"Cold Hearts" 4: The Beta Readers

Note: This is really long because I combined what was going to be the fourth and fifth posts. I’d split them because it’s so long but I don’t think it makes sense since they’re talking about the same thing, and the last in the series should be tomorrow with the third draft. So LONG POST WARNING.

Somewhere around the twentieth rewrite, I have polished the scene until I can’t see it anymore. I’ve just spend too much damn time with it and I have no distance. That’s when I call in beta readers. For the purposes of this series, I gave my critique group, the Glindas, and my McDaniel students a second draft and asked for volunteers, which was awful of me, they should have gotten a later draft, but hey, education. You can see below how amazing they are, and what a huge, huge help good beta readers can be. As in “essential.”

Most used some variation of the Glinda/McDaniel scene critique form:
1. Who is the protagonist and what is his or her goal?
2. Who is the antagonist and what is his or her goal?
3. What expectation does this scene create?
4. What needs work?
5. What must be kept?

Please note, nobody told me how to fix things. Beta readers don’t rewrite because they’re acting as readers, not editors. They’re telling me where they tripped as they read. I need to figure out how to fix it on my own, but I can do a much better job of that when I know where my readers had trouble.

I would like to repeat my heartfelt thanks to all who put in their time on this scene. You all make me a much better writer.

Note: These critiques were done on two private writers’ blogs, There Are Many Roads To Oz, the Glinda critique group, and The Good Time Girls, the McDaniel 2012 class critique and support blog. Private blogs are a great way to critique with people you trust who are too spread out geographically to meet in person. You put the scene to be critiqued in the post and the critiques in the comments. Highly recommended as a way to do critiques.

SUE DANIC:

1. Who is the protagonist? Courtney Maxwell
2. What is the protagonist’s goal? To protect Henry and herself from the robbers
3. Who is the antagonist? The red haired robber
4. What is the antagonist’s goal? Rob the store
5. What do you expect will happen next in the story, given what you read in this scene?
Courtney will somehow connect with the 2nd guy – she doesn’t trust him, but he’s got the right level of smarts and attractiveness that he’s going to end up not being in cahoots with the 1st robber. He’s protecting her at every stage, moving between her and the gun. Playing along with her. (So, I don’t believe that he’s working with the robber.) I read this once, and trusted him despite her suspicions. Then the second time I read it, I felt more sure – the robber wouldn’t need to “set up” a 2nd person to be let in the door. Once he had the gun on them, he’d just open the door to a second person. And he wouldn’t care about making Bill take off his hat or coat. He might know “Bill,” but it’s not because he’s working with him. Courtney will find this out in the next scene.
6. What in this scene must be kept at all costs?
1. The relationship between Henry and Courtney. It’s lovely and tells me she’s likeable.
2. Courtney’s smarts – getting Henry safe and dealing with the robber by locking herself in the vault.
3. The dialogue.
4. The actual robbery feels believable and tense
“He’d be better looking if he showed up before closing.” – love lines like this
“Let him in,” Henry said.
“He’s engaged,” Courtney called back.
“Kick his ass out,” Henry said, and Courtney laughed, and the good-looking guy pulled a gun on her.
– Love, love this exchange and the ramping up of the beats when he pulls the gun
“No!” Courtney lunged between them, spreading her arms out, terrified. “No, you will not shoot Henry, he’s a grandfather! And I’m a single mother!”
– I love that she’ll do anything to protect Henry.
– I love a robber who says “sorry” and “Do I look like I’m interested in the demographics here?” and then sighs. It makes me want to root for him a bit, though pointing the guns at both Courtney and Henry makes me hate him. He’s also “philosophical” so he’s not a straight out bad guy.
“You’re going to hell,” Courtney told the jackass.
“No doubt about it.”
– I love this exchange too. It does make me like the robber despite her telling me he’s a “jackass.” But since she said “fuck you” to Jordan earlier and thought about kneecapping him in her imagination, the robber seems the lesser evil. Until she then thinks about kneecapping the robber: “kneecapping the asshole with the gun.” Then he’s equivalent to Jordan.
Don’t talk about what you don’t know, Jordan had said.
Fuck both of you.
– Okay, know I’m loving her rage towards both men
“If he copped a feel, she was going to slap him, but until then he had a nice hard chest and he wasn’t pointing a gun at her, plus she could use him as a shield, so for the moment, she was in favor of him.”
– Love, love, love this. I love “Bill.”
“You’re a thief,” Courtney said, and pointed the gun at him.
“That’s one interpretation,” Bill said.
-Love this. Love it. I can’t wait for the next scene to see who Bill really is. I suspect he’ll keep hiding a lot of what he knows. Not sure where this story will go. The robber has been thwarted. She’s got the gun. All the real problems seem over. I’m not worried for her, just curious what will happen next.
7. What in this scene needs work?
If she slammed the door and spun the combination, doesn’t that make it locked? I guess I was a little confused between vault and safe. Do most jewelry stores have both? Was she in the vault when she spun the combination to the safe? Why wouldn’t the robber just want in the safe which seems to be more in the front area of the store?
“Fuck you, Jordan, they’re junk no matter what they cost.”
– this seems overly aggressive for our intro to Courtney. As a reader, I haven’t seen Jordan to know he’s a jerk. He might be as clueless as she says, but I’m not loving Courtney for saying “fuck you” over what seems insignificant right now. It’s only a watch and sure it might represent his misguided belief in his superiority, but I only have Courtney’s opinion to go on, so I’m not buying it yet.
“Jordan didn’t like Laura Nyro, either, which told you everything you needed to know about Jordan.”
– I love this line even though I haven’t a clue who Laura Nyro is. It delivers judgment without any unpleasant smugness.
“As clueless as Jordan, who’d had the nerve to correct her in front of a customer and be wrong. Jordan knew as much about diamonds as Courtney knew about quantum mechanics, but he’d made her look like a fool.”
– “the nerve to correct her in front of a customer” makes her seem a bit unlikeable to me. Okay she says he is “wrong,” but she’s concerned about being made to “look like a fool.” I’m not loving her here. Maybe if I saw his posturing in action, then I’d be rolling my eyes at him right along with her. But just having her description of his behaviour doesn’t endear her, nor does it seem vital to what’s happening in the story at this time.
Jordan is “clueless”, a “dope” (according to Henry), he’s accused her twice of being “careless with security,” she wants to “kneecap him”(there are many more references to him than just this) – there’s a lot of time being spent on Jordan and his behaviour. If it’s not essential, I’m not sure why it’s here. (Unless, of course, Jordan is connected to the actual robbery i.e. he’s set it up.)
“What?” she said dumbfounded, and then he was knocking her back with the door as he pushed his way in.”
-the dumbfounded part doesn’t work as well. It’s a telling rather than showing. Though I love the showing of her being knocked back
“leaving Leroy an orphan.”
– I thought Henry was old enough to be a grandfather. So this feels over the top. What are you telegraphing with the name “Leroy?” It makes me think 1970’s “Good Times” TV show. Yes, I know, stereotypes abound.
“She widened her eyes at the jackass. “Please don’t shoot us.” Come back tomorrow and shoot Jordan.
The jackass sighed. “You have no idea how tempting that is, but no.”
-she doesn’t say shoot Jordan out loud, so why does he respond as if she did? And now I’m committed in believing the robber knows Jordan and doesn’t like him.
“it was that he thought that he could come in there a big ass gun and hurt people she cared about and that she was so dumb she’d have to do what he wanted—“
– love this, it tells me tons about her insecurities and motivations – you might be missing a “with” a big ass gun
“She straightened, pulled the door open, lunged inside, and slammed the vault door shut, catching Bill on the shoulder as he fell in after her. The jackass stuck his gun hand through the door, and Bill slammed it shut on his arm and the gun fell to the floor of the vault as the jackass yelled in pain. Then he yanked his arm out and Courtney slammed the door closed.”
-Love the action of this, but something about it doesn’t quite work. How can she slam it “shut” if first it’s clipping Bill and he’s falling in, then the guy’s arm is in it?

ELLEN H.

Protag: I think it’s the jackass, as he’s the one with the active goal. But Courtney is certainly our POV character
Goal: To rob the store
Antag: Courtney
Goal: To stop him
What happens next: Bonding in the vault between Courtney and “Bill.” The mystery of his connection to the jackass will be explored at least somewhat. We get to know them both a little. Something blossoms between them, although it’s largely unspoken because she doesn’t trust him and *really* doesn’t want to be played for a fool.
What must be kept: Great snappy dialogue. I like Courtney’s clear-eyed perspective on what’s important, her level head in a crisis, her resourcefulness. I mostly like her running inner chatter. I like the running gag about the “Closed” sign. Overall, huge entertainment value here and great intriguing setup and I would most definitely keep reading, so I’m hooked. And Henry. I love Henry.
What needs work: The big question mark for me is tone. If I’m meant to be scared for Courtney and Henry, or even truly worried about them, the scene didn’t achieve that for me. It feels almost farcical, with the back-and-forth patter between Courtney and Henry and Courtney and the robber, Courtney’s irreverent inner chatter, the door that keeps getting knocked on, the long-suffering, put-upon robber. It’s fun and funny, great stuff, but I can’t take it seriously. I’m not worried that anyone’s really in danger. So I’m not sure whether that’s the feel you were going for, but if I was meant to feel worried, I didn’t really.
I think the robber might be too interesting. I am assuming Bill is going to wind up being the love interest, and he is intriguing, but he’s a bit blank slate — I can’t get much of a read on him here. Meanwhile, the robber is interesting, not actually very hate-able to me despite the gun, and says unexpected things. I see potential. Not sure I’m supposed to.
Couple of logistical niggles for me. First, I wish she had a better reason for opening the door to the jackass. He’s persistent, and Henry’s pushing her to let him in, but the whole thing felt risky to me, and she herself points out she’s been in trouble about being careless with security, so I just have trouble believing she thinks it’s safe to open the door to him at all — there’s not even a chain lock to keep the door from being pushed open. Maybe if there is a chain lock that she puts her trust in, but he breaks it. Or maybe he’s dressed as a cop and holds up a badge and says they’ve had a call and he needs to check things out. Something. You’re setting her up as having a hot button about being called stupid or perceived as stupid, so I don’t think she can do anything here that is actually kind of stupid. She needs to be smart — she can still make a mistake that even a smart person would make, but it has to be set up so that the reader (feeling smart) would’ve made the same mistake. That twists the knife a bit more on her “but I’m not stupid!!” thing — if she doesn’t do anything stupid but still ends up looking like she did something stupid, that’s gonna sting.
Second little thing is that I’m not sure why the robber would have her open the door to the second guy. Obviously there’s something between them that we’re not privy to yet, so I’m willing to wait and see on this one, but I hope there’s a good reason because it would’ve been really easy for him to say, “Ignore that, we’re going to the vault.” Unless he knows something we don’t, it seems quite likely that whoever this knocker is will give up and go away, no fuss, if no one answers. So why does he take that risk?
Third little thing — where’s her cell phone? She’s a mom, so she’d have a phone that she keeps on her nearly all the time because whoever’s watching her kid might call if he/she gets sick or bumps his/her head or whatever. I am vigilant about my phone when I’m away from my kid because it happens every now and then that the school or the babysitter has to call me about something, and I’m paranoid about missing those calls. So she doesn’t have to have it, but it needs to be noted — she put it down on the counter right before she went to the door, she was charging it at the plug on the far side of the room. Just a quick mention so I can stop thinking about it, especially once she’s trapped in the vault with Bill and I wish she could call the cops from in there once she has the freedom to do so.
And what Sue said about the “no idea how tempting that is” line from the robber. Tempting to shoot Jordan? Seemed like a response to her unspoken thought.
Just read the first line again and realized why she calls the second stranger “Bill.” Nice one.

CORY LAVITT

Protag: Courtney
Antag: The guy with the gun.
Goal: Save Henry. Yes, she wants the store not to be robbed but Courtney’s primary goal is for Henry to get away, even if it endangers her.
What works:
Ellen mentioned a trouble with tone but I think you walked a Whedon-esque line (is that a word? It is now.) with this chapter and it works great. It’s not going to work for everyone but it’s a very clear and distinct tone/voice and I’m worried messing with that will make it bland. Her love and fear for Henry came across as very clear and if suddenly she’s terrified, then I think she’s a different person and this is a different book.
Just my two cents on that one.
Love how Courtney thinks on her feet and I now have “Marry me, Bill!” as an earworm. Thanks a lot, Crusie.
Henry’s personality also comes through very clearly as well, especially being mullish about giving over his gun.
Love the mystery of what might happen next, I’m fascinated at the possible connection between the thieves, and how it’s all going to work out.
And I hate Jordan already.
What needs work:
Just logistics that should be fixed easily. I think giving the name of the singer adds one too many names in the beginning of the story, at least for my poor brain to handle. Maybe just say “and the next song on the album started to play. Jordan hated this music…” but your wording will be better.
The blocking of the vault and how they’re opening it could be clearer, as I’m not sure what’s where as yet and had to stop and read a few times.
And that’s it. The voice comes through in spades. Don’t mess with that.

MICKI Y.

Protag: Courtney, who wants to go home (negative goal is to keep the store from being robbed.
Antag: You’ve got three guys antagonizing her . . . but I don’t think Henry is the real antag of the scene. I’d say she feels Unknown Guy is the biggest danger, but Bill is the guy she ends the scene with.

Needs work: When Henry’s asking for grandkids, I assume Courtney is single, so Bill’s entrance is a bit of a surprise.

You’ve got one bad-guy Bill in your canon, so eventually, you might think about a name change for the fiance. No hurry.

You drop a big hint that the Unknown Guy is going to be the romantic lead, and UG starts out apologetic. But, now that we know the robbery was a planned, inside job, it seems unlikely that UG is just an “accidental criminal.”

Keepers: I do love the twists in this short scene — UG goes from a romantic figure to bad guy; Bill goes from somewhat bearable fiance to bad guy (worse guy, actually). And it’s so funny. I love the Krav Maga line, and the “he’s going to know bullet wounds” follow-up.

JILL W

1. Who is the protagonist in this scene and what is her/his goal?
Courtney wants to close the shop, go home to her kid and fantasize about kneecapping her boss.

2. Who is the antagonist in this scene and what is her/his goal?
The Jackass with the gun. He says it’s a robbery, but I don’t think it’s the usual kind.

3. What expectations have been raised by the scene? (What do you think is going to happen in the next scene, much later in the book, at the end of the story?)

I expect it’s a love story, because the first thing I learn is that Henry the security guard is perpetually on the lookout for a man for Courtney. It should be one of the two guys in the first scene, but I don’t know what to make of them. Jackass is good-looking, has a warm smile, and is funny which makes me like him despite the gun and the robbery. Weird but true. Bill is terrific looking, great smile, fantastic dialogue, plus Courtney automatically calls him her fiancé and names him Bill (she’s just been singing ‘C’mon and marry me, Bill’). And he holds her close and has a great chest, and he gets locked in the vault with her, so I’m thinking it’s him, even though he’s a mystery and he actually says ‘no heroes here.’

I think it’s a caper because I have no feeling of jeopardy. I’m not scared for Courtney or Henry at any point, even though Jackass and Henry are both armed, and Jackass is making threats. I think it’s a comedy because neither side seems very competent. Courtney opens the door – twice – knowing she should not, and the vault isn’t even locked. Henry is a security guard but he’s not exactly poised for action. Jackass needs Courtney’s help to tie Henry up, doesn’t even check that she’s done it properly, allows her to let Bill into the shop, allows Henry to sneak out the back door, loses his gun and messes up the heist. Neither Courtney nor Henry seems truly afraid, and Jackass has all the time in the world. Bill fits right in and plays along. The dialogue is fantastic.

I think the true bad guy of the story will turn out to be Jordan. He comes across as a much bigger asshole than Jackass or Bill. If I’m writing the rest of the story in my mind, I think Jordan did something bad to Jackass or has something that belongs to him that Jackass wants back. Bill is involved in the situation somehow – so he’s not a cop, can’t be an insurance investigator (because of Ford in Faking It) but he’s got that kind of feel. Courtney and Henry will help Jackass to get the Thing back. Courtney will end up with Bill but she won’t know exactly who/what he is for most of the book.

Getting way ahead of myself, I could even imagine more than one story with Courtney and Bill as a team, doing whatever he does, solving problems.

4. What needs work in this scene? (Be specific without rewriting.)

I guess it’s deliberate that I don’t know where I stand with either Jackass or Bill, don’t even know their names, but it left me disoriented. I’m with Courtney, but I don’t know who else I’m with or against, except I’m against Jordan.

I never got the impression that Courtney was scared, even though you said she was terrified. It didn’t worry me, because the first thing Jackass says is “Really sorry about this,” which means her subconscious might have decided he’s not going to shoot and she’s free to be feisty with him. Plus it would seem natural for the ‘fight or flight’ adrenaline rush to lead Courtney to fight first and feel scared later. (I once walked in on a twentysomething guy robbing my office, going through my handbag. I charged across the room, grabbed him by the front of his shirt and lifted him off the floor, yelling for the police. Later the police kindly pointed out that wasn’t the smartest thing I could have done.)

In the first instance I wondered why Courtney and Henry didn’t decide to stay safe and let Jackass take the diamonds. Courtney’s a single mother, she despises Jordan, and she even says she’s not going to get shot for some stupid diamonds. I understand that when Jackass calls Courtney stupid he presses the hot button and then everything changes and she has to defeat him.

I can understand that Courtney opened the door to Jackass, even though she wasn’t supposed to. I had a problem with her opening the door to Bill. She’d just made a big mistake with Jackass, who looked harmless. Bill looked tall and shadowy. By the end of the scene I’d decided the story was a caper, so I relaxed about all the things that had initially worried me – Courtney being as bad about security as Jordan said, Henry being a sloppy guard, Jackass being a not-very-good robber, and Bill just strolling in and fitting seamlessly into the action rather than being freaked out to find himself in the middle of a robbery.

I get that Jordan is a moron, that he’s perpetually belittling Courtney, and that she loves to hate him, but I felt a little bit hit over the head about it. I would have easily got there on my own and enjoyed doing a little more work.

Small point, but I wondered why there wasn’t a silent alarm linked to the police. Any jeweler that has bullet proof glass and an armed guard would surely have had an alarm button or two around the place. Sometimes at foot level. One of Henry or Courtney should easily have been able to trigger an alarm. Unless (say) it needed fixing and Courtney should have done it, and hadn’t.

I wasn’t 100 per cent sure whether Jordan knows a hell of a lot about diamonds or thinks he knows a lot but does not. I was 100 per cent sure he’s an obnoxious dickhead.

I was mostly occupied with who Jackass and Bill were and what they were really up to. I wasn’t really worried about how Courtney would defeat them, so I was entertained when she locked herself in the vault but I didn’t get a big payoff from it.

5. What must be kept?

I really enjoyed this scene. It was a lot of fun to read.
I liked all the characters, even the ones I’m not sure I was supposed to like.
I loved Courtney’s angry, cranky, funny voice. She’s my kind of heroine.
I hope I got the general idea of the story right, because I liked the slightly slapstick feel and I’d love it to continue that way.
Jackass and Bill are both hot, which put a smile on my face right away.
There was great chemistry between all the characters. I’d like to see more of Bill and Jackass, and I want to see them team up with Courtney to bring Jordan down. I haven’t even met him and I hate him already.
I loved the dialogue, which was snappy and engaging and funny.
I’d buy this book. I’d love to read the rest of it.

ELIZABETH E:

Read through the scene a few times and I’d definitely keep reading to see what happens next. Really enjoyed Courtney, but then I’m a sucker for angry snarky heroines – possibly because I am an angry snarky heroine myself. Henry comes across as a kindly bumbling sort – not exactly what I’d look for in a security guard, but he adds a nice family feel to the scene. I like the fact that the true natures of the jackass and Bill are a mystery at the end of the scene and neither one is painted as irretrievably bad off the bat. The pacing of the scene was really engaging once Courtney finished her mental Jordon remembrances and started the action and the dialog rang true.

That said, there were a couple of things that didn’t quite work for me. First off, why does Courtney open the door? Sure Henry is making comments about grandkids, but Courtney is closing up and wants to go home – why does she open the door even if it is just to say they are closed. I could see if she decided to open the door because she needed just one more sale to show Jordan she could out sell him, or some such thing, but otherwise, what real motivation does she have to go to the door – especially if Jordan has “accused me twice of being careless with security.”

Second, why doesn’t the store have an alarm or a panic button or something and why is the vault open? Not that I know anything about vaults in jewellery stores, but it surprised me that it would be open and that easy to access.

Third – and what gave me the biggest pause – why doesn’t Courtney just let the jackass take what he wants? She has a kid – wouldn’t playing it safe make more sense than letting him push her “she was so dumb she’d have to do what he wanted” button. There is no indication that the store or its contents are important to her, so why take the risk?

JEANNE E.

It’s interesting that no one else found Jackass a real threat. Hamlet says, “…a man may smile, and smile, and be a villain,” and that was my take on Jackass–he was a smiling, damned villain. Using a gun to rob a store is aggravated robbery because exponentially incresases the chance somone’s going to get shot. I read Jackass as a sociopath who would smile while he shot an old man and a single mom to get what he wanted. Which is why his catching his arm in the vault door and losing his gun really rang a false note with me (and not the wedding bell blues).

Courtney tells us she’s terrified, but that doesn’t really come across in the action. As many people get killed by incompetent criminals as psychopathic ones–maybe even more, if you believe the Cohen brothers–so.I felt like she should have been terrified–thinking desperately that she doesn’t want her kid being raised her his/her father, or fleeting thougts of things she hasn’t had a chance to do–your basic “life flashing before her eyes” stuff.

I liked Courtney enough I would have been willing to read more of her, even without the recommendation of the book being a Crusie novel, but the scene read like a play script–all dialogue and stage direction. (I suspect this is what Jenny’s eary drafts generally read like, though I don’t know that.)

The other thing I’m not sure about is Courtney being so interested in marriage. As the scene starts she’s singing along to “Wedding Bell Blues,” she banters with Henry about giving him (not really) grandkids, and she immediately casts Bill in the role of fiance. Taken together, in such a short space, that makes her come across as husband hungry. That feels out of synch with today’s view of marriage as a much less desirable state than it used to be.

MICKI (responding to Jeanne)

Yeah, but that’s not the meme (-:. If the bad guy says he’s sorry about all this, he’s probably a good guy at heart, just forced into this by circumstances. I don’t see Jackass as the real bad guy at all — I expect he’s going to be the romantic hero of the piece.

Note on Laura Nyro:
Brilliant singer/song writer. Although most of her songs were hits for other artists–“When I Die” for BS&T, “Wedding Bell Blues” for the Fifth Dimension, “Stoney End” for Streisand–an impressive number of musicians cite her as a major influence, including Joni Mitchell, Elton John, Elvis Costello, Bette Midler, Todd Rundgren, Cyndi Lauper, and Steely Dan. I love that list because their music is all over the place, but they all learned from Nyro and talk about her influence. So she’s a behind-the-scenes genius, feeding other people’s genius. I think that’s Courtney in a lot of ways, too. Nyro is one of my role models; she never became hugely famous, but she did good work and she inspired others to do good work. That’s a pretty damn good legacy. Click here for her version of Wedding Bell Blues.

And back to me . . .
So, the third rewrite. Big changes needed.

One of the things you may have noticed in the critiques was that they pinpointed different things. It’s always better to get several critiques because different readers see different things. Also if there’s anything you’re resisting changing and more than one critiquer mentions it, cowgirl up and fix it.

So I learned A LOT from those critiques. There were a lot of little fixes–clear up the different between the safe and the vault, for example, and Courtney opening the door and a silent alarm–but that’s just mopping up, and thank you all very much for the directions.

The harder stuff: Courtney as an protagonist (Ellen didn’t think she was because she’s not the pro-active one in the scene; she has a negative goal), tone (is this supposed to be funny or frightening?), and that hero. Let’s start with him.

The hero has to change completely. He’s just not interesting, there’s no juice (a problem with my writing lately), so there’s no reason for Courtney to engage with him, so he makes no impact. There should be impact when a romance heroine meets the romance hero. He should move the heroine out of her comfort zone and not just because oh-my-god-he’s-hot because that’s just dumb. Anybody can stammer because a guy is good-looking; I need to see who and what he is jack into her deepest hopes and fears (which means I have to get some of that on the page so the reader knows about them). When a romance hero is so vanilla that readers don’t recognize him as a hero, there’s a problem.

And that takes me back to Courtney because she’s the center of my story, so the hero has to be Courtney’s Guy, the character she falls for in spite of herself. As she’s on the page, she’s still too shrill, too bitchy about Jordan, too all over the place. She has a thing about being underestimated, starting with her college prof father who thinks she stupid because she got Cs all the way through school, her boss Jordan patronizes her, and now Colin, the robber, thinks she’s too dumb to know what’s going on (well, she doesn’t, but she’s smart enough to know there’s something hinky about the robbery). Except that’s not working, so new fear/anger-button. Enter the new hero. Somehow who and what he is has to push her over the edge and propel her into the next scene where she’s locked in a vault with him and ready to kill him. And whatever that is, it would be good if made them doppelgangers or opposite numbers, some kind of deep identity relationship that will pull them together. No, I have no idea what that could be, this is only the third freaking draft, people. I won’t get that until about the twentieth. But if I ever write this, it’ll be there eventually because I know it exists.

Courtney’s fear also has to be real in this scene, not terror, it’s a caper, but she has to be pushed outside her normal actions by strong emotion. But this scene also has to be a harbinger of what is to come, because her story antagonist is not Colin. Colin’s a minion, a good minion, a minion for hire who will probably switch sides later, and he is the antagonist in this scene, but the subtext is that the conflict will be between Courtney and the story antagonist, foreshadowing the complications to come. She’s caught up in a conspiracy, but she doesn’t know it yet. That makes it harder, but she should see something shadowy moving in her peripheral vision, metaphorically speaking. She should catch a scent of the story antagonist, she should think, “This is weird, there’s something about this that’s off,” she has to set up the expectation that there’s something nasty in the woodshed. This scene has to set up the entire novella and right now, it’s just Courtney bitching.

Which brings us to tone. The tone is all over the place because I don’t know what the tone for the novella is yet. It’s the problem with writing the first scene first. You really can’t write the first scene until you’ve written the last scene because the first scene sets up the last scene. But I need to write the first scene first so I can keep writing and see what happens until I get to the end. I know the slapstick feel is because the pace here is still frenetic. The suspense aspect is because there’s a gun in the room, no matter how charming Colin is being as he waves it around. The tone has to come from Courtney, and she’s the only person who doesn’t have a clue about what’s really happening. So as it always does, it comes back to the protagonist, who she is, what she wants, what she’s afraid of, how she’s going to interpret her problem and the actions she takes to handle it.

So Courtney’s tired. It’s been a long day. Jordan was a jerk. It’s Saturday night and the store is closed on Sunday. She just wants to get home. But that’s not enough, it’s not enough that Jordan is a jerk, there has to be more, so Jordan tells her that one more screw-up and she’s fired, even though she hasn’t been screwing up, he has. Frustration, outrage, fear, that’s good. And Henry does not have arthritis, Henry has a heart condition, he just had something done, he should not be under stress. Then I have to get Leroy out of the equation (it’s hell writing a sequel) so he’s somewhere with Prescott and Nanny Joy and Trudy and whatever Trudy’s husband’s name is (can’t remember), and he’s safe, and she’s supposed to join them the next day (Sunday) and she’s dreading that, and then in comes Colin with his gun, spurring Henry’s heart to pump faster and putting Courtney into action. That’s MUCH better. Of course 90% of that can’t be on the page, so that’s harder to write, but at least it makes sense.

The first beat is Courtney and Henry in the stable world, closing up shop, Henry trying to comfort Courtney, singing with Nyro to make her laugh. Then Colin shows up with the gun, and Courtney reacts to that: She’s not stupid. She’ll protect Henry and hit the panic button.

The second beat has to be Courtney in action, getting Henry out before he has a heart attack, giving Colin whatever he wants, stalling for the police, setting a good plan in motion before Ten walks in the door.

The third beat is Ten coming in and changing the dynamic. BRAND NEW HERO. The antagonist is still Colin, but Ten complicates things, gives Courtney another plate to spin, must amend her plan. Not sure that’s enough to rachet up the tension, swing things in a new direction. Well, a new entrant into the conflict is always a new direction, but he’d better be amazing. Of course, he has to be amazing anyway because he’s the goddamn hero. ARGH.

The fourth beat then is Courtney putting her amended plan into action, which of course, goes wrong. The two things she really needs in this scene to fix the problems the betas found are a plan and action. Oh, and motivation for not just handing over the damn diamonds, which I can’t think of, so she’s going to agree to hand over the damn diamonds. And it has to be a plan that gets her into the vault with Ten, which pushes her into the next scene and makes the reader turn the page to see what happens.

Okay. I can do that. I may not get it all in the next draft, but I can keep chipping away at it. I just need to cogitate . . . .

Back tomorrow with the third but not nearly the final draft, although it’s the last one I’ll post here. Rewriting. Argh.


Link to last post in series.

14 thoughts on “"Cold Hearts" 4: The Beta Readers

  1. This “rewrite series” is terrific. So fascinating and SO helpful. It’s that classic writer’s advice: Show, Don’t Tell. Only you’re telling us, too – explaining some of the showing – which makes it even better. Thank you.

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  2. This is really educational. I’m glad someone mentioned the “spinning the combination” thing, I was going to ask about that but since I know nothing about safes or vaults I didn’t. I’m also glad you said Colin (the robber, right?) is a minion because he struck me as just a guy doing his job. He wants to steal what he came to steal and go home. He’s a professional and he doesn’t want these amateurs (Courtney and Henry) screwing things up. I felt his heart wasn’t in the threats, he was just making them so everyone will do what they are supposed to and they can all just go home.

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  3. This was very informative. Taught me a couple of things and probably will teach me more when I go through it all again. And actually gave me a glimmer of an itch to write. Problem (BIG PROBLEM) is, I want to rewrite THIS scene not build one of my own. But I will restrain myself. Because, not only is it not mine, nobody could ever do it better than you. Maybe it’s a beginning of the end of the pause in the writing? HA! I like that. To decide to think of it as a PAUSE instead of a BLOCK. We just have to figure out how to release the pause button. (Just. Just?)

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  4. This is working out for me. Okay. I am not too interested in the hero yet because all he seems to be doing is screwing up Courtney’s plans. He seems to be trying to protect her but if he just got out of her way she would be just fine. No wonder she thinks he is part of the heist. Although I did wonder what Jason? Jordon? whoever had in the vault. Maybe it was something the hero wanted a look at. Maybe it isn’t jewelery at all. Maybe it’s money laundering or something. Where is jewelry made these days? Most of it isn’t custom stuff. Or is it? See. It engaged me.

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  5. I have reread your comments on the antagonist. Has he made an appearance? Jason strikes me as the equivalent of Colin. Someone who is for hire. Competent in some respects, not to great in others. Not the antagonist. Can Jason fire Courtney? Did he hire Courtney or did the store owner? How did Courtney get the job? Did Jason or the Owner know Courtney’s dad, ex or the ex’s girlfriend.

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  6. This was really informative, especially the beta readers’ comments because I’ve not been a beta reader since I was in a terrific writer’s group just out of college, so this reminds me of what I used to know. And they were all really good, useful comments.

    I look forward to the next rewrite.

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  7. Maybe the diamonds aren’t really what Colin is supposed to get. So he asks for the diamonds, Courtney hands them over, but for some reason he doesn’t just take them and leave.

    Just wondering.

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  8. Jason blusters he’ll fire Courtney for incompetence, but he’s the one neglecting to fix the misfiring panic button. . . as his part in a conspiracy?

    And, yes, ooh ooh, I love this so far. Story and evolution’s so much fun.

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  9. I love seeing other critiquers comments! This kind of critique work is educational just when I do it on my own, but it’s fascinating (and a great learning experience) to see what I’ve missed.

    (-: I have to start sending Japanese crackers to my classmates so I can keep ’em as critiquers after class is over. More precious than rubies . . . . (And I should look into building a different critique group with a different set of criteria. The more, the merrier.)

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  10. When you write a first draft, do you think about how a scene moves the story forward before you write it, or do you just write what the girls send up and deal with the rest later?

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    1. I just write what the Girls send up.
      If you start to think about it, you create static and get in your own way. The thing to remember is that you can fix ANYTHING. Basic craft education will give you the tools to fix what’s wrong; after that, it’s just thinking about it and getting feedback. But you only write a scene for the first time once. You have to have fun with it, let it flow, go anywhere it needs to, don’t look down.
      Most of the time my first drafts don’t even have clear antagonists. This scene has three. Must fix that. Later.

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  11. Oy, I go off line at the lake for 4 days, and look what I miss…4 Jenny posts. What are the odds of that. Okay, gotta catch up.

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