By Clare Langley-Hawthorne
Another first page critique and time to emphasize the importance of grabbing a reader from the very first sentence. Today’s first page illustrates this point nicely – for while the page is well-written, there isn’t enough of a hook to reel in this reader yet. The good news is that I can definitely hear a distinctive voice emerging, which is also critical. However, we need more action and suspense to capture our interest, and much of the information in this first page submission could wait for later and/or be introduced in a more dramatic fashion. Here is the submission – see if you agree…my more detailed critique follows:
It seemed like an average Thirsty Thursday at the Ohio State University. It was about ten o’clock, and I was finishing up enough homework to call it a night. My roommate had left already to spend the weekend at her boyfriend’s, so I sat alone in the main room of our dorm. My back was facing one of the two walls of cream-colored cinderblocks; the other two were made of burry plaster. The bedroom – a shoulder-width gap between a set of bunk beds and built-in shelving – was off to the left. At least we had our own bathroom.
I had left the door open, in case someone happened to notice the euchre tournament flyer I’d put up outside my room. I’m strong enough to admit that I was having a hard time fitting in with the alcoholic inhabitants of my building. Some people call those hang-ups; I blame and thank my detective father for having raised me to know that wasn’t the life I wanted.
I heard the guys from two doors down in the hallway on their way out to a party. I sat on my futon, waiting. I grabbed a mini-football and drew my hand back to my ear, watching for shadows as they approached. Patience, I told myself. Hairy knuckles swung in front of the doorway, and I was ready. Direct hit! I let out a chuckle at my newest manner of self-entertainment.
Burnt out on homework, I decided to switch to some paying work. I had a pretty good proofreading business going, and recently I had added Jordan Bale, Private Eye to my card. I say that I was a private investigator, but basically I took calls from worried parents and jealous girlfriends. Surprisingly, the latter was the more lucrative of my ventures, but I genuinely enjoyed mulling over grammar. Most mistakes were simple, the kind that simply required a fresh pair of eyes to notice, but there were some that made me question the education system.
I was proofing one of the latter when I heard someone timidly clear her throat behind me.
First off, there simply isn’t enough suspense in this first page. All we learn is that this college girl (I am assuming this since she has a female roommate – but interestingly, the voice, didn’t necessarily ring female to me), is anti-alcohol, has a detective father, and who earns extra money by proof reading and working as a PI – oh, and throwing a mini-football at her neanderthal classmates is her latest evening entertainment.
Doesn’t really sound like the start to a mystery or a thriller does it? Where is the suspense? A timid throat-clearing at the end doesn’t really qualify…
Second, I can’t say the proof reading PI is quite juicy enough to raise a huge level of interest in me. I think I would need hints of a more interesting back story to start to feel more revved up about the protagonist. Perhaps her mother died as a result of a drunk-driving accident – that would make me a little more intrigued. There just wasn’t enough in terms of interesting back story that made me want to keep reading. In fact in some ways the back story sounded too familiar – daughter of a cop drawn to being a PI etc. – which leads to the third point.
Which is…there is far too much back story and exposition. In this first page we have no real dramatic tension, action or dialogue, and I think we need some of this to hook a reader. So my recommendation is to start the story at a different point – perhaps with the girl who arrives at the end of the page. What does she need? I’m assuming she is not here for proof reading so having her announce some juicy case for the protagonist to get involved in, would be a better place to start.
So what do you all think? How can we help guide the author to finding that necessary hook to reel in the reader?
PS: my apologies but I will probably not be able to comment much as I will be on a plane across the Pacific taking my boys to visit Nan and Grandpa for Easter! My next blog post will be from sunny Tucson. Posted using BlogPress from my iPad