Short Scene Critique: The Accidental Psychic and the Skeptic Cop

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Meant to be a sneak peek into a Carina editor’s brain, and critiqued by a different editor each time, these critiques will be posted twice a month as long as authors are willing to let us use their work and people remain interested.

The idea here is to give you a quick insight into how we might look at a manuscript as it comes across our desks on submission. We’ll strive to be critical but not mean. Because it’s only about 600 words, two pages at the most, the amount of feedback is necessarily limited–we don’t have access to more than a couple of pages!

We asked authors to submit one of four types of scenes: an action scene, a sex scene, the black moment or the first meeting between protagonists. 

It’s important to note that this manuscript was submitted specifically for the purpose of critique on the blog, we do not/will not use random submissions so no worries we’re going to pull your piece out of our submissions inbox and critique it.

The next opportunity to submit a piece for critique will be open in 2019, so please watch the blog or our newsletter for more.

This month’s editor providing critique is Carina Press Freelance Editor Carrie Lofty.

* * *

First Meet

This was submitted by the author as the first meet between the hero and heroine.

Author A included a query from which I pulled these elements: “Fairly ordinary woman Melanie Sue James discovers at age 33 that she has psychic powers she doesn’t yet understand or control. Her second psychic event occurs when she meets Zane Hudson, a detective who thinks he’s already solved the case of a multiple murderer. Melanie informs him that Zane has the wrong man is custody.” She reveals that information in this first meet, during which Zane concludes Melanie must know more than she’s letting on.

Author A indicates that this is a 44K-word paranormal romantic suspense, the first in a series of three featuring the same couple.

Melanie

“You didn’t catch the right guy,” I whispered. I couldn’t break away from our shared gaze. Something about those startling green eyes of his held me. I wanted to stay lost in his steadfast regard. “There’s already another one. She’s…he hurt her. So much. He put her in the ravine. You know which one–same as the third. He thinks he’s so clever. You didn’t nab him. Idiot. He pointed you towards some guy named Jepson. He’s amused you don’t find the clues he leaves for you.”

That’s how I found myself transported against my will in a police car to “headquarters,” and given a nice seat in the interrogation room.

I rubbed the back of my head, finding a lump that had to be a souvenir of my strange faint as Detective Hudson entered. He carried stack of files under one arm and a glass of water in his free hand.

He set the water before me. “You’re pale and shocky, but don’t think I’m going to go easy on you because you don’t feel good. I’m going to read you your rights.”

I listened, mute and horrified, as he Mirandized me. “I don’t understand what’s going on.”

“Do you understand your rights?” he prompted.

“Yes. That I understand. I’m under arrest.

He dropped the files onto the table and took the seat opposite mine. “Not yet. I have questions. Depending on how you answer, I will determine if charges are warranted. I want anything relevant you tell me to be admissible in a court of law. That’s why I read you your rights.”

“Uh-huh.” I took a small sip of water. My stomach still roiled from the forced car ride.

“Do you wish to have an attorney present?”

“I have nothing to hide, detective. No. No attorney.” Besides which, how would I pay one worth having? Mundane people like me don’t keep any sort of legal team on retainer.

“Let’s start with your full name.”

“Melanie Sue James. Melanie.”

“Address?”

“Thirty-six ten West Third.”

“Right across from the fire station.”

I gave a nod. “Yes.”

“Rather noisy, isn’t it?”

“Sometimes. I couldn’t find any rentals in my price range near the police station.”

“Why would you want to live near here?” He squinted my direction. His perplexion surprised me as much as the realization I could, uh, sense it.

“Who wouldn’t want to live with police officers nearby when they live downtown? Quick response time. Why am I here?”

Hudson’s eyebrows veed at the bridge of his nose. “Really? You want to go with that?”

“You think I’m faking my bewilderment?”

He drummed his fingers against the table. “Do you remember what you said to me at the diner?”

“‘You caught the wrong guy.'”

“How would you know that unless you’re involved?”

“I’d like that answered myself. When I tried to push your hand away, I got a jolt. It was like I could see through this guy’s eyes. It was creepy.” My nausea threatened to overwhelm me, so I took several slow, deep breaths in an effort to calm my stomach. After a few seconds, my stomach settled.

“You some kind of psychic?”

“I’m beginning to wonder. I’m an administrative assistant to Mr. White at the credit union. He might tell you I can anticipate his needs before he knows what he’s after, but that’s only because I keep a formidable database that’s the envy of all the officers at the credit union.”

We stared at one another for several tense minutes before I added, “You might have someone dust the sign at the end of the road to the ravine. Maybe the officers you sent to look for the girl could? I think the killer touched it.”

“How do you know I’ve sent officers to the ravine?”

“I watch too many police procedurals. Why wouldn’t you? You don’t think you got the right guy. I can see it in your eyes. I think maybe you were rushed to close the investigation before you’re ready. Office politics, I suppose? The killings stopped after you arrested that Jepson guy? I don’t know your reasons. Don’t care. But from where I sit, you’re too conscientious about your job to ignore my crackpot tip.”

“You’ve never had any sort of psychic event before?”

I hesitated. “I had a dream last night. You were in it as a Secret Service agent. Movie quality–weirdest thing ever. All centered around a check. Oddly, set in the very office in which I work.”

Hudson sat back, arms folded over his chest as he digested my rather cryptic story. “So, Ms. James, is this killer your boyfriend? You hoping for some sort of deal for yourself? How involved are you in the kidnappings and killings? What role do you play, exactly?”

* * *

The Critique

To start, let me say that sometimes the first meet in a romantic suspense with a police procedure vibe can be tricky. First meets can have a plot-based “victim with law enforcement” or “suspect with law enforcement” purpose, which can overwhelm romantic elements that need to catch the readers’ attention and encourage them to keep turning pages.

I see that point of concern in this scene. Aside from the mention of green eyes, there is little else to provide a physical description of Zane. Examining him seems especially relevant considering that Melanie’s first psychic incident was a dream about this specific man, who (to my understanding) she’d never met before. Some incredulity would be warranted. I wonder if she would question her recollection of the dream in the face of her trauma, perhaps intently assessing him to compare who she’s seeing in person versus who she dreamed about.

Beyond the physical, as a romance reader, I’d like to have a hint about why Melanie finds him (at least a little) intriguing. A 33-year-old woman has met a lot of men, even if she doesn’t have an extensive romantic history. Perhaps particularly if Melanie has had a sparse love life, I’d be curious why Zane catches her attention. What kind of vibe does he give off: disdainful, caring, caustic, detached, etc.? For example, “You some kind of psychic?” isn’t tagged with anything about his delivery or mannerisms. Does he seem to believe her, or is that a sarcastic question? I can’t get a read on his personality, which makes this exchange feel a little perfunctory, rather than offering the first spark of an eventual romance.

It could be that, because this is intended as the first of three books in a series featuring the same couple, an instant attraction isn’t warranted. They could have a rather slow-burn romantic arc. However, even with that set-up, the hint that this is going to be a different, fascinating, possibly significant person in Melanie’s life will keep romance readers engaged for the long haul.

The psychic element is a somewhat hazy, which could very well be attributed to the fact we’re dropped into the middle of the book’s opening moments. We don’t know what happened before Melanie meets Zane. A description of what she saw/envisioned and how she reacted is not present here. That said, if this is an unedited sample, I was left confused by the abruptness of the opening paragraphs. They stare into each other’s eyes, she winds up in a cop car, and then she’s in an interrogation room with a bump on her head. Even if these events have already been addressed, the issue of a deeper point-of-view–such as getting a glimpse of Melanie’s impressions of Zane–remains. She’s in a cop car! She’s in a police station! These are probably new events to her, but I don’t get a sense of how she’s feeling. The straightforward nature of the writing suggests little emotion to me; I filled in the blanks in my imagination, assuming that she must be very calm. That may not be what was intended.

Our in-the-moment clues to the extent of her psychic powers are a little hazy too, especially because what she refers to could be explained by non-supernatural means–and she does so. For example, this passage: “He squinted my direction. His perplexion surprised me as much as the realization I could, uh, sense it.” Yet his question and his squint seem sufficient enough to lead almost anyone to conclude Zane is perplexed. She relates information about how she could anticipate her boss’s needs, but how that could be because she keeps a great database. These two incidences are (I think) meant to convey hints about her burgeoning power. Is she genuinely contradicting herself and trying to rationalize what’s going on, or is she beginning to understand the scope of what’s changed inside her?

From a technical standpoint I wanted to know if she is technically in police custody. Is she free to go, or is she being detained? I’m not an expert by any means, but a cursory internet search revealed that only those who are actually being detained are read their Miranda rights. Also, the rights themselves indicate that an attorney (a public defender) will be assigned if a person cannot afford one. This passage seems a little forced as a result: “Besides which, how would I pay one worth having? Mundane people like me don’t keep any sort of legal team on retainer.” I read it as a quick peek at the ordinariness of her life, but there may be other, more technically accurate and emotionally engaging ways to indicate that to readers.

Would I keep reading? Unless the opening moments of the manuscript answer some of the questions I’ve posed and offer more insight into Melanie’s point-of-view, I don’t think I would keep reading. For me, the passage does not have the depth of (potential) feeling that makes a first meet so pivotal and compelling.

Do you have questions about my feedback or the First-Page Critique program? Your turn to add constructive feedback for the author in the comments section! Or email generalinquiries@carinapress.com.

Comments are open, so please utilize them to ask questions or to offer your own critique, but please remember to offer useful criticism. Comments will be moderated and deleted if not deemed to be useful or appropriate.

One thought on “Short Scene Critique: The Accidental Psychic and the Skeptic Cop”

  1. Laura Hamby says:

    Thank you! The manuscript is still a work in progress, and your feedback has definitively confirmed my belief the romance needs more layering for depth and a stronger emotional impact. Emotion! Emotion! Emotion! And when I think I’m done, more! Again, thank you so much for your critique, Carrie. It’s very much appreciated.

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