First Page Friday #30: Literary Fiction

Announcements

The Future of First Page Friday

For those who are consistent readers, you know that I’ve very seriously considered ending First Page Friday due to a lack of participation, commenting, sharing, etc. Well, over the last few weeks the support for First Page Friday has been amazing and more than exceeded my expectations! So I have decided to keep First Page Friday, but with a few modifications to the submission and selection process to make things easier on me. You can read more about the changes in the “Submit to First Page Friday” section below.

Thanks so much to everyone who made it possible for me to continue the series. By sharing and commenting on the posts, you more than quadrupled First page Friday’s view count! Yay! *High Five*

Novel Boot Camp!

*UPDATE: 40 people have signed up so far so I am greenlighting Novel Boot Camp for July! I’ve also added the first workshop to the schedule and prizes!

I just want to take a moment to let everyone know that I am working on an online class/workshop/blog series called Novel Boot Camp! It’s still in development and I’m looking for feedback, advice, and to get an idea of who plans to participate. So please check it out, vote, leave a comment, and let me know your thoughts!

Guest Posts

Things have been busy, busy, busy for me these last few months! I’m editing about 10 hours per day and will continue to do so for at least the next 5 weeks. As a result, I’ve had less time to devote to my blog.

So I’ve decided to start accepting guest posts from writers, authors, publishers, cover artists, agents, or anyone else who has something interesting and useful to say about the industry. You can learn all about the submission process here.

Since I’m an editor and will be handling the more technical posts on my own, I’m most interested in the writer’s experience – tips, tricks, publishing stories, word processors and other tools, brainstorming, coping with rejection, how you got your agent, marketing, using social media, etc. Any current or past clients (or First Page Friday participants) who want to write about working with me are welcome too!

First Page Friday

About First Page Friday

First Page Friday is a blog series where I provide a free edit and critique of the first 500 words of an unpublished novel. Read the excerpt without my notes first and leave your vote in the poll. Afterward, feel free to leave a comment for the author. Feedback is always helpful!

Literary Fiction – Helen Evans

He knew straight away, although afterwards he would lie to himself about it. He had a habit of needlessly complicating simple things.

The evening had begun like every other of the holiday. This was the fifth night in a row they’d gone to the same bar. It had not escaped Dan’s notice that, even this far from home, they’d remained creatures of habit, drinking the same drinks, telling the same stories, doing the same things. Routine was their deity, wherever they went, they bowed down before her.

As soon as they’d walked in, the heat of the place began to feel oppressive. Dan glanced behind him at the open door which led temptingly back out onto the beach. It was late, and beyond the bar’s own shallow pool of light lay total blackness, the island’s geography lost in the night, the sound of the ocean drowned out by music and people. He turned to Oli, ‘Your turn, isn’t it?’

‘Nope, it’s yours.’

He looked at Bugsie, ‘Is it?’

Bugsie inclined his head; he never used words where a curt nod would suffice.

Not for the first time since leaving the hotel, Dan checked that his wallet was still in the back pocket of his shorts. Reassured, he then looked slowly about the room, taking in the crowd of customers in all their sun-burnt glory. As usual, the predominant demographic was middle-class students, carefully dressed-down to look like surfers. In amongst their ubiquitous blur of red and tan, one girl immediately stood out, her skin pale and smooth like eggshell. Either her holiday had just begun, or she’d been very careful to avoid the sun. She had long, auburn hair, and fine, black eyebrows. A strapless top showed off her freckled shoulders, and with it she wore a floor length, green sarong that faded to blue at the hem. The women around her, in low-slung, denim shorts and mini-skirts, their tops runched up to show-case their pierced navels, were dressed up for the here and now, whereas this girl seemed to be heading somewhere else entirely.

He flinched as an elbow stabbed in between his ribs, ‘Jesus, Oli. What was that for?’

Oli shook his head, ‘Can we at least get the drinks in before you fall in love yet again with the least available girl in the room?’

To Dan’s left, Bugsie laughed rather too hard. He glanced from one to the other of them,’What are you talking about?’

Oli and Bugsie exchanged pitying looks. Bugsie then, glanced down at his empty right hand and started with surprise, as though shocked to find it didn’t contain a beer bottle, before pointedly looking back at Dan.

He gave up, ‘OK! My round it is then.’

Dan had never just gone up to a woman in a bar, and this night was no exception, but something of the holiday mood must have caught hold of him, because he chose to buy the drinks right next to where the girl was standing.

 

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.

My Feedback

 Critique Key

Original Text is in italics. (Author is already using italics, so my comments are going to be underlined this week)

Red is text I recommend removing.

Green is text I recommend adding.

Blue are my comments.

Literary Fiction – Helen Evans

He knew straight away, although afterwards he would lie to himself about it. He had a habit of needlessly complicating simple things. < I like this opening. It sets up a solid and clear POV and voice while also giving the reader the promise that something is going to happen. We don’t know what, but we know this isn’t going to be an opening that takes us nowhere.

The evening had begun like every other of the holiday. This was the fifth night in a row they’d gone to the same bar. It had not escaped Dan’s notice that, even this far from home, they’d remained creatures of habit, drinking the same drinks, telling the same stories, doing the same things. Routine was their deity, wherever they went, they bowed down before her.

As soon as they’d walked in, the heat of the place began to feel oppressive. < It’s not a huge deal, but I’m not a fan of things “beginning” to happen. It seems to unnecessarily water statements down. Dan glanced behind him at the open door which led temptingly back out onto the beach. It was late, and beyond the bar’s own shallow pool of light lay total blackness, the island’s geography lost in the night, the sound of the ocean drowned out by music and people. He turned to Oli, ‘Your turn, isn’t it?’

‘Nope, it’s yours.’

He looked at Bugsie, ‘Is it?’

Bugsie inclined his head; he never used words where a curt nod would suffice.

Not for the first time since leaving the hotel, Dan checked that his wallet was still in the back pocket of his shorts. Reassured, he then looked slowly about the room, taking in the crowd of customers in all their sun-burnt glory. As usual, the predominant demographic was middle-class students, carefully dressed-down to look like surfers. In amongst their ubiquitous blur of red and tan, one girl immediately < You’ve used a few adverbs here, but I’m not one of those 100% anti-adverb editors. Still, I recommend shedding them when you can and this one seems disposable. stood out, her skin pale and smooth like eggshell. Either her holiday had just begun, or she’d been very careful to avoid the sun. She had long, auburn hair, and fine, black eyebrows. A strapless top showed off her freckled shoulders, and with it she wore a floor length, green sarong that faded to blue at the hem. The women around her, in low-slung, denim shorts and mini-skirts, their tops runched up to show-case their pierced navels, were dressed up for the here and now, whereas this girl seemed to be heading somewhere else entirely.

He flinched as an elbow stabbed in between his ribs, ‘Jesus, Oli. What was that for?’

Oli shook his head, ‘Can we at least get the drinks in before you fall in love yet again with the least available girl in the room?’

To Dan’s left, Bugsie laughed rather too hard. He glanced from one to the other of them,’What are you talking about?’

Oli and Bugsie exchanged pitying looks. Bugsie then, glanced down at his empty right hand and started with surprise, as though shocked to find it didn’t contain a beer bottle, < Maybe it’s just me, but the first time I read this, I didn’t realize he was doing this to get Dan to buy the beers. I thought it was intended to express some kind of emotional state. You may want to add something like “mock surprise” for clarity. before pointedly looking back at Dan. < There’s a lot of looking and glancing in this section. You may want to cut out one “glance” and one “look” for the sake of diverse descriptions and to not over-control the eye movement of characters, which is something that can (over time) become both tedious and meaningless to readers. 

He gave up, ‘OK! My round it is then.’ < I’m assuming this is Dan speaking, but it’s a tad ambiguous.

Dan had never just gone up to a woman in a bar, and this night was no exception, but something of the holiday mood must have caught hold of him, because he chose to buy the drinks right next to where the girl was standing.
 

My Overall Thoughts

I’m really excited because this makes for two really, really great First Page Friday’s in a row! Your style is very solid. On the first read through, there was really nothing that jumped out at me and made me stop reading. It’s smooth enough that I’d keep reading if I picked this up in a book store or library.

Key Places to Improve:

  • I don’t know if it’s something that becomes an issue (since I’ve only read the first 500 words), but it’s always good to be mindful of how often you control character’s eye movements. In the section I marked above, each glance/look is conveying an emotion, but when possible (especially when eye movements start to get dense as in the section above), it’s a good idea to use another description that conveys the same thing. Over time, glances/looks/stares/etc start to lose meaning to the reader when used frequently. So if you think this may apply to you, “search and replace” on your word processor can help you weed some of them out of your manuscript.
  • The opening line promises something interesting will happen. I would expect that to happen nearly immediately following these first 500 words. If that’s not the case, you may want to follow through on the promise sooner (at least with another hint) so that readers can get the gist of what the book will be about in the 1-5 minutes they might spend looking it over before choosing to buy it or put it back on the shelf.

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 4.5

This opening is very solid. The only reason I don’t give it a 5 is because it’s not the type of opening that’s going to make someone automatically request pages, which is really what I base my grading scale on (how likely I think it is a writer will get partial or full requests). This is a very specific type and taste of writing, that I personally really like. If you maintain this quality of writing throughout and pair it with a great plot, I think you should be good to go!

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.

Submit to First Page Friday – (currently OPEN to submissions)

***Please read this entire section before submitting***

Due to the amount of time it takes to respond to each email and due to the volume of submissions received (I booked 4 months in about 2 weeks), I am changing the submission and selection process for First Page Friday (beginning next week) for my own sanity as well as to increase the quality of the series.

Submissions will no longer be accepted on a first come, first serve basis, and I will no longer be scheduling posts in advance. I will review submissions once a week and choose a first page that I feel provides the best learning opportunity for readers. This means that as much as I would love to respond to every submission, you probably won’t hear from me if I don’t select your first page. It also means that I may select your first page months after you submit it (you are responsible for updating or pulling your submission as needed).

To Submit, send the following information to ellenbrock@keytopservices.com or to editorbrock@gmail.com:

  • The name you want used on your post (real name, pseudonym, or anonymous)
  • The first 500 words (Don’t stop in the middle of a sentence, but don’t add sentences above and beyond 500 words)
  • Any links you want included with the post (website, Amazon, GoodReads, Twitter, etc.)

Title your submission email: SUBMISSION: First Page Friday – [Genre of your book]

If you need to update or revoke your submission, title your email: UPDATE: First Page Friday – [Genre of your book]

If you are also interested in my editing or mentoring services, please send a separate email from your First Page Friday submission so that I can address it promptly. I will only open as many submission as it takes for me to select a first page, so I probably won’t get to your email for several weeks.

I will not remove First Page Friday critiques after they are posted, so please do not submit if you are not okay with your work being publicly critiqued on my blog.

I ask that you please comment, vote, and share First Page Friday posts from other authors. It’s courteous to both give and receive help. Thank you!

***A few people have emailed asking if they can have a private first page critique. I am more than happy to do that, but due to being completely booked (I’m working 10-11 hour days!), I have to charge $25 for private, offline first page critiques. Thanks for understanding!***

About the Editor

Ellen Brock 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 and mentoring.

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18 thoughts on “First Page Friday #30: Literary Fiction

  1. Juan Zung says:

    I thought the staging was pretty good. I had a good enough mental picture of the bar, the three friends and the girl. Each of these were set up with enough physical/personality tidbits to differentiate them from each other. Any confusion seemed reasonable for the beginning of a novel. I find this (writing scenes with multiple interactions) hard to pull off myself, so I admire it when others can do it so proficiently.

    And it was a fun read!

  2. Holly Dolly says:

    I like your snappy opening. =)

    Also, I like hearing that the character you are introducing is dressed to go somewhere else rather than for where she is currently. That is some great introductory characterization.

    This part I don’t like as much: “heat of the place began to feel oppressive”. Many, many, many writers have described heat as “oppressive” before. It’s one of those noun / adjective combinations that are a bit cliche. If it were me I’d try to come up with something new.

    I hope this feedback helps!

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