Guest Post - Nicki Elson



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?

EXCERPT:

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.


Links:

Thank you so much for having me over, D.L. I'm looking forward to WRiTE Club 3.0!

56 comments

  1. Most interesting to read, as I don't write novels/stories it's good to read what it entails.

    Yvonne.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed the behind-the-scenes peek, Yvonne.

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  2. You rock the short piece! I enjoyed your post, Nicki.

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  3. LOL -- I do the same thing: nodding heads and shrugging shoulders -- like they are going to nod and shrug other body parts! Finding those word-cut opportunities are golden, because other word-cut choices become much harder. I also discover that my characters repeat themselves in dialogue a lot. They say filler phrases that we say in real life, but don't have time for in snappy dialogue: "I swear ... I mean ... Believe me ..." That all gets slashed in revision!

    Your sample is finely honed for word choice here, and a perfect example of the taut writing needed to get and keep a reader's attention!

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    1. And slashing can be soooo cathartic, can't it? Plus, knowing we can slash & smooth out later allows that first draft to flow naturally.

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  4. Yup, I agree with the others. Great job tightening up

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  5. Great job, Nicki. I have the book Editor-Proof Your Writing and its exercises are perfect for tightening your prose. I used it for my WIP and it lost 6,000 words. Now if only it were as easy to tighten the bod. :)

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    1. I'm such an editing dork, that I think that book sounds like fascinating reading. Thanks for the tip...if I find an equivalent read for the bod, I'll let you know. ;)

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    1. Thanks! I'm very happy you think so.

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  7. This section I've actually read already, soon as the book came in the mail!

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  8. Excellent post! I always joked that twitter taught me how to edit best, but Write Club is a wonderful way to challenge yourself. I've never been very good at short pieces of fiction (unlike yourself!), so challenges like these are the best way to work on the craft.

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    1. Ha, yes, I've thought that about Twitter too! Really emphasizes and economy of words - and shows how much you can say with so little.

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  9. That scene reads so well. We probably couldn't do that with an entire book, but we could at least make some of it tighter that way.

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    1. Exactly - giving the whole thing such intensive treatment would probably kill me.

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  10. Really great excerpt. Now I want to read the book...which is the entire point, I know ;-) Tight writing, but the former English teacher in me can't help but notice you cut one letter too many. Perhaps there were two joggers not to? Just wondering ;-)
    Tina @ Life is Good

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    1. Heehee, look at you picking up my cues.

      Ah! You scared me with the "two" - but actually, I did mean "to." The ruckus of the fleeing animals registered to the joggers. I can see why it's a bit confusing to begin the sentence that way though. Nice eagle eye. ;)

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  11. Cool beans! Yeah, this is definitely a lesson you learn with flash fiction--and this is what CP's are for, right? To point out where you can improve your writing. Super awesome sauce--loved the excerpt.

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    1. Thanks - and thanks for saying "cool beans" too! So happy that phrase is making a comeback. :)

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    2. That or I'm just old and not afraid to show it. ;)

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  12. That sounds pretty good to me. I can be the master of wordiness sometimes. I should have been a writer in the 19th century.

    Lee
    An A to Z Co-Host
    Tossing It Out

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    1. Y'know what's weird? I like to write crisp & lean, but I prefer to read the classics in all their glorious wordiness.

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  13. Hey DL,
    Stopping by to let you know that I nominated you for a Very Inspiring Blogger Award. I feel like you are quite a bit beyond the scope of these blogger awards, but the point is that you inspire me to keep blogging and jump outside my writing comfort zone so I put you on the list. I'm also hoping that more people will stop by your blog (since I obviously linked to it in my post) and be inspired as well.
    I love the idea of Write Club, but won't be participating as I don't really have a WIP snippet to submit...maybe one day!

    Cheers from B at http://brandysbustlings.blogspot.ca/

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    1. You picked a deserving fella, Brandy.

      Haven't said it yet today, but thanks DL for having me over!

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  14. Well done, Nicki (of course). I like your advice about verbs and adverbs.

    Love,
    Janie

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  15. Great writing Nicki! Tight... and wonderful word choices...

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  16. Very tight. I wish it were feasible to edit my 83K WIP that way.

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    1. Yep. But seriously, if you take a few key parts and give them the rigorous treatment, you'll no doubt uncover at least a couple recurring issues that'll help you attack the bigger manuscript.

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  17. Hey DL! And Nicki! Write Club is a brilliant idea and I've found it helpful with my past works as too--mainly as a guage to see what interests diff types of people.

    Got a nice solid start to this story for sure!!

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    1. Hi Pk! You're right---the Club is also a great way to get a pulse on reader interest.

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  18. Write Club 2012 was my first foray into writing for an older audience (I've written numerous picture books and two middle grade novels), so yes, I learned a ton from the experience - both the writing and the critiquing. To use an -ly adverb, it was extremely helpful. :)

    You've done an excellent job with revision in this sample. Was this your second piece? I wouldn't have recognized it. Very nice!

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    1. Sometimes I think I learned more from critiquing than writing. And that -ly adverb was totally needed!

      Actually, this piece isn't something I submitted for WRiTE Club - I thought about it though, which is what led me to give it the "treatment" in the first place. I'm glad I did. :)

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  19. Liked the excerpt - quite creepy and intriguing. I hadn't thought about Write Club in that way, as a way to zero in on flaws. I didn't get it together to submit for the last round, so hopefully DL will run it again!

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    1. Oh, I'm pretty sure we won't give DL a choice other than to run it again (hear that, blogmaster?). Hope you're able to submit this time!

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  20. Nicki - Revisions are so hard. To me it feels like they go on forever and ever. Seriously, I often think, How many passes is it gonna take until I get this stupid thing right?! It's wonderful you've found a group to help, give advice, and ease the pain. Great post! :-)

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  21. I think revisions could go on and on forever and ever -- thank goodness for deadlines so we're forced to stop!

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  22. I love that slash & burn editing! Wish all of the revising came so easily! :)
    Love the section - really created a great mood for me - dark, creepy & definitely intriguing! I'd read on for sure :)

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    1. Hehe, yeah, slash & burn can get a little addicting. Glad you enjoyed the excerpt. :)

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  23. I loved this! The first line definitely caught my attention. And the rest of the words creeped me OUT.

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    1. Good to know that you enjoy being creeped out...good to know...

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  24. Excellent opening Nicki. Tight, and adds just a touch of mystery.

    Write Club helped me hone my short-story telling too.

    *waves to DL*

    .......dhole

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    1. Hi Donna. Thanks for your compliments & hooray for WRiTE Club!

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  25. Here's a big fat THANK YOU to DL for opening up his wonderful blog to me. I look forward to the next WRiTE Club & can't wait to see what new twists you have in store for us.

    Thank you everyone who visited & took the time to read my post and especially those who took the additional time to comment.

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  26. Great excerpt! Writing short fiction like that can really help you find out where your prose needs tightened.

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  27. WOW!

    EXCELLENT... Okay, I need my copy so I can read the whole thing! This gave us tone, description, style, a natural flow, and and INTRIGUING read

    WELL DONE!

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  28. What a fantastic hook for Divine Temptation, Nicki, thank you for sharing this and your valuable tips! I try to treat each chapter like a flash fiction, with an ending that keeps the reader turning the page:)

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  29. Nice piece. It's great seeing Nicki here.

    I love getting a chapter critiqued during my writing group sessions. My crit group knows how to tighten up a piece. I incorporate their ideas into the other chapters, and my betas are awesome too.

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  30. totally hooked! great excerpt, nicki!
    and i enjoyed the write club too!

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  31. This is really awesome! Great excerpt.

    www.modernworld4.blogspot.com

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  32. I really enjoyed this! Thanks!

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  33. loved reading the excerpt. i had a great time on write club!!

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