Friday, September 13, 2013

First Page Friday

Well, my friends, it is Friday and time for First Page Friday!  This author was critiqued by Heidi from Eschler Editing last month and made the suggested corrections before submitting to Ms. Shreditor for her take. Ms. Shreditor put in her longest critique today and I, for one, am applauding her for all she does in her attention to detail and in helping writers.  Thank you!

See you all next week.

The Entry
by Ellen Bahnsen

Jillian McConaghy and her supervisor, Raina Goldstein, walked toward the elevators the Friday evening before Raina’s long awaited, one-month vacation.

When they reached the elevator bank, Raina pushed the call button for down. She looked straight into Jillian’s eyes and asked, “Are you ready to take on Graham Parker by yourself Monday morning?”

Jillian hesitated, turned, and looked at the floor. “Yes, I am.”

Raina looked over her shoulder to assure no one else was around. “Remember what we discussed yesterday. Watch your back with Neal Bosch. Even though he is Graham’s brother – actually, half-brother – he is sneaky and a slacker. Graham doesn’t want him in his office. I really think Neal wants to get rid of Graham and take his CEO job. Do you understand the challenge of working with them every day?”

“I get it, Raina.” The elevator door pinged open. Jillian followed Raina onto the elevator.

A deep voice yelled in the distance, “Hold the elevator, Raina.” Jillian’s heart thumped in her chest. She knew that sexy voice belonged to the man she secretly loved.

Raina put her hand out to stop the elevator doors from closing as their boss jumped in. “Thanks, Raina.”

Graham put his arm around his lead secretary’s shoulder and presented his most adoring smile. “You know I’m going to miss you. Is it too late to change your mind?”

Graham feared working alone with Jillian for the next month. He needed Raina’s mothering demeanor to guard Jillian and to restrain him from his secret passion for Jillian. She was unlike any woman he ever met with her youthful beauty and innocence.

“Not this time, Graham. My vacation is long overdue.”

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

This week’s first page is a resubmit from last month. Heidi wrote a comprehensive critique that addressed key problems and provided some great solutions. What we see this week are the fruits of that amazing feedback.

The first thing I noticed: this week’s sample was a more appropriate length given Julie’s submission guidelines. Last week’s first page weighed in at 389 words and ran nearly two double-spaced pages. This week’s sample is much more in keeping with the First Page Friday guidelines, and I cannot stress enough how important those guidelines are to follow in the publishing world.

Another key change: The author has followed Heidi’s advice and dialed down the information dumping on this page. No longer are there endless names and complex relationships flying at the reader in rapid succession. Instead, the author introduces us to just a few characters at a time, making the information much more manageable for the reader.

In this week’s version, I think that the first sentence needs to do more. It sets the scene and introduces Jillian and Raina, but there’s no dramatic impact here to hook the reader. I actually liked that last week’s version opened with a meaty piece of dialogue that established immediate conflict. This first sentence doesn’t tell us much about the story about to unfold beyond a passing mention of Raina’s upcoming vacation.

Point of View

My problem with the first few paragraphs is that it’s unclear whose story/point of view this is. We don’t really get inside anyone’s head until Jillian’s heart thumps and she reveals that she’s secretly in love with Graham. That’s more than halfway down the page, so the reader spends the first few paragraphs trying to figure out whose story this is. Just when we’ve figured it out, the story head-hops to Graham without a change of chapter or scene. It is so important to keep perspective consistent within a scene or chapter; the reader must be clear at all times who is narrating.


You also want to make sure that your dialogue flows naturally. Read it out loud to yourself and ask yourself if this is how you and your friends would talk. When Raina discusses Neal with Jillian, it feels more like an information dump disguised as dialogue. Unless Jillian is a brand-new employee, which she certainly wasn’t in the original first page, she would already know a lot of the basic information Jillian shares—e.g., Neal’s last name, that he and Graham are half brothers, that he is a sneaky slacker, etc. You might try recasting like this: “Remember, watch your back with Neal. I really think he wants Graham’s CEO job. Can you handle being in the middle?” Of course, a writer strikes a fine balance between dumping too much information or providing not enough. What I’ve tried to do with my edit is make the dialogue sound like something someone would actually say out loud in conversation.


I think that this first page is on the right track. It has zeroed in on a smaller set of characters, but we still need to understand these people better. Jillian meekly stares at the floor and listens to Raina as she speaks. She’s a very passive participant in her own scene, and just when we get a pulse (literally), the perspective shifts abruptly to Graham.

We do get inside Graham’s head a little, but we need more. The story tells us that he is in love with Jillian and offers up the perfunctory explanation that she’s innocent and beautiful, but there has to be a deeper connection here to hook the discerning romance reader—a friendship, private jokes, shared pain or workplace stress. He has to love more about her than just her appearance. Moreover, we get some
troubling cues from the text about him that I suspect were inadvertent. He slings his arm casually around Raina in the elevator, behavior that violates employee conduct rules in most workplaces, particularly given that he’s Rain’s supervisor and in a position of power. What’s more, he implies that if it weren’t for Raina, he’d have trouble controlling himself around Jillian. I think you want to be careful not to let Graham’s workplace interactions cross the line into inappropriateness.

Overall Impression

The author has put in a lot of hard work to create a first page that only resembles the original in the barest of ways. We’re getting to know key characters a little better, and we’re getting to the meat of the story—the blossoming romance between Graham and Jillian—right off the bat. You just want to make sure to hook the reader from the beginning with an attention-demanding opening sentence and present your characters in the third dimension from the outset. Keep up the good work, because you’re definitely on the right track.

1 comment:

Ellen Bahnsen said...

Thank you for your insights and suggestions. I shall carry on!...Ellen