First Page Friday #38: Crime Fiction / Thriller

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First Page Friday is a blog series where I provide a free edit and critique of the first 500 words of an unpublished novel.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

Crime Fiction / Thriller – Glenn

A distraction was the last thing that Mark Ingle needed.

In the Two and a half years that he had been working for Wright and McConnell advertising agency, no other brief had been so difficult. He wondered, as he glanced out of the small window next to his desk, if he should even be there. Not only was this client’s brief challenging to say the least, last night’s argument with Gina had left him exhausted. It was becoming a habit. Two months ago, Gina had decided it was time that they took their relationship to the next level. This involved moving in to a small two room apartment in London together. Mark was beginning to think it was a bad idea.

The distraction appeared benign enough. Marks phone rang. It was the floor receptionist. ‘Mark, I have your sister, Elizabeth on the phone from Australia, she says it is important.’

‘Thanks Emma. Tell her I will call her back in ten minutes. He checked his email, shut his monitor off and stood to go to lunch. As he took his first step he saw his boss, Ian, striding between the petitions, coming his way.

‘Here we go.’ Mark said under his breath.

‘Where are you up to on the Hybrid?’ Ian asked, as if already knowing the answer.

‘Well, I’m getting there, but…’

‘But what? I get the feeling you’re doing a little too much shagging about on this one Mark.’

‘I would rather you gave this to someone else in copy sir.’ Mark regretted his tone before the words were all out. Ian’s response began calm enough.

‘I’m afraid that it is a bit late for that. You have been sitting- and I don’t use the word lightly- on this for a week. What the hell could your problem be with it anyway?’

‘It’s a farce. Who is going to fall for the sort of shite that I am expected to say about a Hybrid SUV that is the size of a Sherman tank? It’s better for the environment, CRAP! It uses less fuel than the car you are driving now, CRAP! It will cost you less in Congestion charge, At least that bit’s true, in fact it is the only reason the bloody thing exists. Why else would they only want to target London and surrounding counties? How many do you think will be sold in countries that don’t have congestion charge? ZIP!.. Oh, I suppose a few do-good Hollywood celebs will buy them.’ Mark could feel that his face had turned red and could see that Ian was quickly turning a similar hue.

‘I will tell you why people will buy them. They will buy them by the ship load because our advertisement tells them to buy them. They will buy them because our advertisements are considered the best in the business. I think young man that you are forgetting that this agency employs you to write copy, not to bang on with your own opinions!.. and write copy is exactly what you are going to do!’

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.

Crime Fiction / Thriller – Glenn

A distraction was the last thing that Mark Ingle needed. < This is an opening sentence that I’ve seen a lot. That doesn’t mean it can’t or doesn’t work, but I point it out only because it doesn’t have the uniqueness or flair that it might have had at one time.

In the Two and a half years that he had been working for Wright and McConnell advertising agency, no other brief had been so difficult. He wondered, as he glanced out of the small window next to his desk, if he should even be there. Not only was this client’s brief challenging to say the least, last night’s argument with Gina had left him exhausted. It was becoming a habit. At this point I am already tired of the telling (rather than showing). I don’t know the character well enough to truly care and I want to get on with the story. I can learn the details of his relationship with Gina later. Two months ago, Gina had decided it was time that they took their relationship to the next level. This involved moving in to a small two room apartment in London together. Mark was beginning to think it was a bad idea.

The distraction appeared benign enough. Marks phone rang. It was the floor receptionist. ‘Mark, I have your sister, Elizabeth on the phone from Australia, she says it is important.’

‘Thanks Emma. Tell her I will call her back in ten minutes. He checked his email, shut his monitor off and stood to go to lunch. As he took his first step he saw his boss, Ian, striding between the petitions, coming his way.

‘Here we go.’ Mark said under his breath.

‘Where are you up to on the Hybrid?’ Ian asked, as if already knowing the answer.

‘Well, I’m getting there, but…’

‘But what? I get the feeling you’re doing a little too much shagging about on this one Mark.’

‘I would rather you gave this to someone else in copy sir.’ Mark regretted his tone before the words were all out. Ian’s response began calm enough.

‘I’m afraid that it is a bit late for that. You have been sitting- and I don’t use the word lightly- on this for a week. What the hell could your problem be with it anyway?’ < This last bit of dialogue seems unnatural to me. I would reword it: ‘What the hell is your problem with it anyway?’

‘It’s a farce. Who is going to fall for the sort of shite that I am expected to say about a Hybrid SUV that is the size of a Sherman tank? It’s better for the environment, CRAP! It uses less fuel than the car you are driving now, CRAP! It will cost you less in Congestion charge, At least that bit’s true, in fact it is the only reason the bloody thing exists. Why else would they only want to target London and surrounding counties? How many do you think will be sold in countries that don’t have congestion charge? ZIP!.. Oh, I suppose a few do-good Hollywood celebs will buy them.’ < I don’t know enough about Mark for this rant to feel authentic or passionate. Without the emotional buildup that the character experienced (which the reader didn’t experience), the dialogue has no impact. Mark could feel that his face had turned red and could see that Ian was quickly turning a similar hue.

‘I will tell you why people will buy them. They will buy them by the ship load because our advertisement tells them to buy them. They will buy them because our advertisements are considered the best in the business. I think young man that you are forgetting that this agency employs you to write copy, not to bang on with your own opinions!.. and write copy is exactly what you are going to do!’

 

My Overall Thoughts

I’m not getting crime fiction or thriller from this opening at all. I would expect this to be realistic fiction about the dangers of sacrificing your beliefs for your job.

Key Places to Improve:

  • You’ve introduced a lot of conflict without giving the reader any emotional connection to it. Mark goes from flat to ranting at his boss. I don’t feel close to him and  I don’t really understand how he feels. Work on engaging the reader’s emotions by showing Mark’s feelings progress through the scene.
  • Mark’s conflict with Gina, the distraction of the phone call, his boss getting upset, and Mark not wanting to write the advertisement is a lot of conflict but the reader is not given any context for how to interpret these events. Is he poor and worried about losing his job? Does he care about Gina because she’s the only woman to ever love him? Is his sister calling after ten years of silence or does she call every day?
  • If this is crime fiction or a thriller, I would open with something with more sinister undertones. This doesn’t read like the opening of a page-turner. I feel like I might be getting ready to learn a life lesson about not selling one’s soul for a job.

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 2

There’s nothing really wrong with the writing, but it’s a bit flat/unemotional. Forming that emotional connection to the reader is vital in making any story work.

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)

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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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9 thoughts on “First Page Friday #38: Crime Fiction / Thriller

  1. Ryan Slattery says:

    I voted “It was Okay” because I liked the fact that there was already conflict (and a promise of more conflict to come), but the conflict wasn’t very interesting to me.

    I also found the confrontation with the boss to be unoriginal. There was nothing that made the boss stand out, or the character’s response to him interesting. I don’t know if this is a good idea or not, but maybe you could have the character smell him coming instead of simply seeing him, and the smell would drive an internal monologue about how he hates his boss for [insert despicable flaw here]. Again, I don’t know that that’s any better, but incorporating the senses into a scene is always helpful and I think it offers a chance for internal dialogue better than just seeing him coming.

  2. trazanacho says:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the single sentence paragraph is a powerful tool when used properly. Using it as an opener makes a statement. Well done, it’s an instant hook because it grabs the reader.

    This one was done well – i liked it and it grabbed me. In one sentence, you’ve introduced the character, established presence and created tension. Nicely done.

    Then we get to the next paragraph and start info dumping. Argh! You had me – I was ready to dive in and… it was letting the air out the sail. Go back and take the first sentence out [or put it somewhere else]. Then read the first line. Now go to the second – I’m still there with you!

    The opening line was a great hook, but you need to make sure I take in the whole line and sinker with it. I’d focus on the situation with Gina – that keep me reading, everything else was a… distraction. You could’ve introduced that as info he had to force himself to pay attention to. That would’ve worked better for me. [I’ll be interested to see what Ellen walked away with from this]

    TYPO alert – partitions not petitions.

    ‘What the hell could your problem be with it anyway?’

    This felt very awkward. Try this –

    ‘What the hell is your problem with this project anyway?’

    The differences may seem subtle, but read both sentences out loud and see which one feels more natural.

    You’ve been avoiding contractions in your dialogue – don’t be afraid of them – embrace them. They keep your characters from sounding artificial.

    TYPO alert: ‘ It will cost you less in Congestion charge,’

    That should be the end of a sentence, but I think some text got lost [based on the comma – and the confusion of the sentence. It makes no sense – what’s a ‘Congestion charge’?].

    Ah – maybe I jumped on that one too fast. Apparently ‘Congestion charge’ is a British phrase [never heard of it]. Might want to consider a rephrase unless you are planning to pitch it to British magazines/publishers. But then, you toss in ‘Hollywood’ which is distinctly American. Lost in your Cultural references that don’t seem to connect.

    ‘tells them to buy them’. Say that fast three times… Rephrase.

    Overall, I’d say you’ve got a good opener except the 2nd paragraph which is buzzkill after a ‘bang on’ opening line. 😉 The stilted language slows everything down as well [mea culpa – had to word search ‘do not’ in my own novel and convert almost all of them to ‘don’t’ to make the narrative/dialogue flow better – that was a week of my life I’ll never get back].

  3. Glenn says:

    Hello fellow Ellen fans.
    I am not affraid to admit that this is my submition. What Ellen has said is spot on and now that I am looking at my first page without the rose colored glasses, I have to agree. This was litterally the first page I had written and I guess in my novice way was in love with it. The second paragraph is an info dump. I will work to address that. As far as the rest goes, I think I was trying to be whitty and it just distracts.
    Thanks Ryan and Trazanacho for yor comments. I take them both as encouragement. I will keep the first line. It may appear to the well versed as cliché but in context and including the next page really works.
    Thank you again.
    Glenn.

    • Liz says:

      Bravo Glen! Putting yourself out there is a brave thing to do. I’m really intrigued by the question of whether or not using a one-line paragraph to start a story is “good” or whatever. I’ve read your submission several times and I have a comment/suggestion. I don’t feel right about critiquing your submission here in public without asking you first – could I send it to you privately?

      All the best,

      Liz

    • Liz says:

      Hi again Glen, it wouldn’t let me just reply directly to your last comment, so I have to do it here. Without posting our personal emails here publicly, I’m not sure how to do it either. If you feel comfortable telling me your email, that’s fine. If not, I can simply post my comment/suggestion here publicly. Let me know what you prefer!

      Liz

  4. Juan Zung says:

    Glenn,

    I voted “really liked it” because it was simply fun for me to read. I enjoyed the tone of your writing. It felt like a noir story.

    I also found the protagonist relatable and there was enough intrigue set-up in the beginning. I was drawn in by the idea that the problems (Mark’s client brief, his relationship with Gina, the giant SUV and his sister’s emergency) would all become intertwined.

    One thing that didn’t work for me was Mark’s long rant. I had to force myself to read it all the way through. I believe it’s the longest paragraph on the page, which might be why it didn’t flow for me. I’d consider shortening it. And also giving the last sentence its own paragraph.

    Perhaps a bigger question is whether or not the plot element of Mark’s frustration/rant needs to be on this first page. Does it drive the plot? Does it develop the character? Also, is it distracting from more important elements?

    Thanks for sharing and best of luck!

    • Glenn says:

      Thanks Juanfor your thoughts and words of encouragement. You are right. Marks rant is a distraction and unnecessary. I have removed it now and am reworking my first page. I have gained much knowledge from reading Ellen’s blog.

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