First Page Friday #17: Crime Mystery

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Crime Mystery First 500 – Renee Thomas

Tempest McAllister sat in her bedroom starring into space. She was covered in blood and her husband lay dead beside her bed with a knife in his heart. She had stabbed him eighteen times. After the third or fourth stab, he had been dead, but she had kept stabbing him until she was too tired to lift the knife anymore. She had loved the feeling of Jack’s blood, so hot, gushing over her hands. She had smeared it all over herself.Tempest was sitting in the same place when the maid arrived the next morning. Rosalita walked into the bedroom and started screaming. She could see that Jack was dead, and it looked as if Tempest was, too. She went to the phone and quickly called the police. Rosalita was standing on the front porch when they arrived. She led them upstairs to the bedroom where they found Tempest staring down at her bloody hands.“Oh my God! She is alive! I thought she was dead. The way she was staring out into space I…” Rosalita cried.

“Rosalita, what is going on? What happened? Why am I covered in blood?” Tempest asked.

Tempest turned and saw Jack’s body. She began to scream. She crouched down beside him. “Jack? Jack wake up! Come on baby. Wake up please! Please Jack, wake up!” She began shaking him.

“Mrs. McAllister, would you please come with us? We would like to as you a few questions,” the officer stated.

“What? Why? I can’t…I can’t leave him alone.”

“Mrs. McAllister, please.” He held out his hand and gestured for her to follow him. Tempest stood and reluctantly walked out of the bedroom glancing back at Jack as she left.

Tempest was released five hours later. She was taken to her parents’ house because her own home was overrun with police. She had been asked all types of questions about her relationship with her husband. Had they had any arguments recently? Was she upset with him for any reason? Was either of them having an affair? She had answered all of their questions, and they finally released her with a cold, “Don’t leave town.”

Tempest knew that they thought she had killed her husband. When they arrived at her parents’ home, the police talked to them in private, and then they left. Tempest went up to her bedroom to lie down. She wrapped her arms around her knees and began to rock. Her parents came in and stood staring at her.

“I really do not want to talk about this right now,” Tempest said before they had a chance to speak.

 “But Tempest, they said you killed Jack,” her mother said exasperatedly.

“I did not kill my husband! I would not do that. I love Jack.”

Mrs. Lucas turned away. “Tempest you were the only one there and you were covered in his blood. How do you explain that?” her father asked.

“I don’t know, daddy. Do either of you think I killed Jack?”

Her mother didn’t reply, and her dad hesitated before saying, “Of course we don’t think you killed Jack. We just want all of this to be over.”

Reader Participation – What Do You Think?

Before reading my take on this novel opening, please take a moment to record your thoughts in the poll below.

Your thoughtful critiques and suggestions for the writer are also welcome in the comments section. Explaining your vote gives the author even more insight into where they’re hitting the mark and where they can improve.

The Writeditor’s Feedback

 Critique Key

Original Text is in italics.

Red is text I recommend removing.

Green is text I recommend adding.

Blue are my comments.

Crime Mystery First 500 – Renee Thomas

Tempest McAllister sat in her bedroom starring into space. She was covered in blood and her husband lay dead beside her bed with a knife in his heart. She had stabbed him eighteen times. After the third or fourth stab, he had been dead, but she had kept stabbing him until she was too tired to lift the knife anymore. She had loved the feeling of Jack’s blood, so hot, gushing over her hands. She had smeared it all over herself. < When you could show this as an actual scene – intense, evocative, frightening even – it doesn’t make sense to write it as a summary of what happened in the past. Put the reader in the moment and let us watch this scene unfold and experience her feelings as she experiences it. As is, this isn’t reeling me in. 

Tempest was sitting in the same place when the maid arrived the next morning. Rosalita walked into the bedroom and started screaming. She could see that Jack was dead, < Try to describe this more evocatively. How does she know he’s dead? What does he look like? Make us feel the terror that Rosalita is feeling. Don’t just tell us that she could see that he was dead. Show us why and how. and it looked as if Tempest was, too. She went to the phone and quickly called the police. Rosalita was standing on the front porch when they arrived. She led them upstairs to the bedroom where they found Tempest staring down at her bloody hands.

“Oh my God! She is alive! I thought she was dead. The way she was staring out into space I…” Rosalita cried. < This line of dialogue doesn’t add anything. It points out what the reader already knows (that Tempest is alive and that Rosalita thought she was dead.).

“Rosalita, what is going on? What happened? Why am I covered in blood?” Tempest asked. < Give Tempest more presence – what is she physically doing? What is her facial expression?

Tempest turned and saw Jack’s body. She began to scream. She crouched down beside him. “Jack? Jack wake up! < The name and line of dialogue reminds me of Titanic too much. Come on baby. Wake up please! Please Jack, wake up!” She began shaking him.

“Mrs. McAllister, would you please come with us? We would like to ask you a few questions,” the officer stated.

“What? Why? I can’t…I can’t leave him alone.”

“Mrs. McAllister, please.” He held out his hand and gestured for her to follow him. Tempest stood and reluctantly walked out of the bedroom glancing back at Jack as she left.

Tempest was released five hours later. She was taken to her parents’ house because her own home was overrun with police. She had been asked all types of questions about her relationship with her husband. Had they had any arguments recently? Was she upset with him for any reason? Was either of them having an affair? She had answered all of their questions, and they finally released her with a cold, “Don’t leave town.” < If you are summarizing what’s happening, then it leads me to believe you’re not starting this story at the right point. Put the reader in a scene and let it unfold to lure them into the story, don’t summarize.

Tempest knew that they thought she had killed her husband. When they arrived at her parents’ home, the police talked to them in private, and then they left. Tempest went up to her bedroom to lie down. She wrapped her arms around her knees and began to rock. Her parents came in and stood staring at her.

“I really do not want to talk about this right now,” Tempest said before they had a chance to speak. < I would expect her to be more hysterical than this.

“But Tempest, they said you killed Jack,” her mother said exasperatedly. < I think she would be way more than just “exasperated.”

“I did not kill my husband! I would not do that. I love Jack.” < This feels like canned dialogue. It doesn’t read as unique or natural.

Mrs. Lucas turned away. “Tempest you were the only one there and you were covered in his blood. How do you explain that?” her father asked. < That doesn’t seem like a natural response. Wouldn’t he first ask what had happened – if she saw the killer, walked in on Jack already dead, etc.?

“I don’t know, daddy. Do either of you think I killed Jack?”

Her mother didn’t reply, and her dad hesitated before saying, “Of course we don’t think you killed Jack. We just want all of this to be over.”

My Overall Thoughts

There’s nothing that makes this opening stand out from the crowd in terms of plot (so far) or writing style. Figure out what it is that makes your story unique and put at least a hint of that in the opening page. Remember that this is your first (and possibly only) impression with agents, editors, and readers.

Key Places to Improve:

  • Try to show more and tell less. Most of this opening page just summarizes what happened or is happening. You aren’t lingering long enough to create an evocative scene for the reader. Focus on details that help paint a larger picture.
  • Use more descriptions of everything. Who is Tempest? Is she middle aged? A twenty-something? Does she have any interesting personality traits you could bring across right away? What does the bedroom look like? What does her parents’ house look like? You don’t need a ton of descriptions, just a few things here and there will go a long way towards making the story come alive.
  • Your dialogue comes across as a bit cliche and unnatural. This is common in beginners. Try to step into each of your characters’ shoes and imagine how they are feeling and what they might say. Really think about it to come up with authentic sounding dialogue.
  • Right now you are writing this story in a very distant omniscient. I don’t think that’s doing you any favors because it’s keeping the reader far away from Tempest’s point of view. An alternative that would likely improve the story would be to tell this in first person or third limited (for more on using third limited, read Developing a Solid Third Person Point of View). Either of those perspectives would allow you to stay tight on what Tempest is feeling – her confusion, fear, heartbreak, etc. instead of constantly pulling back away from her in omniscient. (Note that omniscient is not always distancing, but it takes most writers years to develop a “closer” omniscient point of view.)

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 1

As hard as it is to hear that your writing isn’t there yet, I want to be as honest with you as I am with my clients. You really need to spend more time learning the basics of creative writing, especially how to show instead of tell. Once you learn that, you will see that your writing quickly improves. Don’t give up! It takes a lot of time and education to become a great writer. You may want to check out my Ultimate Guide to Writing & Editing a Novel, which is where I organize all my blog posts and videos for easy reference. Practice, practice, practice and you will get there. Good luck!

A note on the grading scale: The rating of the first chapter does not indicate the rating of the novel as a whole nor does it indicate the writer’s overall ability.

Submit to First Page Friday – (currently booking second week of March and beyond)

If you’d like to submit your novel for First Page Friday, please send the following to ellenbrock@keytopservices.com:

  • The name you want me to use in the blog post (real name, alias, or anonymous).
  • The genre of your novel.
  • The first 500 words (give or take, don’t stop in the middle of a sentence) pasted into the body of the email.
  • Any links (Twitter, Blog, Goodreads, etc.) that you’d like included in the post (not required).

Please do not submit if you are not okay with your first page being posted, critiqued, and edited on my website.

About the Editor

Ellen Brock (AKA The Writeditor) is a freelance novel editor who works with self-publishing and traditionally publishing authors as well as e-publishers and small presses. She owns the editing company Keytop Services and the writing and editing blog The Writeditor. When not editing, she enjoys reading, writing, and geocaching. Check out her freelance novel editing services and mentoring.

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2 thoughts on “First Page Friday #17: Crime Mystery

  1. Ella says:

    To me, this opening doesn’t suggest a crime mystery so much as, I don’t know, something a whole lot creepier, especially as it describes Tempest’s feelings about Jack’s blood. Unless it’s meant to be a very creepy sort of crime mystery, a different opening might better prepare the readers for the kind of story that will follow.

  2. Lawson says:

    When there’s this much telling, I wonder how much the writer has visualized the scene, the reality of it. Tempest is covered in blood, but no one addresses that as a matter of simple practicality. Whether everyone believes she’s innocent or everyone thinks she’s guilty, she is literally _messy_. Depending on how much time has passed, she may stick to the sheets, leave footprints in her own carpet, smear goo on any light switch she touches. What catches the detective’s attention that draws Tempest’s by their noticing? Did she get up to use the bathroom during the night and sit back down where she was? When she goes with the police, does she bring her phone? Do they want her to get in their squad car before she cleans up? Or would they insist on the opposite, but need samples before she does? Pictures? What does the room smell like? Connect. Inhabit this room yourself and take in all the details. Then choose the ones that best evoke the feelings you want your reader to have. (Think of 20 and use 3.) And really think about the situation. How does Tempest walk out of this room?
    Process can be tricky when you’re starting out. Somebody has to find the body, and the maid is a serviceable choice, but ask yourself Who best to notice Tempest is still alive? I’d suggest it’d be more dramatic if a detective did. And what does Rosalita do between finding them and showing the authorities to the room? Stay downstairs? Clean up something inconsequential? Bring something _into_ the room and hide it? If she’s just there to deliver information, she’ll be underutilized and flat. I at least need to know how Rosalita felt about the man and woman she worked for.
    Mystery is not my forte, but with regard to that: we’re told in the third sentence that she killed him, so there’s no question asked apart from if there’s been a shift in her remembering or not between the third line and the end when she’s denying killing him. Better to focus on something more compelling like Why she killed him, or Why other people would think she’d have reason to.

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