In continuing with the exercises from Donald Maass' book Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, below is one example of how I'll try to improve on the introduction of my protagonist Danny Killian in Omatiwak: Woman Who Cries when he first appears in chapter two. My goal is to present my reader with a character they can relate to, admire, and possibly like. Of course, anyone who knows me, knows I may end up revising this opening until the cows come home, probably 20x before I'm satisfied. But that's what the joy of writing is about: getting it better and better. It's called revising. And it's my favourite thing to do.
This is what I've got to date; it's subject to change several times before I'm done.
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Omatiwak: Woman Who Cries
The odour of death lay heavy in the room and even after fifteen years on the force Danny's eyes watered. He closed his mouth and inhaled shallow breaths through his nose.
Today would have been his and Angie's seventh anniversary. Seven years, and all he was left with was the familiar tinge of guilt. Guilt over not finding her killer, even though he was never officially on the case. But there'd been those three months on bereavement leave, then extra hours after work and on weekends investigating. For nothing.
And because his involvement in the case didn't go unnoticed, six months after he was back on the job, when he'd solved the serial killings in Surrey, E-Division used that opportunity to promote him and transfer him out. Danny guessed they were tired of his poor attitude toward the Force, an attitude he’d been advised to hide. Failing that, he chose Prince George because, besides being an hour's flight from any leads on Angie's murder, there were the twenty-years of missing person's cases on Highway 97. Maybe he could give these families some peace, if he couldn’t give himself any.
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After reading chapter one of Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, I realized my hero wouldn't step inside a crime scene carrying baggage from his life. He'd wait a moment, face whatever was interfering with the mindset, let it go, then do his job.
Hence the above passage changes to something like this for the time being:
Serious Crime Investigator, Corporal Danny Killian located the address dispatch had given him, parked his vehicle behind the coroner’s van in the driveway, and turned off the engine. The engine immediately began to cool, but Danny hesitated. There was a heaviness pushing in on his chest, and though he knew it was grief, he couldn't understand why it hit now. Where was the mindset?
He pulled his favourite photograph of Angie out of his inside pocket and cupped it in his palm. His hand trembled. He felt himself choke up.
Let it go, he warned. Focus on the job.
His transfer to the new detachment came with the agreement he’d attend mandatory grief counselling. Each week, the doctor greeted him, gestured to the nearest chair, sat across from him, and began by asking the same two questions, “How are you, Corporal Killian? Having any trouble focusing on your job?”
Each time he answered, “No, I’m not having trouble focusing on my job, doctor.”
And until that very moment, that was the truth.
He glanced at the digital clock on his GSP. Jesus! Today was December third, their seventh wedding anniversary. Seven years and all he was left with was the sensation of a cold steel blade sinking deep into his heart. Here he was at a new crime scene while his own wife’s murder went unsolved. A cold case. Anything over forty-eight hours was considered bad. Angie’s case was closing in on one hundred and eighty five days.
He stared at her photo and swallowed the lump in his throat. She died at the Lougheed Mall in Burnaby, the afternoon of May twenty-seventh. He investigated her death the three weeks he was on bereavement leave, then extra hours after work and on weekends; for nothing.
Because his involvement in the case didn’t go unnoticed, four months ago, after he'd found the evidence they needed to nail British Columbia’s third serial killer, E-Division used the opportunity to promote him and transfer him out. It was the kind of promotion he couldn’t ignore -- take it or consider yourself derelict. They were tired of his poor attitude toward police bureaucracy, an attitude he’d been advised numerous times to drop but couldn’t. His last act of defiance was to choose Prince George because it was only an hour's flight from any leads on Angie's murder. He kept his job because it ensued he had access to the resources he’d need if htere were any new clues. Then too, there were the three and a half decades of missing persons’ cases on Highway 16. He thought — hoped -- that he could give the families some peace – something he couldn’t give himself any.
Or just stupid?
He shook his head, stuck Angie’s photograph back into his pocket, whispered “Happy Anniversary, Baby,” then climbed out of his car. He walked to the open service door and told himself: Snap out of it – focus on the job. Inside the porch, he slipped covers over his shoes. He entered the residence, walked down a short hallway, and made a quick study of the open space. Four of his men were busy....
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How are you all doing with exercise one? Is your protagonist the kind of hero you've always admired? I hope so. Meanwhile, I'm off to see how I can make his intro better.