Never start a story with the weather. I’ve heard this many times over the years. In fact, once, in a moment of desperation and frustration, author J.A. Konrath begged writers to not do this “unspeakable” act.
Elmore Leonard begins his “Don’t-do-it” list with weather.
- Never open a book with the weather.
- Avoid prologues.
- Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
- Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said.”
- Keep your exclamation points under control!
- Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
- Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
- Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
- Same for places and things.
- Leave out the parts readers tend to skip.
Even our wonderful friend and writing teacher extraordinaire, Les Edgerton, has a few of his own rules regarding opening page blunders. In fact, he generously assembled those in his excellent book, Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers At Page One.
Edgerton’s list of Do-Nots:
- Opening With a Dream
- Opening With an Alarm Clock Buzzing
- Being Unintentionally Funny
- Too Little Dialogue (first few pages)
- Opening With Dialogue
For details regarding each of the above points please click here (Writer’s Digest article).
Now, with that said and with an absolute clear understanding of the rules—NO Weather!—let’s get on with the show … today’s article. And it starts like this …
It was a dark and stormy night in our county. A sideways rain driven by the type of wind gusts that TV weather reporters are seen battling during live shots of hurricanes, the really big ones that send trees toppling and waves crashes onto houses far from the shoreline.
While on patrol I’d noticed a car parked approximately thirty yards off a dirt road next to a river. The vehicle was situated in the clearcut section along a power line. The driver’s door was open and what appeared to be a person was half-in and half-out. The upper portion of the body was the out section, and he or she was getting soaked.
So, in spite of the downpour, thunder, lightning, and the hairs on the back of my neck standing at attention (the cop’s sixth sense was in full overdrive), I had to get out to investigate.
I scanned the area carefully, using the spotlight mounted to my car, making certain this wasn’t an ambush, and then stepped outside. After another look around, I plowed forward while the winds drilled raindrops into my face and against my lemon-yellow vinyl raincoat, the one I kept in the trunk of my patrol car just for times like this one. The sound of those oversized drops of water was that of small stones striking at a pace equal to the rat-a-tat-tatty rounds fired from a Chicago typewriter.
As I stated earlier, the storm that night was brutal. It was a fight to walk headfirst into swirling, stinging winds that tugged and pulled and pushed against my rain coat, sending its tails fluttering and flapping, exposing my brown over tan deputy sheriff uniform. It—the uniform—was not waterproof. Not even close.
The ground at the crime scene was extremely muddy and with each step my once shiny brown shoes collected gobs of thick, wet soil until it felt as if gooey bricks were tied to the bottoms of my feet.
These were the deplorable conditions in which I met the crying dead woman.
Raindrops the size of gumdrops pelted the victim’s face, gathering and pooling at the corners of her eyes, eventually spilling out across her cheeks like tiny rivers that followed the contours of her flesh until they poured from her in miniature waterfalls.
It was one-on-one—me and the victim.
Passenger door open.
She’s lying there, bottom half in, top half out.
Her face aimed at the sky.
Rain falling into her open mouth.
Cheap dollar-store tennis shoes and half-socks, the socks her youngest daughter—the seven-year-old—called baby socks.
Her hair, mingled with mud, rainwater, sticks, and leaves.
Power lines crackled and buzzed overhead.
The creamy light from my flashlight showcased her dim gray eyes.
Not a flicker.
Different pattern than the rubber on her Chrysler.
Driver’s window down.
Three rounds—one to the head and two to the torso.
Five empty casings.
Not a revolver.
Half-empty wine bottle.
Not her brand according to the ladies in her church group. “Oh we don’t drink. Neither did she. Except on special occasions. Yep, it must have been something or somebody really special for her to drink that stuff.”
“Was there a somebody special?”
Eyes cast downward.
Blushes all around. “Well … she did stay after Wednesday night preaching a few times. But they were meetings strictly about church business. After all, he is the Reverend. A good man.”
A stammer or two.
A good man.
The rain comes harder, pouring across her cheeks, meandering through her hair.
Droplets hammer her open eyes.
She doesn’t blink.
A dead woman crying.
A sly, stealthy approach?
The other, long strides.
Running away, possibly.
Zigzagging to the woods.
Bullet lodged in base of a spruce pine.
One round left to find.
Water inside my collar, down my back.
Cloth snagged on jagged tree branch.
Plaid shirt material.
Still visible in the rain?
The missing fifth round?
Maglite never fails, even in torrential rain.
Cop’s best friend.
Light catches shoe in underbrush.
Shoe attached to adult male.
Bullet in back.
The fifth round.
Coming together nicely.
Special wine for special occasion …
A good man.
Sure he is.
Tiny face peering from window.
Waiting for Mama?
Parks at curb.
Scent of frying bacon in the air.
Door swings open.
“No, she didn’t come home after church. Called friends and family. Nobody knows.”
“Yes, I have ideas.
And I’m so sorry for your loss.”
Tire tracks match.
Preacher hangs head in shame.
To profess love.
I seal the deal with a single, odd, plant seed found stuck to the killer’s brake pedal.
I could definitely place him at the scene.
Today, there’s no rain in California. Not a drop.
But the lack of moisture falling from the skies doesn’t stop me thinking of the crying dead woman and her kids, her loving husband and, of course, baby socks.
The world’s filled with good men … and battered, hurt, and dead women who cry in rain.
Les Edgerton has a brand new book coming out in november 2018. I have an advance copy and it’s a killer! So today, I’m officially issuing a BOLO (Be On the Lookout) for Adrenaline Junkie.
In the meantime, don’t forget to pick up a copy of Hooked!
*Top photo – Writers’ Police Academy – Shallow grave investigations