I entered my first 50 pages in a mystery writer's conference and just learned yesterday that I was a strong contender to win it. Below is the critique that just came back. I'm thrilled!
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Title: __Murder by Gaslight__________
Overall, I find this story fascinating. It’s an original premise that builds on a well-loved character – or in this case, the creator of the character – and it’s very well written. I would suggest the author do another read-through of the manuscript for typos (misspelled words, missing punctuation, etc.). In my opinion, this sample demonstrates that this manuscript is nearly ready for submission/publication.
I was intrigued from the very beginning of the manuscript. I think the “story” of how the manuscript came to be shared is fascinating. The author does a great job of setting up the story that is to come, and then makes a smooth transition into the story.
The characterization in this sample is excellent! The author has done a great job of drawing Doyle as a somewhat timid man who is open for “adventure,” even if he doesn’t fully trust himself to be competent. Professor Bell, Mr. Wilkins, Ms. Harkness, and the chief inspector are all well-drawn, and while not all of them are likeable, I don’t believe that they need to be. The reader gets an immediate sense of each character’s role in the story.
As with the characters, the setting is well-drawn. I get a sense for London during the time period the story is set in. I can see the contrasts of the West End with the East End. The only suggestion that I might make here, is that as Doyle and Ms. Harkness are “touring” the East End, the poverty of the area might be more starkly represented with a few minor details. In particular, I liked the detail about the blood on the feet of the children playing in the seat. I think one or two more microdetails like these during the street tours with Ms. Harkness would help to contrast the polished gentlemen with the impoverished area they’re looking at.
The language of the period is very well represented in this story. The dialog shines with the differences in the more formal style of language than what is used in current time. It does have the effect of making the reader slow down and read more closely, which makes it better, I think for the experience that the reader has as they’re getting into the story. The dialog in this story really pulls the reader and for the most part, I believe all of the dialog used is absolutely necessary. I did find myself glossing over a couple of times at lists in dialog, but I believe they were essential to telling the tale.
In the sample that I have, the plot is holding together well. It makes sense, it seems to be progressing naturally. I would caution that because you started the story as a story within a story that you be sure to tie up BOTH when you reach the end. I believe that readers will want to know how the Doyle Case ends, but they will probably also want some closure on the person who found the manuscript in the first place.
For the type of mystery that this is, I believe that the pacing, conflict, suspense, and tension are right on target for the sample that I have. I expect that the suspense/tension will be ratcheting up as the story goes on. In the beginning, the pacing is a rather slow slide into the story – which is NOT to say that it’s boring. It feels like a natural pacing for this type of character-driven story. I think as the story progresses, however, the author is going to need to keep the conflicts coming so the reader reaches a point where they story – or rather the characters’ reactions to the story – draw the reader forward at an ever-quickening pace.
Grammar and Mechanics/Correctness of Sentence Structure & Syntax
I love the language of this story. It’s reflective of the time period, and the author makes great use of voice – both narrator and character voice – to set the feel for the story. However, I would caution the author to read through the manuscript at a slow pace to catch typos and missing punctuation as I noticed a number of places where both were a problem.
The author’s voice is perfect for this particular story. It is reminiscent of what I would imagine that Doyle’s voice actually would be and it establishes from the beginning what the reader can expect to hear throughout the story. I didn’t find any places where the voice slips. The author has done an excellent job of staying inside the voice the reader would expect to find.
Overall, this is an excellent story. The 50-page sample that I had served only to make me wish I could read more of the story. It’s an interesting twist on something that’s been done and on a character that the world loves. I believe the manuscript itself is nearly ready for publication/submission, just read-through it again for typos and punctuation errors. Can’t wait to see this one published. Good luck with it!