Monday, March 30, 2009

An example to illustrate...

One of my coaching students emailed me last week to do an edit. I gave her a very detailed critique on her opening paragraph. I then thought that what I shared might help other writers so I asked her permission to share it with you.

I have kept her anonymous to protect the innocent [and if she is entering Genesis she will want to STAY anonymous] but, if she chooses to reveal herself in the comments, I hope she'll tell you some of how she applied all of this to her full WIP. Please pay particular attention to the ways to construct questions in the reader's mind. It is not the only way, but it is one way. The key is understanding WHY you want to do that and how it will help you improve your writing.

For those of you who have wondered about my editing and coaching, this is a sample of what you get. I hope it will help all of you.

Her opening read:

I gripped the steering wheel as Nikko slept in his kennel in the back of the jeep. The phone call that interrupted dinner was from Sheriff Logan, telling me a six year old girl went missing. The longer the child is missing the more difficult to pick up the scent. So far, they have not been successful.
Before leaving Boones Creek, I drove through McDonalds at the edge of town for a cup of strong coffee. Nikko had water in his kennel, besides he sleeps while I’m driving.

This is what I said to her:

I really see that you've improved.

As I started the first paragraph I started some changes [suggestions] to you. Look below-

You gripping the steering wheel and Nikko sleeping aren’t related. It is better to say something like.

I gripped the steering wheel and tried to process everything Sheriff Logan had said. Behind me Nikko slept soundly in his kennel. His near silent breathing the only noise besides the thundering of my heart. Another girl missing, a six year old, and Nikko and I were needed. Every second that ticked past would make the scent harder for Nikko to pick up. How long had she been missing? How old was the scent?

Nikko let out a muffled whimper from his slumber. Was he dreaming of chasing a rabbit through the woods or was he running to escape the nightmares like I do?

I want to tell you what it is I was doing here and why. Gripped is a GREAT verb but we need more. Therefore I have her gripping the steering wheel PROCESSING what the Sheriff said. Immediately the reader starts to wonder what the sheriff said, what her relationship with the sheriff is, what we are going to find out next. She could have heard a loved one was dead. Maybe she is under suspicion for a crime. We don't know. So the reader will keep reading to find out the answer.

You had the dog sleeping in the kennel but it seemed like a distraction before BUT by HEARING the breathing it engages more of our senses and we start to experience the scene a bit more. Now we are in a car, there is a dog sleeping behind her and we can hear it breathe. "But what did the sheriff say and what does this DOG have to do with anything?" The reader still wonders.

Her heart is thundering. She is gripping the steering wheel. Both indicate stress or fear...hmmm, the reader wonders why.

Next, a girl is missing. And the heroine is needed with the dog. Okay, he is a service dog. A blood hound? A cadaver dog? No, the next sentence indicates that the scent could grow cold. That means we hope the girl is still alive. So the reader keeps reading because we still have the unanswered question of why the narrator is so upset? Then we learn of the time constraint. We want to yell to her "Stop sitting there!!! Go find the girl !!!"

Then we HEAR the dog again [see, how we have touch and hearing weaving through this scene]. Anyone familiar with a dog knows what this sounds like, but we add a sinister twist to it. The heroine wonders if the dog is dreaming happily or if it is tortured LIKE SHE IS!!

This question of her internal struggle is "BRIDGING CONFLICT". Go look at it in "Writing the Breakout Novel" and you'll see it's function. This is a lingering question you don't want to answer too quickly. This is ALL just the opening paragraph. The FIRST paragraph of your story. Compare this to what you wrote and you'll see that I simply added some unspoken questions to the readers mind as they read. You see some I introduced and then quickly answered. Others I introduced and left unanswered.

The big thing is add more senses. You have a great framework to do this with. You had the dog sleeping, I introduced the sound of his snores...

So read through and start to think of places you an include sensory details [the five senses]...and try to associate many of them with an emotion as well. "The comforting smell of pine pulled her back to grandma's house and the pine trees that bristled outside her window at night. It was her safe place and the one she always imagined escaping to when life at home became too terrifying." Do you see how you've learned a bit about the character, her relationship with her grandma and her childhood all because of a smell?

So, look over your MS and see how you can add those things [we don't want to over do it. Descriptions are like salt. =) ]

I hope this helps.

So, if you've ever wondered what I do when I coach and offer edits, now you know. I hope all of you will see a nugget in here that will help you in your writing. If you have any questions you can contact me through my website or

Tiffany Colter is a writer, speaker and writing career coach who works with beginner to published writers. She can be reached through her website at
Learn more about Tiffany's Marketing techniques on her main blog.
Common-sense money management is free at The Balanced Life website.
Read Tiffany's award winning manuscript "A Face in the Shadow" on her fiction blog.
She writes a blog for the Christian writer Tuesdays at Writer's Rest.


Nora St. Laurent said...

This was VERY, Very informative. Thank you for sharing this. I loved how you broke it out. It was easy to understand the throught process that way.

Thanks again for all you do friend.

Nora :D

Paulette Harris said...

Tiffany, I love how you explain your corrections and advice. They are so easy to understand and sometimes I think to myself..."Why in the world didn't I think of that?" You are talented at clarifying and simplifying thoughts.
Hugs to you.

Paulette Harris

Your Coach for the Journey, Tiffany Colter said...

I'm glad this has been so helpful for all of you. Please ReTweet me if you are on Twitter!! Simply right-click the title of the blog, copy the link and post it on Twitter. Since it is too long, put it through first [it will make the link 25 characters].

Keep Writing!

Anonymous said...

Every second counts, but... she's going to stop for coffee?

career coaching said...

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