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Editor’s Clinic with Heather Webb


It’s been quite awhile since I’ve posted for the King’s Editors, so when I saw this submission, I thought I’d jump in again, give my two cents to show the way an editor thinks. The main character in this selection is a policeman, so I assume this will be a suspense, crime, or thriller piece. That said, given the set up and pace, it reads more like a character story. Sure, there can be some overlap, but generally, it’s obvious what direction we’re headed right off the bat. Let’s take a look at the sample and what I’ve marked, and then discuss what’s working in this piece and what isn’t. 

****Sample Starts Here   

Mitch Altman navigated the obstacle course that was his living room(1). On his way to the garage, he stepped over the colorful Matchbox cars that were parked and ready to race, zigged to the left so as not to crush a Lego building, and zagged back to avoid Barbie’s Dream House. Once he reached his car successfully, he felt like Clark Kent. It was time for him to change from doting father into police detective. He didn’t take off glasses or don a special suit, but the transformation felt just as dramatic(2).

     Ten minutes after he’d been sharing a cup of tea with Lisbeth’s newest doll and trading knock-knock jokes with his son Howie, Mitch parked in his assigned space in the outdoor lot behind the station house. He was now focused and ready for work(3).

Mitch slid out of his car, unfolding his long body until he stood up straight, all six-foot-five-inches of him. He looked like a lit match standing there, tall and skinny with the bright red sun reflecting off his ash-blond hair. The Hheat almost made his knees buckle. Nine o’clock in the morning and already it had to be at least ninety degrees. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, humidity thickened the air.; Mitch struggled to breathe in the damp air gooey sludge(4). He was sweating by the time he reached the front door of the Lyle Police Station, only fifteen steps from his parking spot(5).

     Inside, just past the front desk and reception area, there was one large room where the detectives sat when they weren’t out on a call. That bullpen had no windows. One wall sported a few Wanted posters from the FBI and the Connecticut State Police. The other walls were empty, covered only with a faded beige paint that matched the drab linoleum on the floor. The detectives often joked that if they spent too much time in the station, they would confess to crimes themselves. They likened their workspace to a sensory deprivation tank(6).

     “Good morning all,” Mitch called out. “Hot enough for you?”

     The other detectives looked up and smiled by way of greeting, but lost in thought, their eyes were glazed, and no one answered him.

     The room was way too big for the old air conditioner in the front hall to be effective. It had to be at least one hundred degrees on that Friday morning in June(7). Mitch’s five colleagues sat like zombies at their desks(8), periodically sipping coffee and wiping their wet faces with handkerchiefs or tissues.

     The station phone rang and suddenly the room came to life as everyone rushed to grab the land line. There was no real contest; Mitch, the former Lyle High School star quarterback, easily got there first. His speed was fueled by the desperate hope that the caller would give him an excuse to escape from this oven and go out to investigate something. Anything.

     “Detective Mitch Altman, how can I help you?”

     A woman sobbed loudly on the other end of the phone. Finally, she calmed down and was able to answer him. “It’s my daughter. Lillie. She’s gone. Disappeared.”

     “How old is Lillie?” he asked. “And how long has she’s been missing?(9)

     Suddenly The building itself seemed to hold its breath. All the detectives froze in place as they waited to hear what Mitch would say next.

****End Sample Here


What’s working for me: 

What I think could uses some fine-tuning:

(1 & 2) The opening sentence could be stronger. There’s nothing innately intriguing, or interesting about this sentence. It doesn’t allude to what’s to come, and it doesn’t share any sort of wisdom. It does, however, give us a tiny inkling of who this character is, sorta. I’d prefer more. In general, the paragraph isn’t a big draw into the story. 

(3) Not needed. We already understand that he’s invested in his children. Let’s get to the action

(4) Using words like gooey make one think of food, or possibly glue, but I have to admit, I saw fudge brownies and caramel ice cream in my head. Make every word choice count.

(5) Extraneous info. We don’t really need to know how many steps he has moved. The writer already did a great job of indicating that it’s really hot and humid outside.

(6) This entire paragraph can be condensed into one effective sentence. Possibly two, if I’m being generous. It needs tightening overall.

(7 & 8) We already know it’s hot. The reader is waiting for the action move forward, for new information, for more on who this character is. Perhaps more voice to hook us into our MC.

(9) The dialogue feels a little stiff and unnatural. Perhaps Mitch could offer a few words to help calm the woman, and then question her, as a policeman would likely do, even if he doesn’t do it kindly.

Overall, I felt the opening of this novel could be stronger. The writer shows some skill in terms of detailing and sentence structure, but their micro-tension in the narrative needs to be honed, and the prose needs some tightening to draw the reader in a bit more. In addition, if this is a thriller/crime/suspense novel, the tone needs some work. Based on this sample, I wouldn’t necessarily buy into this as a suspense novel, which needs to be apparent, even on page one. I do, however, commend this writer for their bravery for submitting for critique. They’re on their way to creating a good story.

How about you? Do you have any constructive criticism you’d like to add to the mix? Remember to be kind and instructive.

About Heather Webb [1]

Heather Webb is the USA Today bestselling and award-winning author of historical fiction. To date, Heather’s books have sold in over a dozen countries worldwide. As a freelance editor, Heather has helped many writers sign with agents and go on to sell at market. When not writing, she feeds her cookbook addiction, geeks out on history and pop culture, and looks for excuses to head to the other side of the world.