First Page Critiquing

Last week I talked about great first pages, why they are important and gave some examples of my favorite first pages. Now, I think it's time for you all to practice with your first pages. Why? Because next week I'm going to host a first page contest! For simplicity's sake, we're going to call the first 250 words of a work the "first page."

Here's what we're going to do this week:

  • In the comments field, post your first page. 
  • Read others and offer feedback. As always, feedback should contain both positive and negative comments and should always be unfailingly polite. This is not a forum to boost your own ego by knocking others down. We've never had the slightest problems in the past, so I don't expect any now. 

 We'll do this for one week, so start posting now, and get your first page ready for next week's contest!


Ella said...


The way Mr. Mack cleared his throat gave me the feeling it wasn’t the first time. Oops. I glanced at the desks around me. I wasn’t even on the right page! Figured.

Katie Johnson leaned towards me, ponytail switching to the side. She rolled her eyes at my half-finished doodle. “Pay attention to something real,” she whispered, “like class.”

I slid down in my chair, frowning. How did I ever get stuck sitting next to the teacher’s pet?

Mr. Mack tapped his foot. I was dangerously close to a visit to the principal, I could tell.

I flipped my notebook shut and looked up. “Uh, well, it’s… uh.”
Mr. Mack sighed. “Why did the Dragon Emperor have the Great Wall built?”

Great Wall. China. We were talking about China. When did that happen? “Uh… to protect his people…” Mr. Mack nodded encouragingly “… from … invaders?”


I sighed as Mr. Mack turned away from me and started talking to the entire class. That was too close.

“A project as massive as the Great Wall couldn’t be finished in one lifetime…” the Mackman was saying.

You know what would be better than a great wall? A great mural. My fingers started twitching. But I didn’t touch my notebook. I didn’t dare. I’d just start doodling again. Then I’d end up in Mrs. Santillana’s office. Then mom would get a phone call. Then… I shuddered, and slid the notebook under my desk. It was too dangerous.

Joshua Price said...


Captain Rescue dangled helplessly as splashing erupted from the churning waters below. As the blood rushed to his head, the hero realized just how many nights he’d spent hanging upside down like this. Most of the time, it was due to the antics of a certain supervillain, but sometimes, just sometimes, the hero did it to himself. He’d just happen to get his foot caught, and he’d just happen to wind up upside down. He’d almost gotten used to the sensation of his cape tickling the back of his neck.

Looking back, Captain Rescue could see how suspicious the handwritten ad someone had slid under his door was. But it said had free kittens, and Captain Rescue could not resist free kittens. At the time, he thought nothing of it. Then he arrived at the abandoned cat litter factory and got knocked over the head. In the moments before he blacked out, he thought that, in all likelihood, this was a trap.

When he awoke suspended over a pool of who-knows-what, Captain Rescue found his suspicions confirmed. As the chains above clanged together, he struggled more out of frustration than any attempt to free himself. The hero swung back and forth, glancing first to the water below, then to the factory surrounding him. Before long, he found her standing on a catwalk, looking just as malevolent as ever. She may have hid it well, but he knew she didn’t quite hate him. Her frequent attempts at killing him—such as this one, right now—stemmed from a deep affection more than anything else.

Anonymous said...


My methods.

I never choose them. The methods choose me. And details, they’re not important as
the now. At least that’s what I’m trying to convince myself of, as I stare at the extra-long table in
the dark lobby of the ballet theater. Mentally comparing its length to my height I glance
sidewise up at the clock. 9:48 A.M. That means there is barely enough time to hide.

I close my eyes and lean against the wall as painful images appear in my mind. The
sunken face of Mum. Of running scared. Too scared to see where I was going, too scared to look
back. Did I do something stupid? Where would I go? Not home the place I now had to share with
regret. I had to get out. Go. Somewhere. Don’t think about where, live in the moment.

This morning when I saw the table used to set out the brochures and playbills, the idea
came clear and obvious. Like a magnetic field, compelling me. Go with it. Or maybe it’s a little
bit possible I want it to work.
It’s heavy, that doesn’t stop me.

I drag it into the hallway, fold it up and lean it on its
side next to the orange door of the studio. My plan is to hide behind it and fly under the radar.

The days have run together but I think it is the second week. My hiding place is a closet in the
basement of this theater/studio.

The Buried Editor said...

Ella -- good establishment of character and even implying what the main focus & desire for the main character will be (drawing). You might want to establish a few more basic things about the main character like boy or girl. (Teacher can refer to character as Mr. or Ms ____)

Joshua -- Captain Rescue sounds like an amusing character with great potential for humor. I also liked the twist at the end. You might want to break this up into more of a scene -- lengthen the pacing so to speak -- although that may take it over a page.

Anon -- Very intriguing first page. Has the right balance of suspense and mystery. However, the last two sentences don't seem to fit. But if you tried the beginning (from "At least that’s what... to fly under the radar.") in past tense, it might help show a clear division of time between the two, creating a sort of flashback for the very beginning. It also wouldn't affect the whole rest of the manuscript.

Ella said...

Madeline -- Thanks for taking the time to comment! I reread my opening as soon as I posted it and had that "duh" moment. Now it starts with "Ehem, Eric."

Joshua - Funny stuff. I agree that a scene would be good. I can picture him walking into the factory muttering to himself about free kittens. Or, perhaps you can start up with the next scene -- and slip some of this backstory later?

Anon -- Thanks for sharing. Definitely intriguing, but as a reader I felt like I wanted more room to stand on. There was the mystery of what happened before and the mystery of what the MC was doing then. Maybe you can put the "I close my eyes" paragraph last (maybe laying against the cold floor instead of the wall); that way, the reader knows what's going on with the table before you introduce the past, and there's less to keep track of at one time.

Also, when you talk about "methods" are you referring to the MC's hiding methods (in which case, it sounds a bit dramatic) or something else?

Overall, though, very atmospheric piece. I like it. :)

Ang said...


Whenever there are sirens everyone stops. Everyone stops and watches or they close their eyes and they bow their heads. Some pray, if they remember how to pray. Everyone waits for the machines to pass and the sirens to fade away and then things move again.

Gaia says that before the Fall they did this not out of respect for the siren but because the vehicles of that time could not pass otherwise. Gaia remembers so many things about what the world was like before the Fall. Gaia says that now we wait and we pray, if we remember how to pray, as some kind of unspoken thing, some tribute we don’t recall but that our spirits recall and so everything stops, everyone stops, whenever there are sirens.

Gaia remembers what life was life before the Fall because she was young then. She says that the world was dirty, people would throw whatever they did not want into the road. She said that the air was hard to breathe and that the people spoke harshly to one another. The world she speaks about makes our heads hurt and our hearts heavy. The world was strange before the Fall.

She is very old now and she can hardly move. She tells me that she sits still and breathes slowly so that she can live longer, so that she can see me grow up and see how the world will be for us next. Gaia may be the last one living who remembers it all and because I am always here with her she asked me to write it down.

Rissa Snepp said...

Warriors Over Darkness and the Unsettled Grave

Afterhours at the lakefront carnival was a perfect place for bloodshed. As a hunter of mythical creatures, Aleera Merrick knew that fun fact all too well considering the shoreline was where she found plenty of her victims and even dumped them in the very handy Lake Michigan. Plus, the high rides and skyscrapers were great stakeout points.

She preferred to inspect an area before deciding on where to mark it with death. It was an odd way of showing respect. Aleera never trashed a fine establishment just to gank a daemonic nightling or two. Messy bloodshed was amateurish. It raised questions, left evidence, and pointed nosy eyes at her...eyes she would happily pluck out for her own protection. Better for one to live blind than to taste the end of her dagger. See? She was sort of biblical.

Quiet kills were key. Like now, her rugged boots scarcely made a sound as she stalked across the rickety Ferris wheel of Chicago’s Navy Pier. Adorned with blades and strapped guns, her sleek black attire shadowed her curves as the wind blew leaves in her tangled curls.

It was past the pier’s midnight closing hour, but teenage lagers in their drunken stumbles were taking forever to leave the grounds. She could hear their hoots and slurred tongues, the wasted giggles and sloppy kisses of insecure girls. They didn’t see Aleera of course; but the eeriness her mere presence exuded could put more pep in their steps than any vicious canine. She supposed it was wrong, but even after decades of looking like a youngster fresh out of school, abusing her abilities was a habit no rehab could ever break.

Taurean Watkins said...

Gabriel Crisping slipped through a hole in the junkyard gate and sniffed around.

A tang of rusted metal, the stench of burnt rubber from old tires, and a moldy parmesan cheese rind; but no cat today...

He sat on his haunches and blew out a sigh. The tip of his snout wiggled as he took a long sniff of the musky odor of motor oil and overripe brie.

Great adventure and fine food awaits!

He scurried into the piles, his sharp eyes alert for treasures. Maybe he would find another spindle.

Or perhaps some wire the perfect length for his cheese slicer, or even a sewing needle to use as the axle for his prototype lightning rod generator system, helping power the local beaver dam.
Instead, a rusted steel cage poking out from a pile of wood chips caught his attention. Inside it, a hamster wheel rotated in the breeze.

A tight fit, but looked large enough to fit a single rat. If I add some paddles to the spokes, it might power a boat...

Gabriel sighed and lifted his head, staring across the lake sparkling between the junkyard and the forest.

What adventures I could have out there with a boat!

He daydreamed about what he might find on the other side of the lake, with treasures thrown from the cars along the dirt road.

There's still more to find before I can make that trip.

He slipped through a hole in the cage and nudged himself under the wheel.

Rissa Snepp said...

Woahhhh ANG! I am hooked. Seriously, that last line made me sit up in my chair. And believe me, this has been a mentally draining day at work. I'm slouching with my heels kicked off somewhere under my desk and I swear I'm not moving for anyone until this last hour is up. But you made me move, ;-) haha.

First of all, I enjoyed this first page and I would read more. It's so profound and moving. I can relate to your narrator regarding the tales of the elderly. Listening to the old folks of my father's side reminisce on the days of Jim Crow Laws, Civil Rights Movement, and segregation -- and the elderly on my mother's side talk of the Holocaust. Talk of "The Fall" in your story just immediately sparked those images/memories in my head. I love a story where I can relate to the character.

Lastly, although I am interested in Gaia's depiction of the Fall, I want to know who this narrator is. A grandchild, a caretaker, a friend--Who is this that knows Gaia so well and seems as if about about to tell Gaia's story?

Thanks for sharing this!

Rissa Snepp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rissa Snepp said...

How's it going Joshua?!

I cracked a smile on the first paragraph, chuckled at the second, and said, "hmmmm" when I finished the third. This seems like it could be an interesting read especially with a leading character who is obviously pretty funny. I like the voice and unique characters, especially the malevolent female at the end. WOAH, wasn't expecting her to pop up with that little twist!

Thanks for sharing. I'd read more.

The Buried Editor said...

Rissa & Ella -- Thanks for commenting on the other folks work! Yeah team! They were helpful, good comments.

The Buried Editor said...

Ang -- Very intriguing, beginning for a YA -- I really what the sirens are -- one thing, the very end makes me wonder if this is going to be Gaia's story (how the world got this way) or the narrator's (living in the now world). Doesn't actually matter for the first page, but it is an intriguing cut off.

Rissa -- Personally, I liked best all the parts that were right there in the scene. Yes, the background monster killer information needs to be worked in, but perhaps in smaller chunks. The scene you've written is actually quite vivid, but the paragraph and a half of exposition break it up and dilute it a bit. When I read just the scene, skipping those parts, it worked quite well.

Taurean -- I like the beginning of this tech savvy animal fantasy. Clearly, there are several different adventures the animals could have with such an ingenious friend. One little thing, I would lose the line: Great adventure and fine food awaits! It's unnecessary & breaks up the flow.

Anonymous said...


I loved the first sentence. It got me there real fast. By that I mean the spot where my heart meets my curiosity.

Just one comment. You give a brief description of Katie Johnson. I would also like one of the MC.

I know you can't say too much in 250 words. Why was she so captured by drawing? Just a thought.