Someone was asking me how my WIP was going, so let me give you a little status report. The draft is finished. And it is dreadful. But that's okay. It is supposed to be. I've been taught to get it on paper and fix it up later. And that's what I hope to do. And to that end, I got my first professional critique from a writer a week or so ago. One big comment: my first chapter lacks tension.
He's probably got a point. I think. But after attempting to fix it, which I presume will involve tightening it up and/or adding content that increases the tension, I have seven new versions of my story, none of which are any better. I also have a handful of hair, and several new bald spots. But if I comb it just right and spray it... You get the idea.
How much tension do I need in a cozy mystery anyway? (And yes, there is a little bit of a whine mixed in with the question.) Unlike their suspense, thriller, and even mainstream mystery cousins, cozy readers are looking for other things. They want a cozy environment that they can crawl into, and a character that engages them. Cozy readers are perhaps the most tolerant of lull in action, but only up to a point. Perhaps (and this is only a guess) what I need is not more tension, but more SOMETHING that will engage a reader, especially in the first chapter. Or perhaps there is something inherently wrong with my structure that causes the reader to feel he is being drawn away from the story. Maybe it's more than one of these things.
So rather than pull out any more hair and create more versions only to crumple them up later, I need to step back and take some lessons. It's time to go back to school. So, the next few blog entries will consist of the analysis of first chapters of the first books in successful cozy mystery series. How does the author engage the reader? What draws me into the story and makes me want to continue? And how does the writer spend those precious few first words for the maximum effect?
If you're reading this blog, feel free to do these exercises with me, or comment if you have insights that I've missed. Even if you don't have the books in question, most of the first chapters can be found for free on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.