First Page Friday #3: Paranormal Mystery

First Page Friday

First Page Friday is a new section on The Writeditor’s blog. Every Friday I will provide an in-depth edit and critique of the first 500 words of an unpublished novel.

I am still working on the best way to present the edit and critique so your feedback is welcome. Please let me know which sections you like, which you hate, and if you have any ideas for ways to make this segment more useful.

Based on feedback from last week, I’ve decided to change up how the critique is done for this week.

First Page Friday Edit & Critique

 Paranormal Mystery First 500 – By Robin St. Clare

I’m crouched in a small closet, trying not to breathe, when the furniture in the adjoining room starts moving. Through the keyhole I watch as a stately upholstered armchair inches across the floor, but then with a sudden lurch it picks up speed. The chair’s carven legs scrape over the hardwood floor, leaving the the arcane symbols chalked onto the floor smudged and disrupted. I slowly draw back from the door, bringing up my video camera to the keyhole. I can only imagine that video proof is going to be necessary for this. As I start recording, an unearthly moan rises within the room, sounding as if it’s emanating from the walls themselves.

Continuing to watch the tableau on the camera viewscreen, I wince as the most elaborate symbol, drawn to ward off evil spirits, is distorted into unrecognizability. Fiona spent forever making sure it was perfect. She’s going to be so upset.

Not least of all because the entity responsible for the moving furniture is a person and not a supernatural being.

I briefly consider bursting from the closet to confront Mrs. Pevington, who is currently leaning heavily on the armchair trying to catch a breath, but I don’t want to give the poor old lady a heart attack. Well, old lady. She’s not exactly “poor” in any sense of the word. Evelyn Pevington lives next door to the house we’re in now, but in this upscale neighborhood that entails more than a short walk over. I have to be impressed with her dedication to her cause. Although it is kind of a terrible cause.

Eventually Mrs. Pevington evaluates the room and, evidently satisfied with her handiwork, shuffles off, back to her own house I assume. I wait an extra minute or two, then gratefully unbend, muscles protesting all the way. Next time I’m bringing a folding chair. Or better yet, just leaving the video camera and waiting somewhere comfortable.

I open the closet door and step into the room, still documenting the scene with the video camera.

“Well,” I say, narrating for future audiences, “I think we can rule out ghostly activity. So far as the redecorating goes, anyway.” I sweep the camera around the room a few more times, making sure not to miss anything, while heading towards the source of the eerie wails still echoing around the room. I follow the sound to the south wall. An elegant bookcase stands against the wall, housing a few classics and a Ming vase that’s probably insured for more than I’m worth. Half hidden behind the bookcase, I spy an air vent set into the wall just above the baseboard. “I think I’ve found the source of the mysterious wailing,” I say as I bend down. Setting the camera on the floor, still facing the vent, I examine the metal cover. The screws have been loosened recently and I’m able to lift it off relatively easily. Inside, sitting in the vent, is… a cassette player. Seriously? These things still exist?

Reader Participation – What Do You Think?

Before reading my take on this novel opening, please take a moment to record your thoughts in the poll below.

 

Your thoughtful critiques and suggestions for the writer are also welcome in the comments section. Explaining your vote gives Robin even more insight into where she’s hitting the mark and where she can improve.

The Writeditor’s Feedback

 Critique Key

Original Text is in italics.

Red is text I recommend removing.

Green is text I recommend adding.

Blue are my comments.

Paranormal Mystery First 500 – By Robin St. Clare

I’m crouched in a small closet, trying not to breathe, when the furniture in the adjoining room starts moving. << I recommend avoiding opening a chapter, especially a first chapter, with a sentence containing “when,” “as,” “while,” etc. because it takes some of the immediacy out of the action. Through the keyhole I watch as a stately upholstered armchair inches across the floor, << You already explained that the furniture started moving (we don’t need that explained twice), but now you’re showing it so I’d keep this sentence and cut the first one. but then with a sudden lurch it picks up speed. The chair’s carven legs scrape over the hardwood floor, leaving the the arcane symbols chalked onto the floor smudged and disrupted << This is sort of a backwards way of articulating this. Keep it simple. For example: The chair’s carven legs smudge the arcane symbols chalked onto the hardwood floor. . I slowly draw back from the door, bringing up my video camera to the keyhole. I can only imagine that video proof is going to be necessary for this << “This” is too vague. . As I start recording, an unearthly moan rises within the room, sounding as if it’s emanating from the walls themselves.

Continuing to watch the tableau on the camera viewscreen , I wince as the most elaborate symbol, drawn to ward off evil spirits, is distorted into unrecognizability << This isn’t really a word so I suggest rephrasing.. Fiona spent forever making sure it was perfect. She’s going to be so upset. << At this point I’m not sure how much fear I’m supposed to be feeling. Is this a life-threatening situation or just a game? Is the narrator scared? It’s not clear. 

Not least of all because the entity responsible for the moving furniture is a person and not a supernatural being.

I briefly consider bursting from the closet to confront Mrs. Pevington, who is currently leaning heavily on the armchair trying to catch a breath, << I feel a bit duped finding out that nothing supernatural is going on. but I don’t want to give the poor old lady a heart attack. Well, old lady. She’s not exactly “poor” in any sense of the word. Evelyn Pevington lives next door to the house we’re in now << “We” who? Also, it’s not clear if she is in her own house or Mrs. Pevinton’s. , but in this upscale neighborhood that entails more than a short walk over << The wording of the second half of this sentence confused me. I had to read it three times. I’d find a simpler way of explaining this. . I have to be impressed with her dedication to her cause. Although it is kind of a terrible cause. << I’m not sure what you’re referring to when you say “cause.” 

Eventually Mrs. Pevington evaluates the room and, evidently satisfied with her handiwork, shuffles off, back to her own house I assume. << I’m pretty confused about what has transpired. I wait an extra minute or two, then gratefully unbend, muscles protesting all the way. Next time I’m bringing a folding chair. Or better yet, just leaving the video camera and waiting somewhere comfortable.

I open the closet door and step into the room, still documenting the scene with the video camera.

“Well,” I say, narrating for future audiences, “I think we can rule out ghostly activity. So far as the redecorating goes, anyway.” I sweep the camera around the room a few more times, making sure not to miss anything, while heading towards the source of the eerie wails still echoing around the room << I assumed this wailing stopped a long time ago. Mentioning it another time prior to here would probably be a good idea. . I follow the sound to the south wall. An elegant bookcase stands against the wall, housing a few classics and a Ming vase that’s probably insured for more than I’m worth. Half hidden behind the bookcase, I spy an air vent set into the wall just above the baseboard. “I think I’ve found the source of the mysterious wailing,” I say as I bend down. Setting the camera on the floor, still facing the vent, I examine the metal cover. The screws have been loosened recently << How does she know the screws were loosened recently vs. in the distant past? and I’m able to lift it off relatively easily. Inside, sitting in the vent, is… a cassette player. Seriously? These things still exist?  << What I am ascertaining from this, though I could be wrong, is that Mrs. Pevington is moving things around to create the illusion of ghosts? If this is the case, I’m confused as to why she would play moaning sounds. Wouldn’t she then get caught because the house’s occupants would hear her? 

My Overall Thoughts

I’m generally a fan of present tense, but it always makes me cringe a little because I anticipate a lot of mistakes, however I didn’t catch a single one in this excerpt so bravo!

You present some intriguing questions about what Mrs. Pevington is doing, but I do wish it were a bit clearer who and where the main character is.

Key Places to Improve:

  • For the same reason you don’t start a chapter with a dream, it’s generally not a good idea to dupe the reader into thinking something interesting and exciting is happening only to reveal that that isn’t the case. This could give agents/editors the impression that you don’t feel your opening is good enough to stand on its own without a bit of trickery.
  • Opening with the narrator “crouched in a small closet” made my brain immediately think that the character was very young. The spying through the keyhole gave me a young vibe as well. Since this novel is intended for adult readers, think about ways to make it clear your narrator is an adult as early as possible.
  • I think you could pull a little more emotion out of your narrator. Was she surprised, disgusted, angry, amused, etc. to find out that Mrs. Pevington was moving the furniture? Show this in the narration.
  • I couldn’t figure out whether the narrator was in her own house, Mrs. Pevinton’s house, or someone else’s house. Clarifying that would help strengthen the opening.

The Writeditor’s Grade: 3

The opening intrigued me, which is great. That’s exactly what you want to do with a first chapter. But finding out nothing supernatural was going on and that the narrator knew this, felt a little too much like a trick. Readers: what are your thoughts? Do you agree or disagree?

The writing itself could be a bit clearer in the places I marked, and a more significant emotional connection to the character would help draw in readers.

I don’t think you’re far off with this. The primary issues are those things that writers can’t see on their own, the things that end up misunderstood or misinterpreted by readers.

My Grading Scale:

1 – Wouldn’t have finished the first page if I wasn’t editing. Back to the drawing board.

2 – Read the whole thing, but couldn’t look past problems with the writing to enjoy the story.

3 – Read the whole thing, was entertained at times, but I probably wouldn’t read on.

4 – Read the whole thing and liked it. Wasn’t really “wowed” but I would read on.

5 – Read the whole thing and loved it. I’m excited to read the rest of the book!

A note on the grading scale: The rating of the first chapter does not indicate the rating of the novel as a whole nor does it indicate the writer’s overall ability.

Connect with Robin

You can connect with Robin (the author of the first page)  on Twitter: @clarewrites

Submit to First Page Friday

If you’d like to submit your novel for First Page Friday, please send the following to ellenbrock@keytopservices.com:

  • The name you want me to use in the blog post (real name, alias, or anonymous).
  • The genre of your novel.
  • The first 500 words (give or take, don’t stop in the middle of a sentence) pasted into the body of the email.
  • Any links (Twitter, Blog, Goodreads, etc.) that you’d like included in the post (not required).

Please do not submit if you are not okay with your first page being posted, critiqued, and edited on my website.

About the Editor

Ellen Brock (AKA The Writeditor) is a freelance novel editor who works with self-publishing and traditionally publishing authors as well as e-publishers and small presses. She owns the editing company Keytop Services and the writing and editing blog The Writeditor. When not editing, she enjoys reading, writing, and geocaching. Check out her freelance novel editing services.

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