First Page Critique: A Plan of Change

Happy Monday! Today’s First Page Critique is entitled ‘A Plan of Change’. I think this page provides a good illustration of some common challenges when it comes to foreshadowing. My comments follow.

A Plan of Change

Jenny Holland never intended to go through with her plan. Plotting revenge against them was just something to ease her anger and pain. Then she opened the newspaper, and a mini-headline on page two ignited a whole new round of hate:

“Dean Decker Honored at Banquet.”

She laid the paper on her work table.

Dean and a group of VIPs smiled in a photograph below the bold type.  All the men wore tuxedos, except Dean.  He had on a gray suit and striped tie.  He was the center of attention and yet he found a way to make himself stand out even more.  In another photo, Carolyn stood beside him, her head tilted demurely toward his. Her coyness made Jenny want to stab her in the throat.

Jenny read the article.  Each line of praise tightened the muscles in her neck a little more.  The last accolade was too much:

“Without him, our charity wouldn’t be able to help as many clients as we do.  Dean is so giving.”

Giving?

Her heart pounded double-time.

“He doesn’t give!  He steals!”

Remember, Jenny.  Dean’s only power is the one you grant him.

She sat back in her chair. “I know.”

She looked out the window of her home office as she tried to calm herself.

Under the maple tree a thrasher foraged for food.  It tossed dead leaves aside, again and again. Usually bird-watching made her smile.  Not today.  Dean killed any chance of that.

Soon the thrasher began hammering the ground with its bill.  She envied the way it jabbed and punched.  The only punching she ever did was in her imagination. It flew away when Mrs. Moon jogged up the sidewalk.  Sarah waved, like most mornings.  Mrs. Moon did the same.

Once their neighborly routine was over, Sarah dropped her hand on top of Dean and Carolyn’s photo.  Dean’s face peeked between her fingers.

It wasn’t right that Dean and Carolyn enjoyed life while Bobby couldn’t.  If she went ahead with her plan, neither would smile ever again.

Dean’s eyes said “I dare you, Jenny.”

It was like the words were whispered in her ear.

Comments:

Overall

Although I enjoyed reading this first page, I think one of the major issues is one of foreshadowing – namely too much is disclosed up front about Jenny’s plan when it comes to Dean and Carolyn. It’s a good example of how a little can go a long way, especially in the first paragraph where we are already told that she is plotting revenge. There is also a great deal of extraneous information in this first page which really doesn’t pull the reader in – like the observations about the thrasher (a little too heavy-handed) and the exchange of waves with Mrs. Moon (unless it provides a sharp contrast to Jenny’s current thoughts, do we really need to know the neighborly routine right here?).

There is also the question of who exactly is in the room on this first page. We start and end with Jenny Holland, yet about three quarters of the way into this first page we are suddenly introduced to Sarah ( “Sarah waved”, “Sarah dropped her hand”). I’m proceeding on the assumption that there aren’t actually two female characters in the scene, but rather the author changed the name of the protagonist from ‘Sarah’ to ‘Jenny’ at some point and that ‘Sarah’ is now a typographical error. Here at TKZ we’ve emphasized the importance of proof reading your first page to the nth degree – an error like this would turn off an editor immediately.

When it comes to the issue of foreshadowing, my recommendation would be to cut most of the explanatory sentences and leave the reader intrigued as to what Jenny is planning. This first page should set up the key questions the novel will address (why is Jenny so angry? What did Dean do? Who is Bobby and what happened to him?) and provide intrigue and tension (what exactly is Jenny planning – can she go through with it?). Telling the reader in the first paragraph that: “Plotting revenge against them was just something to ease her anger and pain” robs this first page of dramatic tension. Similarly, sentences like “If she went ahead with her plan, neither would smile ever again” seem unnecessary as well as cliched. Far better, I think to keep the reader in suspense about Jenny’s plan (as well as her mental state).

To this end I would also urge the author to reconsider the inner monologue/dialogue as it sounds confusing and a little childish at the moment (especially “He doesn’t give! He steals!”). While I don’t mind the idea of Jenny having an exchange that sounds like she’s speaking to a therapist that isn’t there – this would have to be executed with more finesse (and possibly raising the question of an unreliable narrator, which is tricky to pull off).

I suggest a rewrite that reduces the exposition/foreshadowing and removes the extraneous information that drains the page of dramatic tension. Here’s my initial suggestion (apologies for the presumption, but I think it illustrates the points I’m trying to make):

Jenny Holland never intended to go through with her plan, then she opened the newspaper, and the headline on page two ignited a whole new round of hate.

“Dean Decker Honored at Banquet.”

Dean and a group of VIPs smiled in a photograph below the bold type. Carolyn stood beside him, her head tilted demurely toward his. Her coyness made Jenny want to stab her in the throat.

 Each line of praise tightened the muscles in Jenny’s neck a little more.  The last accolade was too much: “Without him, our charity wouldn’t be able to help as many clients as we do.  Dean is so giving.”

Giving?

Her heart pounded double-time.

It wasn’t right that Dean and Carolyn enjoyed life while Bobby couldn’t.  But could she really go ahead with her plan?

Dean’s eyes said “I dare you, Jenny.”

It was like the words were whispered in her ear.

This is by no means a great rewrite but I’m hoping it illustrates my point. Overall, I think this page could work well with some heavy revision. TKZers, what advice would you offer our brave submitter?

6+

10 thoughts on “First Page Critique: A Plan of Change

  1. Good suggestions, Clare. If we can go a little farther, I’d like some way to ground us more to Dean. Something like, “She studied his photo again. Dean’s eyes said “I dare you, Jenny.”

  2. Anon, thank you for sharing your first page with us. I was also distracted by extraneous information, Sarah’s name, and the thrasher.

    Actually, if the thrasher were another kind of bird, I do like the the way the bird tossed aside dead leaves looking for food. I also liked the detail where Dean’s face peeked through Jenny’s fingers.

    I enjoyed Clare’s rewrite which simply takes your opening and removes the soft stuff. You have raised intriguing questions. Who are Dean, Carolyn, and Bobby? What horrid thing did Dean do? What revenge will Jenny carry out, and will she get away with it?Those are the kinds of questions that would keep me reading if the opening were tidied up.

    Good luck with your continued writing journey, Anon!

  3. I liked this.

    I Don’t think it us necessary for the reader to know who Dean, Bobby or anyone else actually are to the main character or why they did or should die. That information could be metered out through the first half of the book while perfecting the plan.god luck to Jenny!

      • I agree, it would be good to spread out the details as the book evolves to keep up the tension. I’d still like to see hints as to the reasons behind Jenny’s actions and her plans in the first chapter (though not necessarily the first page) – however, if the identity of key characters and her rationale for acting/planning revenge is too vague for too long it might start to sap the story of dramatic tension.

  4. Thanks for sharing your work with us, brave writer. Clare gave you great advice. Here are my comments:

    First Line

    “Jenny Holland never intended to go through with her plan.”

    Good. Already the reader wants to know what the plan is. Nice first line.

    First Paragraph

    “Plotting revenge against them was just something to ease her anger and pain.”

    This is too “on the nose” here. Get rid of this line.

    “ignited a whole new round of hate.”

    Same problem. Don’t tell the reader she was feeling hate. Show the reader. Quick example of how it’s done:

    Jenny Holland never intended to go through with her plan until she read the mini-headline on the society page of The Banner.

    “Douchebag!” She tossed the newspaper on her work table, toppling her cocktail glass. An olive rolled on top of Dean Decker’s smug face in the photo.

    This is just an example. Do it in your own words, brave writer. As you revise your first page, try to show the reader Jenny’s actions. Never explain them.

    Limit Character Introductions

    On the first page, you mention many characters:

    Jenny Holland
    Dean Decker
    Bobby
    Carolyn
    Mrs. Moon
    Sarah

    Too many character introductions on page one isn’t a good idea. Are Sarah and Jenny the same person in some sort of identity switcheroo? Even if they are, don’t use two names for the same character in one scene. It’s way too confusing. You want mystery for the reader, not confusion. Maybe, as Clare suggests, you changed the character’s name and didn’t catch it in all places. Whatever the case, this needs correction.

    Begin With a Strong Scene

    It’s usually not a good idea to begin with a character alone thinking. Rather than have the character waving to people passing by, consider having another character in the room with Jenny when she spots the article. Have some dialogue with lots of juicy subtext.

    Overall Impression

    I’m on the same page with Clare. You have some revisions to make, brave writer, but you can do it. The reader is already curious about what Dean did. That part is good. I look forward to seeing your revisions. Best of luck and keep writing!

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