Welcome back to First Page Friday!
For any new people, several agents and editors said recently that they really only look at the first page or two of a submitted manuscript and if they aren't hooked on the story by then, they reject it. So, that's what First Page Friday is all about, having a national book editor, (whom we affectionately call Ms. Shreditor) critique first pages that are submitted to the blog and help tweak them be their absolute best. (If you would like to submit your first page for critique, email it to email@example.com and put First Page Friday in the subject line.)
As always, authors should look at the good comments and bask in that for a moment. Then look at the constructive criticism and remember that feedback can make your manuscript submission stronger. :)
Paige walked into the lobby of the church building with butterflies in her stomach. She went to the chapel and found her parents. She tried to hold her excitement down so that they wouldn't notice. Jack Porter was home and she was finally going to see him again. It had been two years since she had seen him. Jack had been in Mexico the past two years serving a mission. And now he was home.
Paige looked up to the front of the chapel to look at Jack. There he was. He looked the same as when he left. He was tall and still lean. She couldn’t see his eyes well from here, but she thought of his dark blue eyes. Paige loved those eyes.
By the time the meeting started the chapel was full of family and friends of Jack’s. Jack always made friends wherever he went. He was just that kind of guy.
When it was Jack’s turn to speak, Paige sat up straighter and tuck her hair behind her ear. If he looked out in the crowd and saw her she wanted to look her best. He probably wouldn’t see her anyway, but it didn't hurt to try.
“I’ve been asked to speak about some experiences I learned on my mission,” Jack said to start his talk. Paige listened to his stories about conversions he was a part of and stories that happened to him and him companions. She felt uplifted listening to his experiences. That was why Paige liked him so much. He had a spiritual side to him and wasn't afraid to show it. If only he knew how much she liked him, had always liked him.
Ms. Shreditor’s Comments
The first sentence propels us directly into the story. Paige’s entrance into the lobby gives us not only physical momentum, but also narrative momentum. Butterflies in the stomach are a bit cliché, but perhaps tweaking the description a bit will convey the nervousness and preserve the otherwise compelling hook. Immediately, the reader wonders why Paige is nervous, impetus enough to keep reading.
The first paragraph, however, lacks rhythm. It is a string of simple sentences that sounds staccato when read aloud, because the periods force us to take a breath.
Point of view is an important consideration when writing a romance. Why is this Paige’s story and not Jack’s? We learn nothing about her on the first page; all we are given are her reactions to Jack. A lot of writers, myself included, sometimes take for granted that the reader will automatically find their protagonists as fascinating as they do, because they know things that the reader does not on the first page. Paige needs more dimension. Who is she? What about her makes her a worthy vessel for this story? The story of a young man returning from a mission in another country and reconnecting with a woman from his past seems much more compelling. Therein lies the problem. We learn so much more about Jack than we do Paige in this excerpt.
The story also tells us far more than it shows us. Jack gets one line of dialogue to introduce his speech, and then his actually storytelling happens off the page. Why can’t the reader be privy to his stories? We can’t feel uplifted along with Paige if we don’t know what she’s hearing. Moreover, statements like “He had a spiritual side to him and wasn’t afraid to show it” don’t tell us much. This much is obvious from the text. Explore that spiritual side in more depth—and, again, consider whether or not Jack might make the more compelling narrator. It may mean the difference between a story that uses Paige as a generic narrative vessel for readers to live out a romantic fantasy and a character-driven story about what it means to come home after two years away and try to rekindle a lost love.
I'd like to thank A.R. for submitting and Ms. Shreditor for critiquing. I know both people spent a lot of time on this submission and I'm grateful they were willing to be part of First Page Friday. See you next week!