Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Page 1 critique - "No title supplied" by Andrew Gilfellon

I'm critiquing some page 1s - read about it here.

First the disclaimers.

It's very hard to separate one's tastes from a technical critique. There are page 1s from popular books with which I would find multiple faults. I didn't, for example, like page 1 of Terry Goodkind's Wizard's First Rule (I didn't pursue the rest of the book). But that book has 150,000+ ratings on Goodreads, a great average score of 4.12 and Goodkind is a #1 NYT bestseller. His first page clearly did a great job for many people.

I'm not always right *hushed gasp*. You will likely be able to find a successful and highly respected author who will tell you the opposite to practically every bit of advice I give. Possibly not the same author in each case though.

The art of receiving criticism is to take what's useful to you and discard the rest. You need sufficient confidence in your own vision/voice such that whilst criticism may cause you to adjust course you're not about to do a U-turn for anyone. If you act on every bit of advice you'll get crit-burn, your story will be pulled in different directions by different people. It will stop being yours and turn into some Frankenstein's monster that nobody will ever want to read.

Additionally - don't get hurt or look for revenge. The person critiquing you is almost always trying to help you (it's true in some groups there will be the occasional person who is jealous/mean/misguided but that's the exception, not the rule). That person has put in effort on your behalf. If they don't like your prose it's not personal - they didn't just slap your baby.


I've flicked through some of the pages looking for one where I have something to say - something that hopefully is useful to the author and to anyone else reading the post.


I've posted the unadulterated page first then again with comments inset and at the end.

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CHAPTER ONE: IT BEGINS WITH DEATH.
How much rain would it take until I’ve drowned to death? Anthorn thought as he tapped the side of the carriage. He’d been soaked to the bone within moments of stepping out into the rain, the wet seeping through his overcoat to the shirt beneath. His boots were fairing little better and they were his best pair-his only pair really. At least there wasn’t a wind. There was something about rain and wind together that just made the other worse to experience.
     The sky lit up momentarily and moments later was followed by the dull boom of thunder. Someone, most likely the Night’s Watchman, had cordoned off the area by using old fishing wire and wood crates. A crowd had gathered behind this line, a mixture of shape and size, and fashion. Anthorn glanced toward the men of the City Watch moving with careful attention to the ground at their feet. They’re still wearing their old uniforms, he thought, noticing the grass green jackets, sea blue trousers, and foraging caps. He shook his head and his lip curled. He hated the docks, hated the stink of fish and shit, but there was nothing he could do about this now. The smell only increased as he made his way toward the edge of the river. “Good evening,” he said, stepping down the steps carefully, keeping his gaze on the body and man standing over it.
     “You’re late,” Colt said as he rubbed the hand where he’d lost a thumb some years earlier. The lamp behind him flickered as the light fizzled and hissed in the rain. “Where were you?”
     Anthorn looked out toward the other side of the river but couldn’t make out anything in the night. “I had some…things I needed to take care of.” Thunder rolled over head and he winced. “But I see you coped well in my absence.”
     “Hardly,” Colt snorted and wiped his nose across the back of his sleeve. “I have no idea what I’m doing here.”
     “And you think I do?” Anthorn replied. “I’m flying blind here just like you.” Saying it out loud made him wonder why he’d the job in the first place. He’d been a member of the Guardians: an ancient order dedicated to keeping the peace throughout the known world. He’d no real experience of solving any kind of a crime. He’d should’ve said no when the Governor of Lull approached him with his idea of uniting the various City Watch precincts under a single command. He should have refused to take the job on as main Investigator. It had been easier being a Private Investigator. So why had he taken the job? He need only look at the body lying at his feet to know the answer.

     The girl was dead for sure. There was no denying that vacant stare and pale skin. Anthorn crouched beside her. She was young, blond, beautiful, and he guessed her to be somewhere between sixteen and twenty. “Who found her?” he asked, grimacing at the pain working its way up his hip from the knee.


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This page 1 hits more of the notes I usually advise on, so the points I've picked on will have a higher nit-picking content than the two previous critiques.

CHAPTER ONE: IT BEGINS WITH DEATH.

How much rain would it take until I’ve drowned to death? Anthorn thought as he tapped the side of the carriage.

It's decent content for a first line, but a bit awkwardly worded. 'would it take to drown me' or 'will it take until I've drowned' read better to me. The 'to death' is redundant, but could be part of his 'voice' - though reading on he doesn't sound like a yokel.

He’d been soaked to the bone within moments of stepping out into the rain, the wet seeping through his overcoat to the shirt beneath.

'soaked to the bone' is a bit of a hackeyed phrase. You then proceed to explain to us what it means - it is an opportunity to explain what he's wearing, so a point for that, but on the other hand is that important right now? point and a half away.

If you swapped these two parts then we wouldn't be wondering if he were tapping the side of the carriage from inside or out.

His boots were fairing little better and they were his best pair-his only pair really. At least there wasn’t a wind.

Do I care about his boots at this point. I'm more interested in what he's up to. And telling us what there isn't is also of questionable value.

 There was something about rain and wind together that just made the other worse to experience.
     The sky lit up momentarily and moments later was followed by the dull boom of thunder.

When we get down to the nub of it ... we're talking about the weather here. That's what people talk about when they have nothing interesting to say. We could have got to this point with 'the rain hammered down, soaking him within moments'. The 'hammered down' establishes a lack of wind.

IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT - begins reputedly the worst book ever written. You're basically doing the same here. There's good advice to the effect of 'never open a book with the weather'. I think you can get away with it (if you must) as setting, but let's not wallow in it.

 Someone, most likely the Night’s Watchman, had cordoned off the area by using old fishing wire and wood crates. A crowd had gathered behind this line, a mixture of shape and size, and fashion. 

OK. It must be a fairly fascinating scene to keep them out in the rain, It would be nice to see what they're drawn by.

Anthorn glanced toward the men of the City Watch moving with careful attention to the ground at their feet. They’re still wearing their old uniforms, he thought, noticing the grass green jackets, sea blue trousers, and foraging caps. 

City Watch and Night Watch are different? The noticing that the uniforms are old gives an excuse to describe them, which is better than just giving a list description for the readers' benefit ... but do we need to know. I'm more interested in what all these people are standing in the rain for than in what colour their trousers are.

He shook his head and his lip curled. He hated the docks, hated the stink of fish and shit, but there was nothing he could do about this now. The smell only increased as he made his way toward the edge of the river. “Good evening,” he said, stepping down the steps carefully, keeping his gaze on the body and man standing over it.
     “You’re late,” Colt said as he rubbed the hand where he’d lost a thumb some years earlier. The lamp behind him flickered as the light fizzled and hissed in the rain. “Where were you?”

This is good - insights into our man, non-visuals helping the setting, a bit of conversation, detail on the other guy offered indirectly.

     Anthorn looked out toward the other side of the river but couldn’t make out anything in the night. “I had some…things I needed to take care of.” Thunder rolled over head and he winced. “But I see you coped well in my absence.”
     “Hardly,” Colt snorted and wiped his nose across the back of his sleeve. “I have no idea what I’m doing here.”
     “And you think I do?” Anthorn replied. “I’m flying blind here just like you.”

'flying blind' is another hackneyed phrase but more forgivable in dialogue. Though probably "anachronistic"?

Seeing they don't know what they're doing is good - that's a problem - problems are good.

 Saying it out loud made him wonder why he’d the job in the first place. He’d been a member of the Guardians: an ancient order dedicated to keeping the peace throughout the known world. He’d no real experience of solving any kind of a crime. He’d should’ve said no when the Governor of Lull approached him with his idea of uniting the various City Watch precincts under a single command. He should have refused to take the job on as main Investigator. It had been easier being a Private Investigator. So why had he taken the job? 

This is a big long mouthful of info, almost a dump. It's also a touch confusing - was he a Guardian dedicated to keeping peace throughout the world, or a private investigator, or one then the other, and now an official investigator? And surely peace keeping and PI have some crime-solving connection rather than none?

He need only look at the body lying at his feet to know the answer.
     The girl was dead for sure. There was no denying that vacant stare and pale skin. Anthorn crouched beside her. She was young, blond, beautiful, and he guessed her to be somewhere between sixteen and twenty. “Who found her?” he asked, grimacing at the pain working its way up his hip from the knee. 

Now we get there! Yes, it's only taken a page but that page may have given the impression that you like to dawdle, to talk about the weather and the guards' trousers and the ancient order of Guardians ... when there's a dead body on the ground!

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So yes, we're full of questions now and we have a problem, two problems, a dead girl and a man charged with solving the circumstances of her death who lacks self-confidence and relevant experience. That's good. It's a reason to turn to page 2.

I would ask myself though - why not open with that? Why not: "The dead girl lay there at his feet and the rain filled her eyes. She looked sixteen perhaps, not much more." And slip everything else - his uncertainty, his wetness, this subordinate and the guards in their incorrect uniforms, all of it, into play as Anthorn starts to gather evidence.

Those are my thoughts. Take what you wish from them, and I hope there's some help.
Others may have something to offer in the comments below.

5 comments:

  1. This was a good read, both the page and the critique :)

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  2. Love these critiques. Hoping for more.

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  3. That definitely drew me in, I'd continue reading. Good points made by Mark, though they wouldn't really have bothered me. A bit odd that the writer wouldn't have trawled the page for misspellings and typos before submitting, but perhaps he was in a hurry to submit.

    I'd read that book.

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  4. "The girl was dead for sure." Would have been a great opening line. Instant tension, questions and scene setting in six words. The paragraph that follow is well written too. Yes, lets get the rain and setting intersperced with the story instead of served up cold beforehand.

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    Replies
    1. Yes. "the girl was dead for sure" would be a great opening line. It reminds me of the opening line of A Christmas Carol - "Marley was dead to begin with".

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