Step Two: The Unvarnished Truth About the First Page of My Novel

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Hiya! I’m back after hearing from my writer mentor friend about my first page. And I’m actually gonna be alright!

First, if you didn’t see my post yesterday flaunting the first fabulous page of my fantastic fledgling novel, click on the not entirely obvious link highlighted in red above.

Today’s post, is a combo guest blogger / writing review from my writing mentor, the esteemed Ms. Josephine Carr, whose blog for writers of all shapes, sizes, genres and ambitions has been very helpful to me as a hopeful professional writer.  Please check her out. There are other very kewl things about Jody, as she’s also known, that you will find out when you “meet” her.

Per yesterday’s post on my blog, Jody has graciously offered to review my first page and without further ado, I’ll stop stalling, shut my trap and get going. Here’s what she had to say about my page one.

Bravo to Molly!  She’s got the chutzpah to allow me a “live” critique and analysis of her new novel’s first page.  Of course, I would never have suggested this post if I didn’t think there were many things to praise in her writing.

So let’s start with kudos!

Her voice is excellent.  It dances along, swift and humorous, and the prose suggests (rather than tells) Miriam’s character.  I plan to publish a column on “Tips for Finding Your Writer’s Voice” at Elizabeth S. Craig’s blog (http://mysterywritingismurder.blogspot.com) on Monday, July 30th.  In truth, Molly doesn’t need to worry about finding her voice — it’s done.

Her pacing is also spot-on.  In the final sentence of the first paragraph, the reader gets this wonderful suggestion that this story is unfolding because of a dream.  You’ll note that Molly doesn’t relate the dream, and this is a key reason the sentence works.  As with the voice of the material, she is suggesting an intriguing motivation, but she doesn’t belabor it.  We’re not thrust into trying to work our way through the description of a dream.

Her internal monologue in the final paragraph is also well-done.  Because the voice is already interesting to the reader, we enjoy jumping into her quirky mind.  It’s also clear that Miriam’s mind is, indeed, a rare place:  allowing the reader to be a part of it so directly is an excellent idea with this particular character.

Okay, now let’s discuss where Molly has some work to do!

Too many words.  In the hurly-burly outpouring of words in this first page, we do get a distinct and effective voice, but that voice is almost lost in the crowd of words.  In general, I believe Molly could effectively cut two to three words per sentence.  As an example, here’s the second sentence, and following that, the same sentence with fewer words.

She would have sent a smaller car into next week had that driver’s preternatural instinct failed to moved forward at the precise divinely inspired moment.

She almost shot a smaller car into next week, except the car’s driver was divinely inspired to move forward.

“Too many words” also factors into the crucial mistake of telling instead of showing.  In the sentence beginning, “Resigned to reason, Miriam unlocked her door –,” Molly is telling us what Miriam is feeling.  I would cut “resigned to reason” entirely.  Let her actions describe and suggest her feelings, whenever possible.

Finally, “too many words” relates to more description than is necessary for the reader to visualize the scene.  If you continue that sentence beginning with “Resigned to reason,” you get Miriam “…stepp(ing) on to the running board and then to the pavement.”  This isn’t moving the story forward and it’s not showing the reader anything important about Miriam.

Contrast this with the detailed description in the first paragraph, where she’s noticing the ornate “E” on the funeral home (hinting at death) and the internal monologue in the final paragraph where the details pile up as evidence of Miriam’s anger and reveal clues to her angst.  Both of these paragraphs use important descriptive details.

Punctuation.  Molly underuses commas (example, the sentence, “The awning belonged to –” needs a comma after “Home” so that the words as fate would have it become entirely parenthetical).  She also misused a semi-colon.  (The rule is that whatever comes after a semi-colon must be a complete sentence, even if you’re choosing to link it to another complete sentence.)

These final points direct us to a great conclusion.  How important are the niggly bits like commas, semi-colons, and too many words?

VERY IMPORTANT.

This isn’t because it’s difficult to fix these sorts of mistakes.  In fact, it’s quite easy.  But if you’re attempting to grab the confidence and interest of a literary agent, or a reader, you cannot make mistakes, particularly on the first page.

You can see, I’m sure, that moving through an entire manuscript with an eye to these details is time-consuming and moderately oppressive.  Yup, she said cheerfully!  That’s what it takes.  When you get the hang of it, the process can actually become quite addictive, however.

I recommend all new writers buy a book called Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Dave King (http://www.amazon.com/Revision-Self-Editing-Write-Great-Fiction/dp/1582975086/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1343312126&sr=1-2&keywords=self-editing+for+fiction+writers).  Indeed, if you can muster up the money, you’d do well to hire Dave (http://www.davekingedits.com) as your editor, something I did with my first suspense novel.  It went on to sell nearly 100,000 copies with HarperCollins.  Much of the credit goes to Dave’s work with me.

My thanks to Molly for hosting me today, and for her magnificent show of courage.  I hope the process has been useful and not too painful.

First: My thanks to Jody for her freakin’ awesomeness.

Second: She’s absolutely right about a lot of it and I’m gushing with pride and all sorts of good feelings about the nice things she said.  It is the motivation I needed to pick up and get going.

Third: I thought I overused commas! But I do suspect I could be indicted for contributing to the delinquency of semicolons, so I appreciate the reminder.

Jody is Lou Grant to my Mary Richards. If you don’t understand that reference, I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to ask you to leave. I make this analogy to suggest that she’s the tough mentor I need to keep me straight.  And if I’m gonna stay in this game, I must grow a thicker skin and get to work.

Too many words? SIGN ME UP! I am the queen of overcoating. I know this. Anyone who knows me personally knows this; I LOVE detail and probably so much so that I’ve killed simpler cleaner thoughts in the process.  Jody is absolutely correct about shortening the sentences by at least a couple words each, and lucky for me, that’s something I like to do.  She cleaned up my first paragraph about that smaller car something awesome brilliantly and it was something that I knew had to happen.  I liked the visual of the near-accident, but the verbal was killing me all wrong.  The good news: I can edit a lot,  I am eager to edit. With enough time / distance, I’ll be able to hack at this motherfucker book (sorry, Dad) with a vengeance like how one of the Grimm brothers’ fabled woodmen does in a fabled bad guy.

I’m going to buy Self Editing for Fiction Writers for sure and maybe, if I win the lottery, I might bankroll Mr. King’s services.

I’m not going to make any excuses; my mistakes are totally fixable and I look forward doing it (I say this now).

But again, I want underscore how wonderful Jody is.  I strongly suggest you follow her blog (she’s very brief and to the point) and she’s a great writer too (100,000 sold under HarperCollins ain’t too shabby). I’m in the middle (well, at 79% according to my Kindle) of her book, “Evil Does It” which is about bad guys going after a scientist’s amazing discovery which leads to a pharmaceutical that can end all addictions…

In the meantime, I clearly have some work to do. But first… for Jody, a little song:

Thank you.

2 responses »

  1. Molly,

    Again, I take my hat off to you (and I really am wearing a hat because it’s hotter than hell in the Washington, D.C. area).

    I’ll look forward to hearing what other folks think!

    All best, Your Own Personal Mentor, Jody

    • Thanks Jody! I appreciate your mentoring and your coverage. It was super hot today… when will this end?! I was on the docks today watching my friend take out a shell for her sculling competency water test and it was bloody miserable. Thank you so much… I’ll likely reblog in september as I suspect so many people are on vacation these days…

      Talk soon. I treasure you. 🙂 -Molly

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