First Page Friday #12: Contemporary YA

Happy Friday everyone! And Merry Christmas!

I just wanted to take a moment to say that this is a super busy time for me because of the holidays, Pitch Wars, and because I’m getting married on New Year’s Eve! So I am behind on my emails and probably will be until the first or second week of January. If you don’t hear back from me right away, don’t panic!

Also, I will be here next week with a new First Page Friday (I’m not taking the day off for the holidays). So I hope to see you here!

This week’s submission:

YA First 500 – By Rhay Christou

When I was little, Daddy swore I’d grow up to be a kick-ass princess, vanquishing dragons and saving the world. Since he was surely better than Santa Claus and Superman and Jesus Christ all rolled together, I believed my daddy. But sitting here, in the middle of Al’s abandoned auto shop, with Aden stabbing black ink into my skin, it was impossible to put much faith in fairytales.

Again, Aden jabbed his sawed off twelve-gauge guitar string into my wrist, and again my arm jerked. The homemade needle skittered flat topping the O, and Jared Marcum reached across the scarred card table. He scattered the baggies of pot and bottles of pills and the pile of cash I’d handed over. He cinched my palm in his grip and stretched my arm so far across that table my fingertips brushed against his stained wife beater.

 “Stop squirming, Taylor.” His voice was raspy from over indulgence, and the whites of his blue eyes were red lined maps to nowhere. He pinned my wrist to the pleather as hard as his don’t-you-move look pinned me to the wobbly foldout chair.

I swallowed. I nodded. I did not fight.

 But Aden didn’t get back to poking. Instead, he half-turned on the stool he’d stuck between my knees and scratched his hand across his bad buzz-cut. Shooting Jared a questioning look, he sliced me a kick-the-tires and check-under-the-hood, appraising leer. 

Not that he could have found much in me worth buying. With crazy-wild hair and my best asset being my shimmering green eyes, I was cute, maybe. But too short, too flat, I’d never be one of those tall, voluptuous blonds that hot guys watched saunter and sashay.

 I’d never be worth all this warped effort.

But as the right hand of the Rowdy Redneck gang’s homegrown God, Aden always made sure Jared got what he wanted. And right now, Jared wanted me.

“Don’t move.’ Aden snapped his tricked-out electric SpongeBob toothbrush back to life and re-dipped his needle into his ash and vodka slurry. “You want the tat to look like shit?” His glare buzzed my pulse and soured my tongue.

 “Don’t matter.” I toughed up my voice and pressed down on my knee, jittering a rhythm off-kilter to the pounding beats and sex rhymes blaring from the speakers. I stared down Jared’s hand, promising pain and swallowed the awful taste eating its way through my mouth. I gave Aden one hundred percent of my attention.

 It wasn’t his cockeyed stare that made some of the toughest Trojan football players drop their gaze and back out of his way. It was the loaded gun he supposedly carried behind that glare that got all those boys quaking.

I would not shake. I would not cry. I would not give either of these boys the satisfaction of looking away. It wasn’t that I had a death wish or was all that brave. The difference between those big old football players and me was the minute the last bell rang, they climbed into their SUVs, pickups and Beemers and drove across the bridge back to Tulsa or out south to their McMansions.

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 – By Rhay Christou

When I was little, Daddy swore I’d grow up to be a kick-ass princess, vanquishing dragons and saving the world. Since he was surely better < “Surely better” could imply that she still feels this way, and I think it would be stronger to indicate that she used to think that but doesn’t anymore (unless she still does feel that way). than Santa Claus and Superman and Jesus Christ all rolled together, I believed my daddy. But sitting there, in the middle of Al’s abandoned auto shop, with Aden stabbing black ink into my skin, it was impossible to put much faith in fairytales. <I don’t think this opening paragraph is working as well as you want it to. It isn’t really telling me much about the character. The first line made me think this was going to be a fantasy where princesses and dragons really exist, which set me up to expect the wrong kind of story. It feels like you are focusing more on voice with this paragraph than on relevancy to the story.

Again, Aden jabbed his sawed off twelve-gauge guitar string into my wrist, and again my arm jerked. The homemade needle skittered flat topping the O <I don’t understand what this means. Maybe that’s because I don’t know anything about tattoos, but I can’t visualize how the needle could’ve “skittered flat.” , and Jared Marcum reached across the scarred card table. He scattered the baggies of pot and bottles of pills and the pile of cash I’d handed over. < Why does he scatter these things? Also “scattered” makes me imagine him sprinkling the pot and pills across the table when I think what you really mean is that he’s shoving them out of the way. He cinched my palm in his grip and stretched my arm so far across that table my fingertips brushed against his stained wife beater.

 “Stop squirming, Taylor.” His voice was raspy from over indulgence, and the whites of his blue eyes were red lined maps to nowhere. <This feels a little too forced with the voice. If you keep it, “his bloodshot eyes” would make more sense to me. As it is, “red lined” made me think about a line around his eye, like “red ringed.”  He pinned my wrist to the pleather as hard as his don’t-you-move look pinned me to the wobbly foldout chair.

I swallowed. I nodded. I did not fight.

 But Aden didn’t get back to poking. Instead, he half-turned on the stool he’d stuck between my knees and scratched his hand across his bad buzz-cut. Shooting Jared a questioning look, he sliced me a kick-the-tires and check-under-the-hood, appraising leer. <I had to read this twice, then read the next sentence and come back to this one to understand what you mean, but it still reads like Aden is looking at two people at once.

Not that he could have found much in me worth buying. With crazy-wild hair and my best asset being my shimmering green eyes, I was cute, maybe. < Self descriptions always read as awkward. Since none of this really matters or affects the plot at this point, I’d leave it out. But too short, too flat, I’d never be one of those tall, voluptuous blondes that hot guys watched saunter and sashay.

 I’d never be worth all this warped effort. < Whose warped effort is she referring to?

But as the right hand of the Rowdy Redneck gang’s homegrown God, < This is difficult to understand, and I found it confusing even after two or three reads. Aden always made sure Jared got what he wanted. And right now, Jared wanted me.

“Don’t move.’ Aden snapped his tricked-out electric SpongeBob toothbrush back to life and re-dipped his needle into his ash and vodka slurry. < Why did he temporarily stop tattooing her and why does he resume again? It’s not clear. “You want the tat to look like shit?” His glare buzzed my pulse and soured my tongue.< I don’t know what emotion you’re trying to indicate with this description.

 “Don’t matter.” I toughed up my voice and pressed down on my knee, < What is she pressing down on her knee with? Her other hand? Why?  jittering a rhythm < What do you mean by “jittering a rhythm”? Do you mean that she’s tapping her foot? If so, why does that require her to press down on her knee? off-kilter to the pounding beats and sex rhymes blaring from the speakers. I stared down Jared’s hand, promising pain <This reads like she is promising pain, not that Jared’s hand is. and swallowed the awful taste eating its way through my mouth. I gave Aden one hundred percent of my attention. <I don’t understand what emotion she is experiencing.

 It wasn’t his cockeyed stare that made some of the toughest Trojan football players drop their gaze and back out of his way. It was the loaded gun he supposedly carried behind that glare that got all those boys quaking. < What does this have to do with anything? If it’s the reason she’s giving him her full attention, you need to find a  way to clearly connect the two concepts.

I would not shake. I would not cry. I would not give either of these boys the satisfaction of looking away. It wasn’t that I had a death wish or was all that brave. < This reads like what you’re saying is that not crying, shaking, or looking away means that she has a death wish. I’m sure that’s not what you mean, but a bit of clarification would help. The difference between those big old football players and me was the minute the last bell rang, they climbed into their SUVs, pickups and Beemers and drove across the bridge back to Tulsa or out south to their McMansions. < This is another sentence that doesn’t seem relevant to me. How does this tie into her not having a death wish?  Make sure your paragraphs are staying focused.

My Overall Thoughts

You do a nice job introducing this as a gritty story, but I think too much emphasis being placed on voice makes this difficult to follow, which prevents readers from really getting sucked in.

Key Places to Improve:

  • The voice feels a bit forced to me at times, like you are trying too hard to write something edgy. Remember that clarity must always come first. Many lines of narration were confusing and difficult to understand.
  • Make sure there are logical connections between sentences and paragraphs. Work on transitions between topics. If a subject is brought up, it needs to relate in some way to the situation so that readers can easily follow the thought process.
  • Something to differentiate Jared and Aden would help a lot in keeping them straight. I found that I never knew which was which and was sort of reading them as the same person. A different speech pattern, a distinguishing feature or personality trait, etc. would help keep the two straight.
  • The narrator’s emotional state was not clear to me. I wasn’t sure if she was afraid of the boys or just nervous about getting a tattoo.
  • It also wasn’t clear to me what was going on. Why was she getting the tattoo? Did she want it or not? Were the boys making her get a tattoo? If so, why? I felt more confused than intrigued about these details.

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 2

If clarity issues were resolved, this would definitely have potential. I found the subject matter interesting because it wasn’t the typical lighthearted YA story, but the voice became a source of confusion and distraction rather than strength.

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 4th week in January)

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.

Holiday Editing and Mentoring Sale Going on Now!

Get 10% off developmental edits and 25% off mentoring/coaching if booked before January 1st!

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 #11: Contemporary Romance

Happy Friday the 13th!  I hope it’s a lucky one!

This week’s submission:

Contemporary Romance First 500 – By Mindy Hardwick

“There is a man. He is a man from the past.” Dallas peered into the crystal ball. A gust of crisp fall air blew her fortune telling booth sign to the ground. Dallas shivered and pulled her purple cape around her. After living in San Diego for ten years, she wasn’t used to the cooler fall temperatures of the Oregon coast river town.   “What does he look like?” Dallas’s only customer of the afternoon leaned forward.“He has dark…”A loud burst of laughter jarred Dallas. She looked up and frowned. A large crowd gathered around the booth to her left. A hanging stenciled sign read: Plots to Hell. It was all a ploy to support the Riverview Fall Festival. Buy an imaginary plot to hell for your ex-boyfriend or girlfriend and receive a certificate to hang on your wall. It seemed foolish to her, but the booth had a steady stream of traffic.

“I’m sorry. I couldn’t hear what you said. Can you repeat it?” The woman smiled at Dallas. “There seems to be some competition.”

Dallas gritted her teeth. Everyone wanted to buy one of the imaginary plots and it was costing her customers. “Excuse me. I will be right back.”

Dallas strode across the wet grass. She pushed her way through the crowd until she reached the front of the make-shift booth.  “Hello,” Dallas’s voice rose above the crowd as she tried to attract the tall, slender man’s attention. “I am trying…”

“Yes?” The man turned. His jet black eyes met hers.

“Bryan.” Dallas sucked in her breath. She knew coming home to the small town where she grew up would be challenging. But she couldn’t let that challenge stop her. Dallas took a deep breath.  She squared her shoulders and looked Bryan straight in the eye. She wasn’t the same love struck teenage girl. She was a grown woman, who, up until two months ago had a very successful design business. She had fallen in and out of love and had no reason to be worried about her old feelings for Bryan.  “I am trying to give fortunes. My booth benefits the town’s weather disaster fund. My customer cannot hear her fortune.” Dallas looked around for the cause Bryan was supporting. Every booth was supposed to support a local non-profit. The only sign Dallas saw was Riverview Real Estate Company.

Bryan gazed at her empty booth. He turned back to her, winked, and said. “Ladies and Gentlemen. Who will buy the next plot from hell?”

Dallas fumed. Without thinking about how she would pay for it, she said loudly. “I will buy the next plot.”

“Sold.” Bryan said. “To the fortune teller.” He waved his hand at a tall and gorgeous blonde woman working behind him at a long table. “Please bring your payment to my assistant. She will give you the certificate and you can fill in the name for your plot.”

Dallas faltered. What was she thinking? She didn’t have money to buy foolish things like imaginary plots to hell. She barely had grocery money.

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.

Contemporary Romance First 500 – By Mindy Hardwick

“There is a man. He is a man from the past.” < Starting with a strange line of dialogue is a bit jarring. I would put this after the second line so that it’s clear it’s dialogue relating to a crystal ball. Dallas peered into the her crystal ball. < Changing “the” to “her” clears up two problems – it makes it clear that she is a female (I assumed she was male) and it makes it clear that she is the one telling the fortune (rather than getting her fortune told by someone else). A gust of crisp fall air blew her fortune telling booth sign to the ground. < I’d like a clearer picture of this booth. Is it just a little stand? Is it like a tent? Did the sign fall from a pole or was it just a paper sitting on a table? Where is the booth located? Dallas shivered and pulled her purple cape around her. After living in San Diego for ten years, she wasn’t used to the cooler fall temperatures of the Oregon coast river town.  

 “What does he look like?” Dallas’s only customer of the afternoon leaned forward. < I’d rather have a description and name of the customer here and then learn that it’s the only customer of the afternoon in a separate sentence.

“He has dark…”A loud burst of laughter jarred Dallas. She looked up and frowned. A large crowd gathered around the booth to her left. < At first I thought you meant there was a crowd around her booth. It would help if you made it clearer from the first paragraph where exactly this booth is – in an amusement park? On a boardwalk? At a fair? A hanging stenciled sign read: Plots to Hell. It was all a ploy to support the Riverview Fall Festival. Buy an imaginary plot to hell for your ex-boyfriend or girlfriend and receive a certificate to hang on your wall. < It’s not clear if this is a tagline, a thought, or just mistakenly in present tense. It seemed foolish to her, but the booth had a steady stream of traffic.

“I’m sorry. I couldn’t hear what you said. Can you repeat it?” The woman smiled at Dallas. “There seems to be some competition.”

Dallas gritted her teeth. Everyone wanted to buy one of the imaginary plots and it was costing her customers. < It’s not clear to me why it would cost her customers since it would attract people to the area and it’s an unrelated service. “Excuse me. I will be right back.”

Dallas strode across the wet grass. She pushed her way through the crowd until she reached the front of the make-shift booth.  < I’m struggling to picture the scene. Where are they that there is wet grass? How big is the crowd? “Hello,” Dallas’s voice rose above the crowd as she tried to attract the tall, slender man’s attention. < What tall, slender man? Presumably the booth owner? “I am trying…”

“Yes?” The man turned. His jet black eyes met hers.

“Bryan.” Dallas sucked in her breath. She knew coming home to the small town where she grew up would be challenging. But she couldn’t let that challenge stop her. < These two lines are telling something that you could easily show. Dallas took a deep breath.  She squared her shoulders and looked Bryan straight in the eye. She wasn’t the same love struck teenage girl. She was a grown woman, who, up until two months ago had a very successful design business. She had fallen in and out of love and had no reason to be worried about her old feelings for Bryan.  < It’s not clear to me what falling in and out of love has to do with having or not having feelings for Bryan. I also think you’re telling here when showing her feelings would be stronger. “I am trying to give fortunes. My booth benefits the town’s weather disaster fund. My customer cannot hear her fortune.” Dallas looked around for the cause Bryan was supporting. < I thought she already knew that he was supporting the festival? Every booth was supposed to support a local non-profit. The only sign Dallas saw was Riverview Real Estate Company.

Bryan gazed at her empty booth. He turned back to her, winked, and said. “Ladies and Gentlemen. Who will buy the next plot from hell?”

Dallas fumed. Without thinking about how she would pay for it, she said loudly. “I will buy the next plot.” < Why does she buy a plot? What does she think it will accomplish? Make her motivations clear.

“Sold.” Bryan said. “To the fortune teller.” He waved his hand at a tall and gorgeous blonde woman working behind him at a long table. “Please bring your payment to my assistant. She will give you the certificate and you can fill in the name for your plot.”

Dallas faltered. What was she thinking? < As a reader, I want to know what she’s thinking too. What makes her go from angry to buying a plot? Is she trying to show him up? If so, how? She didn’t have money to buy foolish things like imaginary plots to hell. She barely had grocery money.

My Overall Thoughts

I think this could work well as an opening with a few modifications and clarifications. Overall, the writing feels a bit too sparse – too lean on the details. Fleshing things out a bit would help root the reader in the story.

Key Places to Improve:

  • Location – A sense of location is really important in setting a scene, but it’s unclear where her booth is located, how many other booths are in the area, what type of booth it is, etc. Take some time to flesh out those details.
  • Voice – There wasn’t much sense of voice in this opening. I should be getting a sense of Dallas’s personality traits, but I’m not, for two reasons: 1. The word choices didn’t provide insight into her personality, and 2. Her motivations were not clear (Why is she so upset about this other booth? Why does she buy a plot in hell? Why is she even fortune telling in the first place?).
  • I struggled a little bit with her logic because I don’t understand why the “plots in hell” booth would compete with her fortune telling booth. Additionally, when it is explained in the narration that the “plots in hell” booth is fundraising, it makes her seem a little petty that she would make a fuss about its success. This plot point would make more sense to me if either: 1. The rival booth was also fortune telling and stealing her thunder, or 2. She hated or was opposed to the cause the booth was fundraising for.

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

The writing itself was not bad, but perhaps a little on the bland side. It was definitely too sparse and vague, like a draft written with just the bare bones. If you pump up the voice and flesh out the details, this could work  well as an opening for a romance.

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 Mindy

You can connect with Mindy on Twitter, her website, and at her blog.

Submit to First Page Friday – (currently booking 3rd week in January)

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.

Holiday Editing and Mentoring Sale Going on Now!

Get 10% off developmental edits and 25% off mentoring/coaching if booked before January 1st!

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!

First Page Friday #10: Literary Fiction

First Page Friday #10! Woohoo! We made it to the double digits!

I took last Friday off due to Thanksgiving craziness and really missed it. I enjoy First Page Fridays so much, but I’ve been wondering how you feel about it. Is there any way I could change things up to be more useful? Do you like the grades? The surveys? Are there any sections you’d like to see me add? Please leave a comment.

Also, if any of my previous First Page Friday participants have any success stories or news they’d like to share, please get in touch. I’m sure the other blog readers would love to hear about it.

And lastly, I am opening up to new mentoring clients. You can read more about it here. It is on sale for the holidays – 25% off! You don’t have to use the time over the holidays, you just have to pay before January 1st.

This week’s submission:

Literary Fiction First 500 – By Carol Dunbar

FALL
In the morning before Luvera came charging up the driveway, panicked and honking the horn, Elsa Arnasson is doing the laundry. She comes out of her little, unfinished house with her wild hair caught up loose and haphazard at her neck, wearing her son in a backpack carrier and holding a basket of wet clothes. She slides her feet into shoes and crosses the temporary porch. Still new to living in the country and the quiet it offers, she steps out into the sun and stops, to look out at the day.There is nothing about the scene before her that might suggest catastrophe. The yard is littered with yellow leaves, the poplar and birch nearly bare now, the oaks still holding onto theirs, rust colored and brown. A small wind turns leaves cartwheeling past her feet, past the fire pit he dug for them, past the folding chairs they put out within hearing distance of the baby monitor. Farther out across the yard stands a row of pine, their boughs heavy and dark, watchful and protecting.

From out of this, a puff ball comes floating along. She sees it first down by the garden. Like the white part of a dandelion only larger, it drifts up the hill and crosses the yard. It approaches, this airy jewel suspended in sunlight; it captures her full attention then because of the way it hovers there, right at eye level, lingering in front of her, sitting on a current of air. She watches it and it seems to watch her, friendly, interested even. Elsa forgets about the laundry basket in her hands and the baby on her back. A feeling of rightness buzzes inside her, this beautiful day, this house they are building and their two children, all of it exactly the way it should be and she cannot imagine a better life or feeling that things are wrong. Then without prelude, the puff ball whirls backwards and away, spinning into the trees.

Had she known what would be coming next, she might have made more of this, but as it happened, she stands there watching, and it blows away, and she smiles. She chalks it up to life in the country, something mysterious, maybe even silly. It made her happy, and now she had work to get back to.

She walks up the hill through the woods to the clothesline behind their house, her insides still buzzy, unhooked a bit from time. Finnegan on her back plays with her hair, wrapping strands of it around his fist and trying to fit that into his mouth. She wades through the leaves, approaches the clothesline, where it should be, and it is no longer there. The bears again, she thinks, and sets her basket down.

Again she looks up at the trees, through the nearly bare branches and the sky pressed bold and blue beyond. She goes to her basket, and hangs a towel on a branch. She smiles, and starts draping clothes, red and blue and striped kitchen towels.

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.

Literary Fiction First 500 – By Carol Dunbar

FALL

In the morning before Luvera came charging up the driveway, panicked and honking the horn, Elsa Arnasson is doing the laundry. < I find the mixing of tenses in this first sentence jarring. She comes out of her little, unfinished house with her wild hair caught up loose and haphazard at her neck, wearing her son in a backpack carrier and holding a basket of wet clothes. She slides her feet into shoes and crosses the temporary porch. <What is a temporary porch? A little more info here would help paint a stronger picture for the reader. For example: ..crosses the bare wood planks of the temporary porch. Still new to living in the country and the quiet it offers, she steps out into the sun and stops, to look out at the day. <I suggest cutting this. The next line implies that she is looking. Generally, you want to avoid outright stating that a character is looking at things or thinking about things because it is so easy to show/imply. 

There is nothing about the scene before her that might suggest catastrophe. The yard is littered with yellow leaves, the poplar and birch nearly bare now, the oaks still holding onto theirs, rust colored and brown. A small wind turns leaves cartwheeling past her feet, past the fire pit he dug for them, past the folding chairs they put out within hearing distance of the baby monitor. Farther out across the yard stands a row of pine, their boughs heavy and dark, watchful and protecting.

From out of this, a puff ball comes floating along. She sees it first down by the garden. Like the white part of a dandelion only larger, it drifts up the hill and crosses the yard. It approaches, this airy jewel suspended in sunlight; it captures her full attention then because of the way it hovers there, right at eye level, lingering in front of her, sitting on a current of air. She watches it and it seems to watch her, friendly, interested even. Elsa forgets about the laundry basket in her hands and the baby on her back. A feeling of rightness buzzes inside her, this beautiful day, this house they are building and their two children, all of it exactly the way it should be and she cannot imagine a better life or feeling that things are wrong. <I find the wording of this sentence difficult to read and understand. Then without prelude, the puff ball whirls backwards and away, spinning into the trees.

Had she known what would be coming next, < This is considered a pretty cliche line in omniscient. It might bother some and not others, depends on the reader. she might have made more of this, but as it happened, < “as it happened” doesn’t really make sense in present tense because it’s actively happening, but I have a stricter opinion about the use of present tense than some other editors. she stands there watching, and it blows away, and she smiles. She chalks it up to life in the country, < She chalks what up to life in the country? The puff ball’s existence? The happiness she derives from it? something mysterious, maybe even silly. It made her happy, and now she had has work to get back to.

She walks up the hill through the woods to the clothesline behind their house, her insides still buzzy, unhooked a bit from time. < “unhooked a bit from time” does not hold any meaning to me. It’s not an experience I can relate to. Not that that makes it inherently a problem – others may completely disagree. Finnegan on her back plays with her hair, wrapping strands of it around his fist and trying to fit that into his mouth. She wades through the leaves, approachesing where the clothesline, where it should be, and it is no longer there. < This rewording makes more sense because she can’t approach the clothesline and then have it not be there. The bears again, she thinks, and sets her basket down.

Again she looks up at the trees, through the nearly bare branches and the sky pressed bold and blue beyond. She goes to her basket, and hangs a towel on a branch. She smiles, and starts draping clothes, red and blue and striped kitchen towels. <Wording of this sentence is a bit awkward. Are the clothes she’s draping kitchen towels? That’s how I read it initially, but I think what you mean is that she’s draping clothes as well as red and blue and striped kitchen towels, but then that still has a clarity issue – are some of the towels red, some blue, and some striped or are they red and blue striped?

My Overall Thoughts

I don’t doubt your ability to write. This has a nice, pretty sound to the language. However despite the nice writing, too little was going on to draw me into the story, but the writing carries my interest enough that I would give you another few pages to hook me.

Key Places to Improve:

  • Clarity comes first. Always. If you have to write an ugly sentence that readers can understand, that’s better than a pretty one they can’t. Lovely language can get you pretty far, but clarity and substance will still trump it every time. So read your sentences carefully. Make sure they make sense.
  • The puffball had such a prominent position in this opening that I would expect it to have a major impact on the catalyst of the story. If this is not the case, you may need to downplay it.
  • Some sort of conflict had better be introduced within the next few hundred words or you’re going to start losing readers.
  • The present tense combined with a few past tense omniscient phrases (“as it happened,” “in the morning before,” “had she known”) kind of made my head spin, however it is not “wrong.” It’s just a matter of preference.
  • My biggest concern is that perhaps none of this opening matters, that you are just trying to be poetic by including the puffball, when really it does not tie into the story arc. If that’s the case, it makes this opening a bit too meandering and you might want to start a bit later.

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 3

This is a tough one to grade because it depends a lot on where the story goes from here. If these opening paragraphs tie in well with a conflict that begins within the next few hundred words, I’d probably bump this up to a 4. If no conflict occurs and these paragraphs are style without substance, I’d probably bump it down to a 1 or 2.  If you focus on clarity and substance (no pretty words just for pretty’s sake), I think you’re probably on the right track with the novel as a whole.

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

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.

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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 #9: Literary

Please read the chapter without my notes and record your feedback in the poll before moving on to my critique. This really helps the author. Thanks!

The Submission:

Literary First 500 – By Nicola

Before my mother died, Kenny was not my friend. He didn’t have any friends. No one even hung around with him much. He was okay, sometimes, if there was no one else to play with, but mostly we tried to ignore him.  He lived in another part of the street and didn’t belong to our gang. There were lots of Catholics in our neighborhood so there were enough kids to go around without him joining in; we thought he had a snotty nose and big freckles and his clothes were handed down way too many times.  He had straight, mousy-brown hair that hung down over his eyes in the front and knotted up like a bird’s nest in the back. We would leave him out on purpose, when we didn’t need him for a game, which was almost always.  He would stand a little way back and watch, his hands deep in his pockets, trying to look like he didn’t care, and didn’t really want to join in. He stood, or kept himself busy with the stone beneath his shoe, or the coins in his pocket. And I thought he must have just gone home when the rest of us did at five o’clock on Saturdays, when our mothers stood on the back steps and called out “Dinner! You’ve got five minutes or your father’s going to hear about it.” People still said things like that then.Except, after the excitement of my mother’s death had died down, and after the social workers who made us dinner and did our laundry had stopped coming, then there was no one calling me home. There was no dinner. And then I found something out: Kenny didn’t go home like the rest of us. When all the other kids ran home, he stayed there still, with his tennis ball, or soccer ball, or empty handed, watching the other kids run back up the hill from the park and disappear around the backs of houses.The first time I realized no one was calling Kenny, I was waiting to hear my name, and when I didn’t I waited a bit longer, then ran home anyway. No one called him either, and when I turned at the top of the path to look back, he was still there, looking down at his sneakers.

A couple of weeks later, I didn’t go home either, and Kenny talked to me then. He asked me if it was because a dog bit her—her dying. I told him it was, and I wondered for a long time after that if it was true. I was eight years old. Before my mother died, I had never known anyone who had died.  And, I had never even thought how many ways there might be to die. Dying from a dog bite seemed as good a way as any other. And there were some pretty mean dogs around.

But I didn’t know for sure how she died. And didn’t want to. No one had told me the details. I didn’t know what day she died, or what time it was, exactly.  I never visited her grave; I didn’t know where she was buried. No one told me, and I didn’t ask.

The thing is: it was important not to know. Not knowing the truth made my fictions all the more reliable.

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.

Literary First 500 – By Nicola

Before my mother died, Kenny was not my friend. He didn’t have any friends. No one evern hung around with him much. < “Much” is a weak way to end a sentence. I would rephrase. He was okay, sometimes, if there was no one else to play with, but mostly we tried to ignore him.  He lived in another part of the street and didn’t belong to our gang. < This sentence feels disjointed and unneeded. I would cut it. There were lots of Catholics in our neighborhood so there were enough kids to go around without him joining in < The flow would be better without this sentence.  ; we thought < There’s no reason to say that it’s what they thought. It just weakens the sentence. he had a snotty nose and big freckles and his clothes were handed down way too many times.  He had straight, mousy-brown hair that hung down over his eyes in the front and knotted up like a bird’s nest in the back. < Personally, I would also cut this sentence for flow and because it doesn’t connect as nicely to the next sentence. Kids might not want to hang out with a poor, snot-nosed kid, but I don’t think they’d care what his hair looked like. We would leave him out on purpose, when we didn’t need him for a game, which was almost always.  He would stand a little way back and watch, his hands deep in his pockets, trying to look like he didn’t care, and didn’t really want to join in. He stood, or < Not needed because we already know he’s standing. kept himself busy with the stone beneath his shoe, or the coins in his pocket. And I thought he must have just gone home when the rest of us did at five o’clock on Saturdays, < This sentence feels disjointed from the rest of the paragraph because it seems unlikely that the narrator actually put any thought into whether or not the kid went home in the evenings, especially since this is a kid they ignored and didn’t like. Rephrasing would help. For example: “I guess I just assumed he went home when the rest of us did…” when our mothers stood on the back steps and called out “Dinner! You’ve got five minutes or your father’s going to hear about it.” People still said things like that then.

Except, after the excitement of my mother’s death had died down, and after the social workers who made us dinner and did our laundry had stopped coming, then there was no one calling me home. There was no dinner. And then I found something out: Kenny didn’t go home like the rest of us. < This sentence is telling as well as vague. How did the narrator figure that out? When all the other kids ran home, he stayed there still, with his tennis ball, or soccer ball, or empty handed, watching the other kids run back up the hill from the park and disappear around the backs of houses.

The first time I realized no one was calling Kenny, I was waiting to hear my name, < There is not a clear connection between this and the previous paragraph. Is this after people stopped calling her home? Is it the first day she wasn’t called? If so, you could restructure this so that the first sentence of the previous paragraph leads into this paragraph (cutting out telling and creating a better flow). For example: “Except one day, after the excitement of my mother’s death had died down, and after the social workers who made us dinner and did our laundry had stopped coming, no one called me home. I waited to hear my name, and when I didn’t, I waited a bit longer, then ran home anyway. No one called Kenny either, and when I turned….” and when I didn’t I waited a bit longer, then ran home anyway. No one called him either, and when I turned at the top of the path to look back, he was still there, looking down at his sneakers.

A couple of weeks later, I didn’t go home either, and Kenny talked to me then. He asked me if it was because a dog bit her—her dying. I told him it was, < I would like a stronger indication at this point that she doesn’t actually know how she died. Restructuring this paragraph and combining it with the next one would be ideal. For example: …dog bit her – her dying. Dying from a dog bite seemed as good a way as any other. And there were some pretty mean dogs around, so I told him it was. But I didn’t know for sure how she died. And didn’t want to…   and I wondered for a long time after that if it was true. I was eight years old. Before my mother died, I had never known anyone who had died.  And, I had never even thought how many ways there might be to die. Dying from a dog bite seemed as good a way as any other. And there were some pretty mean dogs around.

But I didn’t know for sure how she died. And didn’t want to. No one had told me the details. I didn’t know what day she died, or what time it was, exactly.  I never visited her grave; I didn’t know where she was buried. No one told me, and I didn’t ask.

The thing is: it was important not to know. Not knowing the truth made my fictions all the more reliable.

My Overall Thoughts

You said you weren’t sure of the genre. From this sample, I’m going to have to go with literary. You suggested this may be YA, but unless the bulk of the story is told from the perspective of a teenager and contains issues relevant to teen readers, it’s most likely not YA.

Your voice is very engaging and easy to read, which is great, however it does seem structurally disorganized at times.

Key Places to Improve:

  • Make sure that the structure makes sense. That’s really your only issue here. Some tips on structure:
  • Make sure the right information is conveyed at the right time. Don’t wait to convey clarifying information because it requires the reader to untangle preconceived notions, which is hard to do.
  • Don’t break up information of the same topic with other sentences or paragraphs. Group sentences making the same point together so that it doesn’t feel like a point is left and then returned to – this creates a sense of redundancy.
  • Cut out sentences that aren’t needed. Be ruthless. Unneeded sentences really disrupt the flow. Consider carefully what the reader needs to know.
  • Also, watch out for sentences that make the same point as another sentence, even if in a slightly different way. This gives the sense that the plot is stagnating.

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 3

Though there were some major structural issues, I really liked your voice. I could definitely see the potential in this. It felt like a diamond in the rough, rather than just a hot mess. Focus on line editing as you move forward, and do research into literary fiction if you aren’t familiar with it.

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 – Pretty Please! I’m out of Submissions!

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.

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First Page Friday #8: Fantasy/Alternate History

First Page Friday

First Page Friday is a new section on The Writeditor’s blog. Every Friday I will provide an in-depth edit and critique of the first 500 words of an unpublished novel.

Please read the chapter without my notes and record your feedback in the poll before moving on to my critique. This really helps the author. Thanks!

First Page Friday Edit & Critique

Fantasy/Alternate History First 500 – By Yvone Williams

The Captain
    As Constance emerged from the ship’s hold, a gale swept her brown hair over her eyes.
    “Left,” a man called from the bow. “Pull left, you blind codger.”
    She pushed her hair back and scanned the ship: Creedy stood on the quarterdeck, yanking the wheel in silence. Normally, he would have severed the other man’s tongue with a sharp reply. Constance rushed to meet him.
    “Creedy, what’s happening?” she asked, lowering her head against the wind. The skirt of her frock coat whipped her legs.
    “Lost your eyes to the wind, have you?” he asked. The irises of his eyes were clouded and shifted toward her voice. “Make sure that piece of filth Pisador is still in the hold.”
    “He’s there,” she said. But I had to untie him. Her gaze shied away from him, toward the wind, and over the main deck. Half of her crew was bunched around the mainmast. Overhead, men climbed the ratlines. Above them, others recklessly hung from the crosstrees. Both groups fought to keep the wind-gashed topsail attached to its yard.
    Constance left Creedy at his position and climbed down to the main deck. A delicate-framed man struggled to pry the main topmast’s halyard from around the mainstay. Another man, hunched and grey, stood beside him.
    “Why did no one reef the sails?” she asked.
    “Because I’m not a sailor,” the slight one said, fighting the twisted ropes. “I’m a naturalist.”
    Constance knew Sanctuary did not care who did her trimming– Creedy had said as much, and his words had yet to fail her.
    “Angel Shades, Rosy Underwings… my interest is in moths. Not rope, not sails, not ships,” he said, shaking the rope.
    “Stop!” Constance frowned; the tangled lines were beginning to fray.
    “Just a doctor, myself,” the old man said with a shrug.
    “Well.” Constance slid her trembling hands into pockets. “I advise you get your doctoring tools ready. You might have a chance to prove it.”
    “Chance?”
    She walked away, but the doctor trailed her.
    “You’re the captain. Why can’t you fix this? It’s your responsibility; none of us asked to be here.”
    She tried to ignore him while she walked. All she wanted was a moment alone. A single moment to think.
    Save the stays and you’ll save the ship. But how?
    “It won’t unravel itself, you know,” the naturalist called after her.
    “Christ’s sake,” Creedy said. “Just cut the damn thing. We can afford to lose one sail if we’re as close as it sounds.”
    Constance moved starboard to look beyond the sails. He was right; the snow-covered ground seemed to wink and coax the sun from behind the clouds. They were less than 20 minutes away.
    Her eyes roamed past the clipped, icy shore of Greenland. It was all a blur of white, and mountain ridges were only visible due to the shadows they cast. Constance took her pendant in hand, fingers running along the gilt. Soon, its small, arcane marks would lead her to la vara de centuries– the Rod of Centuries– and then… then, she would restore everything.

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/Alternate History First 500 – By Yvone Williams

The Captain
    As Constance emerged from the ship’s hold, a gale swept her brown hair over her eyes.
    “Left,” a man called from the bow. “Pull left, you blind codger.”
    She pushed her hair back and scanned the ship: Creedy stood on the quarterdeck, yanking the wheel in silence. Normally, he would have severed the other man’s tongue with a sharp reply. < This sentence and the next one feel a bit disjointed to me. I think a transition would help tremendously. Constance rushed to meet him.
    “Creedy, what’s happening?” she asked, lowering her head against the wind. The skirt of her frock coat whipped her legs.
    “Lost your eyes to the wind, have you?” <This line confused me on the first read-through. After reading it a second time, I think I understand that he is being sarcastic. Some sort of response from Constance or a more specific dialogue tag would help nail down that explanation. he asked. The irises of his eyes were clouded < Having him say that she lost her eyes to the wind, then having his eyes be clouded made me wonder if the wind really was doing something to their eyes. and shifted toward her voice. “Make sure that piece of filth Pisador is still in the hold.”
    “He’s there,” she said. But I had to untie him. Her gaze shied away from him, toward the wind, and over the main deck. Half of her crew was bunched around the mainmast. Overhead, men climbed the ratlines. Above them, others recklessly hung from the crosstrees. <Instead of relying on an adverb, a stronger description would be better if possible. Both groups fought to keep the wind-gashed topsail attached to its yard.
    Constance left Creedy at his position and climbed down to the main deck. A delicate-framed man struggled to pry the main topmast’s halyard from around the mainstay. Another man, hunched and grey, stood beside him.
    “Why did no one reef the sails?” she asked.
    “Because I’m not a sailor,” the slight one said, fighting the twisted ropes. “I’m a naturalist.”
    Constance knew Sanctuary did not care who did her trimming– < I don’t know anything about ships. I don’t know what you mean by “her trimming.” Creedy had said as much, and his words had yet to fail her.
    “Angel Shades, Rosy Underwings… my interest is in moths. Not rope, not sails, not ships,” he said, shaking the rope.
    “Stop!” Constance frowned; the tangled lines were beginning to fray. <I always prefer linear order: The tangled lines fray, and then she says stop.
    “Just a doctor, myself,” the old man said with a shrug.
    “Well.” Constance slid her trembling hands into pockets. “I advise you get your doctoring tools ready. You might have a chance to prove it.”
    “Chance?”
    She walked away, but the doctor trailed her.
    “You’re the captain. Why can’t you fix this? It’s your responsibility; none of us asked to be here.”
    She tried to ignored him while she walked. < This sentence stood out to me as much weaker than the others. Firstly, avoid having characters “try” to do things. Secondly, we already know that she is walking so perhaps a description of where she is or what she’s passing would work better (For example: She ignored him as she pushed between two sailors repairing the sail). All she wanted was a moment alone. A single moment to think.
    Save the stays and you’ll save the ship. But how?
    “It won’t unravel itself, you know,” the naturalist called after her.
    “Christ’s sake,” Creedy said. < Isn’t Creedy on a different level of the ship? I think it would be helpful to mention that (For example: Creedy said, leaning over the railing of the quarterdeck.) Something like that helps to orient things in the reader’s mind. “Just cut the damn thing. We can afford to lose one sail if we’re as close as it sounds.”
    Constance moved starboard to look beyond the sails. He was right; the snow-covered ground seemed to wink and coax the sun from behind the clouds. They were less than 20 twenty minutes away.
    Her eyes roamed past the clipped, icy shore of Greenland. It was all a blur of white, and mountain ridges were only visible due to the shadows they cast. Constance took her pendant in hand, fingers running along the gilt. Soon, its small, arcane marks would lead her to la vara de centuries– the Rod of Centuries– and then… then, she would restore everything.

My Overall Thoughts

You have a very nice, easy to read writing style that drew me in right away. You started with a great conflict that has action that is interesting but not overwhelming to the reader. Well done.

Key Places to Improve:

  • There were a few places where I felt slightly confused about what you were trying to say. This may have something to do with the fact that I don’t know anything about ships, but you do need to assume that readers know nothing about ships to ensure clarity.
  • You do a great job with keeping the descriptions brief, but there were a few places where I felt it would be better to give the characters more concrete positioning on the ship (where Creedy is when he talks to Constance and the doctor; where Constance is when she is ignoring the doctor).
  • You could turn the emotional dial up just a tad. It wasn’t clear what was at stake for Constance – Was she in fear for her life? Was she just worried about damaging the ship? What exactly was the consequence if things didn’t turn out right?

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 4

I really enjoyed this first chapter. Aside from some minor tweaking and clarity issues, this seems more or less good to go. I have no real complaints other than a few line edits. This read like a publishable book. Well done!

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 Yvone

You can connect with Yvone on her blog and Twitter.

Submit to First Page Friday

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.

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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 #7: Fantasy

First Page Friday

First Page Friday is a new section on The Writeditor’s blog. Every Friday I will provide an in-depth edit and critique of the first 500 words of an unpublished novel.

Please read the chapter without my notes and record your feedback in the poll before moving on to my critique. This really helps the author. Thanks!

First Page Friday Edit & Critique

Fantasy First 500 – By Randall Whan

Phineas surveyed the approaching army descending upon the city. While small, less than a hundred men, he knew that nothing would stop their advancement till they reached the library. Reports had come in from the west, of their approach, where several villages were burned to ash. Hundreds of men, women, and children had found their head on the end of a pike if they failed to escape. Darkness followed them like a fog enveloping all that it touched. Even the moon’s brilliant light seemed to fade as they drew nearer.Time, so little time left, but how much time did he have left? Surely his barricade on the lower level of library wouldn’t hold them off for long. The city was all but deserted; they had fled when the scouts brought word of the army’s approach. Most of them fled north to the mountains where they believed they would be safe. Phineas had stayed behind and sealed himself in the library, desperate to finish his task. An eerie silence unnerved him, not a sound came from the valley surrounding the city. It seemed that even the wolves and night larks sensed the evil approaching beneath the boots of the invaders.  Lowering the hood of his robe he turned back into the room. His head was shaven except for the braid of hair bound by a crimson and leather band hung to the right side of his forehead. A gold medallion bearing the crest of Deval, a large oak tree barren of leaves, was tied to end of the braid.The only light in the small study came from a burning candle on a desk in the center of the room. The candle was quickly reaching the end of its burn, and like his time, would soon be out. Three of the stone walls were lined with charts and maps; one held a door that lead to the landing of the second level of the library. The fourth was covered by a large bookcase filled with books of various topics. He hurried over to the desk. A group of four rolled scrolls, sealed with read wax bearing the same seal of Deval. He tore the wax from of the scrolls and glanced at its script. Not finished, he thought, but it would have to do. He grabbed a quill and dipped into ink and quickly began to write. His hands ached as he wrote on the tattered parchment. Blacked ink stained his fingers, his hands wrinkled and calloused. He had held his post as chief elder of Deval for the past 35 years, now he knew the moment he and the rest of the elders had been preparing for was upon them. He hoped that he wasn’t too late, that his work would not be in vain.He was pulled away from his writing as the sound of a battering

ram pounding against the libraries outer doors vibrated

throughout the study.

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 – By Randall Whan

Phineas surveyed the approaching army descending upon the city. < This is not the most exciting opening line. It feels overly familiar since a lot of fantasy novels open with an approaching army or battle. While small, less than a hundred men, he knew < “knew” is a filtering word. Read more about filtering here. that nothing would stop their advancement till they reached the library. Reports of their approach had come in from the west, of their approach, < Avoid unusual sentence structures as they tend to sacrifice clarity. where several villages were burned to ash. Hundreds of men, women, and children had found their head on the end of a pike if they failed to escape. <I’m not a fan of sentences that imply dead people realize things. On top of that, this is more passive than saying that the army put their heads on the end of pikes. Darkness followed them like a fog enveloping all that it touched. Even the moon’s brilliant light seemed to fade as they drew nearer. < I mentioned this in another First Page Friday, but I recommend not mentioning the moon in the first chapter, especially in the first few paragraphs, because it’s considered cliche.
Time, so little time left, but how much time did he have left? < The wording of this sentence is strange. He sort of answers his own question before he even asks it. Surely his barricade on the lower level of the library wouldn’t hold them off for long. < Oh, so he’s inside the library? This wasn’t clear. The city was all but deserted; they < “They” seems vague. Perhaps “villagers”? had fled when the scouts brought word of the army’s approach. Most of them fled north to the mountains where they believed they would be safe. Phineas had stayed behind and sealed himself in the library, desperate to finish his task. An eerie silence unnerved him, not a sound came from the valley surrounding the city. It seemed that even the wolves and night larks sensed the evil approaching beneath the boots of the invaders. < Again, this line feels like something I’ve read a dozen times before. Lowering the hood of his robe he turned back into the room. His head was shaven except for the braid of hair bound by a crimson and leather band that hung to the right side of his forehead. A gold medallion bearing the crest of Deval, a large oak tree barren of leaves, was tied to the end of the braid.The only light in the small study came from a burning candle on a desk in the center of the room. < This is another line that just feels too familiar. The candle was quickly reaching the end of its burn, and like his time, would soon be out. Three of the stone walls were lined with charts and maps; one held a door that lead to the landing of the second level of the library. The fourth was covered by a large bookcase filled with books of various topics.<This is too vague to be worth including. He hurried over to the desk. A group of four rolled scrolls, sealed with read wax bearing the same seal of Deval. <This is a sentence fragment. He tore the wax from of the scrolls and glanced at its script. Not finished, he thought, but it would have to do. < This either needs to be an italicized thought in present tense or not a thought at all. Right now the first part is in present tense and the second part is in past, which reads awkwardly. He grabbed a quill and dipped into ink and quickly began to write. < The next sentence says he’s writing, so this seems redundant. His hands ached as he wrote on the tattered parchment. Blacked ink stained his fingers, his hands wrinkled and calloused. < Connecting the two parts of this sentence with a comma doesn’t make sense because they have nothing to do with each other. He had held his post as chief elder of Deval for the past 35 years, now he knew the moment he and the rest of the elders had been preparing for was upon them. He hoped that he wasn’t too late, that his work would not be in vain.He was pulled away from his writing as the sound of a battering

ram pounding against the libraries outer doors vibrated

throughout the study. <I’m not sure if this formatting is intentional or unintentional, but this is the way it was sent to me. If it’s intentional, I have to wonder why? 

My Overall Thoughts

This opening lacks a strong hook. A hook can be anything from a question that begs for an answer to a unique plot element or character trait. This opening feels a bit too expected, a bit too much like dozens of other fantasy novels that have already been published. What’s unique about your book? Why is it better than all the other fantasy novels? That is the element you need to push to hook in readers.

Key Places to Improve:

  • Why should I care about Phineas? I don’t know who he is, whether he’s good or bad, or what he’s trying to accomplish. This makes it difficult to root for him.
  • Work on finding your own unique voice. The writing isn’t bad, but it sounds like you’re trying to write the way you think a fantasy novel is supposed to be written.
  • Emphasize what is unique about your fantasy world. The approaching army, candlelit room, eery silence, scrolls, medallion, and guy with a braid all feel too familiar and too standard for the genre. That’s fine when coupled with some really unique elements, but the uniqueness isn’t coming across here.
  • Be careful with your proofreading: added or missing words, grammatical errors, sentences that don’t make sense. Agents/editors don’t have a lot of tolerance for these types of mistakes as it can give the impression you didn’t put your best effort into the work before submission.

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 1

Your writing isn’t bad, it’s just a little bland. I don’t feel like this is something that could have only come from Randall Whan, but that’s the impression you want to give agents and editors – that this is a unique masterpiece that could only have come from your imagination. The only way to give that impression is to have a strong voice and unique world/character/plot elements. And maybe this is true of the rest of the book. I don’t know.

I think, more likely than not, you are not starting this in the right place. Don’t fall into the trap of starting with action. That is absolutely not a requirement of the first chapter. In fact, it often leads to weaker first chapters. Action is meaningless before the reader has bonded to the characters. The key to a great first chapter is to start with proaction (your character doing something). That doesn’t mean that what they’re doing has to be inherently exciting. It just has to be interesting.

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 Randall

You can connect with Randall on Twitter: @R_A_Whan

Submit to First Page Friday

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.

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First Page Friday #6: Dark Romance

First Page Friday

First Page Friday is a new section on The Writeditor’s blog. Every Friday I will provide an in-depth edit and critique of the first 500 words of an unpublished novel.

Please read the chapter without my notes and record your feedback in the poll before moving on to my critique. This really helps the author. Thanks!

First Page Friday Edit & Critique

Dark Romance First 500 – By Tom Orchard-Webb

Timothy Deakin’s corpse floated through emptiness in an eternity of nothing. His disconnected mind awakened at the touch of ephemeral beauty materialising above him. Uncertain whether he was the dreaming dead or dreaming of death, his senses returned as her naked body slid over his. She kissed his lips and stroked his cheeks. Her golden hair, which blasted away the darkness with the force of a supernova, tickled his ghostly skin. She rested her head on his chest and listened… Thud, thud, thud… The joy on her lips was clear, yet tears began to rain down her face.

Tim opened his eyes. She was gone.

§§§

The stench of sterility overcame Tim’s regard for hospital rules, finding both safety matches and pack of Marlboro Reds in the large chest pocket of his oversized, olive green German Army smock. He flicked his mop of greasy chestnut hair from his glazed hazel eyes and found himself confronted by a poster depicting tar-coated lungs on the wall opposite to the wooden bench on which he slouched. He snortled, striking the sulphurous head of the match against the sand and powdered glass stripe in a blaze of white phosphorous. He sucked in a lungful of toxic bliss. The hot smoke in the cool hallway was as inwardly refreshing as a cold beer in summer. His eyes fixed on the burning match, the flame crawling along the stick toward his blackened fingernails, like a slug hungry for cabbage. Gradually, it began to transform before his eyes, until the flame rippled as orange water. Sounds and voices lost all clarity. The pressure in his head and lungs made it seem as though a mysterious hand were drowning him in a bathtub. He realised he was holding his breath. Gasping suddenly and violently, the world slowly returned to how it had always really been.

‘Ah!’ he cried, the slug finally biting him. The flame died as the match fell from his fingers and landed on his battered jeans – battered by use, not design. He rubbed the blackness in, just another stain among stains, allowing the tiny unburned stub drop to the floor.

Against his shoulder, the prodding of sweaty, trembling digits burst the invisible bubble of his internal world. His body jerked away and his hand automatically reached for the knife concealed in his side pocket.

The young man leapt back, cat-like. ‘Sorry!’ he yelped. Tim’s defence mechanisms returned to DEFCON 5 at the sight of the smooth face with tomato-red cheeks. The green-robed boy dabbed his brow with his glabrous forearm. ‘I didn’t mean to, um–’

‘How the fuck are you working here?’ Tim interrupted, slurring his words. He picked at the long hairs on his chin.

According to the photo ID card dangling around his flushed neck, the boy’s name was Bradley. ‘Excuse me?’

‘I thought you needed, like, a million qualifications to work in healthcare.’ Tim belched out the bubbling gas in his stomach. ‘You look younger than me, and I’m EIGHTEEN,’ he half-shouted, half-sang, ‘I get confused every day!’

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.

Dark Romance First 500 – By Tom Orchard-Webb

On the first read-through, I was immediately distracted by all the adjectives, so I decided to mark them in orange. This is not to say that they are all non-essential. Some of them are necessary and should definitely be kept, but I think it can be very powerful to color code an author’s text so they can see how often certain words, phrases, or parts of speech are used.

Timothy Deakin’s corpse floated through emptiness in an eternity of nothing. His disconnected mind awakened at the touch of ephemeral beauty materialising above him. Uncertain whether he was the dreaming dead or dreaming of death, his senses returned as her naked body slid over his. < As the reader, we know he is a corpse because you told us in the first sentence. But dead people don’t dream. So this sets me up to expect a paranormal. If this is not supposed to be paranormal, then you’re not setting the right tone. She kissed his lips and stroked his cheeks. Her golden hair, which blasted away the darkness with the force of a supernova, tickled his ghostly skin. She rested her head on his chest and listened… Thud, thud, thud… The joy on her lips was clear, yet tears began to rain down her face.

Tim opened his eyes. She was gone.  < Opening with a dream or anything that seems like a dream is considered a cliche and is likely to get you rejected.

§§§

The stench of sterility overcame Tim’s regard for hospital rules, finding both safety matches < The way this is written, it basically means that the stench of sterility found the safety matches. and pack of Marlboro Reds in the large chest pocket of his oversized, olive green German Army smock. He flicked his mop of greasy chestnut hair from his glazed hazel eyes < This is third person limited, which means that it’s being told from the perspective of Tim, which means that he can’t see his own hair and eyes to describe them. Consequentially, this immediately pulls the reader backwards out of the story and away from your protagonist. and found himself confronted by a poster depicting tar-coated lungs on the wall opposite to the wooden bench on which he slouched. < This sentence feels a bit like attack of the adjectives. Focus in on the most important descriptions and drop the rest. He snortled, striking the sulphurous head of the match against the sand and powdered glass stripe in a blaze of white phosphorous. < Two problems with this sentence: 1. It implies that his snort had something to do with striking the match. 2. It is overly complicated. There’s nothing wrong with simply saying that he struck the match. He sucked in a lungful of toxic bliss. The hot smoke in the cool hallway was as inwardly refreshing as a cold beer in summer. His eyes fixed on the burning match, the flame crawling along the stick toward his blackened fingernails, like a slug hungry for cabbage. < I’d drop this analogy because it isn’t needed. Gradually, it began to transform before his eyes, until the flame rippled as orange water. Sounds and voices lost all clarity. The pressure in his head and lungs made it seem as though a mysterious hand were drowning him in a bathtub. < The purpose of analogies is to clarify a difficult to grasp concept with something concrete that readers can understand. Since readers probably have not had the experience of a mysterious hand drowning them in the bathtub, it actually adds complexity rather than clarity. Keep it simple like: “as though he were being held underwater.” The “mysterious hand” bit doesn’t convey anything. He realised he was holding his breath. Gasping suddenly and violently, the world slowly < There are three adverbs here almost in a row. Go very, very easy on adverbs. returned to how it had always really been normal. < Keep your word choices simple. “Normal” conveys the same thing in 1/6th of the words. 

‘Ah!’ he cried, the slug finally biting him. The flame died as the match fell from his fingers and landed on his battered jeans – battered by use, not design. He rubbed the blackness in, just another stain among stains, allowing the tiny unburned stub to drop to the floor. < It’s not clear to me what was going on with this match and cigarette. Was it drugging him in some way? Why was he losing touch with reality and not breathing? 

Against his shoulder, the prodding of sweaty, trembling digits burst the invisible bubble of his internal world. < Can he really feel that the fingers are sweaty? This is outside his viewpoint. His body jerked away and his hand automatically reached for the knife concealed in his side pocket.

The young man leapt back, cat-like. ‘Sorry!’ he yelped. Tim’s defence mechanisms returned to DEFCON 5 at the sight of the smooth face with tomato-red cheeks. The green-robed boy dabbed his brow with his glabrous forearm. ‘I didn’t mean to, um–’

‘How the fuck are you working here?’ Tim interrupted, slurring his words. He picked at the long hairs on his chin. < Picking at hairs on his chin is hard for me to visualize. Is he rubbing a beard? Or pulling stray hairs?

According to the photo ID card dangling around his flushed neck, the boy’s name was Bradley. ‘Excuse me?’ < It’s not clear who is saying this.

‘I thought you needed, like, a million qualifications to work in healthcare.’ Tim belched out the bubbling gas in his stomach. ‘You look younger than me, and I’m EIGHTEEN,’ < Avoid all caps. he half-shouted, half-sang, ‘I get confused every day!’ < This reaction is confusing to me. Is he high/drunk from the flame/cigarette? 

My Overall Thoughts

You have some nice and interesting descriptions, but they’re often just a bit too heavy handed. Sometimes striking a match is just striking a match and needs no further explanation. I felt a little confused about what sort of mood you were trying to set, and my brain couldn’t settle on any genre: Paranormal? Fantasy? Drama about a drug addict and/or psychotic person?

Key Places to Improve:

  • Nix the opening. Is it a dream? A prologue? A glimpse into the future? It’s not clear, and it didn’t reel me in. On top of that, opening with anything dream like is considered cliche.
  • Give Tim something to do. Sitting and smoking a cigarette isn’t a very interesting place to start. Novels should open with the character doing something of interest: being proactive, facing a conflict, etc.
  • Go easy on the adjectives. We don’t need to know the color, texture, etc., of everything in the story. At this point, readers aren’t pulled into the story enough to care, and there’s no context with which to judge anything. Tim’s hair is greasy – Does this mean he’s dirty or is his hair just naturally greasy? We don’t know, so it has no real meaning.
  • Stay tighter on Tim’s point of view. Think critically about what Tim would be seeing. Even though third limited isn’t quite as close as first person, you still shouldn’t be describing things he can’t see or wouldn’t know: like that his eyes look glazed over or that Bradley’s fingers were sweaty. These things pull the readers out of the story and away from Tim, which is the last thing you want on your first page.

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 2

While I think you’re probably starting this story in the wrong place (most likely too early), I do see potential in your writing. If the query letter intrigued me, I might give this another few hundred words to catch my interest, but no more than that. The heavy use of adjectives is likely to scare off agents/editors who will see this as a big editing project.

I think you’ve got a nice writing voice in you that’s trying too hard to get out and be heard. As a result, you’re using adjectives and analogies where they aren’t needed and you’re not being as clear as you could be.

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 Tom

You can connect with Tom (the author of the first page)  on his website: http://www.tomorchardwebb.com/

Submit to First Page Friday

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.

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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!