First Page Critique: FIFTH FLOOR

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Today we’re reviewing the first page of FIFTH FLOOR, submitted anonymously for critique. I’ll start the ball rolling, and then please add your suggestions for today’s brave author in the Comments.

FIFTH FLOOR

The smell of burning wood and flesh began to be drowned out by the sound of screams…the screams of a woman. Deafening and chilling screams, echoed through the steel door.  Andromeda found herself in a small room, with cold metal walls, a plain steel table, metal bed with a thin mattress and blanket, and an uncomfortable looking metal chair. She was a tall, beautiful young woman, whose long black hair fell down to her shoulders, and slightly covered her almond shaped face. An eerie chill pierced the air in the room, and Andromeda wasn’t sure if the goosebumps that followed were because of the woman screaming, or the total lack of insulation in the room – likely a combination of both.

Andromeda looked around the room, her heart pounding through her chest. Her attempts to remember how she got here was futile; the only thing she remembered was cleaning up after her best friend and roommate Sofia, who was recuperating from the flu. After disposing of soiled tissue paper and disinfecting their dorm room, Andromeda turned on some classical music and tucked herself in bed. After that, there was a black spot in her memory. She sat up in the bed that she woke up in, and began to stretch and look around the room.

Dressed in a white t-shirt, gray fleece shorts, and white socks, she began to walk around the stark and unoccupied room, looking for anything that may give her a clue as to where she was. She wrapped her arms around her body, bracing herself for the shudder and chills that followed. The room had the look and feel of a military interrogation chamber: there were no windows, no traces that anyone even knew she was there. But someone knew she was here, the same someone who put her in this place.

Suddenly, Andromeda was reminded of the screams as they began again, growing increasingly louder, followed by a loud “BOOM!” Andromeda ran to the door, preparing her mind to bang on the door with all of her might, to hell with alerting whomever put her in this room; the only thing on her mind was escaping. However, before she could even touch the door, it receded into the floor.  Andromeda fell face first onto the cold, hard, metal floor of the hallway. The palms of her hands were burning, and so were her legs.

My comments

We’re definitely starting off with a sense of urgency in this scene, as Andromeda becomes aware of her surroundings and tries to assess her situation.

Here’s another version, with my comments/notes in bold:

The smell of burning wood and flesh began to be drowned out by the sound of screams…the screams of a woman. Deafening and chilling screams, (Edit the number of commas used throughout this submission) echoed through the steel door.

(The references to “the smell of burning wood and flesh” didn’t get much followup after this opening, which was a bit puzzling. The flesh of the screaming woman in the next room is being burned? That would be a truly terrifying conclusion to make. And if that’s what’s happening, I’d want Andromeda to have a reaction.)

Andromeda found herself in a small room, with cold metal walls, a plain steel table, metal bed with a thin mattress and blanket, and an uncomfortable looking metal chair. (I  stumbled briefly over the transition from a woman screaming to “Andromeda found herself in a small room.” Found herself? That wording struck me as a bit vague.)

She was a tall, beautiful young woman, whose long black hair fell down to her shoulders, and slightly covered her almond shaped face. (This description is a bit intrusive, and it’s what some editors would call a “description dump”. Try to work in character description in a way that isn’t a generic “She had brown hair and green eyes” sort of thing. For tips and examples of fresh ways to work character descriptions into a scene, I suggest taking a look at DON’T MURDER YOUR MYSTERY by Chris Roerden)

An eerie chill (Can a chill be eerie and piercing? Just wondering) pierced the air in the room, and Andromeda wasn’t sure if the goosebumps that followed were because of the woman screaming, or the total lack of insulation in the room – likely a combination of both. (Edit this down a bit. The ‘total lack of insulation’ seems off in tone. By now, I was also looking for some followup or clarification to the mention of burning wood and flesh in the opening sentence.)

Andromeda looked around the room, her heart pounding through her chest. Her attempts to remember how she got here was (attempts…were) futile; (semicolon alert) the only thing she remembered was cleaning up after her best friend and roommate Sofia, who was recuperating from the flu. After disposing of soiled tissue paper and disinfecting their dorm room, Andromeda turned on some classical music and tucked herself in bed. After that, there was a black spot in her memory. She sat up in the bed that she woke up in, and began to stretch and look around the room. (This transition stopped me. Which bed is this referring to? The one in the metal interrogation room? This is the first moment I realized she woke up in the bed there–that should be established earlier, the first time the bed is mentioned. And “stretching” seems too relaxed a gesture for the level of tension this scene requires.)

Dressed in a white t-shirt, gray fleece shorts, and white socks, she began to walk (she walked, not “began to walk”) around the stark and unoccupied room, looking for anything that may give her a clue as to where she was. (Try to pare down the number of clothing details, and work them in without calling them out so pointedly. And the use of “unoccupied “ is unnecessary—by now, we know she’s alone in the room) She wrapped her arms around her body, bracing herself for the shudder and chills that followed. (tighten up the wrapping, bracing, shudder and chills a bit) The room had the look and feel of a military interrogation chamber: (To me, the reference to a military interrogation chamber suggests a certain type of background–if so, we need to get a sense of that background somewhere in this scene) there were no windows, no traces that anyone even knew she was there. But someone knew she was here, the same someone who put her in this place. (Try to find wording that is stronger than “put her in this place”)

Suddenly, Andromeda was reminded of the screams as they began again, (Just start with the screams. No need to say that she’s reminded) growing increasingly louder, followed by a loud “BOOM!” Andromeda ran to the door, preparing her mind (nix the “preparing her mind”) to bang on the door with all of her might, to hell with alerting whomever put her in this room (the wording’s a bit awkward here); (semicolon alert) the only thing on her mind was escaping. However, before she could even totuch the door, it receded into the floor.  (What? The door receded into the floor? Visions of Sci-Fi rise in my head) Andromeda fell face first onto the cold, hard, metal floor of the hallway. The palms of her hands were burning, and so were her legs. (Burning from what? The metal door and floor? I’m not getting a clear sense of cause and effect here.)

Overall

Happily, most of my previous comments fall into the category of nit picky writing edits and craft tweaks that are easily introduced. I think the scene overall has enough inherent drama and tension to engage a reader’s interest and propel this story forward.

Our thanks go to today’s writer for submitting this scene for critique! TKZ’ers, please add your notes and suggestions in the Comments.

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11 thoughts on “First Page Critique: FIFTH FLOOR

  1. I think this submission has been critiqued before? Anyway, two critiques are better than one. Yay! for Anon.

    The overuse of Andromeda makes the story less personal. I learned that right here on TKZ. Something to do with emotional distance, I think.

    • Hmm… I’ll check with our fearless Admin about possible duplication, but you’re so right, Nana—the more input, the merrier! I was also a bit distracted by the name (“Andromeda” evokes sci-fi for me, but the rest of the scene didn’t particularly) but not enough to call it out. Thanks for dropping by to share your input!

      Update: Our own Sue Colette did indeed critique this previously, so the writer here got the benefit of a double billing! 😄

  2. Well, what a way to start my morning….on the ground floor, thank God. The first sentence has that mixed metaphor — one does not drown smells. And perhaps less outright description of the woman? More transition? These should be easy fixes. A nice chilling start to my day! Thank you!!

  3. As Nancy said, you can’t drown in a scream. Or a smell for that matter. Given rest of the page, lose the burning wood and flesh in the first sentence. The screams are the key here, or at least that is how I read it.

    OK, I do not like the name Andromeda. If this is Sci-Fi, I could live with it, but maybe not then either. I realize changing the lead character’s name is a biggie, but it is throwing me.

    The room. Maybe something more like this: “Everything around her was metal. The walls, the bed, the table and chairs. Everything except the thin mattress and thinner blanket.

    People with the flu have tissues. Birthday presents are wrapped in tissue paper. OK, a little nit-picky. OK, which bed did she wake up in? The one in her dorm room or the one in the metal room?

    Where the clothes she is wearing hers, did she go to bed in them, did the (presumably abductors) leave them for her, did they dress her?

    How did her her hands and legs burn on a cold floor?

  4. Kathryn’s critique is right on. A couple of things that might help the writer (Assuming this is genre fiction):
    -The first sentence, sometimes paragraph, should introduce the main character and a hint at the situation. This opening introduces story chaos for the reader to sort through. It is great to have the MC confused, but the reader should not be.
    -In this submission, what is intended to create tension for me only created hopelessness. This is because the MC is alone. She needs someone to interact with.
    -Stay on topic. Descriptions of cloths and friends are digressions and are not needed at this point.
    -Story starts at the wrong place. The first two paragraphs describing her situation is enough space to make the point. Paragraph three, the antagonist enters the room.
    -Andromeda (the name) draws too much attention to the word itself. Something shorter and more common would allow the reader to focus on this terrible situation
    -Long, careful descriptive sentences are at odds with the situation. Use short declarative sentences. Example of a first sentence: Ande heard the lock to her cell being turned. He was coming again. “Breath,” she thought.
    I hope this helps.

  5. We’ve seen this piece before (in June):

    https://killzoneblog.com/2018/06/recognizing-writing-tics-first-page-critique.html

    Unfortunately, I see some of the same problems that were in the writing the first time (and some new ones). You can tackle these problems, brave writer. If you’re feeling stuck, consider taking some writing classes at a local college or getting a writing coach. You have to master the mechanics of writing so that you can be free to tell the story that’s in your heart in a wonderful way. Read every article you can get your hands on about “overwriting.” Best of luck, and keep writing!

    • Yes we did indeed, Joanne. Mechanics can be mastered but it is important to study with a specific goal of mastering the basic craft techniques. Thanks for dropping by today!

      • I agree, and thank-you, Kathryn for all you do here at TKZ. Our brave writer is lucky to get such detailed feedback, and I hope she feels energized/encouraged to move forward with her writing.

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