Writers, I feel your pain! As you struggle with your first pages, I’ve had my own writing fight – six weeks crafting the first chapter of my new Angela Richman mystery. I had to introduce my death investigator, Angela Richman, describe her job, her age, explain where she lives, say what time of year it is – and hope people will keep reading.
That’s why I congratulate the anonymous author of the following first-page critique. AA has achieved most of those goals.
First, let’s read it, next I’ll discuss it, and then you tell me what you think.
Alle fought off the death grip of the sheets, flung her feet over the side of the bed, and tried to shake the dream as she searched for her slippers. She noticed Gulliver; the pink stuffed pig Sasha had given her and that she’d slept with every night for the last ten years, laying on the floor. She must’ve knocked him off the bed during her struggle with the sheets. Her heart sank seeing him there, like a discarded toy that meant nothing. A tear ran down her cheek as she picked him up.
Still half-drunk from her sleep meds she stumbled toward the bathroom, smacking her funny bone against the half-open bathroom door. Cursing, she made it to the toilet just in time. Still holding her elbow, she shut her eyes for what she thought was only a moment; but jerked awake when she lost her balance and fell against the vanity. Out of childhood habit, she looked up and pleaded, please don’t let this be a sign for today.
She kicked her way through the clothes littering the hallway and made her way from the bathroom to the kitchen and more importantly coffee. Leaning against the counter, head down and shoulders slumped, she listened to the drip, drip, drip of the Keurig.
Every night, it seemed, she dreamed of Sasha. She didn’t just dream she relived the day Sasha died. She drank her coffee and thought about those people who over the years had lied and told her it would get easier with time. “They don’t have the damn guilt.”
Carrying her second cup of coffee to the bathroom, she ran a hot bath, not something she normally did since she was always running late. The tension in her back and shoulders melted away as she slid into the almost scalding water. She drifted off into a semi-peaceful, dreamless sleep. The water turned cold and she woke up disoriented, panicking when she realized it was a workday. Her phone showed the time as 8:00. Damn it, I’m going to be late again!
This is a fine first page. I’d like to make a few tweaks.
The first sentence trails off and loses its impact. What if AA wrote that first paragraph this way?
Alle fought off the death grip of the sheets, flung her feet over the side of the bed, and tried to shake the dream. As she searched for her slippers, she noticed Gulliver, the pink stuffed pig laying on the floor. Sasha had given her Gulliver. Alle had slept with the stuffed pig every night for the last ten years.
Note the comma after Gulliver in this version. You don’t need that semicolon. Put a comma after “Still half-drunk from her sleep meds, she stumbled toward the bathroom . . .”
Later, you have another semicolon. The sentence might have more impact if you made that two complete sentences:
Still holding her elbow, she shut her eyes for what she thought was only a moment. She jerked awake when she lost her balance and fell against the vanity.
Next, Alle has “kicked her way through the clothes littering the hallway . . .” This would be a good place to tell us the season. Are these heavy woollen winter clothes? Summer shirts and swimsuits? You could also give us a hint of the season in the second sentence – is she searching for her slippers on a cold floor – or a warm one?
This next paragraph sets up the death of Sasha. Can you give us more hints about that?
Every night, it seemed, she dreamed of Sasha. She didn’t just dream, she relived the day Sasha died. She drank her coffee and thought about those people who over the years had lied and told her it would get easier with time. “They don’t have the damn guilt.”
Give us some clues about Ali: How old is she? What does she look like?
You’re off to a good start, AA. What do you think, readers?