First Page Critique: Titan’s Fall

Happy Monday! Today’s first page critique is entitled Titan’s Fall. My comments to follow. Enjoy!

Title:  Titan’s Fall

Steel gears grind overhead along thin aluminum girders. A red glow illuminated the gray cinder block wall to my right. The weighted anodized-pistol warms my palms. As I wait for the targets to line up, two questions rotate on heavy cycle: Why did my brother have to die? And, will Ms. Reddington remember I prefer chocolate cake over spice this year?

The panel next to the speaker box embedded into the wall beeps and ten cardboard birds drop down from the ceiling. According to my father, the gaming system is the latest in target technology. I wouldn’t know. My siblings and are allowed to leave the compound. The birds’ tails flash red, blue, and green. It doesn’t matter how quick they move or in which direction, blue is always first. I adjust my stance and squeeze the trigger. One by one, the targets return to the rafters.

GAME OVER.

“Kade Maddox,” Mother’s voice shrills from the intercom. “Upstairs! Now!”

My eyes flick to the red START button. Two-tenths of a second and I’ll have beaten the high score. Perhaps I can squeeze one more–

“Double-time, mister. Your father and I have to leave.”

But you just got here?

My dress shoes squeal along the glossy anti-static tiles as I sprint across the open atrium to the staircase. Spotless glass gleams all around me. Like the gaming system, the three-story, fully-staffed house in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains is supposedly hi-tech. Again, I wouldn’t know. My brother’s unexpected death changed a lot of rules.

“You promised this time would be different, August,” Mother barks. I press my back against the wall and lean closer to the door. The smell of Ms. Reddington’s overly-peppered roast beef mixes with chlorinated-air of the basement.

Father sighs. “He has been here two years longer than–”

“Don’t say his name.”

Comments:

Overall, I really enjoyed this first page. The first paragraph in particular combined just the right amount of description, intrigue and character. I thought the character’s voice was already compelling and that the humor as well as the anger and grief came through effectively, particularly in the first few paragraphs. I liked how the mystery of the brother’s death is introduced – although it did get a little confusing as we don’t really know why his death changed a lot of rules or who Kade’s mother and father are talking about in the final paragraph (I assume his brother?).

At times it was also difficult to picture the whole setting – for instance why would the air of the basement still be mixing with the kitchen aromas after Kade has gone up the stairs and through an atrium and (possibly) up another staircase? I was thrown by the reference to ‘dress shoes’ as I wasn’t sure why Kade would be wearing them to target practice. I am also assuming it is a typo in the paragraph beginning ‘the panel’ that Kade and his siblings are  allowed to leave the compound (I’m assuming it should be that they aren’t). As we always emphasize, authors should be vigilant for these kind of typos as they do have a nasty way of sneaking in and staying in!

Overall, my main recommendation would just be to add a tiny bit more in terms of background so the reader isn’t confused by some of the off-hand references to the compound or ‘supposedly’ high tech features. Just a sentence or two might help ground the reader. Are we talking a dystopian society here? What ‘rules’ were there before Kade’s brother’s death? If they could leave the compound before, what was the outside world like? What level of tech is there? and where are Kade’s mother and father going (especially since they just got here according to Kade)?

However, these are all relatively easy fixes that help ground the reader in the novel, and overall I thought this was a very promising start to a novel. TKZers, what advice would you give our brave contributor?

2+

27 thoughts on “First Page Critique: Titan’s Fall

  1. I agree with Clare. I always talk about raising some “mystery” in the opening, not explaining everything, and this piece does that nicely. The brother’s death hangs over it from the first paragraph. And I loved how the other, innocent thought rubbed up against it. Nice counterpoint.

    One caution: don’t overuse colorful alternatives to “said.” When Mother “barked” the picture it created was not one the author intended. Let the dialogue itself do the work.

  2. I also liked it a lot. My only confusion was the references to Ms Reddington, especially at the end. Her cooking seems to be in the room with his parents, but is she also in the room with them?

  3. I really enjoy these first page critiques. This has the makings of an interesting book. Like Clare said, the dress shoes are odd. At this point in the story I had no idea where or when this story takes place. Perhaps freshly polished black leather shoes would be better. And yes, dress shoes need a touch of explanation on the shooting range. Perhaps they stopped by after visiting someone or church?

    Who is August? If I am missing something, so be it, but if Kade is a nick name for August, it is strange. Perhaps that is in chapter two.

    Appalachia is not the usual location for something ‘high tech’. More power to you for breaking a stereotype.

  4. I thought the shooting range was in the house. I thought the dress shoes and the line about preferring chocolate cake over spice meant a birthday celebration. And I thought August is his dad’s name.

  5. Thanks for sharing your work with us, brave writer, and thanks to Clare for her usual wise comments. I enjoyed this page, too. This looks like the next installment in the Titan series (https://www.amazon.com/Kate-Rauner/e/B00DMEEMWS/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1). Here are a few notes:

    1. Keep the tense consistent. So, if you’re telling the story in first person present tense, this sentence needs to be corrected:

    “A red glow illuminated the gray cinder block wall to my right. ”

    So, just change “illuminated” to “illuminates” and you’ll be good to go.

    2. “Mother’s voice shrills from the intercom”

    Interesting use of shrills here. I’ve never used it as a verb, but it is, indeed, a verb.

    3. I’d get rid of the hyphen between anodized and pistol.

    4. “questions rotate on heavy cycle” – this language choice makes me think of my washing machine. I’m not sure. Maybe it will grow on me.

    5. As already mentioned, I think you meant to say “aren’t” allowed to leave the compound.

    Overall, I think this is great stuff. I’m intrigued (and sorry to hear about the brother’s death!)

  6. One more thing. This sentence:

    “The panel next to the speaker box embedded into the wall beeps and ten cardboard birds drop down from the ceiling.”

    “drop down” is redundant… just say:

    The panel next to the speaker box embedded into the wall beeps and ten cardboard birds drop from the ceiling.

    Birds don’t drop up, right? 😉

  7. Thank you for sharing your opening page with us, Brave Contributor.

    I liked the way your first page gave us the feel that something is very wrong. Kade is not allowed out. He’s in a compound rather than a regular house or apartment, and the compound is tucked away in the Appalachian Mountains. Somehow his target practice feels too serious, like training instead of just a game, and that’s a great thing!

    I don’t understand why there is a question mark after, “But you just got here.”

    Clare pointed out the chlorine smell. Like at a swimming pool, the strongest chlorine smell is low down, near the surface of the water. How would it get all the way upstairs and past the open atrium? An easy fix: Kade leaves the chlorine smell behind as he approaches the aroma of Ms. Reddington’s roast.

    Maybe this is a matter of a particular reader’s preference because Clare didn’t mention it, but I thought the first paragraph (arguably THE most important paragraph in the whole novel) could be tighter. Do we need “gray” when cinderblock is usually gray? Do we need to know the pistol is weighted (did you mean “weighty”?) when a pistol is already heavy in one’s hands?

    Also, the opening paragraph is in present tense, but “illuminated” is past tense.

    Overall, I enjoyed this opening, Brave Contributor. If you took another editing pass, I would turn the page to find out what happens next. Good luck on your continued writing journey.

  8. Claire- Thank you for the critique. You’re right about the typos and setting issue.

    Now, I just have to find a house with a swimming pool in the basement to find out if I can smell the chlorine at the top of the staircase. 🙂

    • I lived in a building with a pool in the basement. I could not smell chlorine on the first floor, but if I had used the pool the chlorine smell lingered on my clothes (strongly) all the way to the fifth floor. If your character is sensitive to smells you may be able to get away with more. Maybe he stuck a hand in the pool to test the temp?

      I loved the opening. If this was a novel I would read on. I hope you continue writing.

  9. Ha! I often invent places and buildings only to realize the layout is impractical and I’m trying to write my way out of it:) Thanks for contributing and congratulations on a terrific first page!

  10. Off topic. One of the truly great story tellers of all time, the creator of Marvel Comics Stan Lee has passed on. Thank you Stan. You are already missed.

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