First page critique the third


First first page critique

Second first page critique

Also, for those three of you waiting impatiently for your critiques, the rest will be done on February 14th (a valentine from me!) and February 21st. So don’t think I’ve forgotten you. I promise you’re in for your torture love.

And now for the second critique of the day. This is from Laura Taylor’s urban fantasy novel, A Likely Story. Once again, thanks to Laura for being a willing sacrifice participant.  Everyone feel free to comment and contradict me if you feel I’m wrong. And here we go . . .



It had been three years, and Eddie still wouldn’t tell me how he’d died.

[Love this line. Great hook, and makes me want to read more. I like the complain element of the voice and the fact that it establishes a sense of annoyance in the speaker and also introduces a secondary character who is clearly very interesting, if only because he’s dead and still talking. Is he vampire? Ghost? Zombie? Other? I want to read more to find out.]

The cab from the airport let me out on the sidewalk in front of a boxy concrete building that could have been the height of architecture when it was built—oh, six decades ago. Despite that, the property mirrored the style I’d seen in the rest of Boca Raton on my way here: open space, manicured lawns, and palm trees. So many palm trees. Staggered rows of them secluded the block from the rest of the city on all sides, rippling in the salty Atlantic breeze.

[I’m not sure why you switched to the cab from Eddie. Even if you don’t reveal what’s happening, it should be such a complete shift away. “height of architecture” is vague. I know you’re saying is was a premium design of its time, but it doesn’t really say that. I also don’t know why it’s “despite that, the property mirrored the style”. That doesn’t really say anything. I do like the next bit that set the setting and the voice with the phrase “so many palm trees.” Except now I want to know in the next sentence if that’s bad or good. It would reveal some character and you need to make this work a little harder. Right now all you’re really doing is establishing setting, but everything should do at least two, preferably more, things in a story. So setting, character, tension, plot . . . ]

Damn. I frowned. Contrary to the skeezy rag it published, the Comet’s offices were practically majestic.

[why damn? And where is Eddie? You start with him and don’t bring him in to the next paragraph. There’s no real sense of building here. It’s more like you’ve scattered random interesting pieces without a sense of connection. In this early bit, you need a thread of connection so the reader continues to build expectation and you build intrigue and connection with the reader]

Not what I’d expected of the tabloid whose every issue Eddie’d sent me had gone straight to the recycle bin the moment I got it. Bigfoot wrote an advice column? Aliens and vampires were real? The Comet’s yellow journalism was practically chartreuse. You’re one to talk, Jack, the traitorous part of me thought. Immediately followed by the automatic counter: That’s not the same. Because it wasn’t. At least I had a reason for why I could speak to ghosts.

[Finally we get some answers. And strangely, I’d assumed a woman in the beginning. Maybe that’s my bias. Maybe you might want to find a way to indicate gender somehow. I also am feeling a little bit like I’ve heard this before from Men in Black, and more recently from The Grendel Affair. Where a magazine reports on the real (to be fair, in The Grendel Affair, only the protagonist of the magazine realized everything was real). So this feels a bit cliché. That doesn’t mean you can’t use it, but you might want to figure out a way to make it more unique.

I’m not sure I believe that’s traitorous. Especially since he’s deliberately come here. I’m wondering what he’s doing there and I’m thinking there should be a little hint of it. After all he’s flown here. Also, he has a reason he can talk to ghosts. I’m not sure reason is the right word, since it’s coming after the notion of yellow journalism. Is it possible all the stuff in the Comet’s pages are real? He’s sort of is implying he can really talk to ghosts and none of the rest is real, which means ‘reason’ doesn’t make sense. At least to me.]

Eddie floated ahead of me, straight to the entrance. It’s good to be back, he said, fingers laced behind his spectral head. Face first and on his back, he went on through the main door as it opened, barely missing the guy who was on his way out.

[Love the image of him floating on his back. Says a lot about him. But we need to see him earlier. Maybe in the cab. Give a hint of why they are there at all. And does back mean FL? Or the Comet? I’m guessing the Comet, and that makes me wonder all kinds of things about Eddie. I would layer in a bit more of that earlier to ground your reader in character. Maybe when you say Eddie’s been sending them (how long has E been dead, anyhow? Is he happy? He seems so. Why is he still hanging out if he’s happy or do all ghosts do that? I’m not expecting you to explain that at this point, but I guess my point is, is it unusual for a ghost to be around for Jack? Does it usually spell trouble for him? Is he tense and uncertain because of it? How is he feeling?]

Thanks, bro. Drag me over the border and across the continent about as far south as you can go on this side, then leave me standing here with no freaking clue as to what I should say to these people.

Even in death, my twin could still be a jerk.

[Love the voice. Love the Even in death line. I’m too clueless about what Jack’s doing there though. That goes back to my last paragraph that you need a little more grounding in Eddie and whether his death is happy and why they are there, or least what sorts of emotions/fears/tensions being there has provoked. I don’t really get the impression from the way Eddie is acting that he did much dragging. It feels more like Jack did that.]

I flexed my upper traps, releasing the pent-up worries on a breath. My shoulders relaxed. Okay. I was here. There was no way they could refuse me now. Right? Hopefully they were more truthful in person than in print. I needed to know what really killed my brother.

[Upper traps? As in trapezious muscles? That is probably going to confuse people, because the word trap also suggests, well, a trap. Given the magical nature of the book, more readers are likely to go there and be confused. I’d just say neck or shoulders or something more commonplace.

Why doesn’t Eddie know what killed him? Or why hasn’t he told Jack? In print? As in letters? Emails? Or in the paper itself? There’s a lot of potential information packed into this tiny paragraph, but it’s also very vague. And why need and not want? And how much does he need it? Is it a personal thing? Or because his brother’s haunting him? Or because he’s determined to get revenge? This implies it’s unnatural and also that it may have looked natural or at least from ordinary human circumstance—hit by a bus, drowned in the river—as opposed to drowned in a river by a kelpie, or hit by a bus driven by a lunatic ghoul who’d been blinded by a witch going through menopause. Ahem. Okay, so anyhow, you have this excellent opportunity to keep baiting the hook for the reader, so I’d flesh out a little.

At the same time, I like the quick way you’re moving things, so fleshing also means choosing good details to layer in and to keep hustling. I would totally read more to find out what’s going to happen. I’m intrigued by Eddie not knowing how he died, and that Jack is interested in finding out how his brother died, but Eddie seems more nonchalant about it. That could be interesting too. The live one more concerned about how the one got dead than the dead one is.

All right then, what do the rest of you think?]


7 comments to First page critique the third

  • My only comment is that I too pictured the MC as a woman at the start. No idea why really.

  • Yay vivisection! 😀

    Thank you, Diana. These are things I hadn’t even considered, probably because I’ve been looking at this page without seeing it for far too long. There are details I think I’ll move closer to the opening, and other things I’ll reconsider for phrasing and approach, to make things a bit more clear.

    And to you and Dave, you’re totally right, Jack is a woman. I think I moved the line about her smoothing her skirt off the first page, but I can see why it makes sense keeping something like that closer to the reveal of her name.

  • Laura, I might present it in terms of dialog between the two of them. That would let you run with the voices, reveal character, develop plot, and possibly develop tension. I can see this Eddie, (as I’ve read him) saying something like “would I lead my only twin sister astray?” and have her mutter, “if you had another twin, we would be triplets, and she could be wading through this mess,” or “if you had another twin, I’d have a spare and finding out who killed you wouldn’t matter.” General sibling grousing sort of thing.

  • I totally read Jack as female too. Which means you’ve got the feminine voice down! This is really interesting. I don’t have more comments than this, other than that I’d read more! 🙂

  • Hepseba ALHH

    First, thank you Laura for participating and giving us more writing examples/lessons to chew over!

    Uninterestingly, most of my comments are agreement.
    1) With a female protagonist named Jack, placing a strong gender identifier as close to the opening as possible should be your number 2 priority (number 1 being maintaining the momentum of your very awesome hook).

    2) Because Eddie is not even close to being mentioned in the second sentence, it turns a pretty reasonable paragraph into rather a let down. The change in focus *is* very abrupt, so it feels awkward and on top of that it *isn’t* about what we now intensely want to know about. Which makes this reader say ‘grrrr.’

    3) Also, the line about Eddie sending tabloids to Jack has me feeling confused. For some reason I *really* read that as Eddie sending them *since* he died rather than before he died, so a) How? and b) Why would she then throw them away?!

    4) “Face first and on his back” – Is he tipping his head back to see where he’s going? Far enough back so that it’s face first? If so, please make that clearer.

    5) Aside from the ‘traps’ reference being confusing in this context, I find that I cannot connect with this motion at all. That might just be me and my body type, but this seems like a very specific motion and so something more standard and general like with shoulders or hands might get you a broader emotional connection with your readers.

    But yes – this voice is great! It definitely feels like a *person* is thinking all this stuff. I *would* probably like to see a clothing reference to get a sense of how this character presents herself. Aside from that, really it just seems like you’re in the inevitable trap of first-pages-are-really-hard. Good luck! But this is way, way doable.

  • I’ll say it again. Di, these are amazingly good, teaching crits.

  • Jeremy Beltran

    Wow Laura I really like both Jack and Eddie. They have a familial tension that I can relate to, sorry for the pun. I would definitely like to read more about these two.