This is probably one of the most glowing First Page Friday critiques I've ever seen from Ms. Shreditor. Congratulations to the author! And thank you to Ms. Shreditor for all her hard work on our behalf.
I hope you have a wonderful weekend. See you next week!
by Z.Z. Ali
I suppose I could let it kill me. I don’t think it would make a difference either way, whether it’s me or the lizard abomination in front of me that dies. Maybe it would be better, even, if I died. Then, at least, I wouldn’t have to deal with these sorts of decisions anymore.
But as the scaly humanoid form moves closer, unblinking eyes fixed on me in a dead yellow stare, I know I won’t let it. I’ve been through this same argument a hundred times, and a hundred times it’s ended the same way. Already, Jem is rising from his hiding place in the bushes, raising his crossbow, sighting down the bolt.
His blue eyes flash me a message. Keep it distracted, Col.
I know my part. I’ve done it so many times now that it’s sickeningly easy.
As the lizard thing scuttles forward, awkward angles of legs and arms—not quite human and not quite lizard—working in a bizarre symphony of movement, I catch its gaze with my own and hold it there, raising my hands ever so slightly. I’ve always been good at this, being the Lure, capturing an abomination’s attention with nothing but my eyes while the Hunter prepares a killing blow.
My charm works as expected and the abomination pauses, tilting its yellow-scaled head to the side, assessing. Its forked tongue flicks out to taste the air, clawed fingers digging into the ground.
I press my mind towards it, forcing thoughts of stasis and immobility through the air between us. It’s pure fancy, of course, but it helps me hold that stare, helps me keep it from striking with the lightning speed I know it’s capable of, so that Jem can have a chance to get a clean shot.
So we stand there, suspended in time, a beast and a boy who share more than they ought in ancestry, and perhaps even intelligence. And then there’s a snick! and a whistle and a bolt buries itself in the base of the thing’s skull, severing its spinal cord in a single shot. It doesn’t even have time to scream, which I’m grateful for, before it twitches and goes limp, dead.
I turn away, stomach roiling, as Jem steps out of the bushes, beaming, and retrieves the bolt.
Ms. Shreditor's Comments
My work here is done. Truly. I’ve read this first page several times, and I cannot imagine an agent or editor not pouncing on this manuscript. I try to avoid discussion of “natural talent” in my columns because it undermines what we’re trying to accomplish with First Page Friday. However, this author deserves to hear that he or she has some serious natural ability with the written word.
Manuscripts that an editor can kick back and enjoy with minimal intervention are few and far between. Let’s explore some of the things that make this first page so exemplary:
Right off the bat, the reader is drawn into the face-off between Col and the lizard-like creature. The suspense is at a high right out of the gate, and it continues as Jem and Col set up the creature for the kill.
Although suspense plays an important role on this first page, the author is skilled enough to work in some character development. We feel the closeness between Col and Jem right off the bat with just a simple look and unspoken message that passes between them. We can deduce from the text that this isn’t the first such confrontation that Col has faced, and his resignation and hopelessness permeate the narrative.
If you struggle with rhythm in your writing, read this sample out loud. Rhythm is a key component of good prose because it lulls the reader into a certain page-turning momentum. The keys are varied sentence length and strategically placed clauses.
In this particular instance, “fluency” refers to the author’s facility with language and syntax. The story manages to be vivid without any word count waste. There’s very little, if any, literary “fat” to cut here. There are also certain turns of phrase that an editor couldn’t coax out of many authors with ten rounds of edits, such as “a beast and a boy who share more than they ought in ancestry.” This level of narrative insight is difficult, if not impossible, to teach.
Honestly, I have read published books that aren’t as clean as this first page. My only complaint is that there a lot of participial verb phrases (e.g., “raising his crossbow,” “tilting its yellow-scaled head,” “clawed fingers digging into the ground,” etc.). The author might want to recast sentences here and there to eliminate a few of these, but I wouldn't go overboard. As I mentioned above, the writing flows really beautifully overall.
There’s really only one item of note for me to critique here: this first page did run a bit longer than one page when I plugged it into Word and formatted it per the guidelines. Please pay close attention to submission guidelines so that this manuscript lands on the right person's desk and gets the attention it deserves.