Writers in the Storm

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August 24, 2018

First Page Critique

Just a note first. I'm ready for more first page submissions!  If you've sent one in and I haven't used yours, there could be three reasons. 1. it's too good - people learn from mistakes!  2. It's not perfect, but there's not enough there to spend a whole blog addressing. 3. I've already addressed the problems in another blog, i.e. scene setting, POV, etc.  If you want personalized feedback, though, check out the end of the blog - I'm teaching a class on the first Five Pages! 
Thank you, brave soul, for trusting me with your work. I hope you find this helpful.
I chose this month's submission as a lesson in the finer points of POV. This is in third person, but we never really understand who the POV character is, and the scene reads more like we're watching a movie rather than experiencing it from inside of a person (well that sounded a little eeeewy). Pretty easy fix, and I love the humor in this piece!
Here we go:
My edits:

Black = original

Red = my thoughts/comments

Purple = text I added/altered


“Just look at her,” Brenna said, nodding her head toward the librarian’s desk. “She considers her rack an investment, you know.” Start of the story - keep in mind, the reader doesn't know where they are, or who your character is. City library? Is this a teenager? And it's not really clear if Brenna is the POV character. Readers expect that the first person they meet to be the POV Character.

Does this give us more idea where we are?  

"Just look at her," I/she nodded to the Davis High librarian's desk. “She considers her rack an investment, you know.” 

“I wonder if they get any returns,” Hadley responded. We don't know who Hadley is, so we don't know what to make of her comment. Is she a teacher? A student? The principal?  See how hearing that comment from each of those people changes it? Also, since you made this a dialog line, we know she responded. You're missing an opportunity to tell us more - about setting, and who she is. 
"I wonder if she gets any returns?" Hadley, my best friend and fellow teacher crossed her arms and tipped her head to study the issue from another angle. 
The implantee in question was Anise Blaine, a fellow English teacher who looked more like a mall-rat than an educator.
Hadley looked up at Anise, her yellow hair in stark contrast to the room’s dull interior. A few boys cocked their heads at desk-level as she bent over to retrieve a pen she had dropped.
Here's where it gets confusing.  Is it Anise's hair that is yellow? Grammatically, that is correct, but it's a bit unclear. We as readers are dying to know more about the setting, about these people. Hair color doesn't help us do that. I'd choose something more helpful. In the 'A few boys' sentence -- we read linearly; one word at a time. So it's confusing and a tiny irritation to a reader to read a reaction first, then the reason for it. It's not huge, but one of those things that, given enough little breaks like that - a reader will put down a book, not thinking it's bad, just that it's not engaging (learned this gem from the incredible Margie Lawson). Let me try to clear it up:
Anise's pen hit the floor, and though she tugged the too-short hem of her skirt before bending to retrieve it, the male heads in the room followed her down.
Hadley scanned the room and sighed. This was supposed to be a class full of college-bound students, she thought, but they still fell into the old ranks: the ones with the good-looking genes at one table, the geeks at another, and the outcasts on benches or in line for the restroom pass to smoke.
The reader assumes the first person they're introduced to is the POV character. That would be Brenna. But here, we see a thought of Hadley - which means she's the POV character. Or you're head-hopping.  It's disconcerting to learn this paragraphs into a story. You want the reader to settle in, right away, and trust the author.
Given the line above, I expected a thought about men in general. But instead, it goes to high school social strata. If she's a teacher, she understands this - so why the sigh? Does she wish it was different? That would be an opportunity for us to learn more about her, but you don't go there. 
Also, if there's no quotation marks, we know it's a thought; you're showing, and telling too. (hint: showing is almost always better).
“How many of them would guess we’re talking about Anise’s boobs and not English Lit?”
They're not talking where any students could overhear, right? That would be inappropriate! But we don't know, because there's very little scene setting.
Brenna stuck a No. 2 pencil in her jerrybuilt French twist. “Don’t flatter yourself. They don’t give a damn what we talk about.” She had been reading coeds as long as she’d been reading their essays.
I'd just move the last sentence before the dialogue line, so we have context for it. I think it's smoother. Love the 'jerrybuilt French twist' short succinct description that gives us a perfect picture.
Brenna stuck a No. 2 pencil in her jerrybuilt French twist. She had been reading coeds as long as she’d been reading their essays. “Don’t flatter yourself. They don’t give a damn what we talk about.” 
Don't take the volume of my comments to mean that I don't like it. This is a good scene, and I like your voice - but it could be great, with some scene-setting and POV clarification.
Do you have problems with POV? Scene setting? Any suggestions for us?
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Laura is teaching a two-week class at Lawson's Writer Academy Entitled: Your First Five Pages - Reader Glue! It's like a college course, only using YOUR work!  You can get details HERE.
Laura's next release, The Last True Cowboy, is available for preorder (you know preorders really help authors, right?) Just click on the meme to be taken to retailers.

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. She dumps Austin (again), but after a month she’s a pressure cooker, ready to blow. She heads to Albuquerque, where she’s not half of the C&A franchise. No heartbroken, “poor Carly.” Just an anonymous chick in a generic country bar. There she meets a man with ice blue eyes in biker leathers. They have nothing in common—except heartbreak. They pour out their pain while pouring the booze.

Horror hits when Carly wakes alone, but vaguely remembers she didn’t go to sleep that way. She calls around, to find that her mystery man never existed. He lied. About his name, his job . . . everything. She takes a morning after pill and goes home, determined to put this huge mistake in the rear view mirror. And she manages—more or less—until the doctor confirms her pregnancy.

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.

19 comments on “First Page Critique”

  1. Laura, you finally got me. I love your critiques and comments. Although romance isn't my usual read, I've been snagged by "The Last True Cowboy." Great pitch - so I've just come back from ordering it on my Kindle. December 4. So much for instant Kindle gratification!

  2. I should have let everyone know that Laura's been fishing today and will get to her comments soon!

  3. […]    Just a note first. I’m ready for more first page submissions!  If you’ve sent one in and I haven’t used yours, there could be three reasons. 1. it’s too good – people learn from mistakes!  2. It’s not perfect, but there’s not enough there to spend a whole blog addressing. 3. I’ve already addressed […] Source link […]

  4. Take Laura's class. It will open your eyes to roadblocks you never knew you were writing. She has The Eye!

    1. Oh, what a nightmare! I don't even like doing my own, Barb! This edit took me probably two hours to do! But I do teach that First Five Pages class....

  5. Thank you for your insightful comments. Especially concerning POV. I've read several middle grade novels lately that use a distant 3rd person POV. A very distant POV. I've stopped counting how many heads we're in before the end of the first chapter and my list is getting into double digits. Sometimes even the pets are included. I don't understand why writers use it - maybe laziness, probably ignorance. It's hard to get into and I never really feel the story like I want to. But then I just ended a sentence with a preposition.
    I wish I could direct them to your site discreetly.

  6. I always learn so much from your critiques. I've already completely rewritten my first page based upon your helpful advice. And comments from Susan Squires because you two are awesome.

  7. Laura, you have such a gift. Thanks for sharing with us. Your critiques are must-reads...and must-rereads!

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