Welcome back for another round of first page critiquing. The first on the docket today is from Jeremy Beltran, our second stalwart
victim, ahem, volunteer. This is a prologue.
(I’m going to do two critiques today, but split them into separate posts, so do comment on both if you feel so inclined).
Now before we go any further, I’ll point out that many readers skip prologues and editors are not super fond of them. I’ve used one once in eleven books (twelve if you count the one sitting on my editor’s desk). The difficulty with a prologue is often it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the story, or worse, it gets the reader involved with characters who then vanish. Hence readers skipping them as useless. So with that caveat, onward and upward.
Also, the comments last week were fabulous. I like doing this in connection with you all because you offer such great insights and add a lot of value. Please continue to voice your comments, whether you agree with me or not.
He ran, more scared than he had ever been. David was a hunter, a killer, and a vampire but now something even more terrifying than him was after him. He was a Rasmussen, the demon breed, the kind that looked like a desiccated corpse. His deformed face and extended fangs were like a beacon warding off anyone that may have helped him.
[there’s more telling than showing here, and so I don’t feel any real engagement. Part of it for me is the narrative distance. I want to be closer inside his head. If you look down at the paragraph that begins with “Blood pounded in his head” you get an example of what I want. You’ve close the narrative distance. You’re inside his head, feeling what he feels. What you have here is a more distance narrative that feels more observational. It’s also info dumping. He isn’t going to think about being a Rasmussen or anything else.]
Fear, it had been centuries since he feared anything and he never thought he would feel it again. Now it coursed through his veins as if he were alive. He knew his hunter could smell it but he couldn’t hide it. No one who had been hunted by whatever followed him ever survived to tell the tale.
[yeah, more telling, but nothing that really catches me into the story. All the hunter references feel stilted. Again, immediacy. I’m thinking I’d start the scene where he’s getting confronted and instead of being in his head, put more of it in dialog and action and reveal that as you go.]
Every vampire feared “The Slayer,” A nickname given by the younger vampires after a certain little blonde of television fame to lessen the fear, but this was no fictional slayer, this was death incarnate and it was coming for him.
[I’m thinking the slayer thing is a little too cute and the fact that it needs to be explained slows your pacing. Again, if you can reveal it in action, it would be better. I’m not sure you need it now. David’s scared. Someone is going to kill him. What I’m wondering at this point is how old is he, how come he’s so easily caught (that’s reading forward to the dead end alley, how come he’s so easily killed? And why should I care about him? I really don’t. There’s nothing to draw me in to make me care. I think you need to establish a connection to the reader before you kill him.]
Blood pounded in his head. It was so loud he almost couldn’t think now. His fear was beginning to consume him. He ran and ran turning this way and that and finally he found himself in a dead end alley.
[Love the first and second sentences. They are visceral and present and I’m feeling his fear. You’re not telling me about it; you’re letting me experience. Then the third sentece is fluff. Get rid of it. I’d shift the next sentence to something more like: his feet pounded the pavement. He ran faster than the human eye could follow, but his killer did. Red tinged his eyesight. He wasn’t going to escape this time. He ran into the wall at the end of the alley, too tired to climb. It was too late anyway. He wasn’t alone. Slowly he turned.” Okay, so that isn’t particularly elegant, but it reveals the moment and how he feels and raises the tension. He’s caught. BTW, how long has he been running? minutes? Hours? Where are the people or the other vampires? Why does it feel like he’s totally alone in the area?]
He was caught; he had managed to corner himself. His mind raced what was he going to do? He was insane with fear. Suddenly he heard something in the midst of his insanity. Footsteps. Footsteps coming his way slowly as if whoever or whatever it was knew it had all the time in the world to get to him.
[cut ‘his mind raced.’ And ‘he was insane with fear.’ Telling and it doesn’t evoke anything. He should be more curious, more eager to live (so to speak). He should turn around and at least try to beg.]
David began to cry. He shouldn’t have to end this way. It wasn’t fair. He wanted to beg for his life. He dropped to his knees and began to pray.
“Our Father who art in heaven. Give us…”
[A vampire praying? Seriously? And crying? I totally have no respect for this guy. I’m hoping he gets killed at this point. It’s not that he needs to be super strong or anything, but he has to be more compelling a character—someone your reader would hate to see die. You need to find a way to get your reader invested in him in a very short time, and so far I haven’t. Get something personal in there. Show a redeeming quality like bravery or humor. Something that makes your reader not root for his death.]
A flash of metal, swoosh of air, and then silence. He felt something cold at his throat for a split second. David stopped praying and reached for his throat. The hot liquid oozed from his neck. He knew it was already over. It hadn’t even hurt. He felt someone lean down next to him.
[This is the heart of the scene and it feels like you rush through it. There’s certainly more below, but you need to extend the moment where David confronts his killer. Especially since I’m going to complain that in another couple of paragraphs you shift POV (because David is dead) into a limited third person omniscient point of view and that will get an editor to toss the manuscript. You want to reveal it all from David’s POV. Plus it’s more interesting for him to experience his killer before he dies.
I do like the idea of him getting beheaded before he knows he dead. But you’d better make sure there’s some good explanation for it, because magically, it seems to me that as soon as he’s beheaded, whether he knows it or not, his body would turn to ash. So as much as I like the description, I don’t buy it. Also, I’m wondering how the slayer is finding and keeping up with his vampire victim. Showing him and his eyes earlier (as in having David see him and confront him) would give your reader a better understanding of what that character is like. And I should say that I’m not sure why you’re in David’s POV here, if the slayer is going to be a good character/protagonist going forward. I have no idea if that’s the case, but something about the chocolate brown eyes description and the sort of benediction he gives makes me think so. Like he’s somehow a tortured soul and the hero of your story. I could be wrong, but if so, this should be in his POV, methinks]
“Was it fair for any of your victims?” the voice whispered.
[was what fair? I don’t get why he asks this question in the context of the action]
He couldn’t tell if the voice was male or female, but the sound chilled him to the bone. He turned to look at his attacker and realized his mistake a moment too late. His quick jerking movement separated his spinal column at his neck, causing his final death as the force that stopped his body from aging finally caught up to him all at once. The thing that was David crumbled to dust leaving nothing but his clothing in a pile on the ground.
[why does the sound chill him? And ‘to the bone’ is kinda cliché. I find it hugely hilarious that he knocks his own head off and I’m totally liking that element, but at the same time, I don’t buy it because of reasons above.]
David’s killer knelt and picked up David’s shirt. The figure was dressed from head to toe in black fatigues complete with a tactical vest. A hood hid its face, from view as it used the shirt to wipe David’s blood from its katana. In one smooth, quick motion it sheathed the katana in the scabbard strapped to its back.
Slowly it turned its head up to the moonlight. It reached up with both hands and pulled back the hood revealing a young man. His attractive features bordered on pretty except for his eyes which belied a much older man. His irises were white with a black border between them and the sclera. He closed his eyes for a moment and when he opened them the color bled to a chocolate brown. He glanced once more around the alley then knelt over what was left of David.
“In nomine Dei, requiescant in pace.” He whispered, then stood and walked away.
[you’re not quite using belied correctly here. I’ve already commented on the POV shift. I have to say I’m not sure what the prologue is doing for the story. I’d be curious what you think it does. It introduces to characters and the concept of a slayer, but little more and I’m not sure that’s enough. I’d be interested in why you think it’s important, so please let me know.
One of the things that’s difficult about working with a prologue is not knowing more of the book, so I hope this is helpful. I just think overall that if you’re going to have it, you need to really make it more compelling. Also, commas. You need to work on those.]