Monday, July 2, 2012

First Impressions - Crossing the Culture

As you may recall, each month Dianne Salerni and I devote our first three posts to critiquing someone's first page. This month's first submission comes from Honey Rose who can be found at her blog, Stories to Share. Here is the first page of her contemporary suspense novel, CROSSING THE CULTURE. My comments are in purple and Dianne's can be found on her blog. Please add any comments you think might be helpful for Honey and thanks for stopping by!


Chapter 1

As Ellie and Kate flew over the Gulf of Mexico, the sun set and the sky grew black around them. After dinner was served, the cabin was darkened for the passengers to sleep during the remainder of the four hour flight from Miami, but the two young friends were restless. It was the first time since starting college that Ellie would be reunited with her large family again, and Kate, her coworker from the restaurant had never been to Ecuador before. The flight attendant announced the impending arrival and Kate leaned forward to catch sight of the lights of the city. Ellie had explained that the city was nestled in a valley in the Andes mountain range, but the mountains were invisible in the darkness.

The plane came around in a steep turn and the lights down below came into view. It looked like a chaotic mess of stars, concentrated in the middle like a galaxy and then spreading out up the sides of the mountains. The wheels hit the runway and bounced twice, braking hard on the short runway to bring the plane to a stop.The flight attendant opened the door and prepared for the passengers to exit. Kate made her way to the top of the stairs and a blast of cold air hit her. She was wearing a sweatshirt but realized that this would not be enough.

“Brr, Ellie! You were right, it’s freezing here,” Kate complained as she made her way down the stairs.
“I tried to tell you. Did you bring a coat?”

 I'll mention here that Honey sent a prologue as well her first page but Dianne and I both agreed that while the prologue is interesting, most agents don't like prologues unless they are 100% amazing and absolutely necessary to the story. So, assuming that Honey will be ditching the prologue (which she may or may not do) I think what this first page really needs to do is establish Kate as the main character and allow the reader inside Kate's head. One way to do this with this third person pov is to re-write it in first person, then re-write it again in third, but this time include Kate's thoughts about this journey and why she is going to Ecuador. Is it simply because she has a friend who is from there? Is she trying to escape something? Or is there another reason she is choosing this particular place to travel to? The more the reader can get inside Kate's head the more he/she will bond with her and be interested in her story.

The other thing I'll say is that I suspect this story begins a little further down the road, perhaps when Kate gets her first taste of how different Ecuador is from the United States. At that point it would be easy enough to insert a bit about the trip without boring the reader by the plane ride. Most of us have flown before so I don't think we need these first two paragraphs. However, not having read the rest of the story this may or may not be true. That's one of the perils of only reading a single page is that we don't necessarily know what's necessary and what's not. 

That said I think the most important thing to do on the first page is to establish voice and if this is from Kate's pov then it should be in Kate's voice. I want more of a sense of who Kate is and what she's feeling. Is she excited to be traveling? Is it her first time leaving the country? Does she speak Spanish or will she be relying on Ellie to translate? Is this purely a fun trip or educational? Show us why we should care about Kate and where she's going and we will happily turn the page.

Now, what do you think of Honey's first page?

ps today I am also over at Unicorn Bell offering a first chapter critique. If you are interested all you have to do is be a follower of the blog and submit.


  1. Great advice, Marcy! I did want to say that I don't object to prologues. I think the advice not to use them is over-applied (kind of like the advice not to use adverbs).

    However, when sending sample pages to an agent as part of a query, you shouldn't send a prologue. You should send the first chapter.

    1. thanks for clarifying :)

    2. Interesting idea...writing the scene in 1st person and then re-writing it in 3rd. First time I've heard of that, and I like it! :)

    3. I tried it once and found it helped me get inside my characters head better so when I switched back it felt closer, more intimate.

  2. A lot of times the trouble with first pages is that in a published novel, you have the jacket copy to give you a hint of what to expect.

    So I guess what I'm saying is I'm not comfortable judging this on content. Or maybe I am, and I kind of like the night landing over the Ecuadorean city.

    But I can't point to a few execution issues.

    For example, there's nothing grammatically wrong with your first sentence, but as a matter of logistics, you have to be careful how you word things. Think of how long it takes after the sun sets before the whole sky gets black. At least an hour, right? Putting those two descriptions into the same clause will give your reader chronological pause. Or, at least, I know it did for me.

    It's not required, but the sentence: "It looked like a chaotic mess of stars, concentrated in the middle like a galaxy and then spreading out up the sides of the mountains ..." would sound better with an Oxford comma before the "and," I think.

    Anyway, make sure you share this with some critique partners, but I find it an intriguing opening. First time in a new country always has potential for adventure.

    1. Matt makes a great point; it IS difficult judging a first page not knowing what the story is about or what that first page is going to lead into. Which is why we all need crit partners.

  3. I am simply dumbfounded by all of the talent that is out there!

  4. I think you the opening has a lot of potential i.e. their young, traveling to another country and dealing with family.
    I agreed with Dianne's comments about needing dialogue.

    Enjoy your holiday, Marcy!

  5. Thank you so much for all your input. I pause, listen, and take into consideration everything people say and my writing is improving because of that. I have agonized over the first chapter and changed it countless times, so the positive comments meant a lot to me. I may not be finished but you've given me hope.
    I specifically mentioned the night view of the city since that was the first big difference I noticed immediately when coming in by plane. In Ecuador, the lights are disorganized vs. in straight lines or squares in the States. It's very striking. Now that it's been pointed out I'll try to highlight that. Thanks again!

    1. yes, a lot of people really liked that bit so I'd definitely keep it, plus it gives a lovely visual. And I think a little more dialogue between the two girls would really make this shine.


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