May 25th, 2018

First Page Critique

I chose this entry to crit this month because, at its core, it sounds like an interesting story, and it could be a compelling beginning. But it’s buried in adjectives, adverbs and asides. I can tell this author slaved over this. But believe it or not, we can try too hard. 

Black = original

Red = my thoughts/comments

Purple = text I added/altered

Sickly  Sunbeams muscled through the grime-streaked window, nudging nine-year-old Georgie from a precarious sleep slumber. She peeked through the holes of her soiled pink and white blanket. and reached up to scramble the dust motes dancing within the muted shafts. All was quiet—not often always a good sign.
We are well anchored — we’re getting hints of what Georgie’s life is like. Well done. But I’ve cut the clutter — things we don’t need. The reader wants to move along, especially in the beginning, so they can settle into your world and find out what the story is about. Playing with the dust motes is unnecessary. Be sure every word in your beginning is essential. Also, ‘slumber’ isn’t a word a young girl would think.
 
            Georgie never knew who or what awaited her on the flip side of sleep—a landlord banging on the door forcing her to grab her backpack and skedaddle out the window, or worse, one of her mother’s smelly dates, staring at her like she inherently knew they shouldn’t be. 
See how ‘inherently knew’ is the author’s voice, not a 9-year-old’s? You want the reader to relate to Georgie — so put us in her skin by showing us how this makes her feel — in a little kid’s voice, like, ‘…or worse, one of her mother’s smelly dates staring at her like she was breakfast,’ or something like that.
 
            If she couldn’t sneak away while her mother was doing ‘entertaining’ otherwise occupied, she’d jam the ragged easy chair into a corner, hide behind it and curl up like a basement bug. It blocked the sights—unfortunately, but not the sounds.
‘Otherwise occupied’ is the author’s voice — and I know ‘doing entertaining’ isn’t grammatically correct, but it’s how I think a young girl would use the word she heard from her mother. LOVE ‘basement bug’!  I think pulling the adverb from the last sentence and making it simpler makes it more stark — more brutal.
 
            Georgie pulled her blanket over her head for a few beats, trying to will herself back to sleep so she could fly across the night sky with Peter Pan to Neverland where the Lost Boys welcomed her—after all, she was a lost girl. 
Love the ‘lost girl’ (should it be capped? Not sure). But the reader will get it before you think they will, so I don’t think you need the last part. Once a reader understands, anything after that, they’ll skim. And skimming is the beginning of a reader putting a book down.             
 
            She peeked from behind the chair—no boyfriends leered back at her. Her mother lay sprawled completely naked half-on and half-off the tattered couch. Georgie crept toward her. A fart ollowed byf and a couple of snorts let her know mom that Carol was indeed alive. She plucked the bright pink kimono from the floor and covered her mom before dashing out to face another day.  
Wait — she’s not in bed — she’s behind the chair? I didn’t get that from the earlier paragraph. Thought that was something she did some nights, not last night. Easy fix: go up to that paragraph and edit to — ‘Last night, she couldn’t….’ then make the rest of the sentence past tense: ‘She’d jammed,’ ‘hid behind it and curled up.’ See what I mean?
Okay, this paragraph. She wouldn’t think ‘Carol’ — she’d think ‘mom’. A subtle author intrusion — trying to slip in a detail you think the reader needs to know. At the end, give us a few details. I assumed she was in pj’s, but apparently she slept in her clothes — that’s a detail you may want to put earlier. Even if she did, I doubt she’d sleep in her shoes, right? Also, you mentioned her backpack earlier, and I assume it’s for school —  wouldn’t she grab that?
 
            Georgie had made friends up and down the streets of the South Bronx. Besides Mr. Ahman, the owner of the local bodega, there was the hawk-faced lady who stood on a box reading from the bible. Mrs. Toradelli ran the corner newspaper stand and Officer Ken and Officer Lee were two of the beat cops who patrolled her neighborhood during the day.

This is good — it anchors us as to where we are, and gives us a picture of what the neighborhood is like. You say, ‘officer,’ and ‘patrolled,’ so we know they’re cops. 

Tom Robbins says, “Challenge every single sentence for lucidity, accuracy, originality, and cadence. If it doesn’t meet the challenge, work on it until it does.”

This is never more true than in your first pages.

What do you think? Anything I missed? Does this make you want to check your first pages for adjectives and asides?

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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.

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