This First Page Thing Of Ours

By John Ramsey Miller

Here’s the first page of an anonymous author’s submission entitled, JOBE’S PRIDE. The first question is: Would you read more if this went beyond the first page? How do you think it could be made better?

Chapter 1: Dumpster Diving

Wed., April 21, 2:39 a.m.

They had conducted rescue missions in seedier areas. Ellie was sure of it. She just couldn’t place any of them at the moment.

The GPS in her aging minivan confirmed this as the address she’d received. This was it: this dumpster-lined alleyway in a part of L.A. that had never been trendy.

Ellie jumped down from one trash container and climbed to the rim of another. Across the alley, she could just make out Zoe’s slim, black-clad form raking through the debris from a construction site.

What if they were too late? Ellie’s instructions had been frighteningly specific: be at 2675 East Winston Rd. between 2 and 2:15 Wednesday morning. But traffic on the 5 had been worse than she’d expected and they had arrived late.

She nearly fell in the dumpster when an engine roared to life on a nearby street. Everything about this rescue made her jumpy. She reached her rake into the garbage. If she had her way, they’d just go home and forget this ever happened. But she couldn’t. And that disturbed her most of all. She reached and raked. Reached and—

She almost missed the foot when she uncovered it, but the small lamp on her headband brought it into relief against the chicken carcasses and other restaurant refuse. It wasn’t a dog. Or a lion. It was human. What had she gotten them into?

Her heart stopped long enough to hurt, then began pounding with fervor to make up for lost time. She must have yelled out, though she didn’t remember doing so. Then she plunged into the dumpster and began pawing through the slop in a frenzy to uncover the owner of the foot.

Okay, I think this opening is very well done. I know where I am, I’m there with Ellie and her (animal-rescue) partner, Zoe, and that she was expecting to find an animal in distress, not a human being in the garbage. The first thing that I stumbled on was the line about the GPS puts me in the van, but right after that I realize she’s already been through one dumpster, and is headed for another. I’d solve that by adding “had” in front of “confirmed.” The other point (and I’m being picky because there’s so little here to criticize) is that Ellie should almost fall “into” the dumpster, not “in” it. I might also add an exclamation mark after “It was human.” And instead of, “What had she gotten them into?” , I would go with something more along the lines of “What had she stumbled into?” How can she know this is even what the caller had sent them to rescue. There could still be a starving cat pinned under the human, or a lion in another container. And I’d go with “the message had said, ‘Be at 2675 East Winston one hour.’ ” The way it is written, the message might have come in hours or days before she went there.

Problems require light editing. I have to say, I’d keep right on reading. I can’t tell if this is the opening of a thriller, mystery, supernatural, horror, or a cozy, since it would work with any of those genres. I say, “Good job on Jobe.” Jump right in, guys n’ gals.


8 thoughts on “This First Page Thing Of Ours

  1. The writing is good, and it involved me … at least until I thought, “someone told them to rescue something from a dumpster at precisely 2 a.m.?” That just seems like a setup for finding a dead body. I need one more detail to make it a rational purpose before I’ll buy it. Also, I live in LA, and I don’t think there’s actually any traffic on the 5 at 2 a.m. to get stuck in. Any other time? Sure. But 2 a.m. is about the only time you can be pretty sure it’ll be clear. Now, construction that closed the 5 and sent them on a detour, I’d believe.

  2. I agree with Miller and Tammy. This is a good start. Just needs a little house cleaning. One suggestion would be to avoid exact addresses. But I would definitely keep reading.

  3. No traffic at 2:00 AM? Late night construction is good, or maybe the “old” minivan had to be jumped off. I agree on the exact address as it’s unnecessary and someone who lives near there and reads the book might get a complex.

  4. I would keep reading too! Well done overall. A few suggestions:

    Instead of “rescue missions” in the first paragraph, I’d say “animal rescues” or “they’d rescued animals in seedier places” to establish right up front that they’re expecting to turn up an animal.

    In the second paragraph, there are too many instances of the word “this.”

    At 2 a.m., they’re always messing with the LA freeways for construction. That would work instead of traffic.

    The reference to a lion’s foot was distracting.

    Overall, job well done!

  5. As always, I like some sort of “character motion” at the top. My suggestion: just make paragraph 3 the first paragraph and move everything else down a notch. Doesn’t that read better? What happens is that, instead of giving us the set up first, we have this unique situation: A woman jumping around on trash containers, with a partner. I want to know why.

    The explanation would come next, but what’s happening in the first paragraph is now an air of a) mystery and b) uniqueness. Those are very nice things for readers to experience right off the bat, and this “feeling” will stay with them as they continue to read this first page.

    One minor item: The line What had she gotten them into? This is a “tell” of the emotion of the moment, but it seems tepid for having just found a human body. The more striking “show” of her heart stopping, then pounding again is better. Don’t dilute that with a rather plain thought. Let the reader experience the moment.

    One way to do that is to offset the image into a single paragraph. Thus, on the page, it would look like this:

    She almost missed the foot when she uncovered it, but the small lamp on her headband brought it into relief against the chicken carcasses and other restaurant refuse. It wasn’t a dog. Or a lion.

    It was human.

    Her heart stopped long enough to hurt, then began pounding with fervor to make up for lost time….

  6. Would I keep reading? Probably, but mainly because I’m having trouble making sense of it. This first page has issues. It isn’t clear what they are looking for. The second to last paragraph seems to indicate that it’s a dog or a lion, but the early hour (or late hour, depending on how you see it) seems to indicate that this is something far more important and yet it surprises her to find a human. That was my first assumption about what she was looking for. It is very odd to find chicken carcasses in a construction site dumpster. I suppose we could say that they’re building something next to a KFC or something, so that isn’t that big of a deal, but it isn’t obvious. I’ve never been on the streets of LA at 2:39 a.m., but I’ve been on the streets of several other major cities at that time and there’s plenty of wide open spaces. I also have a hard time believing that someone starting a car on a nearby street would startle a person looking in a dumpster enough to make her nearly fall. There’s a lot of stuff here that just doesn’t add up.

    How would I fix it? First, I would come up with a legitimate reason for this person to be in that ally at 2:39 a.m. I wouldn’t necessarily tell the reader what that reason is. I would get rid of the stuff about between 2 and 2:15 and being late. That’s all backstory. I would focus more on why she is scared by giving detailed descriptions of the shadows on the wall, the unexpected movement of the trash in the dumpster, the scantily clad women talking to there pimp at the end of the ally, the stray cat that jumps out of the dumpster and runs down the ally or the rats that were eating but scurried away. A nice big black snake curled up next to the dumpster might make it interesting as well. The threat needs to be closer and more threatening.

  7. Thanks, everyone, for your comments! “Jobe’s Pride” is a darkly comic thriller that I wrote for the 3-Day Novel contest in 2009 and am revisiting to see if it’s worth the editing it will take to make it into a full-fledged book.

    The comments were quite helpful. I also appreciate the fact that more than one other person would keep reading. I shall now get to serious re-writing work and edit the rest of the book.

    Cheers! And humble thanks again for those who took the time to weigh in.

    Ami Hendrickson

  8. It’s not bad. I question whether I would continue reading though. For me, there’s simply too much internal dialogue. I would like a little more action and movement. The paragraphs also seem a little disjointed to me too but it’s nothing the inclusion of a few transitional phrases couldn’t fix.

    I’d definitely cut down on all the exacting details. Readers are not Borg. We don’t usually care for too many details like showing up between 2 and 2:15 am. I mean it’s strange to specify a window of time for a body to be found. Something like “at 2 am” will work and is cleaner.

    The opening “Wed., April 21, 2:39 a.m.” is also a bit overly detailed. Unless it matters, I’d lose the day of the week. The author might also want to clean up all those periods with something like, “Wednesday, April 21, 2:39 AM” It’s a small thing, but using the shortened form of the word does cause my mind to pause momentarily for interpretation. Wed => Wednesday and a.m. => AM solves this and makes the reading flow better. Plus, using all capitals is a more modern way to write initials. Using lowercase letters separated by periods is an older style and can date the writing or the writer. And spell out Winston Road.

    Oh, I really did like the heart-stopping sentence at the end. Good stuff.

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