Time already for another installment of First Page Friday. The purpose of First Page Friday is to help authors write a first page that will get them noticed because last year I was at a conference where agents and editors agreed---if you haven't caught them by the first page they simply reject you.
If you would like your first page critiqued by a national editor, please submit it to firstname.lastname@example.org with First Page Friday in the subject line. We have one March spot still open!
Shaking the Sand
by Joshua Berry
Rotor blades spun the arid desert sand into a violent frenzy. The Huey hovered precariously a scant hundred feet over the LZ. The area appeared deserted, but Special Forces Navy Seals inside the Huey knew to take nothing for granted. Taliban insurgents armed with deadly weapons lurked nearby intent on killing unwanted trespassers. Colonel Patrick Wall, piloting the Huey, motioned for the Seals to disembark when they reached ten feet off the ground. He could not chance touchdown. Major Dallin O’Rourke, of Irish descent and the Seals team leader, motioned to his team. Each acknowledged preparedness. When the Huey lowered to ten feet above the swirling sand visibility was near zero. Quickly twenty men, highly qualified for the assigned task ahead of them, disembarked and watched Colonel Wall and the Huey rapidly ascend and bank to the south. In seventy-two hours Colonel Wall would return and their mission, to assassinate Osama Bin Laden, would be complete – or they would all be dead.
Lieutenant Bradley Hamilton jumped from the hovering Huey. He landed softly, the eighteenth Seal out. He was well trained and perfectly qualified for the mission. He held one distinction which separated him from the other Seals in his squad. His spiritual leader was a prophet, a true prophet of God. He was an Elder in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. His fellow Seals called him “Mormon Seal” and they all respected his faith. As quickly as they could they secured a line of communication as Major O’Rourke ordered. Lieutenant Hamilton made contact with Colonel Wall who was now several miles away.
Little time was needed to set up a small mini-camp. Wasted motions were not an option. Months and months of training demanded the utmost in professionalism. Each Seal had an assigned duty. All individual tasks benefitted the team. Bradley Hamilton had the responsibility for communications. He had to make sure each Seal was able to communicate with all the other Seals. Also, he was tasked with making sure communication with Colonel Wall and HQ were in order. Major O’Rourke made it clear to Lieutenant Hamilton communication was of paramount importance.
Ms. Shreditor's Comments
I like that this story begins with movement (i.e., sand stirred up by a helicopter). It's gripping imagery that helps root the reader in the scene. The story wastes no time setting up what is at stake: These Seals are on the hunt for Osama bin [note the lowercase here] Laden, and their lives hang in the balance. It doesn’t get much more suspenseful than this.
What weighs down this page: It reminds us too often how well trained these Seals are. The first paragraph tells us that the men are "highly qualified for the assigned task." The second paragraph tells us that Hamilton is "well trained and perfectly qualified." The third paragraph tells us that "months and months of training demanded the utmost in professionalism. Each Seal had an assigned duty. All individual tasks benefitted [sic] the team." I think that, when writing, it’s important to lead readers to water without forcing them to drink. Because the first paragraph establishes that the men are well trained, I think it would be better to tone down or eliminate some of these subsequent mentions.
This first page also introduces a lot of characters at once. We encounter Dallin O’Rourke, Lieutenant Bradley Hamilton, and Colonel Patrick Wall. We get some basic demographic information about two of the three (O’Rourke is of Irish descent and Hamilton is Mormon), but there isn’t much to go on yet. Perhaps introduce main characters more gradually so that the first page doesn’t feel quite so cluttered. There’s a lot of information to convey here, and you don’t want to overwhelm the reader. I would focus first on the main character and gradually weave in the supporting characters. You want the reader to connect immediately with your protagonist; otherwise, even the most compelling plot will fall flat.
I’m a bit concerned about the LDS element as introduced. Granted, I don’t work in the LDS market, but I have read some LDS fiction. I find that the best stories incorporate religious elements with a light touch. In this case, the first thing we learn about Bradley is that he’s Mormon, and the story insinuates that this makes him better than his fellow Seals. It feels heavy-handed and a bit preachy, which I’m sure wasn’t the intention. On a more structural level, the paragraph segues abruptly from Bradley’s religious background to the present action (i.e., securing a line of communication). This needs stronger transition.
Watch use of abbreviations. In the second sentence, there’s a reference to the “LZ.” Readers not familiar with military jargon might not know what this means at first glance, so it might be helpful to define it at first mention. “HQ” is more recognizable, but I would use abbreviations with care in this story so as not to distract the reader.
The overall concept here is sound. The hunt for Osama bin Laden is always going to resonate with readers. We just need a clearer idea of whose story this is and what is at stake for him personally. Think about what is crucial on the first page and what can wait until the second or tenth page.
I'd like to thank Joshua and Ms. Shreditor for this week's submission and critique. I know I learned something today. See you next week!