First Page Friday #36: Supernatural Suspense

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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First Page Friday is a blog series where I provide a free edit and critique of the first 500 words of an unpublished novel.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!

Supernatural Suspense – Laura T. Evans

New York City, New York

2:34 am

***Trigger Warning: Rape***

His eyes were sharp, focused; the kind that could be almost handsome in a different situation. He was still inside her moving with purpose. She tried to turn her head away, but his hand gripped her chin and forced her to look at him. If she tried to close her eyes, he would hit her; she had already attempted it once; the pain in her cheek still pulsing. She stared through him, thinking of her family and friends, hoping that he would finish and just walk away.

She felt the point of the knife slide into her throat and her body began bucking wildly to unseat him but her limbs chaffed at the ropes; he was just too strong, too heavy and she didn’t have the strength anymore to fight him.

 

He grinned at her sardonically. “Yeah baby, fight me.” He purred into her ear, his breath hot and sticky.

“NO!” her mind screamed, and she forced her limbs to go completely limp, challenging him with her eyes. There was no way she would live through this, she had heard the news stories. The knife pressed deeper; she felt it, the blood warm and sticky running down her breasts and onto the clean starched sheets. Should she feel sorry for the maid who would walk into this tomorrow?

He bent down and whispered in her ear but she only caught some of it as her mind was beginning to blur, “..pathetic, weak, I enjoy watching all of you die under me.”

She closed her eyes and prayed for the end. It came slowly as her heart ceased to beat.

***

***End Trigger Warning***

Aurora, Iowa

6:25 pm

Sarah opened the door to her shiny black sedan and stepped out, bumping it closed with her backside, and leaned against the cool metal, releasing the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. The house didn’t look much different that it had 12 years ago; just a few things were different. The shutter on her bedroom window was hanging askew and the front steps paint was flaking away in big pieces showing the bare cement; basically it was exactly as she remembered. It was once a beautiful place, the home of an actual family, but scrub and tall weeds now covered the front flowerbeds, which clearly hadn’t been tended years.

She stepped decisively up to the front door and stopped. Her hand gently extended on the knob; feeling the familiar crawling that started in her legs and moved slowly up her torso to her head, like tiny bugs scampering on her skin, when she used her abilities. The images were coming fast, flipping through her mind; a child playing on a rope swing, her father singing Frank Sinatra in the den while writing something on a paper, her mother digging in the front flower bed while she placed the small delicate sprout into the fresh clean earth.

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 is my comments.

Orange is highlighting.

Supernatural Suspense – Laura T. Evans

New York City, New York

2:34 am

***Trigger Warning: Rape***

His eyes were sharp, focused; the kind that could be almost handsome in a different situation. < “The kind” seems awkward here to me. “Handsome” isn’t a kind of eyes in my opinion. I would just say “they could be almost handsome.” He was still inside her moving with purpose. She tried to turn her head away, but his hand gripped her chin and forced her to look at him. If she tried to close her eyes, he would hit her; she had already attempted it once; the pain in her cheek still pulsing. She stared through him, thinking of her family and friends, hoping that he would finish and just walk away. < There are some very strong opinions out there about the depiction of rape in fiction. Some agents/publishers are rarely or never okay with it; others are okay with it when it develops characters or is vital to the plot. I have seen many agents say that they do not like reading about rape or violence in the opening pages of a novel (before they’ve had time to settle into the plot). Opening with rape is risky and very unlikely to be a benefit. I would consider carefully whether the novel needs to start here.

She felt the point of the knife slide into her throat and her body began bucking wildly to unseat him but her limbs chaffed at the ropes; he was just too strong, too heavy and she didn’t have the strength anymore to fight him. <I would show the development from her “bucking wildly” to not having the “strength anymore to fight him.” I also feel that you aren’t giving the reader anything to latch onto other than the rape itself. Who is this person? Where is this person? Why are they there? If these are mystery elements, is it important to show this scene at all? There are alternatives. For example, you could describe where she was prior to the rape, where she was going, what she was doing, etc., then end the scene alluding to the fact that she never makes it home again.

 

He grinned at her sardonically. “Yeah baby, fight me.” He purred into her ear, his breath hot and sticky. < This is a description I’ve read many times before.

“NO!” her mind screamed, and she forced her limbs to go completely limp, challenging him with her eyes. There was no way she would live through this, she had heard the news stories. The knife pressed deeper; she felt it, the blood warm and sticky running down her breasts and onto the clean starched sheets. Should she feel sorry for the maid who would walk into this tomorrow?

He bent down and whispered in her ear but she only caught some of it as her mind was beginning to blur, “..pathetic, weak, I enjoy watching all of you die under me.”

She closed her eyes and prayed for the end. It came slowly as her heart ceased to beat. < Not to sound callous, but why should readers care about this woman’s death? We don’t know who she is. We don’t know why she matters. This scene has no value to the reader other than on a superficial fact-based level. Why should we care what happens next? She already died and there aren’t really any mystery elements to wonder about.

***

***End Trigger Warning***

Aurora, Iowa

6:25 pm

Sarah opened the door to her shiny black sedan and stepped out, bumping it closed with her backside, < I would start a new sentence here. Give the reader time to digest what you’re saying. and leaned against the cool metal, The house didn’t look much different that it had 12 years ago; just a few things were different. < This sentence feels redundant. I would condense the two clauses into one. The shutter on her bedroom window was hanging askew and the front steps paint was flaking away in big pieces showing the bare cement; < I’d cut the red section for a tighter description. basically it was exactly as she remembered. < I thought you meant those things were what was different (the shutter askew and the paint flaking), but now you’re saying this was how she remembered it. This was a bit jarring. It was once a beautiful place, the home of an actual family, but scrub and tall weeds now covered the front flowerbeds, which clearly hadn’t been tended years. <So was it “the home of an actual family” when she lived there? Or was it always like this?

She stepped decisively up to the front door and stopped. Her hand gently extended on the knob; <This description reads awkwardly to me. I think “to the knob” would make more sense.  feeling the familiar crawling that started in her legs and moved slowly up her torso to her head, like tiny bugs scampering on her skin, when she used her abilities. < This sentence is too long and I found myself struggling a bit to read it. It also means that her hand experienced the feeling (not her). The images were coming fast, flipping through her mind; a child playing on a rope swing, her father singing Frank Sinatra in the den while writing something on a paper, her mother digging in the front flower bed while she placed the small delicate sprout into the fresh clean earth. < “While” doesn’t make sense here unless she is digging with one hand and placing the flowers at the same time with the other hand.

 

 

My Overall Thoughts

Opening with a rape scene is a risk and one that I would avoid unless you feel very strongly that it is absolutely the best place to start your novel. The next scene is okay, but you still haven’t established a strong connection to a character. Why is Sarah going back to her childhood home? Alluding to the reason might be a good way to create suspense or intrigue.

Key Places to Improve:

  • Work on writing shorter, clearer sentences. Make sure when you describe things (like whether the house looks the same or different), all the descriptions relate back to the same idea.
  • Give the reader more character to latch onto. Other than her powers occurring, how does Sarah feel about going back home?
  • If you tend to rely on standard, easy descriptions (his breath was hot and sticky), go through your manuscript and replace these typical descriptions with something a little more “you,” something that will make agents see what is unique about your voice.

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 2

The opening is risky, but the second scene didn’t really reel me in either.

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***

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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 if you have trouble with that email address (as has been the case for some of you lately), send it to editorbrock@gmail.com:

  • The name you want used on your post (real name, pseudonym, or anonymous)
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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. When not editing, she enjoys reading, writing, and geocaching. Check out her freelance novel editing services and mentoring.

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28 thoughts on “First Page Friday #36: Supernatural Suspense

  1. strangewriter says:

    The rape scene didn’t bother me, but I would be more inclined to forgive an opening rape scene in a Thriller rather than a Supernatural Suspense, which immediately sounds like it should be a softer genre. My personal bias, here.

    From reading that portion, I was interested in how the two events were going to connect, so in that sense your rape scene actually DID work for me. I’m an ex-horror reader though, so perhaps this story (as is) would appeal to Stephen King fans?

    As for the writing, you have a nice way of describing things, but as Ellen said, shorter sentences work more effectively to communicate the intensity. Long sentences are not a huge problem though – easily broken up. It’s the extra description that loosens the writing and takes away impact. I can see a really interesting novel in here though 🙂

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