In Media Res with LESSER EVILS: First Page Critique

Photo: “Left Behind” by Jon Hernandez, unsplash.com

Welcome, Anon du jour, welcome to THE KILL ZONE First Page Critique!

Let’s all take a look at how Anon drops us into the middle of a plane crash with great aplomb in Lesser Evils:

Lesser Evils

The instant her helicopter touched down, Francine threw the door open, leaned out, and shouted, “Any survivors?”

She already knew the answer. For as far as she could see, fragments of her company’s plane littered barren, rocky terrain. In the waning-sunset gloom, scattered islands of yellow flames flickered in a huge sea of shattered metal—only the jet’s tail and two small engines intact enough to recognize. The destruction of her plane and the ten lives it had carried was absolute.

Francine suppressed a grin.

Absolute was what she’d planned.

Next on her plan was a bit of stagecraft. The sheriff’s deputy she’d yelled at stood less than a hundred feet away, but the scream of the copter’s motor as it powered down drowned out all other sound. She carefully stepped from the two person cockpit onto apple-sized volcanic rocks. Freezing in the copter’s windstorm, she pulled her jacket tight, stumbled forward on sloping ground, her pilot following closely behind.

When they reached the officer, she paused to catch her breath and almost choked on the sulfuric rotten-egg stench. The engine noise finally died. She pasted on a well-rehearsed look of anxiety and said again to the deputy, “Any survivors?”

He looked the two of them up and down. “Who are you?”

Francine’s pilot handed the cop a business card. “Ian Brack, Corporate Security, International Health Enterprises. This is Dr. Francine Duvaine. She owns the company and the plane.”

The deputy stared at her for a moment; then shook his head. “No one could have survived. Slammed into the caldera at over four hundred knots, a ton of fuel on board. Couple of folks at the tourist center fainted. Fireball was so big they thought St. Helens was erupting again.” He shook his head again. “I’m sorry, ma’am.”

“Please, you’re certain?” She made her voice crack. “No one?”

“No one.”

She closed her eyes, hung her head, and stood still for a few seconds. There—her work here was done. “Thank you, officer.” She began to turn away. “Thank you.”

“A real shame.” The deputy said. “Two crew and seven passengers.”

Francine whirled back toward him. “Seven?” She shot a glance at Brack and marveled at how he maintained a calm expression. Her pulse pounding in her temples, she took a deep breath. “You’re absolutely sure? Seven—not eight?”

 

I want the rest of Lesser Evils right now. I’m going to forego the usual nitpicking on it simply because the author does so much correctly in terms of storytelling. The pacing is just right. The narrative baits and sinks the hook from the first few words. This big fish was then caught and netted. Yes, there are a few typos (one near the beginning, one near the end, to name two) and if no one mentions them by close of business today (and we never close) I will jump in and note them but Anon, you are on the right track here.

Why do I love Lesser Evils? Anon drops us right into the middle of the action in a manner which entices without confusing. The introduction of two of the main characters is handled simply, but in a more interesting manner than just stating their names (which would have been fine). We know right away where the crash takes place.  There are a couple of surprises in the first page, those being 1) Francine’s hidden reaction to her company’s plane crashing and 2) the news that, apparently, not everyone died (and she’s not happy). It’s terrific. Those two elements will undoubtedly play out over at least the first few pages of the book and possibly beyond. It makes the reader wonder why Francine planned the crash, how she will be caught, when she’ll be caught, who will discover it, and the consequences. The audience will also be asking where that eighth body, breathing or otherwise, might be. I am assuming that later on Anon will explain to someone how Francine and Ian got there so quickly, where the plane took off from, and how Francine will keep from getting into trouble by landing in the middle of a crash scene, but what we have here is everything I want and could reasonably ask for in a first page: murder most foul; an intriguing villain, and a surprise or two, all wrapped in the same box without bumping into each other.

I wanted page two of Lesser Evils, then page three, and so on. I know I’ve got a good read in my hands when I feel that way. Go, Anon, go!

I will now attempt to remain uncharacteristically quiet while I turn the comments, praises, and criticisms portion of this page over to our wonderful readers and visitors. Enjoy!

 

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About Joe Hartlaub

Joe Hartlaub is an attorney, author, actor and book and music reviewer. Joe is a Fox News contributor on book publishing industry and publishing law and has participated on several panels dealing with book, film, and music business law. He lives with his family in Westerville, Ohio.

25 thoughts on “In Media Res with LESSER EVILS: First Page Critique

  1. I agree, Joe. This is a real grabber, well-paced, clear, and intriguing. “Scattered islands of yellow flames flickered in a huge sea of shattered metal” painted a vivid picture.
    I’d definitely turn the page to find out why Francine would cause her own plane to crash, why kill ten people, who’s the missing passenger, etc. Kept me reading right over any typos w/o even noticing them.
    When I reread, I only caught one typo near the end: “A real shame.” The deputy said. “Two crew and seven passengers.”
    Should read: “A real shame,” the deputy said. “Two crew and seven passengers.”
    OR: “A real shame.” The deputy said, “Two crew and seven passengers.”
    One question: The only named characters are Francine Duvaine and Ian Brack. Who’s Jordan? 🙂
    Terrific start, Anon! Let us know when it’s published.

  2. First! Debbie actually found several typos, one of Anon’s and several of mine (for some reason, I kept referring to “Francine” as “Jordan” throughout my critique). I have corrected it. Thank you, Debbie, and a tip of the fedora to you!

    • It’s a great sample when the only “real” comment is “Find the typos.”

      And of course, that becomes a challenge I can’t resist. I found the one Debbie mentioned and this one: The deputy stared at her for a moment; then shook his head.

      Shouldn’t be a semi colon, at least not according the the rules I remember.

  3. I agree – what a great way to start a story! It takes you right into the scene. I’m looking forward to reading more.

  4. So many questions, who is the antagonist and who is protagonist? Why wreck a plane to kill who? What is the larger plot? I really like this beginning.

  5. Fantastic opening scene. The twist at the end with seven passengers was perfectly placed. I definitely would keep reading.

    For what it’s worth, that “sulfuric rotten-egg stench” is hydrogen sulfide.

    Let us know when your book is available.

    Greetings, Joe. Have a great weekend.

  6. The hook is good, but the information after that is problematic. How would the deputy know the impact speed and the fuel load? The flight plan would list the passenger load, but again, how would the deputy have access to that? Once Anon solves that problem, the opening is a grabber.

  7. I do lov when an evil plan comes together. I would love to read the next page and see how she is going to find out who wasn’t counted among the dead while still maintaining the I-can’t-believe-they’re-all-dead demeanor.

    We all know Murphey’s Law – the one person who REALLY had to go is the one who missed the flight.

    I too stumbled over the speed and fuel, but that’s a simple fix, take it out. The reference to Mt. St. Helens was very well placed, such a subtle way of telling us they are in the northwestern US without saying so.

    A comment above says – The twist at the end with seven passengers was perfectly placed – but that’s not the last twist. Let us not forget – She shot a glance at Brack and marveled at how he maintained a calm expression. Oh s**t – was he simply aware of her plan or was he a co-conspirator?

  8. The thing about typos is if the story is good, you don’t notice the typos. I didn’t see them. I was busy wondering what evil deed Dr. Francine has done that she needs to cover up with murder.

  9. I agree with all the comments so far. Love this metaphor: Scattered islands of yellow flames flickered in a huge sea of shattered metal.” It has internal consistency (island and sea) and is creative and vivid. I too wondered about how the Deputy would have speed and fuel information. That was my only hiccup. I too want to read this novel when it’s ready. Soon, I hope.

  10. Very good! One suggestion to make it even better:

    Absolute was what she’d planned.

    Next on her plan was a bit of stagecraft.

    Cut those two lines. The first one brings up RUE – Resist the urge to explain. Her suppressed grin tells us what’s happening. We don’t need to be told.

    The second line is RUE in front. We don’t need it. Let the action do the work.

    This will make opening that much tighter, and I’m with all the others on wanting to know what’s next. Nicely done.

  11. Sorry to be so late… My only comment comes where Francine and the pilot leave the helicopter running with no one on board~

    “She carefully stepped from the two person cockpit onto apple-sized volcanic rocks. Freezing in the copter’s windstorm, she pulled her jacket tight, stumbled forward on sloping ground, her pilot following closely behind.

    “When they reached the officer, she paused to catch her breath and almost choked on the sulfuric rotten-egg stench. The engine noise finally died.”

    I don’t believe her pilot, even as a bad guy, would leave the cockpit with the blades going fast enough to create a “windstorm,” let alone with the engine running.
    So either edit to have the thing off before the pilot exits, or make it a bigger bird with a copilot.

    Other’n that, I’m trying to find page two (too)…

  12. Loved this ubmission too. My only comment is to break up some of the paragraphs. That will add emphasis and conversely heighten the tension. One example is the fifth paragraph: separate the line about her next step from the action. Will add some punch.

  13. Please permit me to jump in at this point to thank everyone who has visited and/or commented on LESSER EVILS and to encourage anyone else who might wish to comment or suggest to please do so. Anon, everyone loves you. We’ve received a few suggestions that might make your terrific first page even better and literally all who commented want to see more, meaning the rest of your book. Good luck and please swing back to let us know when we can do so. Thank you!

  14. Thanks Joe, and everyone else, for your kind words. They’re very encouraging. I also appreciate all the corrections and suggestions for improvement. I’ve fixed the typos, taken away the deputy’s omniscient powers re fuel and speed, and fixed the helicopter power down procedures. One suggestion I’m struggling with is the RUE one from Larry. It’s interesting because I’m kind of the RUE enforcer in my writer’s group, but I’m struggling with eliminating the “Absolute was what she planned” line. I think it might be a bit too cryptic without it and I like the juxtaposition of the “absolutes.”. I am leaning toward deleting the stagecraft line. If anyone else would like to chime in on this, I’d appreciate it. Hope to finish this puppy soon.
    Thanks again.

  15. Anon, re: the RUE suggestion…if your WIP doesn’t feel right without the RUE sentence then leave it in. If down the road a publishing company gatekeeper says to take it out then follow Jim’s advice and take it out. We all look forward to reading LESSER EVILS (by that or any other name) sooner rather than later.

  16. Late to the party but am catching up today on a lazy Sunday.

    Terrific job, Anon. You got me twice. With the first twist (she’s happy the plane crashed!) and then that she’s missing a victim. You’re off and running…the little things will be fixed as you rewrite. So hoping you can maintain the suspense. Keep us posted with your progress.

  17. I loved it. It grabbed me and I knew I would continue to read. Typos can be fixed later. I”m definitely intrigued with the missing victim. congratulations to this writer.

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