First Page Critique: Watch All Night

By SUE COLETTA

Another brave writer submitted their first page for critique. Enjoy. I’ll catch you on the flipside.

WATCH ALL NIGHT

It was the other buildings that looked sinister. They slumped against each other, lining the alley in ancient, faded red-brick. Their boarded-up windows bothered Joe the most. They made the buildings look blinded. February chill, boosted by the river, let him hurry past those dead old things, still hanging round like they didn’t know their time had come and gone.

He could hear the Felbrigg changing from a warehouse to an apartment-building before he saw it. And there it was, full of life, construction crews hammering and buzzing, wraparound floor-to-ceiling windows, fancy new glass door. Fitting into the London of now.  

Joe went in.

#

Greeley, the building manager, took off his reading glasses and nodded to the two construction guys coming up the corridor where the gym and lift were going to be. The men headed for the front door. This desk station and security room made an island in the middle of the reception floor. A corridor ran all the way to the back of the building, on both sides of the island. Greeley had already run through the CCTV system in the security room, and how to change the recording. The security technology at the desk station was more or less the same. Greeley had explained about the alarm, the keys, the touchpads, the drawer contents.

Greeley looked Joe over with down-sloping grey eyes for about the fifth time. Joe knew the sight he made, six-foot-three, the extra muscle he’d put on, and his entire past in his face. Good look for a security guard; not so good, otherwise, to men like Greeley.

Now the men working on the gym had gone, he could hear Greeley’s nasal voice better through all the banging and drilling.

Greeley’s wide, soft jaw settled back into his neck. He said, “So. Think you can remember all that?”

Joe nodded.

***

The way Anon set the scene in the first two paragraphs works for this particular reader. We know where we are, and I found the dinginess of the building compelling enough to keep reading. The first line implies something terrible is about to happen within said building. Which is great. Could the sentence be stronger? Yeah, but that’s an editorial nitpick. I’d rather focus on the big picture.

The largest concern for me occurs after the hashmark. We have a couple POV hiccups and a distant narrator. A hashmark indicates a new scene, yet we’re in the same building as the previous paragraphs. See my confusion? At first, I thought we’d switched to Greeley’s POV, but it doesn’t appear that way. 

Anon, if you meant to switch to a different POV, then we have an even bigger problem. The first page should only be one scene. One POV per scene. 

Everything after the hashmark is more world-building. There’s also a lot of telling. Whenever we use words like heard, saw, thought, knew, etc., we’re not showing the story in a deep point of view. Think about how you, the writer, views the world. For all intents and purposes, you are that POV character. So, rather than tell us you heard or saw something, show us.

Example of telling (limited POV): I heard waves crashing against the rocks. I saw the salt water slash through the veil of ivory foam.

Without adding to the imagery, here’s the same example, only this time we’re in deep POV (showing): Waves crashed against the rocks, the salt water slashing through the veil of ivory foam.

See the difference? You don’t need to tell the reader that the character heard or saw the waves. It’s implied. How else would s/he know?

Okay, there’s another problem. Everything after the hashmark isn’t interesting enough to carry the first page. The building is under construction. We get it. Move on. Don’t waste precious real estate by over-describing. If you want to include the debris, then sprinkle it in later.

The first page needs to accomplish several things:

  • Raise story questions
  • Pique interest
  • Indicate genre
  • Introduce hero (or in some cases, the villain)
  • Gain empathy; not necessarily likability
  • The POV character needs a goal

I recently finished a terrific thriller entitled A Killer’s Mind by Mike Omer. Let’s look at the first paragraph as an example of how to include all of the above by showing, not telling …

The sharp scent of formaldehyde filled the room as he poured the liquid into the mixture. He had hated the smell at first. But he’d learned to appreciate it, knowing what it represented: eternity. The embalming fluid kept things from deteriorating. “Till death do us part” was an unambitious concept at best. True love should ascend beyond that point.

Did this paragraph raise story questions in my mind? Absolutely! I wanted needed to find out who this killer was embalming.

Did it pique my interest? Absolutely! I wanted needed to find out what this killer might do next.

Did it introduce a character in a compelling way? Absolutely! I wanted needed to find out more about this killer.

Did I know the genre right away? Absolutely! It’s a serial killer thriller.

Did I have empathy for the villain? Yes! He’s looking for love and thinks the only way to keep Mrs. Right is by embalming her.

Does the villain have a goal? Absolutely! His goal is to build a life-long union with a woman who will never leave him.

And Omer accomplished all of it in one paragraph. Bam. I’m hooked! The rest of the first page drew me in even more. Powerless to fight the urge to stop reading, the world faded away as I frantically flipped pages like a junkie searching for a fix.

Check out the rest of the first page …

He added more salt than the last time, hoping for better results. It was a delicate balance; he’d learned that the hard way. The embalming fluid promised eternity, but the saline solution added flexibility.

A good relationship had to be flexible.

There was a creak beyond the locked door. The noises—a series of irregular squeaking and scraping sounds, intermingled with the girl’s labored groans—grated on his nerves. She was trying to untie herself again. Always moving, always trying to get away from him—they were all the same at first. But she’d change; he would make sure of that. There would be no more incessant movement, no muffled begging, no hoarse screams.

She would be quiet and still. And then they would learn to love each other.

Notice, too, how the killer is moving; he’s active. We’re not hearing about what he did after the fact. We’re experiencing it firsthand through the killer’s POV.

Anon, you need to do the same in your first page. Show us where Joe goes after he enters the building and why we should care. You don’t need to reveal any big mystery, but you do need to hint at it to hold our interest.

This next paragraph tells us what happened instead of letting us experience it ourselves:

Greeley had already run through the CCTV system in the security room, and how to change the recording. The security technology at the desk station was more or less the same. Greeley had explained about the alarm, the keys, the touchpads, the drawer contents.

Granted, it’s best to breeze over the boring stuff. We don’t need to know how to operate CCTV, unless it impacts the plot in some way. If the paragraph falls into the boring stuff category, then it doesn’t belong on the first page.

Ideas

What if Joe reviews last night’s tapes and sees something strange … a burglar, someone being kidnapped, UFO lights, whatever fits your genre. He shows the footage to Greeley and we’re off and running with a new mystery, a goal for our hero, and intrigue.

Or …

What if Greeley storms over to Joe’s work station with damning footage of Joe sneaking into the building last night. But Joe was at home all night. See all the story questions that might arise from that one simple action? Is someone trying to setup Joe? For what, burglary, murder, or a far more sinister scheme? Who hates him enough to frame him? And why? How’d he or she get his passcode or security card?

With the right action, it’s easy to plant questions in the reader’s mind. But you do need the right angle. We also need to plant the reader in that moment with the hero or villain, rather than the narrator telling us about it after it happened.

This paragraph confused me:

Greeley looked Joe over with down-sloping grey eyes for about the fifth time. Joe knew the sight he made, six-foot-three, the extra muscle he’d put on, and his entire past in his face. Good look for a security guard; not so good, otherwise, to men like Greeley.

I’m guessing Anon’s trying to describe Joe, but it doesn’t work. Some authors never describe their characters. They leave it up to reader-interpretation. On Facebook, a fan asked Karin Slaughter what one of her main characters looked like. Her response? He looks exactly how you picture him in your mind. Perfect answer, right?

The writer needs to know their characters intimately, including their looks, but the reader doesn’t, unless their unique style adds to their character in some way. For example, some of my characters wrongly assume Shawnee Daniels lives a gothic lifestyle. She hates the label, but I show her uniqueness to enhance her character — dressing goth-like raises questions about her. Is she hiding behind all black for a reason? Is she using makeup like a mask to shield the innocent girl who cowers inside? See where I’m going with this?

Greeley has that bulldog look. Great. Let another character tease him about his downward-sloping eyes. Men give each other s*it all the time on construction sites. Show him getting razzed by one of the guys, and then show his reaction to the ribbing. Does he fire the guy on the spot? Does he throw things? Cry? I wouldn’t let this play out on the first page, though. Just spitballin’. 😉

Anon, I see something special in the first two paragraphs. You have the writing chops to make this first page compelling. You just dropped the ball after the hashmark. Happens to the best of us. So, take a moment to curse me out, then get back to work. Make us proud, because I know you have it in you. 

Favorite line of this first page: Greeley’s wide, soft jaw settled back into his neck.

You nailed the body cue in that line. So, stop playing it safe elsewhere. 🙂

Over to you, TKZers. How might you improve this first page? Did the first two paragraphs draw you in? Could you guess the genre from this small sample? What’s your favorite line? Which, if you’re game, I’d like to include in all first page critiques. Not only will asking for a favorite line add a positive spin to the critiques but knowing where the brave writer succeeded is just as beneficial as knowing where s/he went wrong. 

4+

30 thoughts on “First Page Critique: Watch All Night

  1. I’m with you on this one, Sue. Evidence of good writing here, but some common mistakes that will make it hard for this submission to get past an acquiring editor and savvy readers.

    The abrupt POV shift was unnecessary and jarring, as you say. It’s a major no-no. And the use of the ### is an error. It is used, as you say, only to denote a change in a scene (place, time, POV) that maybe doesn’t merit a complete chapter break. Here, the locale or time does not change so this is a mis-use of the technique. I suspect the writer did the ### break because he/she was moving to a new POV and sensed it was too abrupt.

    Second, the whole Greeley “scene” is just ho-hum. A scene has to do one of two things: move the plot forward or amplify character. (or both!) This does neither. I was sort of interested by the first graph because the “dead” buildings promised a certain mood. But once we got inside, it got boring.

    As you noted, there is undoubtedly a more effective and compelling dramatic entry point for this story. Because this sample does not establish much mood or give a clue to the story or genre, I can’t begin to speculate where that door into the story is. But whatever the main conflict or challenge is for the protag, that is where the writer needs to focus.

    • I went back and read it a couple more time. After the ### break, it feels like we are moving into Greeley’s POV but I don’t think that is what the writer intended. We are still in Joe’s POV, I think, but it doesn’t feel that way because of the narrative construction. The writer should stay firmly in Joe’s POV and loose the break. Maybe something like this:

      Joe went in.

      Greeley took off his reading glasses and looked Joe over with sloping grey eyes. Joe knew the sight he made, six-foot-three, the extra muscle he’d put on, and his entire past in his face. Good look for a security guard; not so good to a building manager like Greeley.

      “So, you think you can remember everything I told you?” Greeley asked.

      Yesterday, Greeley had schooled him on the security system — the alarm, the keys, the touchpads, the drawer contents. What he hadn’t made clear was why a man who had done two years in the U.S. Secret Service was being hired to be a lousy night-shift guard on a construction site. (I made that up to make a point that the writer needs something INTERESTING about Joe and this situation to pull us in).

      Joe nodded.

      • That’s exactly what I thought, too, Kris, that we shifted into Greeley’s POV. It took several read-throughs for me to figure out we hadn’t … I think.

        I do feel the writer has it in him/her to make this compelling, but everything after the hashmark must go.

  2. Wow. You nailed it yet again, Sue, as you so often do in your posts, especially with your clean, concise “The first page needs to accomplish several things” list. I’m sharing this one as a learning tool with my writer-readers.

  3. Hi! Sue, I ain’t got time for no cursing out – I gots work to do!

    No, I come for learning, not praise. Your crit was in-depth and constructive; thank you. And I’m so grateful for your comments, too, Kris. It helps to know others are in agreement.

    Yes; this one is giving me problems. I actually did start the piece after the first two paragraphs with the first hint of the mystery – Joe sees a figure on the stairs which he thinks is Greeley but then Greeley appears from somewhere else. Trouble is, a crit on that version said the action started too early :QUOTE I hope it’s OK to quote!):

    ” More generally, you need much more physical description. A building site can actually be a very interesting location because it is something in transience between the old and the new, but right now there isn’t enough to ground us. It’s hard to imagine the look of the building, the dimensions, the purpose and the level of work that has been done (and has yet to be done). Just bring in more of this — readers must be oriented physically in your story or they will be too confused or distracted to connect with your story.”

    I know there is a way of resolving this; I will find it. Maybe I’m starting at the wrong place? Maybe I’ll start at his first day of work after all. Ooh, that’ll be fun. I’ve done many versions of my beginning, but they’ve always started with Joe being trained by Greeley. Will be exciting to do another start.

    Thanks for the catch about the #. No, no POV shift, just a time shift (probably about an hour). Now I’ve learned you can’t use it for that! Good. Will have to find another way.

    Yikes, I do use ‘could see; or ‘felt’ quite a lot… Will weed that out. Thank you. Good, good, good. I progress.

    I often don’t describe characters much, though I’ve been taken to task for that, too (*sigh*), but I need Joe to look menacing. Sue, could you possibly pinpoint for me what doesn’t work about the passage where Joe ‘sees’ himself in Greeley’s eyes? Need to understand so I don’t do it again.

    So basically, Joe has got this job even though he’s an ex-con, and Greeley doesn’t approve. As I said, this is the scene where Greeley shows him (and us) around the building and Joe sees a ghost, then has to talk himself out of believing what he thinks he saw because he needs this job. This way, it’s scarier for him when he later has to enter the building, at night, alone.

    Now that you know where I’m going for the first bit, any suggestions would be massively appreciated!

    • Hi, Tracey! The comment/suggestion from the previous critique makes me wonder if the person who gave you the advice writes sci-fi or fantasy, because then world-building is vitally important.

      That said, you still need to open the novel in a compelling way, and over-describing doesn’t cut it. We need to be careful who we take advice from. If the writer critiquing your work is at the same point in their writing journey as you are, then they don’t know what they don’t know. Make sense?

      All novels, regardless of genre, need to open in medias res (in the middle of the action). Readers do not need pages of description in order to connect with your story. That simply isn’t true.

      As an example, here’s how I opened CLEAVED (first paragraph):

      Bloodied and battered, suspended between this world and hell, I could barely catch my breath. Cool air struck my face and my eyelids fluttered open. Pure blackness enveloped my body, stuffed inside a steel drum. Metal scraped my bare back. Sharp pain shot to my knees, ankles, and neck, bent at such an angle moving was not an option. No longer did I control my breathing, my chest heaving much faster than I could regulate. Within this sinister trap, the oxygen thinned with every patter, patter, patter of my heart.

      We know she’s inside a barrel, but we have no idea where. It doesn’t matter yet. We first need to give the reader a compelling reason to keep reading. And we do that by nailing each item on the list I mentioned.

      I like the idea of Joe seeing Greeley, and then he enters from a different doorway. THAT would keep me reading. THAT raises story questions. THAT hints at the mystery to come.

      Regarding Joe: most people have no idea how we appear to someone else. We gather hints through interactions with other people … if someone cowers when we enter the room, if someone smiles upon seeing us, if someone turns and walks away. The same holds true for our characters.

      Reveal Joe’s menacing look and behavior over time, through interactions with the people around him. Don’t rush it. If the reader imagines him as innocent and later finds out he’s evil, that’s not a bad thing. Readers want to learn about characters over time. It’s how we fall in love with some characters and hate others. The writer can’t tell the reader how to feel; we need to form our own opinion little by little, just like in the real world.

      One way to show that Joe is an ex-con is by having him scratch a prison tattoo. Better yet, when he spots Greeley, he yanks down his shirtsleeve. Then add to the body cue with inner dialogue: This tattoo seemed like a good idea at the time, but men like Greeley could never understand what it’s like to live in a six-by-six cell for ten years.

      • Thank you, Sue. So great of you to spend more time on me. I can be extremely greedy about my writing, so please excuse my taking up more of your time.

        The feedback board that I quoted from has a very good rep, of more than a decade’s standing, with professional writers, but they don’t tell you the background of whoever does your crit. I do get the feeling that horror is rather ‘beneath’ them, though, because they’ve never chosen a horror piece as winner. It’s certainly not the first time I’ve been told to slow down my action. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve been told, ‘Yes, yes, something scary is happening to the protag but why should we CARE? We don’t know her yet, her wants, her needs!’ I feel that thriller and horror readers want at least hints at their thrills and horrors quite soon, but am always being told I need to lay more foundation first. It’s hard to know what to do, because none of those crits have been from horror writers. There tends not to be many professional crit boards dedicated to horror! I’m not a pulp horror writer, though, more literary, so I’ve absorbed the notes quite happily! But it’s very frustrating to be told the opposite thing in another set of notes! Gah!

        I actually DID have a Joe tugging his sleeve down over a tattoo for quite a few versions. I’m not sure why or when I dumped it. It might have been when it was a screenplay.

        Regarding how others see us – that’s an interesting point. Would you mind very much if I discussed this? If we look unremarkable, we probably don’t register others’ reactions, because there’s not an awful lot to register (and even that is a reaction that tells us about the impression we make, no?)

        But there are certain types who can’t be in any doubt how they look to others,ie, the beautiful, the disfigured, those who have cultivated a certain look, which Joe has and which now works both against him and for him.

        I guess I was trying to do quad duty with this: 1.convey Joe’s sensitivity to his position with Greeley 2. describe him 3. show Greeley’s character 4. show Joe’s apart-ness from ‘mainstream’ like Greeley – Joe’s learning to connect again with society is part of his journey and becomes key in a final decision he has to make – but I can find another way if it really doesn’t fly! ‘His entire past in his face’ is probably too vague; we later find out he has a small facial scar, but I thought that might be piling it on too much for a first description.

        Anyway anyway anyway, I’m looking forward to licking this into shape with the help of your notes. I do enjoy the journey! I’m going to get right down to it.

        Thank you for your generosity.

        • I can relate, Traci. Conflicting advice can be mind-numbing at times. I write psychological thrillers/serial killer thrillers, though some readers do classify my books as “the best taste of horror,” if that helps. 😉

          My pleasure. Best of luck!!! I know you can nail this.

  4. Thank you, Anon, for letting us take a peek at your first page.

    I like that we’ve learned the time (February, in contemporary times), the place (construction site in London), and the main character (Joe, a muscled man of few words).

    In place of building details like the corridors and aspects of the security system, I’d rather learn about what’s off, what’s wrong, or, as Sue put it, what is there that raises a question in the reader’s mind? I like Sue’s suggestion of something horrific on the security footage, but it could be more subtle, like a woman’s evening shoe under the desk. (Ooo, what if it had blood on it?!)

    My fave line: “[The buildings] slumped against each other, lining the alley in ancient, faded-red brick.”

    Good luck, Anon, in your continued writing journey!

      • Ha! The security system plays a BIG part in the hauntings. At one point in this passage, Greeley says, ‘These [cameras] will show you all you need to see,’ little knowing how right he is! And there IS a woman’s shoe, Priscilla, but not with blood on it, and not on the camera… Joe is in the bathroom, unconsciously (?) droning a song that he’s never actually heard of and then a woman’s voice from outside the room joins in. While he’s frozen in terror, her battered boot pokes into the bathroom door. Suffice it to say he later finds out the song is the one Mary Kelly was heard drunkenly rendering the night Jack the Ripper killed her…

        However, none of this will be worth a damn if I can’t get the beginning right! One more thing about horror – if you start too strong, you’ve got nowhere to go, so I build the scares to a climax, from the ‘Oh, that was a bit odd but I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation’ to the ‘Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!’

        Big thanks. I feel very lucky to have both your inputs.

  5. Interesting… You loved buildings slumping. I did not. They don’t slump. That started me down a different path. I needed to look up Felbrigg. Perhaps the cover art would have clued me in that it is in England. That is OK. Overall, this look doesn’t take me anywhere, as others have said. Joe and Greely could cover the same ground in a few words and be able to move the story along. The lift is on the second floor by the gym? The lift is on every floor. That is its job. A different description of the security desk would make a better story. i.e. “Greely pointed out the coffee stained mouse pad and the middle right hand drawer that would be Joe’s. Joe inherited some leaking sugar packets, six paper clips, and some odd sauce packets from the previous user of the middle drawer.”

    Did I miss a ghost someplce?

    • Hi, Alan! Thanks for your input and your time. Noted. The opening is obviously too slow, which is a consequence of my being told many times that the first page was too soon for the ghost to appear! I’m learning how to negotiate that dichotomy… Any help would be appreciated.

      Just because I like chatting about my work, I got ‘slumped buildings’ from buildings that are on a hill so look like they’re leaning against each other.. I’ve actually got an area in Bankside in mind, ancient brown-brick buildings, right up against each other terraced style, but I’ve been so long writing this wretched thing, I think they might indeed all have been modernized by now. Haven’t been up there for a while. Felbrigg doesn’t actually exist, I just made up the name for the old warehouse.

      Hey, I don’t quite understand your note about the lift, though. A lift has to be somewhere – it GOES everywhere, but it has to be physically situated somewhere in the building. This one’s in the corridor by the gym instead of, I dunno, at the other side of the desk. Is there another way you can suggest I put this? (Actually, that reminds me of my days on the cruise ship, when the passengers would ask, “Does the elevator go to the front of the ship?” ) (: (: (:

      Many thanks for commenting.

  6. Thanks for sharing your work with us, brave writer. I loved Sue’s thoughtful critique. Wonderful advice. Here are a few comments to throw into the mix.

    Opening Paragraph

    I was intrigued by the first paragraphs. I do have a few suggestions. Be careful about using hyphens where they aren’t needed. (‘red-brick”) Also, I’d find a way to combine the third and fourth sentences so that you can avoid using the word “they” so much. Loved the phrase “still hanging round like they didn’t know their time had come and gone.” Personification is an advanced technique used to endow inanimate objects with human qualities; this works very well here. Good job.

    Setting

    When I saw your references to London and the Felbrigg, I thought of Felbrigg Hall (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felbrigg_Hall), which is a National Trust property. This could cause confusion for the reader.

    Structure/POV

    Don’t put in the scene break where you did. It garbles the POV. You have the reader hooked in Joe’s POV. Stay there and be clear about it. You’ve got the reader right where you want him. Tell the reader what’s happening through Joe’s eyes. Tighten up the description of the building and such so that you don’t lose your reader. Continue with the action.

    Awkward Character Description Lines

    “Greeley looked Joe over with down-sloping grey eyes for about the fifth time.”

    That line feels kind of forced.

    “Joe knew the sight he made, six-foot-three, the extra muscle he’d put on, and his entire past in his face.”

    It’s usually not a good idea to have characters describe themselves. If Joe is tall, you could show the reader he is tall by his actions. Maybe he has to duck under something because he is so tall, for example. It’s also possible to have a character compare himself to another character. Or you could have another character comment on the protagonist’s looks. Come up with a clever way to “show” the reader what you want him to know about your character.

    Word Choice

    You write:

    “Now the men working on the gym had gone, he could hear Greeley’s nasal voice better through all the banging and drilling.”

    Try this:

    “Once the men working on the gym had gone, he could hear Greeley’s nasal voice better through all the banging and drilling.”

    Anyway, good job, brave writer. Best of luck as you make your revisions. Keep writing!

    • Thank you so much, Joanne. Your time and observations much appreciated. Yes, I haven’t quite digested the modern way of blending or separating words that used to be hyphenated; the Oxford dickie way is still to hyphenate those, but I know that’s a conservative view, so thank you.

      I did some revisions last night (I don’t hang about, me!) so if anyone at all would like to see them, it’s just the first three pages, I’d be ever so grateful…Hint, hint.

      Just want to say, I think it’s a shame that so few writers come back at least to THANK critters. I don’t know if they’re just too shy to ID themselves or sulking about criticism, but I would find it a bit hard to put in all that work and not even get a word back from Brave Author.

      All the best.

      • Oooh, and isn’t that weird about Felbrigg Hall? I never even knew it existed, I just found the name looking for old obsolete English family names, if I remember correctly now, though I did think I’d possibly invented the name. ‘Fel’ sounds vaguely unsettling to me, and I believe Felbrigg means ‘bridge over a field’, which fits in with my building being a bridge of sorts and situated near London bridge to boot.

        Re your suggestions for continuing the action, btw: I think I need to skip forward past Joe and Greeley’s 1st meeting for the sake of not being even more boring.

        So I’ve gone with this:

        “Joe glanced through the Felbrigg’s fancy new glass door at the dead old buildings opposite, as Mr. Greeley showed him round the ground floor. The incline of the alley made those red brick buildings slump against each; their boarded-up windows blinded them. Still hanging around like they didn’t know their time had come and gone. Sinister to have to look out at every night, but at least he wasn’t going to be guarding one of those. Right. Like he wouldn’t have guarded a rat-infested dungeon if it meant having an actual job. One that wouldn’t land him back in prison.

        He followed Mr. Greeley, the building manager, across the grey slate floor, past the marble desk station, to the arch on the right. The construction crews were back from lunch;Joe’s shoulders relaxed at the pointlessness of trying to keep up a conversation above all the drilling and banging that was turning the old Felbrigg from warehouse into apartments of pure urban swank.

        Under the arch, a flight of concrete stairs ran up to the first floor [in the UK, our ‘Ground Floor’ is your ‘1st Floor’; our 1st floor your 2nd] , and across from them was a door. “That leads to the basement,” Greeley said.”

        What d’you think?

        Thank you!

        • Thanks for the explanations. I love to hear from the authors.

          I thought the first couple of paragraphs were good as written. The opening line about the other buildings that looked sinister was what drew me in. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. I’d keep those opening paragraphs pretty much the same. Maybe combine the third and fourth sentences something like this:

          Their boarded-up windows, like the eyes of soulless faces, bothered Joe the most.

          Then, after the first couple of paragraphs that were already working, I’d move into the action. I think you’re on the right track now. You can always resubmit with your revisions and see what everyone thinks.

      • So do you, Sue. I’ve been told that I have a natural mothering/nurturing instinct, and I suspect you (and some of the others here) have, as well.

          • I know what you mean. My husband teases me, because I worry that the rabbits (who eat all of the Swiss chard and such out of my garden every year) are getting enough to eat.

            • (:
              Thanks, Mums!

              Because I really need that shift from Joe going in and his already having been through the boring stuff, and the momentousness of his entrance, (to the building that’s supposed to be the innocuous one) I’m going to have a short first chapter:

              ‘It was the other buildings that looked sinister. Slumped against each other downhill on the alley, in ancient, faded redbrick, their boarded-up windows bothered Joe most of all. They made the buildings look blinded. February chill, boosted by the river, let him hurry past those dead old piles of brick, still hanging round like they didn’t know their time had come and gone.

              At least he wouldn’t be guarding one of those all night. Right. Like he wouldn’t have guarded a rat-infested dungeon [place-holder, will think of something more Joe-like, later], if it gave him a job. One that wouldn’t land him back in prison.

              He heard the Felbrigg changing from a warehouse to an apartment building before he saw it. And there it was, full of life, construction crews hammering and buzzing, wraparound floor-to-ceiling windows, fancy new glass door. Fitting into the London of now.

              Joe went in.’

              Then onto Chapter Two, a little friction between Joe and Greeley and Joe sees the ghost.

              Thank you!

              • I mean, I feel I’m losing a portion of the irony of the difference between the Felbrigg and the old buildings, by separating those two paragraphs, but gaining a sense of Joe and his situation. I don’t really want to hark back to the old buildings past this first page, because they don’t give Joe any problems.

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