First Page Friday #6: Dark Romance

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 Every Friday I will provide an in-depth edit and critique of the first 500 words of an unpublished novel.

Please read the chapter without my notes and record your feedback in the poll before moving on to my critique. This really helps the author. Thanks!

First Page Friday Edit & Critique

Dark Romance First 500 – By Tom Orchard-Webb

Timothy Deakin’s corpse floated through emptiness in an eternity of nothing. His disconnected mind awakened at the touch of ephemeral beauty materialising above him. Uncertain whether he was the dreaming dead or dreaming of death, his senses returned as her naked body slid over his. She kissed his lips and stroked his cheeks. Her golden hair, which blasted away the darkness with the force of a supernova, tickled his ghostly skin. She rested her head on his chest and listened… Thud, thud, thud… The joy on her lips was clear, yet tears began to rain down her face.

Tim opened his eyes. She was gone.

§§§

The stench of sterility overcame Tim’s regard for hospital rules, finding both safety matches and pack of Marlboro Reds in the large chest pocket of his oversized, olive green German Army smock. He flicked his mop of greasy chestnut hair from his glazed hazel eyes and found himself confronted by a poster depicting tar-coated lungs on the wall opposite to the wooden bench on which he slouched. He snortled, striking the sulphurous head of the match against the sand and powdered glass stripe in a blaze of white phosphorous. He sucked in a lungful of toxic bliss. The hot smoke in the cool hallway was as inwardly refreshing as a cold beer in summer. His eyes fixed on the burning match, the flame crawling along the stick toward his blackened fingernails, like a slug hungry for cabbage. Gradually, it began to transform before his eyes, until the flame rippled as orange water. Sounds and voices lost all clarity. The pressure in his head and lungs made it seem as though a mysterious hand were drowning him in a bathtub. He realised he was holding his breath. Gasping suddenly and violently, the world slowly returned to how it had always really been.

‘Ah!’ he cried, the slug finally biting him. The flame died as the match fell from his fingers and landed on his battered jeans – battered by use, not design. He rubbed the blackness in, just another stain among stains, allowing the tiny unburned stub drop to the floor.

Against his shoulder, the prodding of sweaty, trembling digits burst the invisible bubble of his internal world. His body jerked away and his hand automatically reached for the knife concealed in his side pocket.

The young man leapt back, cat-like. ‘Sorry!’ he yelped. Tim’s defence mechanisms returned to DEFCON 5 at the sight of the smooth face with tomato-red cheeks. The green-robed boy dabbed his brow with his glabrous forearm. ‘I didn’t mean to, um–’

‘How the fuck are you working here?’ Tim interrupted, slurring his words. He picked at the long hairs on his chin.

According to the photo ID card dangling around his flushed neck, the boy’s name was Bradley. ‘Excuse me?’

‘I thought you needed, like, a million qualifications to work in healthcare.’ Tim belched out the bubbling gas in his stomach. ‘You look younger than me, and I’m EIGHTEEN,’ he half-shouted, half-sang, ‘I get confused every day!’

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 the author even more insight into where they’re hitting the mark and where they 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.

Dark Romance First 500 – By Tom Orchard-Webb

On the first read-through, I was immediately distracted by all the adjectives, so I decided to mark them in orange. This is not to say that they are all non-essential. Some of them are necessary and should definitely be kept, but I think it can be very powerful to color code an author’s text so they can see how often certain words, phrases, or parts of speech are used.

Timothy Deakin’s corpse floated through emptiness in an eternity of nothing. His disconnected mind awakened at the touch of ephemeral beauty materialising above him. Uncertain whether he was the dreaming dead or dreaming of death, his senses returned as her naked body slid over his. < As the reader, we know he is a corpse because you told us in the first sentence. But dead people don’t dream. So this sets me up to expect a paranormal. If this is not supposed to be paranormal, then you’re not setting the right tone. She kissed his lips and stroked his cheeks. Her golden hair, which blasted away the darkness with the force of a supernova, tickled his ghostly skin. She rested her head on his chest and listened… Thud, thud, thud… The joy on her lips was clear, yet tears began to rain down her face.

Tim opened his eyes. She was gone.  < Opening with a dream or anything that seems like a dream is considered a cliche and is likely to get you rejected.

§§§

The stench of sterility overcame Tim’s regard for hospital rules, finding both safety matches < The way this is written, it basically means that the stench of sterility found the safety matches. and pack of Marlboro Reds in the large chest pocket of his oversized, olive green German Army smock. He flicked his mop of greasy chestnut hair from his glazed hazel eyes < This is third person limited, which means that it’s being told from the perspective of Tim, which means that he can’t see his own hair and eyes to describe them. Consequentially, this immediately pulls the reader backwards out of the story and away from your protagonist. and found himself confronted by a poster depicting tar-coated lungs on the wall opposite to the wooden bench on which he slouched. < This sentence feels a bit like attack of the adjectives. Focus in on the most important descriptions and drop the rest. He snortled, striking the sulphurous head of the match against the sand and powdered glass stripe in a blaze of white phosphorous. < Two problems with this sentence: 1. It implies that his snort had something to do with striking the match. 2. It is overly complicated. There’s nothing wrong with simply saying that he struck the match. He sucked in a lungful of toxic bliss. The hot smoke in the cool hallway was as inwardly refreshing as a cold beer in summer. His eyes fixed on the burning match, the flame crawling along the stick toward his blackened fingernails, like a slug hungry for cabbage. < I’d drop this analogy because it isn’t needed. Gradually, it began to transform before his eyes, until the flame rippled as orange water. Sounds and voices lost all clarity. The pressure in his head and lungs made it seem as though a mysterious hand were drowning him in a bathtub. < The purpose of analogies is to clarify a difficult to grasp concept with something concrete that readers can understand. Since readers probably have not had the experience of a mysterious hand drowning them in the bathtub, it actually adds complexity rather than clarity. Keep it simple like: “as though he were being held underwater.” The “mysterious hand” bit doesn’t convey anything. He realised he was holding his breath. Gasping suddenly and violently, the world slowly < There are three adverbs here almost in a row. Go very, very easy on adverbs. returned to how it had always really been normal. < Keep your word choices simple. “Normal” conveys the same thing in 1/6th of the words. 

‘Ah!’ he cried, the slug finally biting him. The flame died as the match fell from his fingers and landed on his battered jeans – battered by use, not design. He rubbed the blackness in, just another stain among stains, allowing the tiny unburned stub to drop to the floor. < It’s not clear to me what was going on with this match and cigarette. Was it drugging him in some way? Why was he losing touch with reality and not breathing? 

Against his shoulder, the prodding of sweaty, trembling digits burst the invisible bubble of his internal world. < Can he really feel that the fingers are sweaty? This is outside his viewpoint. His body jerked away and his hand automatically reached for the knife concealed in his side pocket.

The young man leapt back, cat-like. ‘Sorry!’ he yelped. Tim’s defence mechanisms returned to DEFCON 5 at the sight of the smooth face with tomato-red cheeks. The green-robed boy dabbed his brow with his glabrous forearm. ‘I didn’t mean to, um–’

‘How the fuck are you working here?’ Tim interrupted, slurring his words. He picked at the long hairs on his chin. < Picking at hairs on his chin is hard for me to visualize. Is he rubbing a beard? Or pulling stray hairs?

According to the photo ID card dangling around his flushed neck, the boy’s name was Bradley. ‘Excuse me?’ < It’s not clear who is saying this.

‘I thought you needed, like, a million qualifications to work in healthcare.’ Tim belched out the bubbling gas in his stomach. ‘You look younger than me, and I’m EIGHTEEN,’ < Avoid all caps. he half-shouted, half-sang, ‘I get confused every day!’ < This reaction is confusing to me. Is he high/drunk from the flame/cigarette? 

My Overall Thoughts

You have some nice and interesting descriptions, but they’re often just a bit too heavy handed. Sometimes striking a match is just striking a match and needs no further explanation. I felt a little confused about what sort of mood you were trying to set, and my brain couldn’t settle on any genre: Paranormal? Fantasy? Drama about a drug addict and/or psychotic person?

Key Places to Improve:

  • Nix the opening. Is it a dream? A prologue? A glimpse into the future? It’s not clear, and it didn’t reel me in. On top of that, opening with anything dream like is considered cliche.
  • Give Tim something to do. Sitting and smoking a cigarette isn’t a very interesting place to start. Novels should open with the character doing something of interest: being proactive, facing a conflict, etc.
  • Go easy on the adjectives. We don’t need to know the color, texture, etc., of everything in the story. At this point, readers aren’t pulled into the story enough to care, and there’s no context with which to judge anything. Tim’s hair is greasy – Does this mean he’s dirty or is his hair just naturally greasy? We don’t know, so it has no real meaning.
  • Stay tighter on Tim’s point of view. Think critically about what Tim would be seeing. Even though third limited isn’t quite as close as first person, you still shouldn’t be describing things he can’t see or wouldn’t know: like that his eyes look glazed over or that Bradley’s fingers were sweaty. These things pull the readers out of the story and away from Tim, which is the last thing you want on your first page.

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 2

While I think you’re probably starting this story in the wrong place (most likely too early), I do see potential in your writing. If the query letter intrigued me, I might give this another few hundred words to catch my interest, but no more than that. The heavy use of adjectives is likely to scare off agents/editors who will see this as a big editing project.

I think you’ve got a nice writing voice in you that’s trying too hard to get out and be heard. As a result, you’re using adjectives and analogies where they aren’t needed and you’re not being as clear as you could be.

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 Tom

You can connect with Tom (the author of the first page)  on his website: http://www.tomorchardwebb.com/

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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2 thoughts on “First Page Friday #6: Dark Romance

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