Saturday, June 25, 2011

First Page Contest: Critique Time

Another great contest brought to you by the fabulous Shelley Watters. In honor of her birthday (and a big Happy Birthday to her) she's giving her readers a gift (her birthday and she gives her readers a gift, shows her awesomeness). The gift, you ask? A chance to receive a full request with a partial critique from literary agent, Victoria Marini of Gelfman Schneider Literary Agency.

To enter the contest, Yelena Casale (my co-writer) and I need your help! We're posting the first 250 words up for critique. You'll notice this opening page looks nothing like the one we entered in another competition a few months back. Why? Well, we decided to go with our original opening, and we couldn't be happier. However, we entered Shelley's last competition for the first 250 and got some great feedback on this version. We've incorporated a few tweaks. But, that doesn't mean it's perfect. So, if you think we should change something or keep working at it, we want to hear from you. (If you want to tell us how wonderful it is, well, we like that too!) Either way, we're looking forward to your comments. Fire away!

Genre: Urban Fantasy with strong romantic elements
Word Count: 80k

The scream stuck in his throat, a foreign sound he couldn’t set free. The surrounding quiet enfolded him, ironically deafening in its intensity. Air hissed through his gritted teeth as he struggled for control.

City lights, the only sign of life, shimmered in the distance, mocking his pain. No other creature stirred in this desolate place. It was as if humans and animals alike felt the dangerous current in the air and chose to stay away. Only the full moon reflected in the water, an indifferent observer to his torment.

Blazing pain struck, sweeping through his body like a wild fire. He knelt at the edge of the dark water, watching his muscles contract beneath smooth skin. With a shaking hand, he reached back to touch the empty space by his shoulder blades. He grunted at the contact, an alien noise in the absolute silence of the night.

He caught his fragmented image through the water’s ripples. His body stilled as the lake’s surface calmed, bringing his reflection into view. The face that stared back at him, usually so stoic, now contorted in agony. His eyes held wildness, highlighted by a mess of disheveled dark hair, damp with perspiration. Nothing remained of the control, of the precious order that had been the pinnacle of his existence.

The light autumn breeze cooled his naked body but offered little relief. His blood burned from the inside out. The scorching fire threatened to consume him. Thoughts escaped him as havoc racked his soul.


  1. The writing is superb and the scene setting great, but I don't have a clue what this story is going to be about. Would like something more to make me turn the page. I guess my suggestion would be to shorten and tighten this part so we get to the meat of it a bit earlier and see some action. You both are talented writers and great at setting a mood/scene. Good luck!

  2. Hi Tina,

    Good luck with the contest! Everything I've read talks about how an opening needs to give us a character, a setting, and a conflict. I see a setting here, perhaps too much, but not much of the other things. Let me explain...

    Yes, we have *a* character, but the only thing actually *happening* is he's in pain. Being in pain isn't enough conflict and it isn't enough to make us care about the character.

    Everyone has different attitudes when it comes to pain. Some are very stoic, some are hyperchondriacs, some have high pain tolerance and some have low. Without knowing what's causing the pain, or the actual effect on his body (i.e. did his arm just get ripped off), we have no baseline for whether to feel for this guy or tell him to suck it up.

    Also, he's losing control, yes, but we don't know if/why that's a problem to see that as much of a conflict. We don't know how we're supposed to feel about that. Is it bad if he loses control? Why? Give us a hint.

    Figure out what else he's thinking and dealing with and connect to the readers with that. Is this pain preventing him from doing something? Is it making him doubt himself? Etc. Frustration and doubt and more easily relatable for his character *and* it would give us more conflict too.

    Now I'm not claiming that just because I won Shelley's last contest that I suddenly know everything there is to know about first pages. Ha! I wish. :)

    I just know that I didn't connect to the character or care about his pain, so I analyzed why that might be so. Take what makes sense for you and ignore the rest. :)

  3. While I feel like this is intriguing place you've gotten the character to, like the previous two comments, I have a hard time connecting to the character because I have no sense of the impetus of his emotions. While he's clearly in pain and something is happening, there isn't a sense of urgency. I think if you tried something with more action and urgency, this would be much more compelling.

    Good luck in the contest! I'm participating too, and would love your feedback!

  4. Great piece! It definitely has me hooked into wanting to read more! :)

  5. I liked it and I'm a patient enough reader to stick around and find out what's going on. It's true there might be ways to personalize his pain and let us in on who he is in regards to his interpretation or response to it.

    Do you mean to use wildfire instead of wild fire? My brain immediately combined the words.

    All the same, it's very well written. The prose is smooth, unique and easy to read. Nice work.

  6. I like it. I've been hopping around the entries, searching for something unique and well written. I'm glad I found yours. The first page captures me and begs me to read on. Nice work.

  7. Definitely intriguing! I think you could condense it some, and I'd like to know what has harmed the character so I can have a stronger sense of connection to him right away. You could start with "A" scream, rather than "The" scream; delete "ironically" (it's implied). I love the phrase about the full moon being an indifferent observer to his agony! Yes, condense some, take out some of the 'the's', and bring us more quickly into this character's identity. Nice work!

  8. Quietly I ask: why is it so quiet? Yes, you tell me the "currents in the air" (I think it was) had warned man and beast to stay away. However, if your genre is urban fiction, I'd need to know what happened to push everyone away. Urban fiction means that people live, shop, work, and busy themselves in the area.

    I like your description of the pain, and I consider myself a patient reader, also. However, I think the point of this exercise is ground the reader in the time, place, and the genre right away.

    If that is what the editor wants, that is what we should try to give her! Good luck. I know I'll need it. Feel free to visit my post and make helpful suggestions, too.