Friday, November 25, 2011

First Page Friday

I am always so grateful to those who have submitted to First Page Friday to have their work critiqued by professional editors. Angela and Ms. Shreditor are some of the best editors I’ve come across and I’m so happy they offer their services to us on this blog so we can all learn from them.

If you are interested in submitted your first page, we are now taking submissions that will be critiqued in January. (We caught up and we’re so happy!) So polish up your stellar first page and see what a national editor has to say about it.

(I did want to mention that I walk a fine line with my blog because I don’t want to have it flagged as inappropriate by the internet filter on my computer, so I think it's best that I don't post swearing on First Page Friday submissions. Thank you so much for understanding.)

Today's submission has some language, but in order to access my page and because my no swearing policy wasn't clear, (and I didn't hear back from the author before today to discuss it further), out of respect for her, I just blanked them out. I hope the author will understand that I wasn't trying to change her intent in any way.

Today's critique is so useful for all of us, I really appreciate the submission!

The Entry
Bad Habit

by Crystal Cheverie

“Wake up.” Nothing.
D--n, she hated this part. Marie nudged – Wayne? Wade? Will? – in the side with her foot. There was a groan, but Marie’s hopes were soon dashed as Walter, Warner, whoever the h--l he was simply turned over under the white cotton sheets and resumed snoring. Clearly this called for extreme measures.
Marie stalked into the washroom, yanked her red washcloth off the rack and pulled the sleeves of her father’s old plaid shirt up to her knobby elbows. She wet the cloth under a stream of cold water and wrung it out just a little to avoid drips. Marie walked back over to the bed, standing over Winston, Wally, oh, f-- it, him, and made one last attempt to be civil.
“Hey. Wakey-wakey there, boy-o.” Still nothing. With a sigh, Marie held the cloth just above his head, and gave a twist.
“Argh! What the hell?” He sprang up, wiping at the water now dripping down his face. Marie backed up, ready to call her big German shepherd-husky mix Bruno if necessary. With a final face scrub, he crossed his thick, sunburned arms across his chest and fixed her with a baleful stare. “Was that really necessary?”

Angela's Review:

Strong points:

So there are a couple things agents/publishers are looking for when they decide to read a few pages of a manuscript. They might ask two questions of the sample: 1) am I hooked/intrigued by the beginning so that I want to keep reading, 2) am I passionate about the character/story as I read further? So my review is going to mostly focus on things to consider for the 2nd point, as I think you have achieved something that fulfills the first requirement—generally. I have a few comments below on how you could up the interest factor even more on the first page, but you have gotten my attention and I would read more just to answer a few questions for myself.

Interesting characterization would keep me reading. The questions to which I want to discover the answers, and which would motivate me to read on, are as follows:

“She hated this part”: Which part, exactly? Waking up after a one-night-stand and realizing someone you don’t know is in your bed and you’re going to have to ask them to leave so you can pull yourself together? Or having to wake up someone whose name you can’t remember, which makes you feel embarrassed and maybe secretly ashamed of yourself? (Both imply that she engages in one-night-stands frequently, so I wonder what her issues and needs are as a character; and the 2nd implies that she’s particularly callous/distant from people and that she uses men for impulse-need fulfillment rather than seeking relationships. This does make her an admittedly interesting character, as stereotypically women are the ones seeking commitment and men fulfill the one-night-stand-who-can’t-remember-your-name role. (In addition, if she thinks she might need to call her dog to protect her, there’s the possible implication that she REALLY doesn’t know this guy at all, which makes us wonder if she was drunk or something when she brought him home; so then we wonder what motivated such a drinking binge).

What is the huge rush anyway? Why does his not waking up call for drastic measures? Does she want to get the virtual stranger out of her house immediately because she’s pretty sure she doesn’t want to actually develop a relationship? Or is there some other reason? And why the super uncivil approach—seems extreme. Again, it would support the idea that she’s afraid to let him hang around too long, or afraid to let him see a softer side, or doesn’t like something about him and so definitely doesn’t want him to get ideas about her? Or is she just mean for no reason related fears and insecurities? Her behavior reads as really angry or annoyed. So is it at him or herself?

Your nice use of description and general word economy paints a very intriguing psychological picture of Marie that makes us curious; is she a tomboy, given her dad’s shirt and the big, masculine dog? She doesn’t have to be, but the description made me curious—gave me a glimpse of her that I wanted to see more of so I could put the clues together. (The only line that raised a red flag with word economy was the line about the dog.)

Passing the 2nd test—establishing reader passion for Marie and her story:

Here are the elements of your story that might require attention; you may have already nailed these after the first page, but if not, consider:

1)The story is supposed to be romantic comedy. Right now the opening scene isn’t giving me a clear feeling of comedy. It is slightly comedic in a slapstick/cliché sort of way. I don’t think the opening is cliché, mind you, as the character is interesting, but the setup is cliché. Even though you’ve turned things on their head in terms of the usual jerky-male stereotype, the humor in the scene feels minimal.

2) I think part of that is due to the problem of not having much of Marie’s motivations. Your strengths in terms of creating a character we have questions about is a double-edged sword in this case—we may have too many questions. Not giving us any clear hints at her motives makes her a little bit unempathetic as we leave the first page of the story. The reader is asking, right along with the male victim, “Was that really necessary?” If you can imbue this scene with a little more humor—particularly humor coming from Marie’s point of view, so we have a sense of who she is or what she’s thinking—then I think the reader is more apt to like Marie despite her rather uncivil behavior.

She’s currently lacking in qualities that would make her really empathetic (swearing and rude behavior isn’t usually endearing), which is important, especially for a romantic comedy’s lead. Chic lit gave us a harder, more whiny female lead, but there was that soft underbelly exposed through the self-deprecating humor, so one could connect to such a character. A similar tactic, but in your own style and avoiding the whininess of the now-gone chic lit genre, would really make your opening even more engaging—enjoyable to read as well as simply interesting.

I assume you’ll expand on the character’s more likable side and the humor within a couple pages—especially since that’s all the time an agent will give a new book. But if not, and you are going to take a while to show us her vulnerabilities, you may want to provide some motivation and some stronger, more original humor here so that we empathize more with her predicament. Marie reminds me slightly of someone like Stephanie Plum from the Janet Evanovich series (that sort of tougher city girl that grew up with brothers or something), but the quirky humor in the Evanovich series attacks you as soon as you open the book. Which is an extra draw for the agent or editor looking for a new voice.

Conclusion: All in all, your style is clean, crisp, and strong, and your central character gets my interest right out of the gate, but based on the current level of competition out there today, I think you could add just a tad more humor and eccentricity to the opening to make it really stand out. You want a character that we instantly care about, as well as find interesting, because when we care, and we see what’s at stake for her (hopefully within a couple pages), we’re biting our nails as she faces those stakes. I think you’re almost there. Best of luck!

Thank you again to Angela and Crystal. Lots to think about! See you next week.


Sarah Pearson said...

Wow, an in-depth critique there. Lots of questions I can ask about my own MC :-)

Thank you to Crystal for submitting, and to Angela for the critique - and our lovely hostess of course :-)

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

I always say that after First Page Friday, there's always lots of questions I can ask my own MC. Thanks, Sarah! :)

Debra Erfert said...

Wow! I did not read this as a romantic comedy. It felt darker to me. Maybe the language tripped me up, I don't know, but Angela did a super job on her critique. I agree the style was strong and clean.

I almost forgot this was First Page Friday. Just Totally Shopping Day. :)

Anita said...

Since we're discussing first pages, I'll venture an opinion that may not be popular, but needs saying. If I were to pull this novel from the shelf and find four swear words and a morning after with a total stranger all in the opening few paragraphs, I'd shut it, put it back, and never give the author another chance. Ever. I feel certain most of my friends would do the same. Vulgarity and immorality aren't my "cup of tea."

That aside, this kind of opener is cheap manipulation. I wasn't at all concerned about the character, just curious about her sordid immorality. The motivation to continue the read--if there was one--had nothing to do with her possible redemption. It was mere titillation.

First pages are first impressions. This didn't make a good one. But then, I guess it all depends on who you're wanting to impress.

Debra Erfert said...


When I said "clean" I wasn't referring to the language. Personally I'd put the book back on the shelf too. I haven't read a book with an "F" bomb in it since I found my first Kerry Blair mystery novel and realized there are "clean" as in non-vulgar, higher value type stories and a whole group of authors willing to keep to that standard yet still write fascinating novels. I do want to be impressed by the first page, and not because the author knows the proper mechanics of writing, which Crystal surely showed.

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Debra, I ventured out to do a bit of shopping today and boy was I sorry! What a madhouse. Thankfully I only had to go to two stores and it was a quick trip. And I am SO glad to find a fellow Kerry Blair fan. I love her books!

Anita, I really appreciate your perspective and I think you're right, it's all who you're wanting to impress. If you are submitting to an agent/editor/publishing house it is very important to know if your piece is something they represent and are looking for. Not every piece will fit everyone or every house and yet, it is still up to us to make it shine and find it a home. That's why I'm so grateful for our editors who try so hard to help us every Friday.

Thank you so much to everyone who comments. I truly do appreciate a well-spoken opinion on the blog. :)