Please welcome today’s anonymous aspiring author ready for some constructive criticism. Take a moment to read the excerpt, and please leave some feedback in the comment section below.
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Her Mother’s Lie
Without her boots she was vulnerable. Manda vowed to never take them off, at least in a situation where she needed to be strong, to stand her ground, to face that demon inside of her, the murderer that she was. A murderer? Is that what she was? Well, Gus thought so. And even though Noah insisted that that wasn’t the case, she was inclined to believe him. After all, Gus was the authority, right?
Gus was a detective on the Chicago P.D.: Organized Crime Division. Before that, though, he was a regular cop with a beat, who saw regular murderers all the time; he knew murderers. Gus was an excellent detective: he never left a single case he worked on in twelve years unsolved. He was strong and confident, dark and handsome, and when he walked into a room, people knew that he was there. But underneath his calloused exterior, he was incredibly different: self-critical and very angry.
Noah and Gus were her older brothers. Noah and Manda had been very close, especially since their parents had died. But that same incident that casused brother and sister to bond, also caused Gus to change for the worse. Gus took every setback, every hurt out on Manda, and she accepted that as her punishment. She had just moved back to Chicago, six months ago, after five years of living in Boston, and had not yet seen Gus.
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Frank Davidsen says
Hey, anonymous aspiring author,
I’m not a writer but just an ordinary reader, so you must take my suggestions and criticism with as much salt as you find appropriate 🙂
First and most importantly, I think you are setting up a very interesting relationship between the brothers and their sister. I’m curious what kind of incident happened to cause the change in their relationship and become such a defining moment for Manda. (It seems that even now, years later, she’s still struggling with her emotions.)
Reading only the excerpt, it starts curiously. Never take off the… boots? That sounds like a cowboy thing. I could understand if she referred to a ring, amulet or something symbolic like that, but boots surprised me. That said, I thought it was a cute twist to then go on to reference them in order to enable Manda to “stand her ground” and face her inner demon.
“And even though Noah insisted…”: I find the “him” reference in this sentence to be a little bit confusing since you start out talking about Noah but then suddenly change to Gus. Maybe one could write: “Even though Noah insisted… she was inclined to believe Gus. After all, he was the authority, wasn’t he?”
“A murderer?” -> Just “Murderer?” ?
“Regular cop”: I don’t know the police organization very well. Do regular cops deal much with homicides? Since there have been so many killings, I assume the district to be a large city, with a correspondingly large police organization and officer specializations. Would the title “homicide detective” be more appropriate? (Edit – I just noticed we’re talking about Chicago.)
“People knew he was there”: how about “When he entered a room, people noticed him” or “People noticed it when he entered a room”?
“But underneath…”: I’m not a fan of starting sentences with “but”. How about “Underneath…, however, he was…”
“He was incredibly different:” “incredibly” doesn’t seem like the perfect word to me. Maybe “very” is enough? I think the sentence would work also if “incredibly” is simply dropped.
I’m curious about the reason for Gus’ rage and hope you return to that later in the story. Does it have something to do with the incident in their past?
“Noah and Manda had been very close…” I think you can improve this sentence. How about something along the line of “Noah and Manda had always been close, a relationship that had deepened after the death of their parents”? (Bah! I’m no fan of that sentence either, but I hope it can inspire you.)
“Gus took every … hurt out on Manda…. She had just moved back…and had not yet seen him”: I think these two innocent sentences need a second look, but they also open a whole lot of interesting possibilities.
First about the sentences as they are. I have no trouble understanding Mandas movement, but I believe it’s possible to elaborate and improve this part anyway. The best way to do it, depends, I think, upon exactly what has happened between Gus and Manda, and on how much you want to reveal at this point of the story.
First some simple suggestions:
*“Gus took every setback, every hurt out on Manda (which she accepted) until she moved to Boston five years ago.” I speculate that “until” might be an appropriate word, for reasons that I’ll explain below.
* “She accepted that as her punishment”: What do you think about “accepted it” or “…something she accepted as (just) punishment.”?
* Followed by something to the effect of “She has not yet seen Gus since she returned to Chicago half a year/six months ago.”
* It seems slightly weird to write that she had “(only) just” moved back when it happened six months ago. “(Only) just” also stands in jarring contrast to the “yet seen Gus”-part.
And now to the speculations. The impression I get is that Gus and Manda never were particularly good friends, yet their relationship became even worse still after the incident. He blamed her for everything that went wrong in his life. Since he’s been with the police for at least 12 years, I imagine we’re talking about grown people who probably didn’t live together under the same roof (though maybe they did). Therefore, being a nuisance is something he chose to do. He would have to actively approach her. However, when Manda decide to moved to Boston, their ties were basically severed completely. It might have happened abruptly or slowly over time, but at some point he decided to leave her alone. Otherwise one can’t explain the six months’ silence following her return to Chicago.)
Therefore I’m curious about the reason Manda left Chicago and why she returned, and what part her brothers played in those decisions.
If something actually changed between them, then it might be appropriate to write something to the effect of “Gus took every hurt out on Manda until she moved to Boston”, as I suggested above. Then he disappeared from her life, although she continued to keep herself informed about her brothers. She returned to Chicago and notified both her brothers, but he still chooses to not even call her. In short, I propose something like:
“Gus took every setback, every hurt out on Manda, and she accepted it as her punishment. Five years ago, when she moved to Boston, he cut every tie to her. He didn’t even call her. Now, six months after she returned to Chicago, she still hadn’t seem him.”
Alternatively, it’s possible that it is *Manda* that is not letting Gus know about her return or that she is the one avoiding him. I can’t tell for sure from the short excerpt. If so, if she fears him, then one would have to write the last part differently. An inevitable confrontation with Gus could be part of the reason she feels she needs those boots.
I apologize if I am totally off the charts and I hope something of what I’ve written ends up being useful to you 🙂 Overall I think the excerpt is fundamentally sound, interesting and promising a good story. Best of luck with the rest!
Glen Ahern says
It seems to me as if the thrust of your response is that the author didn’t write the story the way you would have. That’s never a valid criticism. The author’s use of language is clear and logical and, to me, effective.
Christine Rice says
In general, the first paragraph really grabbed me. It made me want to read more and pulled me in. I was very curious to find out more about how the boots fit in to the story (but not right away).
When I got to the 3rd paragraph, it started to lose me a little in the information. Maybe the writer could find a better way to bring in some of the more important information more gradually rather than all at once.
I like the writing style overall.
Ashley Prince says
I love the bit about the boots. Being a female, I can understand how wearing a pair of boots can make all the difference in the world. I tend to carry myself better and quite frankly, I feel like a badass. Which I am assuming is what Manda wants to feel when she wears them too.
I like how you briefly, but effectively got the relationships between the sister and brothers across in just a few paragraphs.
Clearly Gus blames Manda for something. The parents death maybe? Is that why Manda says Gus sees her as a murderer?
I am definitely intrigued by this and would love to read more.
Jan Morrill says
First of all, I love the title – it’s a grabber. The story is intriguing, and I would read on. Good internalization and possibilities for conflict.
My suggestions are:
1) Watch the use of “that.”
2) Avoid “information dumps,” such as in 2nd and 3rd paragraphs. Sprinkle these details throughout the story.
3) Watch use of too many adverbs, ie, incredibly and very. A few of your sentences would be stronger without them.
Others before me have commented well on the story aspects. I have problems with the style. Way to many instances of “was”, which is a weak verb, weak in the sense that it doesn’t draw the reader into the protagonist’s feelings. Here’s a rewrite of some: Manda vowed to never take her boots off. She needed the boots to be strong, stand her ground, face the demon inside of her. the murderer. Murderer? Gus thought so. Noah insisted not, but Gus exemplified authority. – Gus prowled the Organized Crime Division of the Chicago PD. Before that, he walked a beat, saw murder, knew murderers. He solved every case he worked on in twelve years. Gus, strong and confident, dark and handsome, dominated any room he walked into. – Anyway, I hope you get the idea. Also the sentence “But underneath his calloused exterior, he was incredibly different: self-critical and very angry.” I don’t see this. You can be calloused, which means hardened, maybe unfeeling, but you can still be self-critical and angry.
Once upon a time I read a brief little excerpt from a book called, “Her Mother’s Lie,” and almost died from total utter amazingness 0_o Whoever you are-you must post MORE! I. am. completely. hooked. The title was intriguing enough, but the first sentence… Ohmygosh. It was short, simple, but at the same time, it included what every effective first sentence should have-a disturbance. So congratulations, you managed to captivate me, which should be it’s own reward (I’m just kidding :P) However, because the first sentence was so powerful, I couldn’t help but wonder if this is the first sentence of the entire book. If it is, don’t worry-it’s not a bad thing. Just an observation I had.
Moving past the awesomeness of the first sentence, the paragraph which it belonged to unsurprisingly captivated me as well. The possibility of this woman being a killer was…shocking. One of the most important things in having a novel is reader bonding. You may have the ultimate plot which will grip readers from start to finish, but if readers don’t really care for your Lead, the plot will crumble. Now, even though it appears that your protagonist is a murderer, readers are still able to bond with her thanks to your first sentence (which included the disturbance) and because of the paragraphs following the first, showing readers that she’s someone to sympathize with. It shows that maybe she didn’t murder according to her own will or something. That even though she’s a killer, she’s still human. Even though readers aren’t completely sure whether or not she is a murderer since Manda doesn’t seem to be so sure herself, she’s still a very captivating character. (on a side note and semi-off topic, it’s also good that you created Manda with a dark past which is something she’ll probably be struggling with in the near future. If she was ‘perfect’, it would be a major turn-off to readers. A friend of mine once told me that he likes characters with problems and difficulties. Not ones created to be seemingly perfect. That’s just boring to read about. Many best-selling authors also agree.)
The title, the first sentence, the paragraphs, the characters…it’s all so amazing. But I also have some CC, just because I’m assuming the whole reason you posted this in the first place is to get some (as well as some praise to inspire you to keep going ^_^ (of course, I could be wrong, but I’m not a mind-reader, so… D: )
If this IS the first little bit in the whole entire novel, I’m going to have to point out two very important lessons bestselling author James Scott bell once taught-RUE and “Action first, explain later.” RUE is basically an acronym which stands for Resist the Urge to Explain. The more information you conceal from readers to be revealed later, the better. It creates an atmosphere of mystery in your novel which is something you probably want. The other lesson, “Action first, explain later,” is similar to RUE, except it applies exclusively to the first little blurb of your novel. Normally, I would provide an example, but I don’t really want to retype the example Bell used for copyright reasons, and am not really a good author myself so I won’t be able to reproduce my own equally effective example. Whoa. Long sentence O_O
In the second and third paragraphs, you provide a ton of information to readers. The best way to explain this would be to either, Show-Don’t Tell. Or to explain all this through dialogue. If this is at the beginning of the book, the information can wait.
Sorry if that last bit of CC was somewhat…bold, I guess? I don’t normally provide others with Constructive Criticism so I’m kind of a newbie at this. Lol. I also hope that you don’t regard this comment as a This-is-how-I-would-write-it-if-I-were-you-comment… If you do, I’m really sorry and did not mean that in the least bit!
Anyways, good luck with your novel! I look forward to seeing it on the bookshelves of my favourite bookstore some day 🙂
My initial reaction is you’re “telling,” not “showing.” Many details about Gus’ appearance and inner persona, i.e., strength, confidence & good looks, could be conveyed in a more subtle, less direct way. Show us he’s handsome (e.g., “he swiped a palm through his dark mane as he gazed at the unfortunate victim”) and charismatic (e.g., “His authority was unchallenged; when he appeared in the coppers’ break room, all eyes spun around and conversation stopped.” Isn’t something like that better than, “He was strong and confident, dark and handsome, and when he walked into a room, people knew that he was there”? I do like your opening!
Frederick Fuller says
My immediate reaction was that it did not compel me to want to read more. First, I did not know much more about these characters at the end. I cannot “see” Manda, and except for her love of boots, she does not interest me. Her brothers are completely vague. I find the writer tells me stuff but shows be nothing.
The is excellent, and I think some thought needs to be concentrated on opening the first paragraph with some scene that dazzles. Manda calls herself a murderer, so maybe open with a scene that shows what she means. Make me see it, smell it, hear it, taste it, feel it.
I think this is a good bit of brainstorming, but for me it doesn’t make we want to read more. I like the title. Maybe start with the lie or something related to it?
Gail Owens says
This excerpt grabbed my attention! Love how you included several psychological components to the characters! If the rest of the book is this quality, it is a sure winner. Love your voice!
Gail Owens Writes says
I’m sorry, but I forgot to mention that I felt the word ‘was’ is overused. Loved the excerpt though, and want to read more!
Taffy Lovell says
You start out with a great hook about the boots and how it’s easier for her to stand her ground. You can give us ore of Manda and her brother’s relationships and careers through showing us instead of telling. Show us through words and actions etc.
The begininng also grabbed me because she’s a murderer?? Wow. Who did she kill?
Dear Anonymous Writer,
I really like the the way the story grabbed me. If I were reading a novel, I couldn’t wait to find out all the things that grabbed me but left me hanging until further along in the book.
I did start to get confused when you Noah and Gus came into the first paragraph. Which one was she inclined to believe?
You could say Gus thought so, afterall he was the authority, right. Noah, on the other hand, insisted this was not that case. She was more inclined to believe him. (or if she is confuses because she did put a ? after murderer, you could leave “she was more inclined out of that paragraph).
When describing Gus, I don’t think the part about the beat cop is necessary. Stating that he had been a detective with the Chicago OCD, tells the reader (me) that he has a lot of experience with and knew murderers.
The part about him being an excellent detective could be worded just a little differently, maybe… Gus was an excellent detective with Chicago’s Organized Crime Division. In the twelve years that he had been with the OCD, there was not one of his cases that he had left unsolved.
The physical description of Gus there were too many and’s in the first sentence. maybe..
When he walked into a room everyone took notice. Not only was he dark and handsome, he was strong , confident man. What they didn’t see under his exterior, was a self critical, very angry man.
I think too many and’s were used throughout this writing.
The last paragraph, really gets me excited to knowing that obviously the accident, was maybe caused accidentally by Manda, or Gus blamed her, or maybe even Manda blamed herself and because of the way Gus was she thought her blames her or maybe he knows the truth and does not know how to deal with it, so he he blames her.
But again, maybe it could just be worded a little differently. maybe…. Noah and Gus were her older brothers. Noah and Manda had been very close.
The accident that killed their parents seemed to strengthen the bond between brother
and sister, had also caused Gus to be even worse that ever before. Every setback, every hurt that Gus went through he blames Manda. She had been back for six months, after being gone to Boston for five years. Manda and Gus still had not yet seen each other.
Your story sounds like it is going to be a great story, I definitely would love to hear more, give me more. It sounds very dramatic and mysterious. I am looking forward to reading more of Manda’s boot, which is a very strong point. This shows me she is a strong woman, who may be somewhat intimidated by Gus, but she will not let him run over her despite what ever guilt she may or may not feel. It shows me she knows how to stand on her own two feet and at times may have to put on the “boots” when things get rough on her, but at least she knows what to do to keep standing. Good Luck, I hope to write something soon myself. I like it. I really do.
I found the first parragraph very promosing, but then, when action should have followed, the author continued with a series of explanations that in my opinion should have appeared naturally further on.