Welcome to July’s First Page Workshop with some of our past and present PitchWars mentors. From a Rafflecopter lottery drawing, we selected many wonderful writers to participate in the workshop. Each mentor has graciously critiqued a first page for one lucky writer. The writers are anonymous. Follow along all month to view the first page critiques. We welcome comments and further suggestions, but please keep them kind and respectful.
Here are the next two mentors and their critiques …
Dannie is an addictions therapist with a writing problem. By day she alternates between counseling teens and wrangling a very sassy toddler. By night she writes, critiques, and edits like a boss. When she’s not doing any of those things, she’s a compulsive participant in the Carolinas Region of SCBWI and a regular Snarky Sue in online Pitch Contests. Dannie is a professional freelance editor who pens young adult and new adult fiction in Charlotte, North Carolina. She is represented by John M. Cusick of Folio Literary.
Dannie’s first page critique …
Chapter 1: The Fallen Star
Erickson did not want to be a hero. Intriguing opening line, cool character name, I’d keep reading.
There he lay, face down in the mud, mumbling prayers to the stars. Shouts and the unholy clang of steel broke through his shaking hands. <-This sentence feels a little forced for me. Consider cleaning up. I’m not sure you need both the shouts and the clang here. (I like the clang better personally.) Particularly if we’re in the middle of an action sequence, concise, clear sentences convey that the world is changing quickly much better than verbose ones. He pressed his palms tight against his ears. <-If, for whatever reason, you decide you need to keep the previous sentence, this sentence should go before it. The sounds breaking through his shaking hands don’t make sense until we know his palms are pressed tight against his ears.
He wasn’t about to charge the field with the rest of his company and be hacked to bits. Oh, Erikson, I wanted to like you. But this tells me you’re in the army (presumably by your own decision?) and you don’t want to fight. I’m going to need to know why quickly to keep liking you, since you’re bailing on your company, which is sort of hugely wrong. He was proud enough to call Isonia home, but his country’s feud with the Farrei empire was none of his concern. When the imperial prince attacked the fort, General Brise called Erickson’s company to action. Wow, there’s a lot of information to unpack here. I like the way it’s worded, I feel like we learn a lot in a short span of time. That said, you’ve lost the energy and fear you created in the previous paragraph by dumping info here. I would say save this for the second page. Let us be in the moment with your character for the first 300ish words before we learn the whole backstory. The other reason I would invite you to consider this choice is that without a lot of context, this sort of makes your MC seem like a coward. It might be too soon for this. Let us empathize with him a bit first.
Only Erickson didn’t want to fight. He’d drag himself from the bush he’d been hiding in, crawl home and beg mercy. <-There’s this wonky sort of pseudo tense change here that is throwing me off a bit. That seemed a reasonable course of action. Whimpering, this too, not a likable action for a soldier Erickson propped himself on his elbows and risked a glance across the battlefield.
Flames were taking <-consider a more action oriented verb here to the thatch of Fort Esen. Red clouds rolled across the night sky and swelled into monstrous shapes. <-Great description here. The enemy soldiers swarmed their left flank, howling battle cries. They fought like demons, their faces streaked in red and black paint. The imperial companies were twice the size of their own.
There’s some intriguing action and it’s nice to see a first page that opens in the middle of it, rather than before the action starts. That said, there are a lot of challenges for this type of opening. The most important being we don’t have a lot of context for what’s happening, and the info you’re able to convey to us doesn’t make me want to root for your hero.
Since my good friend Google tells me that the Farrei Empire doesn’t exist and never has, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that this is historical fantasy of some sort? If that’s the case, my thinking is that you’re trying to pack too much into the first 300 words here—worldbuilding, backstory, characterization, and plot. Consider unpacking this a little and prioritizing what you want your first page to do. You do a good job in the first paragraph or so of giving me a character I want to know more about and I can definitely empathize with being terrified in a situation like his. That might be the strength to play toward here, and leave the bigger picture for page 2 etc.
Trisha Leaver lives on Cape Cod with her husband, three children, and one rather irreverent black lab. She is a chronic daydreamer who prefers the cozy confines of her own imagination to the mundane routine of everyday life. She writes Young Adult Contemporary Fiction, Psychological Horror, Historical Fiction, and Science Fiction and is published with FSG/ Macmillan, Flux/Llewellyn and Merit Press. Her YA Contemporary novel, THE SECRETS WE KEEP was named one of the best YA novels for summer by Teen Vogue and received a starred review from VOYA who praised its strong characterization and compelling premise, labeling it a book guaranteed to engage reluctant readers and keep them enthralled.
Tricia’s recent release …
THE SECRETS WE KEEP — YA Contemporary
Twin sisters. A fatal accident. A devastating lie. Which girl survived?
“A girl takes over her twin sister’s identity in this emotionally charged page-turner about the complicated bond between sisters.“
Ella and Maddy Lawton are identical twins. Ella has spent her high school years living in popular Maddy’s shadows, but she has never been envious of Maddy. In fact, she’s chosen the quiet, safe confines of her sketchbook over the constant battle for attention that has defined Maddy’s world.
When–after a heated argument–Maddy and Ella get into a tragic accident that leaves her sister dead, Ella wakes up in the hospital surrounded by loved ones who believe she is Maddy. Feeling responsible for Maddy’s death and everyone’s grief, Ella makes a split-second decision to pretend to be Maddy. Soon, Ella realizes that Maddy’s life was full of secrets. Caught in a web of lies, Ella is faced with two options–confess her deception or live her sister’s life.
*“Leaver’s brilliant novel is the high school version of What Happened to Janie? The compelling premise will attract readers and the strong characterization will keep them enthralled.” – VOYA, STARRED REVIEW
Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound
Trisha’s first page critique …
My little brother’s glasses (consider using the brother’s name here) caught the glow (give me a better descriptive here to set the mood – faint orange glow of the candles or something like that) of the candles I’d lined up on the table. Michigan winter. Yuck. We had another power outage
*cue the scary music*(not sure you need this…let your descriptors set the mood as opposed to telling the reader they should be scared.) and it wasn’t even mid-November yet. His voice trembled as he lisped my name, “Selina?” His voice trembled as he lisped my name and asked me for the tenth time, “when … Mom … h-home?”
“I don’t know, Buddy. Soon, I hope.” (or use his name here instead of the first sentence if it feels more natural)
Nine years ago my best friend Alex got a puppy for his eighth birthday; I got a special needs brother. I wouldn’t trade him for a thousand puppies.
Of course I might trade (tensing issue here???) him for an honest-to-goodness boyfriend. Well, you could leave out the “goodness”; I just wanted a boyfriend. Good, bad, tall, short, blonde, brunette, as long as there was a check in the box marked human. Okay…this gives your character a bit of a desperate feel IMO, as if her life isn’t complete and/or her self-worth is tied to her having a boyfriend.
Also…if you are trying to set a creepy mood, then this thought diversion to her wanting a boyfriend lessens the tension/ creep factor of the mood you are trying to set in this first scene—power outage, strange noises outside, scared little brother, etc… If she were truly scared or even feeling a little uneasy would her mind drift to puppies and boyfriends? Just food for thought 🙂
A loud booming noise made both of us jump. “It’s just the deck, Bud,” I assured him … and myself. “The wood cracks like that when the temperature drops so fast.” It
Ssounded like a reasonable explanation to me. Yeah, I’m going to go with deck cracking and not crazed-murderer-with-gun or psycho-maniac-breaking-basement-window.
*** Hmm…I wonder if you need a bit more character, scene, mood development here before the scene break. It seems abrupt, and I would like to get to know you mc (Selina) a little better, get a feel for who she is and what her motives are BEFORE I am tossed into an alternate POV
“Twenty light years is kind of stretching it, isn’t it?” Coreg’s voice crackled through the minuscule speaker in Marcum’s helmet.
Dying stars—lances of red and green against the black universe—dove past Marcum’s viewing screen as his heart beat double-time in anticipation of an illegal contest (this peeks my interest…illegal contest!!) with Coreg. “What’s the big deal?” Marcum goaded. “Too hard for you to speed up time for twenty light years?”
There seems to be a dramatic shift in place/setting after this scene break – dramatic as in we open in contemporary Michigan, mid-November and then post-scene break has more of a sci-fi, alternate world feel. Because of that, I would add a bit of prose here to set up the drastic change in place. Without it, the change can feel a bit disorientating to the reader, IMO.
Also…I love the start of the the alternate POV here. Dying to know what illegal contest they are engaging in and how Coreg and Selina’s lives are going to intersect!!!
Thank you, Dannie and Trisha, for your critiques. Interested in more first page critiques? Come back tomorrow for our next two critiques by Pitch Wars mentors, and while you’re here, check out our June posts for our mentors’ query critiques. And get ready! The Pitch Wars Mentor Wishlist Blog Hop starts August 2 with the Pitch Wars submission window opening August 17.
Great suggestions for the stories submitted, and a great blurb for Tricia’s book. It looks amazing! I was intrigued a few years back when the two girls were in the van crash and there was a mistaken identity when the girl who survived woke up. I always thought it would make a great novel, but this one with identical twins is even more interesting. I can’t wait to read it. Thanks again for a great post! Very informative.
Hey, I just wanted to say thank you so much for the detailed critique on my chapter, Dannie! It was very helpful and I’ve already started editing on it. Much appreciated.
My pleasure. So glad you found it helpful. Cheers!