Wednesday, March 18, 2009

15 Secret Agent

TITLE: Façade
GENRE: Suspense

Threats meant nothing to Mike Streckler until Geoffrey Norkum acted on his.

Thoughts of yesterday’s discovery of James Kent’s murder fired through Detective Streckler’s brain. High school teacher; no sign of struggle; irregular stab wound to neck; bloody thumbprint centered inverted on the mirror in the master bedroom...

A Chevrolet Z71 diverted his thoughts when it veered off the pavement. The truck impacted the embankment with a bang and rotated to the left. Light shimmered and a cloud of dust enveloped the pickup as it rolled over and rammed a tree off the south side of the highway.

Streckler jerked the navy Crown Victoria to the side of the road and stopped as it nosed toward the ditch. He adjusted the black Stetson on his head with one hand and opened the door with the other. He twisted on a Maglite, hopped the ditch and scrambled up the slope toward the truck.
Rocky soil slowed his progress. Leather soles on his black cowboy boots slipped every other step. He strove forward and reached the tree line where he used trees as leverage to pull up the last seven or eight yards to the rear of the sage-colored pickup. Sweat dampened his forehead and temples.

Scents of antifreeze and brake fluid leached from the wreckage, mixed with the stench of Death.


  1. What immediately stuck out to me were the long names all over the place: Mike Streckler, Geoffrey Norkum, James Kent, Chevrolet Z71, Crown Victoria. It had the stilted feel of a Dragnet opener.

    In your talk about the tree line, you may want to say that he used branches to pull himself up, to avoid the repetition of the word.

    I appreciate the visual you're trying to get at with "leached" in the last line, but I'm not sure that the "sucking from one thing into another" action that leaching implies works there.

  2. I'm confused. Streckler has to struggle to climb up an embankment to reach a truck that has hit a tree just after rolling off the highway. Is the crash connected to Streckler's case or just a random accident?

  3. Would a person die immediately from a roll over accident into a tree? Unless they weren't buckled up and were thrown...

    Now I can imagine the person dying immediately if they ploughed into the tree at a high speed.

  4. I agree with Rick that there were a lot of names presented in a short period.

    I didn't feel a sense of urgency or as much conflict because it seemed like the detective already felt like he knew who killed James Kent (i.e., the 'threats meant nothing...' sentence).

    I'm wondering if you need to mention the type of cars so early on. It might help the pacing if you don't have 'Chevrolet Z71' and 'navy Crown Victoria' and would help cut down on the names. It felt pretty removed/emotionless as the detective watched the car wreck, and i'm wondering if the fact that the type of car was named played a role. I don't know of too many people watching a car wreck who register the make as it happens. Afterwards of course the police would put it in the report.

    Also maybe consider not drawing attention to the black Stetson at this point, made it seem like he was moving slow to the wreck. This could just be me though :)

    Good luck!

  5. I was lost. You wandered from a threat by Geoffrey to yesterday's murder to the Chevy's crash to the MC hopping out of his car (and we didn't even know he was driving before this point). I still have no idea why the threats and yesterday's mystery need to come first.

    But I did like style of the 2nd paragraph. It shows us this detective has been around the block a few times. He thinks like a cop. Nice touch.

  6. The first thing that struck me was "Mike Streckler" in the first sentence and then "Detective Streckler" in the second. I think it would be a little less confusing to get that all over with at once by introducing him as "Detective Mike Streckler" and then you can shorten it from then on.

    Also, "sage-colored" felt a little out of place in a scene about a macho guy in a cowboy hat with car details. Sage just seems a bit too ... interior-decorator for the scene. It popped me right out of the feel.

    Although, when I asked my husband if I was being stereotypical about guys and colors, he mentioned that it could be regionally appropriate (i.e. someplace where sage grows wild all over), in which case disregard that part :)

  7. This is a great scene to open with... lots of action, but you're losing tension by including so many descriptions here.

    Descriptions work well when your POV character is paying attention to how things look... like when they meet someone or enter unfamiliar surroundings.

    A crash like this would be quite distracting, so I wouldn't expect his focus to be on what sort of hat he's adjusting on his head, what color his boots are, or what brand of flashlight he's using.

    I would cut a lot of the description here and keep the focus on the crash and the tension associated with it.

    I also agree with the others about too many names, but that's related to the descriptions. ;)

    With a little trimming, I think this will be a very engaging opening.

  8. I like your first line. Can you remove James Kent's name? - it's just a little too much within the first 2 lines. Maybe something like "Details of yesterday's murder victim..."

    You could probably tighten the writing up a bit and move your pace along even more quickly. You've got a good start here.

  9. Being that he's a detective, he's going to notice more than an average person. I was a little thrown out by the word tree twice and I changed leached to leaked in my head. I think leaked is the better word in this circumstance.

    Change Mike Streckler to Detective Mike Streckler, or Detective Streckler. It's okay if we learn is first name later on. You need to define what Geoggrey Norkum acted on- You've put threat at the beginning of the sentence and I had to re-read it to understand what Norkum had done.

    That said this is a fair bit of writing. It pulls you into the scene and I think it's balanced between description and action. Being a crime fan, when you said the smell of death, I knew two things: dead people take a long time to smell and there's probably going to be a guy several days dead in that truck. I'd definitely read on.

  10. This has promise but there are a few awkward moments that drew me out of the story. I like the opening line, but wondered what the heck the car wreck had to do with the murder. If it is just to show his daily activities and not to introduce something else about the murder, I'd cut it out and focus on the murder itself. Also, why is he noticing the color of his Stetson and cowboy boots? I never usually notice these things about my own attire as I already know the color, and to remain in close third person POV, I think you might consider cutting out references to how he looks. If wearing black is all that important to this character, have some other character notice it or comment on it.

    I might read on if this had a good blurb, but there is nothing else in the first 250 words to draw me in.

  11. I think there might be a bit too much going on here. First, you introduce three characters in less than three sentences. That’s WAY too many, IMHO. I also feel like there’s a bit too much product placement in here—the type of car, the flashlight, the hat, etc. It kinda felt like an infomercial for these items. If a character’s been in a car accident, would he really take the time to detail the manufacturer of all these products, or just jump out of his car, grab a flashlight, and find of what happened?

  12. I felt there was a bit too much crammed in at the start here. The three names in rapid succession took some time to sort out in my head, and with the rapid move to the crash I'm pretty sure I would forget them instantly. The sheer number of product names threw me, too.

    Perhaps you could dwell a little longer on things? The crash itself, for example, might benefit from a little more description. Not sure if that is a sensible suggestion or not, but I think I would keep up better if I had more time to master things.

  13. I would add that not only is there too much description but that the wrong things are described in detail.

    I would cut the number of characters introduced in the first few sentences. Too much and too soon just frustrates and confuses a reader who doesn't yet know that your story is worth reading. A few *brief* thoughts about the earlier crime scene and/or victim would be sufficient at this point to show a train of thought interrupted by the crash.

    I would cut down the descriptions. You're right that law enforcement officers are trained observers, but some of the detail can be brought out as he communicates to first responders and makes his report. Too much descriptive language in the moment reduces the immediacy and I *think* that you intend for the events described in this 250 words to have taken place in about 2 minutes, tops.

    Keep the description of the actual accident - the light and dust, the sudden swerve and roll, the crash. Lose the model/color of the truck (older/newer Chevy is more than enough detail) and the color of the Crown Vic. (I *have* heard patrolmen/troopers refer to their cruisers that way and it wouldn't be so unusual for a detective to continue doing so if he happened to be driving one. That said, I wouldn't do it here.)

    Keep the struggle up the hill and the slippy boots - but that is the only relevant piece of clothing until maybe his jeans/trousers/suit pants get caught on a branch or something. The struggle is good. The color of boots and type/color of hat are too much detail.

    Unless the body your character smells is less than fresh, the smell of death should not hang over the scene - however - he might just catch the metallic tang of blood (and lots of it) as assesses the driver and any passengers.

    If you cut down your descriptions of the less relevant things, you'll have more room in that crucial first few pages to really grab the attention of readers and give the impression of fast action.

  14. Perhaps murder mysteries are allowed a lot of telling to get things started,I don't know so won't comment.

    The first paragraph is okay with me, but when you say, "A Chev diverted his attention," it's so matter of fact, almost casual. A stronger reaction would be preferable. The rest is action packed, good writing. Sorry, but I'm uncertain if I'd go on at this point.

  15. I found this hard to get into, basically because the MC doesn't show any emotions. There are no thoughts, no exclamations, no emotions. Instead I get so many descriptions that they flow together and leave my slightly confused and that feels very flat.

    By the way, I was wondering if a detective would really wear a Stetson and cowboy-boots. Is he off duty?

  16. I was a bit confused by the story line, since I'm not sure where we are yet. I also had difficulty with the description in the last sentence. If the person just died, I'm not sure you would smell it yet. I feel the "stench of death" would completely mask any other scents, including gasoline. I'm not sure I would read any further.

  17. This isn't my favorite genre, but, aside from the name issue noted by others, I liked the opening and would have been hooked if you'd continued along those lines. The accident felt like a distraction, although I realize it might be related to the murder. If not, it should come out. Too much description in the wrong places.

  18. My comment was eaten again, so I'll try to recreate it.

    I thought you've set it up with a reasonable premise, and one that could lead to an interesting story. I'm worried about the writing. It's the combination of extraneous details and confusing leaps (Mike S becomes Detective S; all the different brand names). But there is some hope, particularly in the last paragraph. I'd read on, but hoping that the writing became clearer.