First Page Critique: Is It Good
To Open With A Bad Guy?

By PJ Parrish

We’re off to sunny Arizona today for our First Pager, and into the shady heart of a bad girl. Thank you, writer, for letting us read your submission today and, as always, learn along with you. And this has left me with a yen for a blue margarita. Cheers!

 

Cartel Queen Veronica Valdez 

CHAPTER 1
The Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale
Onyx Bar

Monday, October 20, 2019

“Hurl! Loser!”

Eight twenty-something male golfers sat on the patio crushing beers and trading insults.
Veronica Valdez glared at the window. I didn’t come here for party-till-you-puke feral males. She sat at a high-top table and ordered a blue margarita.

An ASU freshman, Veronica’s fake driver’s license identified her as twenty-two year old Shirley Smith. Designer clothes and accessories gave the impression of a sophisticated professional.

With a smile as fake as a TV game-show host, a man appeared. “I’m Tommy Thompson. May I join you?”

“Of course, I’m Shirley Smith. What’s your first name?”

“Orville,” he whispered.

“Orville, this will be our secret.”

Swaggered over here. Has a room. Luxury watch.

Veronica nudged her scarlet Valentino tote bag off the table, and Thompson retrieved it. “Thanks, the least I can do is buy you a blue margarita.”

“Okay, but they’re on me.”

On you? You’ll forget your name when we’re finished.

Their drinks arrive minutes later.

“The Blue Curacao liqueur gives the margarita its color.” I won’t tell him it hides the Roofie’s blue tint.

They played where-are-you-from and what-do-you-do, and during an awkward lull Veronica’s left hand pulled Thompson’s head close, and the snogging began. She circled her tongue inside his mouth, dropped her left hand, and slid it under his crotch. Still kissing, she squeezed his crotch and when he whimpered, her right hand dropped a tasteless pale-green and blue-speckled, fast-dissolving roofie tablet into his blue margarita.

“Bet you can’t drain yours, Tommy.” If he’s trying to get into my pants, he’ll over-compensate. That’s what men do. Thompson finished his blue margarita in three gulps.
The bartender’s generous pour combined with an anesthetic dose of Rohypnol affected Thompson. “Thizz marga uh uh is thong. Not too thong for me. Hah!” Now you’re on your ass. Right where I want you, Orville.

Veronica paid the check and walked a babbling, unsteady Thompson to his room where she undressed him, and tucked him in bed. After checking his pulse and respiration, she left with his $30,000 White Gold Rolex GMT Master II along with his wallet, iPhone, and $789. She’d keep the cash and sell the watch, credit cards, iPhone, and driver’s license on the dark web.

Behind the wheel of her truck, Veronica rubbed herself with the watch until she moaned and shivered.

_____________________________

I’m back. Well, looks like we’re dealing with a femme fatale here. Which gives us a chance to talk about opening your story with the antagonist. Is it a good idea or just a cliche? Should you give that first spotlight to the villain or introduce your hero first? And, to make it more complicated, what if your protagonist is also an antagonist? Books and movies are rife with successful examples of this hybrid: Darkly Dreaming Dexter, American Psycho, A Clockwork Orange, Interview With the Vampire, and one of my favorite books-cum-movies The Talented Mr. Ripley.

So who do you shove out onto the stage first?

In movies, this is called the Establishing Character Moment. Often it’s given to the protag, but sometimes, the villain goes first. I was watching Dirty Harry the other night, and of course, I was analyzing the heck out of it. It’s about a serial killer called Scorpio. The opening is terrific. (A lot of credit needs to go to cinematographer Bruce Surtees, whose seminal chiaroscuro style was artful-creepy). The scene opens with the sound of church bells. Then we get a shot of a pretty girl, sighted through a rifle scope, swimming in a rooftop pool. The shot pulls out to show the shooter taking aim…

Indulge me a moment more while we talk about how Darkly Dreaming Dexter opens. First, we get a brief orgasmic ode to the moon then comes this graph:

I had been waiting and watching the priest for five weeks now. The need had been prickling and teasing prodding at me to find one, the next one, find this priest. Three weeks I had known he was it, the next one, we belonged to the Dark Passenger, he and I together. And that three weeks I had been fighting the pressure, the growing Need rising in me like a great wave that roars up and over the beach and does not recede, only swells with every tick of the bright night’s clock.

The bad guy as protag! One of my favorite books from high school was John Fowles’s The Collector, much of it written from the abductor’s POV. Here’s the opening graph:

When she was home from her boarding-school I used to see her almost every day sometimes, because their house was right opposite the Town Hall Annex. She and her younger sister used to go in and out a lot, often with young men, which of course I didn’t like. When I had a free moment from the files and ledgers I stood by the window and used to look down over the road over the frosting and sometimes I’d see her. In the evening I marked it in my observations diary, at first with X, and then when I knew her name with M.I saw her several times outside too. I stood right behind her once in a queue at the public library down Crossfield Street. She didn’t look once at me, but I watched the back of her head and her hair in a long pigtail. It was very pale, silky, like Burnet cocoons. All in one pigtail coming down almost to her waist, sometimes in front, sometimes at the back. Sometimes she wore it up. Only once, before she came to be my guest here, did I have the privilege to see her with it loose, and it took my breath away it was so beautiful, like a mermaid.

I am pretty sure this paragraph was swimming around in my subconsciousness when I wrote my stand-alone serial killer The Killing Song, which opens with the murderer admiring his next victim as she sits in a concert in Paris’s Sainte Chapelle.  So…if you’re going to open with the bad guy, you better be able to get into your killer’s skin, no matter how warty it is.

Which brings us, at last, to our submission today. (Thanks for your patience, writer, but I really needed to make a point about opening with bad guys first).

Now, in such a short sample, we can’t be sure Veronica is our villain. She could be the protagonist dressed up in anti-heroine Prada. Given the title, that’s my guess. Maybe the writer can weigh in with some insight? But we can still comment on the effectiveness of this opening in catching our attention and maybe what can be done to improve things. Some general observations first:

There’s some potential here. But I really think this writer needs to slow things down. Here is what happens, just in the plot-events: We’re in a bar where we meet the main character Veronica. She is clearly there to prey on someone, complete with fake ID and fancy togs. She hones in on a victim and they have drinks, small talk, and she sort of seduces him.  She slips him a roofie, and he gets woozy and can barely talk. Somehow, they get upstairs to his room where she undresses him and tucks him into bed. She steals his watch, wallet, phone and cash. She goes downstairs and out to the parking lot to her truck. She masturbates with his Rolex.

All this in…385 words. Way too fast.

What doesn’t happen is: establishment of location. (other than a superfluous tagline); any description of surroundings (and we’re in a beautiful desert luxury hotel!); what anyone looks like or sounds like (other a fakey-smile and roofie-drunk slurring); why Veronica is there, outside of ripping off men; basic choreography of moving the characters around in space. How do they get up to his room when he’s half-passed out? How does she get to her truck?  And there is not even a hint of character motivation or insight.

That last one is a biggie. Because if you are dealing with an antagonist/protagonist or an anti-heroine, you darn well better be prepared to plumb the depths of her deepest needs, wants, fears and yes, loves. And that begins at the beginning.

If the antagonist is important enough to get her own point of view, she ought to have goals and motives driving her — same as any other character, and we need to see the beginnings of this layering in the first chapter in which she appears. One trick to writing a solid bad guy is to make him the hero of his own story. (I think this is a James credo). Few people actually consider themselves evil or bad, so even if Veronica has an iota of conscience, she will at least rationalize it.

Right now, Veronica is a cipher. The fact she’s female doesn’t make her any less a cliche in today’s crime fiction. When you find a way to make her feel like a real woman with real problems, readers will want to follow her — even if she’s a bad girl.  I suggest the writer read T. Jefferson Parker’s L.A. Outlaws. I It’s about a rookie cop who gets caught up in an affair with a Robin-Hoodish bad girl. Here’s the opening of Chapter 1, written from the female antagonist’s POV:

Here’s the deal: I am a direct descendent of the outlaw Joaquin Murrieta. He was a kickass horseman, gambler, and marksman. He stole the best horses, robbed rich anglos at gunpoint. He loved women and seduced more than a few during his twenty-three years. Some of his money went to the poor, but to be truthful most of it he spent on whiskey, guns, expensive tailored clothes, and on the women and children he left behind.

I got Joaquin Murrieta’s good looks. I got his courage and sense of justice for the poor. I got his contempt for the rich and powerful. I got his love of seduction. Like Joaquin used to, I love a good, clean armed robbery. I steal beautiful cars instead of beautiful horses.

Right now I’m about to stick up a west-side dude for twenty-four thousand dollars in cash. He won’t be happy, but he’ll turn it over.

And I’ll be richer and more famous than I already am.

My name is Allison Murrieta.

So my main advice, dear writer, is to slow down. All the action you cover in 385 words would make a good entire first chapter. And that’s not even accounting for adding better character development. Even poor Orville merits a physical description. Beyond this, you have some problems with simple confusion. Let’s do a line edit and clear up some of that up.

The Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale
Onyx Bar

Monday, October 20, 2019

Generally, you should use this device for big complex plots that ricochet around in time and place. All this info could be — should be — woven into the narrative. (ie: The Onyx Bar was almost deserted, except for a quartet of young guys just coming in from the 18th green. Their cleats clacked on the wood floor and their drunken laughter echoed off the adobe walls. Veronica watched them for a moment then swiveled on her bar stool to look out  huge windows. The sun was just dipping below Pinnacle Peak. God, she loved The Four Seasons. The best resort in Scottsdale. Best views, best food, and best place for hunting men who weren’t too smart.

That’s bad but you get the idea. SHOW us where we are with choice details. Don’t TELL us in a wooden tagline.

“Hurl! Loser!” Do you really want to use up your precious first line on a nameless frat-boy who has no bearing on anything? Put the spotlight on Veronica. She is there for one thing — to find a male mark. Make her ACTIVE rather than reactive to the barf boys. 

Eight twenty-something male golfers sat on the patio crushing beers and trading insults.
Veronica Valdez glared at the window. I didn’t come here for party-till-you-puke feral males. She sat Was she standing and just now sat down or already sitting? at a high-top table and ordered a blue margarita.

An ASU freshman, Veronica’s fake driver’s license identified her as twenty-two year old Shirley Smith. Another example of TELLING instead of showing. Turn it into action, something like this:

When the waitress came over, Veronica said, “I’ll have a blue margarita.” 

The waitress’s eyes narrowed. “Can I see some ID?” 

Veronica pulled out her wallet and flipped it open to her license. She stayed cool, knowing the stupid girl couldn’t tell it was fake. Behind the license was her Arizona State student ID. That was real. As real as her Valentino Hobo Bag, Chanel boucel jacket and her Louboutin booties.

Designer clothes and accessories gave the impression of a sophisticated professional. See above blue comment. SHOW us with telling details that she presents a sophisticated front. You also might be able to slip in hints of her physical appearance. The blonde hair wasn’t real, but the breasts were. You can do something with this real vs fake thing. Which might end up standing for something larger symbolically about this woman. Plumb her depths. 

With a smile as fake as a TV game-show host, a man appeared. From where? Also, she is a predator so wouldn’t she notice him first? She’s trolling for a mark, so make her ACTIVE. What does he look like? A Chiclet smile isn’t enough. SHOW us through her eyes. “I’m Tommy Thompson. May I join you?” Do you realize all your names are alliterative? I’d change that.

“Of course, I’m Shirley Smith. What’s your first name?” I don’t understand. He just told her his name was Tommy. 

“Orville,” he whispered.

“Orville, this will be our secret.” Again, confusing. What is the secret? 

Swaggered over here. Has a room. Luxury watch. Tell us here what kind, not later. And how does she know he has a room? Maybe she sees him slip a key into his jacket before he comes over? She’s the predator here, so make her smarter. Has she done this before? Here’s a good opportunity to slip in a hint of backstory. She needs it. And be careful that she’s not a regular here or management would note. Which can also be a good backstory note, something like:

She knew all the best hotel bars, from San Francisco to Savannah. The Onyx had always been her favorite, though she was careful not to show up too often. Bartenders noticed women who drank alone. They remembered. And she couldn’t risk that.  

Veronica nudged her scarlet Valentino tote bag off the table, and Thompson retrieved it. Confusing. Did he catch her bag as it fell off the table? “Thanks, the least I can do is buy you a blue margarita.” She already ordered one. Perhaps it’s more interesting to have him ask what’s that blue thing she’s drinking? Also, your dialogue here is a little anemic. Make it work harder. Make it SAY something about Veronica. Maybe he makes some lame pick-up remark like, “What? You ordered that because it matches your eyes?” Which gets you a way of slipping in what she looks like. Or maybe she wears blue contacts? I suggest you go back and read James’s post on how Telling Details can enliven your story.

“Okay, but they’re on me.”

On you? You’ll forget your name when we’re finished.

Their drinks arrive minutes later.  Whoa. You need to slow down here. You just had these two meet, so you really can’t jump ahead with an empty time-bridge like this. What do they do? What did they say? You’re missing chances to flesh out your set-up and your main character. 

“The Blue Curacao liqueur gives the margarita its color.” I won’t tell him it hides the Roofie’s blue tint.  A non sequitur — of course she wouldn’t tell him she’s drugging his drink. The italics tells us we are in her head, and because the sentences are joined in one graph, we assume she said the thing about the Curacao?  But it’s unclear.

They played where-are-you-from and what-do-you-do, and during an awkward lull Veronica’s left hand pulled Thompson’s head close, Because this “seduction” is so rushed, I’m not buying this action. You need to set it up better to make it believable. Also, they are sitting at a high-top table in full view of a classy bar, so this is borderline unbelievable. and the snogging  Why use British slang for making out? began. She circled her tongue inside his mouth, dropped her left hand, and slid it under his crotch. Under? Still kissing, she squeezed his crotch and when he whimpered, her right hand dropped a tasteless pale-green and blue-speckled, fast-dissolving roofie tablet into his blue margarita drink..  Here is an example of wrong details. Just describe the salient action. She dropped the roofie into his glass. It dissolved before he had time to open his eyes.

“Bet you can’t drain yours, Tommy.” If he’s trying to get into my pants, he’ll over-compensate. That’s what men do. You need a new graph here: Thompson finished his blue margarita drink in three gulps. The bartender’s generous pour combined with anesthetic dose of  the Rohypnol affected Thompson. Again, why tell us when you can show us? New graph needed for dialogue “Thizz marga uh uh is thong. Not too thong for me. Hah!” New graph needed because you change to her thoughts. Now you’re on your ass. Did he fall off the chair? Right where I want you, Orville.

Re: Roofies. I did a lot of research on this drug for one of my own books, and you need to be careful in your description here. They are a depressant. Depending on the dose, it takes a good 20 to 60 minutes for them to take affect, maybe more for a man. Also, because of date rape abuse, they are no longer legally available in U.S. Maybe she got it in Mexico? Again, this could be a telling detail about your character. 

Veronica paid the check and walked a babbling, unsteady Thompson to his room where she undressed him, and tucked him in bed. You really need to slow your action down here. The roofie would make him almost unable to walk. Is he large? Is she small? Was he hard to maneuver? No one noticed this in the bar? How did she get his key card? They don’t have room numbers on them so how does she know where the room is? Sorry if this sounds niggling, but you can’t just gloss over details like this. After checking his pulse and respiration, she left with his $30,000 White Gold Rolex GMT Master II along with his wallet, iPhone, and $789. She’d keep the cash and sell the watch, credit cards, iPhone, and driver’s license on the dark web.

I have a question about iPhones that is above my pay grade. I know they are big targets of thieves who resell them, but there are also ways to guard against that and they can be traced. This makes me wonder — what kind of criminal is Veronica? The scenario here describes a petty theft because she’s not going to make a fortune reselling this stuff. Is she up to bigger things — like she’s part of phishing scheme? Then keeping the iPhone makes sense. This goes to my point about the need to start layering in some backstory here. Because a college girl drugging older guys in bars just to steal their watches and wallets isn’t very interesting. The stakes need to be bigger, I think. 

Then…out to the parking lot we go. Slow down!  One sec we’re in a hotel room, next in a car. Whiplash!

Behind the wheel of her truck, rusty Ford flatbed? Platinum Silverado? Vintage Jeep? Veronica rubbed herself with the watch until she moaned and shivered. Well, that’s quite an image, but again, slow down! Nobody likes to be rushed in a seduction, even if it’s a solo act. She gets in the truck. Give her a thought or two. Have her watch the sun go down. Maybe she thinks about poor Orville “roached-out” (that’s slang for being high on roofies) up in his fancy room (which you never described). Maybe she takes out his wallet and sees a photo of the kids.  Give us something! Humanize these characters! And then, she leans back in the seat and gazes out at the beautiful Scottsdale sunset.  It’s been good day at the “office.” She reaches into the Hobo bag and pulls out the watch. She admires it. She admires herself. She thinks something, anything! Okay, maybe we can go with the sex thing then, but it would be better with some kind of human context.  Even if her heart is black, you have to show it to us because as I said in the general comments, a villain has to be believable and multi-dimensional. She’s as blank as a blow-up doll right now. 

A final thought. Roofies are called “the forget-me-pill.”  Boy, I’d sure do something with that given your scenario. Every chapter needs a good kicker.  Poor Orville will forget, given the lasting effects of roofies.  But who’s really trying to “forget-me” here? Maybe your bad girl herself? Look for depths to plumb in your characters, especially your villains. 

That’s about it.  If this sounds harsh, please know, dear writer, I am not doing this to discourage you. I think you’re onto something here, and the spareness of your writing shows some talent. (though I still think it’s too spare). You’ve got something potent going here but I’m not sure you know what’s truly inside Veronica. I want to know more about her.  Strangely enough, I even want to like her because there’s nothing like a dame gone wrong who maybe, just maybe, finds a way to right herself.  I really encourage you to check out T. Jeff’s L.A. Outlaws. Reading good writers helps us find our way. And don’t give up. I’m hard on you because this has potential. 

Thanks for submitting!

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About PJ Parrish

PJ Parrish is the New York Times and USAToday bestseller author of the Louis Kincaid thrillers. Her books have won the Shamus, Anthony, International Thriller Award and been nominated for the Edgar. Visit her at PJParrish.com

22 thoughts on “First Page Critique: Is It Good
To Open With A Bad Guy?

  1. Thanks for the background discussion on starting with the villain, PJ. And your examples of slowing the narration down and fleshing it out. The author has a good sense of detail when they do provide it. Your examples show how, in this case, more is better, as long as the author doesn’t go to the other extreme.

    My question is whether ripping off a $60K watch is “petty theft.” How much would she get for it from Fred the Friendly Fence? Not bad for an couple of hours of work–at least till you factor in the risks. But then the watch-fetish bit suggests maybe it’s not about money at all.

  2. Eric,
    Re: petty thief. That’s why I prefaced my remark that I wasn’t sure about this point. IF Veronica is a true villain, do we need the stakes to be higher? The title might give us a clue — “Cartel Queen Veronica Valdez.” That suggests something way beyond shaking men down for their watches. And if Veronica is, indeed, angling for bigger fish in the story (a cartel is, by definition, a criminal organization that deals in drug trafficking or some other enterprise requiring price fixing or supply manipulation) is this bar scene the best place to start the story? Maybe she starts small but gets caught up in a big-stakes cartel? That’s what’s hard about critiquing our submissions that are limited to 400 words. Just asking!

    • Good question about how this relates to cartel. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the first 400 words leaving some questions unanswered. If the author does the kinds of things you suggest, we’re going to be willing to read on to find answers as long as we feel they can be answered and we want them answered.

  3. I just wanted to say the value anon writers get out of PJ’s first-page critiques is nothing short of staggering. Were they to go the route of private consultation, they ‘d better be willing to write fat checks, while not getting nearly as much as they do from these enlightening reviews.

    PJ, you don’t happen to be a polyglot, do you? I’m dying to submit my First Page, but, alas!, not a single English word to be found in there.

    • Polyglot? {{{sound of chuckling}}}. I speak passable tourist French. C’est tout. But thanks for the great compliment. I will use it as the opportunity to tell folks that if you are a member of Mystery Writers of America, you can get a 50-page manuscript critique, done by their stable of traditionally published writers. I forget how much it costs but its nominal. My sister is on the critiquing staff.

  4. I agree, Kris. This first page has potential. Anon lost me with the British slang and the first line is a turn-off. If it weren’t on TKZ, I might have stopped reading then. Also agree that this brave writer needs to slow down. Show us what’s happening in real time, rather than breezing over the important parts i.e. characterization, world-building, and action. That said, there’s something about this anti-hero (that’s my guess, anyway) that I really like. I bet once Anon peels back her layers, s/he may find a wounded character, which makes for a fabulous MC.

    Favorite line: With a smile as fake as a TV game-show host … You started off great, but you need to show the ending, as Kris mentioned. “Appeared” doesn’t cut it.

    Try showing us how he appeared. “The rowdy crowd parted and there stood the perfect mark, an Italian dude dressed in Armani, slicked back hair, and more gold around his neck than Eminem.” In this example, I used “Italian” to show how to use your first page to set up a future scene i.e. Veronica steals from the wrong man — a made man.

    Best of luck to you, Brave Writer!!!

    • Ooh. I like your guy in the Armani suit. That’s the sort of detail I was looking for. But yes, there is something intriguing about Veronica. She doesn’t have to be likeable but she has to be interesting,.

      • And that’s what will make me scratch my head (not being much into clothes beyond Wranglers and Lands End these days) because I wouldn’t know an Armani suit unless I could read the label. Would the character recognize this. And, of course, if she does, that says something about her, but my immediate reaction is always, “How does he/she know?”

  5. I would emphasize Kris’s point about making Veronica active. Also: smart, alluring. DON’T have Tommy/Orville (which is it?) just appear out of the blue. Show us how SHE gets him to come over. If we’re going to care at all (even in a negative way) we’ve got to be just as drawn in by her. She needs to be much more clever than a crotch-grabber. Prove to us how smart she is, making her all the more dangerous.

    For a good example of the kind of feel we’re talking about, have a look at the first chapter of Laura Lippman’s SUNBURN. It’s from a man’s POV, but the vibe is the same. Use the “Look Inside” feature.

    https://amzn.to/2IKqi5C

    • Excellent idea re Sunburn. The first chapter features an alluring bad girl. Good example for the writer to look at. Laura was using The Postman Always Rings Twice as her inspiration, I think. Even if you don’t read Cain’s novel, watch the movie. The original with Lana Turner and John Garfield, not the remake with Nicholson and Lange. Although the sex scene with the flour on the table is pretty hot. 🙂

  6. Dear Anon, take a good hard look at what PJ has changed. Your story has potential, but there are some things that need to go and things that need to be added.

    The hurling frat boys need to go for sure. If they are needed later in the book, make them a throw away later in the story. Really not a good opening.

    Veronica seems pretty polished for a 18 year old college freshman. She has an MO, the means, and knows what she is looking for in a target. Maybe the back story fills in all of this, maybe it needs a re-think.

    IPhones won’t be on the dark web. A shady phone store on the wrong side of town, maybe. A college student is going to make more money easier selling the driver’s license on campus than going through the hassle online.

    The sex game in the truck was an interesting kink. But, thieves need to get away. I realize PJ told you to slow down, but self-pleasure in a parking lot filled with cameras (you put this in a Vegas casino. Smile, you are on camera) is a pretty hudge risk. On the other hand, maybe that is how she gets caught.

    Overall, I would probably stick around for rest of the chapter.

    • Ha! Forgot about the security cameras! As for iPhones, you have to really do your research on the trace-ability thing. My editor caught me in an error regarding one in my last book. He was decades younger than me. That explains a lot.

        • I was at a library reading up here in the Michigan wilds a while back. When it was over and everyone had left, the librarians walked us to the door to lock up behind us. IT WAS PITCH BLACK outside! No stars, no moon, no streetlights. Couldn’t see my car in the lot or my nose in front of my face. It took me a good five minutes to remember my phone had a flashlight. Geez…

  7. I agree that just robbing Orville of his expensive watch isn’t enough. I thought I’d offer an idea on how to kick it up.
    Instead of taking the watch, Veronica could strip him to his knees and herself to the waist. She sets up her iPhone with a card sized stand (they are real) then presses the delay shutter button, and puts her head over his crotch. the resulting photo looks like she is having oral sex with him. She takes two more photos keeping her face out of the images.
    She goes through his things. She finds his business card (Vice President of Sales for a government contractor), a photo of his family, and the cash. As she drives away she glances at the photo on the phone and laughs. “Mom, your scam still works like a charm.”
    Later she’d mail old Orville a copy of the photo with a demand for two hundred thousand dollars.
    That’s a bad girl a reader could love.

  8. Thanks, P. J.. I understand and agree with almost all your observations. I especially appreciated your comments about showing vs. telling. My earlier draft was 600 words, and to pare it down to 400 words meant I made unfortunate choices. Does TKZ accept re-submissions? If not, I remain grateful for your efforts, P. J. And for the replies and suggestions offered by my fellow TKZers.

    • Thanks for submitting, Bill, and dropping by now. What’s good about these critiques is that while mine is only one opinion, you often get great additional advice from the respondents. It’s like being part of a really good critique group. Good luck going forward with your story.

  9. Thanks for sharing your work with us, brave writer. I agree with everything that Kris told you. Great critique. You should send her a box of chocolates! I don’t have time to comment on every detail (as I often do), but know that I agree with Kris. Here are a few more things to think about:

    Where’s the conflict?

    You make it too easy for your character to get what she wants. In addition to the things Kris mentioned, your opening has no conflict. Also, your character has no real motivation that the reader knows about; she comes off as a slutty trollop who gets off on seducing men and stealing their stuff. Why is she going to college if seducing men and robbing them is so lucrative and she enjoys it so much? Is she simply a sociopath?

    Whatever her motivation (and I suggest that you let the reader know about it), good scenes must have conflict. A character should never just get what she wants immediately. The guy in the bar needs to put up some kind of resistance so that she has to work a little harder to get him. It was too easy for her. The first scene should show creative dialogue with the girl really working to get the guy to drink the drink. Maybe he hates margaritas and the color blue and avoids drinking it. Maybe she wants to drink but he wants to dance. You could show the girl going to comic lengths to get him to drink that drink. But it shouldn’t be easy. Consider making it humorous.

    What’s the girls’ motivation?

    If there’s a reason she is the way she is, you need to hint at it in the beginning. Even Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey had a reason for his behavior. (His mother was a crack whore, and he watched her die when he was a little tot.) Maybe your character had something happen to her that made her the way she is. However, in the opening of the aforementioned movie, the viewers learn that Christian Grey uses his wealth to help feed the world’s poor. I suggest that you add some depth to your character. Give her some redeeming trait. Maybe have her do something nice on her way into the bar. Perhaps she gives a homeless person money. However, if she is the protagonist, you have to create empathy for her. If she’s not the protagonist, let me know, and I can tailor my suggestions to your story better.

    What are the stakes?

    Also, if you want the reader to be invested in the story, you need to have some real stakes. We know that she wants to seduce men and steal their stuff, but why does she “need” to behave this way?

    Remember, every scene needs:

    Goal: College girl wants to drug rich guy and steal his stuff. (Good job on making the scene goal clear.)

    Motivation: You need to expand on this.

    Conflict: The guy didn’t really give the girl any trouble.

    Stakes: Needs to be addressed.

    What’s your premise?

    It’s not clear from your opening what your story is going to be about. Perhaps the guy she seduces turns out to be a powerful man who will try to “get even” with her. If you want the reader to root for her, it would be good if he were a really nasty sort who does things to other people that are way worse than what she does to men. Maybe he’s a killer. Maybe her scarf that has her perfume on it gets left behind in his room and he will use it to try and find her. I assume she is wearing a wig and a disguise, but that should be addressed, as well.

    Name Confusion

    The guy can’t be named Tommy and Orville. Pick a name and stick with it.

    Too Many Adjectives

    Example:

    “… her right hand dropped a tasteless pale-green and blue-speckled, fast-dissolving roofie tablet into his blue margarita.”

    Don’t overdo the description.

    Just say something like:

    She slipped the roofie into his drink.

    Logistics

    Make sure that everything that happens is plausible.

    I’m out of time for now, brave writer. If you take the time to iron out the issues mentioned, I’d read on. Best of luck and keep writing!

    • Great input as always Joanne, esp about motivation. As for the chocolates…they are kinda lost on me. (Not much of a sweet tooth). A big bag of Goldfish crackers…that’s a different kettle of fish!

  10. There was at least one typo in my comments. Ack.

    “What’s the girls’ motivation?” should read “What’s the girl’s motivation?”

    Sorry about that. My mind and fingers were apparently at odds with each other.

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