Saturday, February 14

Real Life Diagnostics: Does This Crime Scene Opening Work?

Critique By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Real Life Diagnostics is a weekly column that studies a snippet of a work in progress for specific issues. Readers are encouraged to send in work with questions, and I diagnose it on the site. It’s part critique, part example, and designed to help the submitter as well as anyone else having a similar problem.

If you're interested in submitting to Real Life Diagnostics, please check out these guidelines.

Submissions currently in the queue: Eight

Please Note: As of today, RLD slots are booked through April 11.

This week’s question:

Does this opening work?

Market/Genre: Crime

On to the diagnosis…

Original text:

Background: Detective Lily Blanchette arrives at her first crime scene as lead detective and is informed that her new case has frightening similarities to the unsolved murder of her sister - a murder her father died trying to solve.

Damn rain. Detective Lily Blanchette stepped out of the Charger, slamming the door behind her. Normally, she loved a rainy evening, but not when her first crime scene as lead investigator was in danger of flooding.

Lily ducked under the yellow marker tape and spotted her first responder, six foot one, conspicuously handsome Nick Levins. “Halloween’s not for another week,” she said. “What do we have here?”

“Two teenagers who walk this stretch of road to and from school found the bodies of two Caucasian females. Xavier and I arrived first on the scene. Officer Martinez joined us soon after and helped secure the scene. I called the medical examiner and emergency personnel. They’re here and waiting for you.”

“Has anyone talked to the kids?”

“Alec’s interviewing them now.” Nick handed her a pair of disposable booties. “I think there’s something you should know.”

Lily waited, listening.

“There’s a similarity to the case from six months ago.”

Lily concentrated on placing the booties over her penny loafers. “Who has the logbook?”

“Xavier.”

“Let’s get this over with.”

Lily’s guts clenched as she approached the red 10 x10 tent encapsulated by trees in the abandoned field. It had been a quiet night until now. And if what Nick said was true, then everything about her family’s past would be stirred up again and back in the papers. Or worse yet, the nagging doubts about her mother would be brought into question.

My Thoughts in Purple:

Damn rain. Detective Lily Blanchette stepped out of the Charger, slamming the door behind her. Normally, she loved a rainy evening, but not when her first crime scene as lead investigator was in danger of flooding. I like how this immediately sets the scene and personality of the protagonist

Lily ducked under the yellow marker tape and spotted her first responder, six foot one, conspicuously handsome Nick Levins. [“Halloween’s not for another week,” she said.] I don't understand why she says this, though I like how it sets the date. Perhaps show what setting detail made her say this. Is Nick dressed funny?  “What do we have here?”

“Two teenagers [who walk this stretch of road to and from school] This feels like unnecessary info found the bodies of two Caucasian females. Xavier and I arrived first on the scene. Officer Martinez joined us soon after and helped secure the [scene] two scenes in a row hit my ears funny. I called the medical examiner and emergency personnel. They’re here and waiting for you.”

“Has anyone talked to the kids?”

“Alec’s interviewing them now.” Nick handed her a pair of disposable booties. “I think there’s something you should know.” Perhaps have him exhibit some kind of body language to show he's reluctant about telling her something he knows will cause her pain?

Lily waited, listening.

“There’s a similarity to the case from six months ago.”

[Lily concentrated on placing the booties over her penny loafers.] Perhaps a little more of a emotional response here? She doesn't act like she knows what he's referring to “Who has the logbook?”

“Xavier.” Would he say anything to comfort or console her here?

“Let’s get this over with.”

Lily’s guts clenched as she approached the red 10 x10 tent encapsulated by trees in the abandoned field. It had been a quiet night until now. And if what Nick said was true, then everything about her family’s past would be stirred up again and back in the papers. Or worse yet, the nagging doubts about her mother would be brought into question.

The question:

1. Does this opening work?


Yes (readers chime in here). I'd suggest a few minor tweaks to clarify some things, but it introduces the character and the scene nicely, it jumps right into a problem with a personal connection and stakes for the protagonist, and there's conflict--both from knowing that this case is going to cause her family problems, and a more personal issue with Mom. And from this being her first case as a lead detective, so there's extra professional pressures as well. 

I'd suggest a little bit more emotion and detail in a few spots. Nothing major, but I only know that this is an issue for her because the background information the author gave us says so. I don't actually see Lily feel any dread or apprehension beside one stomach clenching--and that's after she first hears about the similarities. I think a one or two more details to kick up the sense of dread would suck readers in nicely.

Overall, it's working, and I'd read on.

Thanks to our brave volunteer for submitting this for me to play with. I hope they–and others–find it helpful. I don’t do a full critique on these, (just as it pertains to the questions) and I encourage you to comment and make suggestions of your own. Just remember that these pieces are works in progress, not polished drafts, so be nice and offer constructive feedback.

3 comments:

  1. Have to agree with Janice. The scene is set pretty well, but unless the background info is where ther reader’s going to see it, the impact of the previous crime is completely lost. Having Levins react to that knowledge while he’s talking would at least hint at something more than just a random crime six months ago, if you don’t want to get into it at this point.
    Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Agree on both counts. It does the vital job of getting everything in place quickly and with a good tone, but could use more energy in some places.

    One thing that stuck out with me is introducing Nick Levins as "conspicuously handsome." It's efficient and may be what Lily has to notice first, but it also reads too much like a back-cover summary of a pending romance subplot to ignore. Could she present it with a hint of how she views him: a flirt to keep professional around, a handsome jerk to avoid, or a decent guy who doesn't flirt just now? It takes up a line or so to settle, but it would be better than leaving it up in the air.

    Also: my group has a name for words that repeat by accident, or clumsily: a "stutter." It's always worth keeping an eye out for them.

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  3. I liked this overall. It does have a bit of officious maunder in it and therefore has the feel of an outsider writing this. It does have a nice read on pull to it so please carry on!

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