Fall 1st Page Critique Blog Hop

(Or ‘autumn’, if we’re going by UK English ;))

The wonderful Michelle Hauck has kindly organised a 1st page critique blog hop, where we get to critique the five blog entries below and ours in the linky on her page. It’s open to all fiction writers, regardless of genre or age category.

Here’s mine, taken from Of Jackets and Phones. Because, why not? Paying forward critiques are awesome. Of course, if you want to critique and you’re not part of the hop, do so anyway. 😉 Updated, as of 12/11/14

YA Murder Mystery

A police car blocked the main road into my school’s burnt umber brick and whitewashed doors. I raised an eyebrow at it, nibbled a nail, and tripped out of the school minibus.

For April, the spring air rose way too crisply and held grass thick with swords of dew, and I struggled with the starched collar of my uniform as moisture crept up my arms and into that annoying air pocket between jumper and shirt. I loosened my tie and shook the wrinkles from my skirt.

“Agnetha! Come on.”

I jolted. Whilst I preferred Vera not laughing at me, I winced at her whining tone. Like I cared if we were late. First lesson on Fridays was Spanish, and I was already failing.

I walked to where she stood and rested a hand on one of her wrists with a nod towards the main entrance.

“Look.”

As she froze to follow my now-absent gaze, I wandered ahead and kicked at the flowerbed along the front lawn path. I’d have dived into the mushrooms and roses there instead of bumbling my way to class. I snapped off one pink-faced fool and tossed it into the mud, and then lifted a mushroom, shifting earth and shoe-dirt and wilderness as I tucked the fungus behind my ear.

A hand on my shoulder, and Vera had caught up. She skipped past me, bubbling with incessant words. “What’s up with the police car?”

“You think I know?” I eyed the blue, yellow and white chequers. Police cars had a weird kind of beauty.

An idea of St. Christopher's school exterior; St. Edmund's School, Summertown

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22 thoughts on “Fall 1st Page Critique Blog Hop

  1. There’s some great imagery here (love the line about the grass it totally nailed that sharp crunch feel) but I did get stuck on the first line:
    The smooth side of a police car blocked the road into school’s burnt …

    As I read it I thought, is there a non smooth side to a police car? When I re-read it I realised what you were saying, but I think if you read it with my first impression in mind, you’ll see what I’m saying (and you don’t want an agent to editor thinking the way I did)

    Also, and this might be more of a personal thing (although I have seen editors mention this on Twitter), when two people are talking to each other, two people who know each other, they rarely if ever use each other’s names. Yes it is a school bus and there are other people /children around but still, even if Vera screamed COME ON! and a dozen other’s turned, only her friend would respond.

    As I’ve said before, I know authors use this as a way to introduce their character’s name to the reader but readers are sharp and if I get the feeling its not natural, then other’s might too. You could still do this maybe have Vera Shout AGNETHA! ( by the way, wouldn’t she have a nickname like Agie?) and have your MC look at Vera and see her rolling her eyes and then waving at your MC while demanding Come on!

    Also, I’m not a fan of rhetorical questions:
    Like, what did I care if we were late?

    I’d maybe suggest changing this to “Like I cared if we were late” I know you’re using LIKE to show Agnetha’s voice so this is your call, and the issue with questions is likely my issue anyway 🙂

    This para confused me:
    Power-walking ahead, I kicked at the flowerbed along the front lawn paths. I’d have dived into the mushrooms and roses there instead of bumbling my way to class. I picked one pink-faced fool and tossed it into the mud, and lifted a mushroom, shifting earth and shoe-dirt and wilderness as I tucked it behind my ear.

    First, if she doesn’t care about being late why is she power walking?
    Also, if she is power walking how can she be picking flowers and lifting mushrooms. Are you saying she kicked the mushroom as she walked? If so then maybe remove the work picked and have something else like tugged (or find a better word) or snapped off, something like that. But I she’s suddenly power-walking think you’d still need to clarify why she’s suddenly power walking.

    And what did she tuck behind her ear, the flower or the mushroom?

    This line also threw me:
    A hand on my SHOULDER, and Vera had caught up…

    If Vera was telling her to come on, why would she need to catch up? I have the impression that Vera was ahead of her and calling for Agnetha to catch up to her?

    This line:
    “Strange – British police cars were very beautiful vehicles”

    Is your MC from the USA and studying in the UK? If so, that needs to be made clear as a UK person would say “police cars were very beautiful vehicles” without the British. Without being a smart-arse, do you know what they call Brazil Nuts in Brazil? NUTS – because they are in Brazil.

    OK. so I’ve stripped this a lot & I hope you realise I did this because (i) I think you have something here, (ii) I like your imagery & (iii) everything I’ve mentioned is so easy to fix. Please don’t take this as your 1st page being not good because I happen to think its quite good 🙂

    • No, no, your points are very salient, and I appreciate them a lot. 🙂 In fact, I completely agree about the power-walking. I think Vera was originally ahead, but then I changed it around and something got lost in my edit. 😛 Will definitely rethink that.
      ‘Aggie’ is actually Agnetha’s nickname, but Vera doesn’t use it because they’re not that close.
      Thanks again 🙂

  2. Pingback: Fall First Page Critique Blog Hop | Airship Flamel

  3. Good points from the other commenter, so I will try not repeat too much.

    I, too, was confused about the MC’s native country. If she’s American, she would have said “like, what did I care” but would not have said “Whilst.”

    If she’s British then she might have said it more the way the previous commenter pointed out.

    I suggest adding a sentence to the part where she gets off the bus. Something that tells us why she’s here, and what her relationship to Vera is. But not too “As You Know, Bob” Easy, right? 😛

  4. I like what you wrote. You had a lot of good images. I caught that Aggie was worried about the police car and wonder where that will go. The bullying Vera is also a good character. I think you have a good story going.

    I did read the other comments and agree. There are a few places that stick and others have pointed them out.

    I think it is good to start with a strong hook. Your first sentence is interesting, but I think it need to grab harder.

    Good luck

  5. Hi there Alexandrina! I don’t read mysteries much so I’m interested to see your beginning!

    I got tripped up on the first line. What is the smooth side of a police car? Also, add ‘the’ between ‘into’ and ‘school’s’. I would cut ‘way too’ and add crisply to crisp and break that sentence into two. it will heighten the great imagery you have going on.

    Not sure if the tone of ‘whilst’ goes with the tone of ‘like what did I care.’ The first tripped me up and seems way too formal for the latter, which is very contemporary.

    You can cut, ‘with my other’ when she points. Change ‘paths’ to ‘path’. On ‘shifting earth and shoe-dirt and wilderness’ I would pick one of these for greatest impact. Using all three reads a bit clunky to me. And make sure you don’t have misplaced modifiers… ‘tucked it behind my ear’ refers to the dirt here. Also, in this paragraph you say she’s power-walking and then bumbling. That gives me two different images. Power-walking implies, determined or defiant (or wanting to get some exercise!) Bumbling implies lazy, aimless.

    ‘A hand on my shoulder, and Vera had caught up.’ Maybe change to Vera caught up, laying a hand on my shoulder. But I thought Vera was ahead of her (except you did say she was power-walking ahead).

    Vera asking, “Is that a police car?” doesn’t seem authentic. Maybe “What’s up with the police car here at school?” or something that doesn’t make her seem like she’s never seen a police car before.

    I hope my nit-picking doesn’t hurt too bad. Plus they are just my opinions, so take what is helpful and can the rest! I think you have wonderful imagery, as I said. I can totally see this scene in my mind’s eye. Your fixes are easy ones. I’d love to know what the premise or hook is here if you have a logline. 🙂

    Good luck to you and happy writing!
    Shari

    • No, nit-picking is great, and I think your comments are really helpful! 🙂 I am about to edit the post with the changes I’ve made, so feel free to see if it reads better now. In particular, I’m not great at first lines. 😛

      Thanks for the interest 🙂 The general hook I have on my WIP page is: When her favourite schoolteacher is murdered, Agnetha vows to bring his killer to justice – for better or worse, even when she and the only link to the truth are the next targets on the killer’s list.

      • Hi again! Much better beginning. A couple more little things if you’re up for it. Change ‘road into’ to ‘road to.’ This has too many descriptive words in such a small space: ‘school’s burnt umber brick and whitewashed doors.’ As a suggestion, maybe you could start, “A police car blocked the main road to my school.” You can meld the details later but that sentence right there makes me wonder why? A school shooting? A drug bust? And then when we find out it’s a murder…whoa!

        I still don’t get the sudden shift in tone from seeing a police car and nail-biting to bumbling and an absent-gaze. I’m not sure what she’s thinking or feeling to cause that shift. Does that make sense?

        I’m totally intrigued knowing your hook and the setting you’re painting!

        • Thanks 🙂 All this feedback is amazing and so helpful!

          Yeah, I didn’t have many comments about the change in tone before I did my edit, but now there are some and I don’t have the time to edit at the moment! (Sod’s law, eh?) I do agree, though – those couple of paragraphs need something more. Reading through chapter one, it does get tenser in the second page, but somehow I have this weird bit in the middle! 😛

          I think the bumbling has come from an earlier version. Hmm. I’ll have a think about it, and see if I can make some changes at the weekend – I want to keep the whole mushroom thing for character – and it’s kind of a ritual of Aggie’s, so I should probably include that – but I need some way of yanking up the tension.

          Ah, writing. The eternal madness. xD

  6. I absolutely loved this! I would totally read more (and would love to, if you are looking for a critique partner now or later). The only problem I had was the shift between the characters going into the school and then sidestepping to pull flowers. I love the idea of a mushroom behind her ear (says so much about the character), it just felt odd between moving toward the school and pointing out the police car. Otherwise I thought the imagery and voice were spot on! Nicely done!

    • Thanks, Janelle! Yes, I will be looking for a critique partner in a month/over the Christmas holidays. I technically have the first chapters ready, but it takes me ages to compile emails and such that I can’t afford to interfere with my academic work at the same time. 🙂

  7. I’m going to write my critique in parentheses, and I hope it’s not too confusing for you. I usually do line edits when I critique, so I’m going to follow the same style.

    The smooth side (people have already commented on this, but it threw me off a little too) of a police car blocked the road into school’s burnt umber (I had to look up umber. At first, I thought you meant “amber”) brick and whitewashed doors (This is a great first line though. It raises lots of questions that I want answered like: Why is the car there? Are they doing a simple random drug search or is it something more nefarious?). I raised an eyebrow at it, nibbled a nail, and tripped out of the school minibus.

    For April, the spring air rose way too crisply and held grass thick with swords of dew, and I struggled with the starched collar of my uniform as moisture crept up my arms and into that annoying air pocket between jumper and shirt (This is a super long sentence. It’s grammatically correct, but clunky to read. I like all the details here, but it may be better separated). I loosened my tie and shook the wrinkles from my skirt.

    “Come on, Agnetha (I don’t like her name. I know that may be petty, but I pretty much switched it to Agatha when I read it). We’ll be late.”

    Whilst I preferred Vera not laughing at me, I winced at her whining tone. Like(I know we all talk like this, but it often doesn’t translate well into print. Plus, this is her thoughts, and I’m not sure how many of us think like in our thoughts as opposed to when we talk out loud because then we use it all the time), what did I care if we were late? First period on Fridays was Spanish, and I was already failing (I don’t know if you intended for this, but using “already” makes me think it’s early on in the school year).

    I rested a hand on one of her wrists and pointed with my other towards the main entrance.

    “Look.”

    Power-walking ahead(I’m pretty sure someone has mentioned the power-walking, but I’ve never said this seriously in my life (I’m 24), and I certainly didn’t as a teen. It reminds of the old women who would power walk around the mall when I worked there), I kicked at the flowerbed along the front lawn paths. I’d have dived into the mushrooms and roses there instead of bumbling my way to class. I picked one pink-faced fool and tossed it into the mud, and lifted a mushroom, shifting earth and shoe-dirt and wilderness (She did what? I get you’re saying she picked a mushroom and put it behind her hear, but the wording is bizarre to me. You could just say she shook the dirt off and have the same effect) as I tucked it behind my ear.

    A hand on my shoulder, and Vera had caught up (This also doesn’t make much sense to me. I mean, I know what happened, Vera touched her shoulder, but the phrasing is awkward). She skipped ahead, bubbling with incessant words. “Is that a police car? At school?”

    “Definitely a police car.” I knew the blue, yellow and white chequers. Strange – British police cars were very beautiful vehicles.

    I did read your tagline in the comments, and I think it’s a fantastic tagline. Definitely intriguing.

    I hope none of this is too harsh. I did like it, and I think it has great potential.

  8. I think your descriptions are great, and I love a good mystery. I glanced over the other critiquers’ comments, and I think I’m seeing an updated version? I didn’t catch anything that confused me as far as chain of action goes. I did think the description of the doors needed to be shorter, maybe, or would dashes work to describe the colors? “Burnt-umber-brick”? Just because it slowed me down, trying to decipher what the doors looked like, and I’m guessing they’re not all that important to the story. Your character putting a mushroom behind her ear made me blink a couple times, but it’s a great character detail–I know to expect her to be unconventional, and perhaps even a bit morbid. My main suggestion would be to let the MC be more curious about the police cars. If she’s not curious, it kills a bit of the tension for us too. She can still snag the mushroom to put behind her ear, but maybe she does it on her way to see what’s going on? Otherwise, very interesting start. Hope this helps. Good luck!

    • Thanks for your thoughts. “I know to expect her to be unconventional, and perhaps even a bit morbid” – this is exactly correct! In my most recent edit, I’ve been trying to add more black humour to this goal. Hmm, I’m working on the tension at the moment. I completely agree there that it needs to be more focused.

  9. I agree with the above reviewers regarding finding consistent voice and behavior on the MC. I read this twice, once in its original form, and once after the edits, and I do think the changes were helpful in making it read smoother, which allows the reader to enjoy the poetic and colorful nature of this piece. I enjoy how you are working in a flair for the lyrical with phrases such as “burnt umber brick and whitewashed doors” and ” held grass thick with swords of dew”. One thing I am not sure of though is the age of the girls here – that may be immaterial as its the first page, but I was surprised to see in your comments that she may be next on the murderer’s list – the characters struck me as a bit young to be the MC in such a story.

  10. Hi there,
    I like this so much better. Many of the issues that stumped me are now gone and I can enjoy the pace. As this is a WIP (and as with all WIPS), it will likely change a lot between now and when its submission ready, but I can see its potential and … it would seem… you have a willing CP

    Great job on the re-write 🙂

  11. I have an issue with the first line as well, but not the one that most others have mentioned. “Burnt umber”–aren’t most bricks that color? So, it might be unnecessary as the reader will fill it in. And although I see what you’re doing, I found the sentence structure confusing.

    Otherwise, I think I’m getting a good first glimpse into Agnetha’s personality which is great for the first 250 words.

    • Good point about the bricks. I was trying to go for something quite harsh and dissonant in colour – red bricks to me always seem sunrise, which wouldn’t do here.
      Hmm, will have to further think of those first couple of paragraphs. Thanks for your thoughts 😀

  12. Hi there! Intriguing start you’ve got here. The language strikes me as a bit poetic and formal (whilst) for YA. I was also confused by the mushroom behind the ear–was that just some quirky thing or was there something more significant with that? I’m a little concerned that you start with the police car (great!) but then the MC seems quite disinterested in it and talks about not wanting to go to class. The impact on me, the reader, is that I stop caring about the police car, and the unwillingness to go to class starts to feel rather pedestrian. I guess what I’m saying is I’d like to see more tension here since it’s the opening of a murder mystery. You hook me at the very top, so keep me hanging on!
    Good luck!
    Missy

  13. I really enjoyed the scene and the voice in this entry.

    The mushroom/flower scene confused me and I’m not sure it is necessary unless this is somehow part or the mystery. If it’s important, I would just recommend clarifying that part a bit!

    Otherwise, great job!

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