Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Inaugural Post! First Impressions: Page Critiques by Melissa J.

As previewed on our blog a couple of weeks ago, today is Melissa's first page critique. This blog feature will reoccur every first Wednesday of the month. At the bottom of the post, you can find the rules for submitting your own first page. So far we've had more than 45 entries. BIG thanks to everyone who's helped to make First Impressions a smashing success!! :-)

Without further ado...

Author: Steena
Genre: Upmarket Women's Fiction
Word Count: 299

Title: EMMA'S HEAVEN (The title is generic, and also gives too much away.  I'm not a big fan of a person’s name in the title.)

Two years ago, Megan forgot to breathe. (This first sentence, combined with title, pretty much gives away the plot.  Perhaps consider letting the reader work a bit more to get to the point. Should it be “forgot how to breathe”? In essence, her life changed at that moment; the act of not breathing didn’t change her life. Being too clever with wording can prove tricky.) Ever since, her life had been on pause. If there were a rewind option, she'd wish this day away.

With her eyes closed, Sshe stood in front of the closed bedroom door and counted to five. (Don’t use “closed” twice in the sentence. It’s not necessary. Also, I would start the chapter with this sentence, and delete "Two years ago...wish this day away."  It’s a much more immediate opening.) Her white knuckles gripped the doorknob before she found the strength to open it. Megan stepped through the open doorway and was blinded by a bright light. (If her eyes were closed when initially in front of the door, when had she opened them? You have to consider everything your character is doing.)

It wasn't a day for the sun to shine, not in this room. (More emphasis on "it" if this is going to be a separate paragraph.)

With her head down, Megan walked further into the room. She needed to close the curtains. Megan wanted, no, she needed to be shrouded in the darkness today. At the foot of the bed located in the middle of the room, Megan’s attention was caught by an item on the floor. (There’s too much description.  Not every action/ location of furniture, needs describing.) 

An envelope lay at her feet.

She picked it up and turned it over. (Again, every action described. Ask yourself if the words are really needed.) Her eyes stung as she stared at the bold, cursive writing that stood out against the white paper.

Happy 5th Birthday Emma. Love, Daddy.

Her tTears fell onto the envelope, white smudges soaked through the paper.

She’d forgotten to get a card. (Run this sentence into prior paragraph. Too many one sentence paragraphs can make for a choppy read.)

A car door slammed outside. Megan walked to the window and saw Peter's car in the driveway. He's home early. She leaned her head against the window and sighed. He was home early. The grass needed to be cut, and her gardens uncared for. If it weren't for the tulips, the garden beds would be empty. (Not quite sure what the last sentence in this paragraph has to do with anything.  If you are alluding to the fact that she has let things go, I suggest more explanation.  Otherwise, this isn’t quite doing what you are intending.)

The heavy tread on the stairway announced her husband's presence. Megan waited, silent, unable to call out to him. Even when hHe stood in the open doorway. She didn't turn her head. She didn't want him to see her swollen eyes.

"I didn't get her a card," Megan said, her voice a mere whisper against the silence in the room. (This is repeating her earlier thought and so close, it’s a bit redundant.  Perhaps get rid of her thought about not getting a card and leave this dialogue to Peter.)


The writer does a good job of jumping immediately into a conflict. Obviously the protagonist is dealing with a loss and we have been immersed in the tragedy. The writer also satisfactorily conveys that there may be a bit of conflict between her and her husband. In this context, I feel the writer has successfully hooked the reader with expectations. They will want to read on.

This sad opening does convey that I am in for a “weeper” of a read. Which, if that is what the writer has intended, I’m certainly prepared for. But, if this is more of an upmarket women’s fiction, perhaps something a little lighter might work. It’s totally the writer’s choice.

I do wonder, why they are giving a dead child a birthday card—leaving it in her empty room? If the point is that these characters have yet to get past their loss the writer may be able to use less of a contrived device such as the card. Writers should be able to evoke emotions with their words. Perhaps just entering the room and feeling the loss is enough.

To enter, email your first page (300 words or less) to Contests(AT) with “First Impressions” in the subject line. Include the title and genre in the email, as well as the name you wish us to use when referring to you publicly. All genres are welcome. Do not send your entry as an attachment; it must be within the body of the email. Winners are randomly selected using

**Disclaimers, Rules, Stipulations, What Not, and All That Jazz: By emailing your entry to Contests(AT), you agree to have your first page posted on our blog for critique. Entrants will remain in the selection queue indefinitely, so your number could come up tomorrow or two years from now. Such is life. We will drop you a line if your email is pulled out of the hat. Maybe. It’s best to just swing by our blog often and check things out, no? Winning a first page critique does not in any way indicate an interest or offer of representation by The Knight Agency, and we reserve the right to delete any material that we find improper or offensive. Though we encourage blog readers to offer positive, thoughtful feedback, we cannot control their opinions with Imperius Curses. However, we will promptly banish nasty, mean-spirited comments to the outer limits of cyberspace. Dontcha wish you could do that with people in real life? Addendum (11/03/2010): In order to give everyone a fair chance, only one entry is allowed per person. If you've submitted more than one first page, your initial email will be added to the queue; however, subsequent emails have been deleted.**

First Impressions Schedule for the next 6 months: November 3rd, December 1st, January 5th, February 2nd, March 2nd, April 6th



Blogger JaredNGarrett said...

Mighty nice.

Melissa, I really appreciate you doing this. I find it very helpful to see the conversation you are having with the text, the writer and yourself as you read. This is a choice opportunity.

Many thanks. Here's to hoping you'll do mine soon!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010 at 11:02:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Leona said...

Um, I'm at a loss for words. I was going to say what Jared said, almost verbatim. Including the bit about mine, LOL

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule for us. I look forward to next time.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010 at 2:28:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Shain Brown said...

Melissa J. you are the best, thank you so much, and what both Jared and Leona said.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010 at 2:51:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Unknown said...


This is a stellar opportunity for writers. I like that you work the same way an editor would prior to publishing.

Thanks for doing this. I'm sure many writers will appreciate. And who know, we might discover first pages that are going to hook us.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010 at 5:36:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Steena Holmes said...

Wow - thank you Melissa! Your critique was exactly what I needed. I have made changes since I sent this to you - and I dealt with most of those issues, but you showed me some areas I missed. I'm not sure if it helps or not (the query points it out) but Emma is not dead - she's been missing for two years (kidnapped).

This is a fantastic opportunity and I'm so glad to have been the first one under the knife :)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010 at 10:54:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous D. Friend said...

So I read the first comment you made and I'm frowning; the title of my book has my characters last name : (

Thursday, November 4, 2010 at 9:51:00 AM EDT  

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