First Page Critique – Renegades

Jordan Dane

@JordanDane

My first critique for 2016. For your reading pleasure, we have RENEGADES, submitted anonymously for feedback. My comments will be on the flip side. Please provide your constructive criticism in your comments. Our brave author appreciates the help.

I'm dating myself with this pic of Lorenzo Lamas as RENEGADE

I’m dating myself with this pic of Lorenzo Lamas as RENEGADE

RENEGADES

Silvana
Miami, Florida
Friday, March 30, 2012
3:25 PM

Silvana Machado’s cell phone went off while she was pistol-whipping a street punk. He’d gotten up in her face when she and Vargas confronted him after they spotted two hookers slipping cash into his palm. He wasn’t particularly well turned out, wearing fairly ordinary clothing, utterly lacking the gaudy flash popular in pimpdom. She made him as a newbie, just getting his enterprise off the ground. He’d gotten out of a black Dodge Charger, not a bad car, but a far cry from your typical pimp’s tricked-out ride. She eyed the caller ID on the bleating phone. Headquarters.

She holstered her weapon and opened the call. “Machado.” Bobby Vargas held on to the the punk.

“Sergeant Machado, Lieutenant Santos here. What’s your location?”

Silvana stepped away from her partner and the punk, just out of earshot. “Northwest 26th Avenue, just off 50th Street, sir.”

“What are you doing?”

“Questioning a suspect, sir. Possible involvement in last week’s drug murder in this neighborhood.”

“Forget it. Get over to 75th and Biscayne, the Sea & Sand Motel. On the double. The manager found a body in one of the rooms.”

“Yes, sir.” She swiped the call off and turned back to the punk, now sniveling. His lip was slashed open. A mouse was forming over his swollen left eye. She pushed a heavy lock of mousey-brown hair back from her face and held out her palm. “Give.” Two snaps of her thick fingers.

“Gi-give what?” the punk said.

Vargas landed a hard knee into his skinny back. He buckled.

“The money, dipshit,” Silvana said. He resisted no more. She reached into his pockets and pulled out a wad of cash, maybe twelve or thirteen hundred. “Now, I understand they call you G-Man.” His head went up and down fast a couple of times. “Okay, G-Man, get this straight.” She held up the cash, close to his bleeding face. “This is your initiation fee.
From now on, it’ll cost you one grand a week to run your whores in this neighborhood. You understand?”

He said, “A grand? Man, that’s a ”

Another whack of her semiauto across his face. Blood flew from his mouth, nearly hitting Vargas’s sleeve. She was well-muscled and that one had to hurt.

“One thousand. Every Friday. Four PM, right here at this corner. You miss a payment or if we don’t find you on Friday, we’ll find you on Saturday and you won’t see Sunday. You hearing me?”

He nodded.

“Say it!” she said.

“One th-thousand. Every Friday. Four  four o’clock. I-I hear you.”

FEEDBACK

OVERVIEW – I think I met this woman at my last high school reunion. Interesting voice for this character. I’m not sure if she is an anti-hero or a baddee, but I’m willing to find out. I love a well-drawn anti-hero. I’d keep reading. Below are some suggestions:

STICK WITH THE ACTION – In the first paragraph, the first sentence sets up the action that is taking place, but then the author immediately takes us out of the action by setting up what led to the pistol-whipping and what the pimp is wearing and what he drives. I’d suggest taking care of some of this set up (ie like why the hookers were slipping him cash) with dialogue but stick with the action to keep the reader in the moment and totally buying into the danger of the scene. I can see her making taunting fun of him to her “look the other way” partner. The longer explanation diffuses the moment. But I laughed out loud when I heard her say, “Questioning a suspect” to her LT. Slam dunk on timing of a great line. I almost don’t want to read the next line – “Possible involvement in last week’s drug murder in this neighborhood.” Author might consider dropping it to sharpen the dark humor to this scene.

GUN USE – I have a thing about a cop using his/her weapon to beat someone with. She then puts the bloody weapon into her holster to spread the DNA. I know this is done a lot in TV and movies, but does anyone else take issue with this? My police officer friend gave me his input and I can’t post what he said here. This is a family blog.

TAG LINE/DATE USE – In the tag line at the top, the author uses the year 2012, which dates this story. I can see if a particular date is important for a period piece, but if the intention is simply to set the stage for something that occurred 3 years ago, then it might be better to use something like: March – Three years ago. I can see this set up to flash forward to present time when we encounter Silvana again.

EMBEDDED DIALOGUE – In the paragraph that begins, “The money, dipshit,” Silvana said, this weightier paragraph has a number of dialogue exchanges in it. Personally I like pulling out as much dialogue, for readers to follow easily. In a wordy paragraph that looks like a narrative, a reader might skim over or lose some lines. I prefer seeing dialogue more clearly and with more white space on the page as a respite for the eye.

SPELL CHECK – Words like “mousey” and “dipshit” show as misspelled and “”semiauto” should be hyphenated. Also, the time “Four PM” does not have to have the caps.

For Discussion: Any other comments of feedback for this courageous author, TKZers? Would you keep reading?

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About Jordan Dane

Bestselling, critically-acclaimed author Jordan Dane’s gritty thrillers are ripped from the headlines with vivid settings, intrigue, and dark humor. Publishers Weekly compared her intense novels to Lisa Jackson, Lisa Gardner, and Tami Hoag, naming her debut novel NO ONE HEARD HER SCREAM as Best Books of 2008. She is the author of young-adult novels written for Harlequin Teen, the Sweet Justice thriller series for HarperCollins., and the Ryker Townsend FBI psychic profiler series, Mercer's War vigilante novellas, and the upcoming Trinity LeDoux bounty hunter novels set in New Orleans. Jordan shares her Texas residence with two lucky rescue dogs. To keep up with new releases & exclusive giveaways, click HERE

38 thoughts on “First Page Critique – Renegades

  1. If I may, I have a couple of word choices that acted as bumps to otherwise smooth reading:

    Semi-auto (I caught the “hyphenate” comment above 🙂 ) – it sounds a bit jargony to me in this context,

    “Mouse” and “mousey” for the contusion and her hair color, respectively, were too close together – neither is a bad choice, it’s just their proximity to each other that made me say” Didn’t I just see that word?” and for that split second I was out of the scene.

    But I’d keep reading to see if she’s dirty…

    Or Dirty Harriet…

  2. This excerpt didn’t grab me, and I’m trying to figure out why, so forgive me if I ‘think out loud.’

    I found it unclear for some reason, i.e, I didn’t really understand what was going on here. Perhaps this is just me, but maybe the excerpt lacks context.

    The opening paragraph didn’t raise a story question for me, perhaps because it was too soon to care about the character. It did raise the question, “What is this story about?” but I don’t think that’s enough for an opening. Not sure I can explain the difference, but I like to know what the story is about, generally, and then the add-on is “What is this particular story about.” Not a good explanation, I know. Maybe someone else can articulate this better than I.

    I’d like to know more about the character. I didn’t care at all, either about her or about her goal. Now that I’ve said that, perhaps the key thing the scene lacks is any hint about the character’s goal,at least for this scene, if not her overriding story goal.

    I wasn’t enthralled by the voice, but that’s a personal thing.

    .

  3. Hi Sheryl. You might be reacting to the character coming off as a corrupt cop without any hint of her being conflicted about it. When I write a dark character, I like to plant seeds of a mystery about the character to be revealed later, so the reader wants to keep reading and believe there’s hope for the character to be worth rooting for. Maybe that’s what is missing for you. Thanks for your comment.

  4. Nice analysis! I prefer not being tild place and date and time with a one-liner at the top. I like to see the locale and weather and time of day–sensory details on the first page.

    And if this character is not the protagonist, fine. But if she is, she’s not empathetic in any way, which is a big problem. Dark heroes should show some vulnerability and/or unhappiness with who they are right away to garner enough empathy for the reader to care.

    Last, it’s well written overall but a bit too stereotypic and predictable. It would be much better if we’re surprised by something she does during this encounter.

  5. Minor point that occurs to me here. I don’t think we need to write “cell phone” anymore. Just “phone.” Because we’re in an action scene, it’s clear what kind of phone it is.

    I will say that I would read on to find out more about this pistol-whipping cop. That got my attention. I want to know why.

  6. A bump for me was the four uses of “the punk”. We find out near the end the protag already knew “the punk” goes by “G-Man”. Could that info be introduced sooner to avoid the repetition? Even as early as the first sentence “…phone went off while pistol-whipping a street punk sporting the name G-Man.”

    • Didn’t notice this the first read, but the words, “particularly, fairly and utterly” are ALL used in sentence number three. Adverb usage aside, these are three rather delicate words I find difficult to believe are coming from a thick-fingered, well-muscled, pimp-slappin’, blackmailing, dirty cop.

  7. Hi, gang! It’s been a while!

    My biggest beef with this piece is the phone call. The beating is by far the most engaging action, so why interrupt it with something as mundane as a phone call? I would have Machado hear the chirping but ignore it. Then, after the pimp-busting is over, have an “Oh, crap, it’s the boss” moment when she checks her caller ID. Gives her an opportunity to lie to the LT about what they’ve been doing while at the same time keeping the story in motion.

  8. “A mouse was forming over his swollen left eye.” How does this happen? Did mice copulate on his forehead? Was he hit with a mouse shaped something? I have never heard the word mouse used as a synonym for contusion. This stopped me cold, and I had to read the sentence a couple of times to figure out what the writer meant. IMHO “His lip was slashed open and his left eye swelling (or turning a whatever shade of whatever color).” I would just put the damage in one sentence, and leave the rodent off the face.

    I agree with dumping the clothes and car descriptions. Something for a quick reference to his newbie pimp status, because once she extorts him it’s obvious he’s new to the game.

    “Gi-give” I hate this. I don’t buy that a pimp has been reduced to sniveling and stuttering after a quick pistol whip. IMHO this is akin to writers using regional dialect: a little goes a long way, and I don’t really like to read it.

    With a little tightening the scene itself can work ok. But….why is the story opening here at all? Does the real story happen at/because of the body at the Sea & Sand Motel? If so, why isn’t the story opening there? Sure, it can work as a character building bg, but if it’s not where the story is this sort of character detail can be worked in later.

    Is there some censorship with this first page, or a display problem? There are little rectangles like so  where it seems a more colorful word would work better.

    • I wasn’t familiar with the term ‘mouse’ either but figured it out in context.

      Thanks for your insight. Lots for the author to consider, CF.

  9. I really enjoyed the voice in this opening page. That said, here are couple nitpicky things: Like Jordan, I’d go nuts reading about a bloody gun slipped into a holster. The contamination of DNA is something no professional would ever do, especially since she has no way of knowing if this guy has AIDS, HIV, or whatever. The word “went” doesn’t give us a good visual. Try substituting for a stronger verb. Also, you have “mouse” over the eye (no idea what that is) and then the next line down you have “mousy-brown” hair. To avoid repetition you may want to change one of those. And when dialogue is cut off there’s usually an em dash, not a space. Otherwise, this is an excellent first page. I would definitely flip the page. Best of luck to you!

  10. Good analysis and I like the female anti-hero. I agree about the DNA on the gun. Also, wouldn’t a careful crooked cop make sure there were no security cameras nearby — or civilians with cell phone cameras before she beat up the pimp?
    Taking that call is a risky move. The pimp could shout for help or escape while she is distracted. Minor point, but my publisher still requires writers to use “cell phone” and “phone” or “land line.”

  11. Not bad…not bad at all. A few minor hiccups, like I didn’t realize Silvana even HAD a partner on scene until he sorta pops out of nowhere to take ahold the pimp. Make that a little clearer.

    And that whole backstory kennel about the pimp needs to go because why lavish details on a character is I am guessing will never appear again? You’ve shifted the spotlight off your protag in very first graph. Always a no-no. If you really want it, insert it in her thoughts in the paragraph that begins: “Yes, sir.” She swiped the cell phone… Down there, you have a natural pause in the action and hence a logical place for a brief backstory thought. But again, why give precious space in your opening graph to info that sheds light on a perp and not the protag?

    I’ve got to assume that this female cop is the protag. If she’s not, you have a problem, I think, because the reader will start to bond with whomever you first put on screen, unless we can tell clearly it is someone else ie: the bad guy who is getting his own POV. I have no problem with kick-ass female protags. Love em. But am not sure I like a police officer who wails on someone like this, even if he is a dirtbag. And in these days of cops-gone-wild, are you sure you want to go here? Just a question of engaging sympathy for your protag.

    This said, I like that the reader DIDN’T open with the boring old getting-the-call-to-the-murder-scene while in bed nursing a hangover or something. At least this is more visceral. But as others have said, what is the purpose of opening with this beating? What are you trying to tell us with this? That we are encountering an alpha female, I guess? Again, I love strong women protags, but I love them even more when they win by smarts.

    You might want to take a look at T. Jefferson Parker’s book “LA Outlaws.” One of his protags is Allison Murrieta, one of the BEST kick-ass off-the-grid females in all of crime fiction. She’s even on the wrong side of the law, but I really loved her. Here is Parker’s complete opening chapter:

    CHAPTER ONE
    Here’s the deal: I am a direct descendent of the outlaw Joaquin Murrieta. He was a kickass horseman, gambler, and marksman. He stole the best horses robbed rich anglos at gunpoint. He loved women and seduced more than a few during his twenty-three years. Some of his money went to the poor, but to be truthful most of it he spent on whiskey, guns, expensive tailored clothes, and on the women and children he left behind.

    I got Joaquin Murrieta’s good looks. I got his courage and sense of justice for the poor. I got his contempt for the rich and powerful. I got his love of seduction. Like Joaquin used to, I love a good, clean armed robbery. I steal beautiful cars instead of beautiful horses.

    Right now I’m about to stick up a west-side dude for twenty-four thousand dollars in cash. He wont’ be happy, but he’ll turn it over.

    And I’ll be richer and more famous than I already am.

  12. “Mouse” is an old term for black eye, used a lot in 1940s noir. What jumped out at me was archaic slang in present day, when the reader is more likely to think of a computer accessory than a shiner (another old term). Unless that is part of her character (e.g. she reveres Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett), it seems out of keeping with the rest of the tone.

    As far as pacing goes, I agree with others that we don’t need the description of G-Man’s car and clothes. Suggest you have her give him the tune-up, be interrupted by her LT, then go back to shaking him down. The dialogue of the shakedown was good, catchy, but as Jordan said, delineate and use more white space to make it faster-paced and punchier.

    While I don’t like a cop pistol-whipping and shaking down a pimp, I must say I was intrigued and would turn the page.

  13. Really strong voice and solid writing! I agree with the other comments. Word “mouse” tripped me up and I would also cut the extraneous info about the pimp and move the call to after their “encounter.”

    I like dark heroes and heroines but would have a hard time with this one after the pistol-whipping. I could see her taking him on if he made a move to run or mouthed off, but in the first line, with no obvious provocation, it’s just too much. Makes her look like a thug. And I agree with much of what PJ says — will be hard to redeem a character like this given all the stories lately about rogue cops.

    That is assuming this is your protag and not your antagonist.

    I think with a few tweaks though this could be really great.

  14. I agree, Sheri. It would be hard to redeem this character, but beyond that challenge, a reader may not have the patience to keep reading after the pistol-whipping start.

    It might be a solution to have the partner do the beating with her getting the call from her LT saying, “Questioning a suspect, sir.” That would keep her connected to the violence yet distance her from the violence enlighten to make her redeemable later.

  15. This page starts out with the name Silvana and then tells us where and when. Since the title is Renegades, I’m thinking there will be chapters featuring other renegades and their names will be at the top of the page.
    The word “the” is written twice in a row in the second paragraph.
    Could you let us know that Vargas is her partner a little earlier?
    Where are they in Miami, in an alley behind a building? Out of public view, I hope. Not on the sidewalk on 26th Avenue.
    The ordinary street clothes could be described somewhere along the way as ripped jeans and a tee shirt, or khaki cargo shorts, something specific and boring.
    Is there a mouse forming or maybe a mousse foaming over the eye? Mouse and mousey threw me off. I’d give her dark hair, nothing mousey about her.
    Her name, Machado, sounds macho.
    Is she wearing a uniform or a tough woman outfit? (If the police are like the military then there are regulations about hair length. It can’t fly all over.)
    I wouldn’t stick my hands into some punk’s pockets. Who knows what could be in there. Make him do it.
    Good action scene. I like the voice, tone, characters. I hope you have more of it.

    • Tina–
      Great suggestions.

      I will describe G-Man’s clothing in clearer terms, and I will definitely mention the fact that the cops are in plain clothes. In addition, I will have her make him pull the money out of his pocket.

      NW 26th Avenue is a ghetto back street in a really bad neighborhood in Miami. And you’re right, there will most assuredly be other renegades with their names at the top of various chapters. There are actually four in all.

      Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts on my first page.

  16. Thanks to everyone for your very well-thought-out comments.

    First thing I did was, I took out the description of the pimp in the opening paragraph. That was probably the most helpful (and most urged) critique of the bunch. Truth be told, these sentences always bothered me, but I could never figure out why. I temporarily moved it down the page, but I may ultimately stick it elsewhere. The pimp does make a return appearance much later in the book, so I feel this description of him bears mentioning.

    Second, use of the word “mouse”. As Debbie Burke points out, it was used in 1940s noir, plus it’s an old boxing term. I definitely should’ve noticed its proximity to “mousy-brown” (now spelled correctly — no “e”). I replaced it with “dark bulge”. Thanks to everyone for pointing this out.

    Sue Coletta correctly points out missing em-dashes. They were part of the original submission, but somehow failed to make it onto the post. Perhaps the site’s software doesn’t support my Mac’s em-dashes, I don’t know.

    As regards Jordan’s concern over the date and time notice, this is a period piece, taking place entirely in 2012. It’s also a sprawling type of novel, featuring multiple points of view (four, to be exact), of which Silvana’s is one. She is, however, slightly more of a central character than the others.

    Again, thanks to all for your insight so far. Much appreciated.

  17. I had an English teacher in high school who forbade us the use of the words nice, got and gotten and his reasoning was that it’s the lowest form of bad English. The author uses the word ‘gotten’ twice in the opening paragraph and it immediately gives me the impression that I’m about to suffer through a book with bad grammar.

    I would change the title as ‘Renegades’, particularly when used in conjunction with a photo of Lorenzo Lamas (!!), makes it look like a Mills & Boon novel. In fact, lose the photo altogether unless, of course, this is a Mills and Boon novel.

    Also, the photo is of a man and the main protagonist appears to be a woman and I found that confusing.

  18. I love your writing style.

    There is possibly an inconsistency. The cop kneed the punk in the back when they were facing each other.

  19. Lose the year 2012.
    “Mouse” and “mousey-brown” were my only hangups.

    Like the action. Like the voice. LOVE the unexpected twist at the end that Machado appears to be dirty. It left me hoping she’s really a Robin-Hood-she-cop in this lovely slice of “pimpdom”.

    Best of all, I would keep reading…

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