Editor’s Cut with commentary: Since my editor made only minor changes to my manuscript, I’ll share an example of how one of my pre-contract critiquers, Wenda Dottridge, helped me strengthen the first villain scene.
The original version was suspenseful. It showed Laud impatient with incompetent staff, nervous about the suspicious character watching his place, and angry that the insurance company hadn’t paid out yet on his arson claim. It showed him receiving info from the PI he hired to investigate the hero, and ended with innuendoes of sinister plans.
The problem was that Laud’s depiction verged on a mustache-twirling caricature.
Wenda reminded me that I needed to give him a redeeming quality. We brainstormed ideas and found that by sprinkling in hints that Laud wasn’t as bad as I was making him out to be, I could up the stakes and urgency even more without going over the top.
Here’s a snippet of what we came up with:
As the please wait circle swirled on his computer screen, Laud fed Duke’s resignation letter to the shredder. The man might be just the distraction he needed to preoccupy his niece, and her meddling mother, until his plans fell into place. He should’ve silenced his sister-in-law when he had the chance.
His banking info blipped onto the computer screen. A lousy three grand in the account—not enough to cover a week’s interest on the three million he owed Petroski, let alone a month’s.
The heat in his chest intensified.
He rubbed his knuckles over his ribs and popped another antacid.
Lori smiled at him from the hand-drawn picture on the corner of his desk. The sloppy scrawl looked like a three-year-old colored it, all big heads and stick arms outlined in worn-down Crayolas.
His insides twisted.
The latest blackmail note lay, unopened on his desk.
Popping a second antacid into his mouth, he tore open the envelope. Bold-faced letters, cut and pasted from a newspaper, said: You’ll pay. One way or another, you’ll pay.
The scene goes on to show Laud struggling to overcome a panic attack and telling himself that he can’t afford to give into weakness. So instead of the scene just being about his concern over the apparent loan shark goon outside and his financial woes and his investigation of the hero, I added an additional threat against him.
This raises all kinds of questions for the reader as to who is really the bad guy.
The rewrite also reveals one of Laud’s redeeming qualities—his soft spot for Lori, his eighteen-year-old, mentally-challenged niece.