On to First Page Friday, an entry by our own Debra Erfert. After last week I can truly say it takes guts to submit, so I thank everyone who does it. And, as always, thank you to our wonderful Ms. Shreditor who takes time out of her very busy schedule to critique for us. See you next week!
The Silk Strangler
by Debra Erfert
“He has a gun!” a man shouted.
A woman screamed—loudly.
“Don’t move—or—or I, I’ll shoot you!”
Now that wasn’t something I wanted to hear while standing in line at the bank. I still had my left forearm in a silly pink cast, and just an hour earlier the doctor had removed the metal staples in my scalp needed to close a gash placed there by a corrupt police detective. The concussion he gave me while trying to kill me still produced a slight headache behind my eyes—nothing serious, just annoying.
When the woman standing in line in front of me moved backward, I dropped my checkbook to the floor and held her away from stepping on my toes with my good hand. The flip-flops I wore didn’t cover much of my toes. Who knew my day would go from dull to exciting in a matter of moments.
I scanned the banker’s counter looking for the armed robber.
Gil Roscoe, private investigator, my mentor, nudged my shoulder and whispered, “There he is, Candy.”
He still must’ve thought of me as his intern, but I’d had my PI license for three months already, and I’d actually solved two cases—one even paid me in cash money to do it, too.
“I see him,” I whispered impatiently. Like everybody in the bank wasn’t staring at him? The young man with a Cubs ball cap pulled down low over his forehead pointed a revolver pistol at the neck of an older woman he had pressed up against his body.
“He’s holding a woman.”
I let out a quiet sigh. “I can see that, too.”
Ms. Shreditor's Comments
The first line of this page is an attention grabber, but having three consecutive one-line paragraphs gives the story a choppy feel. Also, is it necessary to specify that the woman screams loudly? A scream by its very nature is loud, so I think this goes without saying.
The dialogue needs some reworking, too. The story opens with an unnamed crowd-scener announcing that “he” he has a gun. We’re not sure who “he” is, and we don’t learn that he’s an armed bank robber until the sixth paragraph. Then, the woman screams. Then, someone threatens the crowd, and we can only assume it’s the gunman because he’s not identified with a dialogue tag. The absence of a dialogue tag might confused the reader into thinking that the same man is speaking in the first and third paragraphs.
In the fourth paragraph, we learn about the “gash placed [on Candy’s scalp] by a corrupt police detective.” According to Candy, “the concussion he gave me while trying to kill me still produced a slight headache behind my eyes.” This reads like a sequel, as if the reader is picking up where a previous story has left off. Who is this corrupt police detective? How did Candy land in his crosshairs? How have she and Gil ended up undercover in a bank where there just happens to be an armed robber? As a reader, I’m missing vital information.
I’m also confused about the nature of Candy’s injuries. In one sentence, she mentions an arm cast and a nasty scalp gash that required staples; in the next, she mentions a concussion. What exactly did the detective do to her? Also (and this may sound nitpicky), why would she choose a pink cast if she finds it silly?
Watch for places to trim excess words. Example: “...I’d actually solved two cases—one even paid me in cash money to do it, too.” You could lose “actually” without sapping your sentence of its essence. You could also lose “money” (“cash money” is redundant) and “to do it.” Readers can deduce meaning from remarkably few words, so resist the urge to bulk up your narrative with unnecessary phrases.
Watch also for awkward transitions. For instance, the narrative shifts abruptly from a description of Candy’s flip-flops to an observation that her dull day has become exciting. And consider whether or not Candy’s response to the situation is realistic. Would a protagonist really consider a life-or-death situation exciting? She seems oddly detached from the situation, which makes it difficult to connect with her. Consider what first impression you want the reader to have of Candy, because I’m not sure the intention was for her to seem so glib.
The bones for a good opening are here. You’ve done well to open with a crisis situation. Some elements need reworking so that the first page presents the most compelling bits and leaves behind some of the extraneous details. Consider also how to forge a stronger connection between the reader and Candy. If she’s going to drive the narrative bus for the duration, the reader needs to identify with her from the outset.