Nathan Bransford, Author

Monday, August 2, 2010

Page Critique Monday

I'm back in the office after attending a lovely wedding in Amish country, who I don't suppose are big readers of this blog. Ah well. What they lose in Bachelor references they gain in lack of Bachelor references.

Time for Monday's page critique! Refresher on how this works:

- If you're interested in submitting a page for a future critique, enter it in this thread in the Forums (and be sure and check out the directions in the first post).
- I use a random number generator to select the winning critique.
- Please please please remember the sandwich rule when offering your thoughts: positive, very very constructive thoughts, positive. I mean it. Err on the side of being nice.

As of this posting there were 383 posts in the thread, and the number that the good machine at gave me was..........


Congrats to susanivt, whose page is below.

I'll be back in a bit with my critique.

Title: Hope
Genre: Romance (paranormal)

Kathryn knew she would have a bad day when she woke up to the rumble of the snowplow. Sure enough, his whine announced the Doberman's launch onto her bed. Amid the unpredictable impacts of his paws, Kathryn flailed beneath the blankets in an attempt to get away. Misjudging the size of her new bed, she spread her arms as she slid over the edge. She managed to grip the flannel sheet and execute an impressive flip onto the floor.


"Damn it, Dargo! It's just a snowplow for Pete's sake!"

Jumping off the bed, Dargo crouched next to her. His quivering bulk against her side dissolved her anger.

"It's okay, boy. Nothing's going to hurt you." Bending her arm at an odd angle, she stroked his chest and sighed into the carpet. He pressed his cold nose onto her bare leg and she rolled sideways, driving her elbow into the leg of her nightstand.


Her cherry nightstand could withstand the tremor, but she couldn't say the same for the item upon it. Looking up, she saw the large display of her alarm clock read 5:14 as it tipped over the edge, hitting her in the forehead.

"God, I hate Mondays."

An hour later, Kathryn stomped her boots in the lobby of Cameron IT Consulting. Leaving a trail of snow, she squeaked along the floor toward the security desk. Chuckling, the guard covered his mouth and turned away.

"Steve, I don't even want to hear it." Kathryn frowned,


Robert said...


Did you happen to see Dutch Wonderland when you were out there?

I love the irony of an Amish amusement park. They don't, after all, turn the rides by hand.

Regardless, I loved going there as a kid. Memories. Sigh.

reader said...

Others might disagree, since characters waking up in the morning are often considered a no-no, but I really like the opening -- the snow and dog give an immediate sense of place/season and add a likeability to the MC.

I'd have guessed it was chic-lit/ women's fiction and not paranormal, simply because the cheery attitude lacked a sense of mystery (though I don't read the genre, so I could be way off). I'm not sure I like the falling alarm clock -- seems too cliche.

But I liked the general feel of the character. Seems like someone I'd want to know.

Good luck!

swampfox said...

I love the prose, and you manage the third person very well.

But it seems to me that nothing is really happening here. Is is important for the reader to know how the character gets up in the morning?

Maybe you're filling the reader in about the mc's relationship with her dog.

And if that's the case, for Dargo's role in the story later on, then, OK.

gsfields said...

Overall, I enjoyed the way you stagged and choregraphed the chaotic morning.

I had some difficulty visualizing what was happening that led to her falling off the bed. Maybe simplifying would help. For example:

"Misjudging the size of her new bed, she slid over the edge"

I would also recommend changing the I hate Monday cliche to something fresh. Maybe she can hate Tuesdays?

The only other phrase I found awkard was

"Her cherry nightstand could withstand the tremor, but she couldn't say the same for the item upon it." Maybe change it to:

"Her cherry nightstand withstood the tremor, but her alarm clock didn't"

Again, I thought you set the scene up well.

Matthew Rush said...

This is a poor setup for in depth critique (no offense Nathan, it is still a great idea) but I have to say right off the bat that I like this page.

The writing is simple, the voice clean and unpretentious but still with nice touches like "unpredictable impacts" and "quivering bulk against her side dissolved her anger".

I don't read romance but if I hadn't seen the cover I would keep reading because I sympathize with this character right away (must love dogs).

Great work susanivt!

A.L. said...

I really like this opening, despite whatever "no nos" might be the usual case. In the opening paragraph I think a line with more energy for how she is falling like "Her arms flew out wide" instead of "she spread her arms wide" could convey a bit more, but that may just be personal taste. It is also a bit unclear as to whether it is the snow plow whine or the doberman's whine that precedes the pounce in bed.

Aside from that, I think the only thing I'd change is that alarm clock hitting her needs it's own 1 line paragraph. You have 'Thump!' for the fall out of bed, '"Ouch!"' for the elbow into the table. Maybe a 'Bang!' for the clock across the head? Not necessarily necessary, but for consistency's sake.

I really like the cheeriness of the piece, I like the character with the little I've been shown of her. I'm not sure I'd ever guess the 'paranormal' from this, but this is one page so that may not be too unusual. I'd definitely give this a few more pages at the least if I read the opening though. Seems like it'll be fun in a well told format.

Jenny said...

First off, the Doberman is very touching. He adds a bit of offbeat humor to the piece and a charm to Kathryn for owning a dog like that.

At the opening I tripped up between Kathryn hearing the snowplow and the whine she was hearing. At first I thought that it was the whine of the snowplow and couldn't figure out who 'he' was. So just be little more careful in the initial set up, use more sentences if you need to. Transitions are good.

Speaking of transitions, I think you make a huge scene jump if this is just the first page. We just get comfortable in one scene and then poof! Kathryn's getting ready and her dog are gone. You were establishing her quirky life and then left right in the middle of it.

Does Kathryn execute surprising flips all morning? Is it only on the snow days that she has to be extra flexible around the dog? I'm willing, as a reader to spend more time with them before heading to the office....

Unrepentant Escapist said...

Copy-editing note: The snowplow (in the second line) shouldn't have a gender (his whine). Though, I guess this is paranormal fantasy and it could be a living male snowplow (to be played in a movie version by a smoldering teen actor and his steamy back bumper).

I like the idea of a clumsy heroine in a genre where all the main characters have a cobra's grace and deadliness. On the other hand, I'm not sure I go for so much physical comedy off the bat. I don't actually learn much about the character other than she's physical maladroit, got a dog, and hates Mondays. If her clumsiness is a magic power, then that's the information we need to know. But if it isn't, then I'd start with something else. Does she really flip literally? Or just tumble off? Because maybe she's actually very dexterous (I certainly can't do front flips when I'm falling out of bed) and I've gotten the wrong idea.

Bottom line--I'm not really feeling any emotion or connection with the character. I don't feel like I'm in her head. If I did that in the morning, I'd be angry. But I don't feel anything from her. No emotive reaction shot. Plus the tad-bit overwritten prose (amid the unpredictable paw thrusts; but not the item upon it) makes me feel like we're laughing at this character, not with her.

I like the squeaking across the lobby though. That's an image I can relate to. I can't count the number of times my beautiful black stiletto boots have dumped me down on my ass in the snow. Stupid fashion.

fairyhedgehog said...

Apart from getting hung up on the whine (I too initially thought it was the snow plough) I thought this was great fun and I'd continue reading.

Beth said...

I thought the sentence, "Misjudging the size of the bed..." read a little awkwardly. The sentence structure implies a cause and effect relationship between Misjudging the size of the bed and flailing her arms out wide. We don't see until the end of the sentence that she is flailing her arms because she's falling off the bed. Perhaps if you switch those two clauses around? Like: Misjudging the size of her new bed, she felt herself slide off the edge and her arms flew out wide.

Carol Riggs said...

I like the dog bit because I'm NOT a dog lover and it shows how dern obnoxious dogs are. Heehee. I do love his name, Dargo, and his huge but clumsy cowardice. Very endearing. Good start, although I agree that this first page sounds like a romance but not necessarily a paranormal one. Paranormal novels have a darker undercurrent to them. This sounds more lighthearted because of word choices and an almost comical way the thumps and bumps and falling out of bed things are happening. And "executing an impressive flip" sounds more tongue-in-cheek to me, and thus lighthearted.

I too thought the whine was the snowplow, because you say "his." Saying A whine or revising the sentence would help. I'm not sure you can have an impact "amid" something either; it sounds awkward to me. The third sentence's rhythm is very similar to the fourth's; changing that up would make it flow better, I think (both have intro phrases set off by a comma, both about the same length). Cherry seems a little shoe-horned as far as a description; is this important for the reader to know? Seems just saying nightstand would be enough.

You do introduce where she works naturally; good job there. Not sure why the guard is chuckling…does she have a bruise on her forehead? Cuz she's squeaking and trailing snow? Maybe you explain that in the next sentence or two, though.

treeoflife said...

Nathan, I hope you kept the ipad hidden at the Amish wedding... it might not be received too well!

As for the page critique, I liked this excerpt. Kathryn had a brutal start to the day / week, and I'm sure most people can relate. It was funny, and flowed fairly well.

I too was tripped up on the "his wine" part, thinking the snowplow had been assigned a gender. Also, the part where the dog crouched next to her, his quivering bulk against her side... might just be me but that seemed slightly too sensual of a description for a person and their dog.

Anyways, a good, fun read overall. Grats!

Maya said...

I like the writing and the voice, but I'm not sure this is a good place to begin your novel. It's just too darn normal, in my opinion, and not enough to keep me reading. I think there is time to introduce the lovable dog, but I would start with a little more punch and conflict, or at least something more unique and intriguing. I know Nathan isn't into gimmicky beginnings, but there is a balance--and this feels just a little too comfortable.

And on the sentence level, I agree that "his whine" seemed to refer to the snowplow.

I really did think the cozy writing was good though.

Anonymous said...

I may be the only one who felt there was too much directed action in this scene.

The Doberman launched onto her bed, the unpredictable impact of his paws (is this ever predictable? is this modifier necessary?), flailing beneath the blankets, spreading her arms, sliding over the edge, dog jumping off bed, crouching next to her, bending her arm (is this necessary? can't she just scratch him and we'll assume her arm is bent?), she's stroking his chest, he's pressing his nose into her leg, she's rolling sideways then driving her elbow into the nightstand.... And more.

I may be alone, but waking up, even if it involves bumping your elbow and knocking over your alarm clock, isn't that exciting.

What I do like about this opening is that this interaction with her dog can be used to convey character.

Bonnie said...

The problem with "his whine" is that the pronoun "his" does not have a clear antecedent. In fact, the antecedent is the dog, which comes after the "his."

Just reverse the noun ("Doberman") and pronoun ("his"):"Sure enough, his whine announced the Doberman's launch onto her bed" should become "Sure enough, the Doberman's whine announced his launch onto her bed." Then the antecedent would be clear.

Even better would be something like "Sure enough, the Doberman whined as he launched himself onto her bed."

Bane of Anubis said...

Not my particular genre, so my critique my feedback could be off the mark.

The 'his' in the second line seemed awk to me. I assume it refers to the snowplow, but maybe it's the dog. If the former, kind of strange, if the latter, a bit unclear.

The next couple of lines felt a bit overwritten, forced. Realize you're trying to give us the sense of a new place, but not knowing the size of a bed seems strange unless it's a strangely sized bed.

The 'Thump!' line seems odd b/c she executed a flip (which makes me think the bed's really high) and 'thump' makes me think a fall.

Continuing on, some of the writing felt awkward/unnecessary (e.g., 'Bending her arm at an awkward angle'). That is, I think you can remove a lot of the descriptive beats b/c they don't really add anything in terms of character/setting/etc.

All that being said, i like her interaction with Dargo and starting with that because it gives a good quick intro to her character... something that's easy for many to relate to.

Phoenix said...

I like the chaotic start to the day and I think it sets an expectation for more chaos to follow later.

I did, however, find the writing a bit uneven. For me, the word choices weren't quite precise enough. Did the snowplow wake her up or was it just there rumbling when she woke up? Dargo jumping on the bed and her attempt not to have a wayward paw land on her didn't seem to be described in controlled enough language.

I would go with"awkward" rather than "odd" in the way she bends her arm. Then I wasn't clear why she "sighed into the carpet" right then. And I think you want to convey that the cold nose made her jerk away rather than the less-accurate "rolled sideways", which seems like a more controlled reaction.

The squeak detail is good, but the guard's reaction seems a bit overblown. Wouldn't a lot of people be wet and squeaking when they came in? Unless you intend for Kathryn to be in worse state than what's implied. Why does the guard chuckle AND cover his mouth AND turn away? I think a snicker would suffice here.

Little grammar issues like the antecedent for "his whine" and the fact you can't jump and crouch at the same time need to be attended to. Cleaned up, this could be the start of a fun romance.

A Rose by any other name... said...

I thought this was an entertaining first page.

There are a few rough spots that the others have mentioned, mostly the dog/bed action, but if you handle the rest of your story this well, you should have a great romance novelist career.


Sarah W said...

I've had days like this (I've had weeks like this), and I think this passage not only gives me a sense of the character(s), it sets the main (human) character's frame of mind.

She's not going to be ready for (or possibly receptive to) Cupid's bow after this, which is all to the good in a romance.

I'm also stoked that the dog is named Dargo---all hail, fellow FarScape fan! :)

Chuck H. said...

Interesting character, goofy dog and a hectic, pratfall laden morning. Good Start!! Now if you could just get those pesky words under control. The comments I've read so far seem to be on the right track. Good luck and thanks for bein' the test subject for this week.

robinc said...

I enjoyed this beginning. I think it sheds a bit of light on the character (hates snow/Mondays/has a dog so must be very cool person –oops, bias here). I did empathize with Kathryn and would have followed her into the next scene. I like the light-hearted tone too.

That said – I agree with above posters that the beginning sentences are a bit murky. What’s the important part of the beginning? The snow plow because Kathryn hates snow or that she knew her dog would react that way to the noise? And what significance does it have for the rest of the book? The first sentence put me in a certain mind-set but then the second sentence (especially with the “his”) confused me. Maybe Dargo’s reaction to the snow plow foreshadows his reaction to some of the paranormal occurrences in the book? If so, then this is a fun way to start, just tweak the beginning sentences and clarify the action.

Joshua Peacock said...

A good editor, Nathan is. lol

Yoda ownz.

Gale Martin said...

I live in Amish Country--and I read your blog, FYI.

The Red Angel said...

Firstly, I love the name Dargo. It's very unique. :) There was good syntax, plus the language was easy to follow. However, it doesn't really seem like anything significant is happening in the passage.

Katina said...

Hello Steve, thank you for creating the website. I'm impressed with the article about off putting writing styles. I'm sad to say: guilty as charged for many of them.

What I'm more concerned with right now, is courage to submit a query letter. For some time now, I have been fearful of taking charge of my writing career. Letting the fear of receiving a rejection letter keep me from trying to find out if the ms I've clutched onto is indeed: ready to publish, or ready for the indefinite slush pile.

My writing style is rather direct, while other writers use amore detail. Should I go with my writing style as is, or change it to fit in with traditional non-fiction style books? I know this is a tough question to answer, without first even reading some of my writing.

The main issue is the fear. Is my writing, “good enough.”

Thank you for taking the time to review this comment.

Good luck with all future endeavors!

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