Author Topic: A Murder In Our Neighborhood (Mystery) - First Chapter  (Read 427 times)

Offline Susan Lawson

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A Murder In Our Neighborhood (Mystery) - First Chapter
« on: October 04, 2019, 07:38:11 PM »
Hi Everyone!

I am hoping to find a few beta readers for the first four chapters (14,500 words) of my novel, A Murder in Our Neighborhood. It's inspired by an actual murder in my childhood neighborhood, but heavily fictionalized in plot and characters. The genre is both mystery and coming of age. I'm looking for some concrete and constructive feedback to scene-setting, character development, plot and dialogue. It's currently drafted in a Word document and I would appreciate suggestions for edits and any other feedback through marginal notes and track changes. I've attached the first chapter for your review. Please let me know if you're interested.

Thank you, Susan
« Last Edit: October 06, 2019, 09:46:48 AM by Susan Lawson »

Offline PIJ1951

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Re: A Murder In Our Neighborhood (Mystery) - 4 Chapters
« Reply #1 on: October 05, 2019, 07:56:14 AM »
I enjoy crime fiction and police procedural so this is right up my street.

Not what you're looking for, but here are my first impressions for what they're worth -

The title will presumably change by the time you finish your book. As it stands, it doesn't hit me berween the eyes and wouldn't make me want to pick up the book for a second glance.

Your opening line suggests it was the police who found Shellie when in fact it was Mike the dairy man. I'd maybe consider changing this so the reader knows the correct sequence of events. You could rack up a little tension by describing how this unassuming member of the public stumbled across her body while going about his normal daiy routine. The rest of the opening scene is very engaging and intriguing.

'Detective Thomas took a few steps forward, bent over Shellie, and squinted to see the scene before him more clearly in the pre-dawn darkness.'
Wow. This choreography is far too complicated. We already know he's walked towards the lawn (though I'd replace 'lawn' with 'body' since we weren't told anything about a lawn until now). So he doesn't need to take a few steps forward (would he be stepping backwards'?) and we don't need him squinting to see 'the scene before him' or 'the pre-dawn darkness'. All these layers add nothing. They simply prolong the inevitable and confuse rather than clarify.

Similarly 'he scanned Shellie's body'. To ascertain the damage presumably, so fine. But top to bottom, bottom to top and noting the broader circumstances? Again, most readers of this genre will know enough about CSI procedures to be able to picture how an investigating officer looks at a body without such painstaking detail that leaves no room for us to use our imagination to fill in any gaps.

And 'layers of older and newer blood, some brown and some fresher red' - aren't you saying the same thing twice here? Tight writing automatically speeds up the pace and increases the suspense. Drawing scenes out unnecessarily slows the pace and reduces the tension, which I'm guessing is not what you have in mind here.

I'm not sure we need the two paragraphs where the detective returns to Mike and explains to him what's about to happen next. The dialogue doesn't ring true and there's no harm in a jump-cut to Mike waiting near the cruiser.

The same applies to this sentence:
'Boyd arrived on the scene and Detective Thomas introduced him to Mike and left them to talk''
OK - that's what happened. But it reads rushed and it's left hanging there - a rather clunky piece of non-action that could just as easily be left out.

Would you perhaps consider a natural chapter break at this point - inserting a minor cliff hanger? Maybe something was niggling Thomas (the amount of blood in the yard/lawn?) so he knew he had to investigate further. . .

Dialogue again seems awkward at times.
'You. . . saw a truck stopped in the street at 5a.m., brake lights glowing red, you honked, but never took down the licence number?'
Why would he? Boyd could ask if by any chance he caught a glimpse of the licence plate, but this line of questioning is almost accusatory - likewise with being expected to follow the truck out of the neighbourhood. Unless you want to paint Boyd as a clumsy, wet-behind-the-ears rookie and have Thomas pull him up on his interview technique this doesn't sound believable.

I certainly don't think a police officer would commandeer a member of the public to marshall the crime scene or ask him to warn the neighbours they were all going to be interviewed. That's hardly professional.
'Tell them you'll share the details with them as we release them to you'. This would never happen.

Introducing Paul is a cue for another fresh chapter. This is particularly so because the plot seems to have jumped a gear. The focus has changed from the gruesome murder scene to Paul's domestic troubles. Some who enjoy reading gritty thrillers might consider finding something else to read at this point!!!

Paul never wore underwear. How is this significant to the plot? I appreciate the way you set up each character with a quick bio, but it's also your job to keep the wheels of the plot rolling along. There were times when I felt you'd put it to one side in order to dump information on the page - not all of it relevant. The author needs to know her characters inside out right from the start. But the same doesn't apply to the reader. It's better if we discover any relevant parts of their life history, physical attributes, their dress, personal quirks and characteristics bit by bit as the story unfolds.

The runner's behaviour and dialogue is again totally bogus. Why does the reader need to know this guy's family history? No one speaks like that - not even in the movies.

A few other minor catches -
'. . .a 'For Sale By owner' sign in the front yard and no sign. . .'
Is it a lawn or a yard? You seem to switch at random.
'. . .noted the bike in his notebook. . .' - why even bother mentioning the notebook?
Some sections are italicised - some not. I'm not sure why because not all the italicised bits are his internalised thoughts or observations.

Overall, I enjoyed this. It started off really well but it kind of went astray once Paul appeared. Throwing up at your first murder scene is such a Hollywood cliché. There were times when you laid on the background detail of your characters too thickly and in my opinion you need to work on your dialogue. But it's a commendable start.

First chapters are always the most difficult to write and they often get a complete makeover once the novel is finished. For now keep writing then set it aside for maybe a month before taking a meat cleaver to it. Good luck.


Offline Susan Lawson

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Re: A Murder In Our Neighborhood (Mystery) - 4 Chapters
« Reply #2 on: October 05, 2019, 08:15:14 AM »
That is great feedback! Thank you very much.  I'll definitely look to pare down and smooth those areas of detail and dialogue that add so much they, in turn, seem to be taking away from it.

I can see through your comments how Paul's introduction has made the first chapter disjointed. I think that's a direct result of weaving real people into the story along with the fictional ones.

Much of the first chapter is pulled from media coverage and actual police reports, so I'm going to have to find a way of finessing the fictional characters into the fold.

Again, many thanks for your time. You've given me some really solid guidance to start with a solid plan in mind to tackle these early issues in my draft.