The Fiction Doctor          Cindy Davis



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A Sample of My Work

This is a sample chapter from a novel. I’ve placed numbers on the page to correspond with a ‘comments’ sheet (which you'll find below the chapter) included with each submission.


Chapter 1

     The warm air in the boardroom was oppressive, the humming air conditioning helpless against the sweltering humidity and heat wave temperatures raging through the city. Ginger brushed her hand across her forehead, stroking the loose strands from her long fringe behind her ear. The droplets of moisture, dampening her auburn roots and forcing out the natural curl straightened by this morning’s blow dry, could be mistaken for sweat as a result of the heat, but she knew better. 1

     “And so, gentlemen,” Stu concluded the brain storming session, 2 “—and ladies 3 —we need to move fast on this one. It looks like he’s 4 going to make a run for it.”

     Ginger tensed at her belated inclusion into the group, then let it go. This was her first day, after all, and having a woman on the team would probably be an adjustment for everyone. Stu, who’d mentored her through the last 5 two years of training, had had to pull a lot of strings to get her this position. Most other insurance companies had 6 opened their doors to female investigators decades ago, but Simmons was still of the old school; something she hadn’t been aware of when setting her sights on the most prestigious insurance company in San Diego all those 7 years ago.

     The men rose from the table to straggle out in groups of twos and threes, discussing the merits of the latest information gleaned from their internal sources. Or so she presumed from the low-key voices and concentrated expressions. For all she knew, they could be discussing the latest soccer scores, in which case she’d probably be able to hold her own, anyway. 8

     Instead of following the others down the hallway, Ginger made her way to the elevator. Stu should be back in his office by now, and she wanted him to hear her out before assigning the case. 9 At the next floor she stepped out hesitantly, not sure how to address the issue. She knew 9A Stu would not give in to her merely on the basis of their friendship; she would have to convince him she was ready for field work.

     Standing in front of the solid oak door, Ginger ran her hands quickly down the length 10 of her a-line skirt. She peered down at the brass buttons of her tailored jacket and picked a miniscule piece of lint from the black a-line skirt before tapping a knuckle on the hard oak.

     “Come in,” Stu’s muffled voice came from the other side.

     Taking one last deep breath, she composed herself mentally, then entered the large office, determined to leave her doubts and insecurities outside in the hallway. 11

     “Got a moment?” she asked, walking up to stand in front of him. 12

     “Sure, Ginger.” Stu waved a hand toward the vacant chair across from his desk. Completely bald with jiggling cheeks and a pouch 13 to match, he cast a figure more suited to an elderly uncle than that of the head of the investigation department of one of the country’s largest insurance companies.

     She settled herself across from him, crossing her legs and resting her shoulders squarely against the high backed visitors chair.

     “I want the 14 case,” she told him directly 15, before he could say anything to deter her, “I’ve worked the Drake case with Jim, I’m ready. You’ve got to give me a chance sometime, my own case—”

     “Ginger—” Stu cut in, 16 “I don’t doubt your ability. And I have got something lined up for you. We’ve just received a call from L.A., 17 Edson Daniels wants to insure his wife’s jewelry 18. I need someone there in the morning.”

     “I want this one, Stu. I’ve done all the paperwork and now I want a chance to wrap it up.”

     “You will get ‘your’ chance, but this could get dangerous.—”

     “—and you need a man for the job,” Ginger completed his sentence with contempt. 19

     “No! But I do need someone experienced.”

     The finality in his voice fired Ginger’s determination. “And how do you propose to give me that experience? By keeping me on the back end of the investigation? Shuffling papers?” She knew 20 she was pushing him, but couldn’t help it. 21 Frustration cramped at the back of her knees from fighting the urge to get up and storm out.

     “I understand your impatience, but you’ll have to trust my judgment on this one.”

     Stu frowned his displeasure and dismissed her by turning his attention to the pile of papers in front of him. 22 She remained seated, clenching her hands into tight balls to accumulate the pent up irritability. 23 But she hadn’t gotten where she was by giving in this easily. Eventually he lifted his eyes again, fixing her with a look of you still here? 24

     “Who are you sending?” she asked, calmly. Better to revise her approach than be sent out of his office 25 empty-handed.

     “I’m about to make that decision—as soon as you give me a chance to get some work done,” he told her pointedly 26 “We’re not even sure if Drake is our man.”

     Ginger watched Stu thoughtfully 27      “Drake was the common denominator between two unsolved cases in the last three months and this latest one. 28 He just happened to be acquainted with each victim. Pure coincidence—according to the respective victims.”

     “No, we’re not. And your point is?”


My Comments:

Nice opening chapter. You have some good conflict--the most important element in fiction. Good lead-in chapter promising further action. I see a well thought out story with a unique plot idea. Your voice has punch.

I’d like to see you tighten things up, remove superfluous wording. You do a pretty good job showing your story, but then go too far by also telling what you’ve just shown.

What I’d like to see is more intensive character development. Let the reader get a feel for both Ginger and Stu’s characters right off the bat. You should always be thinking ‘character development’. EVERY movement or word needs to reflect both the kind of person they are and the way they’re feeling at that very moment. Try asking yourself, how should this character be portrayed to best advantage? What do I want the reader to think of him/her? You’ve got some good internal thoughts going on so far.

1 - DELETE ‘warm’ because the word oppressive already gives the impression of heat, warmth, and mugginess. Also, I attended a conference where the moderator joked about all the books that begin with a description of the weather. So, with that in mind, I’m going to suggest switching the first and second paragraphs with each other. Also, I suggest deleting the sentence about the oppressive air because it, and the next sentence, let the reader know the weather without actually telling it’s hot. Maybe put the bit about the air conditioning being useless till a little further in the story. Another thing, can you give us a better idea of her personality by the way she brushed her hair away? Was she worried and absently poked at it? Was she angry and thrust it back? Was she feeling sexy and teased it behind her ear?

2 - Character development suggestion: ‘Stu’s blue (or whatever) eyes browsed the length of the boardroom table, resting a scant second longer on Ginger’s face (or skipping it altogether, but either way bring the reader into the picture). Are there lots of men there? How is Stu acting? You don’t need a lot of words to tell us. Sometimes just one or two thrown in make all the difference.

3 - When he said this, did he acknowledge her in any way? Or did he pointedly ignore her? Later we find out they’re friends, but that wouldn’t necessarily make him treat her as one of the guys. The acknowledgement or lack of it will develop both his personality and foreshadow a bit about their relationship.

4 - Maybe you could put in someone’s name here. Give the problem an identity. Even if the reader doesn’t know who it is yet. A name is something to grasp onto.

5 - Delete ‘THE LAST’ because it’s understood.

6 - Delete ‘HAD’ because it’s passive. Use action verbs whenever possible. Maybe use simply ‘opened’

7 - How many? A definite number lends credibility.

8 - The previous sentence said they were probably discussing the merits of the info then she speculated about something else. Can you make this clearer? Not only will it bring the plot into better focus, it’ll give the reader some insight into Ginger’s character.

9 - What case? Does it have a name? A category? Or is it the next case? The most important one of the year? Why is everyone going to want it? Entice the reader.

9A - Delete ‘she knew’ since it’s all from her perspective. The whole thing is stuff she knows. Just say, ‘Stu would not give in…’

10 - Why did she do this? Can you make it clearer? One word or so, to bring a picture to the reader’s mind. Was it wrinkled? Was it an unconscious gesture? Why did she do it briskly? Was she nervous? If so, what about saying something like, ‘the solid oak door represented just one more barrier during her short stay at Wellingtons. The next was the request she was about to make of Stu.’

11 - Delete ‘determined to leave her doubts and insecurities outside in the hallway.’ When people take a composing breath, it’s most often to suck up courage. When Ginger does this, the reader knows she’s got a problem. If you say more, it’s telling. A big no-no.

12 - Can you give us a better idea of her personality by the way she moves or enters the room? Is she shy, worried, frightened? Don’t TELL us, SHOW us by the way she moves. For example: if she’s nervous, what about saying something like ‘her steps were mincing and slow, but somehow she covered the six feet to the desk in record time.’ OR ‘she edged toward his desk, wiping her palms on her skirt.’ Question: is the air conditioning as useless here as it was in the boardroom? Here’s a good place to mention it.

13 – Do you mean ‘paunch’?

14 - Give the name?

15 - Whenever possible, let the dialogue do the work for the LY words. When she sets herself squarely in the chair, you’ve given the impression she’s being deliberate and thoughtful. Also, her words ‘I want the case’ show her directness so I think you can delete this word.

16 - Delete ‘Stu cut in’. When possible, try not to use ‘he said’ ‘she said’ ‘he cut in’. Try something like ‘Stu raised his hand to stop her.’

17 - Knowing she wouldn’t want to go, he’d probably make this ‘trivial’ chore sound important.

18 - Tell us what sort of jewelry--being in the insurance business, they’d be detailed about things like that. Tell also its value.

19 - Delete ‘Ginger completed this sentence with contempt’. The dialogue is already contemptuous. Make the dialogue do more than pass words back and forth between characters. Make it show emotion. Develop character.

20 – Since this is in her point of view, you don’t need to say ‘she knew’. Just say ‘She was pushing him, but…’ ON THE OTHER HAND

21 - Delete this sentence. It’s telling and you’ve already shown her pushing him with her movements and dialogue.

22 - Delete ‘frowned with displeasure’. Just say ‘Stu turned his attention to the pile of papers before him.’ Ginger and the reader will know she’s being dismissed.

23 - Delete ‘to accumulate the pent up irritability.’ When she clenches her hands, we know what’s happening.

24 - Reads a little awkward. What about ‘when several seconds had passed and Ginger hadn’t shown any sign of leaving, Stu lifted his eyes, fixing her with a questioning gaze.’

25 - ‘Sent away’ instead of ‘be sent out of his office.’ It’s shorter and more to the point.

26 - Try to avoid adjectives and adverbs. In this case, you can delete ‘pointedly’ because this dialogue is already ‘to the point.’

27 - Good place for a little character development on both their parts. What about ‘Ginger leaned back in the chair, once again giving the impression of serenity. She blinked her dark eyes and waited, hoping to put him on the spot, a place she knew he wasn’t comfortable.’

28 - Is this a third case, or the second?

Last Updated: 24 May 2018

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