Wednesday, April 24, 2013

April Secret Agent #8

TITLE: Deadline
GENRE: Mystery

A cold nose in my neck pushed me above the surface of sleep. A massive paw on my shoulder rocked me awake. The perfect alarm: no annoying buzz, no dangerous snooze button and only an occasional breath issue.

“Poh-leece school dropout,” I croak, too groggy to add to the Grease tune. I roll out and suit up for the two-to-three-mile run before work. I hate it but it’s a hedge against my snack stash of Cheetos and Clark Bars.

Othello needs the exercise, too. Born with a twisted Achilles tendon, it worsened as he grew because of his size. Though not painful, it gave him a swaggery limp and a rejection slip from the academy, even though he’d shown superior talent in drug and bomb detection.

As we stepped off the porch of my duplex, I noticed movement at a window of the small, frame house next door. A young girl in a pale nightgown standing in front of the drape watched us. I’d never seen her outside and waved but she didn’t move. Above her, the curtain in a second floor window twitched but I couldn’t see who was there.

The Cricks had always been strange neighbors, eccentric to say the least. Not that my family fit any standard model of acceptable behavior. I had returned to Ellwood after my job evaporated five months ago to track the identity of my father, something my mother considered a need-to-know subject she decided I didn’t need to know.


  1. I'm not really hoooked, but I'm interested enough in the voice and writing style to give this a few more pages. Also, I like mysteries.

    Most of all, I want this to start sooner. You take a lot of time with him waking up, but I'm not sure why (other than to slowly introduce him. Or her. I guess that's part of the issue, too.).

    If the Cricks are a major part of the mystery, then I want them sooner. (Maybe cut the Othello paragraph and move that till after he starts running.)

    Lastly, I feel like the language could be cleaned up some. For example, I'm not sure why "I'd never seen her outside and waved but she didn't move" is one sentence instead of two. Why are those two clauses connected?

  2. I liked the twist that the dog was the police school drop out. The narrator's style of description reminds me of a police report. I assume this is intentional and would be curious to see whether the narrator himself is a cop etc.

  3. I like this, although I think the prose could flow better in a couple of spots, and his telling us about the Cricks seems a little unsubtle, I'd rather see them being odd than be told. But you've made me warm to your character and his dog already, so that's well done and I'd read on.

    Do be careful with your tenses - the whole thing is in past tense except for the second paragraph which is in the present tense. Personally, I think this kind of story would suit being in present tense all through. Good luck!

  4. This started well. I thought the voice in the first paragraph was engaging and I liked the Grease reference.

    Unfortunately, the rest of it didn't live up to the beginning. The tense shifts that Girl Friday noted were distracting, but worse, for me, were the two chunks of backstory, about the dog and the narrator's family. I think both pieces of information could be worked in to the story later. Right now, I would like to see something happening in the present of the story, either more about the Cricks or (what I'm expecting), something that happens on the narrator's run.

    Good luck with this!

  5. I'm afraid this didn't really hook me enough to want to continue reading. I think the reason might be the place the story starts. Too many stories start with people waking up, because that's a convenient place to start. I'd avoid using it unless it's crucial to the plot (i.e. she woke to the sound of gunshots and glass shattering).

    So far you've described a normal morning of waking up and walking the dog. I suspect she will discover some clue to the mystery on that walk? If so, start there.

    If the dog is going to discover a body, start with her dog refusing to come when she calls him or bringing back a hand when they are placing fetch. You have action in this opening, but I think it needs to be action that relates to the plot of the story to come.

  6. I feel like this opening was trying just a little too hard at a couple things:

    1) Getting in the info about the dog being an ex-police dog, at the expense of really grabbing the readers as much as it could.

    2) Pointing out how mysterious the little girl is. It doesn't feel casual, it feels forced, like the Cricks either have to be the villains or have to be a red herring. But the fun part of mysteries (to me, anyway) is delivering those little details in a way that the audience doesn't realize they're important until later.

    The last sentence is awkwardly phrased and almost feels like it was intended to be two sentences. I'm assuming it's a typo, which happens despite best efforts, I know.

  7. author of this pieceApril 25, 2013 at 4:21 PM

    Thanks to all. Your helpful comments point to all the problems in starting the story, establishing character, place, time. Headaches all. Others have criticized waking up as a story start. I guess I could start with her running and work in the fact she's looking for her father and the backstory items re: her dog, family problems, etc. I'll work on it. Thanks again.


  8. Smooth writing, and we get a nice hint of a mystery here with the people in the windows, but that last parg. sounds like you’re about to venture off into backstory. Perhaps just get her on her run or whatever comes next and save the backstory for later, or have her think as she runs, just so the story keeps moving.

    Having read your comment, I'd suggest you don't go into backstory--not on your first few pages. Find a point where something actually happens and start there.

  9. Once you switched tenses, you lost me. That makes me reluctant to read further as it makes me worry that your manuscript isn't in proper shape.