Meant to be a sneak peek into a Carina editor’s brain, and critiqued by a different editor each month, we’re going to post these first-page critiques monthly as long as authors are willing to let us use their work and people remain interested.
The idea here is to give you a quick insight into how we might look at a manuscript as it comes across our desks on submission. We’ll strive to be critical but not mean. Because it’s only one page, the amount of feedback is necessarily limited—we don’t have access to more than one page!
It’s important to note that this manuscript was submitted specifically for the purpose of first-page critique on the blog, we do not/will not use random submissions so no worries we’re going to pull your piece out of slush and critique it.
The next opportunity to submit a piece for critique will be open in just a few days, on April 24, 2017, so please watch the blog or our newsletter for your chance to enter.
This month’s editor providing critique is Carina Press Assistant Editor Stephanie Doig.
The First Page
Author A described this manuscript as a romantic suspense featuring a hero and heroine who “have to work together to solve a murder involving shimmery body spray, while falling for each other.” Intriguing!
All Eden Sparks wanted was one night to be wild and forget everything. Well, maybe not everything but most of it. And maybe find a guy for one night so her friends would get off her case about needing to get some action. The Silver River Bar would help her with at least one of her missions, if not both. She frequented the dance bar, which got its name from the river flowing beside it, whenever she could. Sometimes, it was only to talk to the bartender or keep an eye on the patrons. But that night, that night was for her.
Eden wasn’t one to drink much, but being the lead CSI and DNA analyst at the Mosey County Crime Lab in Seven Springs, Alabama wasn’t the easiest job in the world. And it being her first weekend off in months called for one, two, or maybe even ten drinks. So, with two of her friends in tow, she set out for a night of fun.
* * *
Ashton Cruz was new in town and decided to have a few drinks. He put away most of his things from the move and wanted to have the night for whatever. He walked into the Silver River and found a table in the corner a few feet from the counter. His mind was full, and he wanted to chase it all away. He started a new job that Monday, a transfer from another state to this new place. And he wasn’t too thrilled.
Ashton glanced over all the faces in the bar, searching for a familiar one. They were all unknown. He felt like a kid on the first day at a new school, but he didn’t care. His eyes scanned the entire room, just looking, until they landed on her.
* * *
I like that this starts in a bar—a bar is a great setting, full of potential tension and chemistry. Beginning in a social setting like this indicates that your hero and heroine are probably going to meet in chapter one or two, which I like.
Right away, two things jumped out at me here: first, the point-of-view switch on the first page. This feels early and a bit jarring; I’m just starting to get to know Eden when we move away from her and meet someone new. I’d recommend sticking with Eden a little bit longer before you introduce Ashton. She seems interesting and I want to see more of her!
There’s a lot of advice out there saying that authors need to make things happen quickly—I even noted that I appreciate a h/h meeting in the first couple of chapters above—but be careful not to rush your pacing too much. Let your readers dig into your world a little bit before shifting gears. It might be helpful to think of the opening scene of a movie: how long does the camera stay on one character/scenario before switching to a new location/a new person? Long enough for viewers to get a sense of what’s happening, and to learn a little about the characters, before moving on to a new scene.
Second, there’s a lot of backstory on this first page, for both Eden and Ashton. Backstory is an integral part of characterization, and it’s important that we know your characters’ backgrounds as the novel progresses—it will lend weight to every interaction, and to the way their relationship develops. However, I’d caution against putting too much expository backstory (sometimes called infodumping) on the first page, or in the first chapter, and instead work on sprinkling bits of detail throughout the first quarter or so of the book. I’d suggest incorporating more of the present into this opening to balance the backstory. Is there a particular interaction that would show us key characteristics rather than telling? For example, maybe Eden approaches the bar and asks for her usual, bantering with the bartender, as a way of illustrating that she’s a regular there. Adding in some dialogue will help build the scene, so that when Eden meets Ashton, we’ll have gotten to know her and like her, making it easy to feel invested in the h/h meeting.
On a more positive note, I’m intrigued by the potential murder-mystery plotline, and Eden’s career is very interesting. I’d love to know more about her job—maybe there’s a specific case that has her eager to get some stress relief?—and how Ashton relates to it. I suspect you have an interesting suspense storyline building here, and some edits to your opening, slowing things down and adding more show vs tell, would really help it stand out as a submission and keep editors (and readers!) interested.
Would I keep reading? I’d definitely keep reading through chapter one to see how the one-night-stand scene plays out, but at this point I’m probably skimming, and would likely move to the synopsis to get more detail on the suspense elements.
Do you have questions about my feedback or the First-Page Critique program? Your turn to add constructive feedback for the author in the comments section! Or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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