Saturday, March 11

Real Life Diagnostics: Does This Opening Scene Work for a Murder Mystery?

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.

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This week’s question:

Does this work as an opening scene for a sequel to a murder mystery?


Market/Genre: Mystery

On to the diagnosis…

Original text:

This was the last time Charli would let anyone set her up on a blind date, especially her mother! She checked the man’s pulse, yup, he was dead. He was slumped forward with his head against the steering wheel and he was definitely dead. Charli heaved a sigh and sat back down in the passenger seat while digging her bright pink bedazzled cell phone from her purse and dialing nine-one-one.

After chatting with the nine-one-one dispatch operator Charli was beginning to feel a bit creepy sitting next to a dead guy. She got out of the cherry red Porsche and walked back and forth on the sidewalk till the police vehicles arrived.

It was a small town and Charli knew most of the police officers but she didn’t recognize this one. He must be new. He was probably six foot two as he towered over her five foot three frame. He had the most gorgeous deep brown eyes that you could just melt into along with close cropped black hair and the hint of a mustache. He wasn’t in uniform, but dressed in a tailored grey suit, white shirt and multi-grey tie with his badge clipped to his belt. She could see that he had a shoulder holster on under the suit jacket where he carried his weapon. A quick glance at his left hand showed no sign of a wedding ring, but you couldn’t always trust that these days.

“Miss Brennan, I presume?” Officer Handsome walked up to Charli. She thrust her hand out to shake his. He had a nice grip.

“Yes, please call me Charli. Um, it’s short for Charlotte.” She actually felt a blush rising up her cheeks.

“OK, Charli. I’m Detective Ackerman, Jared Ackerman.” They smiled at each other for a moment, then the detective cleared his throat. “So, tell me what we have here, Charli.”

“Ah, a dead guy” Charli didn’t know why she was so flustered. She tried again. “We were to meet for a blind date and when I got in the car I found him like that, just dead. No one was around. I didn’t see anyone or anything. I have no idea how long he was there or what happened.”

“Was that where you were supposed to meet?”

“Yes, Sir.”

My Thoughts in Purple:

This was the last time Charli would let anyone set her up on a blind date, especially her mother! She checked the man’s pulse, [yup, he was dead.] Caught my attention, but maybe give a little setting first before this line so we know where she is? He was slumped forward with his head against the steering wheel and he was definitely dead. [Charli heaved a sigh and sat back down in the passenger seat while digging her bright pink bedazzled cell phone from her purse and dialing nine-one-one.] She does quite a few things here, so perhaps break this into two sentences. Also, I’m a little confused about the situation overall

After chatting with the nine-one-one dispatch operator Charli was beginning to feel a bit creepy sitting next to a dead guy. She got out of the cherry red Porsche and walked back and forth on the sidewalk till the police vehicles arrived. This paragraph feels a little told. After the intro, I wanted to hear from Charli, know what she was thinking and whatnot, and this is a good spot for it while she waits

It was a small town and Charli knew most of the police officers but she didn’t recognize this one. He must be new. He was probably six foot two as he towered over her five foot three frame. He had the most gorgeous deep brown eyes that you could just melt into along with close cropped black hair and the hint of a mustache. He wasn’t in uniform, but dressed in a tailored grey suit, white shirt and multi-grey tie with his badge clipped to his belt. She could see that he had a shoulder holster on under the suit jacket where he carried his weapon. A quick glance at his left hand showed no sign of a wedding ring, but you couldn’t always trust that these days. This paragraph feels told and infodumpy.

“Miss Brennan, I presume?” [Officer Handsome] cute walked up to Charli. She thrust her hand out to shake his. He had a nice grip.

“Yes, please call me Charli. Um, it’s short for Charlotte.” She actually felt a blush rising up her cheeks.

“OK, Charli. I’m Detective Ackerman, Jared Ackerman.” They smiled at each other for a moment, then the detective cleared his throat. “So, tell me what we have here, Charli.”

“Ah, a dead guy” [Charli didn’t know why she was so flustered] telling. Let readers guess by how she acts. She tried again. “We were to meet for a blind date and when I got in the car I found him like that, just dead. No one was around. I didn’t see anyone or anything. I have no idea how long he was there or what happened.” She might give a little too much info here. He hasn't even asked her any of these questions yet

“Was that where you were supposed to meet?”

“Yes, Sir.”

The question:

1. Does this work as an opening scene for a sequel to a murder mystery?

Yes and no (readers chime in here). I like the setup with Charli’s date as a dead guy, but the logistics are fuzzy, so I’m having a hard time following what’s going on. You might consider just clarifying where everyone is and a hint of how they got that way (not a lot, just a hint, such as “I’d gotten in the car after dinner and…” type mention). He’s in the car, but where was she prior to finding his body? Did she find him in the car, or were they together and he died?

(Here’s more on internalization)

Charli’s attitude is funny, but she seems unusually calm about the whole thing—not upset at all, and even flirting with the cop, so she comes across a little callous. I can see this is supposed to be humorous (at least I think it is from the voice), so I’m willing to suspend disbelief a little for the joke, but she’s a little too uninvolved about the man’s death. I’d suggest a little more emotional distress for her so she comes across as likable.

(Here’s more on adding emotions to your scenes)

There’s also a few tellish infodumps dragging the pace down and making the POV feel a little detached. She sees the detective and dumps in a lot of information, but it doesn’t feel like Charli watching a hot guy come over while she’s standing there over her date’s body. That’s a fairly wacky situation, but she never even addresses it, so it feels like a missed opportunity to show who she is.

(Here’s more on showing and not telling)

Overall, there are some fun things here to play with, and I think a little more internalization from Charli, and a little tweaking to smooth the rough and unclear spots. The right pieces are here, and this seems like a fun “meet cute” for a romance between these two. It also gets the body and the murder right up there for the mystery side. Right now, this is reading more to me like a romantic comedy than a mystery though, so if that’s not the intend, you might consider a few tweaks to add a more mystery tone to it.

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 (many by new writers), not polished drafts, so be nice and offer constructive feedback.

3 comments:

  1. These two characters need to have conflict. the scene needs tension..When did you arrive here? Did you see anyone around? Where's the ambulance(that one was my question.)

    In other words, this guy and her can not get along and fall in love during the first scene. She has to think he's insensitive to her finding a dead body and He has to think some negative thoughts about her.

    Create conflict, not just a mystery. Good luck, keep writing!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I chuckled at first over the humor, but with each line my reader brain began asking, "Is that all there is?" I like the writing and the voice, but, as has already been stated, there's little concern or conflict, and a bit too much telling.

    The setup is great, but the setting is...where? He drives a Porsche, but there's no one around (including the ambulance), so what part of town are they meeting in? Maybe this is nitpicking, but I think that's what happens when my mind wanders because the conflict is lacking.

    For all that, there's a lot to work with here. Good luck. Some minor tweaking should yield a lot of great story.

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  3. I was hooked right away. I wanted to know what had happened. However, I didn't know if they had crashed, if other vehicles had been hit too, and where this all happened (in a deserted street of a small town? At night? What state? When?)
    I wondered why the MC had not been injured too, but later I understand why. I wondered if she was paranormal or something because this sounds like it's routine for her and she is not injured. Of course, this is cleared up later. Her attitude is strange. I was confused about her emotions, but intrigued. But at the end of the page, I realized she's just human. I expected more and that's why I kept reading. I was wondering, who thinks about seducing a policeman when there is a dead body in your car? She sounds like the last person I want to know about unless you make it intriguing. Give me a good reason for liking her. Maybe she's a nurse or a coroner or a person who handles cadavers and she's used to dead bodies. Tell us that she even eats her lunch on top of dead bodies everyday and I'm hooked. That's intriguing.
    Finally, this would work really well with some setting, less exposition, but more time spent in her head, exploring what she is thinking about, who she is, and how she is feeling that way and why.
    Also, start a little earlier, when she gets in the car and finds him dead over the steering wheel. This said, it was fun to read and got my mind in many places, which is really what you want your reader to be. Also, this sounded more like romance than mystery.
    Goof luck!

    ReplyDelete