By Jordan Dane
My post series on self-publishing (post #2) will continue after this first-page critique. You know the drill. My comments on the flip side.
“Get out of here, little girl,” the voice on the phone said.
Looks like Casey is in real trouble. And they’ve got GUNS! (Sorry mystery author, but I had to clear the italics. Blogger went weird on me.) Overall, there is a lot to like about this intro. I get a sense of action and Casey’s POV is fun to read. I’m intrigued enough to turn the page, for sure, but there are improvements that could be made to tighten the opener.
Casey crouched behind the concrete block retaining wall and peered around the corner. Bright light shown from an industrial overhead light, illuminating the parking lot in back of the old computer parts shop.
This opening line didn’t do anything for me. The only thing of value here is the name Casey being introduced and a quick reference to the setting being a parking lot behind a parts shop. The author clearly is trying to establish that Casey can see what’s going on (their guns) because of the overhead light. I’m also not sure why a last name for the character is not given. If we are in the head of the character, they would not refer to themselves in the 3rd person, but at the start of a book, this is the one area you can mention the name and readers expect it. Sure, the name could be introduced in conversation, but why not mention it in the intro. The details mentioned in the first two lines might work better if they were included in tightened paragraph 2, such as:
Possible rewrite – Casey crouched in the dark watching five men dressed in black. They were loading long unmarked boxes into the back of a van parked behind an old computer parts shop. Three of them had guns. Guns. From behind a retaining wall, she squinted into the wash of the flood light they worked under, but couldn’t make out the van’s plate.
At the start of the next paragraph, there is an example of passive voice.
Passive-She was going to have to get closer.
Stronger-She had to get closer.
A job was a job, right? Brian had assured her it was a good one. Yeah, like he was at the top of her ’T for Trustworthy’ list. But he had said it paid well. In cash.
Although this is in Casey’s voice, it took me out of the action a bit, even though these lines are short. These lines made me wonder why she would do this job if she didn’t trust Brian. This reflects on her smarts too.
The author might have considered having Casey creep closer, out of her safety zone of the retaining wall and her bike, before she gets that creepy phone call from someone watching HER. Having said that, I would suggest that these lines be shortened to (if they apply): Brian promised her cash for the job, but how far could she trust another thief?
Still, guns. She blew out a breath. But cash. She nodded to herself. Get closer, check it out, then leave — fast — if… Yeah, if.
These lines are redundant (the guns and the cash) and don’t add anything. They TELL the reader what she wants to do, rather than SHOW them. The debate in her head reads a little choppy and is harder to follow. For me, it detracted from the action. I would rather SEE her getting closer with a build-up of tension before her cell vibrates.
The shadows were ink black from the light, but sparse. She glanced at her Kawasaki leaning a few feet away. Not exactly a stealth cycle. On foot, then. She shifted her weight, ready to dart behind a huge SUV three rows over. They won’t see you. The light’s too bright. Stay low. No noise. She swallowed, hard. They won’t see you.
The first line caused me to read it over. Shadows can’t be ink black with a light shining on them. I understand what the author meant, but this description made me reread it. Perhaps something like – Beyond the light, shadows were inky black.
This paragraph starts out with the shadows and how they won’t see her, but the Kawasaki lines interrupt this idea that is picked up at the end again. Casey’s thought process is out of sequence and leaps around as a result. How important is it to mention that she rode in on a Kawasaki (other than the chuckle factor)? Can that aspect wait until her getaway?
The Kawasaki made me chuckle and wonder what she was thinking. If she’s casing a place or doing anything in stealth, why ride in on a loud Kawasaki? And why even consider getting closer using her bike? (I’m guessing here, but is there a reason that the huge SUV is mentioned, like perhaps that a cop is on a stake out in that SUV and is the guy calling her at the end?)
Her hip vibrated.
This description pulled me out. Surely there is a better way to describe this. Her hip isn’t doing the vibrating. Her cell is.
She fell back, landing on her butt, scrabbling in the gravel to make sure she was out of sight behind the wall.
This sentence could be sharper. Something like – After landing on her butt, she scrambled and dove for cover.
She grabbed the phone and flipped it open. “What the fuck have you gotten me into, you slimy piece of shit?” she hissed in a harsh whisper. “They have guns, Brian. Guns.”
Using the F bomb on the first page has been mentioned before on TKZ as something to avoid. Although it doesn’t bother me, I do appreciate that other readers could be unnecessarily offended and this could detract from book sales and reviews. Something to consider.
I do love the fact that Casey gets a mysterious call from someone watching her at the end of this intro. Definitely makes the reader wonder what’s going on. I’d turn the page. How about you?
It takes a lot of guts to submit your work for critique. Kudos to the author. Having your work under a microscope on a blog for feedback, it is easy to comment on each line. I hope the suggestions made today strengthen your work. I always learn from these critique sessions. Thanks for your submission.