Jagged Edge by Kirsten R.

LEIGH: I want to thank Kirsten for letting us share the first thousand words of her story and my reaction to it. Many of my students find that they can see the good and the flaws more easily in someone else’s work than in their own, because they’re not emotionally attached to the story – and that in turn helps them to spot the strengths and weaknesses in their own work.

Denver, Colorado 1980

Roger had never seen anything like it. Even seasoned cops on the force much longer than Rog’s seven years could barely believe what they’d just seen.

He was on the next street over, when he heard the shots that killed a little boy’s parents. Little did Roger Williamson know at the time that it was the young boy, a child no more than eight years old that just murdered them. Rog called for backup after the first shot and held his ground outside the pretty ranch on Lincoln Street, the one with tulips in the front yard, and cold-blooded death in the bedroom.

LEIGH: Ooh, this is a very nice image (in the sense of being apt, memorable, concise, relevant – though hardly pleasant!). The tulips in the front yard and cold-blooded death in the bedroom is a comparison which will linger in the reader’s mind. In this one sentence you’ve gone a long way toward characterizing the victims – the ones who lived in the pretty ranch house with tulips in the front yard.

I suggest taking little did he know out of any writer’s vocabulary. Partly it’s a point-of-view issue -if the POV character doesn’t know it, then the author has slipped out of the chosen point of view and is telling the reader about the story instead of letting it unfold. Possibly more important, however, is how much suspense it gives away. After the “little did he know” explanation, the reader knows much more than Roger does. Instead of holding our breath as we follow Roger inside, not knowing what kind of ogre he might find waiting, we’re pretty clear that whatever happened is pretty much over. So the reader, while still intrigued by the situation, isn’t on edge with fear for the character anymore.

When his backup arrived, they went in. Rog cleared the doorway in time to hear one more shot, and see ten-year-old Marty fall to the floor. The murderer, so small, dropped the gun he held and plopped to the floor, Indian-style to sit and rock back and forth, back and forth like some deranged jack-in-the-box. Roger would remember thinking later, what would make a child so young kill the people that brought him into this world? There was no time for that now, though. A young officer ran by on his way outside to lose his dinner in the tulips, and Roger thought he heard a baby cry.

LEIGH: Deranged jack-in-the-box is another wonderful image.

At this point, however, I start being unsure what’s going on. When ten-year-old Marty falls to the floor (and how would Roger, our POV character, know the child’s name at this point?) and then the murderer, so small drops the gun, I was momentarily confused. Are Marty and the murderer two people, or one? Okay, now I remember – or I have to look back to see for sure – you said the murderer was eight, so they can’t be the same person, so…

At this stage the more I – the generic reader – have to stop to figure things out, the less involved I’m getting in the story and the characters. This scene is obviously very clear in the author’s mind. As she writes, she sees every motion, hears every sound, smells every scent. But the reader can only see what the author puts in front of her. If it’s not clear and the reader has to stop and reread or figure out what the author meant, it’s much harder for her to get into the story.

The other cops restrained the child while Roger went off to search the house. It didn’t take long for him to notice just how homey the place was. Littered with knick-knacks here and there, the living room was small, but lived in.

The central piece was a wooden coffee table. A squat vase filled with peonies sat in the center on a doily. A love seat crouched to his right, a couch with big fluffy cushions lining the wall next to that, and no television. It was not so much a living room as a family room.

Roger found what he was looking for in a kid’s LEIGH: kids’ bathroom on the second floor.

This room was done up in a Winnie the Pooh theme with bath toys, towels, and shower curtain that all bore the lovable yellow bear and his friends. Even the toothbrushes sitting on the counter had the heads of Winnie, Tigger and Eeyore.

“Three kids”, LEIGH: kids,” he muttered to himself as he caught his own gaze in the mirror over the sink. He’d seen two downstairs. Both boys had green eyes, dark hair, and pajamas. One was a murderer, the other a victim, lying on the floor in a pool of blood.

LEIGH: It’s a fine point here, but there are killers and there are murderers. Society’s common perception – right or wrong – is that before a certain age a child is incapable of understanding the consequences of his actions, or of forming the intent to kill. I wonder what a cop’s take on this would be. Would he call the child a murderer, or would he stick to the facts (the kid’s a killer) and leave the judgment to the courts?

Roger toed open the door to the linen closet to find a baby girl snuggled under a blanket on the floor. She looked up at him, one green eye, one brown, and let out a wail.

Roger Williamson picked her up and fell in love.

LEIGH: Ooh, I’m all ready to find out more – how’s Roger going to pull this off, how will he manage to save the baby, what sort of complication will this be to Roger’s girlfriend, wife, significant other…

Chapter 1

Harmony, Texas 2003

Melody pulled into the driveway of her family’s summer home. It had taken twenty-three years and two and a half days to get there, but she was finally where she needed to be.

LEIGH: Another nice line – twenty-three years and two and a half days to get here.

But – wait a minute. I thought we were going to hear Roger’s story. Where am I? Who’s Melody?

She’d told herself a thousand times there was no way she could stay in her father’s house, and she was coming to believe it. There were too many memories there.

Roger Williamson had been a wonderful man, and an even better father.

LEIGH: Okay, now I’m clear that Melody was the baby girl Roger found and adopted. But I’m having trouble following the rest. Her father’s house – which father is she referring to, Roger or the biological one? Her family’s summer home – is that the same dwelling or a different one? Again, I’m sure this is all perfectly plain to the author. But this reader, at least, needs a few more specifics to be able to follow the story line.

Mel knew Rog wasn’t her biological father. She had been adopted when she was three years old. LEIGH: Three? She was an infant when he found her, twenty-three years ago. Is there a continuity problem in this timeline, or is there a piece missing, something that would tell us why there seems to be this gap? But Melody had made her peace with that a long time ago. She got out of the car and left her thoughts behind. She paused to take a look at the house. In her mind’s eye, she saw a little girl running up the walk.

Six years old, blonde and barefoot dressed in a blue jumper, Melody was racing toward milk and cookies without a care in the world but for the midday snack awaiting her, never knowing that the woman she called Mom would be dead within the year.

LEIGH: Now I’m really confused. In the space of a couple paragraphs we’ve skipped from her as an infant to a three-year-old and then a six-year-old; and now we know that her mom – Roger’s wife? – will die when she’s seven. My head’s swimming and I’m not sure what’s important here or why. Once more, I know it’s plain to the author why all this is crucial, but it’s just not coming across to me.

Is this Roger’s house? Or is it the ranch house where the murders took place? Why does she say it’s taken twenty-three years to get here – which implies it’s the murder house – but she has memories of being a six-year-old here?

Mel shook her head and located the house key on her ring. She entered the house and set her keys on the table by the door. She was headed to the kitchen to put on some coffee when she heard a truck pull up out front. “They can wait,” she told herself as she plopped the filter in and hit the start button. “Hold your horses!” she yelled at the front door as she walked over to open it.

“Afternoon Ma’am.” Tristan Leland tipped his Stetson to the beauty before him. She was as tall as he, with golden blonde hair sticking up all over the place, and eyes the likes of which he had ever seen. One was as brown as milk chocolate, the other, as green as fresh cut grass.

LEIGH: We’ve hardly gotten a chance to meet Mel, and now suddenly we’re in Tristan’s point of view – seeing how beautiful Mel is. But we don’t have any indication of why Tristan’s important, or even if he is going to be.

“That’s amazing.” He whispered under his breath. “I mean I ah, saw your car pull in. I been wanting to see who’d come to live since the movers were here the other day. Place has been empty for years.”

He spoke with a thick southern accent. Melody thought her knees would just melt right out from underneath her. She imagined herself sliding into a puddle right there in the doorway. And so she forgot her manners. She stared.

LEIGH: And now we’re back in Mel’s POV, eavesdropping on her thoughts.

“Oh, I’m sorry, where are my manners? I’m Melody. Would you like to come in? I just put on a pot of coffee.”

“I’m Tristan, and yes I could do with a cup. Thanks much.” He sauntered through the doorway as Mel led the way to the kitchen. “It’s a nice little place you got here. I inquired about buying it, two, three years back. Agent told me it wasn’t for sale. Guess you got something to do with that.” He took off his hat and pulled up a chair as he waited for a reply but Melody just busied herself digging mugs out of a box in the corner and washing them in the sink.

“Cream and sugar?” she asked.

LEIGH: This entry starts off with great strength and energy, with an intriguing premise and good pictures. In fact, that start is so strong that the second scene comes off looking weak in comparison. It’s a rare prologue that really functions as it’s supposed to, giving the reader an intriguing glimpse to draw her into the story, without giving away too much information to the reader. This one walks a pretty fine line; the picture we get is certainly intriguing, and it helps to draw us in – we want to know what happened to Roger and to the baby. But since it’s not Roger’s story, I wonder if it would be better for the story to just start telling us about the grown-up Melody, and let us find out gradually why she’s come here and what she’s trying to find, revealing her horrific past later, as we need it to understand her.

There’s tremendous potential in this story, and I can think of a dozen ways it could go which would draw me into reading more. If we knew a little more about why Melody’s come back here, why Tristan’s important, what the problem is going to be that causes tension for them, then we’d be much more likely to turn the page and keep reading.


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