Wednesday, May 29, 2013

First-Page Critique - Mystery-Thriller

by Jodie Renner, editor, author, and speaker

This week's critique is of the first page of a mystery thriller. Here's the opening to the novel:

The smell woke him first—a spicy, rancid arousal—followed by the fetid hot breath on his face. William Law’s eyes flickered open. In the dark alleyway, he’d fallen asleep. He gasped and struggled to draw breath, aware of the pressure at his throat. Dark eyes stared down into his.

“Shut up. Don’t make a sound.”

William wheezed, thrashed his legs, and clawed at the man’s hands, desperate for air. A knee dropped down hard onto his chest, threatened to crush him. He beat his fists against thick muscular biceps and dug his heels into the ground, tried to buck his body beneath the weight on top of him. He brought up his leg and drove a knee hard into the other man’s lower back, used every ounce of his strength to resist.

“Damn it.” 

The man fought back harder, grabbed William’s head and twisted, put agonizing pressure on his neck. Pain exploded behind his eyes. Frantic, William clawed at the ground for a rock or a stick, anything he could use to beat off the mugger. As his sight faded and the edge of blackness crept in, his fingers touched a hard object. He clutched at it, gripped hold, and swung with the remainder of his strength, heard the dull sound of glass against bone, followed by a groan. Blood pumping, heart pounding, he lashed out again, his last chance to survive. The jagged edge of the broken glass bottle tore across the soft exposed flesh of the man’s throat.

This is a gripping, very well-written opening that definitely grabbed my attention right away. I can tell this is going to be an intriguing page-turner! 

But I would move this scene further down and back up and let us get to know William Law a bit first, before thrusting him into a life-threatening situation like this. Readers need to warm up to the protagonist a bit and start bonding with him before they can start worrying about him. No need to spend pages introducing him, but I'd present him in a scene where he's interacting with others in his "normal" world, then something suddenly happens to disturb that world. He encounters the first problem or conflict of the story, which could then lead up to this much more critical situation. 

Also, that approach would establish the main character and his world right away, and answer the 4 W's that every opening should reveal: Who, What, Where, and When. Readers like to get situated at the beginning of the novel. They want to know immediately whose story it is and a bit about that person. And they want to know where the story is taking place and roughly when.

This writer is obviously very talented, so I can't wait to see the new opening and read the whole novel!

Click on these links for other first-page critiques: mainstream, historical fiction, historical thriller, and western.

If you'd like me to critique the first page of your novel or short story anonymously, please email the first 400 words or so, plus the genre and a sentence or two about the story, to: j.renner.editing(at)hotmail(dot)com. Thanks!

Jodie Renner, a freelance fiction editor specializing in thrillers and other fast-paced fiction, has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: WRITING A KILLER THRILLER and STYLE THAT SIZZLES & PACING FOR POWER (Silver Medalist in the FAPA Book Awards, 2013). Both titles are available in e-book and paperback. For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.

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