The name game, and another first-page critique

Before we get to today’s critique (I’ll explain McGruff later too), check out this fun toy that I heard about from my friend Sheila Lowe—it’s a name generator. They claim to be able to come up with “billions” of name combinations. I tried it and came up with a couple of new ideas by combining their suggestions.

So, here’s today’s first-page critique. My comments are in the bullet points that follow.

SHOPPING CAN BE DEADLY

     Shopping, taxis, suitcases, dogs, wine, antiques and Private Investigators don’t mix well together.  Separately, they’re okay; together they can lead to murder.  I know that now, but I had no clue on my first day.  You would have thought that I had a clue since I’m the Private Investigator mentioned above.  My name is Graff, Guy Graff.  I’m twenty-four years old, opened my own detective agency, Graff Investigations, and thought I was ready for anything; wrong again.  Let me start at the beginning. 
Detective Rule Number twenty-seven: Get to the point before something with a sharp point gets to you.
    It was Valentines Day.  Well it was for everyone else, not for me.  More about that later as I’m trying to get to the point.  
    I woke up that day with a bit of excitement in my stomach. Enthusiasm mixed with anxiety, like before a blind date when you haven’t been with a woman for a year.  I opened my agency two months ago and today was the start of my illustrious career.
    Pulling the handle of my small noisy refrigerator, I knew that I had made a complete break from my former opulent Philadelphian Mainline life.  We had money.  At least my parents did.  I turned my back on it. 


My critique:

  • This first page suffers from “back story blues”it’s heavy on  background information, light on drama. It’s a cozy mystery, judging by the writing and the title, but like its hard-boiled cousin, a cozy must grab the reader’s interest with some kind of compelling opening scene or disruption (See Jim’s Sunday post on that topic). The narrator in this first page is so busy giving his back story and wandering off point that the reader’s attention wanders away, as well. All the information about opening the agency, breaking away from Mainline society, etc., can be presented after the opening scene. Take a look at how Elaine Viets opens her shopping mysteriesshe’s an expert at setting up humorous opening scenes that draw in the reader.
  • I like your Detective Rule No. 27, but I would use it in a different way. I suggest putting a Detective Rule at  the head of each chapter as a framing device. Look at some cozy mystery series, and you’ll see that many of them use chapter-heading framing devices (such as Deb Baker’s Dolls to Die For mysteries, and my Fat City Mysteries). 
  • It’s refreshing to see a male character as the lead in a cozy. That will help distinguish this story from the cozy pack.
  • Speaking of name games, the name “Guy Graff” reminded me of McGruff. You might want to reconsider that name. You don’t want the reader to pause or get distracted.
  • I suggest that you locate the first scene  where the action or conflict starts for Graffthat will probably be the true opening of your book. Then weave in the background information contained on this first page. 
  • If you keep that first line in the story, I would rework the list–the list is too long, plus it sounds a tad awkward. The title could be stronger, too. 
  • Keep going! All the revisions that I’ve suggested can be easily fixed in the rewrite stage.

So how ’bout it, other readers? Do any of you read cozies? What suggestions would you make?

0