First page critique the fifth


 I’m giving you all the last two first page critiques. I hope they’ve been useful. If so, I’ll see about doing again. Maybe I can get some more slots. What do you think?

The next volunteer-victim is Dave Carlile. He tells me this is the first page of a 5000 word story, the title of which is “The Song in her Soul.” Without further ado, let’s get to business. 


I have wandered these woods for many generations of men, without purpose, numb against the misery of loneliness. The pieces of my mind that could give rise to despair lie disused and hidden away, buried beneath the scars that protect my sanity from the wounds of too long a life. Although I have lived long, my life did not begin until a spring day five years past.


I watched her from the shadows, hiding even though I hadn’t taken a visible form. She stood in a small clearing by the brook that ran through my domain, tossing acorns into the water and watching them sink or float downstream. She was young, maybe nine or ten if my understanding of time was correct. I would have thought her long hair pretty if appreciation for such things had not been buried away. Her silver-blue eyes served as a portal deep into her soul and revealed a mind full of curiosity and wonder, peace and joy, and hope like a song.

Her eyes held me for what felt like hours. When she left, my mind followed until she reached the edge of the trees where I could go no further. But I allowed my perception to linger and watch until she disappeared into a nearby house.

I don’t remember what I am or where I came from, but I am part of these trees and can only leave at great cost. Men don’t often enter my domain, and when they do I drive them away with fear, so I don’t know why I allowed this child stay. Maybe it was her eyes, or something in her mind.


I’m critiquing this differently this time. Instead of the in between paragraph method, I’m going with the end of document method. The reason for this is because it’s very cohesive with the paragraphs flowing together and it doesn’t benefit from a more broken down approach.

That said, I’m seeing some problems here. There’s a lot of telling/editorializing about who he is—she? I’m not terribly clear. The title could be about the narrator or the child, though obviously it applies to the child given the end of the second paragraph. Anyhow, you have the beginning paragraph that sets the stage for five years ago—which I find a little bit pointless. The language is lovely. LOVELY. But it doesn’t serve the story much in that it doesn’t hook and it doesn’t create tension or urgency.

The narrator watches the girl, and again the description is lovely, but it seems pointless still. There’s nothing in the telling or the description that hints at urgency or hook. Sure, everything changed and the long life got less boring. That points to me instantly to a vampire, mostly because they tend to have long lives and there’s always a sense of getting bored or having ennui. How does this child change all that? Nothing gets at that. Maybe it’s in her eyes or her mind. But what? Why did she get to stay?

I think you need to turn this around with more specificity and more of a hook. Your language is wonderful and that makes me want to read more, but it feels a little generic. There’s nothing about the character that seems unique and nothing about the situation that is unique. I say that, but I feel like it’s there, in your head, but it hasn’t made it to the page. So get it onto the page.

On thing I will add, in the first paragraph he says he would have appreciated that if appreciation hadn’t been buried away. That’s odd. Would he notice that he used to appreciate things? And if so, what other things has he noticed about himself and been dissatisfied with? It just seems strange that he’d noticed that he didn’t notice.

What do the rest of you think?  


10 comments to First page critique the fifth

  • […] have some more first page critiques on Magical Words tomorrow. First one, and the Second […]

  • Andrea

    I am intrigued, Dave! It is a mysterious beginning that made me want to find out more about this character and the little girl.

    That it might be a vampire hadn’t crossed my mind, until you mentioned it, Diana. At a first reading, the pov character struck me as an ancient wood creature (or a god/goddess).

    For now, I can’t think of anything else to add to Diana’s comments.
    All the best.


  • Yeah, I was getting some sort of nature spirit, reading it, especially with the taking visible form line. It is intriguing and gave me a bit of a Hayao Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli vibe with the opening. Not much to add as far as critique though.

  • Andrea, Daniel – the wood/nature spirit thing is probably the closest way to describe what’s in my head. But I’ll add something to make sure it’s pointed more in that direction and away from the vampire thing.

    Diana – Thank you so much for spending your time doing this for us!

    I guess I’m having trouble with the viewpoint depth in a couple of places and I’m not sure how to do it properly. There are several places in the story – but mostly the beginning and end – where the viewpoint is pulled back to where the main character is more like a narrator, telling his story from the “present” (the first paragraph, and why he noticed that he didn’t notice). There are other parts where the viewpoint goes deeper and “shows”, but there is definitely an “I’m telling someone my story” vibe throughout I think.

    How can I do that more effectively? Or would it be better to just completely get rid of the narration and stay deeper in the viewpoint, i.e. have the story be the story, instead of someone telling the story?

    As far as doing this again… Seeing all of these critiques has been very valuable to me, and I think it’s a great tool for teaching. Maybe this could become a regular MW feature? And some of the other contributors here could participate as well?

  • quillet

    This is very poetic, Dave! And I definitely assumed a nature spirit or dryad or something like that. Vampires never crossed my mind till Diana mentioned it.

    I agree with her other points, and I have to say I felt held at arm’s length by the narrator. It seems as if he wants to tell the story without actually sharing his feelings — which is kind of cool, actually! He does feel real. Maybe you need to strip off a layer of his emotional armour or something? Stop letting him protect himself from his listeners/readers, if that makes any sense. He could still be telling it as a story, but maybe ask yourself why he’s telling this, and to whom? Just my two cents!

  • Dave, I love the way you put words together! That said, I do agree that your narration at the beginning does seem to hold the reader at arm’s length. Like quillet, I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing and might work well throughout the story! The last paragraph is where I really start to feel for the character/narrator–“I don’t remember what I am or where I came from.” If that were at the beginning, I think you would grab my attention emotionally right off, and then I’d be more comfortable with the more distanced approach. Just my 2 cents 🙂 Thank you offering your page up for critique.

  • The vampire thing I’m sure comes from reading a lot of UF. Plus Dracula could take ‘invisible’ form (dust) and I just wasn’t thinking woodland creature, even though it’s on a treed area. That totally makes sense, but I can’t shake my readings.

    Dave: You’re talking about a self-awareness of being a narrator, and then moving into the telling it like it was as it happened. It can work. The thing you’ll need to do is make it more compelling and hooky. How is the story served by having him in the self-awareness mode? That’s the really critical question. How useful it is determines if it’s worth keeping. Because you know the whole story, you’re going to be the best judge. As for doing it more effectively, I think that you’re making the shift smoothly, but what’s missing is that urgency and tension and specifics to keep the reader chomping on the bit for more. I would also agree that you need a sense of to whom the character is talking and why. Think about Interview with a Vampire as an example.

    Another thing to consider is narrative distance. That’s how deep you are in the character’s perspective. Here’s a link to a post that talks about it a little more:

    You’re very welcome. I’ve enjoyed doing this and I’m glad it’s been useful.

  • (I’m going with male for the narrator just because it’s easier that trying to he/she everything)

    First things first – the flow of language is beautiful, easily read and slightly poetic. I would probably read the whole story just to enjoy the melody of the words.

    That said:

    The first paragraph gave me a sense of the narrator trying to convince himself that he doesn’t feel. There’s to much acknowledgement of his NOT feeling the things he should, and, to me, made him less sympathetic and more pathetic.

    The following paragraphs, where he sees the girl, should (again in my humble feeling) arouse more wonder at the strange things he is feeling, rather than naming them and not ~feeling~ them. Use the confusion and wonder of feeling something other that nothing! That, (again, my humble opinion) would lend more credence to his intrigue with the girl and provide a hook that would drag me into the tale.

    In the last paragraph you bounced me out of the story with, “Men don’t often enter my domain, and when they do I drive them away with fear, so I don’t know why I allowed this child stay.” I immediately thought of haunted woods. As the child lives so near those woods, she’d know they were haunted. It caused a conflict with the image of a little girl calmly tossing acorns into the brook and broke my chain of disbelief.

    NOTE: All of the above is just my opinion, and is worth no more or less than a thought tossed on the winds.

    Diana – These critiques are wonderful! I’ve enjoyed every one of them. Thank you for doing them, and I really hope this becomes a regular feature here on MW (hint, hint to all the admin types!)

  • khernandez

    Dave – bravo! lyrical and magical, I love your way with words. And I agree with SiSi – start with the “I don’t remember what I am” line could be a very effective first line hook. I also got the wood-spirit vibe, not vampire, so I think that you only need a little more clarification on that point, and don’t need to hit the reader over the head.

    Diana – these critiques are INCREDIBLY helpful and I would jump at the chance if you offered it again. Thank you so much for taking your time with us.

  • Thanks to everyone for your comments and encouragement. That several of you would describe my words as lyrical, poetic, lovely, magical… You don’t know what that means to me. Maybe my mind isn’t as far gone as I feared after 33 years of writing code (and I swear that’s the last time I’ll say anything about that).

    As for the rest – it seems like taking the viewpoint a little deeper, and adding in some idea of the coming conflict for the hook, is going to be the way to go. I need to do some more thinking on the self-aware narrator thing – whether that’s necessary to the story or not – just need to think through that. In any case, I at least have targeted things for improvement, and I thank you all for that!