author. When I got this submission, the first few lines were broken apart, so I had to reunite them. I don’t know if this weighty first paragraph was the author’s intention, so forgive me if it doesn’t look right. I’ll have my feedback on the flip side. Please share your thoughts in the comments.

***

She had the dream again last night. It lingered as awareness of morning pulled her up and her thoughts coalesced into memory. Audrey Grey saw Jacob’s imprint on the pillow beside her. The light through the curtains told her it was time to get up, too. She stood under the water, transitioning to the day ahead. Thoughts of her dream receded as the day took hold. She dressed and finished a buttered bagel. He should be back anytime. The knocking surprised her. Not tentative and apologetic like you might expect so early in the morning. It sounded . . . commanding. She tiptoed to the window and eased apart a slit between the blinds. A man in a gray and black uniform waited. She let the slats fall shut and took inventory of her appearance. Wet hair, worn skinny jeans, baggy knit top. He knocked again.

You don’t just ignore the police at your door. It’s dishonest and she couldn’t lie to a cop about not being home. Her clumsy fingers fumbled with the lock and slid the chain off. The door always stuck a little, but with an extra tug it gave way. She leaned into the door frame, face to face with the visitor. She could see the gold shield, the belt fully rigged with gear and the black gun at his side.

“Good morning, Ma’am. My name is Officer Mike Welden, Wake County Sheriff’s Department.” He consulted a black notebook flipped open in his hand. His questioning eyes moved from the page to her wary ones.

“There’s been an accident and the identification on the injured party gave this address. Do you know Jacob R.

Grey?” She caught her breath. “Yes, he’s my husband.”

“May I come in?”

She stepped back allowing him to enter. His trained eyes scanned beyond the entry and he spoke her line.

“Would you like to sit down?” Obediently, she took a seat on the edge of the sofa, swiping at shower damp tendrils of hair falling onto her face. “You saw my husband? Is he okay?”

“I found him, yes, ma’am. It appears he was hit while on his bicycle this morning. He’s been taken to Duke Hospital.”

No. He would be here soon. They had to buy a grill for the cookout. “I’m sorry, what do you mean, ‘appears’?”

“We have no witnesses, so it’s not clear exactly what happened.

FEEDBACK

OVERVIEW – This intro is a classic opener with police knocking on the door of a wife to share bad news about the husband or a family member. Here at TKZ, we preach to start with a disturbance and cops at your door would qualify, but I would’ve liked to see the dialogue with more tension and intrigue. With this being a bicycle accident, the lines are bland. If you isolate only the dialogue and take everything else away, nothing much happens.

Would it have been better to open with the bicycle accident?

We also have an opener with someone in their own head and thinking about a dream, but with the dream not explained any more than a vague 2-line notion, it’s not interesting either. I’ve opened with internal thoughts of a character, but the writing has to intrigue and create elements of mystery to keep the reader (or an editor and agent) turning pages.

It’s my opinion that the author might try to find a better place or a better way to start. Let’s drill down into the details.

OPENING LINE: ‘had the dream again last night.’
The dream is only brought up twice in this weighty opening paragraph. With the first line and this one in the middle of the first paragraph – ‘Thoughts of her dream receded as the day took hold.’ There is so little known about the dream, it’s almost not worth bringing up. It’s a cheap tease that doesn’t work for me.

To intrigue a reader, there needs to be elements of mystery that would force them to want to know more about the dream. In these two lines, even the author dismisses the importance by saying ‘her dream receded as the day took hold.’ If this dream is significant, more of it needs to be layered in and it must reflect or foreshadow what is about to happen–or create the start of a mystery to be solved–otherwise it’s not worth the focus.

If this is a dream where Audrey symbolically loses her husband Grey or can’t find him, that might provide an answer as if she is telepathic or deeply connected to him. If the dream is of something else that will carry through the story, like a distinct thread that evolves, then more needs to be hinted from the start.

Maybe the dream is something buried in Audrey’s subconscious that has put Grey in danger. The author must show patience at dangling this kind of story element into the story, but there needs to be more in order for it to gain traction.

To play with this opener, the author could have the cops get Audrey out of bed from a dead sleep. I liked the imagery of her waking to see Jacob’s imprint on his pillow. She could be more traumatized and her mind muddled if they wake her from an exhausting night of bad dreams, only to wake into her own nightmare.

But I’m more of a fan of action in the opening. Hard to say what I might’ve done in these 400 words, but the bicycle accident would appeal to me more. The reader could be drawn into Grey’s world of normalcy as he rides his bicycle, only to be suddenly struck down by a mystery assailant who races from the scene. BOOM! Opener. Then build on the foreboding dream of Audrey’s that comes to fruition with a knock on her door with police standing there. Solid start.

DISTRACTING LINE – ‘You don’t just ignore the police at your door. It’s dishonest and she couldn’t lie to a cop about not being home.’

This line should be deleted. It’s a strange thought for her to even think about not opening the door to police. A lie about not being home is odd. Most people would be intrigued as hell about why cops were at the door. Why isn’t she? It makes her sound flaky and doesn’t read as solid motivation. In the following line, there’s a focus on action where ‘her clumsy fingers fumbled with the lock.’ That shows her mental state, as if she’s nervous (and rightly so) which is contrary to her strange thought about not opening her door as a dishonest gesture.

VISUAL IMAGERY – In the second paragraph, Audrey comes face to face with the policeman. This struck me as odd, given the next imagery of her staring at his duty belt and gun. I would imagine a cop would be taller than Audrey, unless she’s tall. If she’s shorter, her eyesight might see his duty belt better. I can see her distraction with it. Many people aren’t familiar with guns and she might be intimidated by it, but the police are there for a reason and she doesn’t seem curious enough about why they are there. If this image is important, then clean it up and make the cop more intimidating, if that’s the intention, but in the whole intro, Audrey doesn’t act like a normal wife getting bad news about her husband. I’ll explain below in the section on CHARACTER MOTIVATION.

HOUSEKEEPING – There’s plenty to clean up, line by line. I’m sure other TKZers will help with that, but something that stood out was the cop’s mention of Jacob R, about halfway down. Who is Jacob R? Didn’t the police have his last name? Why would the cop only call him by his first name and an initial? When Audrey says, “Grey?” I had to reread to get the leap she made. (Maybe she jumps in to add it and interrupts him, but there’s punctuation of em dash that would help make that clearer. The author should explain why the police only referred to Jacob R or use his full name. Presumably they would have it since Jacob is at the hospital and survived the accident. He would have ID on him.

In the sentence that starts with ‘His trained eyes scanned beyond the entry and he spoke her line.’ If this is in Audrey’s POV, the author leaps into the head of the cop when referring to ‘his trained eye.’ The author should delete the word ‘trained.’ I also had to reread the last part of that line – ‘he spoke her line.’ This is out of order from real action. How would Audrey know he was about to speak her line -‘Would you like to sit down?’ In that one short paragraph, two characters are speaking and it’s confusing. Separate the lines with space to make things more clear and I would write the cop’s line more distinctly to show he’s speaking.

“It’s best we sit down. After you.” The big man took charge and Audrey lead him into the parlor.

“You saw my husband. Is he okay?”

CHARACTER MOTIVATION – Officer Welden tells her that he found her husband, saying ‘it appears he was hit…’ Instead of Audrey focusing on what a real wife might want to know – “If he’s okay, why isn’t he home?” “Was he injured? Where is he?”

Instead, Audrey focuses on the word ‘appears’ and acts like a sleuth, at the expense of the well being of her poor husband. If she comes across as jarred by the news, physically and mentally, she would be more sympathetic and the tension and emotion would be escalated. But with this cold reaction, it only adds to the bland nature of this opener. The reader will care more if they can relate to the character and Audrey’s understandable emotion.

After Audrey asks if her husband is okay, Officer Welden only says, ‘I found him, yes, ma’am’ before he jumps to more of what happened. This is a police notification to a family. They would be more concerned with sharing news about the husband’s condition and where he’s been taken. Audrey can push for details on the case and who caused the accident once she knows her husband is okay and sees for herself, but there is no sense of urgency on Audrey’s part and the cop should explain more about Jacob’s condition.

“Your husband sustained a broken arm and a few cracked ribs. Doctors at Duke Hospital are examining him now.”

Audrey mentions an internal thought of ‘No, He would be here soon. They had to buy a grill for the cookout,’ (a line that I would italicize to show an internal thought for the reader). The emotion or her confusion isn’t in sync with her cold reaction and focus on the word ‘appears.’ Put more emotion into this section and have her react like a more normal wife and the reader will care more too.

DISCUSSION:
1.) What is your feedback, TKZers?

It takes guts to submit your work for critique. Any comments are solely for the purposes of providing help to a fellow author. We’ve all been here. Thanks for your submission, brave author. The beginning of every story is my greatest challenge, always. Tweak this and perhaps re-imagine a different beginning for Audrey and Jacob and you’ll have a solid start.

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Pixar Storytelling – 20 Points Writers Can Learn From Animated Stories

JordanDane
@JordanDane

I ran across this great video posted on Youtube that features the 20-pt advice of Emma Coats, a master storyboard artist with Pixar. The narrator of this video is writing coach Mike Consol. It runs through tips on storytelling. Whether you are a novice writer or a seasoned pro, you can learn a lot from these amazing gems.

For your convenience, I posted Pixar’s 20 points in summary and my paraphrasing, but it’s worth it to watch the video for more. Jot down the tips that speak to you and try some if you haven’t.

1.) Create characters that people admire for more than their successes.

2.) Write what is interesting for your readers, not just you as a writer.

3.) Create a character story arc using these basic lines:

Once upon a time there was _____
Every day _____
One day _____
Because of that _____
Until finally _____

4.) Simplification & focus is important. Simplifying the flow to the essence of the story is freedom for the writer. (This is like the ELLE method of sharp fast-paced writing used in the scenes of Law & Order TV series – Enter Late, Leave Early.)

5.) What is your character’s comfort zone, then throw them a major curve ball. Challenge them and give them a twist of fate.

6.) Create an ending BEFORE you write the middle. Endings are tough. Know them upfront.

7.) Finish your story by letting go of it. Nothing is perfect. Move on. You can do better the next time.

8.) Deconstruct a story that you like. What do you like best about it? Break it down. Recognize the elements.

9.) Put your story on paper and not just keep it in your head.

10.) Discount the first few plot/story ideas that come to you. Get the obvious stuff out of the way and clear your mind for new story ideas that will surprise you.

11.) Give your characters opinions. Passive characters are boring.

12.) Ask yourself – why must I tell THIS story? This will be the heart of your story and the essence of storytelling.

13.) Ask yourself – If I were my character, how would I feel? Emotional honesty brings authenticity and credibility to your writing. If the story puts the character in over-the-top circumstances, the emotional honesty can help the reader relate to the character and draw them in.

14.) What are the stakes? Give your readers a reason to root for your character. Stack the odds against your character and make them worthy of their starring role.

15.) No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let it go and move on. The idea or writing might be used at another time when it’s more suitable.

16.) Know the difference between doing your best and fussing.

17.) A coincidence that gets your character INTO trouble is a beautiful thing, but a coincidence that gets your character OUT OF trouble is cheating. Don’t cheat.

18.) Take the building blocks of a movie or story that you do NOT like and rearrange them into a story that is better.

19.) A writer should identify with a situation or a character. Figure out what would make YOU act that way to make it read as authentic.

20.) What is the essence of your story and then figure out what is the most economical way to tell that story.

FOR DISCUSSION:
1.) What tips did you find most helpful?
2.) Are there tips listed that you are eager to try?

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You Control the Action – Make It Flow Without Distractions – First Page Critique – In Vitro

Jordan Dane

@JordanDane

Another intrepid author has submitted their 400-word introduction to their work-in-progress for feedback. Please read and enjoy. Provide your constructive criticism in your comments. Thank you, my TKZ family.

***

The simple action of opening a door made Axel Chadwick an accomplice to murder.

The day of the shooting wasn’t supposed to be a normal day, but it didn’t feel like it was going to be a bad one. As usual, his eyes burned from reading a paper on his tablet titled The Further Evidence of Botanic Life Benefits on Astro-based Laboratories nearly too fast to comprehend. Striding through the busiest atrium at Invitron meant he’d bump into someone while trying to avoid someone else, and after planting on a fourteen-year old’s foot and nearly dropping his tablet, he decided to take a different route to his examination room.

Empty, he could sway without worry and delve further into his text. The soft patter of rain against the windows were interrupted by frantic bangs on the door a few feet away. A boy stood outside it. “Oi, let me in! I’m locked out!”

Axel glanced past him to see nothing but dark clouds over the beach through the window before returning back to his text. “Use the fingerprint scanner like you’re supposed to.”

“The rain—it’s short circuited it,” he cried, muffled through the glass. “I’m going to be late to my exam!”

He should have asked his name, what class he was in, which exam he had to take, and who his department head was so he could verify it, because even though no intruder had gotten onto the island before, it was the rules not to let anyone in.

A good question to ask him would have been: why on earth were you out in the pouring rain on the day of your exam instead of preparing. But he didn’t ask anything. Instead, one of his lanky arms propped up his tablet, the other pushed open the door, and his eyes were too buried in his screen to see if the boy was even a student.

The windowed-hallway was far behind him when Autumn caught up, pulling the pegs from her glasses out of her knotted hair. “Ready?”

Axel read the last sentence and then powered down his tablet, pulling its handle out of its top, and carrying it to his side. “Of course. You?”

“As much as I can be.”

***

FEEDBACK

OVERVIEW – This reads as if the story could be ripped from the headlines if the author intends this to be about a school shooting and an unauthorized entry on campus. To pull that off effectively, I would recommend the author stick to the action of the story and avoid diverging into back story or slowing the pace with actions not related to this intrusion. More details below.

FIRST TWO SENTENCES – The first sentence foreshadows what is coming, but it’s a head fake. I believe the author intended to force a compelling first line, but since it’s written in hindsight and quickly shifts into tedious details that slow the pace, it detracts rather than helps the pace and add to the intrigue. That first line might be more compelling if the author had stuck to the action and added that line to a scene ending, when Axel realizes what he’s done.

Any momentum from that first line is quickly diffused by a redirection into the POV of a student reading something on a laptop who reminiscences about the day as if he’s seeing it in hindsight with THIS line – The day of the shooting wasn’t supposed to be a normal day, but it didn’t feel like it was going to be a bad one. This line serves no purpose and is confusing. It should be deleted.

POV – I’m not sure why Axel is chosen as the POV, except that the author has probably given him a starring role as the main protag. I wonder how this intro might read if the POV came from the shooter gaining illegal access to the school, but let’s focus on Axel. If the action started with Axel racing through the school, against a clock, the author could set the stage better by focusing on Axel careening through the corridors, bumping into students and nearly dropping his laptop before he sees the kid pounding at the door in the rain. He knows he shouldn’t open the door (minimize his awareness of rules until later), but he tries to be a good guy and makes the mistake.

Give the shooter distinctive clothes that Axel realizes later is the guy he let into the building. Does the shooting start right away? Does the shooter do anything to let Axel realize he might’ve made a mistake? Does Axel see his face? There needs to be more tension in this gesture of opening a door, rather than Axel “telling” the reader that what he’d done was wrong. Following the action of Axel opening the door, he immediately gets back into his exam as he runs into Autumn. This diverts attention and adds to the slow pace.

STICK WITH THE ACTION – If the intruder to campus is a big deal, the author should focus on it as it happens and as the guy enters the premises. Instead we have Axel and Autumn talking about their test and if they studied enough.

AXEL’s AGE/STUDENT STATUS – I’m assuming that Axel is a student and not a teacher, although that is never really shown. Since Axel shows poor judgment in letting the student in and his mind sounds like the workings of a distracted teenager, but it’s not truly spelled out until he talks to Autumn. That point could be clearer, earlier.

DESCRIPTION OF ACTION – To give the illusion of pace, the author should give a better description of Axel’s scattered race through the halls. The original line below is too long. He’s also “striding” which is calm, but he is only thinking about “bumping into someone while trying to avoid someone else,” an awkward and distant way of describing the action. He comes across as too methodical in his run for his exam room.

BEFORE – Striding through the busiest atrium at Invitron meant he’d bump into someone while trying to avoid someone else, and after planting on a fourteen-year old’s foot and nearly dropping his tablet, he decided to take a different route to his examination room.

AFTER – Axel dodged bodies as he ran through the hectic atrium of Invitron. He careened through the horde of students with sweat running down his temple, Axel had one eye on the obstacles and the other on his open laptop. After he stumbled over a freshman, he nearly dropped his laptop.

“Eyes open, fish.” With his chest heaving, he darted by the bumbling kid without looking back.

Axel kept his eyes glued to the screen, studying with every second he had before his exam started.

CONTROL THE SETTING – Setting can add tension to any scene. In this intro, the author chose a soft patter of rain, against a frantic bang on the door. The sense of urgency is deflated if the rain isn’t a deluge. Since an author controls the setting, make it rain harder, where Axel feels badly for the drenched kid outside. Or have the intruder hold up his computer, saying it will be damaged, so Axel can relate to helping him.

CONTRADICTIONS – In this paragraph below, Axel is asking himself questions on why the kid is out in the “pouring rain” (that was previously described as a soft patter), but then Axel shows no regard as he lets the guy into the building without even looking at him. It’s not consistent if he has all these questions but his actions show indifference. Pick a perspective and do it for the betterment of the story.

EXAMPLE – A good question to ask him would have been: why on earth were you out in the pouring rain on the day of your exam instead of preparing. But he didn’t ask anything. Instead, one of his lanky arms propped up his tablet, the other pushed open the door, and his eyes were too buried in his screen to see if the boy was even a student.

This introduction needs work in order to make it consistent, descriptive with action, and focus on a foreshadowing of things to come. If the author’s intent is to focus on Axel and his studious world, that can be accomplished by endearing  him more to the reader, so when a fake student gets him to open a security door, the reader is rooting for him. But the author would need to get deeply into Axel overachieving head and give him some traits we can identify with. Opening a door to a drenched student might be understandable if the proper groundwork is set up. Don’t foreshadow that Axel knew all the rules and still ignored them. Have him be well-meaning and let the action unfold as he is duped. That would be another way to go.

DISCUSSION:

What do you think TKZers? Would you read more? What helpful feedback would you give this author?

 

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