Tearing myself a new one – Round 1

First off, I’d like to thank M-E for giving me the idea of critiquing my younger and more inexperienced writer self.  We all started somewhere, green horns with much to learn and writing that was, for some of us at least, a few hundred miles from stellar.

I thought it would be a hoot to dredge up some of the skeletons in my laptop so I could poke at myself and laugh see what I would have done differently now that I’ve been slinging words for a while.

This passage is from the second novel I ever wrote called Across Morrow Bridge, an adult PNR.  The first I wrote was a middle grade novel of all things, and those who know me will understand why it didn’t work.  I’m totally an adult writer.

So, here we go.  Yikes.

Across Morrow Bridge

Chapter 1

I always thought happiness would come to me if I waited patiently enough for it.  Time dragged me from those innocent childhood years when everything was still unwritten and hopeful, and when I got tired of waiting for something extraordinary to happen to me, I went in search of it.  I wandered through short, meaningless relationships and reached what I thought were extraordinary goals, but happiness still it eluded me. 

I understood the concept of the emotion, but could only imagine what it would feel like.  A few years ago, I finally accepted that it will always elude me.  My blank canvas would never return any swirling colours of beauty brushed into thought-provoking designs, and the script of my future was already written in black ink.

I would spend this life alone. 

This life.  It seemed a strange thing to say, like there was some hope of another life to come.  The mere thought of another of these lives was too hard to take.  When the light of my soul finally blinks out, I’m sure it will be lost forever, my energy returned to the earth to be consumed by other living things.  At least, I hope that’s true.

The faces in this coffee shop off the beaten track of Toronto are windows into two distinct kinds of people: those who have felt real joy to the core of their bones at least once in their lives, the Normals, and those like me, who realize that we’re different somehow, maybe unable to feel such things.  We are the Ghosts.  I’m not unhappy, as such, but I feel like an empty shell waiting to be filled up by something, surviving and blending as much as possible.  It took a very long time for me to master the mannerisms of happy people.  This is my camouflage.  Now that I blend more easily into society, I recognize the people who have yet to master their shield.  The Rookies.  They are exposed to those of us who have perfected the illusion.

“Brin!”  A familiar voice screeched across the stranger’s heads who sipped coffee and crunched pastries.  “You’re here!”

I waved, outwardly enthusiastic, but inwardly only slightly more at ease with the day.  My best girl, the one who had the most tolerance for me was grinning as she waded through the sea of tables to reach me in the back corner of the café and looked as if she was going to start climbing arms and stepping on shoulders if she couldn’t find her way through fast enough.  Her curly red hair was half contained in a clip on the top of her head and wisps of it trickled down her pale cream cheeks.  Her name is Stevie.  Her parents had hoped she would be a boy.  We all had our issues.



Well, all right then.  What did I do wrong here?  Take your time, I’ll wait.  *grabs a cup of joe while shaking my head at myself*

Okay, lay it on me.  Mmm-hmm, *nods*  Yep, you’re right.  It’s BORING.


Because nothing happens.  My MC blathers on for, count them, five paragraphs.  About herself.  Starting with back story, in my opinion, is a big no-no.

The statistics show that you have about three paragraphs to hook your reader, so a story needs to start with a WHAM! not a woe-is-me.

This is also a classic fail on the show and not tell method.  I should have let the reader learn about Brinley during her story through her actions and interactions, not shoved it down their throats in the first paragraph.  There are also tense and grammar issues.  I won’t even get into punctuation.  As I said, yikes.

Let me try again.  This was the last draft of the first paragraphs I wrote before shelving this story back in 2009.

Chapter 1 – take one billion and fifty-two

Brinley stood at the edge of the world, arms spread wide.  The angry wind whipped her hair out behind her like a dark flag.  Victoria Falls plummeted over the cliff to her right, sending a storm of white spray into the air and shaking the ground beneath her hiking boots.

She’d been standing there for a long time, hoping to feel something:  fear, anxiety, excitement.  Anything would be better than the roaring emptiness that had filled her body since the day she was born.  If attempting a jump like this didn’t evoke an emotional response, she decided nothing would.  If she felt nothing, she wouldn’t release her parachute.  This time, it was feel, or die.


Okay, that was a little better.  Within two paragraphs, my MC is about to base-jump to her death if she fails in her goal to evoke an emotional response in her body.  A little more exciting, right?  You didn’t yawn as fast as before?  Not perfect, but definitely better. 

What was different?  Plain and simple, something was about to happen.  Maybe something bad.  It raises questions in the readers mind, like why can’t she feel anything?  What has led her to such desperate measures?  And who is going to stop her from jumping to her death?  Or will someone?

There aren’t really any sure ways to hook a reader, but starting off some sort of conflict will hit more often than miss.

What’s your favorite opening paragraph of all time?  What did you like about it?

{Author’s Corner} The importance of reading

So you want to be a writer, huh?  Where do you start figuring out just what kind of writer you want to be?  What genre will be your genre?

Reading, that’s how.  Reading everything you can get your hands on, not necessarily for pure enjoyment, but to learn from.  Books are your best teachers.


What inspires you about the book?  What parts of really catch you, make you feel?  How did the author lead up to that moment in the character’s life?

Even for established authors, reading is one of the most important aspects of growth.  Pick up your favorite book and read it as a writer instead of a reader.  Wear your inner editor’s cap and dissect as you read.  Break the book down into “acts” like a play.  What did the author do that really worked?  What didn’t?  How did they establish their back story?  Build their characters?  Introduce the primary conflict?  How did they begin the story?  How did they end it?  What made the characters real to you?

These are all great questions to keep in mind while reading.

An even better and more direct method of learning from others, is to jump onto a critiquing site like http://www.scribophile.com.  Not necessarily to post your work right away, because that’s a little akin to standing naked on a stage and asking for others to point out your flaws, but to read what others write and the advice they receive.  I learned more by critiquing others work than I did posting my own.

Give yourself time to learn.  It won’t happen overnight, but if you take the time to absorb all that you read, your writing will begin to shine, too.

What book inspired you the most, made you decide, Yes, I can do this?

{Author’s Corner} Diversifying Character Voice

What is character voice?  To me, it’s the distinctive way a character talks and thinks and moves, the way we know through dialogue alone who the character is without any speech tags to tell us.

When you write multiple works, how can you make sure they don’t all sound exactly the same?

This is actually tough, at least for me.  We all have a certain way we speak in a mish-mash of local phrases to go along with body language all our own.  It’s easy to write a character in your own “voice”.  Writing The Glass Man came out like breathing because I wrote as I would naturally speak.  Now, with my new series, the main character is nothing like me in manner or voice.

I’ve discovered a little technique while preparing for the Muskoka Novel Marathon, where I endeavor to write a novel in 3 days to raise money for adult literacy.  I needed a way to feel out my main characters before I started the novel, so could know who they were before the clock starts ticking and I begin the story.

It’s simply this.  Take your two main characters.  Put them in a public place, my favorite is the mall, and have them observe the crowd and interact with each other as they discuss what they see.  It always surprises me, the character traits that just sort of naturally appear.  A catch phrase that comes out.  What attracts them, repels them.  A prejudice, views on politics and religion, fashion choices, body language, it all comes out clearly.

No two characters have ever come out the same when I do this.  They all end up with their own little quirks, shortcomings and strengths.  They speak differently, use different terms of endearment, curses and humor.  It’s such a simple process, but it really works.

Try it out and let me know how it turns out.  Post me a little paragraph here so I can meet your creations.