First Page Critique #47: Contemporary Fantasy

14804123233_996002659d_oWell, it’s been a long time since I’ve done a first page critique! As much as I loved the series, I simply could not find the time to post one every week.

But First Page Friday is back! However it will no longer be tied to Fridays and the name will change to simply “First Page Critique.”

I will post a critique whenever I can, but my schedule is too chaotic to promise one every week. I will also be accepting submissions for query letter critiques (see the submission page here).

Toby4A note on the critique: I am no longer going to include proofreading in my critiques because it is too tedious and time consuming.

I am also no longer posting the first page twice (once with and once without my notes) because it made the posts too long. Let me know if you miss the old format and I’ll change it back.

In other news, I have a new editing assistant – Toby the phantom poodle. With those eyebrows, he is almost as critical as his mama!

Contemporary Fantasy – by Christopher

It was just after five in the morning when Dan heard the noise, an irregular shifting of loose dirt just behind him. By that point he was up to his neck in the second grave he had opened that night. So was sluggish and filthy as he turned to find a tall brunette woman standing at the lip of the grave, looking down on him in every sense of the word. I like this last line because it makes the writing seem clever with a sense of humor. Very appealing. Sets a good tone.

“Daniel Scott?” The stranger asked. By this point Daniel had taken in some fairly important details about his visitor, so he decided to try his first line of defense. What important details? This seems a little vague.

“Never heard of him.” he said, not wanting to dig his hole any deeper. Then, being either very brave, or stupid, Dan turned his back on the vampire and resumed doing doing just that. This last line did not give me the impression he knew she was a vampire (it’s later made clear that he knows). My interpretation was that the omniscient narrator (not the character) knew that she was a vampire.

He knew from experience that he had to be close to the body beneath him. People tended not to dig graves much further than an aching back demanded. An aching back wouldn’t demand to dig graves at all. I know what you mean, but this wording doesn’t work for me.

“I’ve come to collect you for a job.” The woman went on, ignoring his lie, and from the tone of her voice Dan hadn’t done himself any favors lying to her. Damn, he thought as he turned and heaved another shovel full of hard earth onto the pile he had made next to the grave. < I don’t feel that this line conveys anything that wasn’t already conveyed. Then Dan gave the stranger another look, pushing his sweaty dark hair out of his eyes as he moved to lean on his shovel, catching his breath.
She wasn’t particularly tall, Dan thought he would stand half a head taller than her. She wore hiking boots and thick dark jeans and a tight black shirt, which was sensible dress for the hike to this ancient graveyard. The only thing Dan found out of place was her makeup, it was thick and dark, but in a way that seemed to emphasize a dark, smoky sex appeal. < You mention “dark” twice in this sentence which feels redundant. I also think that rather than “emphasize” it might be better to say that it seems like it’s intended to create sex appeal. I could be wrong, but I think the latter is closer to what you were going for. It fit with the way she spoke, sort of sultry pouty voice. The kind that made you think of some 1950’s movie star. < I personally dislike the use of “you” in narration because I find it distracting. Usually focusing on the character’s perception is stronger.
She wasn’t carrying any kind of light either, that had been the thing that had given her away really. It was about eight miles from the nearest paved road, and even that almost didn’t qualify given how old and rough it had been. < I know what you mean here, but “had been” implies that the road is no longer there (or is no longer rough). I would use “was.” Dan had left his own vehicle some two miles down the trail when it was clear the path had grown too tight for the truck to make it. I’d consider replacing “clear” with something like “apparent” because this initially reads “when it [the trail] was clear,” which has a completely different meaning and made me stumble over the sentence a bit.

“You should have brought a flashlight.” Dan said, nodding to the tiny electric camping lantern he used to dig by. “It’s the little things that give you away.” he added, smiling outwardly… well, showing her his teeth anyway. This dialogue says almost exactly the same thing as the narration at the beginning of the previous paragraph. I would choose one or the other to avoid seeming redundant.

“Please do not waste my time Mr. Scott, as I said, I need you to come with me.” the vampire said, unimpressed with his deduction.
“I don’t care, I don’t work for him anymore and I damn sure won’t work for you either.” Dan said, irritated by the cocky way she spoke to him. I think it’s obvious that he’s irritated by her cockiness. This isn’t something that I feel needs to be pointed out. Always try to let dialogue speak for itself. 

The vampire just smiled at his outburst, showing him just how cool and in control of the situation she was. I think you have done a good job showing that she is in control. I don’t think it’s necessary to spell that out for the reader.

My Overall Thoughts

I really like how this opening page dumps me right into a scene. Right away I get a sense that this guy is pretty cool and something very interesting is going on. He’s digging a grave, he knows about vampires, he used to work with them. Cool, cool, and cool!

This especially stands out to me because vampire stories have felt quite overdone for a long time, but I didn’t have that “oh groan, another vampire story” reaction to this. I would definitely read more.

Key place to improve: I think you could trust your reader’s ability of deduction a little bit more. There were a few places (which I marked above) where I felt that you were over explaining things that were already clear.

What Do You Think?

Feel free to leave a comment with constructive criticism and feedback!

Want to see how your first page or query letter would fair? Submit your work here.

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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3 thoughts on “First Page Critique #47: Contemporary Fantasy

  1. Yannic Maurice Dozier says:

    I think my favorite part is right at the beginning when he notices the irregular shifting of the loose dirt. I feel maybe more detailed descriptions like that would pull me in. How does the night air feel, what does the shovel feel like in his hand, are his bones and muscles aching? Stuff like that would bring me in a little closer to what sounds like is going to be a very intriguing character. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Filip says:

    I feel that there was a bit too much narrator commentary. For instance this:

    “Daniel Scott?” The stranger asked. By this point Daniel had taken in some fairly important details about his visitor, so he decided to try his first line of defense.

    “Never heard of him.” he said, not wanting to dig his hole any deeper. Then, being either very brave, or stupid, Dan turned his back on the vampire and resumed doing doing just that.

    “I’ve come to collect you for a job.” The woman went on, ignoring his lie, and from the tone of her voice Dan hadn’t done himself any favors lying to her. Damn, he thought as he turned and heaved another shovel full of hard earth onto the pile he had made next to the grave. Then Dan gave the stranger another look,

    Could be reduced to:

    “Daniel Scott?” The stranger asked.
    “Never heard of him.” Dan turned his back on the vampire and dug his hole deeper.
    “I’ve come to collect you for a job.” the woman went on. Dan gave the stranger
    a look…

    The reader can pretty much infer the stuff I took out and I for one think its a good idea to let the reader get involved in the story by letting them fill in some gaps instead of spoon feeding them everything. You don’t need to tell the reader that Dan was lying and let the reader infer Dans motivations.

    Just my penny’s worth. Keep up the good work 🙂

  3. sam forsyth says:

    This first page left me wanting to read more. It’s a fun intro for two characters I would like to see share a lot of page-time together. I’m not an editor anymore, and I’m not an agent, so take this for whatever you think its worth– This first page, though engaging, seemed mired in something. Something bogged down the flow. I read it a couple of times, and then read it out loud and realized what, in my opinion, is the issue. I’m not a pro editor, so I don’t know if there’s a term for this, but I remember it happening a lot when I read/edited/selected short stories for a web publication. The author pumps the breaks too often when using phrasing like, “…the second grave he *had opened*…” “…Daniel *had taken*…” “…the pile he *had made*…” “…it *had been*…” I’d say the best option when conveying active action in the past tense is to use the most simple option. ie ‘it was’ vs ‘it had been’, ‘Daniel took’ vs ‘Daniel had taken’ and finally, ‘…she wasn’t carrying any kind of light, that’s what gave her away, really.’ vs. ‘…that had been the thing that had given…” It’s not nit-picking because, even though I like the characters so far, I couldn’t get through another few pages full of “had been”s and “had left”s.

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