Hey everybody! Hope the weekend was pleasant for you. Today I’ve asked Nicki Elson, a long-time blogging buddy and author of two novels (Three Daves and Divine Temptation), to take the reins and give you a tour with some different scenery. Ironically she’s chosen a topic that is near and dear to my heart, so I hope you enjoy it. Please make her feel welcome!
WRiTE Club - The Contest that Keeps on Giving
Some of you may know me better as Sissy Grimm or Art Gallery. Oh, how I love a penname, but that’s only one thing I enjoy about WRiTE Club — that nifty brainchild of Mr. D.L.H. in which writers polish up their 500-word samples and square off against one another. When I first joined the contest, I expected to get a few writing pointers and gain insight into readers’ brains, which I most definitely did, but I also got something unexpected — an entirely new editing technique that I now apply to everything I write.
Five hundred words isn’t much, so if you want to leave an impression, you’ve got to make every single one count, which generally means giving several the ax. Polishing those short pieces becomes sort of like a mini-WRiTE Club in itself, with each word fighting for its right to stay in. The dreaded -ly adjectives GONE; they’re unnecessary if the dialog and action already convey “emphatically” or “quickly.” Passive writing KABOOM! Why use two words to say “was walking” when “walked” reads better and takes only one?
Now, we obviously can’t give such intensive attention to each 500-word segment in a 75,000-word novel — we’d never finish — but I find that isolating key segments of the story and putting them under the microscope reveals personal writing rough spots that I wouldn't necessarily note when tackling an entire chapter. Realizing that I’m overly zealous with dialog tags or that my characters are frequently nodding their heads and shrugging their shoulders (what else are they going to nod or shrug?) helps me to be more aware of these weaknesses as I read through the bigger piece, thus making my overall edit more thorough.
One key segment that got the WRiTE Club treatment is the opening scene to my new release, Divine Temptation. This section is important for obvious reasons — it’s the readers’ first taste — but for this story, it’s especially key because it’s far different in tone than most of the rest of the story. DT is a romantically-inclined women’s fiction, but it goes a shade darker later in the book, so I thought it was only fair to give readers a hint of that darkness up front, and yet I wanted to keep the hint streamlined so that it wouldn't be overwhelming.
So who’s up for a little WRiTE Club-style critique? Below is the final version of that 444-word sample — how did I do?
Clawed feet landed with a muffled thud atop the January snow. His balance was instantaneous. Surveying the still forest around him, he watched the pale morning sunlight filter through the bare branches, illuminating nothing but the trees, the forest floor, and him. All active life had vanished from the area moments before his arrival. To joggers along the perimeter of the preserve, the distant ruckus of fleeing animals had registered only as a minor disturbance to the music blasting through their earbuds. His entry point was good.
He shook the white crystals from his talons and stepped through the snow. As he walked, his true form mutated, adapting to the world he had entered. By the time he reached the edge of the forest, he looked like any other man, complete with a pair of black dress shoes, a wool overcoat, cashmere scarf, and fedora. His power in this world had become such that all he had to do was think it, and it was his—for such minor details, anyhow. But acquiring what he truly desired would take more finesse.
The streets along his short walk to the historic part of town were already alive with cars pushing through the slush, carrying their contents to work. It was a new year—time for humans to get back to the old routine and make more money. They had Christmas bills to pay off, after all. His mouth twisted into an unpleasant smirk. This time he wouldn’t fail. This time they’d practically beckoned him forth.
He reached downtown Prairie Oaks, and as he traversed its sidewalks, a glass door swung open in front of him. Along with the earthy aroma of coffee drifted something else. He halted his steady gait and swiveled his head to peer inside. Shooting through the collection of people, his gaze landed on two women. Both of them were middle aged; one was modestly plump while the other was of a leaner build. The latter was the one he sensed. There was nothing in her appearance to set her off from anyone else—thick waves of caramel-colored hair ending just below her shoulders, medium complexion with a dusting of makeup over straight, long features—but there was no mistaking that she could suit his purpose.
While he watched her laugh and talk with her friend, the door swung shut and then open again. This time he detected something new amid the warm air seeping out from the shop, something exceedingly unwelcome. He shuddered and moved on. He had plenty of time; there was no need to jump on the first possibility to present itself…particularly if that possibility came mixed with complications.