Let’s do another first-page critique. This one is the prologue from a manuscript submitted anonymously called THE EDGE:
Emma is five years old in the nightmare.
She’s huddled in the V-berth of the sailboat she’s called home her whole life. She wonders what’s gone wrong. When her mommy tucked her into bed the ocean had been calm, the moon was a beacon of light. Now her little home is lurching and rolling on an angry sea. The sails crack like whips as the wind shrieks. The night is a black monster that wants to swallow her.
She hears her mommy rush up on deck and scream. She’s screaming for Emma’s daddy. “Ivan. Where are you? Ivan?” Why doesn’t he answer? The boat’s so small, there’s no place to hide. When Emma plays hide and seek, she always knows her mommy will find her. Where is daddy hiding?
Then everything in Emma’s dream goes silent, like a movie with the sound turned off. She sees huge waves crash over the cabin windows. She watches her mommy’s feet appear, first on one side of the boat, then the other. Fast. Her mommy is so fast.
Hold on tight, Mommy. Emma wants to call out but no words come. She feels sick. The boat plunges and bucks. She vomits in her bed. The smell makes her sick and she vomits again.
Emma wants her mommy to come back inside and comfort her. Her body bumps and thumps against the walls of the berth as if she’s a ragdoll. She clutches her bear and closes her eyes as the boat does a slow tumble over on its side.
This is a tough call. As we’ve discussed here before, prologues can work for you and against you. In this case, we’re starting with someone named Emma having a dream. Unfortunately, this first page tells me absolutely nothing about Emma and the book. All I know is she has bad dreams. The first question that comes to mind is: who cares?
I know it sounds crass, but it’s a legitimate question. Having read just this much, I have to ask, would the reader care? Would the agent or editor? Would anyone care enough to read on? There’s no grab or hook. Nothing happens. The dream is probably something that could be utilized later in the story since I’m sure there’s a reason for it and for the mommy-daddy-boat-on-troubled-waters thing. But as it stands, this might be a turn-off for an agent unless it was preceded by the greatest query letter and synopsis in the history of literature. My advice: ditch the prologue and get on with the story.
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