First Page Feedback: To Fight or Not to Fight Not Always an Option

First Page Feedback: To Fight or Not to Fight Not Always an Option by Joy F. 

Copies of Lorin's feedback are available for download in the Resources for Writers section under Extras. If you're interested in submitting your first page (up to 250 words) for Lorin's feedback, please email a Word doc or text file copy to erin_anderson@free-expressions.com. 

Orignal:

It was the best of nights, it was the worst of nights; it was the age of economic recession, it was the age exuberant excess.  It was winters of despair, courtesy of a seven-snowstorm winter one year and a hurricane of unparalleled dimension in another; it was the hope of an early spring.  Even the yawning weather of California would be welcome in New York City in the winter of 2012.

Her breastbone was still sensitive with every deep breath, cough and laugh four days after.  Angela had never been mugged before, and marked the incident as proof of having become, officially, a resident.  Not that anyone would begrudge her that status; a mere six months after having arrived in the city to make a new home and a new life, local acquaintances easily volunteered, “Six months?  Oh, you’re already a New Yorker!”  She had always wanted to live in New York City, and noting the years of her life sliding by, decided that she either had to move from DC or stop whining about it.  Certain of her possession of a strong NYC gene, Angela had had enough of the conservative, roll-up-the-sidewalk-at-midnight federal city where the ubiquitous goal was to have a spouse, a house, two-point-two kids and as many cars.  Her passion for seeing live theater and performance dance could be satisfied in no other American city.

In more than a dozen years since her arrival, Angela had experienced one worldaltering cataclysmic terrorist event (911), the most far-reaching global economic meltdown in modern times (toxic mortgages), a major weather disaster of the past hundred years (Hurricane Sandy), and four presidential elections fraught with irregularities, acrimony and history-making firsts.  Not exactly the kind of excitement she had anticipated.  Her first mugging was a milestone of a different sort.

Lorin's Feedback:

It was the best of nights, it was the worst of nights; it was the age of economic recession, it was the age exuberant excess.  It was winters of despair, courtesy of a seven-snowstorm winter one year and a hurricane of unparalleled dimension in another; it was the hope of an early spring.  Even the yawning weather of California would be welcome in New York City in the winter of 2012. [This take-off on Dickens feels a bit familiar, overly worn. Might consider beginning with the paragraph below instead, putting us right into the experiences of a specific character.]

[Might reframe this using more potent language and leaving a little bit of a lingering question in the mind of the reader. E.g., “For days after, her breastbone ached.”] Angela had never been mugged before and marked the incident as proof of having become, officially, a resident. [Great] Not that anyone begrudged her that status; a mere six months after having arrived in the city, local acquaintances volunteered, “Six months? Oh, you’re already a New Yorker!”

She had always wanted to live in New York City, and noting the years of her life sliding by, decided that she either had to move from DC or stop whining about it. Certain of her possession of a strong NYC gene, Angela had had enough of the conservative, roll-up-the-sidewalk-at-midnight federal city where the ubiquitous goal was to have a spouse, a house, two-point-two kids and as many cars. Her passion for seeing live theater and performance dance could be satisfied in no other American city. [I’m afraid this all feels a little bit vague and keeps the narrative from building momentum. Rather than tell us, generally, what brought her to New York, it would be more effective to place her somewhere very specific in the city, conducting the business of her life in an effort to achieve some specific aim.]

In more than a dozen years since her arrival, Angela had experienced one world-altering cataclysmic terrorist event (911), the most far-reaching global economic meltdown in modern times (toxic mortgages), a major weather disaster of the past hundred years (Hurricane Sandy), and four presidential elections fraught with irregularities, acrimony and history-making firsts. Not exactly the kind of excitement she had anticipated. Her first mugging was a milestone of a different sort. [Love this idea—about her mugging. That has some dramatic and emotional power.  However, though some of those experiences were definitely more potent for New Yorkers, they were also experienced by the world at large and aren’t really specific to Angela, individually. Not sure this all serves you as well as it might]


Thank you so much for sharing pages with me, Joy! I’m intrigued by what seems like a crucible moment in this character’s life, and I’d love to read more on that score.

My concern here is that you’re feeding the reader an awful lot of summary/back story, which isn’t as necessary or compelling as seducing them into a tangible world, inviting them into a fully realized scene propelled by your main character’s specific desire in the moment.

If the mugging is the moment that really propels her forward in the story, than you might start by really playing out the mugging in a fully developed way. Give us her reaction in the moment as it plays out. Help us understand what her goal is just then—to get out of the situation alive, to preserve something from her possessions?

In other words, rather than giving us generalities about Angela and her desire to live in New York, give us a specific and dramatically observable moment of her life. Put us into a more concrete time and place, and launch Angela into the thick of things, meeting obstacles in the pursuit of what she hopes to attain.

Thanks so much for sharing this work! Hope the comments are of help, and I wish you all the best with it.

-- Lorin