Thanks to Ms. Shreditor for her critique and to Brienne for being brave enough to submit. If you would like your first page critiqued, please follow the guidelines in the sidebar. See you next week!
The Story Of Bean
by Brienne E. Wright
A new century had begun and on its dawning Bean was born.
Outside was cold and the wind bit at the flesh, but inside the tiny, barely two room hut, Michael was sweating. Being the ship’s engineer and managing the furnaces, Michael was use to heat and sweat but this was an entirely new experience. He paced the room in nervous anticipation. Each cry, each curse cause him to jump and stare as if it was the first and entirely different from the last. The sounds were so horrific. More horrific than any Captain barking out order during an attack or an ocean tempest and Michael feared no living soul would emerge.
The screams subsided and there was silence for a moment, Michael held his breath. Michael’s heart skipped several beats and his nervous anticipation turned to uneasiness and fear with the first infant cry. He stood still, eyes fixed on the door, behind it the birthing room. Subconsciously, he curled and flexed the fingers of his left, metal clad, hand. It was a slow rhythmic movement, one he has repeated regularly since the accident that scolded his skin from tip of finger to elbow.
The metal glove was of his own design and construction, using the skills from his countless hours as a blacksmith apprentice prior to his unwilling career aboard stream vessels. The glove had soft leather that rested atop his damaged skin and under the metal cover. Both were secured on the underside where his skin had been spared.
There was little left of pain, but the rhythmic movement, which had started to keep his hand from stiffening into a useless mangled piece of flesh, was now a soothing comforting motion that Michael only noticed when it was interrupted.
The movement was interrupted by a baby being placed in his arms. The ships nurse, who knew less about birthing and babies than she did about sewing up a wound, had emerged from the room with a poorly wrapped bundle in her strong but seemingly frail arms.
Ms. Shreditor's Comments
There is some strong storytelling at work here. Opening with Bean’s birth is a clear signal to the reader that this baby will factor prominently into the story. We watch the scene through Michael’s eyes, and we pick up some important details about him along the way: that he is a new father, that he wears a metal glove because of a past burn injury, and that he works as the ship’s engineer.
The narrative moves along at a fairly fast clip thanks to the high level of suspense. Perhaps the greatest strength here, however, is the liberal use of sensory imagery. We feel the wind biting at Michael’s flesh, we hear the sounds of screaming inside the birth room (and the blissful moment of silence before the newborn Bean starts crying). There’s power in sensory details, and this story draws upon multiple senses to engage the reader.
The problems here are at the syntax level. There are quite a few spelling and punctuation errors, verb tense issues, and some awkward turns of phrase that fog up the writing in parts. This piece needs a thorough copy edit before it’s ready for submission. Errors such as “ships nurse” (instead of “ship’s nurse”), “stream vessels” (instead of, I’m assuming, “steam vessels”), and “scolded his skin” (instead of “scalded his skin”) can, with just a few keystrokes, undo years of hard work. You may have fine-tuned your characters and worked on your pacing, but if your first page is riddled with mechanical errors, an acquiring editor will likely perceive it as lack of effort. As I mentioned in a recent column, the editorial process for your average book is pretty rigorous. An editor might be reluctant to take on an author who hasn’t polished his or her submission to perfection—or as close to perfection as one can get before professional editing—because a potential author needs to be ready for multiple rounds of editing on multiple levels.
Manuscript acceptance/rejection is a complex process that hinges on multiple factors. One typo won’t necessarily sink a manuscript, and a total absence of typos won’t guarantee acceptance. However, you don’t want to lose out on a publishing deal because your compelling, well-written sample chapters haven’t undergone sufficient editing/proofing. Dig deep and take the time to review your writing line by line. If possible, find someone with fluent knowledge of American grammar to edit it. A story with this many intriguing elements is worth the effort.