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First Page Critique #1

Updated: May 6, 2018

Hello! This is the first in a series of blog posts which will critique a brave writer's first page. If you'd like to see your anonymous first page (250-300 words) here, email it to Thanks, mysterious writer, for volunteering to be first!

Genre: Adult Fantasy

A smirk etched its way across his long face as he tapped his fingers on the dark wooden staff in his hand. [First lines have to do a lot of work. They have to be hooky, pithy, and not too complex. This one is a little too complicated to really pull us into the story. There’s too many adjectives (underlined) and we don’t know anything about this person or story from this line.] Not wanting to deny himself the pleasure of victory he leapt from the tree; landing firmly on his feet facing the village. [It’s a bit too hard to do punctuation mark-ups in this format, but you’re missing a comma and you’re using semi-colons incorrectly. So, watch your punctuation! Also, we didn’t know he was in a tree so that’s a little jarring.] His narrow eyes surveyed the area leaving no detail unnoticed; the smallest detail could bring defeat. His prey, the non-magic Innoncents, would draw out the Mage he sought. He chuckled; defeating the Mage the Academy outlawed will make him a legend. [I see how you’re trying to do some exposition here, but it’s a little clumsy. We don’t have enough context to understand this. It would almost be better if you switched the two sentences. I think that way at least provides more context.] He rolled his shoulders relieving the tension in his neck; happy with the slight cracking he swung his staff pointing the large emerald at a cedar tree beside him. [Proper punctuation: “He rolled his shoulders relieving the tension in his neck. Happy with the slight cracking, he swung his staff, pointing the large emerald at the cedar tree beside him.”] Placing both hands on the staff, pulling with all his might snapping the trunk suspending it above the ground at the end of the glowing emerald. [There’s too much going on in this sentence to the point I don’t actually understand what happened. Maybe: “He placed both hands on the staff. Pulling with all his might, the tree truck snapped and he suspended it above the ground at the end of the glowing emerald.”] Squawking birds took flight as he swung his staff; hurling the tree at the sleepy village; the echoing crash interrupting the peaceful dreams of those below. Chaos erupted as villagers abandoned their homes in utter panic.

On the outskirts of the village, the remains of a forgotten temple basked in the waking dawn; a stone titan among the overgrown weeds. [You built up a lot of tension in the previous section to lose it here. You either want a section break or a bit of a better transition. Otherwise, you’re failing at the payoff.] Dozing on the uneven stone steps, a Black Panther [why capitalized?] lounged in the sun. He gave up swatting an annoying pest flying by his head, instead, allowing it to land on a red ruby birthmark on his forehead. I am too old for this. He thought as he watched a procession of ants crawl up the stone pillar beside him. [Again, punctuation: “I’m too old for this, he thought as he watched…” is one way to show a thought. Either way, a thought requires the same punctuation as dialogue except for the quotation marks.] He revelled in the silence, cherishing the peace before his Mage would, undoubtedly, ruin it.

The temple, stripped of any valuables, contained broken stone alter in the center of the circular room; a single reminder of the building’s ancient purpose. Etchings of stars and animals were unrecognisable through the cobwebs as a black candle on of the largest piece of stone burned solemnly in the dusty atmosphere. Time corroded the delicate paintings on the walls making the bold geometric patterns encircling the ceiling unidentifiable. The panther’s Mage knelt among the broken debris praying to the altar.

Overall, you have an interesting story building up here! I’m intrigued about the Mage and why someone would want to lure him out, and having an animal POV is always interesting. It makes me wonder is he really is an animal. Great to raise questions like this!

It’s relatively minor, but you need to work on your punctuation and sentence structure. The Elements of Style is a great book for that. It’s something that makes the work difficult to read/follow.

You need to provide a little more context to the exposition and some scene dressing. For example, we don’t know where that initial character is at first. I assume he’s in a forest, but the first line doesn’t set that up so when he jumps out a tree, we’re a little caught off guard. It’s a little unfair to be so picky because first lines are SO HARD, but unless he’s purposefully mysterious, your exposition would be better used to allow us to connect with him. Something that’s common for first pages is starting in the wrong place. You have to be careful about this. The first reaction is to start right in the middle of the action, but this isn’t always the best place. (Though, sometimes it is!) My favourite rule-of-thumb I’ve heard about this is to start ten minutes before the inciting incident. Some writers even say the inciting incident should be 5%-10% in, depending. I don’t know if this village attack is your inciting incident, but I do know we have no idea who these people are and what the stakes are. In other words, we don’t know why we should care. Something to think about!

You have all the building blocks of something interesting! Best of luck!

In addition to running the OWC, I am a freelance editor and writing coach. Check out my website if you're interested in learning more!

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