April 27th, 2018

First Page Critique

I’m ready for more first page submissions! Just copy and paste your first page into the body of an email, and send it to: LauraDrake@LauraDrakeBooks.com

I can’t promise to use yours – I’m choosing them mostly for what lessons they can teach. But please, submit!

I thought it would be fun this month to show you the submission of an excellent writer. One who frankly makes me feel like a hack. Why? Because there’s a great lesson in seeing what someone did right, too, right?

Black = original

Red = my thoughts/comments

Purple = text I added/altered

For the lucky living, the night was ripe. It was the year of the Tiger—Nixon was running scared, Ted Bundy was just getting started, and the tallest buildings in the world had opened down on Wall Street.

Everyone who was underage in Connecticut was welcome in New York. All the doors of the Stateline bar were open wide to the night and the place was packed. The smoke-laden air inside pulsed out into the heat and humidity of the fecund darkness and flowed back inside, carrying a heavy tinge of marijuana. There was a furtive commotion in a dark corner of the parking lot. Fighting or fucking, it didn’t matter. April was in a hot hurry to be July.

Wow. Talk about scene-setting! Do you see how the author gave us more than a simple where/when? They gave us the feeling of the time and place. And it’s a shared emotional experience. You may have never been to New York, but you know this feeling – you’ve felt this feeling; being young, and in a hot spot.

What elevates it even more is the word choices. ‘Fecund darkness, lucky living, April was in a hot hurry) Do you see how the emotional words draw you in and bind you to the page?

The amplified sounds of a rock band complete with horns hushed all the night creatures around the ramshackle country bar for a hundred yards in every direction. The music held sway over all, from those in worn, holey denim to the spandex and polyester crowd up from the city. The band—consummate crowd-pleasers—smoothly moved from rock to disco, to funk and blues with occasional stops at country and doo-wop along the way and no one could resist the urge to move to the beat.

Notice the use of all the senses – smell, and sight in the first paragraph, sound and sight in this one. See how it puts you there?

Tonight, the revelers would include a woman with no heart and a man with no soul.

BOOM. The author changes the cadence here, for a huge impact. Up til now, the words are flowing, rich, and flavored. This sentence is stark and brutal. See how switching is like a laser? It tells the reader, ‘this is important.’ And it doesn’t hurt that it’s a beautiful line.

It’s also a dividing line – a shift from a wide-angle, impersonal viewpoint, narrowing to a protagonist and antagonist.

Anna perched on a stool at the bar, working diligently at drinking herself into a state of safety from the rioting mental scatter of the other patrons. While Fishing for money in the depths of her purse, she found a dusty, travel-worn pill. Small, greenish, the embossed markings illegible, she shrugged and washed it down with the last swallow of her third tequila sunrise. Que sera, sera.

Details matter! It wasn’t just a stray pill in her purse…it was a dusty, travel-worn pill. We’ve all seen those, but I’ve never seen one described that way. Margie Lawson calls that fresh writing – well done!

A syrupy warmth flooded through her body, as the noise and jagged energy of the crowd receded. and she sat up She straightened, taking a long, deep breath that lifted her even taller in her seat, her guarded cynicism spinning away like a bad dream. Thirsty with the sudden heat, she scanned the top shelf liquor.

Again, great word choices: jagged energy, guarded cynicism spinning away…

Wary of the change in her demeanor, the bartender said, “Honey, if you’re gonna to be sick, take it outside.”

A tiny POV violation here – we’re in her POV – she could notice him being aware of her change in demeanor, but she couldn’t know he was wary of it.

Anna smiled in slow motion, licked her lips, and focused on him with devilish intensity.

IMO, first overstep. ‘devilish’ is a tiny bit too far. But that’s me. Less is more. Let the reader wonder who/what she is. 


What do you think? Have you learned as much from a great example as you did from one that needed work? Am I the only one feeling like a hack after reading that?

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Laura’s next book is available for preorder! (you know how much preorders help authors, right?) Just click on the photo to be taken to retailers.

This cowboy’s got one last chance to prove himself

Carly Beauchamp has loved cowboy Austin Davis since first grade. Ask anyone in their dusty, backwater New Mexico town of Unforgiven, and they’ll say “Carly and Austin” the way some say “big trucks and country boys.” But after years of waiting for a wedding ring, Carly’s done with being a rodeo widow . . . 

Austin never meant to put his career on the circuit before Carly. She’s always been his future, his one and only. But now that she’s moved on, he’s beginning to see where he went wrong, and he’ll do anything to win her back. The only thing is, Carly’s suddenly acting differently, and she’s definitely hiding a secret—one that will test the depth of their love and open up a whole new world of possibilities.

Forever-Romance.com Cover © 2018 Hachette Book Group, Inc.

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