first page critique the second


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.



December 6th     

Washington, DC


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.]



11 comments to first page critique the second

  • Hepseba ALHH

    First most definitely: Thank you so much Jeremy for putting up this work for all of us to learn from. There is so much good advice on this site, but without examples it can be *really* hard to make some of it sink in. Thank you for your brave generosity.

    Next, I really agree with Diana that this excerpt is almost all telling, which tends to be pretty disengaging for the reader, as well as defeats the purpose of this prologue, which I assume is to provide the reader with a cool portrait of your protagonist. We get hints of this cool portrait in the “David’s killer knealt…” paragraph, but that is way too late. Again from last time, withholding information does not make that information more awesome once it’s revealed, and certainly not *before* it’s revealed. Diana recommends that you have more interaction between David and his killer in large part because *that* provides a forum for you to dole the cool information/description out little bits at the time and keep the reader hooked.

    However, there are probably two routes you can go with this. Deep POV or camera POV. Camera POV is of course best suited for film, so we usually hear advice to write deep POV, which is the strength of books. But camera POV will maximize visual details and if you want to give your book a distinct, visual feel then that may be the way to go. *However*, if you use camera POV you *cannot* give us any information that a video camera would not record, so the scene would either need to be very lean and brief (no more than four paragraphs and even that might be pushing it), or heavy on dialogue. It would also allow for non-telly description of David.

    However, you’ve written this inside David’s POV, so further comments on that:

    1) Strive for deep consistency. “He was insane with fear.” is not just telling, it also doesn’t make sense. A person insane with fear would not have such a coherent thought. Instead, give us his incoherent thoughts + snatches of visual. Also “He hasn’t feared anything for centuries” + “every vampire feared the slayer” doesn’t cohere. Which is it? Either this fear is a *really* new feeling, something he’s (maybe) heard about but not experienced, or it’s something that’s been lurking beneath David’s surface for a long time.

    2) In terms of the “Was it fair…” bit of dialogue. If this statement is supposed to suggest that the hunter can read minds, then it needs to follow *immediately* after David has that thought.

    3) Next, the only really good reason I know of to use a non-MC POV prologue is to *describe* your MC, so you should really figure out how best to engineer the scene to accomplish that goal. The description should not occur *after* your POV character can no longer describe things, and if you have action after David is dead you should *not* refer to the MC as ‘it’ (assuming you’re using inside head POV). That first instance of ‘it’ was when I felt the very most thrown out of your story. David is dead, therefore the only other person on the scene knows his own gender.

    Finally, remember, I can definitely tell that you’ve got some cool visuals going on in your head. Bring them to the forefront and this could turn pretty cool.

  • Jeremy Beltran

    Reading this again with your critiques helped bring out the really glaring inconsistencies in my original draft of this prologue that I carried over to this second draft without even realizing it. Originally David wasn’t very old so his reactions made sense, but when I made him centuries old I really needed to change the final conflict and make it an actual battle.

    I can definitely see now that I spent 99% of the prologue telling the reader what was going on. I really need to get away from the mind set of writing as if I’m telling others a story and let them step in and be part of the story.

    The whole “slayer” thing doesn’t work anymore either I need to drop that whole idea. Instead of using this as a prologue I could make it the opening action in the first chapter though the POV would change then most likely to the MC. If I did keep it as a prologue then being right in Davids head may be the way to go. Though I wonder would doing the limited third person omniscient point of view through out the entire prologue so the reader can see both David running and his killer stalking him work better?

    Heps thank you for your comments they got me thinking about David in a new light especially about his renewed fear. Instead of having him fall apart from it maybe it exhilarates him giving him that feeling of being alive again and vulnerable.

    I tend to visualize things as if it was a movie though I now realize that I didn’t even write this prologue that was sense it would have been obvious that David’s killer was a man if you had seen him on TV or in a movie.

    Oh and yes David’s killer is the MC of my story. The original idea was to introduce him from an outside POV but I planned on writing the rest from his POV. Would that be a really bad idea?

  • Good comments Hep!

    One of the problems with making changes is going back and making consistency happen. I personally think that keeping in his POV would be a good idea, but the real question is to ask yourself what purpose would it serve to have his introduction in an outside POV. How would it benefit the story? If there’s a benefit, then do it, if not, don’t.

  • Di, these are amazing. Really good crits.

  • Razziecat

    I agree for the most parts with the crits so far, but I’m going to throw a little wrench into the works. 😀

    I find the idea of a vampire – a cold-blooded (ha!) killer, perhaps centuries old, cunning, cagey, a walking nightmare – being scared enough to pray (perhaps for the first time in centuries) to be a refreshing and intriguing touch. I think it’s a good way to convey his very real terror. Maybe no tears, but how better to depict his desperation? I’d probably have him fight first, but if he loses the fight, just as he’s about to die (for good this time), that little touch of humanity would make me sympathize.

    Ignore all tht if you don’t actually WANT anybody to sympathize with that character, though 😉

  • Razziecat: I totally agree, actually. But to make that work, it would need more set up and depth, like calling attention to the fact that he is praying and how bizarre that is. I think it could be a nice touch and a nice reversal.

  • Jeremy Beltran

    Thanks Razziecat I really like your take on it. If I work it right maybe I can also show that his killer also sympathizes with him. Wow tons of ideas now looks like im going to be doing a lot of writing this weekend. Woot!

  • khernandez

    I’m a little late to the party but I wanted to say again, these are so helpful to me as a newbie writer, I cant say thank you enough for doing this!!!!!! Everyone’s comments are so insightful!

  • I have to echo that from Khernandez. Everybody has made excellent comments and I hope they are useful.

  • Sorry for the late feedback, Jeremy. Crazy weekend and other current insanity. I pretty much agree with Diana’s critique. And I’d keep reading, because want to know more. If the story is the assassin’s, I’d love to see this told from his POV. If it isn’t, and Chapter 1 starts with someone completely different in a totally different, and the assassin factors in as an opposing or even supporting force for the main character, then I want to read about that. Best of luck with this story!