It's finally Friday and I'm so glad. Today on First Page Friday we're learning about looking for audience and pulling your readers in. Thank you to Ms. Shreditor and our author for all their hard work. See you next week!
The Sex Stone of Agassia
by Richard Maitland
[NOTE: In view of your submission requirements about "no sex", I should mention this is a British comedy, and so the nudity on the first page is intended humorously]
Detective Constable William Lilley shuffled his feet and gave a nervous cough. “You absolutely sure about this? Seems a very funny way of getting into the Freemasons if you ask me.”
In the darkened Briefing Room of a north London police station thirteen candles flickered. The lambent light played over a pentagram inside a circle, the wobbly outlines drawn with sand on the linoleum floor. A trail of gritty debris and cigarette butts led back to the shadows where a plundered fire bucket lay on its side. Desks had been shoved against walls; chairs stacked in corners; telephones unplugged; tea-trolley pushed under the window. Gray venetian blinds barricaded the windows.
“Get on with it”, snapped Detective Inspector Marigold Bateman from the centre of the pentagram. “We haven’t got all night.”
Bill slowly removed his tie and stepped into the circle, unbuttoning his shirt with reluctant fingers.
D.I. Bateman advanced. Pounced. In a lightning movement unzipped his fly – yanked his trousers and underpants down to his ankles – threw off her raincoat – stood before him. Naked.
Too shocked to react, Bill could only stand open-mouthed as Inspector Bateman wrapped herself around him, pressing her ample flesh against his fear-shrivelled member.
A moment later he came to his senses. Prising her fingers from his outraged buttocks, he fought to break her grip. But D.I. Bateman was strong. And slippery. And with no clothes to give him purchase, Bill had only handfuls of Metropolitan Police flesh to grapple with. In a silence broken only by harsh panting they struggled together as Bill tried to fend her off and at the same time reach down to grab her coat and wrap it round her shoulders.
The room blazed with light. Detective Chief Inspector Bradshaw stood framed in the doorway, his hand on the light switch. He took in the terrible scene with one sweep of his eyes.
“You two. My office. Tomorrow morning.” The door slammed shut.
Ms. Shreditor's Comments
This sample ran longer than a page when I double-spaced it (in keeping with Julie’s submission guidelines). Several of the samples lately have run long, and I don’t want to keep beating this poor horse to death. It may seem nitpicky for me to take a submission to task for running a paragraph or two over the allotted length, but I’m trying to give you all the best chance for success when you submit to an agent or publisher. Submission guidelines are, among many other things, a litmus test of your ability to follow directions, which will become increasingly vital as you move through the various editorial and production phases.
I wanted to address the note that accompanied this sample because it raises a crucial point: NOTE: In view of your submission requirements about “no sex”, I should mention this is a British comedy, and so the nudity on the first page is intended humorously. The disclaimer gives us some context, but the problem here is audience. I’m not offended by raunchy humor or occasional nudity, but that’s neither here nor there because I’m not really the target audience for this blog. Julie’s “clean” guidelines echo the preferences of her readership. An audience of clean readers will find the paragraph that begins “Too shocked to react...” jarring.
You don’t want to submit your piece to the wrong agent or publisher, so here’s a good rule of thumb: if you have to insert a disclaimer explaining why your piece doesn’t quite jive with the guidelines, you might not be submitting to the right person. Make sure that, if/when you submit this for publication, you submit to a publisher for whom the disclaimer would be unnecessary.
If you are looking to publish in a clean market, you might reconsider your approach to the nudity on this first page. In a national market, this scene would likely be an attention grabber, but in a niche market of clean readers, it might be offensive. Perhaps there’s a way to tone down the nudity so that the narrative doesn’t pause too long to gape at the “ample flesh” and “outraged buttocks.”
I do have a few important questions about the story itself. What exactly do Bill and Marigold need to do to enter the Freemasons? Why do they need to enter in the first place? Is the nudity/attempted seduction part of the ritual, or does Marigold spring that on him out of the blue? It seems as though they’ve gone to great pains to prepare the room for it, and then Bill suddenly chickens out moments before their boss enters the room. I’m not all that familiar with Freemasonry, so forgive me if I’ve missed something.
A brief word about semicolons: they’re not necessary in the list that begins “desks had been shoved against the walls...” Commas will suffice here because 1) the list isn’t made up of independent clauses, and 2) the list doesn’t contain compound items (i.e., individual items that contain commas or other punctuation). You might recast the passage to eliminate the list structure if the commas seem awkward.
It took me several paragraphs to get here, but here it is: I really do like this first page. Audience issues aside, it grabbed my attention. A sentence or two made me laugh. The author has a strong sense of setting and is able to paint a vivid scene for the reader without stopping too long to smell the discarded cigarette butts. As I mentioned above, the premise is still a little foggy to me; I’m not sure exactly why the two main characters end up naked. But I sure am curious to find out.