First Page Critique: The Blood Zone

By Elaine Viets

Today, another Brave Author gives us a first page to critique, The Blood Zone.
Let me take a deep dive into this first page, and then you, TKZ readers, can give our author your thoughts. Here’s the page, and my critique follows.

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The Blood Zone

They’d lost contact with the dive team over an hour ago.

Reece Jordan looked up from her monitors and through the foot-thick tempered glass window. The one hundred meters of water above muted the sun’s radiance. At best, it illuminated the depths like moonlight through a cathedral’s windows.

Her chair squealed as she shifted back to the screens. She did her best to ignore the sound. Everything creaked, squeaked, or shed rust flakes in an underwater habitat like Sirenica. On a bad day, her monitoring center sounded like a fleet of cars with worn-out brakes.

A rap-rap-rap came from the open hatchway. Jordan didn’t look up. She knew her boss’ tics better than anyone.

“Anything?” Dylan Sawyer asked. The woman’s short blonde hair clung to her scalp as if she wore a skullcap. Another perk of living in a high-moisture environment.

Jordan shook her head. “Not a peep. I’ve got both ROVs on a search pattern.”

The remotely operated underwater vehicles were the size of large dogs. They sported a pair of grasping claws on either side of a cyclopean camera lens. Each could operate long distances without a tether.

But the ocean was a big place.

“Shouldn’t have sent them down there in suits,” Sawyer muttered under her breath. “I told them we needed that fourth minisub.”

“Peterson would’ve said something if he felt uncomfortable.” That was an understatement. Peterson and the two other men on his team had a combined fifty years of experience working under deep dive conditions.

“Even three people can get the nark. At the same time, too.”

Jordan nodded. Nitrogen narcosis could hit hard and fast at this depth. A too-quick depth change could fog the brain as effectively as chugging a bottle of Tennessee whiskey.

Her monitor emitted a ping.

“I’ve got something.”

In an instant, Sawyer was up and looking over her shoulder. “Show me.”

Jordan tapped a few keys. The monitor switched over to one of her ROV’s cameras. Her breath whistled out through her lips as the image of two divers came into focus.

Peterson swam with a crab-like motion. His right arm curled around one of his fellow divers, dragging him forward through the water. Dark streamers of some strange material rippled from the edges of the two men’s suits.

“The hell is that?” Sawyer peered at the screen. “And what’s that black cloud trailing them?”

Jordan swallowed. “It’s blood.”

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Elaine Viets’ comments
This is an excellent beginning, with one major problem: Where the hell are we? As readers, we’re as adrift as the three lost divers.
This problem can be easily remedied in the third paragraph, Brave Author. Tell us about the underwater habitat, Sirenica. You say it’s rusting and noisy, but how old is it? How many people live aboard? What is their purpose: Are they oceanic researchers? If so, which ocean? Are they explorers on another planet, and this takes place in a sci-fi future? Let us know.
Otherwise, there’s much to like here, starting with the title, which immediately grabbed my attention. The writing is clear and crisp, and the various dangers are pointed out quickly: the divers could be lost in a vast ocean, or suffering from nitrogen narcosis.
A few nits to pick: I’d change moonlight through a cathedral’s windows to moonlight through a cathedral window.
Also, I’d say the woman’s short blonde hair clung to her scalp like a skullcap, not as if she wore a skullcap.
And is clinging, damp hair really a “perk” – a benefit? Or is it simply a “result” of living in a high-moisture environment?
And finally, you need a more specific object in this sentence: “Shouldn’t have sent them down there in suits” might read better as:“Shouldn’t have sent the divers down there in suits.”
Otherwise, you have a good beginning with a nice, creepy opening. Well done, Brave Author. I hope the rest of this adventure makes it to publication.

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About Elaine Viets

Elaine Viets has written 30 mysteries in four series, including 15 Dead-End Job mysteries. BRAIN STORM, her first Angela Richman, Death Investigator mystery, is published as a trade paperback, e-book, and audio book.

14 thoughts on “First Page Critique: The Blood Zone

  1. I like this opening; I would keep reading. Agree with the suggested edits except for one–I don’t think you need to add ‘the divers’ to the sentence about sending them down in suits. That to me sounds like when an author is trying to explain circumstances in dialogue but the way Brave Author has written it sounds more like how they would actually speak to one another–and to me it was understandable given the context. My only nit is in the first sentence–‘more than’ rather than ‘over’ an hour ago. That’s a peeve of mine though, and maybe not even on the radar for others. I also like the way ROV and nark are seamlessly explained in the subsequent sentence; not clunky. Nice job!

  2. I agree, Richelle. I was impressed by how our Brave Author explained ROV and narc. “More than” is technically correct, but “over” is colloquial. Ditto for adding “the divers.” Like you, I really want to read more of this novel.

  3. I thought it was excellent. I would definitely be turning the page. It reminded me of Clive Cussler.

    I disagree with some of Elaine’s comments. I have complete faith the writer will tell us more about the underwater habitat as the story unfolds. I don’t think the writer should slow down the scene with unnecessary description at this point. Three people, in a very dangerous situation, are missing. I don’t need any more information on page one.

    I found this to be a bit clunky

    The one hundred meters of water above muted the sun’s radiance. At best, it illuminated the depths like moonlight through a cathedral’s windows.

    Could it be rewritten as one strong sentence?

    I liked how the writer seamlessly defined the abbreviations.

    I don’t think you need to add ‘the divers’ – the reader knows who you are talking about. It wouldn’t hurt to add ‘the divers’.

  4. Kudos, Brave Author, for writing a first page with danger and mystery. I’m hooked.

    My favorite sentence is the one about the diver swimming like a crab. It’s a perfect description of an underwater swimmer dragging something.

    I hope Jordan is from the South. Otherwise I don’t think the Tennessee whiskey simile fits.

    Would the deep sub’s window really be made out of foot-thick, tempered glass? After a brief, Internet exploration, I found that the older research subs/bells have quartz windows, and the newer subs have acrylic windows, and none of the windows are over seven inches thick.

    Elaine didn’t have much to say regarding big changes because the opening is already good. I think it could be great after taking Elaine and others’ suggestions into consideration and making a few tweaks.

    Good luck, Brave Author, on your continued writing journey!

    • Thank you, Priscilla, and I agree about the Tennessee whiskey. In fact, chugging a bottle could — and has — killed drinkers. Maybe make it a “good slug” of whiskey.

  5. Overall I enjoyed this snipped. Definitely something that makes me want to turn the page.

    My few nits.

    Both ROV and narc are used before the explanation. Isn’t conventional wisdom the other way around?

    The Sirenica does need a little filling out. I am assuming it is a fairly large submersible with the capacity to launch and retrieve divers. Am I right?

    100m diving is not done lightly. Perhaps the part about sending them out in just suits is not the best way to put it. Perhaps sending divers instead of a remote would be better.

    She should have known it was blood coming out of the diver.

    Overall, I would read it. Probably like it a lot.

  6. Boy, I really enjoyed this. It starts at a peak moment of suspense. Something has already gone wrong and the writer is skillful at laying out the breadcrumbs without divulging everything in the first two graphs. Nice.

    I got a good feel for the confines of the sea lab. I don’t feel the need either to know exactly where we are…yet. I think it can wait until the set-up is more resolved. Good believable dialogue.

    Also loved the imagery. The water like sunlight through a cathedral window. And the crab image and the cool way the blood trail is revealed…through the character’s sensibility. The writer could have TOLD us it was a trail of blood. But wisely SHOWED it by filtering it through the character’s POV. Subtle but important difference.

    Well done, writer. I would read on. The nits can be picked in rewrite!

  7. This is the Brave Author for The Blood Zone. Thank you to everyone for the detailed and varied critique! My main concern about these first 400 words was to get in the essential exposition without slowing the action to a crawl. Appreciate the feedback on this.

    Thanks again for your time spent on my opening!


    • Glad to hear from you, BA. As you can see, we think you did a splendid job. Congratulations, and let us know when your book goes to print. You have many fans here.

  8. The author’s last few lines about a black cloud are especially impressive. Well done.

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