Nathan Bransford, Author

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Page Critique Tuesday!

It has been some time since we have had a page critique, but I am back in the page critique saddle, True Grit style. Watch out Tom Chaney, I'm gunnin' for you and I have a mean streak.

Actually I'm pretty nice.

Now then! If you would like to nominate your page for a future Page Critique Event despite its recent bout of inconsistent appearances, please enter it in this thread in the Forums. As with past page critiques, I'll first post the page (this post) so people can leave their initial thoughts without being swayed by mine, and then I'll weigh in later with my thoughts and a redline.

As of this writing there are 558 pages up for critique. The good people at say the page should be.....


Congrats to SarahW, whose page is below. As you offer your critique, please remember the sandwich rule: positive, very polite constructive criticism, positive. Any rude comments will be met with swift justice.

Title: The Pigeon Drop
Genre: Mystery

The young man caught Judith's attention the moment he entered the library.

It wasn't just the way his gaze skittered away from hers, never landing on anything for more than a split second, or the way he huddled inside his long black duster, which was far too heavy for July. That described most of the high school students who schlepped in every afternoon to hang around the manga. Nice kids, most of them.

But this young man was older, with dry, mumbling lips in a jaundiced face. And while his left hand clenched and jittered at his side, his right stayed in his coat pocket, steady as a rock.

It could be his favorite crack pipe. But Judith didn’t think so.

Unfortunately, she was trapped by a patron who wasn't going to stop asking the same question until she received the exact answer she wanted. Judith watched the young man with peripheral vision until he disappeared into the mysteries.

Judith frowned. The original layout of this floor--perfectly acceptable a century ago, when most behavior problems could be controlled with a glare and a finger to one's lips—was a security nightmare unrelieved by the single camera aimed at the cash register at the circulation desk. But adding more cameras cost money, and any reorganization of the massive mahogany bookcases would have to wait until the carpet was finally replaced. The Board was reluctant to authorize either "without real reason."

Judith hoped the young man wouldn't provide one.


Anonymous said...

Do you mean page #106 of our ms?

Dave F. said...

It's a bit chubby and could be tighter.
This could be:
The way his gaze skittered away from hers, never landing on anything for more than a split second and the way he huddled inside a black duster in July. De rigueur for high school students who hung around the manga.

which is tighter.

Drop the "unfortunately."

I also think that you take the reader away from what Judith is looking at when you talk about the cameras and rugs and mahogany cheapness stuff.

I also think that when you say It could be his favorite crack pipe. But Judith didn’t think so. you can add the greater jeopardy there. What is Judith's fear right then and there.

I once was in a clothing store when the clerk's eyes went nuts looking behind me and his conversation slowed. he was watching what turned out to be shoplifters behind me and was preparing to bolt after them. He saw them enter the store and knew they were trouble. I think Judith is in that position and that big next to last paragraph is too much.

Once the young man disappears into Mysteries, it is too late for jeopardy. That's when Judith has to think or say what she fears.

swampfox said...

To Anon: It's #106 of the submitted manuscripts.

And I thought this was good writing, just would use a pronoun at the start of paragraph 6, because you used Judith to start the preceding sentence. I might have something happen during this scene to liven it up a bit, but if it's the beginning of the story, it's cool. Good job.

All Adither said...

I'm normally a pretty critical person, but I adore this as is. Nice work!

Dave F. said...

Ooops, that posted faster than I thought. This is a comfortable opening. It sets scene, the character and her concerns in an effective manner. I would read on.

Teralyn Rose Pilgrim said...

My only issue is that when you said the man "caught her attention," I didn't know what kind of attention he was catching. I assumed she was attracted to him and this was the beginning of a love story. It wasn't until you mentioned the cameras that I realized he was a suspicious character. Even the hand in the pocket didn't clarify it for me. Ergo, the cameras are important, but I think you should just come out and say, "He looked like trouble and I kept an eye on him."

I'm also curious about what kind of trouble he would cause in bookstore. Since her concern stems from his hand in his pocket (which is odd because that's what a pocket is for), I'm wondering if she's worried about a shooting? Why is she worried about this?

Leigh Ann said...

I like the scene-setting work you're doing. My only hangup, aside from some tiny nitpicks, is that I'm having trouble visualizing Judith and the young man. You say he's a young man, but that he's older than the rest of the young 'uns. Also, it wasn't clear to me until the end of your page that Judith is the librarian - she could have been another kid in the library.

Nice work! Congrats!

ria said...

Very interesting. I like the mystery surrounding the young man, makes me want to know more about him.
I thought the bit about the board of directors and the furniture was a bit distracting. I can see why you put it in (showing us Judith's problems) but it draws away from the tension surrounding the man.
Nice beginning, I'd read on if I had the book in my hands.

Watcher55 said...

Great set up. I can identify with the feeling of being "trapped" behind a counter like that when there are more pressing matters at hand.

You might want to try eliminating some words. (ie "It wasn't just the way..." "which was..." "And while...") They break the flow of the description.

I would either lose the last sentence altogether or write something simple like, "Judith shuddered."

That being said; the guy makes me nervous too.

Jayme Stryker said...

Overall, I liked it and felt that you did a nice job of building suspense about the young man.

I have to say that the title makes me wonder if he has a pigeon in his pocket. I've never wanted to drop a pigeon in a library before, but now...the urge is almost irresitable!

Jen Albin said...

I really like this page! First, it's set in a library (awesome) and the voice held my interest.

It could be a bit tighter. It feels like some of the paragraphs and lines could be brought together to avoid choppiness.

But overall, I thought you did a great job of showing not telling. It would be easy to say "Judith was afraid he had a gun and was going to shoot someone," but you showed her fear instead. Well done!

Margot Galaway said...

My goodness readers are picky. Dave F. gave an excellent critique.

The stuff about the shelves and the Board are back story. It would fit better after whatever is going to happen, happens.

I liked it, even without any changes, and would read more.

Munk Davis said...

First off, great stuff! I like this a lot and would continue reading.

I agree with Teralyn regarding your use of the word "attention" I wasn't sure where you were headed at first and I don't think you meant it as misdirection.

Also "this young man was older" offers little in the way of description. The contradiction is poetic, but doesn't galvanize my view of the character.

Bottom line, I'd keep reading. I want to know what's in his pocket.

Richie G. said...

Bravo for having the courage to submit. Some critiques can seem brutal even if well-intended. I hope that mine does not.
Overall, I feel your page, was a bit wordy. It seemed as if you had dusted off your thesaurus for the occasion. I see that happen quite a bit with new writers such as myself. Yep, I do it too. It is just my humble opinion. But, I think that "story" itself is most important and the language used to tell that story should always have this purpose. In other words, just tell the story. This is my advice to you and something I repeat constantly to myself.

simon said...

I think it's a smart move to start the story with a question (who is this guy, and what is he up to?) rather than doing too much scene setting first.

This allows you to build your world whilst holding your reader's attention through a potential conflict.

My only concern with some of the writing is a tendency to include unnecessary barriers between the reader and the story. If you establish the POV straight away (Judith's) it not needed to verbalise tags such as 'she watched'. You can just tell us what he's doing and we'll know who's watching him do it. Ditto any 'thoughts' about him. We will know who is making the speculations.

I hope this is clear, and of use.

Anonymous said...

I thought this was well done. I agree about tightening things up a little, but I would definitely read on. My favorite line: he disappeared into the mysteries. Great.

ljkuhnley said...


I think your opening is very intriguing. You paint a convincing picture of this suspicious character with very few words. I like the use of contrasting details in regards to his hands. The observation that one is jittery and the other steady seems to add a menacing quality to his character.

Your narrator's observations and the way she assesses the situation say a lot about her character.

I loved the line about most problems being corrected by a glare and a finger to one's lips.

I felt the details at the end were well placed as each had relevance to the situation at hand. Also, the mention of the board speaks to a conflict many have faced and sets up what I thought was a great line at the end.

The only suggestion I would make is to play around with the wording of certain sentences. For instance:

"Unfortunately, she was trapped by a patron who wasn't going to stop asking the same question until she received the exact answer she wanted."

While I understood the sentiment, I felt you could be a bit more specific without distracting from the focus of the scene (and could provide a nice contrast by making the question a frivolous one.)

Overall, I was drawn into the story, got a great sense of the setting and felt the character's trepidation about what's to come.

Munk Davis said...

Having read a couple more comments regarding back story, I would like to add that I did not find the information regarding the library layout distracting. In one even stroke you clearly described the surroundings and brought me closer to Judith (not to mention built some tension). As a writer you promised to take time for detail, I like that.

Sarah W said...

Wow! I've won the lottery!

Thank you to everyone who has commented so far – openings are tough for me and I need all the help I can get.

I tried so hard to pare the first page of the scene into 248 words, and I still had unnecessary words. Darn subordinate phrase addiction.

And psst, Jayme Stryker: the Pigeon Drop is an old, venerable scam involving "found money" and a greedy mark who eventually loses a chunk of theirs. Dropping a skyrat in a library is frowned upon by the ALA.

Pen and Ink said...

That was excellent. Crisp well moving and I definitely want to know what happens next. Congratulations

AngelB35 said...

I loved the visual description of the library. I wonder 'what has it got in it's pockets'.
Overall, the talent is there, but I feel a little encumbered by the choppiness in this scene. I would read further into the story, and that is the goal of your first page, isn't it?
You've secured my interest. Good job.

hgdavis said...

Nice start - tension from the very beginning. A few small things: I thought there was a POV problem regarding the client at the desk. How does Judith know what the client wants? I'm not sure you need that vignette at all - we don't get to "see" the client and the "trapping" shouldn't matter since the creepy guy wasn't doing anything overtly threatening. I would think Judith would feel helpless that her instincts are saying something's wrong here, but wouldn't have enough to intervene.

I agree that the library description is too much too soon. It defuses the tension that you set up so well. All great info, but I'd rather see most of it moved further in.

I would also like to have some idea of Judith's age or otherwise description. Thus far, she could be a teenaged intern or a veteran pushing retirement.

I love the line about watching with her peripheral vision until he disappears into the mysteries.

Falls Apart said...

Wow! Great opening!!! Only thing I'd say would be maybe "through her peripheral vision" instead of "with?" But that's just nitpicking. Overall, really good.

Backfence said...

A lot of tension building here. I, for one, want to know what happens next.

I like the writing. There's one sentence that jumps out at me: "Judith watched the young man with peripheral vision" -- Sounds like the man has peripheral vision. Watch those dangling modifiers!

Good job!


Caroline said...

First, HOORAY! Page critiques! The delicious terror of wondering if it's your story being dissected every week. :)

More importantly...

I really enjoyed this. Definitely hooks me.

I thought you did a good job with the description of the young man and his behavior.

As a former bookstore and library employee, the patron who asks the same question a million ways, trying to get the answer they want is very familiar and put me in a frustrated, claustrophobic mood right away. I could be wrong, but I don't think it's a POV slip. It happens so often that it's perfectly clear to a clerk (or parent of a small child) what's going on. I wasn't bothered by the lack of specifics, either. It's the the patron detaining her that matters to me.

My primary comment would be when Judith says it could be his favorite crack pipe, but she didn't think so. That struck me as releasing tension. For some reason, I assumed she was saying it was nothing that sinister. Re-reading it now, I'm not sure how I got this impression, but on my first two readings (I read this a few months ago on the main post), that's where my mind went. I thought I'd mention that.

Thank you for sharing your first page! I hear you on trying to condense and cram a page into 250 words. I cut at least 100 words from mine to make it fit, hopefully not to its detriment. It's a good exercise, though. Helped me clean up my scene.

My first page guinea pig

Keetha said...

I'd keep reading.

The only hiccup that slowed me down was when she referred to him as a young man, when she'd just mentioned that he was older than the ususal kids wearing long coats. That took me out of the story.

Ms. Taken said...

First, good work. Then-

I want a title that doesn't invoke Pigeon Droppings.

It sounds like the guy walking around only has peripheral vision. That would be an interesting trait, but I bet that isn't what you meant.

As a general rule, I would avoid mirrors, dreams, whores, and crack for at least the first 25 pages. You don't need to pull me in with the mention of crack. I already care, and I began reading because I want to.

Happy editting!

Anonymous said...

I think the opening is perfect as is, just the right amount of setting and intrigue, and we're comfortable with the librarian right away. As one who's done a fair amount of field research in spy techniques, the title doesn't bother me. In fact, it sets up a greater question than the opening. I'd read on. I'd buy.

D.G. Hudson said...

Thanks for reinstating page critiques, Nathan. There's always something to learn from your comments.

I like mysteries, and this set up seems appropriate to me. Tension is created, a character is introduced (we don't know yet if he will be the antagonist, or just a symbol of trouble to come). The narrator appears to be trustworthy, from what little we are told. I like the last line, as it seems to hint at her fear - what was that young man going to do?

Good luck with the rest of this story, SarahW. Is this a mystery aimed more at the YA market? The Manga reference and clothes of the young man seem to hint at this.

Ryan said...

Very nice. Definitely makes me want to 'turn the page.'

The only sentence that seems to be a bit too long or clunky is the one about being held up by a patron.


ontatteredbroom said...

Fantastic! I’m a librarian and I’m now certain that you’ve visited my library; the carpet, the security nightmare, the shady characters. I was in the story. I love the details - dry mumbling lips in a jaundiced face. I have to know what he is up to. Awesome intro!
I think you could cut back the use of the term “the young man.” Also, emphasize just enough details about Judith so that the reader is aware she’s an employee from the beginning. Maybe you could start with her being trapped by the patron somehow? Just a thought.
I disagree what others said about leaving out details of the building, especially if they build on the story line. It shows the setting and perhaps tells us a little more about Judith and her angst. Lord knows, we can’t even paint walls here without the board’s approval. This is very well done.

Anonymous said...

I'm confused.

Is this happening on the blog again now or back on the forums?

Akila said...

Yay for page critiques, first!

This is a really nice page, in general. Good building of tension and mystery about the man right from the get-go. It captures interest without being too over-the-top. I didn't have any problem picturing it, in part because I think Judith is a good name for a librarian.

Because it is a mystery novel, I would recommend tightening it up and removing some of the "telling rather than showing." For example, the second sentence could be re-written to something like this, "It wasn't just the way his gaze skittered away from hers or how he huddled inside the thick black duster on that warm July day."

I would delete "never landing on anything for more than a split second" because "skittered" connotes that his gaze never landed. And, I think it is better for the reader to make the connection that the jacket was too warm for that day rather than telling the reader.

I was a bit confused by the next sentence ("That described . . . "). Why would high school students wear black dusters to read manga at a library in July? At least at my bookstore, the teenagers who read manga walk around in shorts and anime-heavy t-shirts in the summer time.

And, in contrast with some of the other commenters, I liked the "crack pipe" sentence because I thought it added some levity to the page and gave me some insight into the way Judith thinks (assuming, of course, that you want her to have a sense of humor.) Great page, overall!

Lisa said...

You're getting great feeback, SarahW! Here's what I have to say about what you've put out here: More please.

Sarah W said...

Thank you so much, everyone, for taking the time to critique my sample - I really appreciate your honesty.

And now, I'm going to go put that peripheral vision back where it belongs. . .

(D.G. Hudson: nope, adult market - the teens are for decorative purposes only)

Anonymous said...

I like it, as is.
There will always be minor edits, like the pronoun repetition s'one mentioned(can't find the comment now, gotta lay off the catnip.)
I disagree with the advice to tighten. I was pulled in and getting comfortable with the character (protag, I'd guess)and setting. I enjoyed the bkgd info. and the disappearing into the mysteries, too.
I'd really like to read more. Thanks for the inspiration. NickB

delooze zoo said...

Almost everyone's writing, no matter how good, could use a bit of belt tightening. That being said, I think the over all feel of this was very successful. You immediately get the feeling of her discomfort about the guy, annoyance at the other patron, insecurity about the premises... I like the references about the budgetary concerns regarding layout changes, it shows that Sarah thinks along those lines herself, to me it doesn't distract at all. Definitely wanted to read more!!

Very good start!
IF (and that's a big IF) I was ever insane enough to submit something for critique, are there any rules regarding word count for it??

MacDougal Street Baby said...

Great job!

I love the set up. We definitely feel the oddity of this man. There is something off kilter here and the tension between Judith wanting to investigate him but not being able to is clearly felt. The hand that is in the pocket. I like how she imagines it's a crack pipe. If anything, I would stretch this moment out. It's always entertaining to hear the inside of a person's brain. What else could it be? Maybe he's paralyzed. Maybe he's come into the library to check out a book on spinal cord injuries. Or better yet maybe he's got a crush on a fellow librarian and inside that pocket he's scrawled his phone number. Now he just has to find her. She said she'd be at the front desk but, instead, there's this other woman who seems to be staring at him. Whatever it is, let us in on her thinking.

This definitely leaves me wanting to read more. Bravo!

Anonymous said...

This is probably the best first page I've read from the page one crits here. I do agree with Nathan about the opening, but other than that, this pulled me into the story. I liked the voice and felt I was in competent hands. Great job!

The Writing Lady said...

I really like this piece. It's well written and holds your attention. Two small things. I would have liked a few word explanation of Manga. Never heard that before. And the Unfortunately, weakens the sentence. Good Luck

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