First-page Critique: LAND SHARKS

1sharknado-attackHappy Thursday, gang! Today we have a first page submission for discussion. I love the title, LAND SHARKS, mainly because I get to post a picture of Sharknado. After my comments about this page, please add yours!

 

LAND SHARKS

Beverly Hills – the home of beautiful clothes, beautiful cars, and beautiful people. Where the perfumed smell of money floats in the air. And like blood in the water, it attracts sharks.

Not the ones with fins, but those that walk on two legs and camouflage themselves in human clothing.

I’ve been lucky. I’ve never run into a real two-legged, great white face-to-face. I hope I never will.

At the moment, I’m eating at a trendy Asian Fusion restaurant a block away from Rodeo Drive. My spicy shrimp dumplings and miso soup are excellent. I like the soup so much, I’m even wearing it dribbled down the front of my best white blouse. Not an unusual occurrence for me. It would be nice if bibs were fashionable for women to wear at meals other than lobster. I’d save a lot on my dry cleaning bill if it were.

Sadly, even in this nice restaurant there’s a nasty fish, and I don’t mean on the menu. I’d classify him as a piranha. A piranha is a shark wanna-be, and I do run into a lot of those.

***

My notes:

After that fun title, I was ready to like this first page. I love snarky, self-deprecating humor in  a narrator’s voice, and this page the has potential to be sharp and funny. But snarky humor is hard to pull off effectively, as this page demonstrates.

First line

I think the opening line could be a bit fresher. Using “beautiful” three times in a row has a quality of sameness to it. I think “beautiful people” could be replaced with something something more unexpected, something that conveys something humorous about the story we’re about to encounter. Keep the alliteration, but play around with the images you’re conveying. I would keep the first instance of “beautiful,” perhaps, but then go for something stronger and sharper from there.

Second and third paragraphs

“Not the ones with fins, but those that walk on two legs and camouflage themselves in human clothing.”

I think this paragraph, and the one that follows it, begin to strain the shark metaphor. Why don’t you just replace them both by adding “The two-legged kind” or something similarly brief at the end of the first paragraph? Then move on.

Fourth paragraph

We learn a lot about this woman’s messy eating habits, probably more than we want to know at this point. By now, we should be getting a sense of the character’s situation, not simply what she’s eating.

Fifth paragraph

This paragraph does a bit of wheel spinning, and again, it strains the shark/piranha image. Rather than saying a nasty fish exists in the restaurant, let us see your character encountering the fish. Something like, “I looked up from my noodles just in time to catch a flash of teeth. It was “(name). Of all the sharks prowling the waters of Beverly Hills, (name) was the nastiest fish.”

Tense

I used past tense, because I think present tense is very difficult to pull off in an adult story.

Overall

This could be a really fun story. Who doesn’t love to mock rich people in Beverly Hills? I like its potential, but t have a feeling that this page is simply a warm-up to the next page, As it stands, the story probably really begins on page two. I would condense most of this page and get right into the story.

Thank you to the writer for submitting this first page!

What do you think of LAND SHARKS, TKZ’ers?

6+

35 thoughts on “First-page Critique: LAND SHARKS

  1. I liked this opening, though I would agree with Kathryn that we could talk about some tightening and changes. I actually bonded with the character when she mentioned wearing the soup. It makes her vulnerable, and that works for me. I also liked “A pirahna is a shark wanna-be.” There’s a nice voice developing here.

    As Kathryn mentions, there may be too much set-up. In cases where a writer does have a good, attractive voice, the main thing to watch out for is showing off the voice outside of the action. Blend them. Thus, I’d cut the first three paragraphs and start with “At the moment…”

    Then I’d definitely want to read on to page 2.

  2. This worked for me as is. I like the author’s voice. It’s fresh and funny in a snarky way. I’m curious as to why she’s in the restaurant and who the guy is that she’s watching. Hopefully we’ll move into some action next but it’s hooked me so far.

    • Thank you for adding your vote, Nancy! The writer should be happy to hear that I’m in the minority in thinking this needs to be sharpened, while keeping the voice.

      • Also I try to consider, not just whether I would keep reading, but whether a piece is ready for commercial publication. That bar is set pretty high. I think writers need to be aware of areas that need improvement.

  3. I agree with Mr. Bell about where to start. The first 3 paragraphs feel a bit gratuitous to me and then jumping into paragraph 4 I was like, “Okay, here we go now.”

    I also agree with Kathryn about straining on the fish/shark metaphor. If you cut the first 3 paragraphs, you would still maintain that metaphor in the very strong sentence you provide in paragraph 4, “Sadly, even in this nice restaurant there’s a nasty fish, and I don’t mean on the menu.” No mention of the word shark is needed as it’s been around a pretty long time and that picture of Jackie Gleason with slicked back hair jumps to mind.

    I am also a fan of the voice here and the tone of this story is fun. I would continue to read it. 🙂

  4. I’m with Jim on the sloppy eating (she said, with a coffee stain on her blouse). Narrators who mock others, but also make fun of themselves are automatically likeable to me b/c it shows they have a sense of humor and aren’t arrogant.

    I agree with the suggested condensing, but even as is, I would continue reading b/c I’d like to spend more time with this character.

  5. I found this to have a strong voice, too. I latched onto the character because of it, and forgave the author for some of the points already mentioned. Individual writing voice is so hard to find, both for the writer and reader. This sample just needs some minor ironing out. Thanks to the brave author for submitting it to TKZ meat grinder.

      • Kathryn, I agree wholeheartedly with all of your suggestions. I felt the opening as-is has too much lead-up and belabored the shark thing. And I’d like to see an immediate visual of the land-shark.

        • Thanks Jodie! Glad to get some backup from our professional editor! This page and story has so much potential, I’d love for the writer to make it really compelling by making some craft adjustments.

  6. I have to pretty much echo what the others have said.
    Engaging voice that makes me want to read further.
    What’s not to love/hate about the setting?

    The opening graph is sort of just…there. “Beautiful” (and “handsome”) is a useless, non-specific, devalued word in our world of hyperbole where everything is “great.” Find the telling details of your setting and make your OWN descriptions filtered through the prism of your engaging protag’s POV.

    And this may be just my taste, I really don’t like present tense. It feels artificial and show-offy. Although I’m not sure it’s even a true present tense because the third graph sounds past: “I’ve been lucky…” Then it sort of jumps back into present with “I’m sitting…”

    I wish the writer had included a little more in her/his submission. Hard to really be constructive with such a short sample. But it’s a good start!

    • Phew, we’re on the same page, thanks, Kris! These issues can all be easily fixed, but it’s important that the writer knows she needs to fix them. An agent would never take the time to explain why a query was rejected.

    • Kris, I had included some suggestions for replacing the “beautiful” bits, but it got censored by the Internet gatekeepers. Happens to me a lot, given my peculiar sense of humor!

  7. In my opinion the other has an engaging voice, but needs some editing. The first line is tossed away on a stereotypical descriptive opinion of Beverly Hills that we’ve all seen before. If the author didn’t have such an engaging voice the next couple of paragraphs would fall flat; they just seem to be about pushing the shark idea for the sake of cleverness. I’d kill those darlings. It’s clear that the story starts after the narrator sees the “piranha”. IMO the author could condense this opening down by, say, starting with the narrator eating (it’s an action), making snarky comments, and seeing the piranha all in the first paragraph. I do think that with this distinct voice the author, with some condensing (but not condensation), could rework this opening in such a manner that the reader would know the MC, the piranha, and where the story is going within a couple of paragraphs. The potential is certainly there.

    • Yes, great potential! That’s why I want the writer to push hard to get the writing to the next level. ⭐️

  8. Sorry I’m late to the party. I kind of like the story, but those first couple of grafs are “ho hum. We’ve been here before.” Too much place setting. The story begins with the character in the restaurant. Don’t set the scene. Set the character IN the scene. Two birds with one stone, so to speak. And the whole shark metaphor isn’t bad, but there’s too much pounding the reader over the headf with it. Stop talking about sharks, and just show them, trusting the reader to get it.
    But that’s just me.

  9. My only two cents, if not nonsense, is the questiom: Wasn’t “landshark” a Saturday Night Live character? (Am I showing mybage?)
    🙂
    Just Curious- George

    • It definitely was, Curious George, which made me laugh just by reading the title! Thanks for stopping in!

  10. I loved the voice of the writer, but it was so helpful to see the writing, and then the critique together. Learned a lot!

    • Thanks, Susan! And a big thank you to the writers who submit a first page. It’s hard to have one’s work reviewed in public, even anonymously. The bloggers here have in the past submitted first pages and reviewed each other, not knowing who wrote the piece. We got jailed over the coals just like everyone else! That’s the fun part of being a working writer–we’re always growing and improving, we’re never “done.” Thanks for learning with us!

  11. i agree with the comments above, and had this thought as well:

    This feels like the first lines of Chapter TWO. Like we’re taking a brief expositional/scene-setting breather after a chapter that launched immediately into the conflict of the story. (Something like: “I want you to find …” or “Five years. That’s the best deal your client’s going to get.”) I want to like this glib, breezy character through her actions and dialogue, not through passive, distance, freeze-frame narration.

    • Good point, Jim. And even breezy narration needs to set up the situation and conflict that is about to take place. The paragraph about eating the soup, for example, could be tweaked to set up the impending conflict. Why is she there at that particular time? By the time I read that paragraph, I really wanted to know something more about this character, such as what she does for a living.

  12. I like the emerging voice, but tightening the writing would make it pop more. As a reader, I’d give this another 400 words, but if I didn’t get a sense of what the actual story is about, I’d stop reading.

    As an agent or acquisitions editor, however, I’d give it a pass for the reasons mentioned by Kathryn. I suspect that agents and publishers don’t give a debut author much more than a few paragraphs. Established authors get more slack.

    This is say as I say, not as I do, however. I may have similar problems in the opening of my own WIP.

    • They really don’t, you’re right, Sheryl. And with all the changes going on in the publishing world, they’re being pickier than ever about investing in new books. The writing really has to be fresh and spot on. Thanks for commenting!

  13. I, too, was attracted by the voice, but it took until the paragraph in the restaurant to grab me. The opening lines, I thought, bordered on cliche because they have been used so often before in other works. The author shows the potential for this story when the character reveals self-awareness and humour about one of her flaws during her meal. I loved the line “Piranhas are wanna-be sharks.”
    I would read more!

    • Cliche is death, especially in the opening lines, I agree, Julie! And it’s a hard line to walk in chick lit fiction especially (which I’m assuming this is), because chick lit spoofs and skewers cliches of society for humorous effect. It’s very easy to stumble into writing actual cliche, however.

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