This is 2016’s final 7th on 7th, where I take a blog subscriber’s seventh page and show you how I’d improve it for the upcoming #pg70pit contest. See the #70pit16 contest schedule here. See more about how to enter the contest here.
In the first 7th on 7th, I talked about wordiness, breath units, and cleverness.
Page 7: MG contemporary (first person)
Winning Entry: YA romantic fantasy (third person, two POVs)
In the second 7th on 7th, I talked about inconsequential stage directions, overused words, and natural-sounding dialogue.
Page 7: Adult literary horror (first person)
Winning Entry: YA Thriller (first person)
In the third 7th on 7th, I talked about making first-person internal narration work and limited third-person POV.
Page 7: YA fantasy (first person)
Winning Entry: Adult Fantasy (third person)
Today, I talk about passive protagonists and internal conflict in contemporary, literary, or quiet genres.
Page 7: Adult Thriller
Winning Entry: Middle Grade Contemporary (first person)
Note: I received many entries for 7th on 7th but could only pick a handful. However, most of the issues I’d correct in any of the entries were ones I addressed in these four blog posts, so be sure to read them all and edit your pages accordingly. On Friday, I’ll post my top tips for revising your entry.
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7th on 7th
THE ORIGINAL PAGE
Sarah glanced over her shoulder. “We’ve got to work quickly; the gun shots must have attracted everyone’s attention. Let’s get this thing moved.”
They stood on either side of the bookcase and tipped it over. Crashing to the floor it landed partially on the sofa, adding to the barricade.
A thousand questions flashed through her mind as she peered into the darkness below. How deep? Was it safe to jump? Could she land safely?
The man then produced an old-fashioned oil lamp from a cabinet. “It has some fuel in it, but I don’t have a flashlight, so this will have to do.”
Sarah noted his use of the American term “flashlight”; locals used the word “torch.” Grabbing the lantern, she peered into the opening. The tunnel was made of concrete and was about nine feet high and nine feet wide. There was nothing special about it, other than its very existence. She knew she could make it, but could he? She was concerned for the safety of the elderly man. She didn’t want to see him killed for helping her. Sarah then remembered the sofa. She grabbed the cushions, threw them into the hole and jumped down, carefully holding the lantern so as not to set the cushions on fire. “Come on, it’s now or never.”
The elderly man jumped after her, suffering no ill effects. As he was getting to his feet, she heard the goons pounding on the door. He led her through the musty passageway; they rushed along, breaking spider webs as they went. Sarah knew that the locked front door and the sofa wouldn’t slow the guards down for long. They stopped briefly to catch their breath and listen for the approach of Angelo’s men.
“My name is Gerald.” The elderly man then flipped a small light switch, which illuminated a section of the tunnel.
The lighting unnerved Sarah. “Turn that off. It makes us an easy target.”
- Now, telling isn’t all bad. Books need narration and exposition and description, or they’d be scripts. But this has too much telling where such facts could be illustrated.
- Some of the writing is patronizing to the reader. “The gun shots must have attracted everyone’s attention”—to me, this seems obvious, and it goes without saying. Be more specific here—tell us something we don’t know.
- “She was concerned for the safety of the elderly man.” This also goes without saying. Since the next sentence—”She didn’t want to see him killed for helping her”—is more specific, this one is unnecessary. If you can show it, you don’t have to say it. Or, to be more catchy: don’t say what you can portray.
- Many consecutive sentences start with “She.”
- Cut the unnecessary “thens.” If one thing is presented after another, we assume it happened next. This is another example of patronizing.
- The paragraph about the bookcase has unnecessarily complicated directions. Tell us only what we need to know, especially if this is a thriller.
- Plenty of filtering language which distances the reader and loses potential immediacy.
- Also watch for expletives (“there was”).
- A couple of compound words are written here as two separate words. Gunshots and spiderwebs are correct. When in doubt, write it as a single word and see if spellcheck dislikes it, and/or consult Merriam-Webster or the OED.
- When you’re entering a contest, throw the page text into Wordle to see how many words are being repeated. This page repeats “flash” and “peered,” for example.
- Cliches are more acceptable in thrillers because protagonists (and therefore the narrator) need to get to the point rather than spend time coming up with poetic wordplay. However, I recommend rewriting “flashed through her mind” since this page has so many references to flashlights.
- “Suffering no ill effects.” If Sarah is our POV character, we should see what she sees before something about another character is revealed. How does she know he suffered no ill effects? Was she watching? What did he do? What does she see?
- The key to strong voice is specifics: specific word choice, and specific observations. The more specific you are (when the detail is warranted), the more you characterize your narrator or POV character.
- How did they light the lantern?
- I’m having trouble picturing this, since I have no context. Is the hole in the ground, or in the wall? If it’s in the wall, why would she need to jump? If it’s in the ground, why are they moving a bookcase out of the way? Wouldn’t they move a trapdoor? Maybe in context it makes sense, but I still wonder what’s going on. Especially with the words “high and wide,” terms I wouldn’t expect her to use unless she was already inside the tunnel.
- “There was nothing special about it, other than its existence.” Are they in a particular location in which a tunnel would be unexpected? Why would she expect anything to be particularly or extra special about a secret tunnel?
THE REWRITTEN PAGE
This is more of a developmental edit than a line edit. I’m going to make it sound like a contemporary thriller. In revisions, tone this new voice down or embrace it.
Sarah glanced over her shoulder. “Angelo’s men will have heard the gunshots. We need to move. Now.”
The old man helped her tip the bookcase over. It crashed partially on the sofa, adding to their barricade.
While he rummaged through cabinets, Sarah peered into the darkness below. How deep? Was it safe to jump? Could she—they—land safely?
“I don’t have a flashlight, but this’ll do.” The old man produced an oil lamp which possibly hadn’t been used in half a century. “It has some fuel in it, and I’ve got a lighter.”
Flashlight—an American term, Sarah noted. Locals used torches. Once he lit it, she took the lantern and peered into the opening. The tunnel was made of concrete, roughly nine feet down and nine feet across. She could make it, but could he? She didn’t want to see this stranger break his back or be killed for helping her . . .
The sofa. Sarah grabbed the cushions, threw them into the hole, and jumped down, holding the lantern above her head to avoid setting the cushions on fire. “Come on, it’s now or never.”
The elderly man landed softly enough, suffering no apparent ill effects. He was getting to his feet when they heard pounding on the door above. The deadbolt and sofa barricade wouldn’t slow those guards down for long. Sarah rushed through the musty passageway, the man keeping her pace, both breaking spiderwebs as they went. They stopped briefly to catch their breath and listen for Angelo’s men.
With a click, a section of the tunnel illuminated. “My name’s Gerald.” The elderly man’s hand rested on a small light switch.
“How do you feel about being an easy target, Gerald? Turn that off.”
2015 Entry: I SEE YOUR TRUE COLORS SHINING THROUGH
I turned my arms into chainsaws and sliced through the water, only taking one breath. As soon as my fingers hit the wall, I somersaulted and made for the other end of the lane like crazy. When I reached it, I leaned against the edge, sucking air.
“Rena?” She’d disappeared.
Suddenly she popped up right in front of me. I yelped and may have even peed a little. Did she feel that?
Taking my face in her hands à la Spinlow, she leaned over, kissing me right on the nose. Enough lighting surged through me to electrocute us both.
“What was that for?” I asked, voice cracking.
Rena squeezed my facial chub. “Jordan Ray Murphy,” she whispered with an insane, Zane-like gleam in her eyes, “that was the freakiest – and fastest – I’ve ever seen anybody your age swim. And you weren’t even kicking.”
“Well, not properly.” After that, Rena made me swim a billion more laps, then finally pulled herself out of the pool and motioned for me to follow. I did, crossing my arms over my moobs.
“That’s enough for tonight. Let’s get you home so you can go to bed.”
“I’ll pick you up tomorrow as soon as you’re done milking. Then we’ll start your training regime. And don’t eat breakfast.” She tossed me a towel. “I’ll have something ready for you that’s allowed on your diet.”
I stopped drying my hair. “Diet?”
Intended Audience: Middle Grade
Word Count: 35,000
Genre: Contemporary Humorous
7 words for your MC: Overweight eighth-grader swims toward his operatic aspirations
Let’s look at what this entry did wrong and what it did right.
- “I yelped and may have even peed a little.” I’d like to see some punctuation here—I yelped (and may have even peed a little)—but that’s pretty minor.
- In some ways, this sounds reflective and nostalgic, like an adult writing MG, not a middle-grader writing MG, but that’s how I feel about a lot of published MG, so I’m not really concerned about it. I would suggest having some astute middle grade beta readers highlight when it sounded like a grown-up talking.
- I know from the 7 words that he’s overweight, but “facial chub” and “moobs” together on one page makes me wonder how the character and the writer handle his weight. I’m cautiously optimistic.
- Some readers might feel like Jordan is passive on this page, but I’ll address that below.
- Ultimately, this makes me feel. I feel embarrassed and hopeful for Jordan. I feel that first crush.
- No dialogue tags, just action beats. I actually allow dialogue tags in MG more than any other age category, but this shows that you just don’t need ’em!
- Most of this page is Jordan observing and reacting, which are red flags of a passive character. However, the writer contrasts appearances—what he sees and does—with insight—what he actually feels. It’s not direct conflict, but it’s enough tension to keep me reading.
- The word choice for this entry was specific and funny. Great voice.
I See Your True Colors got three requests during 2015’s pg70pit.