Welcome to week three Boot Campers! It’s hump week, and we’re going to blaze over the hump with determination! (Even if our manuscripts are a little bloody by now.)
I asked participants what the workshop for this week should be and got tons of suggestions. After a lot of thought (and coffee), I decided to go with something that allowed a bit more self-direction, so that each individual can get the sort of help they need.
So without further ado, I unveil to you workshop #3:
Help Me, Help Me!
Got a question about your manuscript? A tricky scene you’re trying to write? Not sure if you’re implementing what you’ve learned correctly? Come on down and ask for help!
The Rules (follow them or else!):
- Each participant may post two requests for help. No more than that!
- Requests for help may include up to 250 words from your manuscript.
- Requests for help do not have to include an excerpt from your manuscript if not relevant or helpful.
- The total word count of the post must be under 350 words (this allows people to get to everyone rather than getting stuck on one really long post).
- Questions must be directly related to your own manuscript. No general writing, editing, or publishing questions. Most of these can be answered with a simple Google search or by reading other articles on the site.
- Please no query letters. We will be having a query letter critique the last week of the course.
- Which version of this do you like more? (Include both examples.)
- What genre is my novel? (Include a brief summary.)
- Am I successfully avoiding an info dump here? (Include an excerpt.)
- Does this dialogue sound natural? (Include an excerpt.)
- Does my villain seem cliché? (Include a description or excerpt.)
- Is this a strong description or is it too long? (Include an excerpt.)
- Any other questions that are specifically related to your novel.
I hope this workshop allows participants to get the tailored help they need.
Please don’t forget to comment on other Boot Campers’ questions. A helpful camper is a happy camper!
Connect with Other Novel Boot Camp Participants
Need a writing friend? Got a question? Need a shoulder to cry on? We’re there for you!
I will be answering writing and editing questions on our Twitter hashtag as time allows. Due to the insane volume of emails I’m receiving, I cannot provide free advice or assistance via email. Thank you!
What is Novel Boot Camp?
Novel Boot Camp is a free online novel writing course focused on identifying and correcting problems in your novel. Learn more about Novel Boot Camp and find past (and future) posts here.
151 thoughts on “Novel Boot Camp – Workshop #3: Help Me, Help Me!”
Am concerned about my opening scene. It involves a murder, and I do not want to give away too much detail so as to let on who the killer is and who the victim is. Is there enough detail and setting for the reader?
“I’m not here to kill you.”
“Please, please don’t hurt me.”
Her eyes fixed on the pistol through her tears.
“Listen to me.”
“Please, I beg you.”
Their raised voices were the only sounds in her bedroom.
“Shut up and listen.”
“Text him like I said. Now.”
Her shaking fingers texted what she had been told.
“Now, I’m going to leave. I’m taking your gun with me. Close your eyes. Count to a hundred out loud. I’m listening til I get out the door. If I hear you stop I’m going to come back up here and shoot you.”
Her sobbing picked up.
“Do you understand?”
She was close to hysterical now.
“I’m going to have to shoot you now or are you going to do this.”
She clenched her eyes.
“One, two, three… .”
The killer squeezed the trigger, and the last thing the victim saw was the barrel beside her head.
Ever so slightly her head turned as the blast went through her head.
The killer fled.
It had started with a divorce.
I feel that you need to describe more of the scene, this is a murder it’s exciting/scary/tense, but these feelings have to be built up within the scene. When he say’s he won’t kill her why does he say that, what is the reason for this murder you have the killer act like a robber and then drop a line that it all started with a divorce. What I’m saying is who commits murder to force a woman to send a text. Is he not mad at her, does he hate her, if so wouldn’t he want her to be scared. Murder has a motive and I am not seeing the motive her, I know you don’t want to give away to much, but if you don’t give me some more I can’t invest in the story because I don’t know enough. Show us if he’s angry or is he cool and calm, is this a moment of passion, or a calculated decision. You can show this by making her smell liquor on his breath, or have him slur his speech, If calculated, he could have a little bag, and gloves, maybe spread out a tarp, and prepare the killing floor, while the victim struggles and wets herself. Give me clues, and then I can piece it together. Also if she is resisting the killer not doing what he wants, you need to show more of a struggle maybe have him beat her a little, because I don’t understand why he killed her, I see kind of where it might be because she didn’t do what he wanted, but it’s unclear. Sorry I’m not meaning to be harsh, I like you style, and see a lot of promise in your dialogue. Keep writing.
Hey, not harsh at all. Thank you very much. Very good feedback.
I do like the fact that you’re opening with this scene. it’s really tense and it drew me in right away. As far as setting goes, I know they are in a bedroom and maybe the house is otherwise empty since it is quiet except for their voices. You could add something about if it’s dark or light–can she see him well, or can she just barely make out his face? Is she on the bed? Is he standing over her?
As far as details go, I’d like to see more description to go along with the dialogue. Is his voice calm? Is her voice trembling or filled with panic? This scene is observed and is not in either’s POV, but we will be able to feel her fear if you describe more details. I feel like this is the bare bones of the scene, and now you need to go back and fill in the details.
When he shoots her, it is a shock, because she did as he ordered, but he shoots her anyway. I like this part a lot!
Just a few more things I noticed: her sobbing picked up sounds stange to me. How about: her sobbing increased. “I’m going to have to shoot you now, or…” should be: “Am I going to have to shoot you now, or are you going to do this?” She clenched her eyes sounds weird. I’d say: She squeezed her eyes shut and nodded. If her eyes are closed she wouldn’t see the barrel of the gun at her head. It’s better if she doesn’t see it coming. I wouldn’t refer to them as the killer and the victim.
Hope I didn’t give you more feedback than you wanted. It is a good hook; you just need to give us a little more detail to put us there in that bedroom.
Excellent! Thank you very much for your thoughtful and helpful comments. I’ve got a 71K word first draft, and wrote this scene afterwards (on advice of my father-in-law). Trying to be very careful not to give things away, and I believe your suggestions do that. If I may help reviewing anything, I hope you will let me know.
Would this be a better start than my first questions post, this was supposed to be the fourth chapter but after earlier posts I realized that maybe the meeting of the alien was more an inciting incident than when he first responds to the voice in his head. Alright just tell me what you think, which would be a better start?
The brothers followed the path of destruction; faces illuminated by a hellish glow. Avery and Doug walked through a half mile wide streak of flattened trees and clean scrapped ground. The forest shoved aside for two miles. Charred trunks and red earth shoved into a huge pile three men high at the paths end.
“I can’t breathe Avery, the winds changing, fires coming this way, I don’t wanna die out here,” Doug’s voice muffled by his shirt.
“Stop worrying the winds still blowing across us…” Avery turned, “and anyway we’re already here.”
‘HELP…HURTS…HURTSSS!’ the voice blared now.
“You heard it that time didn’t you, I know you did.”
“Yeah, maybe…but…Look, let’s just go back it’s not safe.” Doug looked down.
“What? No…come on you heard that, we can’t leave them here.” Avery added, ”Besides, the fire is going the other direction…”
“I wasn’t talking about the fire…Damn! Avery wait up.”
A pile of charred trunks and churned earth grew from the smoke and dust. Avery examined the impromptu hill; craned his neck to see the top.
“One cracked out beaver, huh…” Doug joked
“Yeah…” Avery trailed off distracted.
‘HELP…HURTS…TIME NO MORE…TIME…’ the voice called.
The men exchanged glances.
“What is that?” Avery asked as he examined the towering stack of trunks piled onto the craters far side.
“I don’t know an asteroid, maybe?”
“Meteor, asteroids are in space,” Avery said as he pointed toward the pile; Doug rolled his eyes. “But I meant, that little bit of silver right there,”
sorry I had another thought why doesn’t he just steal her phone and send the text himself, it’s a text no one knows who wrote it. Shouldn’t he be trying to make her place a call or write a letter idk just a last thought,
Yes! I think you’ve got it now. This is definitely the place to start your story, in my opinion. This way you don’t have to explain all this later with backstory and flashbacks, etc. That said, it still needs some fixing up.
Comma rather than semicolon after destruction.
Cleans crapped should be clean-scraped.
half mile high and three men high should have dashes in them
I’d cut the sentence about the forest being shoved aside, and the next sentence shoud have “were” before shoved.
Say: Doug said, his voice muffled by his shirt.
“You heard it that time..” should be “You heard it that time, didn’t you? I know you did.”
Look, lets just go back, it’s not safe should be two sentences.
I’d say: When they reached the pile of singed trunks and churned earth, Avery examined the impromptu hill through the smoke and dust, craning his neck to see the top
“The men exchanged glances.”– How old are they? I was thinking teens up until this statement.
I’m glad you posted this for feedback because this is so much better for an opening. Stuff is happening here-exciting stuff. Good job!
thank you I do like you version of the pile sentence, and the addition to the dialogue, thanks for the comments
I think this is a much better intro. I can picture what’s happening in this verse. Nice job.
Couple things that slowed me down. When you refer to “trunks” I think you mean “tree trunks”. Why not say “tree trunks?” I think that’s a pretty important adjective for visualizing purposes.
Doug’s voice is muffled by his shirt…why? I assume when he said that he couldn’t breath, he had pulled his shirt up over his nose? If that’s the case then you need to specify when that had happened..
The line “I wasn’t talking about the fire…Damn! Avery wait up.”
Where did Avery go? You never told us.
Just add something at the end of the previous line. “Besides, the fire is going in the other direction.” Avery then sprinted towards the fireball…or something like that. that way the next line makes sense.
This is the ending of the 3rd chapter in my novel. It is a pivotal point for this character. The set up before this excerpt is she is working in her garden. I am purposely playing with sentence structure, trying to create a “flow” to the writing. But have I gone too far?
And onward IT drifts, closer still, as I nestle into the lingering scent of moonflower petals, drifting over my intoxication, over the slow inhalation of all that fills my garden.
And there, underneath such fine splendor, I detect the first molecules that hint of a different future. I lift my face to the warming sun, unsure of this initial perception, and take another long breath, and soon my lungs fill with an overwhelming comprehension.
And at last, I know.
Instead of the crack of an approaching thunderstorm, the changes in my life have reached me on the edges of a subtle breeze.
I stand and look to the distant hills and blink hard against the low-sun glare. My hand coming to shield my eyes. Scanning… Searching…
And there IT is.
Against the back woods. A small patch of grey. Lifting Tall. Eerie. An enemy’s flag rising.
The spade slips from my fingers, clangs against the bucket tin and the kitten darts off for cover. And I alone see the horizon’s smoke that rises pale above the tree line before hooking eastward on the morning trade.
And I gather the possibility of other details, other events besides this place, this time, circumstances temporally shifted, unfolding somehow here in this moment, as I step toward the back gate, knowing already what I will find, for the motion of what is to come has already been set even before I lift the gate’s crossbar and head out across the open field.
This is awesome – poetic, engaging, and intriguing. Is there a fire? Everything goes from beautiful to eerie/suspenseful. I like it. I would just suggest cutting out a couple words here and there to help with flow (though this may simply be a preference thing?)
“underneath such fine splendor” – delete “such”
“….unsure of this initial perception, and take another long breath” Create a new sentence – “Soon my lungs fill with an overwhelming comprehension”
Some of the many “and’s” work well, I think, but it’s become too repetitive for me, I suggest weeding out a few and see how that works. Good luck!
Thanks! Yes there is a distant fire.
It does feel choppy rereading it now. I had pulled some things out to meet the posting word limit, but you’re right, this version reads a bit wordy. I have been purposely toying with the repeat use of “and” as a way to blend sentences, but it definitely needs more editing.
I’m also working with story structure and why here my character seems to know things before she is aware of them. I’m purposely breaking a rule here and hope to pull it off.
Hi Sherry…beautifully written. I don’t think you’ve gone too far except for this line ,,,,over my intoxication…And there, underneath such fine splendor,….wouldn’t it over the top? . I detect the first molecules that hint of a different future….This is the sentence that tells me there is a change to come. And I gather the possibility of other details, other events besides this place, this time, …I’m not sure what you’re trying to say here. Hope my comments help. Good luck with your story.
I would worry that you might have trouble getting published, not because it isn’t good. But because no one reads for love of words anymore. Sad but true, name the Hemingway or Fitzgerald of our time. Also were you intending to be obscure, this has something to do with time travel maybe? Where does the kitten come from? Be more forceful with it, Scanning the distant hills, the waning suns light dazzles my eyes. A lighter patch against a darker back ground, tall lifted like a black flag of warning. Also you describe a dog or wolf then go into seeing smoke, which I find a little backwards see the smoke then the dog, or else it kills it a little. Good style though, just keep fiddling and remember that obscure is not mysterious it can be confusing. As writers we must say everything as clearly as possible. I feel you though I wish we all could write more like this.
I like the style but I would worry about alienating readers. Also some of it is rather obscure, not that, that is a bad thing, especially if it was intentional. Is your story about time travel or prescience I sort of gathered that it was from the section, but I couldn’t be absolutely sure. The story is what drives a novel and there is a lot of pretty imagery but I’m just not seeing much of the story. You need to find a middle ground, a place to tell your story and still be poetic, and still tell a good solid story. I like your prose though very Gravities Rainbow, sort of reminds me of Pynchon good stuff.
I recently be waverly on my orginal opening and this new opening. I put my orinal opening in the first page critique and most of the people liked it. But there was one or two who didn’t and one sayed they would have loved to know my MC before the incident happened. Which do you like better??? Please and thanks.
For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been followed by this strange, cute guy. I don’t really mind but it’s still strange. Yet that’s not the weirdest thing about it. When I try to show someone, he disappears. I see him once every day.
I remember the first time I saw him. It was at school during lunch. I just finished my lunch and the rest of my friends were already gone or still talking to their other friends. Bored out of my mind, I decided to go walking around. The hallways were crowded with students. I head to the library for the book I want which was finally there.
I soon find myself outside. I’ve never been outside during school hours without adult supervision. It felt good to be outside, like I was free. I head to the greenhouse. I heard there was pretty flowers that you never seen before. That’s when I first saw him.
He was leaning against the railing on the hill where the students park their cars, which was right next to the greenhouse, his tan arms folded over his chest. He wore all black but his jacket, which was light grey. His golden-blond hair, which fell over the most beautiful mid-blue eyes, shined in the sun
What if looking into a stranger’s eyes could changed your whole world upside down??? Now, I know what you’re thinking and it’s probably wrong. No love at first sight, no flirt glance, and no death stare. Just me and this strange guy who suddenly appeared out of nowhere in my life, and those unusual eyes of his that I just can’t that I can’t get out of my mind. And all the strange things I see now including him sometimes. But I’m getting ahead of myself. It all started out like a normal day.
It was the beginning of my sophomore year of high school. We hadn’t been in school for two, maybe three weeks at most. People were just starting to settle in. A bad thing for students who would get schedule changes. Most of the times predictable, but the school systems sometimes like to throw things at us.
Start with the It was the beginning of my sophomore year…..and just go from there the beginning is a little confusing typos and grammar issues. Also why not show the love at first sight, instead of talking about it. If this character see’s dead people what brought this on, what was the first time she saw a dead person. More likely than not that will be your inciting incident, and also where you should start the story at. I can tell you’ve been working on it though, it’s getting there so don’t give up keep going, I had to rewrite my first chapter five times, complete rewrites. So don’t worry perfection takes time, Rome wasn’t built in a day and all that.
I still think you inciting incident will be the place where your MC first see’s a ghost or dead person, and that you should probably start it there. If not maybe you could start with It was the beginning of my sophomore year…..and just go from there, you have a good voice and you should try and run with it. But I would be interested to see how she discovered her ability, or first met this stranger, that she fell in love with. Maybe even show me why she even believes in love at first sight was her mom/dad a hopeless romantic? Maybe start with a scene that shows us she is really believes in love at first sight.
I’d like to get some feedback on an issue I’m having. I’ll give a brief synopsis of the novel below. The main question: who’s story is it? Both main characters? Or one or the other?
The novel is a suspense/mystery about a young woman (Val) who is told that her mother killed her family and committed suicide when she was a baby. She doesn’t understand how she could be the lone survivor. She believes her mother is innocent and sets out to prove this. She obtains the assistance of a police detective (Sam) who’s had a crush on her since high school. His father worked the case years ago and he tries to see if there’s enough new evidence to reopen the case. He goes so far as to interrogate past suspects. In the meantime, Val uncovers an embezzlement scheme at her uncle’s company where she works as an accountant. Later, (through some twists/turns) she learns that he had an affair with her mother and she is actually his daughter. As the story progresses towards climax, the case becomes closed because all the supposed “evidence” leads to a dead end. The uncle attempts to kill Val because he fears she’ll reveal the embezzlement and tell his wife (her aunt) about the past affair. He admits to her – once he’s sure she will die – that he killed her family because her mother planned to confess the affair out of guilt. Sam, after realizing he may have missed something, comes to the conclusion that it may have been her uncle who killed the family and is scared that Val is in danger.
So, my dilemma: If I write in first person – who’s story should it be? Which character seems more interesting? The detective who becomes emotionally involved (btw – backstory: his father became emotionally involved in a case that hit home and had to retire early)? The reader would get the story from a detective’s POV and more in-depth view of interrogations and the investigation. Or Val’s POV, the lone surviving daughter who’s trying to prove her mother’s innocence and stumbles across the real killer, perhaps too late?
OR should I just keep it third person? What do you think?
Val is the main character here, I think, but if you have Sam saving her in the end, then it might be his. The main character should be the person that has the most to lose, but the main character also needs to be the one who brings about the ending. If Val is the main character throughout, but Sam comes in and rescues her at the end, the reader might feel cheated. Sam can help rescue her, but maybe Val is the one who knocks her uncle out, for example. We readers like seeing the protagonist do the winning or losing for him/herself.
The point of view character and the main character aren’t always the same. The protagonist of The Great Gatsby is Jay Gatsby, but the novel is told from Nick’s point of view. If you wrote it in first person from Sam’s point of view, then the part where Val’s uncle confesses to her will have to be included after the fact, with either Val recounting it to Sam or Sam recounting it to the reader, and it will be anti-climactic. If you have two different characters and scenes in which only one is present at a time, I think you’ll do best to write in third person. Just remember to keep to one person’s POV per scene. In other words, if there’s a scene with both Sam and Val, only get into the thoughts of one person, and don’t go into the thoughts of the other person. If you aren’t sure which character to pick per scene, pick the one with the most at stake.
I would ask you what kind of book do you want to write. Procedural crime drama, mystery thriller, suspense. Hard boiled detective novel. Because the character you pick will affect the voice and the story itself, told by the detective it won’t be the same story than if it was told by Val. More so the different MC’s will have different viewpoints that would be better or worse depending on who is telling the story. Ex. it might be better to tell the story from omniscient if the detective is main character, so you could tell more or less of the story as you wanted. If Val I would say try first person, it would enable you to restrict knowledge and keep up a mystery since she is so connected with the case. The characters connection to the story really determines how you have to tell it, viewpoint is almost determined by the story itself, in my opinion. Certain story’s have to be told from certain perspectives in order to be good. Would Fight Club be good if it the narrator comes out at the beg and tells you the main character is named Tyler Durdon. Instead he uses the first monologue to disguise facets of the story, it’s told in such a way you never notice he doesn’t describe himself or doesn’t mention his name. You might assume it is just part of his character, when really it is a fundamental part of the story. Sorry I sort of went off on a rant, but I feel that MC and viewpoint are inextricably linked. Good plotting though.
I have a question! I finally have a question!
The novel I’m currently writing is told from a first person point of view, and takes place in the past tense. Here’s an example:
*I walked to the grocery store.
(Note: As I’m writing, sometimes I imagine my character sitting in a rocking chair and retelling her life story to her grandchildren, or biographer. This is not in the novel, but helps me keep my views/tenses in check.)
NOW MY QUESTION:
I use a bit of inner dialogue/thoughts throughout the story. These are NOT written as reflections (past tense) but in the present. I believe it is stronger this way. I may be wrong.
Here is an example:
(Caps used only to show example and because I don’t know how to do italics on here.)
*I walked to the grocery story. On my way back I got lost. I looked down at my watch and discovered I was already ten minutes late and hadn’t even reached my block yet.
MY MOM IS GOING TO KILL ME. *
Note: This is not a real example from my story, so no need to tell me how flat the story is, or even to mention that all of the sentences are about the same size. I know.
I would have included a real example, but I am away from my manuscript.
Thanks in advance for your help!!
I think that’s totally acceptable! Thoughts are present tense – even if the story is past tense. And I agree – it just sounds better.
It does seem to help distinguish between what is taking place in the past tense and the inner dialogue. But with this short clip, I’m unclear if you are saying:
1.) that as the person went to the store they were thinking “My mom is going to kill me” – their action is in past tense while their thought is in the present… it might work but for this short clip, it feels confusing.
2.) the person is reflecting back on some previous event but is being transported back into that memory in such a way that it feels immediate, like it is occurring at the moment… I think this works.
3.) the story is in the past tense, but their inner dialogue statements are quotes… I think this works.
If you think the inner dialogue is stronger in the present, it might be interesting to experiment with writing all of it in present.
Hi Dominic….In the example you provided, I didn’t have a problem with the present tense. Go for it.
Maybe try and give us an excerpt from the manuscript. But this works it reads fine to me. As is though it seems you are moving toward 3rd limited territory more so than first person. But I’m not entirely sure with such a small sample.
Maybe try and give us an excerpt from the manuscript. But this works it reads fine to me. As is though it seems you are moving toward 3rd limited territory more so than first person. But I’m not entirely sure with such a small sample.
Sorry, a real example would probably help! This is from a random page, but is a better example of my question than the previous hypothetical.
The night was warm, but the fire pulled me toward it anyway. No sooner than I anchored my hoodie beside the flame, my body followed on top. As I lied on my back under the night sky, everything around me suddenly became blurred background. All I could see were the rising embers from the flame floating up toward the stars; connecting the dots.
For the first time since moving to Dog Paw I felt at home. I could have lied there watching the night sky for hours, and perhaps I would have, but the sound of glass breaking in the distance instantly brought me back to my own planet.
“Party foul!” someone yelled, reminding me I wasn’t alone.
I was at a party–my party–and though I had no interest in being there, I was there. And the only thing more awkward than leaving a party after being there for only fifteen minutes was lying in the middle of one.
(Italics) Can’t I just pretend to be a normal person for once in my life?
thanks for all of your help friends! The question is in reference to the last line.
It is a bit jarring to be so into the past tense and then all of a sudden be thrown into the present. Consider how it would sound if performed as an audiobook. The elderly grandmother is speaking to her grandchildren about what happened, she has a soothing voice, and then all of a sudden she switches into a teenage falsetto—”Can’t I just pretend to be a normal person for once in my life?”
If you bracket that with an “I thought,” then it wouldn’t seem out of place, but if you have a lot of present tense inner dialogue, saying “I thought” all the time might get annoying.
If the ratio were more equal, like in your first example, it wouldn’t be as jarring. Often dream sequences will be in a different tense. But when you’ve got two or three paragraphs of past tense and then switch to one line of present, it seems like an error.
I’d keep it in italics but put it in past tense. Then it will still be obvious that it is internal thought, but it won’t bring the reader out of the experience.
“I was at a party–my party–and though I had no interest in being there, I was there. And the only thing more awkward than leaving a party after being there for only fifteen minutes was lying in the middle of one. Couldn’t I just pretend to be a normal person for once in my life?
P.S. “As I lied on my back” should be “As I lay on my back” and “could have lied” should be “could have lain.”
“Lied” is the past tense of lie, as in “I lied to you, I didn’t tell the truth.”
“Lay” is the past tense of lie, as in, “I will lie down now. I lay down over there.”
“Laid” is the past tense of lay, as in “I will lay the book on the table. I laid the book down.”
Hi All: Looking for advice on renaming my genre. Chick-Lit is apparently a term that is out of vogue. Below is a description of my novel, sent to an agent. At the bottom I have included a new suggestion for the Genre. Would love feedback if you think this might work instead of saying Chick-Lit, because it isn’t about shopping and heels, but it is humourous and touching:
Athletically uncoordinated, musically obsessed decaf diva Brynne Howell is in a complicated relationship with heels, men, and alcohol. An embarrassing incident in a London cafe involving spilled coffee and a bomb introduces her to “Mr. Tall, Single, Extra Hot!” and an older woman who is far more than the unassuming retired librarian she seems to be. This sets off Brynne’s hilarious foray into espionage, high-stakes romance, and the naming of herself as the “Patron Saint of Working Your Way Out of Shit.”
Genre: Romantic Spy Dramedy that tiptoes out of the shallow end of the pool.
I tried looking on Amazon for some likely sub-headings and came up with the following:
1) Romantic Suspense
2) Contemporary Women’s Fiction
3) British Humor & Satire
4) Romantic Comedy
I think 1) might be a good fit, by the sound of it, but I like your description of the genre better !