We have gotten some wonderful submissions for First Page Friday. Today is no exception. I always learn so much from these critiques, it's like sitting in a little class each Friday. I hope they are beneficial for you as well. :)
(If you would like to have your first page critiqued by a national editor, please submit it to firstname.lastname@example.org with First Page Friday in the subject line. Submissions are critiqued on a first come first served basis.)
Thank you all for participating!
by Spencer Phelps
“Marion Tourism Board, this is Mike… No, this isn’t Tubby’s Pizza. Their number ends in a six, you dialed a seven… Yes, I’m sure… No, I won’t call them for you.” Mike hung up the phone.
The tourism office was housed in what used to be some sort of old-timey shop since it had a large display window in front. Downtown Marion, Ohio didn’t look very pretty having so many empty store and office spaces. Mike swore the downtown planning committee was so in love with their only claim to fame, ex-president Warren G. Harding, that they strove to keep downtown looking the same way it did when he was commander-in-chief. Mike’s place of employment was part of a worn, red-brick, downtown building built in the early 1900s and employed exactly three people: Mike, his good friend Ben, and their boss Gary. Posters of various, older slogans the office had come up with to spur tourism to Marion hung along the walls that were covered with that fake wood paneling that probably looked so trendy many decades ago. Mike sat at his oversized, metal desk that was built in the fifties to withstand a nuclear blast should the commies decide to attack.
Mike Lynch was a fairly good-looking young dude with short, black hair, neatly-cut sideburns, hazel eyes, and a light frame that he kept toned by doing a few sit-ups and crunches in the morning and staying away from the Mt. Dew and M&Ms most of the time. His clothes were usually just as trendy as his smart sideburns, although you’d never guess he shopped at the local Salvation Army. Mike’s philosophy on clothes was, “It doesn’t matter what you wear; it matters how you wear it.” So he was sporting his faded, straight-cut jeans, snazzy black, leather belt, and brown t-shirt with a worn “Seneca County Fair 1997” logo on the front at work today.
Ms. Shreditor's Comments
What I like most about this piece is its overall voice. It’s distinctly male, and there’s a delicious undercurrent of snark that flows through it from beginning to end. Mike appears to be a pretty standard protagonist—good-looking, riddled with life ennui, primed for some sort of life-altering experience.
The problem is that there’s no way of predicting what that experience will be from this first page. The story doesn’t get immediately under way after the initial scrap of dialogue. Instead, there’s a bit of an information dump about the tourism office and Marion, followed immediately by a paragraph-long description of Mike’s appearance and fashion sense. Don’t get me wrong: These are all important pieces of information, but clumping them together on the first page kills some of the momentum. Consider integrating this information more gradually. This will feel a lot more organic than paragraph-long laundry lists of traits.
The description of Mike in particular feels heavy-handed. He’s a good-looking young dude with great hair, a great body, healthy eating and frugal spending habits, and somewhat hipster fashion sensibilities. It all feels a bit airbrushed, the way someone who is infatuated with him might describe him and not how he would describe himself. Does he have any flaws, or is he a perfect ten on all fronts? Readers may have a problem connecting with a narrator who comes off as too perfect, particularly in a comedy.
Speaking of comedy, the strength of this piece is in its abiding humor. I particularly liked the quip about Marion looking as it did when Warren G. Harding was commander-in-chief and the description of Mike’s desk. There are some problems at the syntax level that a good copy edit would resolve (eliminating extraneous words and phrases, punctuation issues, etc.), but the overall writing quality is quite good.
So, to sum up, the key issue for me is a lack of direction on this first page. I don’t have a sense of where this story might be headed, and I haven’t yet connected with the narrator who will lead the way. We learn some superficial stats about Mike, but we don’t learn much of substance about him from this first page. Flesh him out a bit from the start. Hint at what might be at stake for him in this story. And, above all else, keep the quips coming!
I'd really like to thank Ms. Shreditor and Spencer for their time and effort. See you next week!