Friday, August 1, 2014

Friday Feedback: More on Character: Seeing the Face Before You

Charlotte, looking uber hip and cool..
Dare I say, like a Siren(z). :D 

Today I have the lovely Charlotte Bennardo on Friday Feedback, co-author of BlondeOps and the Sirenz series (Sirenz, and Sirenz Back In Fashion). We're talking some more about character, and "seeing the face before you." As always with my FF guest authors, Charlotte is putting in much time, energy and love here, so please check out her books, buy a few, and tell your friends and students about them. 

I like meeting my characters, face to face. Impossible you say, because that character is only in your mind?  Well, we all have a doppelganger (or two…). So there is someone out there who looks just like (or really close to) your character.

When I set out to write my YA sci fi novel, Lethal Dose, I was doing it during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month- 30 days, 1660 words a day every day in November). I couldn’t waste time daydreaming about my character’s physical appearance. Instead of a text-only trait list, I scoured the internet looking for that picture of my character.

For Sirenz and Sirenz Back in Fashion, (co-authored with Natalie Zaman), we agreed that Hades, Lord of the Underworld would be hot and hunky. We imagined Ian Somerhalder (Vampire Diaries) as Hades. Because we wrote alternating chapters, it helped immensely to see the face, know how the eyebrows quirked, or the mouth tugged up on the left in a grin, etc. so we could be consistent. For Lethal Dose, I chose Nicholas Hoult (Jack The Giant Slayer) because he looked like what I imagined for Dalen Steele. Keeping a publicity shot printed on Dalen’s ‘bio’ helped me feel close to my character.

What didn’t work was a ‘grocery list’ of things like “Hazel eyes. Brown hair. 6’ tall, loves his mother,” etc. It’s too ‘dry’ and flat. “A picture is worth a thousand words…” A cliché that works for me. Some people don’t want a definitive image, and they can work like that.  But if your story has a number of characters, how do you keep straight what they all look like, how do you keep them all from blending in?

Nicholas Hoult,
photo courtesy of fanpop.
Here’s a partial sample of Dalen’s bio:                                                                                                              
-19 yo
-6 ft
-hazel eyes
-adept at biology, chemistry, botany
-Earth gypsy
-cool, detached, precise
-sole support for mother Sarita, sister Jenica, and mentor Myca
-loves gletoid legs (large, prolific insect- tastes like chicken!)

A list requires time to sort through and when I’m in the middle of writing a complex scene, taking time to read several pages can ruin the flow—whereas I can take a quick peek at the face without interrupting my typing. When deadlines and fast flowing thoughts are chasing me, anything that helps me stay in the groove works for me.

So, interesting, Charlotte! I used to be the opposite. For my first several manuscripts, I never made character lists or bios (still don't), and purposefully didn't want to look at a photo, especially of a famous person, and equate them -- fictional and non-fictional -- in my brain. I wanted to "see" the character in my mind and not have them look like anyone else in my head. Much the same reason I still don't like when they put a photograph of a character on the cover... I don't want to tell the reader how the character looks so much as let the character look to them however he or she feels through the writing and story.

THEN, in the early revisions of "Frankie Sky" (now, THE SUMMER OF LETTING GO), I got stuck... I felt like Francesca wasn't coming to life in my brain or on the page. I suddenly felt the need to "see" her externally, to make her feel alive. 

I googled photos for days... typing things like "16-yr old girl, looks young, straight hair, thick eyebrows, plain but pretty," into the search bar. Until I came up with this photo... 

**SPOILER ALERT** for those who have not yet read THE SUMMER OF LETTING GO, scroll down fast or cover the screen if you don't want "my" vision of Francesca in your brain.

*** DOUBLE EDITED ALERT*** You snooze, you lose. I'm pulling the photo down to protect the innocent... ;) I warned you earlier...

Anyway, the minute I came across the photo, I knew. It was her, my Francesca, right down to her soulful penetrating eyes.    

Using the photo, I went back and rewrote her. Her dialogue came more clearly. Her relationships came more clearly. Her desires and fears too. I've done the same again for the MC, Kyle, in the WIP I've been working on this year. It really helps me now a lot to let myself find that doppelganger to the character in my story. 

So, here we go! Let's share more about our characters (or feel free to post any excerpt you're wanted some feedback on) in the comments!. And, please remember the RULES. And to check out a copy of Blonde Ops! 

And, now, for feedbacking, here's Charlotte's excerpt from her WIP, Lethal Dose:

Dalen tried to stay as unobtrusive as possible; just a slum rat scouring the marketplace looking for a dropped coin, a lost scarf, a discarded piece of junk that might be useful.
            That’s when he saw the Lexian. His white hair, long ears and pupil-less eyes confirmed his species although he was rather short; about six and a half feet by Earthling standards. His blue-tinged skin was less common than Dalen’s golden. Curious, Dalen inched closer to him and the Garans he was talking with, to eavesdrop.
The Lexian was trying to work a deal to sell some gold uranium alloy, one of the rarest elements in the universe. Even at fourteen, Dalen seriously doubted the Lexian had it. Just a whisper of someone having the stuff would bring not only thieves and cutthroats, but Assassins from the Guild. Dalen wondered how the Lexian could be that stupid to be so obvious—and even stupider for trying to deal with the Garans. They were cold-blooded, reptilian, and lethal not only because of their razor sharp claws but because they were smart—and untrustworthy. The greedy little bastards were always trying to haggle every deal that left the other party screwed. Even a nobody Earthling like Dalen knew they were best avoided.
            The Lexian was trying to get one of the Garans to shake on the deal when Dalen saw the other pour something from a liquid nitrogen-cooled container into the Lexian’s drink.
            He kept silent. Wasn’t any of his business.



  1. I did not have good luck using the internet to find characters. I tend to use people I know or combinations of them. My child characters are often patterned after students I know.

    Charlotte, you set up a frightening scene here with your description of the Lexian "cold-blooded, reptilian, and lethal."

    I wrote in a new character in my WIP and would like to post that part today. Thanks for reading and taking the time to offer feedback. This weekly post has kept me writing.

    The social worker sits down next to me and turns her knees
    toward Momma and me creating a single parenthesis. Her legs are strapped together by her skinny black skirt. She holds an iPad on her lap and taps the screen, puts in her secret number code, and begins.

    “Blessen Lafleur, Miss Gardenia Lafleur, I am Juliet Krauss,
    the social worker assigned to your case.”

    Miss Juliet smells like the best part of the cane field burning, sweet and smoky. Her blond hair hangs straight over her shoulders. Her eyes are crystal blue with eyelashes that curl like Momma is always trying to get hers to do with that torturous metal contraption.

    Momma straightens up and seems immediately defensive. Miss Juliet reassures her.

    “I just need to ask Blessen a few questions about Harmony’s foster home and her accident. It’ll only take about 10 minutes. Do I have your permission to speak to her privately? Please sign here.”

    She hands Momma a stylus to sign her iPad. Momma turns it around in her hand, not sure which end to use. Miss Juliet takes it
    and turns the rubber tip side down and makes a dot on the screen.

    Momma looks at me with questioning eyes. I nod.
    She signs, and Miss Juliet leads me to a quiet chapel next to the
    reception desk.

    The chapel doors have two long windows of red glass. A circle with a cross in the center. We walk into the small, dark room. I remember the chapel at the convent, how Harmony was clueless and didn’t care. I smell the familiar burning oil. We sit together in a back pew. Again, Miss Juliet turns her legs toward me. This time I feel trapped, like she is afraid I may bolt.

  2. Wow! What a productive morning.....between Gae, Donalyn and Jen AND Charlotte.....I not only went past my writing time....but ended up writing something completely new. I didn't even know it was in my head. THAT was fun. And, it feels great!

    Charlotte, Thank you so much for your time and prompt. It really did push me in a new way. I've got a pinterest board called Book Wish, Blonde Ops is on it!

    I use Friday Feedback for early, raw/rough drafts that come from the prompts. So, the WIP below is aimed for my final product....but just written this morning. I will be going back to it many, many times. sigh.

    Today is Day of the
    Dead but

    none of the dead I love are

    here. They are far and I

    don’t know if they know the way.

    There is no celebration in school.

    I am surrounded by gray.

    Gray trees, gray skies, gray

    lockers of books that read gray.

    The American students

    are tired with backpacks

    full of candy.They

    celebrated yesterday.

    It’s nice that they share…but

    too much chocolate.

    Why don’t they

    have fruity sweets?

    I went to the library

    and felt warm

    when I entered.

    On a table was a

    cardboard grave

    fake candles and

    books about the

    Day of the Dead

    surrounded it.

    The Librarian saw

    me stop by and touch

    the paper grave.

    She met me

    in my eyes.

    I don't see the photo or description that prompted this free write. Sorry if they show up twice.


    -16 years old

    -5’ 1”

    -light brown eyes that are darker because of how she shields them with a
    guarded squint

    -From El Salvador

    -Won’t talk about any family except Abuela.

    -She has washed clothes and played games with stones in the river

    -good at understanding what people need and seeing motives behind behaviors

    -Has had 4 years of public school, can read. She can make dozens of papusas in
    20 minutes. no one knows these things.

    -quiet, unflappable, cool, can’t help wanting to know….let’s her guard down
    when immersed in new ideas.

    -loves mangos, papaya, pineapple and papusas. Wants to know more about cooking….can’t
    find recipes in Spanish.

  3. love this. I definitely want to know more about Blessen. love, love, love the name!

  4. Thank you to both of you! I am a person that visualizes, as a result, had never even thought about looking for a picture of my character. In the classroom, I often times have students draw the character if they are having difficulties “see” his or her features. Now, I will supply some pictures so as a reference point for those that want to use one. Again, thank you this was so helpful.

  5. Thank you so much Gae and Charlotte - I say it frequently, but I really appreciate the time that experienced writers put into Teachers Write. I'm so grateful.

    I had forgotten, but I once read Jennifer Crusie's description of making a whole scrapbook board of pictures important to her story and characters. I love that idea... or would if I had a color printer. Thank you for reminding me I don't have to work just from memory. This is really helpful.

    I'm sharing a bit from my WIP as my hero meets his mentor for the first time. As usual, my formatting is wacky in the pasting. I'm sorry...
    Rule number one of community service: Owen had to be independent.

    The screen door opened with a metallic clatter. Owen flinched, but held his ground.

    The woman at the door had coppery red hair, a hawk-like nose, and freckles. Freckles all over her face, her bare shoulders, down her thin
    arms. Owen was distracted. He began to tell the woman that she should be using SPF 110, but then he remembered.

    Rule number two of community service: Owen had to use the social skills he had been taught since kindergarten. For example: you were not supposed to tell people about SPF before they knew your name.

    The most important rule, the one without a number, came next. Owen must talk to everyone, even if only yes and no. He held out his hand
    awkwardly and recited the line he and Miss Reina had practiced, “Hello, I’m Owen. I’m here for the interview.” Owen tried to keep his eyes on the woman’s face. It was difficult, especially when the person was looking directly at him.

    The woman’s face was neutral; she was not smiling. Owen breathed easier. Too much smiling made him nervous.

    She took his hand briefly and moved it up and down, then dropped it. “Hello, Owen. I’m Amelia Vernon. You may call me Miss Amelia. Please come in. I’ve been expecting you.”

    Miss Amelia held the door open for Owen. He entered the dark house, belatedly remembering to say, “Thank you.”

    With another metallic clatter, the door closed. Owen sucked air in through his nose to calm himself. The house smelled like dust, chocolate chip cookies, and dogs.

  6. I love the moving tensions between the characters here. This section of your WIP is really intriguing. Juliet comes across as polished, powerful, educated and from a whole different world than Blessen and her mother. Thank you for sharing! I'm looking forward to more.

  7. This is not only a great description of Miss Amelia, it reveals a lot about Owen, too, I love your last line, I could smell the chocolate chip cookies and dog odor.

  8. I loved both your excerpt and your notes. What a vivid character, and such a powerful description of loneliness in a new place and missing people she loves.

  9. Margaret, I'd offer constructive criticism if I had it. But your writing is really stellar and compelling. Just beautiful. Keep going!

  10. Thanks very much, Charlotte and Gae.

    This is a scene toward the later part of my WIP:

    “Skyler,” Mr. Branson pokes a finger into my shoulder as I
    file past his desk. “Would you stay a minute, please?”

    My stomach drops ten feet because it can only be the test. I
    somehow botched the buildup to WWII. Or maybe I skipped a whole page and he is going to let me retake that part. Or maybe I can convince him to let me write an extra paper.

    Mr. Branson smiles tightly as everyone else files out, then
    he pushes the door shut. And that’s when I know it’s bad. Like D minus bad. Because Mr. Branson is one of those open door, sing in the middle of class, wear jeans to school kind of teachers. I checked him out online when school started, and he does a lot on Twitter and Facebook. Not that that’s a bad thing, but I’ve spent enough time around Dad to know self-branding when I see it. Mr. Branson
    has bigger plans for himself than Craven Creek.

    “Okay.” He perches on his desk, his sneaker feet swinging. I wish he’d take off his stupid baseball cap because it is a little crooked, and that distracts me. “Skyler, I asked you to stay because someone came to me with something disturbing, and, frankly, I was a bit surprised. I think our expectations about behavior are
    pretty clear at Craven Creek. We’re a place that expects everyone to be welcoming of new students. I know it is difficult in middle school, when everyone is trying to find their places in a new social world, but there is no room for bullying here.”

    “No, of course not.” I chew the corner of my lip, and my
    heart speeds up. Dale Evans didn’t say anything about anyone bothering him. Surely he would have if something had happened.

  11. Linda, I'm with Jane. This feels very powerful and emotional. Go on, then! Keep going!

  12. Sheila, like i said, I think this is very personal, writer to writer. And, as with me, sometimes may be not needed and other times helpful! I think the key is that, with our writing, we need to be free and open to trying new things, especially when we hit a wall. :)

  13. Gae, I will carry these words in my pocket today. Your support means so much.

  14. Terry, I am super loving this. I assume Owen has Aspergers or something and you're doing a tremendous job, IMHO, finding a great balance to portray this authentically. I already care about this character so much on two readings of him (at least two that I remember). My only thoughts, and they are MINOR, are that the word belatedly seems maybe out of voice? Think you can just remove it... and the second metallic is not needed as the word clatter is such perfection. Last thought/note? When he sucks air in thru his nose, maybe this is more of an opportunity if you need it to show us how he focuses/slows himself down... But those are thoughts, not criticism. I love, love, love this piece. Keep going!

  15. Gae & Jane-
    Thank you so much for the feedback. I needed this encouragement today. (Every day, in fact. Are you free again tomorrow?) I actually had another line of Owen breathing out again as he calms down, but I thought it was too much. You kick butt, Gae. Thank you.

  16. Charlotte,

    I loved your excerpt! The desrciptions of the Lexian, as well as the Garans, pulled me in to the scene, and the cliffhanger of "and yet..." left me wanting more. One of the reasons I am not an avid sci-fi or fantasy reader is that I find it difficult to follow various characters from different species or realms. Your descriptions here locked me in, so I wouldn't feel constantly confused and distracted while trying to fall into the story.

    I look forward to getting a copy of this story!

    I will work on my character descriptions and post them here soon. Thanks for taking the time to share your talents and expertise with us!

  17. Dawn Marie Miller-FultonAugust 1, 2014 at 11:02 AM

    My editor friend wants to me to add physical traits to my character- but says it's up to me. I just wanted the reader to imagine. This post helped a lot. I just realized I visualize the main character, Mary as looking like a former AMAZING student named Mary. Don't know why I didn't put that together sooner. I feel like I knew the character well, but now I know her even better. This will help others know her better too! Thank you so much!

  18. Jane -
    I hate it when I have to stop in the middle of a climactic scene like you did right there. I want more. Now. Before I get melodramatic.

    Love love love it. And this is Dale of the precise glasses, right? You are turning out gems for us to see. Thank you.

  19. Love this too, Jane! And wish I knew what was about to happen, which is a great sign! (tell us! ;)) Mr. Branson swinging his sneakered feet popped me out a bit. Partly because it seems like a kid thing to do, not a teacher, and partly because even if teacher's also swing their feet (and it's not reserved for kids only ;)), this teacher seems like he's about to embark on a serious moment and it seems very lighthearted. Food for thought. Keep going! We want more. :D

  20. Greg, first of all, I agree with what you wrote to Charlotte. I'm also not a fan of sci-fi or fantasy for the same reason and found Charlotte's compelling for their unique descriptions and clarity... also, feel free to post any sort of excerpt you want this week. Since we focused on character some last week, anything you want to post is fine. :)

  21. So happy to read this, Dawn Marie! I am one of those reluctant to do too much character description, but i think knowing what your character looks like has so much more to do with writing him/her than just the physical. That was Avi's point last week and Charlotte's too this week. So, yes, whether or not you include direct description, or merely minimal description, that knowing helps you to write the way your character moves, reacts, and is. It's all tied together, isn't it? :D Good luck!

  22. This is so great, Linda. I was pulled in immediately to the gray mood and the feeling of loss and unbelonging. Thanks for sharing.

  23. Happy Friday, all. I was just telling Gae on the FB page that selecting something to share had me editing to tighten the scene that it comes from -- which is one of the reasons I love FF.

    I was wrestling because we're talking about description, but I'm taking this from a scene where I'll end up cutting off halfway through action, but so it goes. This comes from toward the end, and it's from POV of the book's antagonist.


    Mick turned toward the marketplace on the other side of the stone bridge. Wind lifted his hair back from his forehead, and Sean saw his face in full profile. His hair was heavy, coarse with the filth of a man on the run. Sean calmed to know Mick ran, no matter what he’d said. His hair grown out like the mane of a horse, so unlike himself.

    Unrecognizable from the calm man he’d last met on the jetty south of Wicklow, when he’d watched Mick dive off the stern of a trawler, knowing he was avoiding the Garda whose lights flickered fierce off the roofs of their cars, parked in jackknifed formation at the entrance to the docks. Sean had grinned at him, unseen: They’re not for you, Mick. It’s a body washed up against headwall. Coppers wandered bored as farm dogs, no hints yet if it were a murder or just a ferry jumper or a man washed overboard. So tedious, waiting on coroners.

    He followed the intermittent bob of Mick’s head beyond the concrete breakers, carried south by inlet currents. He might have drowned, another body to be fished out, but sputtered out of the surf along the strand amid coarse grasses and weekend strollers. Sean watched him collapse. Waited. Mick pulled himself to face out to sea as if what chased him was yet panting after him in the waves. Not behind him, in the car park, where Sean leaned back for a smoke. Shells or stones – he couldn’t see from this distance – rattled in the waves with a sound like dried bones. Mick’s hair was buzzed short as if military, then. More stark than months Sean had seen him reported, imprisoned in isolation for all the players who wanted him dead. This little man. Hunched along the shore line, thin thread of light blazing brilliant beneath the oyster shell gradations of the sky.

    Water and sand fell from his shirt when he stood. He brushed kelp from his shoulder. Otter of a survivor.

  24. I want to read this book. Such a compelling picture you paint for me! I see the shapes and spaces you create (the turning toward them, creating a parenthesis- wow), feel the stumbles and hesitation and dread.You paint a picture of these characters with their gestures and reactions. THis is what I wish I could do, keep working at doing in my WIP.

  25. Okay, I tried the strategy of finding a picture for my character and then writing her description from the photo. I didn't know how to attach both my WIP exceerpt and the photo together here, so instead I put it on my blog, and put the link here. (Sorry to ask you to jump through hoops).

    In the photo, you have to imagine she is reading Everett's (MC) journal.

    Reading My Defense

    Thanks for checking it out!

  26. Charlotte, I thank you so much for your input today! I realized as I've been working on my WIP that I was trying too hard to use mannerisms to "make" characters, such as bouncing, or wringing hands.... Now I'm working to make their real true actions and reactions and emotions describe them for the reader as part of the fabric of their being. I actually have a photo of my MC, since my book is based on a real person. The excerpt I'm sharing is recently revised, and I'm more pleased with it than I was last week! Gae knows Kate from prior years' Feedback Fridays.

    And Gae, that photo IS Frankie!! Wow.

    Kate's friend Sam realizes that an Uncle lived on the Burley Colony (that is what disbanded). This is one of several Socialist colonies established on the Puget Sound around the turn of the century, in late 1800s, early 1900s. Kate's father, a Socialist sympathizer, donated the land for this one. I know this scene starts abruptly but it got too long...

    “No, really? I remember a Lemuel. Does he - did he - have a -” Kate stopped, a sudden blush rising up her neck. She’d have to be more circumspect when talking to folks about their own relatives!

    “Does he have a what? I’ll bet you were going to say something like, ‘Does he have a huge hooked nose?’ The answer is a most definite yes.” Sam chuckled. “Don’t you worry about offending my sensibilities. I like to speak plainly, and my Uncle Lemuel always has had a huge honker.”

    “Oh, Sam! How horrid, that it’s how I remember him, though! I was only twelve when the place disbanded, but I can’t help remembering your Uncle’s - uh - adornment.” She was helpless to continue, her voice pinched with the effort not to laugh.

    “Well, that’s one way to put it.” Sam himself was laughing now, at her discomfort, and at the thought of his uncle. “You know, my Uncle Lemuel probably remembers you. It seems to me that you’d be pretty memorable.”

    He appraised Kate now, dark eyes lingering on her until she broke the spell with a snort.

    “Oh, you don’t know what I looked like at twelve! Awkward thing, with stick legs and a spotty face, to boot. Stockings likely sliding down my legs. I was an awful, unkempt child. I was always poking around, playing with the animals. I could not stay away from the chickens, of course. I fear my stepmother thought I was some sort of scarecrow come to life.”

    She stopped speaking then, thinking again of the harsh reprimands she had so often received from Leola, about her appearance, about her outspoken behavior. And yet she knew she’d been a good child, and mostly an obedient one, except when it came to getting dirty in the outdoors she loved so much.

    “Penny for them?” Sam said into the silence.

    “Oh, just thinking of home. How it was. How I’m here now, and so happy to be here.”

  27. Awww, guys, thank you, this made my day. If you really want to know, I'm happy to email you the rest of the scene (7 more paragraphs). But suffice to say Skyler's about to be accused of something she didn't do.

  28. Charlotte BennardoAugust 1, 2014 at 1:26 PM

    I can see both sides- maybe the teacher is relatively new to teaching, like only 2-3 years and hasn't lost that youthfulness? I'd need a better sense of his age. (And what happens??? I'm desperate to know, which is a good thing!)

  29. My only caveat would be to make sure name/characterization isn't so similar that everyone knows it's your former student. Throw in some things that are unlike her, but true to your character. (and never use a relative/friend as a model!)

  30. Actors study people for their portrayals, which is what we are doing- studying people. You're lucky enough to have a work based on a real person. Even if you can't hear them speak, maybe you can get an actual pic or get some background info that really makes them lifelike.

  31. That pic is a great fit- when I got to the end, it felt right, like she was the character you described.

  32. I agree. And I love your description!

  33. I would add that you don't need a color printer- maybe you can get images from magazines, flyers, etc to stick on your board. And if you have a b/w printer, use markers to fill in color as YOU want it! Doodling and playing with images on your scrapbook board may help inspire you.

  34. I would add that other things can be used, like a drawing, a cartoon, a comic- not realistic pics, and kind of like a collage, little scraps of info about the character. I know some people do this. I personally like with the pic a simplified list of not only physical traits, but personality quirks, likes/dislikes, relationship statuses, etc.

  35. Just knowing bits and pieces about your character gets you started- and you'll discover more about her as you go. That's the fun part. What else will you learn? You'll have to keep going to find out.

  36. I can totally see everything- both with the characters and the setting. (Just make sure people who know you won't see themselves as the character. JK Rowling was sued by a family member who claimed he was Harry's model. Messy business.Add your own distinctions.)

  37. 2 things:

    1) Gae, I forgot to say how I loved seeing a picture of Frankie. The eyes are perfect for her.

    2) I posted about today's activities and shared the whole scene draft on my blog with a bit about the process I'm working through:

  38. I like how you reveal Owen through actions and his thoughts about the actions. The voice is intriguing and authentic. :)

  39. Thanks, Charlotte! That's a great way of putting it. This excerpt doesn't show enough of Kate, I think (though I'm getting there!), which is one reason it needs more work. I not only have photos of her, but her diary for a portion of the time during which the book is set. I've been encouraged by input here in the past that I've been able create a true voice for the story. I think my challenge is finding the true voice for my characters each time they interact with others.

  40. Charlotte--

    I love that "Yet" at the end of your me chills! It makes me want to know more about Dalen and what his business is. Very nice!

    Here's something from a WIP I just started. Not too much character description yet, but I tried to work in a little:

    “Did you hear something?” Owen froze and locked eyes with me, like whoever it was out there could possibly hear his eyeballs moving around in their sockets. “Is it…?” he continued, stopping before he could finish.

    “No. Did you?” I said, and my heart was pounding in my throat. I was having trouble forming coherent sentences longer than two words, and I could feel beads of sweat rolling down my back. If this was what a typical mission was like, maybe I wasn’t cut out for hoaxing after all. Maybe Mom was right.

    Afraid of being exposed, Owen and I didn’t move, waiting for something, anything, to happen. Even though it seemed like a ridiculous moment to do so, I couldn’t help but look at Owen while we were frozen in this crouched position. His eyelashes were long and dark, casting crown-like shadows on his cheeks in the moonlight, and his pale skin glowed, just like mine. I worried whoever (or whatever) was out there might just find us because we stood out like glow sticks among the dark stalks wheat. In the night hoax division, you didn’t get much sun.

    “What?” he whispered, eyes widening. That snapped me back into the present, and I realized how guilty we looked, standing there in the middle of the field, our plank and ropes and gear surrounding us like shrapnel. It was only then that I saw the bouncing orb of a flashlight through the stalks, coming closer.

  41. I love the description of "...casting crown-like shadows on his cheeks in the moonlight." That's a beautiful description! (I'm jealous). That's excellent character description. Keep that up!

  42. it's sincere.

  43. I shall wait for the next sneak peek of FF excerpts!

  44. I find sometimes this happens as the revisions pile on... the character starts close to home, then becomes more and more fictionalized as the manuscript/story is honed...

  45. Elissa, I may go later to read the full if I have time, but I am sooo behind on everything, including two manuscripts I am reading for friends that they've been waiting on... I will say that your writing, as always is stellar, compelling, moody, ridiculously skilled, etc. Having said that, I think because there's stuff out of context, I'm struggling with what some of it means... and I'm sure it will be answered IN context, so. Like this: Sean calmed to know Mick ran, no matter what he’d said. That sentence feels awkward, but I think it's because i don't know what the ran and said are referring to. Also, watch the repetition of calm unless you're intending it. Keep going. i'm always mesmerized by your writing.

  46. Hey, Greg,

    I agree that you've
    done a wonderful character description here and the pic and words mesh and I
    love everything about it. You're NO QUESTION a very skilled writer, and I
    really feel the emotion behind your scenes and your characters. I love this
    relationship between them that I'm watching unfold here. So, here's my but, and
    the but is a question and I think we talked about this last week... some of
    your word choices still don't feel authentic to the way a teen boy -- even a
    brilliant poetic teen boy -- would speak or even think. This is a tricky issue,
    because my intention is not to dumb down a smart character nor dumb down any
    writing for a YA, but there's a difference between dumbing down and making sure
    the voice is authentic to the age of the character... Here are a few examples I
    wonder about:

    compliments. . . gazing deeper than expected into my small collection of
    observations, ponderings. . fixated. . . straightened back and elegant neckline
    . . . exuded confidence,

    I know partly you used
    some of these to convey the girl in the pic’s lovely and regal self possessed
    look… and you’ve done it well. I just want to make sure you let the voice of the
    expression match the age of your character…

    Here's what you
    might do... but ultimately, out of context with your whole story, I can be
    wrong, so this is merely food for thought. See if it feels like it changes your
    voice too much, or doesn’t actually fit with your character which is possible…

    I handed my journal to Taylisha. She promised she’d be gentle. I assumed she’d
    give it a quick glance and hand it back with a few kind, nice words. But she
    held on to it, reading longer and more carefully than I expected, taking in my
    small collection of observations, thoughts, and attempts at prose.

    She was looking at my soul.

    At first, my shoulders tensed, and I felt dizzy. Her quiet
    breath and straight back told me she was lost in my words.

  47. Oh, Kate! i feel like I know her and welcome her back every time she appears here like a long lost relative! I love this excerpt and think you've done a wonderful job! I don't have any major crit, except maybe to watch or at least beware of little "crutches" that you don't really need like the cues "sudden" "now" and "then," especially now which pops in twice in a row (so which is now? ;) ) and I think is useful maybe for voice/formality in its first usage but won't be missed in the second? Here, see:

    “Well, that’s one way to put it.” Sam himself was laughing now, at her discomfort, and at the thought of his uncle. “You know, my Uncle Lemuel probably remembers you. It seems to me that you’d be pretty memorable.”

    He appraised Kate, dark eyes lingering on her until she broke the spell with a snort.

    She stopped speaking, thinking again of the harsh reprimands she had so often received from Leola, about her appearance, about her outspoken behavior.

    Up to you, but just beware. Of course, I am a stickler for tight writing and, as a flipside, miss this crap in my own writing too ALL the time. The point is to aim toward mindfulness and intention...

    Also, nitpicky -- that "uh" is bothering me. It almost feels too informal and colloquial, like Kate might use an "oh" instead. What do you think?

    Anyway, me pointing out stupid nothings, because I love what you have done here. I love Kate. I love her story. Keep going! :D

  48. Katie, I agree, that is a wonderful description, and I love the humor and tension behind this piece! And that eyelash moment in the dark is so lovely. I think you over-write physical business/movement just the tiniest bit and it bogs down writing that would otherwise pop and shine clearly on its own. For example, this: "Even though it seemed like a ridiculous moment to do so, I couldn’t help but look at Owen while we were frozen in this crouched position." You've already told us they're frozen a few times so it's not needed here and the structure is heavy and takes away from the sort of breathlessness of the moment. A few places like that... so I'm going to do a superspeed flash edit so you can see how it might really shine without unnecessary business (or so I hope...) :

    “Did you hear something?” Owen froze and locked eyes with me, like whoever it was out there could possibly hear his eyeballs moving around in their sockets. “Is it…?” He stopped before he could finish.

    “No. Did you?” My heart was pounding in my throat. I was having trouble forming coherent sentences longer than two words. Beads of sweat rolled down my back. If this was what a typical mission was like, maybe I wasn’t cut out for hoaxing after all. Maybe Mom was right.

    Afraid of being exposed, we didn’t move, waiting for something, anything, to happen. Crouched like this, I couldn’t help but look at Owen. His eyelashes were long and dark, casting crown-like shadows on his cheeks in the moonlight, and his pale skin glowed, just like mine. I worried whoever (or whatever) was out there might just find us because we stood out like glow sticks among the dark stalks of wheat. In the night hoax division, you didn’t get much sun.

    “What?” he whispered, eyes widening. That snapped me back, and I realized how guilty we looked, standing there in the middle of the field, our plank and ropes and gear surrounding us like shrapnel. It was only then that I saw the bouncing orb of a flashlight through the stalks, coming closer.

  49. Wendy Watts ScalfaroAugust 1, 2014 at 7:03 PM

    Charlotte, A few people have commented that sci-fi/fantasy is not their favorite because it's hard to keep track on species, etc. I have the same problem. (And when it comes to fantasy, I make up different names for the one written because I can never figure out how to pronounce them!). However, I'm learning to be more open-minded, so I would continue reading this story. It sounds intriguing. Even though you describe Dalen as a "slum rat," I can just tell he's gorgeous! (Even without the photo above). I'm looking forward to reading this, and will be adding your books to my TBR pile!

  50. Gae, I'm just blown away by the time you take to meticulously read our posts, and the thoughtful feedback you offer. It really is a blessing, and your insights are spot-on! I don't seem to notice it when I am writing, but when it is pointed out, I see it too well.

    My challenge will be to find that teen voice when I am writing. With a 16 and a 21 yr old in the home, hopefully I will tune in to my "inner teen" voice (sans the acne).


  51. Jen, I love this. It is so painful and I feel that... I also agree with the rock-solid brick nestled... and it wasn't the nestled part that tripped me but the rock-solid... because it's a brick. So can't u just say the pain felt like a brick nestled or brick wedged...? Food for thought. But everything today is picky picky, because seriously, the excerpts today are pretty amazing. Oh, and I hate Josie Haines with all my heart now. :D

  52. Wendy Watts ScalfaroAugust 1, 2014 at 7:40 PM

    Gae, As always you picked up on some very good points (and my very poor punctuation in this hurried excerpt). I'm so glad that you love Lily. That means a lot to me. Thank you so much.

  53. Greg, yes, spend time listening... and especially listening (okay fine, too bad kids: Eavesdropping) on how they talk to their friends. Even the boys with great vocabs will tone them down/rein them in when around peers for sure. Thoughts in one's head can be at times more verbose, I suppose... but certain things, like describing a girl's neck as elegant... probably not (at least not a straight guy ;) ). And, again, the trick is to strip away, not dumb down. That's how I like to think of it. <3 Keep going. You're writing and ability to evoke emotion are all there. These other things will come.

  54. Okay, all, I think I have responded to all of the excerpts. If I have missed yours, please flag me down! It means it got wedged between comments. I'm off to bed as I'm doing a LONG, early swim weather permitting, so have to be up at the crack of dawn. But I'll be back tomorrow. Keep writing! xox

  55. Dawn Marie Miller-FultonAugust 1, 2014 at 8:04 PM

    Good advice. In my mind she looked like my former student, but Mary's character isn't that of Mary the student. If I couldn't recognize it, I'm not worried anyone else would. I had her as a second grader, she just graduated from Berkeley. Her mom is a journalist. She'd get it!

  56. Dawn Marie Miller-FultonAugust 1, 2014 at 8:05 PM

    I hate that term, "Crack of Dawn." LOL! Sweet dreams.

  57. Dawn Marie Miller-FultonAugust 1, 2014 at 8:09 PM

    Oh my, what a connection. My great-grandfather was hit by a streetcar. Whoa.

  58. Ouch!
    Top of Dawn. Dawn of a new day. Dawn of light. Break of Dawn. Birth of Dawn. Early Dawn. Sound of Dawn.

    hmm...there are alternative to "crack". Could be a fun writing exercise for the youngins

  59. Jen,
    I love this piece. You have doe such a good job articulating the turmoil of your character, wanting to embrace the wisdom of her father, but perhaps feeling like she missed an opportunity to stand her ground in the process. It is so authentic of that strugggle we feel when addressing difficult people - the darned if I do and darned if I don't feeling.
    I agree with some of the comments about the "brick", but the overall piece here is so well crafted!
    If you ever need beta readers, let me know! (BTW, that is beta readers, not beta eaters. I'm no fan of sushi.) Blech!

  60. I can absolutely picture that little girl. May I offer a suggestion? Can you shorten the name to Sister Mary after the first mention? I feel continually using a full name actually makes me read slower (because I have to read the name, I can't skip over it). And I think you hit the right tone with the language, especially of Mrs. Schmidt.

  61. I also like to add quirky stuff that I probably won't use, like, afraid of spiders, or has a funny looking freckle on their shoulder. Things like that can inspire a scene, and even if it's deleted later, it gives me more insight. And I love the fact that your character is conflicted about taking the 'high road' because let's face it, we all want to get even, hurt the bullies who hurt us (the MC in the MG novel I'm working on is facing that dilemma.). Kudos!

  62. thanks Wendy! I've limited the number of species because I don't want to feel overwhelmed too- I'll introduce more gradually- give you all time to catch up!

  63. thanks Greg! I'm new to sci fi, so I'm going to keep it simple to start ( no Lord of the Rings epics!).I look forward to reading your work.

  64. Wendy Watts ScalfaroAugust 2, 2014 at 4:03 AM

    That's a great suggestion Charlotte. I've actually considered it, so if one person is having an issue with it, then I need to remedy that. Thank you.

  65. Wendy Watts ScalfaroAugust 2, 2014 at 4:03 AM

    Crescent moon. She was sitting on a crescent moon. (How does one sit on a half moon? This will teach me to post too late at night).

  66. Wendy Watts ScalfaroAugust 2, 2014 at 4:44 AM

    This is a lovely passage. I especially loved the phrase, "She met me in my eyes." The character details are wonderful too. I can't wait to read more!

  67. I am going to interject here. I live in a predominantly Catholic area. The nuns often have a double name beginning with Mary. In my own story, the nun is Sister Mary Corlita. I did find that one on the web. I love the way Sister Mary Rosanna makes little motions toward comfort throughout. I can see a close relationship forming already.

  68. Charlotte and Gae: thanks for the feedback! Gae, I can definitely understand what you mean...I tend to get a bit wordy when I'm trying to describe the action. This really helps...thanks!

  69. Wendy, what a scene! Lily is getting all of my love. Her sadness is so, so deep. Sister Mary Rosanna get my attention (different from love for Lily) because she is the observer for me in this story that gives me access to Lily. I like how she notices Lily's hair....did you intend mouse-brown to contrast or compliment shiny? For me, it was a bit of a contrast. IDK why....just slowed me a touch. I have questions to provoke your looking at the scene not so much as criticism but to wonder if it's important to you to deepen this moment.....Lily looks there a smell of shoe polish? soap? detergent? Is there scent of floor polish or goodness...what do nuns smell like?
    And, after so much careful observation of Lily, how does Sister Mary Rosanna react to Lily's outburst? Does she jump? glance at Mother Superior for permission to move her outta there?
    The scene is very tight. This is a compliment from me :) There aren't extra words or description that distract. I like that. I would very much like to know what comes next.

  70. oh, goodness. there was a teacher in my school that I felt this way about when I was teaching several years ago. I will refer to her as the microwave nazi or MN for short. You had me at "stop from spewing out how horrible she was as a human being". It made me wonder how old this character is because I already started to picture her. In my mind she's 12. An honest question: "by not retaliating" is that the lingo of your character or of you the author? I think of a 12 y.o. who your character is in my head as saying something like "getting back". I really do want to know more. This is sadly a universal experience for us girls. BTW, I did speak up to the MN. It did no good...but I was not surprised to hear of her legal troubles a few weeks later. Either her stress or her less than firm grasp of truth telling made her a mean bully.

  71. Thank you! I have been guessing that beta readers are the volunteers an author drafts to read and critique before submitting? All I can picture are Beta fish.

  72. Wow! I really loved that scene and actually felt my stomach tighten as the kid watches the girl read his stuff. I so easily share online....but it's damn scary to share in person! Really liked that scene. Wish I could critique....but I got nothing.

  73. Wendy Watts ScalfaroAugust 2, 2014 at 6:47 PM

    Yes, that's true Margaret about the double names. I am shortening it to Sister Mary Rose, however. Just to improve the flow of the story. Thank you for your comment.

  74. Wendy Watts ScalfaroAugust 2, 2014 at 6:48 PM

    These are excellent observations. I will certainly take into consideration the "smells" associated with this scene when I revise it, as well as reactions of Sr M.R. Thank you!

  75. Wendy Watts ScalfaroAugust 2, 2014 at 6:50 PM

    That is weird. You don't by any chance have any kind of notice about the accident do you?

  76. Oh, thank you, Gae. You pointed out the very kind of thing I'm trying to tighten up, too. And that - uh- I was really trying an almost stammer, but I see how that comes off as modern and informal almost.
    Thank you both for your input!

  77. I hate her too. I agree with Gae. I hate Josie Haines with all my heart... and I feel the sense of failure, too. So powerful. When you say that about the brick, I picture its rough, scraping edges. But I also get why like a rock. Heavy. Weighing you down. While rock-solid is a positive term in my mind. This really grabs me.