Several years ago I did a post over at Killer Hobbies called “Stomping out your story killers,” in which I discussed how the frequent repetition of small errors can kill your manuscript. As writers we tend to commit our own particular story killers, such as the overuse of certain words and constructions. Some of my most frequent offenders are are the overuse of dashes, and using italics for emphasis in dialogue. During rewrite, I do a global search for my story killers and winnow them down so that they they don’t occur as often.
Which brings me to today’s critique. I enjoyed today’s first page submission, but I do think it contains a couple of potential story killers that the writer may want to watch out for. My comments follow in the bullets.
MYSTERY OF THE HEART
What could be so urgent as to have his old friend send for him so soon after their recent visit?
Witt entered the palace and a world of opulence greeted him and a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. A wonderful place to visit, but not his kind of purposeful, long-term living. He much preferred the country.
A young page dressed in the red and gold finery of the Regent’s colors approached, a serious expression clouding his young features.
“Lord Witt.” The page bowed low. “The Regent awaits you. Follow me, please.”
Witt smiled. “Young Thomas, you are far too serious this evening. Why the frown? I enjoy the sound of your laughter much better than the stern look you wear.”
“You will know soon enough and you will understand.”
An edge of uneasiness rippled down his back as he followed the boy. He’d helped his old friend out of difficulties in the past, but those were around issues of war, but those days were past and he enjoyed his quiet life in the country now.
The page knocked on a heavy oak door and bowed out of the way as the door swung open. A dozen men occupied the room. All wore serious expressions.
“Who died?” he joked. But when the circle parted a man, pale and slack, lay across a chaise lounge, his face horribly disfigured.
“Charleton,” said the Regent, stepping from the circle: regal, robust and somber. “Murdered.”
“We are not entirely sure…that’s why I sent for you. When word gets out.”
“Tell me what happened.”
Templar came forward. “It appears his face was torn to pieces.”
I enjoyed this piece, especially the last line, “It appears his face was torn to pieces.” However, I got thrown as I encountered three instances of the word “serious” on the very first page, plus a similar word, “somber.” Every word on the first page needs to have a purpose for being there. It needs to push the narrative forward in some way. I would suggest that the writer trim down the use of “serious” to one instance. Rather than simply repeating the fact that people seem serious, find another way to heighten the tension on the first page.
The description of the palace was too nonspecific to draw me into the setting. I would suggest highlighting one outstanding thing about the palace–something that’s familiar to the narrator, but that underscores its opulence–to bring it to life.
Your thoughts? And while you’re at it, can you share some of your personal “story killers”?