First Page Friday #26: Cozy Mystery

Thanks for checking out First Page Friday! Don’t forget to leave your thoughts in the comments!

If you like First Page Friday, please share it wherever you can! It takes a lot of time to put together the post each week and while I want FPF to succeed, with lower views than my other blog posts, I’m struggling to find the time to continue the series. Thanks to all my wonderful supporters! I truly appreciate it!

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First Page Friday is a blog series where I provide a free edit and critique of the first 500 words of an unpublished novel.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

Cozy Mystery First 500 – HL Carpenter

It wasn’t the food.

Exactly one week after Jo Fernley’s death, Emma Twiggs pushed aside the artistically-plated roast beef and mashed potatoes the chef at Happy Haven Retirement Community prepared every Sunday evening. No, the food had nothing to do with her sense that something was off kilter.

It wasn’t the chatter in the dining room, either, nor the sidelong glances of other Happy Haven residents. Happy Haven was a hotbed—literally—of gossip and rumors. Emma hated being the topic du jour, but that was nothing new.

It certainly wasn’t her dinner companion, Arnie Bracken. Arnie was always charming, kind, and intelligent. She looked at him and shook her head. No, her foreboding had nothing to do with Arnie, despite the fact that her best friend, Olli, had begun avoiding him. Olli had even refused to join them for dinner this evening.

Arnie said, “I know what you’re thinking, Em.”

“Do you?” Emma picked up a glass of lemon-spritzed water and waited for him to explain why they were dining alone.

“Sure.” Arnie glanced at the closest tables, leaned forward, and lowered his voice. “You’re wondering how someone as fit as Jo accidentally drowned in the swimming pool.”

Emma froze, her gaze locked with his. Her fingers tightened on the glass. The chatter in the room faded into muted background noise. She had deliberately not been thinking about Jo—slim and athletic Jo, with whom she’d shared the part-time volunteer job of water aerobics instructor at the pool where Jo had been found, her swimsuit-clad body resting on the concrete bottom like a deflated life raft.

No, she was not going to think about Jo.

Arnie said, “I’ll tell you how it happened, Em. There was no accident about it. Jo was murdered, and Cahan did it.”

“I don’t—murdered? By Todd?”

“Murdered,” Arnie repeated. “By Cahan. And we need to prove it.”

“Arnie.” Emma set the glass on the table and uncurled her fingers from it. “You know the paramedics called Jo’s death an accidental drowning. Harmony’s police department and the district medical examiner agreed.”

“Yeah, I know all the euphemisms they used.”

Emma did, too. The headline in Harmony Notes, the local daily, had read TRAGIC ACCIDENT AT HAPPY HAVEN. Unfortunate was the word murmured most frequently at the funeral service where Arnie had stood in place of the family Jo lacked, followed closely by regrettable.

Arnie said, “They’re wrong, Em.”

A trickle of condensation wept down the side of the glass and puddled into a teardrop on the table. All the words used to describe Jo’s death were wrong. Wrong and inadequate. Words were inadequate now, too. If Jo had been murdered, she deserved more than a quiet closing of the book of her life. She deserved a balancing of that book.

And there was one person who ought to square the tally: Emma Twiggs, the semi-retired septuagenarian accountant who’d done nothing to prevent her death.

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.

Red is text I recommend removing.

Green is text I recommend adding.

Blue are my comments.

Cozy Mystery First 500 – HL Carpenter

It wasn’t the food.

Exactly one week after Jo Fernley’s death, Emma Twiggs pushed aside the artistically-plated roast beef and mashed potatoes the chef at Happy Haven Retirement Community prepared every Sunday evening. < I feel that this sentence is doing too many things at once because so much information is packed into it. No, the food had nothing to do with her sense that something was off kilter.

It wasn’t the chatter in the dining room, either, nor the sidelong glances of other Happy Haven residents. Happy Haven was a hotbed—literally—of gossip and rumors. < I’m not sure what the “literally” is referring to. Emma hated being the topic du jour, but that was nothing new.

It certainly wasn’t her dinner companion, Arnie Bracken. Arnie was always charming, kind, and intelligent. She looked at him and shook her head. < I think her shaking her head in response to her own thoughts would look strange to Arnie. No, her foreboding had nothing to do with Arnie, despite the fact that her best friend, Olli, had begun avoiding him. Olli had even refused to join them for dinner this evening.

Arnie said, “I know what you’re thinking, Em.”

“Do you?” Emma picked up a glass of lemon-spritzed water and waited for him to explain why they were dining alone. < I think this is clear enough and not needed.

“Sure.” Arnie glanced at the closest tables, leaned forward, and lowered his voice. “You’re wondering how someone as fit as Jo accidentally drowned in the swimming pool.”

Emma froze, her gaze locked with his. Her fingers tightened on the glass. The chatter in the room faded into muted background noise. She had deliberately not been thinking about Jo—slim and athletic Jo, with whom she’d shared the part-time volunteer job of water aerobics instructor at the pool where Jo had been found, her swimsuit-clad body resting on the concrete bottom like a deflated life raft. < This is another sentence that’s working too hard. When sentences make several points at once, they all get buried. 

No, she was not going to think about Jo.

Arnie said, “I’ll tell you how it happened, Em. There was no accident about it. Jo was murdered, and Cahan did it.”

“I don’t—murdered? By Todd?”

“Murdered,” Arnie repeated. “By Cahan. And we need to prove it.”

“Arnie.” Emma set the glass on the table and uncurled her fingers from it. “You know the paramedics called Jo’s death an accidental drowning. Harmony’s police department and the district medical examiner agreed.”

“Yeah, I know all the euphemisms they used.”

Emma did, too. The headline in Harmony Notes, the local daily, had read TRAGIC ACCIDENT AT HAPPY HAVEN. Unfortunate was the word murmured most frequently at the funeral service where Arnie had stood in place of the family Jo lacked, This read a bit awkwardly to me because I expected it to relate to Arnie being at the funeral. > followed closely by regrettable.

Arnie said, “They’re wrong, Em.”

A trickle of condensation wept down the side of the glass and puddled into a teardrop on the table. All the words used to describe Jo’s death were wrong. Wrong and inadequate. Words were inadequate now, too. If Jo had been murdered, she deserved more than a quiet closing of the book of her life. She deserved a balancing of that book. < The repetition of “book” here reads a little clunky.

And there was one person who ought to square the tally: Emma Twiggs, the semi-retired septuagenarian accountant who’d done nothing to prevent her death.  < It seems to me that Emma swings a bit too quickly from not believing it was murder to not only believing it, but wanting to bring the killer to justice. I think that transition should  take longer.

My Overall Thoughts

I have no real complaints about the content, but I think there are some line editing issues that need to be addressed as well as some areas where clarity could be improved.

Key Places to Improve:

  • Did Emma feel something was off because of the murder? It wasn’t clear how her off-kilter feeling related (or didn’t relate) to her conversation with Arnie.
  • Opening with all the things that weren’t making Emma feel off-kilter gave this a slightly odd, almost middle grade omniscient narrator feel to me. I think your intention is third limited, so you may want to alter the opening. I think it’s coming across a bit sillier than you intend.
  • I’d like to get a little bit more about who Emma is. What kind of person is she? What is her typical life like? Is she usually nosy and the type to get involved or is she usually quiet? I’d like a better sense of Arnie’s personality as well. You may want to give the opening a bit more space to give the readers a sense of who they are.

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 3

There weren’t any major problems with this opening, but definitely some places that could be improved. I like the idea of a mystery in a retirement community.

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 the Authors

HL Carpenter is a mother-daughter writing team. You can learn more about them on their website.

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

The future of First Page Friday is uncertain. These posts don’t get as many views or shares as my other blog posts, and they get just a fraction of the views of my videos, so I’m considering applying the time I normally spend on First Page Friday towards something with a wider appeal. I’m still undecided. It will depend on whether views increase over the next few weeks.

You can help First Page Friday succeed by sharing the posts across the web. Thanks for your support!

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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First Page Friday #25: Science Fiction

Thanks for checking out First Page Friday! Don’t forget to leave your thoughts in the comments!

If you like First Page Friday, please share it wherever you can! It takes a lot of time to put together the post each week and while I want FPF to succeed, with lower views than my other blog posts, I’m struggling to find the time to continue the series. Thanks to all my wonderful supporters! I truly appreciate it!

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!

Science Fiction First 500 – Yori Papilaya

Please note that Yori is not a native English speaker.

Alex was shivered a bit, his teeth chatted. The morgue was even colder than the rest of the facility. Morgues are supposed to be like this, since heat decays corpses and people hated that, which was weird; If nothing was more natural than death and decays, why even fight it? His feet were warm, though; ready to run as fast as he can, whenever the oportunity might arise; no matter how exhausted he was that day.

All of their breaths turned into whitish mist. Except for the many breathless bodies laid covered on the metallic tables. They were his comrades this morning, but then they’re nothing, and Alex envied them.

All three of them was stared by the higher ups: Major Garrot, the headmaster of the the Owl Military Training Facility; The three Senior Officers represented Alex’, Rogan’s and Raye’s Unit; The doctors and various new faces which were probably investigators. All of them were at ease, except for Major Garrot who was sitting in the center. They looked very concerned and prepared to blame everything but themselves. Especially in front of those investigators. Respectable Major was still a human being, and being human he avoids responsibility; One way or another.

“Will any of you be so kind as to disclose what happened this morning?” Major Garrot cracked open the silence. Alex’ skin crawled with sensation.

“Sir. We were given an incorrect status of the mission, Sir.”

Quistani snorted in disdain. She was Rogan’s Unit senior officer, Baraka Unit. Other senior officers were keeping their faces straight, no matter how devastated they were.

“You may want to elaborate, Cadet. Your all 57 comrades are deceased. They’re laying in front of you right now. I am sure that you are all very shaken; but bear with me,” Garrot voice was always soothing.

“Sir. The order was only to guard the transportation of the newly found artifact outside of the village. We were told that initial army were already stationed there, so we would only act as a backup. Code 1.”

“Only to bring basic firearm?”

“Sir. Yes, the anlacer, sir.” The anlacer was a small laser blaster with retractable blade to close melee combat.  

Rogan breathed noisily on his side as he always did when he tries to breathe with his nose. So manly. Raye, on the other side of him, was silent; as if she didn’t even bother to breathe. Did she hold her breath? If we hold our breath ever so vigorously, will death come painlessly? That’s impossible; the brain won’t let it happen.

“And then, what happened?”

“Sir. Permission to suggest, Sir. But it seems Senior Officer Quistani have much to say regarding the field mission, Sir. She was the one who assigned Baraka, Meru, and Charon Unit’s third tier cadets.” Rogan and Raye made little sounds like they were about to protests but ultimately hold their poise. Quistany looked as red as a person can possibly be.

“As a matter of fact, I did, Cadet. And I don’t appreciate your … accusing suggestion. Your side of the story is apparently rather different from what the senior officers provide.”

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.

Red is text I recommend removing.

Green is text I recommend adding.

Blue are my comments.

Science Fiction First 500 – Yori Papilaya

For the sake of focusing on the content, I am not going to mark grammatical errors. For non-native English speakers, I recommend getting a developmental edit before correcting the grammar because there’s no point in perfecting the English of sentences, paragraphs, or even pages that will be cut out during developmental edits.

Alex was shivered a bit, his teeth chatted. The morgue was even colder than the rest of the facility. Morgues are supposed to be like this, since heat decays corpses and people hated that, < The first part of this sentence is stating something readers already know. which was weird; If nothing was more natural than death and decays, why even fight it? < Because decay is gross, unsanitary, smells bad, etc. and because loved ones want to have an open casket to see the deceased at the funeral. Be careful about opening novels with a question with an obvious answer. It damages the reader’s opinion of the author’s credibility before it’s been established. His feet were warm, though; ready to run as fast as he can, whenever the oportunity might arise; no matter how exhausted he was that day.

All of their breaths turned into whitish mist. < Who are all the people in this sentence? As far as I know as a reader at this point, there is only Alex. Except for the many breathless bodies laid covered on the metallic tables. They were his comrades this morning, but then they’re nothing, and Alex envied them.

All three of them < All three of who? was stared by the higher ups: Major Garrot, the headmaster of the the Owl Military Training Facility; The three Senior Officers represented Alex’, Rogan’s and Raye’s Unit; The doctors and various new faces which were probably investigators. All of them were at ease, except for Major Garrot who was sitting in the center. They looked very concerned and prepared to blame everything but themselves. Especially in front of those investigators. Respectable Major was still a human being, and being human he avoids responsibility; One way or another.

“Will any of you be so kind as to disclose what happened this morning?” Major Garrot cracked open the silence. Alex’ skin crawled with sensation.< “With sensation” isn’t adding anything here.

“Sir. We were given an incorrect status of the mission, Sir.”

Quistani snorted in disdain. She was Rogan’s Unit senior officer, Baraka Unit. Other senior officers were keeping their faces straight, no matter how devastated they were.

“You may want to elaborate, Cadet. Your all 57 comrades are deceased. They’re laying in front of you right now. I am sure that you are all very shaken; but bear with me,” Garrot voice was always soothing. < I didn’t get the impression he was being soothing. I read it as him being harsh and cold.

“Sir. The order was only to guard the transportation of the newly found artifact outside of the village. We were told that initial army were already stationed there, so we would only act as a backup. Code 1.”

“Only to bring basic firearm?”

“Sir. Yes, the anlacer, sir.” The anlacer was a small laser blaster with retractable blade to close melee combat.  

Rogan breathed noisily on his side as he always did when he tries to breathe with his nose. So manly. < What makes breathing through your nose manly? Raye, on the other side of him, was silent; as if she didn’t even bother to breathe. Did she hold her breath? If we hold our breath ever so vigorously, will death come painlessly? That’s impossible; the brain won’t let it happen. < I’m not sure if these questions are coming from an omniscient narrator or if this is third limited and they are Alex’s questions. A stronger POV needs to be established early on.

“And then, what happened?”

“Sir. Permission to suggest, Sir. But it seems Senior Officer Quistani have much to say regarding the field mission, Sir. She was the one who assigned Baraka, Meru, and Charon Unit’s third tier cadets.” Rogan and Raye made little sounds like they were about to protests but ultimately hold their poise. Quistany looked as red as a person can possibly be.

“As a matter of fact, I did, Cadet. And I don’t appreciate your … accusing suggestion. Your side of the story is apparently rather different from what the senior officers provide.” < I don’t understand what this dialogue has to do with the previous line of dialogue. If you read the lines back to back (without narration) you will notice how odd his response seems.

My Overall Thoughts

Aside from the many grammatical errors, the biggest problem I had with this opening is that it was vague without being intriguing. Something happened that led to the cadets getting killed, but the reader doesn’t know what happened, what Alex’s involvement was, or why it’s important (on an individual, group, or national scale).

Key Places to Improve:

  • A morgue could be a cool place to open a novel, and death provides the opportunity to give us a deeper look into Alex’s mind right at the start of the novel (Is he guilty? Depressed? Scared?), but the questions asked in the narration seem irrelevant and superficial and the descriptions aren’t being used to add depth to the scene. This feels like a wasted opportunity to create an immediate connection between Alex and the reader.
  • It’s important to establish the POV right from the beginning of the novel. The reader needs to know whether the questions and opinions in the narration are Alex’s or those of an omniscient narrator. I could write a whole post about establishing POV, but a couple quick tips: For omniscient, narrate something the character couldn’t know within the first few sentences. For third limited, narrate something in the character’s voice within the first few sentences and attribute it to them by connecting it to a physical movement (For example: “He rubbed the sweat from his head. How had things gotten so damn bad?”). There are other ways to establish the POV, but these are the easiest.
  • I’m not sure this is the best place to start your novel. A bunch of characters the reader knows nothing about talking about something the reader knows nothing about doesn’t give much to latch onto. It’s also not very exciting. Take some time to consider starting at a more interesting place.

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 1.5

Vague openings are very tough to pull off. I didn’t find enough to be interested in or to latch onto to want to keep reading.

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 CLOSED to submissions)

The future of First Page Friday is uncertain. These posts don’t get as many views or shares as my other blog posts, and they get just a fraction of the views of my videos, so I’m considering applying the time I normally spend on First Page Friday towards something with a wider appeal. I’m still undecided. It will depend on whether views increase over the next few weeks.

You can help First Page Friday succeed by sharing the posts across the web. Thanks for your support!

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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Help First Page Friday Succeed!  Please use the buttons below to share this post. The more views, the more submissions, the more First Page Fridays!

First Page Friday #24: Mystery

Thanks for checking out First Page Friday! Don’t forget to leave your thoughts in the comments!

In case you missed it, check out this week’s blog post: Top Ten Reasons Your Novel is Getting Rejected

And this week’s video: How to Write in Omniscient Point of View

If you like my posts, please share them! It really helps me out!

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!

Mystery First 500 – Abby Titus

It was almost like sucking on a piece of cold oak wood. It would settle inside the mouth and run down the throat. It clenched whatever painful memory there was and made a person forget. It was cheap though, and it was the way Clayton liked it. The whiskey he sipped didn’t make him feel lonely at three in the morning.

“Coming to bed?” A sooth voice said behind Clayton. It was gentle but tried. If Clayton listened closely he could hear her fingers tap on the doorframe.

“In a little while,” Clayton mumbled. He held on the little taste of whiskey he had left in his mouth before it was time for another sip. His head tilted and he looked down at his glass. It was half empty more then it was half full. He began to swirl the liquor in the glass.

The woman sighed behind him. “Don’t be up too late.”

The door close silently behind Clayton and he went back to comfortably sitting in his chair. It was an ugly chair and loosing its comfort, but it was good for times like these. Clayton took another sip of the whiskey and set the glass on the armrest. On the other armrest laid a rectangular, clear card. It almost seemed like glass, but it was hard as metal. The screen’s light was on and it read one missed message, but Clayton had no reason to listen to it.

Clayton felt the soft fur that prickled his feet. He felt the rising action of the inhale and the slow release of breath from the old dog. It was almost comforting, but Clayton knew this feeling would not last. He would have to go to work in four hours and his dog’s affection would have to wait, as well as his. Clayton could already feel the failure of his last case easing its way into his chest, so he took another sip. This is what Clayton’s father thought he would become. A failure destined to live alone. Clayton still had his dog, Kek, but it was only time before the dog died from the polluted air.

Clayton took another sip when the card rang and viabrated against the armrest. Clayton stared at it for a second before he looked to see who it was.

“Shit,” Clayton grumbled. He had the card in his hand and set the glass back down. “Now, what do you want?” Clayton set the card by his ear.  

“I think you better come down here and find out,” a man said. At three in the morning the voice sounded too chipper. It was almost annoying for Clayton’s ears.

“Get Heikler,” suggested Clayton.

“Busy with another case.”

“Caris?”

“She’s here, but wants you to come down here anyway,” said the man.

Clayton rolled his eyes and grumbled. Kek, at his feet looked up to watch the changed emotion fall on Clayton’s face. “Why does Caris want my ass down there? In fact, have her call me herself, Nolan.”

“She’s busy,” Nolan said dryly. “Besides you have to get involved in a case again. Don’t want you to loose it.”

Clayton frowned at the cop’s words as he tipped the glass of whiskey. “Have her get someone else,” Clayton spoke. He knew detective Caris wasn’t busy. “You don’t need to worry.”

“Well, this case might peak your interest. Just come down to Port 39,” Nolan sighed. On that he hung up the phone before Clayton could get another word in.

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.

Red is text I recommend removing.

Green is text I recommend adding.

Blue are my comments.

Mystery First 500 – Abby Titus

It was almost like sucking on a piece of cold oak wood. It would settle inside the mouth and run down the throat. < Writing “the mouth” and “the throat” rather than relating it to the character reads as awkward to me. It clenched whatever painful memory there was and made a person forget. It was cheap though, and it was the way Clayton liked it. The whiskey he sipped didn’t make him feel lonely at three in the morning.

“Coming to bed?” A soothing voice said behind Clayton. It was gentle but tried. If Clayton listened closely he could hear her fingers tap on the doorframe.

“In a little while,” Clayton mumbled. He held onto the little taste of whiskey he had left in his mouth before it was time for another sip. His head tilted and he looked down at his glass. It was half empty more then it was half full.  < This line seems a bit heavy handed to me. He began to swirled the liquor in the glass. < Avoid “began” because it weakens the action.

I’ve seen novel’s opening with a detective drinking whiskey enough times to consider it a cliche opening as well as a cliche personality trait of detectives. That’s not to say you can’t do it, but it’s something to keep in mind.

The woman sighed behind him. “Don’t be up too late.”

The door close silently behind Clayton and he went back to comfortably sitting in his chair. < Did he ever get up from the chair? If not, he doesn’t need to go back to sitting in it. It was an ugly chair and loosing its comfort, but it was good for times like these. Clayton took another sip of the whiskey and set the glass on the armrest. On the other armrest laid a rectangular, clear card. It almost seemed like glass, but it was hard as metal. The screen’s light was on and it read one missed message, but Clayton had no reason to listen to it. < I would condense the description of this screen, and I would also mention it’s a screen upfront. For example: On the other armrest laid a small, clear screen, about the size of a business card.

Clayton felt the soft fur that prickled his feet. He felt the rising action of the inhale and the slow release of breath from the old dog. < This read as a bit strange to me because suddenly his feet are on fur, then that fur is inhaling, then we realize it’s a dog. I’d either mention the dog earlier on or have the dog arrive at this point in the scene. It was almost comforting, but Clayton knew this feeling would not last. He would have to go to work in four hours and his dog’s affection would have to wait, as well as his. < I’m not sure what you mean. “As well as his” affection for his dog? Affection for his wife? Also, four hours is a pretty long time for the comforting feeling to last. Clayton could already feel the failure of his last case easing its way into his chest, so he took another sip. This is what Clayton’s father thought he would become. A failure destined to live alone. < But he doesn’t live alone because there’s a woman with him, right? Clayton still had his dog, Kek, but it was only time before the dog died from the polluted air.

Clayton took another sip when the card rang and viabrated against the armrest. Clayton stared at it for a second before he looked to see who it was. < It seems odd he could stare at it without seeing who it was.

“Shit,” Clayton grumbled. He had the card in his hand and set the glass back down. “Now, what do you want?” Clayton set the card by his ear.  < This makes me think he sets the card on his shoulder, which is a weird image. Isn’t he holding it to his ear rather than setting it there?

“I think you better come down here and find out,” a man said. At three in the morning the voice sounded too chipper. It was almost annoying for Clayton’s ears. < It’s annoying to Clayton, not his ears. His ears don’t have the ability to be annoyed.

“Get Heikler,” suggested Clayton.

“Busy with another case.”

“Caris?”

“She’s here, but wants you to come down here anyway,” said the man. < Avoid repeating the same word twice in a sentence.

Clayton rolled his eyes and grumbled. Kek, at his feet looked up to watch the changed emotion fall on Clayton’s face. < I don’t like this sentence because it implies that dog looked up so that he could see the changed emotion, which seems implausible. “Why does Caris want my ass down there? In fact, have her call me herself, Nolan.”

“She’s busy,” Nolan said dryly. “Besides you have to get involved in a case again. Don’t want you to loose it.”

Clayton frowned at the cop’s words as he tipped the glass of whiskey. “Have her get someone else,” Clayton spoke. He knew detective Caris wasn’t busy. < How does he know this? “You don’t need to worry.”

“Well, this case might peak < Should be “pique.” your interest. Just come down to Port 39,” Nolan sighed. < “Sighed” cannot be used as a dialogue tag. On that he hung up the phone before Clayton could get another word in. < I dislike the phrase “on that” or “with that” (followed by a character hanging up, leaving the room, etc.) because it’s unnecessary.

My Overall Thoughts

The writing itself is pretty smooth, but I don’t feel that this opening is terribly unique. It’s not jumping out at me. If I picked this up in a book store, I wouldn’t think much about it one way or the other.

Key Places to Improve:

  • Opening with a character being introspective rarely works. The reader has no investment in the character yet so they have little interest in the character’s emotional state. It also gives the opening a bit of a stagnant, just-wasting-time-to-get-to-the-good-part sort of feel.
  • The cliches in this opening are overpowering anything that might make it stand out as unique. Some cliches that I noticed: the whiskey drinking detective, the failed detective, the loner man with his dog, the man whose dad thought he would be a failure, the insomniac detective.
  • Figure out what is unique about your novel and put that uniqueness at the forefront. You have the futuristic phone in there and the pollution, which were both good (the only parts that really had me interested), but don’t bury those elements in cliches and introspection. If your character is sitting around depressed, bored, and wasting time, that’s exactly the feeling you’re going to convey to your reader. Since they don’t have anything invested in your character, those feelings aren’t very appealing.

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 2.5

There’s nothing glaringly wrong with this first page. It’s just not sucking me in or standing out as original.

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 CLOSED to submissions)

The future of First Page Friday is uncertain. These posts don’t get as many views or shares as my other blog posts, and they get just a fraction of the views of my videos, so I’m considering applying the time I normally spend on First Page Friday towards something with a wider appeal. I’m still undecided. It will depend on whether views increase over the next few weeks.

You can help First Page Friday succeed by sharing the posts across the web. Thanks for your support!

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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Help First Page Friday Succeed!  Please use the buttons below to share this post. The more views, the more submissions, the more First Page Fridays!

First Page Friday #23: Adventure/Paranormal

Thanks for everyone’s support for First Page Friday! I’m glad to know that it’s helping some of you learn more about writing first pages!

I haven’t decided yet if I will continue the series or not. I probably won’t make that final decision for another few weeks. I will try to promote the post and bring in new readers in the meantime, but if my ordinary blog posts continue to outperform First Page Friday, I really need to focus on the posts that are helping the most people.

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!

Adventure First 500 – Olive

My body was low to the ground. My legs crouched. My arms were outstretched before me with fingernails dug into the sodden ground with angst. I could feel the presence of my family behind me, waiting excitedly for me to give them a show, but I wasn’t so sure I could.Her eyes mirrored mine. Fixed on me. Burning. Her spine was taut, arched in apprehension of any movement on my part. I was tempted to remind myself that I was only ten years old and barely skilled in anything but fighting my brother, but the desire to please mother and father before it was too late got a hold of me.For all I knew, she had cubs somewhere waiting on her. The thought crossed my mind that I was snatching her away, leaving them to fend for themselves in this cruel world. But in this precise world, a fear of cruelty is what drove me.“Don’t wait no longer son.” my father breathed from behind me. “That girl will kill a kid like you in an instant.”

“Well Tarin, let him get his ass torn apart if he don’t wanna move.” my mother said as if to spur me on, “I’m gettin’ bored waitin’.”

I swallowed hard. Winced at my mother’s sharp words and, breaking free of my parents taunting, thrust myself onto the golden cougar, grappling both of her ears to steer her teeth away from my neck. The cougar shrieked and batted her thick paws at me, only grazing my shirt. Muscles rippled beneath thick skin and deadly-sharp teeth shone in the moonlight.

“He aint strong enough!” my brother, Aloni yelled.

“O’course he is.” mom shouted above my grunts and the cougars cries. “Stronger than your skinny ass anyways!”

“Leave him alone mum, would ya?” I panted, pulling the animal down beneath me so that I could get a good view of her neck. I straddled the beast, obviously stronger than Aloni had thought and laughed manically. I was so overtaken by fear that I wasn’t thinking straight.

At this point, mum would’ve broken its limbs, dad would’ve torn it open from neck to hind legs and Aloni would be dead and bleeding on the mountainside, but I hesitated, too scared to go for it.

“Maybe this is too soon!” cried my father, the panic in his voice making me nervous but I kept on fighting, jumping away from the cougar when she got too close and rolling her over when I thought her jaw was too close for comfort.

“We ain’t no humans, Tarin!” mom said and when I pulled up I saw her fingers around dad’s neck.

“He’s ten, Dahl!” he replied.

I saw an opportunity and I took it. The cougar was on top of me and the only things separating her jaw from my neck were my trembling hands, holding her head away. With her neck bared, I reached up and took a hunk out with my mouth, making sure to really get in there and do some damage. She fought harder. Shrieked like a damned banshee, shaking her head to get free but now she was mine and she damn well knew it.

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.

Red is text I recommend removing.

Green is text I recommend adding.

Blue are my comments.

Adventure First 500 – Olive

My body was low to the ground. My legs crouched. My arms were outstretched, before me with < This can be inferred. fingernails dug into the sodden ground with angst. < Show that she has angst, but don’t have her come right out and say it. It’s telling, and it also makes her seem overly self sympathetic. I could feel the presence of my family stood behind me < This is stronger because it avoids filtering (see notes below), waiting excitedly for me to give them a show, but I wasn’t so sure I could. < Show that she isn’t sure she could. Her hands could shake, she could bite her lip, breathe fast, etc. 

Her eyes mirrored mine. < “Her” who? Is there a reason to be vague here? Fixed on me. Burning. Her spine was taut, arched, ready to strike in apprehension of any movement on my part < Something like this is cleaner, clearer, and simpler. . I was tempted to remind myself that I was only ten years old and barely skilled in anything but fighting my brother, < This sentence reads as unnatural. She doesn’t need to remind herself of her age. The point is conveying the information to the reader. You just need to find a way to do that more naturally.  but the desire to please mother and father before it was too late got a hold of me.

For all I knew, she had cubs somewhere waiting on her. The thought crossed my mind that I was snatching her away, leaving them to fend for themselves in this cruel world. But in this precise world, < This is cluttering the sentence. a fear of cruelty is what drove me.

“Don’t wait no longer son.” < Oh, it’s a boy! I thought it was a girl. I got the gender wrong in last week’s First Page Friday too! my father breathed from behind me. “That girl will kill a kid like you in an instant.”

“Well Tarin, let him get his ass torn apart if he don’t wanna move.” < The period here should be a comma. my mother said as if to spur me on, “I’m gettin’ bored waitin’.”

I swallowed hard. Winced at my mother’s sharp words and, breaking free of my parents taunting, thrust myself onto the golden cougar, grappling both of her ears to steer her teeth away from my neck. < Too many things are going on in this sentence. Break it up into smaller ones. Give the moment room to breathe. The cougar shrieked and batted her thick paws at me, only grazing my shirt. < It’s not clear to me if you’re saying the cougar hit him with her paw (like the pads of the paw) or if she scratched him with her claws. Muscles rippled beneath thick skin and deadly-sharp teeth shone in the moonlight.

“He aint strong enough!” my brother, Aloni yelled.

“O’course he is.” mom shouted above my grunts and the cougars cries. “Stronger than your skinny ass anyways!”

“Leave him alone mum, would ya?” < So is his brother younger? It seems odd he would defend him while fighting a cougar. I would think he’d be too distracted. I panted, pulling the animal down beneath me < This is a little vague. I have a hard time believing this could be achieved so simply. so that I could get a good view of her neck. I straddled the beast, obviously stronger than Aloni had thought and laughed manically. I was so overtaken by fear that I wasn’t thinking straight.

At this point, mum would’ve broken its limbs, dad would’ve torn it open from neck to hind legs and Aloni would be dead and bleeding on the mountainside, but I hesitated, too scared to go for it.

“Maybe this is too soon!” cried my father, the panic in his voice < I’m surprised that he is panicked since his parents seemed completely callous up to this point. making me nervous but I kept on fighting, jumping away from the cougar when she got too close and rolling her over when I thought her jaw was too close for comfort. < Make this more active by using verbs ending in “ed” and by breaking it up into more movements and actions.

“We ain’t no humans, Tarin!” mom said and when I pulled up I saw her fingers around dad’s neck.

“He’s ten, Dahl!” he replied.

I saw an opportunity and I took it. The cougar was on top of me and the only things separating her jaw from my neck were my trembling hands, holding her head away. With her neck bared, I reached up and took a hunk out with my mouth, making sure to really get in there and do some damage. < Describe what this feels like.   She fought harder. Shrieked like a damned banshee, shaking her head to get free but now she was mine and she damn well knew it.

My Overall Thoughts

As an opening, this is a little vague. There’s sort of an implication that if he doesn’t succeed something bad will happen, but as a reader, I don’t know what the consequence is so I don’t really have any reason to care. I also struggled with establishing an emotional connection to the character and events.

Key Places to Improve:

  • The voice doesn’t seem to fit a child, which makes it difficult to feel like the narration is coming from such a young boy. In first person, it’s important to use the things he notices (or doesn’t notice) as a way to say something about who he is and what his feelings are. Make sure he’s reacting: hands shaking, biting his lip, heart pounding, etc. Otherwise, you can describe how scary the cougar is all day long, but the reader won’t feel it.
  • Spend more time on action and be more specific about what’s happening. Try to engage all of the reader’s senses. Pull them into the scene and paint a vivid picture. Make them feel the cougar’s body heat, the weight of its paw, the smell of its fur.

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 2

There’s definitely the potential for an interesting story! But it doesn’t have an element that really sucks me in, like a great hook, engaging voice, or riveting action. It feels a little flat right now, but I hope my notes above help you change that!

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 CLOSED to submissions)

See my comments at the top of this post for more information.

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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Help First Page Friday Succeed!  Please use the buttons below to share this post. The more views, the more submissions, the more First Page Fridays!

First Page Friday #22: NA Fantasy

I just want to let everyone know that I’m uncertain whether I will be continuing with First Page Friday. I will definitely continue until I get through all the writers I’ve already scheduled (about two months worth), but I may retire First Page Friday in May. While I love doing the posts, I wanted them to be a way to reach out and help educate writers, but the view count on these posts is a small fraction of the views on my other blogs or on my videos. I’m just not sure this is the best way to reach writers.

If views, shares, comments, etc. pick up over the next couple months, I might consider continuing the series, but otherwise, I will go back to my standard, educational blog posts. Thanks for understanding!

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!

NA Fantasy First 500 – Jodie

Of all the places in the world I would have liked to wake up, sprawled out in a puddle of water was not one of them. The rain was pouring down, splattering against my face and all I could do was lie there and wonder how in the world I’d managed to stoop so low. Two weeks ago I’d been in college, working towards my dream of becoming a veterinarian for the wildlife in Africa, and now I was soaked to the bone with a hangover from hell.

Death sucked.

If anyone had ever asked me if I was afraid of dying, I honestly could have told them, no. Death was always something that would happen after I’d graduated from college, had a successful career, found the one, and had kids. Then maybe after I’d travelled the world and witnessed the birth of my fifth grandchild, I could die peacefully in my sleep. That was how I’d always thought my life would pan out… dying in a car crash the week before my twenty-first birthday hadn’t exactly been on the agenda, but shit happens, right?

“Do I sense motion down there?” a voice called.

I opened my eyes to see Sam leaning out the window of the apartment we had been squatting in for the last couple of days. She looked fresh and well rested, as though she hadn’t just spent the entire night partying with me. I pushed myself slowly into a seated position; my head felt like it was about to roll off my shoulders and join my arse in the puddle. If I’d known a hangover in death would be just as bad as a hangover in life, then I might have reconsidered that last round of shots.

“Are you all right down there, Abbie?”

“I can’t believe you left me out here in the rain.”

“You wanted to stay out there,” Sam said, pulling the hood of her coat up over her blonde hair. “You kept going on and on about how being ‘one with the city’ was the only way you’d come to accept your own death. So I was like, all right then, see-ya.”

“Worst. Friend. Ever.”

“Hey, I’ve only known you a week. I wouldn’t start calling us friends yet,” Sam teased. “Now are you coming inside, or what?”

Going inside didn’t sound like a good idea. Sam would undoubtedly jump all over my hung-over state and decide we should go on a run to collect supplies. Battling the crowds of the marketplace was the last thing I wanted to be doing; I wasn’t lucid enough to be on constant guard.

The afterlife was interesting, to say the least. It manifested as a dark and derelict city that probably could have been tolerable if the crime wasn’t so high. There was no overruling law or governmental body and the only real dominance came from The Fallen, the largest gang in the city. They oversaw the marketplace and had a hand in most of its underground business.

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.

NA Fantasy First 500 – Jodie

Of all the places in the world I would have liked to wake up < I feel like this type of sentence is overused, where it’s unlikely the character has ever wondered about the subject (places they’d like to wake up), then a very obviously bad option is explained. It isn’t as evocative as simply stating that she’s lying in a puddle., sprawled out in a puddle of water was not one of them. The rain was pouring poured < Verbs ending in “ed” are stronger. down, splattering against my face and all I could do was lie there and I’m not a fan of characters wondering. It makes it clear you’re about to dump information.  Try for a better transition (or no transition) than that the character was wondering/thinking/etc. > wonder how in the world I’d managed to stoop so low. Two weeks ago I’d been in college, working towards my dream of becoming a veterinarian for the wildlife in Africa, and now I was soaked to the bone with a hangover from hell.

Death sucked.

I don’t feel like you really need this paragraph. It explains a fairly typical/average opinion about death, and I feel like I’ve read it before. Is it really adding anything or are you just slowing down your opening? I feel like the latter. > If anyone had ever asked me if I was afraid of dying, I honestly could have told them, no. Death was always something that would happen after I’d graduated from college, had a successful career, found the one, and had kids. Then maybe after I’d travelled the world and witnessed the birth of my fifth grandchild, I could die peacefully in my sleep. That was how I’d always thought my life would pan out… dying in a car crash the week before my twenty-first birthday hadn’t exactly been on the agenda, < As with the opening line, I feel that sentences like this are overused and not very strong because they state something obvious. but shit happens, right? < This is a weak response. It’s not saying anything about your character or providing any new information to the reader.

“Do I sense motion down there?” a voice called.

I opened my eyes to see Sam leaning out the window of the apartment we had been squatting in for the last couple of days. She looked fresh and well rested, as though she hadn’t just spent the entire night partying with me. I pushed myself slowly into a seated position; my head felt like it was about to roll off my shoulders and join my arse in the puddle. If I’d known a hangover in death would be just as bad as a hangover in life, then I might have reconsidered that last round of shots. < The voice is much, much better in this paragraph. The “telling” is hidden better as well.

“Are you all right down there, Abbie?”

“I can’t believe you left me out here in the rain.”

“You wanted to stay out there,” Sam said, pulling the hood of her coat up over her blonde hair. “You kept going on and on about how being ‘one with the city’ was the only way you’d come to accept your own death. So I was like, all right then, see-ya.”

“Worst. Friend. Ever.”

“Hey, I’ve only known you a week. < This feels like “As you know Bob” dialogue, where a character states something obvious that they already know for the benefit of the reader. I wouldn’t start calling us friends yet,” Sam teased. “Now are you coming inside, or what?”

Going inside didn’t sound like a good idea. Sam would undoubtedly jump all over my hung-over state and decide we should go on a run to collect supplies. < Could you show this happening instead of saying that it will happen? Battling the crowds of the marketplace was the last thing I wanted to be doing; I wasn’t lucid enough to be on constant guard.

This is an info dump. > The afterlife was interesting, to say the least. It manifested as a dark and derelict city that probably could have been tolerable if the crime wasn’t so high. There was no overruling law or governmental body and the only real dominance came from The Fallen, the largest gang in the city. They oversaw the marketplace and had a hand in most of its underground business.

My Overall Thoughts

You don’t have any major issues with your writing, but you seem to be trying to tell the reader a lot of information and back story right off the bat. Additionally, the voice feels a bit predictable/typical for the first couple paragraphs, though it starts feeling more unique partway through. If you couldn’t explain any back story in the first chapter, would you still start the book here? Or did you choose this scene as a convenient framing for dumping back story? (I can’t know without reading more.)

Key Places to Improve:

  • Make sure your character’s voice always reads as unique. The first couple paragraphs seem like you’re trying to write like other NA or YA writers rather than showing us your true voice.
  • Put your best foot forward. If the scene itself can’t draw in readers (without telling or back story), then you’re not starting in the right place.

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 2.5

I’m giving this a 2.5 because I see the potential for an interesting story, but I’m not getting pulled in right now. There’s too much information and back story and not enough to hook me with the character or plot.

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 CLOSED to submissions)

See my comments at the top of this post for more information.

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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Help First Page Friday be a Success!  Please use the buttons below to share this post. The more views, the more submissions, the more First Page Fridays!

First Page Friday #21: Fantasy

If you haven’t noticed, I made some changes to my website (I hope for the better!). Check out my new Help Desk to get all your writing and editing questions answered. Don’t see a question on the list? Let me know and I’ll try to add it soon!

And don’t forget to check out my mentoring program. I worked with 5 amazing writers this week, and they all made some fantastic improvements to their novels!

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!

Fantasy First 500 – Kathryn

Black figures crowded the trees around him, staring down with a shameless curiosity. Knowing what he had just done, he avoided looking at the birds. They called at him, and he swallowed hard. Who did it matter to, he thought, brushing away the red dust that clung to his fine, dark arm hair. The knife in his pocket rubbed against his thigh, a heavy reminder of the deed. Who the hell did it matter to, anyway?

He made the small trek down the tall hill covered in twisted trees, and felt his shoulders unwind at the sight of his lake. The lake front was quiet, as always. A soft breeze whistled across its glassy surface and rattled the shack he called home. The grass inside the poorly fenced garden was trimmed only by the goat, Daisy, and thus grew up to his waist. She stumbled as far as her knobbly rope would allow her to eagerly greet him. He patted her neck, firmly, before brushing her aside. At the very least she was company.

The door creaked open, a few paint chips flaking to the ground. He picked his way through the rubble that littered the hallway; fallen pieces of furniture, broken frames of shattered mirrors, rugs and blankets and old dusty books. A window without glass opened out to the south facing pier. Alvar swung a leg over , stopping at the pain in his chest. He rested his head on the frame of the window, closing his eyes to the setting sun and the pain rippling through his body. His dark curls swung around his gaunt face and his chest heaved. With a sort of apathy, he tumbled outwards onto the pier. While he caught himself a little too late, his tough gloves protected him from the splinters of the old grey boards. The splinters stuck up like small needles in haphazard rows. He figured that one day he would grab a rough stone and smooth the pier. Turning his head, he looked down the pier’s length and thought better of it.

Finding the wind that ran across the lake and bought salt to his nose calming, he didn’t bother to stand, and let his heavy eyes close again. He was always so tired, and sleep seemed less lonely than awakeness.

It was dark, the round moon brighter in the sky that the sun had seemed to be. Stars spread across, and he let his eyes wander. It was strange to him that some people would fear the dark. He could spend hours tracing where the velvets met the satins.

At the back of his mind, a nagging thought interrupted his peace and asked him why he could hear Daisy’s soft cawing. She would normally be asleep at this time. His body tensed.

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.

Fantasy First 500 – Kathryn

Black figures crowded the trees around him, staring down with a shameless curiosity. Knowing what he had just done, he avoided looking at the birds. They called at him, and he swallowed hard. Who did it matter to, he thought, brushing away the red dust that clung to his fine, dark arm hair. < The adjectives seem like a bit much, like I’m supposed to find his arm hair attractive. The knife in his pocket rubbed against his thigh, a heavy reminder of the deed. Who the hell did it matter to, anyway?

He made the small trek down the tall hill covered in twisted trees, < Adjectives before every noun give writing a strange cadence that feels awkward. and felt his shoulders unwind < I’m not sure how shoulders can unwind because what would wound shoulders be like? at the sight of his lake. The lake front was quiet, as always. A soft breeze whistled across its glassy surface and rattled the shack he called home. The grass inside the poorly fenced garden < What does it mean for a garden to be poorly fenced? I can’t visualize that. was trimmed only by the goat, Daisy, and thus grew up to his waist. She stumbled as far as her knobbly rope would allow her to eagerly greet him. He patted her neck, firmly, before brushing her aside. At the very least she was company. < At this point I’m getting bored. I don’t have any reason to care about him, his house, or his goat, and the descriptions aren’t anything unusual or unique.

The door creaked open, a few paint chips flaking to the ground. He picked his way through the rubble that littered the hallway; fallen pieces of furniture, broken frames of shattered mirrors, rugs and blankets and old dusty books. A window without glass opened out to the south facing pier. Alvar swung a leg over , < At first I couldn’t understand what he swung his leg over, but that might just be me. stopping at the pain in his chest. He rested his head on the frame of the window, closing his eyes to the setting sun and the pain rippling through his body. His dark curls swung around his gaunt face and his chest heaved. With a sort of apathy, he tumbled outwards onto the pier. While he caught himself a little too late, his tough gloves protected him from the splinters of the old grey boards. < Is he dying or is he just being melodramatic? The way I visualize this, he’s sort of just dramatically throwing himself out the window. The splinters stuck up like small needles in haphazard rows. He figured that one day he would grab a rough stone and smooth the pier. Turning his head, he looked down the pier’s length and thought better of it. < You’ve got this character who is apathetic, has no immediate threats to his well being, and seems to have no objective/goal. It doesn’t give the reader anything to latch onto or find interesting.

Finding the wind that ran across the lake and brought salt to his nose calming, < For some reason I found this difficult to read. I read it as if he found the wind itself.  he didn’t bother to stand, and let his heavy eyes close again. He was always so tired, and sleep seemed less lonely than awakeness. < I feel like you’re trying really hard to get readers to feel sorry for him, but I don’t know why I should. Is he dying? Because otherwise it seems like he’s being a bit melodramatic.

It was dark, the round moon brighter in the sky that the sun had seemed to be. Stars spread across, and he let his eyes wander. It was strange to him that some people would fear the dark. He could spend hours tracing where the velvets met the satins. < This sort of paragraph (the protagonist looking at the stars and moon) is extraordinarily common in novel openings. I would avoid it.

At the back of his mind, a nagging thought interrupted his peace and asked < His thought isn’t asking him – he’s asking himself. I find this wording awkward. him why he could hear Daisy’s soft cawing. She would normally be asleep at this time. His body tensed. < I’m assuming something exciting happens here, but it’s too little too late. Readers won’t get to this point.

My Overall Thoughts

There’s nothing wrong with the writing itself. It’s smooth and doesn’t feel like an amateur, so that’s great! I think your big problem is that you’re not starting this in the right place. Imagine readers picking through their options at the library or bookstore – What about this opening stands out? What captures the reader’s interest? Now think about the most exciting thing that happens in the beginning of your story – can you make that the opening instead?

Key Places to Improve:

  • Remember that your opening should tell us something about your character – preferably something that’s unique and interesting and that will be present throughout the book. Readers relate to characters who are proactive, are in a difficult situation, and who have a goal. It’s tough to relate to a character who seems mopey and depressed, especially if we don’t know why.
  • Your narrative distance is a bit too far from Alvar. It would help the reader feel connected with him if you delved a bit deeper into his thoughts. Connect what he’s seeing with how he feels: What’s up with his house and how does he feel about it? Why does it matter that he has a goat? Or that the fence isn’t perfect? Or that the interior is a mess? If you don’t connect it to the character’s thoughts, feelings, history, etc., then it’s meaningless to the reader.
  • Remember that if your character is bored/apathetic/tired/etc, that’s how your reader is going to feel too. Unless those emotions create suspense (he’s too tired to react to a threat and is going to die) or are intended as comedy (obviously not the case here), then it’s best to keep your characters energized and motivated, even if their emotions are negative.

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 2

I’m giving this a 2 because the writing itself isn’t bad. It’s just that this opening doesn’t inspire or excite me. I don’t feel like I have to know what’s happening next, which is no good for a first chapter.

I hope my notes help you on your journey towards publication. Good luck!

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 booking last week of May and beyond)

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 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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Help First Page Friday be a Success!  Please use the buttons below to share this post. The more views, the more submissions, the more First Page Fridays!

First Page Friday #20: YA

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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I hope everyone is having a fantastic Valentine’s Day!

If you haven’t noticed, I made some changes to my website (I hope for the better!). Check out my new Help Desk to get all your writing and editing questions answered. Don’t see a question on the list? Let me know and I’ll try to add it soon!

Also, check out my new video: How to Write a Great Antagonist.

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!

YA First 500 – Lydia Evans

The bright yellow buoy beeped and a red light pierced the darkness of the ocean.  Alone, it monitored the rise and fall of the waters of the North Pacific Ocean. 

At the National Data Buoy Center division of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA for short, Don Chambers slipped his pudgy fingers beneath the thick plastic rims of his glasses and rubbed his tired eyes.  He had come into work the night before at 5:00 pm, and had two hours left in his twelve hour shift.  He was getting too old for these shifts, even though all he had to do was sit in a chair and stare at a bank of computer monitors.  He had thought working overnight shifts would get easier with the passage of time, but as he got older, they had become more difficult.  At fifty-eight, Don was ready for something with more traditional hours.  Perhaps he would transfer to Climate Program Office.  They didn’t work around the clock, and they weren’t based at the butt-end of Mississippi.  He’d like to get back to the East Coast, and Maryland was a nice place to live if you didn’t mind paying an exorbitant amount of money for an over-priced house.

A soft beeping abruptly stopped Don’s musings on career options.  A speck on the monitor to Don’s left was blinking red.  He quickly switched the screen to the monitor directly in front of him and zoomed in on the blinking dot.  The blinking dot represented a buoy which was located near Sand Island, which was part of the Midway Islands.  The Midway Islands were called “midway” because they were located almost exactly in the center of the ocean that stretched between Japan and California.  The buoy recorded the sea level every hour and transmitted the data back to the National Data Buoy Center in Mississippi where workers like Don, analyzed the data.  Don double-clicked on the buoy and began reading its last transmissions.

                                       Date       Time            Sea Level (meters)

09/05/2012: 21:00 – 5809.70

09/05/2013: 22:00 – 5809.60

09/05/2013: 23:00 – 5809.40

09/05/2013: 24:00 – 5809.20

09/06/2013: 01:00 – 5809.40

09/07/2013: 02:00 – 5809.60

09/08/2013: 03:00 – 5812.65

                

Don blinked rapidly reading the most recent sea level transmission.  He quickly did the mental calculation converting meters to feet and fell off his chair.  The sea level had gone up by ten feet.  Swearing loudly, Don jumped back into his chair and pulled up closest buoys to the Sand Island buoy.  There were two buoys located almost 2,000 miles away.  One to the east, off the coast of California, and one to the west, off the coast of Japan.

“2,000 miles to the next buoys, divided by a speed of 400 miles per hour, gives us 5 hours,” Don calculated aloud.  He bolted from his desk and ran down the dimly lit hall.  There was no one there to see Don running pell-mell through the hallway, making two left turns and then a right, ending up at his supervisor’s door.

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.

YA First 500 – Lydia Evans

The bright yellow buoy beeped and a red light pierced the darkness of the ocean.  < For some reason when you said “bright yellow,” my first thought was one of those little plastic buoys, so I was thrown off a bit when it beeped. I could totally be alone in that, but I thought it was worth mentioning. It’s also not clear if you’re saying the buoy beeping caused the flash or if it just happens to be doing both. If the latter, I suggest rewriting: The bright yellow buoy beeped. Its red light pierced the darkness of the ocean. Alone, it monitored the rise and fall of the waters of the North Pacific Ocean.  < Avoid ending two sentences in a row with the same word.

At the National Data Buoy Center , or NOAA for short, Don Chambers slipped his pudgy fingers beneath the thick plastic rims of his glasses and rubbed his tired eyes.  He had come into work the night before at 5:00 pm, and had two hours left in his twelve hour shift.  He was getting too old for these shifts, even though all he had to do was sit in a chair and stare at a bank of computer monitors.  He had thought working overnight shifts would get easier with the passage of time, but as he got older, they had become more difficult.  < In my opinion, this is where this paragraph should end. At this point I am getting bored of the “telling” and want to move on to something happening in the moment. At fifty-eight, Don was ready for something with more traditional hours.  Perhaps he would transfer to Climate Program Office.  They didn’t work around the clock, and they weren’t based at the butt-end of Mississippi.  He’d like to get back to the East Coast, and Maryland was a nice place to live if you didn’t mind paying an exorbitant amount of money for an over-priced house.

A soft beeping abruptly stopped Don’s musings on career options. < You’re writing in omniscient, which means that the narration is coming from a narrator, not Don. As far as the reader knows, Don is not musing about his career options, the narrator is simply discussing his feelings about them. You would need to explicitly state that Don was thinking in the previous paragraph if you want him to stop his musings, but it’s bad practice (in any POV) to mention a character breaking out of their thoughts (it’s never needed). A speck on the monitor to Don’s left was blinking blinked red.  He quickly < Go easy on the adverbs. switched the screen to the monitor directly in front of him and zoomed in on the blinking dot.  The blinking dot It represented a buoy which was located near Sand Island, which was part of the Midway Islands, so called.  The Midway Islands were called “midway” < I suggest doing something like this to avoid repeating “midway” so many times. because they were located almost exactly in the center of the ocean that stretched between Japan and California.  The buoy recorded the sea level every hour and transmitted the data back to the National Data Buoy Center in Mississippi where workers, like Don, analyzed the data.  Don double-clicked on the buoy‘s and began reading its last transmissions. < Avoid having characters “begin” to do things. Also, readers can infer that he’s reading it.

                                       Date       Time            Sea Level (meters)

09/05/2012: 21:00 – 5809.70

09/05/2013: 22:00 – 5809.60

09/05/2013: 23:00 – 5809.40

09/05/2013: 24:00 – 5809.20

09/06/2013: 01:00 – 5809.40

09/07/2013: 02:00 – 5809.60

09/08/2013: 03:00 – 5812.65

                This is important to take into consideration anytime data, numbers, quotes, etc. are included in a novel: most readers are going to skip them. That doesn’t mean you can’t include them, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Don blinked rapidly reading the most recent sea level transmission.  < Again, readers can infer that he’s reading. He quickly < Go easy on adverbs. I’d cut “quickly” as well as “rapidly.” did the mental calculation converting meters to feet and fell off his chair.  < Falling off his chair seems a little melodramatic. The sea level had gone up by ten feet.  Swearing loudly, Don jumped back into his chair and pulled up the closest buoys to the Sand Island buoy. <If you can find a way to not repeat “buoy” that would be great.  There were two buoys located almost 2,000 miles away.  One to the east, off the coast of California, and one to the west, off the coast of Japan.

“2,000 miles to the next buoys, divided by a speed of 400 miles per hour, gives us 5 hours,” Don calculated aloud. < I always find it unnatural when characters speak aloud. It seems more for the reader’s benefit than because it’s natural for the character.  He bolted from his desk and ran down the dimly lit hall.  There was no one there to see < Why does it matter that no one is there? It seems like an odd thing to include. Don running ran pell-mell through the hallway, making two left turns and then a right, ending up at his supervisor’s door.

My Overall Thoughts

You have a good grasp of omniscient narration (only the one tiny error, which I marked above), which is awesome! It’s a tough POV to write in. In terms of the content itself, it seems interesting and something is clearly happening, which is great, but I’m definitely confused about the target age group – there’s nothing about this that indicates it’s YA.

Key Places to Improve:

  • I’m curious why you are classifying this as YA. I assume that teenagers come into play at some point? Does it deal with normal teen issues? A book can have teenagers in it without being YA, especially if there are primary characters that are adults. If this book truly is YA, this opening is not going to do the book justice. Agents and editors are going to take one look at this and think that you have no idea what YA means. For YA, you absolutely need to open with a teenager, not a man in his 50s – it gives YA readers nothing to connect with.
  • The trick with omniscient POV is knowing when to go into telling mode and when to just let the events unfold more naturally (showing). A lot of this has to do with gauging readers’ interest levels, which is where feedback really helps. I think you could tell a bit less about Don, especially because right at the beginning the goal is to suck readers into an interesting story and your character being bored and wanting to change jobs doesn’t inspire a lot of excitement. I think you could show a bit more about the atmosphere/environment – what the room looks like (is it on the water?), what the building is like (are the halls dirty? Clean? Stark? Cluttered?), what the weather is like (Stormy? Clear? Raining?), etc. Just a bit more detail would place the reader more firmly in the scene.
  • Watch out for word repetition. You seem to have a lot of that going on. It can help to read your work out loud. Also look for places where the wording could be more concise (cutting or combining sentences) and places where you can use strong verbs instead of adverbs.

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 2

You aren’t too far off with the quality of your writing if you can spend some time eliminating common issues (adverbs, repetition, telling, etc.), but right now those things are holding your writing back from really shining. Before spending too much effort editing this in a way that isn’t marketable, I suggest spending time figuring out your genre and target age group. If you have any questions, I can help. Good luck!

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 Lydia

Check out her blog: www.TheWritersWrong.wordpress.com

Submit to First Page Friday – (currently booking last week of March and beyond)

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 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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Help First Page Friday be a Success!  Please use the buttons below to share this post. The more views, the more submissions, the more First Page Fridays!

First Page Friday #19: Historical Fiction

Check out the first page below, then record your vote in the poll before reading my critique in the second half of the post. Feel free to leave comments for the author. Thanks!

Historical Fiction First 500 – Jim Padian

He could not stay away. Tonight, as on prior visits, Dr. Warren crossed Griffin’s Wharf to where dockworkers had moored Dartmouth, the first tea ship to arrive in Boston. Twice each day, in the morning and twelve hours later in the evening, she slid imperceptibly fourteen feet down the wharf side on the ebbing tide and rose six hours later on the flood. He briefly scanned the ship’s deck before he nodded to the twenty or so armed volunteer guards posted about the ship and the wharf to deter unloading of the tea. Through the darkness, he glimpsed Eleanor, the second tea ship, swinging at anchor, some thirty yards off the wharf. Although not in view, he knew Beaver, the third tea ship, lay at anchor in the outer harbor. She could not come up to Griffin’s until her smallpox quarantine ended on the fifteenth. Earlier today, a rider brought him word concerning William, the overdue fourth tea ship. She was aground on Cape Cod near Provincetown. Warren sent back a message, ‘William’s tea must not come to Boston.’

Satisfied all was well, Warren withdrew into the dark shadow cast by the warehouse overhang at the end of the wharf. He recalled the night in November his involvement with the tea began with a summons from Samuel Adams, his political mentor.

Sam was his usual blunt self. “A dilemma faces each tea ship captain once they reach Boston. On one hand, they’ll face incessant demands by the citizens to return the tea to London immediately. On the other, Governor Hutchinson will apply provincial law to prevent the ships from leaving until someone pays the duty. The impasse continues until the day after the twentieth day from Dartmouth’s arrival at which time the customs officials seize the cargo, offload it to their customs warehouse, and wait for the consignees, two of which are the governor’s sons, to pay the duty and take possession of the tea.

“To prevent the landing, we must publically support the citizens demands while we apply consistent pressure on the governor and the captains. Our true objective, however, remains the same: destroy the tea on or before the twentieth day. Joseph, fashion me a plan for the tea’s destruction without harm to the ships or their crews. Do it quickly. Time flies before us.”

Warren threw himself into what at first seemed to be an overwhelming task. He had never before conceived of anything so complex. Friendly mariners and dockworkers taught him techniques for moving cargo about a ship. At a tea merchant, he viewed the actual weights and dimensions of the expected full, half, and quarter lead-lined tea chests. Full chests were brutes with weights of almost five hundred pounds. Hoisting them out of the cargo holds would require strength and time.

After weeks, he sketched out a plan. Men would drag heavy chests onto cargo nets secured to block-and-tackles. Others on deck would hoist the chests and swing them over to the rail.

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.

Historical Fiction First 500 – Jim Padian

He could not stay away. Tonight, as on prior visits, Dr. Warren crossed Griffin’s Wharf to where dockworkers had moored Dartmouth, the first tea ship to arrive in Boston. Twice each day, in the morning and twelve hours later in the evening, she slid imperceptibly fourteen feet down the wharf side on the ebbing tide and rose six hours later on the flood. He briefly scanned the ship’s deck before he nodded to the twenty or so armed volunteer guards posted about the ship and the wharf to deter unloading of the tea. Through the darkness, he glimpsed Eleanor, the second tea ship, swinging at anchor, some thirty yards off the wharf. < The bits marked in orange are the only sections of the entire opening that are happening in the moment.  Focusing on the past, what the character already knows, has already done, etc. does not draw readers into the story, which is primarily where this opening is suffering. Although not in view, he knew Beaver, the third tea ship, lay at anchor in the outer harbor. She could not come up to Griffin’s until her smallpox quarantine ended on the fifteenth. Earlier today, a rider brought him word concerning William, the overdue fourth tea ship. She was aground on Cape Cod near Provincetown. Warren sent back a message, ‘William’s tea must not come to Boston.’

Satisfied all was well, Warren withdrew into the dark shadow cast by the warehouse overhang at the end of the wharf. He recalled < You never want to have a character remembering (flashing back) to something within the first few pages. It gives the impression you’re not starting the book at the right point. You’re also asking the reader to hold tight while you pause the book’s action for an info dump before you’ve even established any action or any reason for the reader to care. the night in November his involvement with the tea began with a summons from Samuel Adams, his political mentor.

Sam was his usual blunt self. “A dilemma faces each tea ship captain once they reach Boston. On one hand, they’ll face incessant demands by the citizens to return the tea to London immediately. On the other, Governor Hutchinson will apply provincial law to prevent the ships from leaving until someone pays the duty. The impasse continues until the day after the twentieth day from Dartmouth’s arrival at which time the customs officials seize the cargo, offload it to their customs warehouse, and wait for the consignees, two of which are the governor’s sons, to pay the duty and take possession of the tea.

“To prevent the landing, we must publically support the citizens demands while we apply consistent pressure on the governor and the captains. Our true objective, however, remains the same: destroy the tea on or before the twentieth day. Joseph, fashion me a plan for the tea’s destruction without harm to the ships or their crews. Do it quickly. Time flies before us.” < This dialogue feels like an info dump – a way to sneak in a bunch of information without doing the heavy lifting of showing instead of telling. Unfortunately, it doesn’t give the reader anything interesting to latch onto.

Warren threw himself into what at first seemed to be an overwhelming task. He had never before conceived of anything so complex. Friendly mariners and dockworkers taught him techniques for moving cargo about a ship. At a tea merchant, he viewed the actual weights and dimensions of the expected full, half, and quarter lead-lined tea chests. Full chests were brutes with weights of almost five hundred pounds. Hoisting them out of the cargo holds would require strength and time.

After weeks, he sketched out a plan. Men would drag heavy chests onto cargo nets secured to block-and-tackles. Others on deck would hoist the chests and swing them over to the rail. < You’re still not focusing on the moment. Paint a picture of what’s happening right now and let your character live the moment. Focus on what he’s seeing, hearing, feeling, etc. Make it vivid and interesting.

My Overall Thoughts

Unfortunately, with so much emphasis on conveying information (telling) rather than keeping the reader engaged in the scene (showing), I didn’t feel like I had anything to latch onto or anything to be interested in. Always remember that you have to give the reader a reason to care about your character, which requires that we know what the character wants and a little bit about who he is. Establish that first before you expect readers to hang tight for into dumps.

Key Places to Improve:

  • Who is Warren? Why should I care about him? What does he want? What is his goal? What’s standing in the way of his goal? Answer these questions and you will pull readers into the story a lot faster.
  • Don’t focus on the past and what’s already happened or what Warren usually does. Focus on the “now.” Let Warren live in this moment as if it’s the only thing that exists. Only include brief information about the past at times when it’s impossible to show what you need to convey.
  • If possible, put a conflict at the forefront of the opening pages so that readers have something to hope for or root for. Alternatively, you could use a mystery to draw the reader in – they will keep reading to find out the answer to an intriguing question (Why is he doing that? What is he afraid of? Who’s after him? etc.). Unfortunately, as currently written, I don’t feel that readers have any reason to want to continue reading.

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 1.5

Historical fiction is tricky because it focuses on historical events or time periods (which can take a lot of time and effort to research and get right), but despite that, it still must rely on characters, their motivations, and their conflicts to draw readers into the story. Assume readers will not be drawn in by the historical events, which are simply a backdrop for your story. Find something interesting, exciting, intriguing, or dangerous to open the novel with so that you hook the reader.

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 booking last week of March and beyond)

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 and mentoring.

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Help First Page Friday be a Success!  Please use the buttons below to share this post. The more views, the more submissions, the more First Page Fridays!

First Page Friday #18: YA Contemporary

I just got back from my honeymoon over the weekend. We had a fantastic time!  And of course, this blog didn’t post automatically, so I am going to go ahead and post it now even though it’s Monday. Come back on Friday for another first page critique!

YA Contemporary First 500 – Anonymous

Walking with a slab of beer over your shoulder gets tough after about a half kilometre or so. But try doing it at dusk alongside a highway. Barefoot on hot sand. Black. In Alice Springs.“Coppa gonna come ’round the bend any minute, aye Trevor?”“Piss off, Sam. They’ll lock you up before me.”

Sam’s latest ‘arrest’ was on Thursday. Stealing cigarettes after school (again). I say ‘arrest’ because, well, it’s hard to know if they take him seriously anymore. Who could blame them if they didn’t? His brothers – my cousins – are both up north in detention, and he’s bound to join them soon.

“Not long now.” My sister said. She deserved better than this mob; I’d do anything to get her out of here. “Do you think Stacey will be there?” Stacey was my sister’s best friend.

“We’ll see.” I said. She wasn’t coming, but I hated disappointing the one person who had never disappointed me.

Stacey was white, not that my sister cared. In fact, to Stacey’s credit, she didn’t seem to care either. Her parents did though. They’d never let Stacey visit our place. Can’t have little innocent white girls exposed to the reality of the town camps, can we?

Here in Alice, there’re really two towns: White Alice and Black Alice. And, like it always is with these things, White Alice is at the centre while Black Alice is forced to scrounge up what’s left. The pollies like to talk about One Big Community, but you don’t have to be a kookaburra to know they’re havin’ a laugh. It’s all bullshit.

There are about twenty town camps, I think. I dunno, maybe less. We are from a camp called Dunkey. Don’t know why it’s called that, and don’t care. It’s home, even if the tip is cleaner. Our whole family lives together: my mum, my sister, my uncle (before he moved across town), two of my aunties and their husbands, and a few of my cousins, all between three houses. There are another eight houses in the camp between the other five families, though we all have more distant cousins and aunts and that at different camps.

That’s where we were headed to now: Our cousin Jason’s 17th over at Athante camp. Sam had lost his bike a few weeks back, and there was no way three of us could fit on my old thing, so we walked. It was probably better that way, we could avoid the roads a bit more.

We followed the dry riverbed of the Todd and cut across the golf course as it started to get hard to see where you were stepping. Sam led the way with his lighter. This part of White Alice was his favourite to frequent. It’d take about eight minutes for the whitefellas with guns to get out here with their sirens and lights and cars. Meanwhile, you’d have three great getaway routes to choose from: the golf course (of course), going over the ridge to Athante, or going bush and hoping the grog or whatever you scored isn’t worth the search party. It almost never is.

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.

YA Contemporary First 500 – Anonymous

Walking with a slab of beer over your shoulder gets tough after about a half kilometre or so. But try doing it at dusk alongside a highway. Barefoot on hot sand. Black. In Alice Springs.

“Coppa gonna come ’round the bend any minute, aye Trevor?” < I’m not sure who is saying this – the narrator or one of his friends? Additionally, I’m not in love with this line of dialogue, mostly because I find heavy dialects to seem strained, but also because the line itself seems a bit confusing/unnatural to me – Is it a warning? A threat? Is he worried? 

“Piss off, Sam. They’ll lock you up before me.” < I still don’t know whether the narrator is Trevor, Sam, or someone else.

Sam’s latest ‘arrest’ was on Thursday. Stealing cigarettes after school (again). I say ‘arrest’ because, well, it’s hard to know if they take him seriously anymore. Who could blame them if they didn’t? His brothers – my cousins – are both up north in detention, and he’s bound to join them soon. < If he’s bound to join his brothers in detention, wouldn’t the cops take his crimes more seriously rather than less? Or perhaps I’m not catching your meaning here.

“Not long now.” My sister said. She deserved better than this mob; I’d do anything to get her out of here. “Do you think Stacey will be there?” Stacey was my sister’s best friend. < Is his sister younger or older? A little kid or a teenager? Some indication of age would be helpful.

“We’ll see.” I said. She wasn’t coming, but I hated disappointing the one person who had never disappointed me.

Stacey was white, not that my sister cared. In fact, to Stacey’s credit, she didn’t seem to care either. Her parents did though. They’d never let Stacey visit our place. Can’t have little innocent white girls exposed to the reality of the town camps, can we?  I feel like you’re telling a lot of things that could be shown.

Here in Alice, there’re really two towns: White Alice and Black Alice. And, like it always is with these things, White Alice is at the centre while Black Alice is forced to scrounge up what’s left. The pollies like to talk about One Big Community, but you don’t have to be a kookaburra to know they’re havin’ a laugh. It’s all bullshit.

There are about twenty town camps, I think. I dunno, maybe less. We are from a camp called Dunkey. Don’t know why it’s called that, and don’t care. It’s home, even if the tip is cleaner. Our whole family lives together: my mum, my sister, my uncle (before he moved across town), two of my aunties and their husbands, and a few of my cousins, all between three houses. There are another eight houses in the camp between the other five families, though we all have more distant cousins and aunts and that at different camps. < Could you show the information in this paragraph rather than tell it?

That’s where we were headed to now: Our cousin Jason’s 17th over at Athante camp. Sam had lost his bike a few weeks back, and there was no way three of us could fit on my old thing, so we walked. It was probably better that way, we could avoid the roads a bit more. < The content of this paragraph could be easily shown through dialogue. (For example: “Why’d you have to go and lose your bike, Sam? It’s gonna take forever to get to Jason’s.”)

We followed the dry riverbed of the Todd and cut across the golf course as it started to get hard to see where you were stepping. Sam led the way with his lighter. This part of White Alice was his favourite to frequent. It’d take about eight minutes for the whitefellas with guns to get out here with their sirens and lights and cars. Meanwhile, you’d have three great getaway routes to choose from: the golf course (of course), going over the ridge to Athante, or going bush and hoping the grog or whatever you scored isn’t worth the search party. It almost never is. < You could show this by having them get caught and choose between these three options.

My Overall Thoughts

You have a really nice and interesting voice that I think will carry a novel well, but it would be helpful for you to focus more on showing rather than telling to keep the reader engaged in the events that are happening in the moment.

Key Places to Improve:

  • Until the narrator states that three of them couldn’t fit on one bike, it was not clear that the narrator was Trevor (I had to read back through to figure out his name) or that only three kids were involved (I was thinking four – Sam, Trevor, the narrator, and the narrator’s sister – but that could just be me). I suggest making that clearer from the start ( a dialogue tag would clarify – “They’ll lock you up before me,” I said.). Also, Trevor’s sister is never given a name or any indication of age.
  • Work on showing rather than telling. You’re dumping a lot of information on the reader that could unfold more naturally if shown. Keep the reader engaged in what’s happening in the moment. If there’s not enough happening in the scene itself to hook the reader, then you’re not starting in the right place (I can’t determine one way or the other without reading more of this chapter).
  • Try to give your characters a stronger physical presence (this goes along with showing rather than telling). Instead of saying that it was getting hard to see where they were stepping, use the characters’ physical presence to illustrate this. (For example: I stumbled over something that was invisible in the dark grass, but managed not to fall. I stepped closer to where Sam was leading the way with his lighter, staining a patch of black grass a dull orange.) Do you see how this gives the characters a stronger presence in the scene and more life?

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 3.5

Your voice is good and engaging. So long as the plot holds up, you shouldn’t have too much more work to do on this. Focus your efforts on showing wherever possible and you will elevate the quality of your writing easily and quickly. Good luck!

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 booking last week of March and beyond)

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 and mentoring.

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First Page Friday #17: Crime Mystery

Just a reminder everyone: My wedding reception is tonight and I am leaving on my honeymoon! So if you email me or leave a comment that needs approved (anyone who hasn’t commented before), you won’t hear back from me until the first week of February.  Thanks!

Crime Mystery First 500 – Renee Thomas

Tempest McAllister sat in her bedroom starring into space. She was covered in blood and her husband lay dead beside her bed with a knife in his heart. She had stabbed him eighteen times. After the third or fourth stab, he had been dead, but she had kept stabbing him until she was too tired to lift the knife anymore. She had loved the feeling of Jack’s blood, so hot, gushing over her hands. She had smeared it all over herself.Tempest was sitting in the same place when the maid arrived the next morning. Rosalita walked into the bedroom and started screaming. She could see that Jack was dead, and it looked as if Tempest was, too. She went to the phone and quickly called the police. Rosalita was standing on the front porch when they arrived. She led them upstairs to the bedroom where they found Tempest staring down at her bloody hands.“Oh my God! She is alive! I thought she was dead. The way she was staring out into space I…” Rosalita cried.

“Rosalita, what is going on? What happened? Why am I covered in blood?” Tempest asked.

Tempest turned and saw Jack’s body. She began to scream. She crouched down beside him. “Jack? Jack wake up! Come on baby. Wake up please! Please Jack, wake up!” She began shaking him.

“Mrs. McAllister, would you please come with us? We would like to as you a few questions,” the officer stated.

“What? Why? I can’t…I can’t leave him alone.”

“Mrs. McAllister, please.” He held out his hand and gestured for her to follow him. Tempest stood and reluctantly walked out of the bedroom glancing back at Jack as she left.

Tempest was released five hours later. She was taken to her parents’ house because her own home was overrun with police. She had been asked all types of questions about her relationship with her husband. Had they had any arguments recently? Was she upset with him for any reason? Was either of them having an affair? She had answered all of their questions, and they finally released her with a cold, “Don’t leave town.”

Tempest knew that they thought she had killed her husband. When they arrived at her parents’ home, the police talked to them in private, and then they left. Tempest went up to her bedroom to lie down. She wrapped her arms around her knees and began to rock. Her parents came in and stood staring at her.

“I really do not want to talk about this right now,” Tempest said before they had a chance to speak.

 “But Tempest, they said you killed Jack,” her mother said exasperatedly.

“I did not kill my husband! I would not do that. I love Jack.”

Mrs. Lucas turned away. “Tempest you were the only one there and you were covered in his blood. How do you explain that?” her father asked.

“I don’t know, daddy. Do either of you think I killed Jack?”

Her mother didn’t reply, and her dad hesitated before saying, “Of course we don’t think you killed Jack. We just want all of this to be over.”

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.

Crime Mystery First 500 – Renee Thomas

Tempest McAllister sat in her bedroom starring into space. She was covered in blood and her husband lay dead beside her bed with a knife in his heart. She had stabbed him eighteen times. After the third or fourth stab, he had been dead, but she had kept stabbing him until she was too tired to lift the knife anymore. She had loved the feeling of Jack’s blood, so hot, gushing over her hands. She had smeared it all over herself. < When you could show this as an actual scene – intense, evocative, frightening even – it doesn’t make sense to write it as a summary of what happened in the past. Put the reader in the moment and let us watch this scene unfold and experience her feelings as she experiences it. As is, this isn’t reeling me in. 

Tempest was sitting in the same place when the maid arrived the next morning. Rosalita walked into the bedroom and started screaming. She could see that Jack was dead, < Try to describe this more evocatively. How does she know he’s dead? What does he look like? Make us feel the terror that Rosalita is feeling. Don’t just tell us that she could see that he was dead. Show us why and how. and it looked as if Tempest was, too. She went to the phone and quickly called the police. Rosalita was standing on the front porch when they arrived. She led them upstairs to the bedroom where they found Tempest staring down at her bloody hands.

“Oh my God! She is alive! I thought she was dead. The way she was staring out into space I…” Rosalita cried. < This line of dialogue doesn’t add anything. It points out what the reader already knows (that Tempest is alive and that Rosalita thought she was dead.).

“Rosalita, what is going on? What happened? Why am I covered in blood?” Tempest asked. < Give Tempest more presence – what is she physically doing? What is her facial expression?

Tempest turned and saw Jack’s body. She began to scream. She crouched down beside him. “Jack? Jack wake up! < The name and line of dialogue reminds me of Titanic too much. Come on baby. Wake up please! Please Jack, wake up!” She began shaking him.

“Mrs. McAllister, would you please come with us? We would like to ask you a few questions,” the officer stated.

“What? Why? I can’t…I can’t leave him alone.”

“Mrs. McAllister, please.” He held out his hand and gestured for her to follow him. Tempest stood and reluctantly walked out of the bedroom glancing back at Jack as she left.

Tempest was released five hours later. She was taken to her parents’ house because her own home was overrun with police. She had been asked all types of questions about her relationship with her husband. Had they had any arguments recently? Was she upset with him for any reason? Was either of them having an affair? She had answered all of their questions, and they finally released her with a cold, “Don’t leave town.” < If you are summarizing what’s happening, then it leads me to believe you’re not starting this story at the right point. Put the reader in a scene and let it unfold to lure them into the story, don’t summarize.

Tempest knew that they thought she had killed her husband. When they arrived at her parents’ home, the police talked to them in private, and then they left. Tempest went up to her bedroom to lie down. She wrapped her arms around her knees and began to rock. Her parents came in and stood staring at her.

“I really do not want to talk about this right now,” Tempest said before they had a chance to speak. < I would expect her to be more hysterical than this.

“But Tempest, they said you killed Jack,” her mother said exasperatedly. < I think she would be way more than just “exasperated.”

“I did not kill my husband! I would not do that. I love Jack.” < This feels like canned dialogue. It doesn’t read as unique or natural.

Mrs. Lucas turned away. “Tempest you were the only one there and you were covered in his blood. How do you explain that?” her father asked. < That doesn’t seem like a natural response. Wouldn’t he first ask what had happened – if she saw the killer, walked in on Jack already dead, etc.?

“I don’t know, daddy. Do either of you think I killed Jack?”

Her mother didn’t reply, and her dad hesitated before saying, “Of course we don’t think you killed Jack. We just want all of this to be over.”

My Overall Thoughts

There’s nothing that makes this opening stand out from the crowd in terms of plot (so far) or writing style. Figure out what it is that makes your story unique and put at least a hint of that in the opening page. Remember that this is your first (and possibly only) impression with agents, editors, and readers.

Key Places to Improve:

  • Try to show more and tell less. Most of this opening page just summarizes what happened or is happening. You aren’t lingering long enough to create an evocative scene for the reader. Focus on details that help paint a larger picture.
  • Use more descriptions of everything. Who is Tempest? Is she middle aged? A twenty-something? Does she have any interesting personality traits you could bring across right away? What does the bedroom look like? What does her parents’ house look like? You don’t need a ton of descriptions, just a few things here and there will go a long way towards making the story come alive.
  • Your dialogue comes across as a bit cliche and unnatural. This is common in beginners. Try to step into each of your characters’ shoes and imagine how they are feeling and what they might say. Really think about it to come up with authentic sounding dialogue.
  • Right now you are writing this story in a very distant omniscient. I don’t think that’s doing you any favors because it’s keeping the reader far away from Tempest’s point of view. An alternative that would likely improve the story would be to tell this in first person or third limited (for more on using third limited, read Developing a Solid Third Person Point of View). Either of those perspectives would allow you to stay tight on what Tempest is feeling – her confusion, fear, heartbreak, etc. instead of constantly pulling back away from her in omniscient. (Note that omniscient is not always distancing, but it takes most writers years to develop a “closer” omniscient point of view.)

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 1

As hard as it is to hear that your writing isn’t there yet, I want to be as honest with you as I am with my clients. You really need to spend more time learning the basics of creative writing, especially how to show instead of tell. Once you learn that, you will see that your writing quickly improves. Don’t give up! It takes a lot of time and education to become a great writer. You may want to check out my Ultimate Guide to Writing & Editing a Novel, which is where I organize all my blog posts and videos for easy reference. Practice, practice, practice and you will get there. Good luck!

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 booking second week of March and beyond)

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 and mentoring.

087

Help First Page Friday be a Success!  Please use the buttons below to share this post. The more views, the more submissions, the more First Page Fridays!