First Page Critique – Already Dead

Here’s this month’s Thursday First Page Critique. My comments follow.

Already dead

 Aguascalientes, Mexico

     Leo wasn’t dead yet, so that’s a good thing … he thought. One never ever knows how these meetings will end up. Sometimes they finish nice and easy, some information passed around, possible issues are brought up and dealt with or maybe some questions need to be answered. A nice meal usually followed, some alcohol, if you are lucky maybe even some hookers. Then again, sometimes they ended with a loud BANG! and that was it. When you were summoned by the “higher ups” coming out alive was never a guarantee. The fact they were meeting in a public place did nothing to calm his nerves. In this business, you could get clipped in your own front yard with your all your neighbors, your mother a group of mariachi and even fucking mother Teresa watching and the only thing that mattered was someone got a job done. He was escorted to the banquet area of the restaurant by a young, pretty hostess. Walking in, he was a bit uneasy, he didn’t even notice how beautiful she was or how perfect her ass looked in her black slacks. What he did notice was the five bodyguards scattered throughout the room.

“Enjoy your meal/ Provecho” she said with a sly sexy smile, she motioned for him to advance forward to the farthest table in the large room. Leo smiled back and walked up to the table and exhaled. The three older gentleman seated at the table did not bother to formally stand up. They greeted and acknowledged Leo, smiled and offered him the only seat to join them. Everything is always business with these types.

My Comments

Although I do think there could be an interesting snarky, wise guy ‘voice’ to this first page, it is submerged beneath extraneous information and stylistic choices that slow the pace and detract from the story. Overall, I wanted to see more action and tension in this first page – to have questions (and stakes) raised and to be exposed to the unique voice of Leo and his POV.

Here are my specific concerns:

  1. POV confusion: We have a lot of pronouns going on in this first page. First we have ‘Leo’ then we have ‘he’, ‘one’ and ‘you’ and then back to ‘he’. This wouldn’t ordinarily pose too much of an issue but in this piece it feels strained, like we aren’t too sure about the POV the writer intends to use. The first line “Leo wasn’t dead yet, so that’s a good thing … he thought.” makes it sound like the narrator is someone other than Leo (otherwise why not say ‘I’?) Then we switch to the more detached use of ‘one’ and ‘you’ then return to the pronoun ‘he’ – although by now we aren’t totally sure who ‘he’ is…I assume it is Leo since Leo is the character referenced in the last paragraph. As a reader, however, I shouldn’t have to puzzle at all. From the get go it should be clear who is speaking and the POV should keep me engaged (to be honest the use of ‘one’ and ‘you’ created a distance for me from the narrative voice). Also, if the writer is using Leo’s point of view than Leo cannot say: “he didn’t even notice how beautiful she was or how perfect her ass looked in her black slacks” because, as the narrator, he obviously did…
  2. Generic information/sentences: It is crucial that the first page intrigues a reader – it should raise questions and tension that means a reader can’t wait to turn the page and keep reading. That’s why sentences like: “One never ever knows how these meetings will end up. Sometimes they finish nice and easy, some information passed around, possible issues are brought up and dealt with or maybe some questions need to be answered” are flat and dull. There’s no real information being imparted  that is specific to the situation. This sentence could be used for almost any meeting…but what the reader wants is specifics – details that ground the story and which add texture and sensory detail that is gripping as well as believable. Once we get to the statement that people get gunned down in their front yards we’re starting to approach the detail we need, but, it is still too generic and stereotypical.
  3. Lack of Tension: I really wanted to be worried for the protagonist’s safety in this first page and to feel that there was a very real threat of him being bumped off. Yet in this first page we never get the level of tension needed for a reader to believe that this is a drug meeting that could easily go horribly wrong. The fact that we had the beautiful sexy girl beckoning Leo to the table also seems too much like a stereotype. I wanted to see more specific details that made me believe this scenario.
  4. Telling but not showing: This directly leads on from the last comment. I wanted to see more action in this first page but instead, although I was told a lot of information about the dangers (as well as the banality) of these meetings – I never really saw or experienced it on the page.

So what about you? What comments or feedback would you give for today’s submission?

17 thoughts on “First Page Critique – Already Dead

  1. If I may, there are a few awkwardly constructed sentences:
    The line immediately after the one mentioned above: “A meal usually followed, some alcohol…”
    And at the end, with the three seated older gentlemen who “…did not bother to formally stand up. They greeted and acknowledged Leo, smiled and offered him the only seat to join them.” (If they’re seated, what are they sitting on if theyre offering Leo the only seat?)

    I believe in both instances the sentences can be combined and smoothed out and made to flow.

    Also, as is so often advised here at TKZ, there are adverbs that could (should?) Be cut ~ Again, the last example has the dreaded adverbial redundancy ~ “formally stand” – standing in this case would’ve been formal.

    The three older gentleman seated at the table did not bother to stand, but the smaller one acknowledged Leo with a smile and offered him the one remaining seat.
    “Join us?”
    It may have sounded like a question, but Leo knew there was only only one response to the command.

    Of course, I’m a perpetrator of these same things myself (and may have just proven it above)… But thanks for allowing me to submit my pair o ‘pennies.


  2. I’m seeing my own weakness – there are three smiles in the last paragraph. As a writer, I see this as a greeting/politeness we don’t want our characters to miss or be rude, but would this high level table of guys be polite? I can see the hostess being in on an unspoken joke and smiling, but is Leo too scared to smile? Especially if he doesn’t know he’ll be alive at the end of the meeting?

  3. I agree with Lynn: too many smiles in what should’ve been a nerve-wracking moment.

    Also, it should be “three older gentlemEn” (plural) (I’m just a stickler for these kinds of things).

    I think the writer could’ve made more of exactly where Leo was and why he was there and less of the abstractions that seemed to take center stage. I sensed danger, of course, but it could’ve been ratcheted up considerably. Instead, the writer chose to look away and “tell” us about incidental stuff.

  4. Even though there’s PoV confusion and maybe some tense confusion, I was hooked by the first line. I heard a “Whew! But… not over yet.”

  5. I’d advise: Stop framing everything in narrative and just let it play out in-scene. This feels like one of the freeze-frames in GOODFELLAS — if Ray Liotta’s voiceover went on for five minutes. We just want to see the movie, you know?

  6. I agree that parts of the opening feel generic. And dare I say…unnecessary? Maybe beginning at the end of the first paragraph, where Leo is actually doing something, might help draw readers into the scene? Example:

    If the hostess leading him to the restaurant’s banquet room had a nice ass, Leo didn’t notice. But he sure as hell noticed the five bodyguards scattered throughout the place. And the semi-automatic rifles slung over their shoulders. But he wasn’t dead yet, so that’s a good thing.

    Or something along those lines, as long as we’re getting straight into the action.

  7. Thank you all for the feedback ! its appreciated and please keep it coming!
    it is my first attempt at a novel and its based on actual events . “Leo” was really a Captain in the Mexican Sinaloa Drug Cartel. I believe I have an interesting story to tell. I’m retiring soon after 23 years in Federal law enforcement and I realize my writing is limited after years of writing reports with just a narrative of facts, I am reading a lot on the subject of writing a novel correctly and all of the input is valued, Thank you! Hope you enjoy the book when its completed!

  8. In addition to the “Who’s on first” issues, I kept wanting to be inside that room, feeling the heat. So what does this guy feel going into that room? We assume he’s gonna wimp-out right off. But wait, maybe not. Could be he’s gonna strut in there like he owns the joint. For me, the basis of my view into the scene is this guy. That means I should know what this guy is bringing (or doesn’t bring) to the party. Are we arriving in a black Chrysler Imperial or a Yugo?

    “…not dead yet” certainly sounds ominous enough. But on the other hand, everybody dies. So as a reader, I’m going, “Yeah. Uh-huh.” That this guy is gonna get whacked in there, I’m not so certain. I got doubts already. Doubts are not so good. Is this scene serious business or just a surprise party for the dude? Now I’m asking questions instead of getting into the moment.

    I think I would like a rougher tone to the narrative voice, too. Like this narrator knows everything, and I’m comfortable with that. The voice I hear, I’m not comfortable with. That I don’t like. What I feel coming next will not be so good. I’ll be shelving the book.

    But it’s got some real possibilities working, too. The author should have at it. He’s probably go a good visual eye working for him.

  9. The only thing I’d like to add that hasn’t already been said is that when I saw the length of those paragraphs, I sighed. I know it’s more about perception than reality, but long paragraphs always feel sluggish to me, even with the best writing. This is especially true for the first page.

    However, it did pique my curiosity. I came to the end of it really wanting to know what the meeting was about. Also, I am very jealous of the wealth of experience and knowledge you have banked. Keep working at it and good luck.

  10. Continued thank you to everyone! It’s amazing what you “don’t see” when your starting out , I have already made changes and I really thank everyone for the critiques, this was actually my first draft of the first chapter I have ever written, I submitted immediately because I was excited 🙂
    Thank you again to everyone!

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