Yay, it's Friday and we have a really great First Page Friday today. I'm so grateful for authors who submit their work so we can learn from each other through the critiques.
If you would like your first page critiqued, please follow the guidelines in the sidebar. See you next week!
by Linda Unsicker
For a full two seconds Nate's senses appeared to be failing him. The brilliant flash of lightning had rendered him momentarily blinded, and he felt as though he were staring at the negative of a photograph. The blacks and whites of the ship's deck were oddly interchanged, with shades of gray blurring the edges. His dreaded anticipation of the imminent crack of thunder seemed to mute all sounds around him; even the chaotic waves in the black sea below were strangely silent for those two seconds. He longed to plaster a wet hand over each ear, to squeeze his eyes shut and will away the present terror.
During one of the explosions of light, Nate had found a rope tied to a railing and had grabbed for it, steadying his feet on the tipping deck. He knew nothing could persuade him to let go of that rope, even the upcoming thunderous crash. He steeled his senses and closed his eyes as if to lessen the blow to his ears.
After three or four more bursts from the heavens, with ears ringing in protest, he realized with alarm that there were no lifeboats or life preservers in sight. Nate called out, but the sound of his voice did not even reach his own ears as the storm raged around him. He had been asleep down below the now-abandoned deck as the storm increased, and now he knew that the shouting and tumult of his dreams had been reality.
He dared not release his grip on the rope as the ship tipped precariously from side to side. Where had everyone gone? he wondered with a growing panic. He couldn’t decide which frightened him more: an abandoned ship in a terrific storm or the hateful water around him. And then the lightning revealed a large, black wave bearing down on the ship, about to engulf him.
With a fleeting thought of self preservation, his mind almost numb from fear, Nate threw himself over the side of the doomed boat, hoping that he would be clear of it when it went under. After the tumultuous crashing of waves and thunder, the muffled silence under the ocean seemed unnatural. He surfaced, kicking furiously, just as another intense flash showed the ship upended in the churning blackness.
Ms. Shreditor's Comments
This first page fires on a lot of the right cylinders. For starters, it’s really clean. I might tweak a few minor things here and there, but I’m impressed with the quality of editing in this sample. It’s not just the grammatical nuts and bolts; it’s also the way the prose flows as it’s read aloud. There’s a wealth of sensory imagery to make the unfolding scene more vivid, from the crashing waves and thunder to the explosions of light.
The pacing in this scene works quite well, too. There is a lot of physical movement as Nate tries to save his own life, and this helps to create a certain momentum in the narrative itself. My one concern is that the scene is so action-oriented that we can’t surmise much of substance from it. Is Nate alone on the ship? If so, why? Where was he headed before the storm struck? What are some of his circumstances? Character traits? Personal conflicts? It’s hard to see beyond the impending shipwreck in the absence of such details. That doesn’t mean, of course, that you have to cram everything on the first page, but you might consider dropping a few clues there to raise the stakes from the beginning.
Watch verb tenses in italicized thoughts. Where did everyone go? or Where has everyone gone? would work better in this instance. We rarely think in the past perfect tense (e.g., had gone); to the contrary, we often think in the present tense. Make sure that expressed thoughts in a narrative employ the appropriate tense. When in doubt, put yourself in your character’s shoes and think his/her thoughts yourself to gauge whether or not the verb tense feels natural.
Beyond the aforementioned suggestions, there’s not much I would change here. The most important order of business: Add some more personal details about Nate to help the reader forge an instant connection with him. The more we know about him from the outset, the more invested we’ll be in his story. Dropping character-defining details without information dumping is a delicate art, but I have every confidence that the author of this sample can walk that fine line and make it happen.