First Page Critique – The Good Guys

Jordan Dane

A brave author/follower of TKZ has anonymously submitted the opener to a book entitled – The Good Guys. My critique will be on the flip side. Enjoy!

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Purchased from Fotolia by Jordan Dane

I should’ve let the cops arrest me. After all, it was just a drug deal in a neighbourhood park. A much smaller crime than taking a hostage at gun-point. I’d have most likely just got a date with the Magi and been home in time for lunch.  A lot less trouble that I was in now.  But it was a stressful situation, and in the heat of the moment, I panicked. 

“Are you a fucking retard, Tay?” Si yells. “I told you to get the money, hand over the shit, return. How the fuck did you manage to come back with no money, no drugs and this son-of-a-bitch?” 

His fist strikes my jaw and I fly backward. A dull moan comes out before I can stop it. I’m fucked now. Even though I’m a chick, Si likes people to take their beatings ‘like men.’  Before I hit the floor he grabs my by the front of my jumper and pulls me back to my feet. Then he appears in my face, so close I can smell the sausage on his breath. 

“Say it.” 

“Say what?”

“Say: I’m a fucking retard.”

“I’m a fucking retard.” I speak slowly and clearly, holding his gaze.

He smiles. “Good.” 

I start to exhale, praying it’s over, but then he grabs my ponytail and the air whooshes past my face. The room blurs. At first, it feels like someone is attacking my scalp with a thousand tiny needles, then it’s more like half a dozen thick, sharp blades. White noise is all around, but in the background, the far, far, background, I hear a husky voice. 

“Leave her alone.” 

Suddenly released from Si’s grip, I slump to the floor and stare at my hostage. Did he just say that? Fuck me. He hold Si’s gaze, but I see fear in his eyes. Fear and something else. I can’t quite place it. There’s a scent of familiarity about him. Must have done a drop to him before. 

“Sorry, man, are you feeling left out? Don’t worry. It’s your turn now.”

Si cracks his huge, mangled knuckles then pulls a shiny, black handgun out of the back of his jeans.  He points it at my hostage. I now know what I saw in his eyes. Hope. I know, because now it has been extinguished.

My Critique:

A.) First thing I want to point out are the typos. I’ve bolded and colored the ones I found in red. There are 3. This is where reading your work aloud would’ve helped, but typos are a big NO NO, especially with such a short excerpt. An editor or agent would see these and think the rest of the book is riddled with them. Submitting work for publication or representation is competitive. Don’t give them a reason to turn you down. Beta readers checking your work might catch these too.

B.) The intro starts with a bit of back story set up that is written in past tense before it propels the reader into the present. It might’ve been more effective to keep the reader in the moment as the story unfolds, without the set up that doesn’t tell much anyway. I would almost rather have read THAT scene (of how the whole thing went wrong and how she was stuck with this hostage). Seeing the aftermath is less interesting to me.

C.) When Si first mentions that she “comes back with this son of a bitch,” it might be more effective to draw the reader’s attention to who he is referring to. Since this is in her POV, you could have her look at the guy and show the reader what she sees. Instead we have to wait until the end to realize who this guy might be and know he’s in trouble. The author has created a mystery at the beginning, but not capitalized on this hostage or teased the reader with who he is until after the fact.

D.) The use of profanity so heavy in the beginning can not only be a turn off to readers, but editors/agents too. Here the word fuck is used 4 times in such a short segment. There are times when this word can be effective and I’ve certainly used it before in my books, but I use it sparingly and in the body of the work. We’ve chatted about the use of profanity on TKZ before, but I wanted to point out that using it so heavily in this intro can be another red flag for an industry professional reading this as a writing sample.

E.) One of my editors asked me to change a word ‘spaz’ or spastic because it had the derogatory meaning of retarded in the UK and she didn’t want to risk using the word if it turned off that market. But in this intro, we see the word ‘retarded’ used several times, and coupled with profanity. I’m not sure how this would be received, but I wanted to point out what my editor found necessary to change.

F.) In the description of Si hitting her, it reads at a distance as if the author (or the character) is watching it from faraway. If I got hit in the face, I would not know what happened. I’d ‘feel’ more. My eyes would water, my jaw would throb, the pain would radiate through me, and I’d see stars and be dizzy. I’d feel embarrassed, hurt, and many other things, but the writing in first person has to come inside the character, using the senses.

G.) This is a nit pick, but the name of Si forced me out of the writing for a bit. It seemed like a typo. I’m Hispanic and the word “Si” with an accent mark means YES in Spanish. I thought it might be a typo for the word SO as well. If you have a nickname for your character, I would make sure it is more distinctive and not too similar to another word that would trip up the reader.

H.) The use of the word MAGI (for magistrate) sets this book possibly in the UK, but definitely not the US (not that it has to be). The spelling of ‘neighbourhood’ gives a hint of this too. If this story takes place in a specific country, I would be tempted to use a tag line to establish that with the reader right away.

I.) In addition, and my biggest point, the writing of this author is very sparse. It is quick snippets into the mind of our girl, Tay, but little else. I would like to get a feel of the setting and put the reader into the scene using the reader’s senses. Writing in a sparse style can move pace, but it shouldn’t at the expense of a richer character voice. That’s what would make this piece more memorable. So what would add color and ‘voice’ to this work? Try answering these questions and incorporate those thoughts into this intro to add flavor.

Questions to build what we know about Tay:

  1. What has driven Tay to be a mule for a drug dealer? Does she have a roof over her head? Where did she sleep last night? Is she doing criminal acts for money to survive or is she desperate to take care of someone else? Or are her motives a secret?
  2. What is she wearing? Is she cold? Hungry? Needing a shower?
  3. How does she feel about other people she sees at the park where the drug deal goes down? Is she an outsider to the normal people who are there for other reasons? Does the scene remind her of her past? How so?
  4. When she’s at the park, what does she smell? Does the hot dog vendor make her hungry? Does she see people with money, paying for things, and resent it?
  5. Who is the hostage and why does she take him? She knows she’s in trouble with Si, but bringing a hostage will put him in harm’s way too. Why does she do it?

These are just a few questions—and you certainly don’t have to answer them in the intro—but if you back up where you start and take it from where things start to go wrong for Tay at the drug deal, you could incorporate some of her feelings with a touch of her motivation and what she sees, hears, tastes, etc to make her more sympathetic by the time Si punches her for screwing things up. 

The author could have a big mystery going as to why this out of place street kid is in the park in the first place–the furtive glances, the tension–until the drug deals goes down and everything unravels. She would come off as a criminal, take a hostage, but the reader might be compelled to read on if she comes across as vaguely sympathetic with hints of her motivation (without giving too much away).

Writing in first person present tense is a great way to bring the reader into the heart of the character, to really know what is in her head, but that doesn’t happen in this sample.

To make Tay more interesting, the author must give her opinions of her surroundings and her situation, and enough insight that will allow the reader to know why Tay deserves a starring role in this book. I want to care more about her and her hostage, but I’m not vested in them yet. Back up the time frame of this intro, and make us care about Tay and the poor guy who gets drawn into her mess, and you would have a more compelling start.

What do you think TKZers? Anything to add that might help this brave author?

Jordan Dane’s BLOOD SCORE now available in ebook at Amazon for the discounted price of $2.99 – Buy at this LINK.

A dangerous liaison ignites the bloodlust of a merciless killer