Tuesday, July 19, 2011

First Page -

Here's the first page of a dystopian novel submitted by R. Lewis. Thanks so much for the entry!


“I’ll kill him, I swear I will,” Pacem said threateningly while she had a man with glasses in a headlock. She was only sixteen, but she looked like a determined assassin.

A woman with a bun pointed the gun at Pacem. “Let him go now,” she snarled. “He gave me this baby in the month of December. The coldest winter I ever had to sleep in,” Pacem said with anguish before she yanked the man’s hair, tugging his head back. “You liar,” the woman said harshly while she kept her finger on the trigger. Pacem walked backwards luring the man outside the camp. “One day, he will die. But not by me,” Pacem said quietly while she threw him aside, and made a run for it. She looked to the woods in the distance. “I’m free,”Pacem thought. The woman cursed before she shot. The bullet flew through the air with a crack. It whistled while it passed through Pacem’s ribcage. She fell slowly, and landed on the ground. She turned over onto her back.

Pacem lay there. Blood stained her black shirt. The wound to her rib seeped more, spreading blood on the gray field. The Somnium camp was behind her. It was a massive machine spurting ash to the sky while she lay there in her black uniform. Her eyes looked up, while her hands clutched the grass. A trail of blood fell from her lips down the side of her face.

What I liked: You've thrown us directly into an action scene, which is a good way to get the reader hooked so long as we care about the main character (which I'll address later on...while the scene is interesting, I don't think we know enough about Pacem to care). This excerpt is fast-paced and I definitely want to know more about Pacem. Also, it's nice to immediately find out who the character is...from this excerpt we know she's a sixteen-year-old girl with a bit of a wild side (probably an understatement). Too often we read submissions (especially first person) where the character's age and even gender aren't identified for several chapters.

My overall critique:
First off, you've marked this section as a prologue. Why? In my experience (especially having spoken to editors and agents), prologues aren't usually necessary, as they're often a copout way for the writer to introduce background information or a flashback of sorts. I'm not saying prologues never work, but they're difficult to execute and they can be a turnoff for editors. Secondly, it's very hard to tell who's speaking in the second paragraph. As a general rule of thumb you should start a new paragraph every time you switch from one person's dialogue to another person's dialogue. Thirdly, watch you dialogue tags. You tend to add adverbs after every tag (threateningly, harshly, quietly, etc). 95% of the time these aren't necessary...for instance, the reader can already tell by the context of the scene that Pacem's words are a threat. It's best to eliminate dialogue tags whenever possible, i.e. rely on context to tell the reader who's speaking, or to use the generic "he said, she said" approach so the tags don't detract from what the character's actually saying.

Paragraph 1: You wrote "She was only sixteen, but she looked like a determined assassin." This feels awkward...is she an assassin? If so, you might as well just say "she was a determined assassin" to resolve the ambiguity of this statement. If she's not actually an assassin, then it's a weird phrase to describe her.

Paragraph 2: I'm confused as to what's going on here...I think you're trying to drop too much information on your audience before they get the chance to orient themselves within the story. Pacem's threatening someone, then she's talking about a baby (?), then suddenly she's running...it all happens very quickly and I (as a reader) am still not sure what's going on. I think it's all right to have some measure of ambiguity in your first page, but if your audience is lost then they won't continue reading.

Paragraph 3: Considering your main character (or what the audience assumes is your main character at this point) just got shot, I would expect a far more intense reaction. Remember to utilize all five senses...in this paragraph you employ mostly visual imagery, whereas I would expect someone who just had a bullet tear through their insides to be screaming in pain/focused on tactile sensations. In fact, you make no mention of pain whatsoever, which causes your narrator to seem completely and utterly detached from your main character. This is bad, since your readers cannot identify with a main character if they are cut off from her train of thought. I would revisit this section and do some research on gunshot wounds. How does it actually feel to get shot? You want to make the experience real for your audience, and at this point Pacem's injury seems very superficial - delve deeper into your main character's mind.

In conclusion: You're off to a good start here, and I'm excited to see where you go with this! An exciting and intriguing first page.


  1. I agree with everything you said, Kate. But I have my own opinion to add, too, lol!

    Every conference you go to says "start with action!!", but in actuality that's not exactly true. What they mean, I htink, is "start with tension!". If I were you, I'd nuke the prologue aspect and back up a bit. Ground us in your character, Pacern, by setting the scene for us. Then do your action scene here.

    If there's a time jump, that's fine. Start the next chapter with the year or whatever. You know, first chap: September. Second chap A year later. Or something. Get my drift?

    So yeah. Prologues = bad. Too much action too fast = bad. Just back it up a pace and slow it down just.a.tad. Enough to get the intensity of "omg!! pacern's been shot!!" Right now I'm like, "who the heck is this girl and why do I care?"

    Good luck R!

  2. Excellent points, Kate. Much of your feedback is exactly what I was thinking as I read this.

    While I'm one of the few who thinks we need not avoid prologues, they should serve as a warm up, a short introduction that doesn't take away the impact that your first chapter ought to have. Chapter 1 is the true start of your novel.

    Best of luck to you, R. You've done a brave thing here.