First Page Critique: The Master’s Inn

Today, I’m reviewing the first page of a woman’s fiction novel entitled The Master’s Inn. My comments follow – looking forward to getting input from this great TKZ community and bravo to our brave submitter!

The Master’s Inn

“Mom! Where’s my iPad?” Joanie bellowed.

Susan Brown, downstairs in her newly remodeled dining room in Sandpoint, Idaho, ignored the stomping noises overhead and her fourteen year old daughter’s frantic voice.

It sounds like a bull moose on the rampage up there.

Staccato stomping was followed by Joanie’s voice floating down the stairs as she talked to herself. She used every foul word in her teenage vocabulary—loud enough for Susan to hear. Something else to confront.

She shook her head in exasperation and reviewed the contents of her garment bag once again—no mistakes this time. Two other bags were packed and strapped by the front door. She wanted to surprise Bill by being ready to go on time tomorrow. He was a stickler for schedules and sometimes lashed out at any bump in his plan.

She hummed to herself as she scanned her list for the third time. As usual, she’d packed too much.  But she hadn’t been able to decide what to bring. She’d whittled it down to two evening and three day outfits she could mix and match.

She tucked everything neatly into the bag and made sure the clothing was tightly strapped. It wouldn’t do to have wrinkled blouses—although the venue hotel in Las Vegas offered full valet service. Nothing but the best for Bill.

She lined up the bags by the front door where he would see them when he came home, then returned to the dining room and grabbed a clean microfiber cloth she kept handy and wiped the table where she’d had her bag. Bill had a critical eye—he would notice a blemish on the expensive table.

She stretched and looked at her watch. He would be home from his meeting soon.

She looked forward to the long weekend—only her and Bill. The one thing she didn’t look forward to was watching him compare her to the glamorous women they’d see on the stages and in the restaurants. She’d never had any reason to question his loyalty, but she knew—after all these years—that she didn’t measure up. She’d lost her petite figure and the glow had faded from her complexion.

She walked back out to the entry hall and looked at herself in the elegant full-length mirror outside the dining room. Her face turned red at what she saw.

Pudgy. That’s the word.  

Overall Comments

I liked how, as I continued to read this first page, the tension over Bill slowly began to build until the reader realizes just how much Susan is in his thrall, and how terrified she is of disappointing and angering him. That being said, I think that the dramatic tension could have been ramped up even more, so as to place the reader right at the moment Bill comes home. In some ways we get too much of her anticipation of what might happen if she doesn’t have everything exactly right for him and not enough actual conflict. Even the tension with her daughter is remote (just hearing her upstairs, rather than being engaged in an argument with her). I also wanted to know where her daughter figured in the upcoming trip – is she going with them or going to a friend’s place? Is Bill her step-father or just her mother’s boyfriend (and how does her daughter view Bill’s controlling nature?). I wanted a little more of this backstory to become invested in the characters and a little less about the house or the contents of the bags.

One thing I did ponder was whether Susan was going to be an unreliable narrator or if Bill really was as controlling as she made him out to be. As a reader I was torn between empathizing with her and being frustrated that she was so worried about satisfying his need for order and control. Given that the novel is described as women’s fiction, I wasn’t sure if there was going to be a suspense or mystery aspect to the story – but I have to say I already hope Bill gets what’s coming to him:)

Specific Comments

  • There was some repetition of words like ‘stomping’ and ‘strapped’ which was distracting and, as I looked down the page, 7 paragraphs all began with the word ‘She’. Although this might seem pedantic, it’s important to vary sentences so as not to appear repetitious or sloppy.
  • I also noticed that, apart from Susan’s inner monologue and preoccupation with her appearance, we don’t actually get any description of her which made it hard for me to picture her in my mind.
  • Although the descriptions of the house suggest a measure of wealth – expensive table, elegant full-length mirror, and remodeled dining room for example – the reader doesn’t actually get any specific descriptions to help visualize the scene. I would have liked a more sensory exploration of the house so I could imagine Susan in it (the glint of polish, the smell of cleaning spray etc.) as well as specifics that could be telling (such as the brand of bags, clothing etc.)
  • Finally, the title of the book, The Master’s Inn, seemed a little incongruous as it evoked more of a historical fiction novel in my mind.

So TKZers what additional comments or feedback would you give our brave submitter?

 

 

 

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10 thoughts on “First Page Critique: The Master’s Inn

  1. Thanks for sharing your work with us, brave writer. I agree with the points that Clare made. Here are my notes:

    Title

    The title doesn’t work for me, for the same reason that Clare mentioned.

    Opening

    You had my attention when you began with dialogue, but my attention quickly waned when the confrontation with the daughter didn’t continue, and you launched into thoughts going on inside of Susan’s head instead.

    One way to fix this is to put the mother and daughter in the same room. Let the reader see Susan taking the time to be a good mother who corrects her daughter’s inappropriate language, rather than showing her as a mother who is concerned only with herself. This will give the reader a reason to like Susan.

    Literary agents warn about novels that open with characters alone thinking. See the article online by top literary agent Kristin Nelson entitled “All 9 Story Openings to Avoid In One Handy Post,” which you can find with a search engine. If the character is worried about her appearance or the appearance of the house or the table, you can bring that out during the exchange between the mother and the daughter. You must give the reader some reason to like Susan. She can’t just be a spineless wimp who ignores her daughter’s bad behavior. I prefer to read stories with strong female protagonists, rather than wimpy ones who are down on themselves. So I would really need to like “something” about your protagonist a lot in order to continue reading. Give me a reason to care.

    Show, Don’t Tell

    This is summary (telling):

    Staccato stomping was followed by Joanie’s voice floating down the stairs as she talked to herself. She used every foul word in her teenage vocabulary—loud enough for Susan to hear. Something else to confront.

    Confusing Use of “She”

    In the paragraph above, “she” refers to Joanie. However, you begin the very next paragraph with “she” where the reader has to mentally figure out that “she” now refers to Susan.

    Repetition

    Don’t say the same thing twice. First you mention stomping noises, and then you use this line to have the mother “think” about them:

    It sounds like a bull moose on the rampage up there.

    Also, as Clare pointed out, don’t begin so many sentences with the the word she.

    Overall

    Read “Your Novel’s First Scene: How to Start Right” by Paula Munier on Jane Friedman’s blog. (https://www.janefriedman.com/your-first-scene/)

    Do the exercise with the colored pencils. Then ask yourself: What percentage of my first page is backstory, inner monologue, or description?

    Clare writes: “I wanted a little more of this backstory to become invested in the characters and a little less about the house or the contents of the bags.”

    Again, I have to agree with Clare. You have to be selective about what backstory you include in your opening. Focus on the meatier stuff that Clare suggested.

    The good news is that this stuff is easy to fix, brave writer. So get busy on those revisions, and bring on the next draft! Best of luck, and keep writing.

    • I had same reaction — seven paragraphs out of the total 12 begin with “She…” That’s a recipe for losing a reader.

  2. Thank you, Brave Writer, for showing us your first page.

    I was intrigued enough to want to turn the page. My favorite sentence is:
    “She lined up the bags by the front door where he would see them when he came home, then returned to the dining room and grabbed a clean microfiber cloth she kept handy and wiped the table where she’d had her bag.” Because it tells us so much about Bill. If Susan cared about the table, she wouldn’t have put her bags on it. That she immediately grabbed a cleaning cloth that “she kept handy” shows how Bill is the stickler (and that he has a stick up his . . . you know).

    I agree with Clare’s wonderful critique and just add one more nitpicking thing. In my head, if Joanie bellows and her footsteps sound like a bull moose, then her complaints wouldn’t “float” down the stairs. They’d tumble or some other kind of strong verb.

    Sometimes when a character looks in a mirror it’s too obvious a setup for description, but I like how you worked in the mirror following Susan’s insecurities about her appearance, and how you didn’t go overboard listing green eyes, red curls, sloped shoulders, etc., etc., because we can learn those things elsewhere, and you just went with “Pudgy, that’s the word.” (It was really good. Made my gut ache for poor Susan.)

    Keep up the nice work, Brave Writer!

  3. Overall I agree with the others. But, I think there is something here I would read with some clean up.

    As Joanne said, the title doesn’t work. I was not expecting an iPad in the Master’s Inn. For that matter, it doesn’t really fit a high end Vegas hotel either. But it is an easy fix.

    Joanie and her iPad are wasted on line one. Especially since they totally dissapear by paragraph 2. Probably Joanie has something to do or contribute to the story, but in this sample, she is just wasted words.

    Is Sandpoint, Idaho a richie rich neighborhood? I Googled it and still don’t know. Describe the house and the area around it, please.

    Valets park the car. Concierges arrange show tickets. Butler service would iron her dress.

    I would love to see the second draft.

  4. Thanks everyone! Again, great points to ponder.

    I hope it’s okay with everyone if I unpack the story a bit for you. If it’s not okay, please tell me.

    As a new author (3 books, but this is first novel), I waver on the balance between description, inner monologue, dialogue, and action. The genre is women’s fiction, but mixed with family drama and secrets revealed, PTSD (two retired marines from different wars), and anger/action between the two marines; also, the action/tension ramps up when Joanie disappears about 2/3 of the way through the story and must be rescued.

    The setting is a B&B called the Master’s Inn (hence the title), where two families are stranded in a freak storm in NE Washington. The two families and the B&B owners (last name is Masters) are strangers to each other.

    I began the novel with Susan and Joanie packing to go on a trip. To answer one question, Joanie is not supposed to go with her parents, but ends up being stranded with them. And another question, Bill is indeed a control freak and an arrogant boor. And Susan is not the wimp she appears to be in the first scene.

    I wanted to set the stage in the first chapter for the completely dysfunctional family they are. Just past the first 400 words, the reader discovers more details, and then later, after they’re stranded, the family unit really unravels.

    The owners of the B&B, and the other family who are stranded also have significant issues that play into the story.

    It’s hard for me to know just how many details to reveal in that first 400 words. I find myself cramming stuff in, just to make sure there’s enough. That’s probably the wrong thing to do. I prefer to do a slow leak of details. (Also, to answer another question, Sand Point is an upscale, artsy town.)

    My comments here seem a bit disjointed, but I wanted to let you in on the story a little more. Again, hope it’s okay that I do that. And thank you all so much for your comments-you’re the best!

    • Deb
      Thanks for submitting and it’s helpful to get some context to the story. Based on what you’ve said I wonder if you might consider starting closer to when they get stranded to build the tension from the get go. It’s always tricky balancing description, character, inner monologue and back story but immersing the reader immediately in the dysfunction and tension would grab the reader from the start. Now I know that Joanie is going to go missing I think proceeding as if this was a suspense novel, creating unease right from the beginning, would be a good approach.
      Hope our comments/feedback has been helpful and good luck with your writing!

      • Thank you, Clare, for indulging me in my rather long comment.

        And by Jove, I think you’ve got something there! The scene in which the Browns first arrive is fraught with angst from Joanie, frustration from Bill (whose carefully laid plans go all to Hades), and Susan standing between them (as usual).

        I’ll be huddled over my laptop now, giving my characters the news that they don’t get to enter the novel when they wanted to. Wish me luck with that!

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