What a week this has been with hops and prizes and campaign challenges! I’m ready to sit down and enjoy a First Page Friday.
(For my new followers, it is a well-known fact that sometimes editors and agents don't get beyond your first page if it isn't stellar. My blog has a national editor we affectionately call Ms. Shreditor, who tries to help us polish our work by offering first page critiques every Friday. It's been very helpful for me as well, because when I read her comments to other writers, I can usually apply her thoughts to my own writing. If you want to submit, guidelines are in my sidebar.)
Here it this week's entry!
by Charlie Moore
Murky water lapped against the hull of the Ellen Maria, docked at Liverpool harbor. A seasonably warm January rain shower off the coast moistened the faces of Henry Brown, his wife Catherine Maria and their children with a silky satin sheen. Light shone through breaks in the darkened sky promising partial sunshine for the first part of their voyage. Hundreds of Saints milled around the dock waiting to board the ship. Many had heard the missionaries from a new church not long before and accepted their message. Now they waited for new promises of opportunity in the land called Zion. In January, on the 22nd day, in the year of our Lord 1852, Henry Brown, a bricklayer by trade, along with his wife, Catherine Maria (called Maria) and their children, Henry, William, Samuel, Cyrus, James and Julia boarded the ship with other Saints hoping for the same dream. They were called the “poor company” because they were the first group of Saints to sail on monies from the Perpetual Immigration Fund. The church, through the inspiration of the prophet, set up an account to help people get to Zion who didn’t have sufficient means. They were expected to find work when they arrived in Zion and repay the debt thereby allowing the church to help others who’d come later.
“When will we be in Zion?” seven year old Samuel asked his father.
“The journey is long, Samuel,” Henry Brown said to his inquisitive son. “We must cross the ocean followed by a long trek on land in America before we reach the Prophet and the land of Zion.”
Ms. Shreditor’s Comments
Historical narratives can be tricky. The author has to establish historical context in short order while simultaneously hooking the reader. And, as is true for any first page, the reader must connect somehow with the main character.
This first page needs some work on those fronts. It bombards us with a lot of historical information and characters at once. Rather than speaking to us, it talks at us. At a time when the narrative should be a page-turner, it is flooded with historical factoids and extraneous details that distance us from the main characters. Much of the second paragraph reads like an encyclopedia entry about the “poor country” Saints. Right now, the readers are swimming in the very “murky water” we encounter in the first sentence. They need direction.
They also need a clearer sense of what’s at stake here. We know that the Brown family is about to embark on a journey to Zion. I sense that this is an oft-told tale in LDS historical fiction. So what makes this story different? What makes these characters unique? At this juncture, the reader needs something eye-catching to propel him/her to page two. Right now, it’s somewhat nondescript.
So what can you do to beef up the first page? Think about the story you want to tell. Is it about the pressures Henry faces as the head of the family? Is it the tale of a tough journey or the adjustments a family has to make in a new community? Will the story involve primarily the journey or the family’s new life in Zion—or something else entirely? In other words, what central conflict will drive the narrative?
Once you have a sense of these things, you can craft a first page with all the meat and none of the fat. You can get right down to the business at hand, which is not a rote recitation of a story from a safe distance, but a vivid exploration of both external and internal conflicts.
Also, as always, I advise all authors to copyedit their submissions thoroughly—or, ideally, have someone else do it. A polished first page reflects effort, professionalism, and sophistication.
I’d like to thank Charlie and Ms. Shreditor for their time and participation. I hope it was helpful.
See you next week!