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And, of course, if you need help more urgently or privately, I’m available for edits and consultations!
Now then. Time for the Page Critique. First I’ll present the page without comment, then I’ll offer my thoughts and a redline. If you choose to offer your own thoughts, please be polite. We aim to be positive and helpful.
Random numbers were generated, and thanks to lana_lorett, whose page is below:
Title: In Work
Genre: YA Sci-fi
Mila would hack into the academy’s artificial intelligence computer tonight. No second thoughts, though yes, there was some guilt.
She made her way towards the lab complex with a forced blank expression, periodically gazing at the campus grounds, as though admiring the lakes, waterfalls, and ever-changing shades of blues, purples, and reds. The surroundings she once dreamed of seeing five lunar cycles ago now seem irrelevant.
Deciphering the encrypted message someone had sent her on the day of her father’s death was the only thing that mattered now. There had been no clues as to who had sent the message or why, only a note indicating she needed to decrypt it and read it alone.
Simple request. Difficult solution.
The encryption algorithm used was beyond complicated. Only the academy’s AI computer possessed enough power to potentially crack it.
Mila held a deep breath, entered the astrophysics lab and surveyed the area. Empty, as planned, though not for long.
She logged into her computer and loaded her current school assignment, just as she would do on any other night. There could be no suspicion. At least as a new freshman, she’d only been tasked with the restoration of solar system maps, the ones corrupted by recent solar flares. Mundane work at best, though a perfect busy-like disguise for tonight.
There are some interesting elements at work in this page. There’s a unique setting and something immediately happening to help draw us into this world.
My main concern is that there are some missed opportunities to give a sense of Mila’s personality right off the bat.
I like that she feels conflicted about what she’s doing, but “there was some guilt” in the opening sentence is a serious missed opportunity to both show unique personality (how does Mila act when she feels guilty) and to begin to explain the contours of the world (why does she feel guilty?). What is she worried will happen if she’s caught?
I’m also concerned there is some clunkiness to the prose and some sentences that feel needlessly convoluted. The “as though admiring” in the second paragraph, for instance, made me confused about the perspective. Is she looking or is she not looking? Is this trying to say she’s pretending to look? But then, why are we getting so much detail if she’s just pretending to look?
It’s crucial to smooth out the writing in the first page to ease the reader in.
Here’s my redline:
Title: In Work
Genre: YA Sci-fi
woulddecided to hack into the academy’s artificial intelligence computer tonight. No second thoughts, though yes, there was some guilt [Missed opportunity. How does she act when she’s guilty? Why does she feel guilty?].
She made her way [Missed opportunity. “Made her way” is about as bland as it gets. Slunk, snuck, rushed, hurried, something more specific] toward
sthe lab complex with a forced blank expression [I stumbled over “with a forced blank expression.” I’d suggest something more like “keeping her face neutral”], periodically gazing at She passed The campus grounds, as though admiringthe lakes, waterfalls, and ever-changing shades of blues, purples, and reds of the campus grounds. The surroundings she once dreamed of seeing five lunar cycles ago now seemed [keep the tense consistent] irrelevant [Irrelevant doesn’t seem like the right word choice. Boring? familiar?].
Deciphering the encrypted message someone had sent her on the day of her father’s death was the only thing that mattered now [Convoluted. Be clear about how the message arrived and what it looked like/what form it took].
There had been noMila couldn’t find any clues as toabout who had sent the message or why, only a note indicating she needed to decrypt it and read it alone.
Simple request. Difficult solution.
The encryption algorithm they used was beyond complicated. Only the academy’s AI computer possessed enough power to
heldtook a deep breath, entered the astrophysics lab and surveyed the area. Empty, as plannedas she had hoped, though probably not for long.
She logged into her computer and loaded her current school assignment [Missed opportunity. Be more specific, add some flavor. What’s the assignment?], just as she would do on any other night. There could be no suspicion [Impersonal. I’d consider switching to “She couldn’t risk any suspicion]. At least as a new freshman, she’d only been tasked with the restoration of solar system maps, the ones corrupted by recent solar flares. Mundane work at best, though a perfect busy-like disguise for tonight. [This information feels like a confusing non-sequitur. Is this the assignment she’s uploading?]
It’s crucial to grab the reader right away, and one of the best ways of doing that is by helping them connect with a particular, unique character. Specificity goes a long way toward helping that character make a great first impression.
Thanks again to lana_lorett!
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Art: August Cappelen – Waterfall in Telemark
I think you’ve nailed it here, Nathan. After I read this except, I couldn’t put my finger on why it failed to grab my attention. My concentration kept fading. As you mentioned, it needed more specific detail to give it flavour and pizazz. And some of the sentences were unwieldy. I loved the story being set in a futuristic college. Perhaps kind of like a sci-fi Harry Potter. The story certainly has potential to weave its magic over our imagination.
I like the thought of starting with a suspenseful moment, and a character choice that will set further events in motion. But it seems there are two difficulties to how the author does it here.
First, there’s no adequate explanation for the choice. Why hack into your school computer (with potentially serious consequences) just because some email from an unknown person said to decrypt it and read it alone? Why wouldn’t she delete the message, or turn it over to the authorities, or ask for help, or some other course of action? There’s no explanation for why she’d take the risk she’s obviously taking (and feeling guilty about).
Second, there’s too much telling. The excerpt is telling us how she’s feeling, telling us about having received the message, telling us about her choice (to hack into the system) that she’s already made.
Why not start with her receiving the encrypted message and then show her making the choice, and show us why she’s making that choice?
Good morning Nathan, I do not have any comments that you and the others have not already made. I only want to say how much I like seeing you back as a regular blogger, I hope you continue. I met you at the San Miguel Writers’ Conference in 2008 or there abouts. You gave me excellent critique of my novel’s first 30 pages, and since then, I have published the novel, a travel/cultural awareness guide for foreigners living in Mexico, and a family memoir. The second has done well, and I am working on a revised edition. I’ve only seen you critique novels’ first pages; would you like to critique my intro (500 words) to the new travel/cultural awareness guide? It would also be interesting to me if you could give me a more specific genre name. Joanna