Today's submission to First Page Friday got some great compliments as well as some sound advice from Ms. Shreditor in their critique. If you would like your first page critiqued, submit your double-spaced 12 pt. font first page to firstname.lastname@example.org with First Page Friday in the subject line. First come first served basis. See you next week!
by C. Michelle Jeffries
The words startled Noble. Up until now the conversation had been amicable.
Christopher, the head of the Ruling Council sat back and shook his head, staring at Noble. “Complete and utter hogwash.”
Noble let his arms fall to his sides. It’d been years since he’d stood in front of the twelve of them. To be honest, he'd hoped that they’d just forgotten about him altogether. Or found someone else to vent their frustrations on. It was a total surprise when the letter from the Ruling Council had been delivered by hand. Asking for a response before the courier would leave.
He’d wanted to slam the door in the young man’s face, but he knew better than to make the Ruling Council mad. He also knew that it wasn’t the young man’s fault, and he was just the messenger. Besides he did have manners, the women in his life, insisted on him having some level of good behavior.
“Why on Earth would you make up such stories? Do you take us for fools?” A woman with gray hair pulled back in a tight bun asked. Noble remembered this woman she’d been one of the largest rumormongers at his and Lyris’ wedding reception.
“I am not making this up.” He stood mere feet from the head of the council. He refused to stand in the wooden square designed to humiliate the person being questioned. After years as the Ruling Council’s intended whipping boy he knew their tactics.
“Prophecy, rumors that we are not human? A home planet? You expect us to believe this?”
“I’m rather surprised that you seem to have forgotten about it.” Noble clasped his hands behind his back, holding back the bite in his voice. His wife would be proud of his restraint.
“I think I’d remember something as farfetched as that. What you are suggesting is not only completely nonsensical but borders on insanity.”
“Then why are separated so much from other humans? Why are our schools and congregations exclusive? If we’re human why does the Academy exist?”
Noble was met with silent stares. Wow, a little sensitive there.
Ms. Shreditor's Comments
There are some compelling elements at work in this sample. The one-word bit of dialogue at the beginning is provocative enough to grab reader attention, and the ensuing observation that the conversation had been amicable up until that point sets the stage for the argument that follows. (However, please do fix “words” in the second paragraph, as Christopher has only spoken one word.) By the time we’re done reading this first page, we know that Noble has leveled some pretty serious accusations against the Ruling Council, and the council seems none too pleased by them.
The pacing in this scene works well. The narrative segues smoothly from Christopher’s incendiary opening dialogue to an explanation of how Noble has ended up before the council. The exchange that follows between Noble and various council members tells the readers what they need to know at this point: that he has angered some very important, potentially dangerous people.
I think that what this piece needs is polish. There are a number of punctuation errors that are a bit distracting, plus a missing word in the second to last paragraph. This first page could benefit from a fresh set of eyes to clean up these issues. I would also suggest using sentence fragments sparingly. There are two of them in the third paragraph (“Or found someone else to vent their frustrations on” and “Asking for a response before the courier would leave”). If you read the passage aloud, you won’t come to a full stop before these sentences, even if you’re going for a more staccato rhythm. In the first instance, I’d use an em dash; in the second instance, I’d just use a comma.
This story taps into a hot market: dystopian science fiction. As you develop your manuscript, make sure that it stands out on a shelf of similar stories. Evil ruling bodies are a dime a dozen in dystopian literature, so make sure that yours brings something fresh to the table. If the dystopian elements are too generic, acquiring editors will likely shy away from your book; therefore, it’s crucial that your story has a strong hook, something attention-grabbing in a crowded sci-fi marketplace. When in doubt, consult the classics—1984, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, We (considered by many to be the original recipe dystopian sci-fi), and others—for inspiration. The ingredients for a page-turning story are here, and with some line editing, I think it can get there.