First Page Critique: Falling Free

Today we have a first page critique for a project entitled Falling Free. My comments follow so see you on the flip side (and enjoy because I think this is a great first page!).
Title: Falling Free

I fell hard to the closet floor.

My head hit the carpet. My arms just kind of flopped where they wanted.

I lay there, wondering what’d happened.

The carpet in this Seattle hotel smelled like it’d been shampooed recently. I used to be a hotel maid, so I know about carpet smells.

I stared at the ceiling for a bit. There was a black spider in the corner, moving its legs slowly, like it was doing yoga or something. I tried to mimic its movement, but couldn’t get my arms to respond.

My head hurt a little. I closed my eyes, I swear, just for a moment.

The next thing I knew, a cop bent over me. He stared for a minute, then put his gloved hand on my shoulder and rolled me up slightly.

I guessed he was looking at the back of my head.

He settled me back down on the floor, then leaned over and brushed my long hair away from my face. He smelled like stale cigarettes and had kind brown eyes.

My wallet appeared in his hand. “Junie. That your name, honey?”

I heard movement beyond him. The room outside the closet suddenly seemed filled with people, snapping pictures, going through drawers, talking on their cell phones. Saying things like “next-of-kin” and “keep the media out”.

Didn’t make much sense to me. Who’d care, anyway?

The cop yelled out the closet door. “Hey, Jimmy! Get the boss on the phone.”

“Okay, Frank.”

Then another cop, Jimmy presumably, entered the closet and handed a cell phone to Frank.

“Why don’t you get yourself a phone, Frank?”

“Why should I when you’ve always got yours?”

Jimmy left the closet in a huff.

“Yeah, hey boss.”

His eyes strayed to where it’d landed when I fell. “Nah. Nothing to do here. Get the crew over.”

Frank snapped Jimmy’s phone shut and stuck it in his shirt pocket.

He stood, looked down at me, shaking his head. “What’s your story, Junie?” He lingered over me a moment longer, then turned and walked out of the closet.

I heard him give orders to those in the room, to get this wrapped up. The scurrying intensified, doors and drawers slamming. Then it was quiet again.

Just Frank, studying me from the closet doorway.

My story? You don’t really wanna know, Frank.

I could’ve changed things. Put that in your report.

I thought this first page was a great example of ‘less is more’ with short, snappy paragraphs that nonetheless evoked the scene, well-paced and believable dialogue, and a POV/voice that was already compelling. Bravo to our contributor!
For once I have very little to say in terms of input or advice…but if I was to make some recommendations (and honestly this piece is fine to stay as is!) they would be:
  • Perhaps consider one more sentence to give a sense of the injury that’s occurred (as it sounds like something far worse than just falling on carpet).
  • Perhaps consider a brief sentence in the closet describing the iron/ironing board or clothes/robe hanging – just something that might reveal whether this is a seedy hotel, a motel 6 or a more up-market hotel…
  • Possibly clarify time period as it sounds like it’s the 90’s (e.g. Frank snapped Jimmy’s phone shut) but I wasn’t totally sure.
  • This could also be important as I didn’t quite believe Frank wouldn’t have a phone these days (definitely would believe it if it was the 90s) – otherwise I was going to recommend changing “why don’t you get yourself a phone, Frank” to “why don’t you ever have your phone with you, Frank”,  if it was contemporary.
  •  I wasn’t quite sure how Junie could see the room outside the closet from the floor (she’d settled back down after the officer had originally rolled her up slightly). Maybe just have some movement (turned her head, or her eyes saw over the officer’s shoulder…something like that…)
  • Finally, I didn’t love the title ‘Falling Free’ – although without knowing more about the book I can’t really give good input, except to say that my initial reaction to this title was ‘meh’:)
All in all I think this is a really strong first page – TKZers, what do you think? What advice or recommendations would you make?

20 thoughts on “First Page Critique: Falling Free

  1. Like it!
    My impression is Junie is dead.
    Very intriguing opening and curious how will proceed if my interpretation is correct. Challenging if primary POV character is deceased. Interesting. Like the style/voice.
    If I misinterpreted please apply a Roseanne Rosannadana “never mind” to my comment.

  2. I agree with Tom. Junie might be dead, which would explain why her dialogue doesn’t have quotes. It also explains why Frank would ask for her story, then walk away. Excellent job, Brave Writer!

    My only tip would be to delete telling words, like “heard” and “saw.” Instead, describe the action or sound. You could even be mysterious and say, “Something crashed behind Frank. But what, I had no idea.”

    Following Clare’s advice will strengthen this intro even more. I’d definitely turn the page.

  3. Brave Author, I agree completely with Clare that this page is well done but have a few suggestions.

    Clarify right away that the closet is a walk-in. At first, I wondered how Junie could lie sprawled in what I imagined was an average-sized closet with sliding doors. How could two cops come and go in that tiny space? A small speed bump but it stopped me for a moment.

    The details of the smell of the freshly-shampooed carpet, Junie’s past work as a maid, and the spider doing yoga were excellent.

    “His eyes strayed to where *it’d* landed when I fell.” – What does “it” refer to? Or is this just a typo that should read “where I’d landed”? If his eyes strayed to where she’d landed, he would be looking at her, not a spot on the carpet, unless he’d moved her body.

    The last two lines were outstanding! Would I turn the page? Absolutely!

    Thanks for a great read, Brave Author.

  4. Very engaging first page! The voice hooked me at once, and I liked the less is more writing style. Like Clare, I actually didn’t catch that the narrator was dead at first. In my case, you mention two smells–the scent of freshly cleaned carpet, and the stink of old cigarettes (both evocative!), which in my case lulled me into thinking she might be alive, even though there are plenty of obvious tells that she’s dead. Not that she can’t smell when she’s dead–it’s your afterlife 🙂 But something to consider.

    I’d like maybe one more clue that she’s dead. I’m very intrigued! This looks like the beginning of a book where the victim will recount how she wound up being murdered–that’s the promise it makes to me with the last line of the opening page.

    Thanks for sharing this with us!

    • I think it could be a very intriguing book if it’s the victim recounting how she’d wound up being murdered! Like you though just a little extra clue that she was actually dead would help:)

  5. Oh, I enjoyed this one. My favorite line was “There was a black spider in the corner, moving its legs slowly, like it was doing yoga or something.” It describes a spider in a ceiling corner so perfectly, yet I’ve never heard a description like that.

    I can’t think of anything to suggest except that I agree with Clare about the time frame. I thought it was the 1980s because I kept hearing the Tom Petty song “Free Falling” in my head.:-)

    Awesome first page.

    • Priscilla – I thought the spider imagery was great too. Interesting thought about it being the 1980s (now you’ve made me think of that song!), but I think the flip phone was later (though honestly I can’t remember when any of these cell phones came in!)

  6. I thought it was obvious she’s dead. The cop rolls her over to look at the back of her head, brushes her hair away, there’s a next of kin mention, no one seems eager to call medics, etc. The question is whether or no she knows she’s dead. She might not be aware of this yet. I have no problem her having her senses. As one commenter already put it, it’s her (fictional) afterlife. She can do what she wants. Maybe she’s going to be the one to solve her own murder.

    I liked the voice. I would read more. If I were to get nitpicky I would see the cops are stereotypes. Although, given the short scene, and assuming they don’t appear again, there’s probably not much to do here. If one or more of them will appear later I would suggest adding an identifiable trait here. Again, nitpicky.

  7. LOVE this, and I don’t say that often!
    The bervity of the style is nice; goes well with the in-the-moment of the POV and narration. I had only a few speed bumps like others, but it’s just polish.
    I like Sue’s caution for changing the “heard/smell/feel” kind of descriptions.
    And, like Debbie, I wondered how Junie had managed to fit into a standard, slide-open hotel closet. (Honestly, we’re assuming she fits. I don’t think there is anything said about a door closing or opening!)
    I also assumed immediately that she was dead due to the cop’s demeanor. He exhibited the world-weary yet empathic mix of a homicide cop (well done!) Had she been able to actually open her eyes and look at him (which was never stated), his manner would have changed in a hurry!
    But that does leave us with the question of the author’s version of afterlife (or half life?) You’ll have to be on your toes about what Junie can or cannot see, and perhaps HOW she can see it! Is she still staring through the eyes of her body? That will limit things immensely!
    But this is just a snippet. I’m certain the reader will be given more info as the body is moved.
    Great job! I wish I could read more.

  8. Very interesting. As others have said, DA, you need to set the time. A radio playing the new hit by “___” could zero in the timeline and keep the sparse style and stop people from wondering why Frank doesn’t have a phone.

    The dead narrator telling how they got that way, is a difficult style to hook people. But I am ready for page two.

  9. It’s me…Brave Author! I can’t tell you what a surprise it was for me to read all of your very kind remarks! I’m serious…I considered not submitting it, because it’s different than anything I’ve ever written. But, Junie’s plight hits pretty darned close to home for me, so I wanted to tackle it.

    So, thank you all very kindly. And if there’s anyone else out there who wants to jump in and give me some pointers, I’m all ears and eyes.

    I’ve taken your comments to heart, copied and pasted them into a document in this story’s folder, and already made some changes. For instance:

    1) “I fell hard to the closet floor. [Good thing it was one of those ginormous walk-ins I’d never have been able to afford…before.]”

    2) “The carpet in this [upscale] Seattle hotel…”

    3)The phone issue: “[Why don’t you ever have your phone with you, Frank?”
    “I do. The battery’s dead.”
    “Same excuse as always.”
    “[At least mine’s twenty-first century. Geez, Jimmy, a flip phone? Really?]”

    4) The issue of whether or not she’s dead: “My head hurt a little. I closed my eyes, I swear, just for a moment.” That’s when she died. Maybe it’s not clear enough?

    5) The title isn’t my fave either. I’ve had a couple of other ideas since I submitted this. When I sent it, I kinda just grabbed a title out of the air, so it will be changed at some point.

    I made a few more tweaks, following all y’all’s suggestions, but no need to go into all of them. 🙂

    I have to say something else. You TKZers are the best, and I give you the credit for helping me write tighter; develop better, more believable dialogue; and create a character with a distinct voice and one you want to cheer for.

    I take my hat off to you. Even when it’s a *rough* critique, your motives are crystal clear to me…you’re authors with the soul of a teacher.

    • Deb, these critiques are esp. fun and rewarding when the mystery of the anonymous author is solved!

      Eager to see more of this terrific story! Best of luck.

  10. LOVED this!!! Did not assume Junie was dead, but I’m not sure that matters. It’s intriguing regardless. The reader will find out soon enough.

    A few minor things that niggled:

    “…then put his gloved hand on my shoulder and rolled me up slightly”.

    It’s the “up” and the “one hand” that confuses me, since I’m picturing Junie lying on her back. (How else is she “seeing”?) Rolled “over” makes more sense to me if the cop is trying to see the back of her head.

    “His eyes strayed to where it’d landed when I fell”. Even “It’d” is a typo (should read “I’d”), I still don’t get it. Frank’s been studying her for quite some time. I know you mean something significant here, and would love to know what it is.

    Love it regardless of a few hiccups. And this isn’t even close to my preferred genre. Good job!

Comments are closed.