First Page Critique – Miss Bryson Loses Her Hat

Jordan Dane

@JordanDane

Image By Frode Inge Helland - Wikipedia Commons

Image By Frode Inge Helland – Wikipedia Commons

An anonymous author has submitted the first 400 words of a work-in-progress. Please enjoy Miss Bryson Loses Her Hat and I’ll have my two cents on the flip side. Share your constructive comments to assist the author in making this intro shine.

Scene one
Once a girl crashed to the floor with a bone-shaking thud before a thousand people, it gave her a clarity of mind she lacked prior to the event. In Lara Bryson’s case, it elucidated too late the hazards of satin slippers on a freshly polished floor, and illuminated, in a flash of searing insight, the vagaries of a God who, in blessing her with an angelic voice, tempered it with the less benevolent bestowal of two left feet.

Yes, He seemed to say, in a voice Lara imagined as a rolling thunderous crack rending the heavens, she could sing as gloriously as the seraphim, just never in company, and never anywhere requiring the use of her legs.

If only He’d bothered to tell her this before she sold every possession, expended every shilling, and endured sixteen perilous hours battened to the top of a London Mail Coach.

Even a hint five minutes earlier would’ve sufficed.

Instead, Lara lay crumpled and mortified. The roar of adulation that had provoked a warm tingling sensation to cascade like a waterfall through her limbs moments before replaced with the frenzied gasps of a mob titillated by the unexpected sight of a lady splayed out like a ragdoll.

Even more lowering, the dismal conviction that her promise to her dying mother to sing for the Queen would remain forever unfulfilled settled like a rock in Lara’s heart.

The clip, clip, clip of boots dashing across a wooden floor interrupted Lara’s fit of the blue devils. She guessed she had about thirty seconds to find a dignified way out of the Ballroom before the crowd reached her.

Or she could crawl.

The odds poor she’d get upright in a graceful manner, and stay there, slinking away on all fours seemed not only the best option, but a fitting end to her wretched evening. Her decision made, Lara clamped her eyes shut, and prayed silently; God, if you wish to keep alive what little trust I still have in You right now, then at least clear a path for me to slink out of here.

“Clear a path everyone, and give the lady some air.”

Lara gasped; never before had she received such a direct answer from above. The request for air an inspired touch. An exotic woody scent drifted over her. Sandalwood. Interesting; she’d thought myrrh.

The voice spoke again, “Are you hurt?”

Feedback:

The intro is reminiscent of the beginning to a fairy tale as it starts with, “Once a girl…” The tag line Scene One reminded me of a script. I’m not sure why it’s there. But overall, I enjoyed the proper British tone of the author voice and the way the girl’s plight was detailed–it’s like Downton Abbey meets Bridget Jones–with an undertone of controlled humor. I sense a Cinderella story coming, although I can’t be sure in this short intro.

Here are a few things for the author to think about:

1.) Add More Mystery – Who are the 1,000 people? In the first sentence, we hear of the girl’s fall. The audience is not emphasized much until we get a hint at the promise she made to her dying mother, to sing for the Queen. If this is indeed a performance for the Queen, why not play that up more? Or at the very least, hint at the once in a lifetime opportunity, the titillation of the crowd, the tension as she builds to the moment where she walks out. The fall is put into the first sentence, very anti-climactic, because the author chose to focus on her mortification in great detail.

2.) Flip the Scene – Imagine this scene starting another way. As the girl’s mind prepares for her big moment (a moment the author holds back but only hints at), she’s haunted by the promise she made her mother on her deathbed. Tension builds. Her palms sweat. Every movement in her routine replays in her head as she waits in the wings of the stage or outside the ballroom, but the crowd noise and her mother’s face haunt her. She is introduced and the music starts. When she walks out under a glaring spotlight, she sees the silhouette of the Queen in the shadows. Everything is the way she visualized it and her mother’s voice fades in her mind. The stage is set for perfection, but that doesn’t happen. The end of the intro comes when she falls. Every reader will want to know – what comes next?

3.) Use of Humor – There is definitely charming humor written into this piece. It appeals to me, very much. But keep in mind that humor can diminish intrigue or lessen the danger in a scene or shift the focus if it’s used too much. (As an example, a smart mouthed detective can appear too confident and invincible if he doesn’t act afraid when a gun is pointed at him. Over time and as the pages turn, the reader becomes insulated to any danger and never fears for the protag’s life.) In this case, we are drawn into Lara’s cynical, self-deprecating humor about the wreck of her life and her big fall when she may resonate more with the reader if there’s a focus on the action, rather than her internal monologue. A sparing use of her humor could be used after the fall, but let the reader feel her anticipation of a promise fulfilled before we know what happens. I get the feeling this author is quite funny, but less can be more to make Lara endearing. Let her think big before reality sets in. It will make the punch line better.

4.) Who is her Prince? – I know this is only 400 words, but I am really intrigued by who this person is at the end. Her savior. This is a tribute to the author’s writing and the set up. There is a lot of internal monologue as the scene progresses, when what I really wanted to know is mentioned above and who this person is at the end.

5.) Scenes are Mini-Stories – I think of each scene in a book like a mini-story. There’s a beginning, middle and end. Each scene should progress the story forward with at least 1-3 plot points. If an author does this, the writing will be tight and each scene serves a purpose. There’s also a character journey within the scene where the protagonist will grow, learn something to advance the plot, or raise more questions to foreshadow what might be coming. With this in mind, I like the intro to a scene to have a strong opener, a tight middle with mystery elements to intrigue the reader, and a foreshadowing of things to come that will keep the reader turning the page. In Miss Bryson Loses Her Hat, this mini-story can be accomplished by sticking with the action building to her fall, with only a hint of how important this is to her and who she is dancing for. The big conclusion of the fall and who comes to her aid can be the foreshadowing and make a great page turner. (Another trick to make a page turner is to split a scene and carry it over into the next chapter. It’ll keep readers up late and you may get an email in the early hours saying, “I can’t stop reading.”)

Conclusion:

I really want to turn the page and read on. Kudos to the author. Overall, I love this author’s voice, but even with that talent, there is still a need for how to create and build on an introduction. Elements of mystery are very important, no matter what the genre. I like to tease the reader with questions as they read on, then build on the suspense to answer those questions as the reader finishes each paragraph. Add more mystery elements as the scene progresses and you’ll hook them deeper and in multiple ways.

Discussion:

1.) What feedback would you give this brave author, TKZers?

2.) Would you keep reading?

3.) Can you imagine this premise starting differently?

+3
This entry was posted in #amwriting, #writers, #writetip, #writetips, character voice, Writing and tagged , , , by Jordan Dane. Bookmark the permalink.

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

13 thoughts on “First Page Critique – Miss Bryson Loses Her Hat

  1. I liked this, the tone and language remind me of Gordon Dahlquist’s writing (the Glass Books of the Dream Eaters series). I think it’s a nice setup, and I’m very interested to know where the story will go. I too think it’s a bit unclear whether she is singing for the Queen or this performance is only a stepping stone to singing for the Queen. Also, in the 1st paragraph: Elucidated, Illuminated, benevolent, bestowal…colorful language to be sure, and creative, but they slowed me down a bit, and the first paragraph might not be the place you’d want to do this. Also, would there even be a ‘bone-shaking thud?’ If Lara is a young woman, would she weigh enough to create such a sound/sensation? And if she was onstage singing, wouldn’t there be music playing in the background to accompany her? The music might drown out any sound of her falling, especially from the audience’s POV. I think it’s a great start and wouldn’t change anything, except to maybe add the word WAS in between “before” and “replaced” in the 5th paragraph.

  2. I’ve been reading all these first-page critiques and enjoy them and the comments that follow. This opening, I believe, is stellar. It introduces the main character in media res. We get hints of motivation and goals. We get conflict.

    I think we can get too carried away with the expected demands that must all appear in the first page. Does it make you want to read further? Yes, indeed. Mission accomplished. Bravo, anonymous submitter.

  3. I love the clever ending in which the hero arrives as an answer to prayer. “The request for air an inspired touch””- brilliant. The whole thing is light and fun but perhaps the language is a tad self-conscious, especially at the beginning. Interesting comments by Jordan Dane. Thank you!

    • I’m a firm believer that any scene can be looked at in different ways. I hope I don’t over think it but in terms of storytelling impact, I wanted to present something new for the author to consider.

      Thanks for your feedback, Nancy.

  4. I liked it too. It introduced the protagonist quickly and the setting. It mortified her that she fell, as it would anyone under the same circumstances. I would like to know what audience she is performing for. I thought at first that she was a ballerina, but when she said that she had two left feet, I ruled that out. Community theater? Maybe. Depending on the community, would there be a thousand people, or was this an exaggeration in the MC point of view? I would be interested to know why she is convinced she would not be able to sing for the Queen. I assumed this was a future goal, not the current setting. I am also assuming this is a romance, and the voice from above, requesting air, would be the love interest. I am not usually a romance reader, but this is intriguing and I would read further.

  5. I assume this is set in Victorian England from the mention of the trip atop a London Mail Coach in the third paragraph. Once I realised this, I went back to the beginning and started reading again with that in mind. I think the picture of the ballerina skewed my perception.

    I’ve only read a few books set during this period and the language often felt too modern. Not so with this one. I like the rhythm and feel of the language, but a little goes a long way. Maybe use not quite so many ‘big words’ when a small one will do.

    It’s a gentle start to a what I’m assuming is a gentle story. But I do agree with Jordan that the writer has missed an opportunity for tension by telling the outcome of her performance in the opening sentence. It’s like telling the punchline first.

    It’s a great start, though. I would definitely read on.

    • I didn’t catch the period angle, Mara. I obviously got things wrong posting the picture. My bad. A simple time/setting tag at the start would orient the reader without slowing pace.

  6. Hi. I love this writer’s style and I like the scene.
    I wonder if the mention of satin slippers in the second sentence helps give the idea of a ballerina? Satin slippers may be appropriate for the time period, but I didn’t know that this was set in latter day until I read the third paragraph and the London mail coach was mentioned.
    Just a couple of phrases/sentences that made me reread: should the first line be “Once a girl crashes to the floor… it gives her”? Also, the second sentence is quite long with some complex words and I wouldn’t mind seeing that broken in to two sentences, as it is in the first paragraph and it slowed me down a little in my reading. I had to reread the sentence starting with “The odds poor…”. Maybe something like, “As the odds were poor…” may improve this.
    I am no expert and the above comments are just minor points, but for me they would just make those few parts flow a little better.
    There was a lot to like about this piece. As others above have said, well done to this writer. I would definitely keep reading this!

    • The satin slippers threw me off. If this is period piece, I totally missed it. Thanks for your thoughts, Linda.

      Also if this is an historical, the way the protag’s voice tells a story would be different. Obviously I’m not an expert on historical novels.

  7. You did a great job of creating empathy for the protagonist, and the reader has a good idea where the story is going. In general, this is nice writing. So, what could be better? In my opinion, this snippet of writing suffers from something called “overwriting.” Some of the words could be eliminated without sacrificing anything. I understand that an embellished style may be part of the voice, but you can still edit this.

    Here are some more specific notes:

    1. “Once a girl crashed to the floor with a bone-shaking thud before a thousand people, it gave her a clarity of mind she lacked prior to the event.”

    I would eliminate the “she lacked prior to the event.”

    2. “In Lara Bryson’s case, it elucidated too late the hazards of satin slippers on a freshly polished floor, and illuminated, in a flash of searing insight, the vagaries of a God who, in blessing her with an angelic voice, tempered it with the less benevolent bestowal of two left feet.”

    When you use “elucidated” and “illuminated” in the same sentence like this, it seems overdone. One verb or the other will suffice. The sentence is a bit long. Try something like:

    In Lara Bryson’s case, it elucidated too late the hazards of satin slippers on a freshly polished floor and the vagaries of a God who, in blessing her with an angelic voice, tempered it with the less benevolent bestowal of two left feet.

    You get the idea. Play with it.

    3. You use an abundance of metaphors on one page. Examples:

    “cascade like a waterfall through her limbs”
    “settled like a rock in Lara’s heart”
    “a lady splayed out like a ragdoll.”

    Too much of a good thing, maybe?

    4. I want to know a little more about the setting here. Where does this performance take place? Be more specific about the venue (i.e. describe the hall).

    5. Reconsider your starting point. Think about the movie “Cutting Edge” with the ice skater named Kate at the Olympics. The scene didn’t start with her laying on the ground after she fell on the ice. There was some setup first, and you can use that time to get the reader inside the mind of the character. Let us feel the pressure that she does before she goes out to perform, rather than telling us about it after the fact.

    I do like the bit of mystery at the end. I’m wondering about the gentleman who comes to her aid. If this is a historical novel (the mention of the London Mail Coach tells me that it is), be sure to research carefully the rules for women giving musical performances in public in front of a thousand people.

    Best of luck with this story. I love novels about the arts, and you’ve definitely captured my interest.

Comments are closed.