Page Critique Monday: 8/16/10

by | Aug 16, 2010 | Critiques | 17 comments

Monday! In a further further-attempt to make the blog more navigable, I’ve gone back and updated the post labels so that hopefully they are a bit more comprehensive, and I will try to continue to be good about that.

See, watch this. Monkeys. Now I shall tag the post monkeys! Also every post is better when monkeys are mentioned.

On to the 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 434 posts in the thread, and the number that the good machine at gave me was……….


Congrats to WilliamMJones, whose page is below:

Title: I’m a Nobody
Genre: YA Fantasy
250 Words


I obeyed the voice in my head without question. The classroom door opened easily despite being locked. I closed it silently and turned to the dark room. Moments later the sound of footsteps came from the hall. They were fast and sharp. They grew closer, until they were just outside the room, and then they began to fade. I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing I had almost been caught trespassing.

It was nearing midnight, and the school’s security system was working, but I felt no urgency to leave. The cameras had not detected this person. “Someone else can do it too?” I asked.


I obeyed, throwing open the door and chasing the source of the footsteps through the dark halls.

I knew that hearing voices meant someone was crazy, and obeying the voices without question made them dangerous. But I wasn’t crazy or dangerous. The voices in my head were always right. I didn’t know what that made me.

If this person was like me, I would get an answer.

I followed the source of the footsteps through the school, past the main office and into a hall full of dull green lockers. I thought I knew where the person was going, though I couldn’t be sure. After two more turns and a walking through a short hall past a security camera, they were in front of a door. It looked like every other door in the school, with an oversized steel doorknob and peeling red paint.


  1. Karen Yuan

    I love the suspense in this. There are a bunch of unanswered questions but they don't make me confused- I really want to read more 😀 Like, what is that mysterious voice and why does the MC have to obey it? And the mystery of who he/she's following adds an even awesomer (yeah, that's a word now :P) layer. So yeah, love love love the suspense and sense of urgency.

    A couple phrases, I think, were a bit on the telling side. For example, 'I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing I had almost been caught trespassing' – I think this passage could be tighter without the second half, because the sentences before already implied that he/she was almost going to be caught.

    Overall, though, the atmosphere in here is right on the spot. The voice sprinkled throughout is creepy and not overdone, and you did a great job making this scene realistic with the security cameras.

    Good luck! 😀

  2. Anonymous

    It's an interesting open, but i wasn't sure that the main character was trying to catch the footsteps till the end. In fact, i thought she was running from them. There's also some awkward phrasing, but again, an interesting enough beginning. If it was more clear I'd certainly read on.

  3. MBW aka Olleymae

    I'm sure I've seen this before on Nathan's blog–so you know it's strong because I remember it. And, of course, I remember liking it!

    I agree with Karen Yuan that the "sigh of relief" is cliche and I think there are smoother ways to communicate that he doesn't want to get caught trespassing.

    I wanted to know if "throwing open the door and chasing" would make noise, since the MC was being so careful to be quiet.

    "After two more turns and a walking" is probably just a typo, but I wanted to point it out.

    As before, I'm still totally intrigued by this story!!!! I hope we get to see more on the shelves eventually. 😉

  4. reader

    I read a ton of YA (although not fantasy) and I liked this a great deal. It opens with action but I don't feel thrown into it to the point where I'm dizzy — I do know where I am and was quite easily able to follow what was going on.

    Nitpicks — I can't say I like the voices in his head bit. I initially thought the character was mentally ill, then I thought he was giving himself a pep-talk — "hide!" Then, I realized it was a whole other voice. So, some confusion there, and in a way I'd hate to think the MC was only doing something (through the whole novel) because something outside himself was telling him to. Although, clearly, it's only a page, so that may not be the case.

    This left me confused as well:

    "…If this person was like me, I would get an answer…"


    Otherwise, good job overall!

  5. Steven Till

    I obeyed the voice in my head without question.

    This is a good opening line. It immediately hooks the reader, and it also reveals a little about the main character. He/she is easily persuaded by something, either his/her inner consciousness or some other voice speaking to him/her.

    With some of the sentences in the first paragraph, I might remove a few of the descriptors (e.g. "easily" or "silently" or "dark") and re-write. Example: "The classroom door opened despite being locked. I eased it shut and turned, waiting for my eyes to focus, but I couldn't see anything." I think the word "opened" is sufficient without the adverb "easily" b/c if it had been difficult to open, you could have used a word like "swung," such as "The classroom door swung open despite being locked," implying a greater use of force. One thing I'm not sure of here is, did the main character open the door or some unseen force?

    The second paragraph builds good suspense. As a reader, you wonder who the cameras had not detected, and who the main character is talking to. I might put "Someone else can do it too" in a separate paragraph by itself.

    I think the 5th paragraph is especially strong. Good initial development of the main character here. The pacing is good.

    In the last paragraph, I would remove the adjective "dull." It's not needed.

    Good start here. You build nice suspense from the beginning. The inner dialogue is also good. It helps develop the main character. The pacing and rhythm of the entire piece are strong. I would definitely want to read more from here.

  6. Reena Jacobs

    I really liked this beginning. It has intrigue. There were just a few lines which pulled me out of the opening. It had me stop and think "what?"

    The cameras had not detected this person. “Someone else can do it too?” I asked.

    First, I can't imagine someone trying to hide and then talking to themselves. Second, how does the MC know the other person was not detected? And what does it matter if the person was, just as long as the MC doesn't get caught. I think the passage would probably be stronger without it.

    If this person was like me, I would get an answer.

    This line is a bit too vague. What does it mean? "Like me" as in hearing voices? Opening locked doors? Why would the MC think that? Again, I think the passage would be stronger if omitted. There's plenty of time to go into comparisons about the MCs ability and this unknown person later. I think the suspense is enough without pulling the reader out with nondescript comments.

    Other than that, I really like it.

    As far as nitpicking, I would like a little bit more elaboration as far as a locked door opening. How did this happen?

    They grew closer, until they were just outside the room, and then they began to fade. Can tighten this up a bit by dropping "began to" "and then they faded."

    I didn’t know what that made me.
    Could use a little more elaboration here. Somehow it just feels a little incomplete.

  7. D.G. Hudson

    Congrats WilliamMJones on being selected! You get a topnotch page critique and the rest of us learn in the process.

    I remember reading this before as well, as another reader mentioned. I liked the overvoice in the character's head. Always opens up unlimited possibilities. Makes one wonder exactly what the character is (re this line – 'If this person was like me, I would get an answer'.

    An intriguing start, William.

    Thanks, Nathan, for hosting the page critique Mondays. It's a learning experience.

  8. Doug Pardee

    The overall concept and presentation worked for me, but a lot of the writing details didn't. There's room for tightening up and cleaning up, in my opinion.

    I would have liked a clue as to the gender of the protagonist. In a published book, I'm sure that the cover will give that away, but here it's a question mark.

    The final part of that page particularly left me unsure about the story-telling to come. I didn't understand "get an answer" to what? There are lockers in the hall which I wonder if any school still has (and which didn't seem relevant). There is the "walking" glitch that MBW mentioned.

    There is also some false mystery. The protagonist "thought I knew where the person was going", and in first-person we should know where that was. The masking of the gender of the person being followed by "they", when the protagonist obviously could see them because s/he could see the doorway where they'd stopped, was another bit of false mystery that bothered me.

  9. Ishta Mercurio

    I remember this! You were one of the First Five contestants! This page has changed since then, I think. Nice work on your revisions!

    You have a typo towards the end: "and a walking through a short hall" should be "and a walk through…"

    I'm left wondering why, if our MC has been following the sound of the footsteps, his footsteps haven't been heard by the other person? That and the sentence about "knowing I had almost been caught trespassing" (which feels out of place, maybe because it's telling?) are the only things that jump out at me.

    Otherwise, this is tight, and the suspense is great.

    Good job, and good luck with it!

  10. Stephanie McGee

    I think that the one word opening sentence is great. It pulls you to read just a little more so that you're going, "Wait, what?" I like the follow-up to it as well.

    I do have to agree with the suggestion to reword the sentences to show the quietness, the ease of the actions.

    There's a good sense of mystery, but I think that at first when he(?) asks "Someone else can do it, too?" I wonder if the MC is internal monologuing here or if there's a second person or did they just whisper it out loud? The entire first page could go many directions with that.

    "I didn't know what that made me," feels very telling, but not in a good way. I don't know how to get around that sort of thing. If you could come up with a way of showing the reader that feeling of uncertainty, I think it could be stronger. (I know there are times when you absolutely have to tell.)

    There's a heavy sense of impending doom throughout the whole scene. I like it and I hope it continues throughout the book. Because if it doesn't, then the first page might feel a bit like you're cutting the rug out from under the reader. The voice and tension are great. I feel like I'm right there with the MC.

    "a walking" may be a typo, but if it's intentional, the sentence reads a little awkwardly.

    Throughout there's this great sense of location and I get the sense that the MC knows this place very well. I do wish there was a little more of that laid out for me to see. Maybe saying "my school's security system" or something like that, just to give the reader a sense of curiosity as to why he's trespassing at school in the middle of the night.

    Very well done. I love the last image. Very strong and clear in my mind.

  11. Anonymous

    Wow you got your query AND your first page critiqued. Lucky Duck.

    Like both. Think the idea and writing are both very strong.

    I liked the use of the one word paragraphs. Very effective. Fast paced. Brought me right in.

    I was confused by:
    but I felt no urgency to leave.The cameras had not detected this person. “Someone else can do it too?” I asked.
    Not sure what you meant here. You kind of lost me.

    But, other than that, thought this very strong hook and writing.

    Thanks for allowing this critique.
    We all learn.

  12. flibgibbet

    Congrats on being picked.

    You did a great job with the suspense, even if I don't quite know what's going on.

    In the last para, the word "they" threw me. Seems to me the subject of this sentence refers to "a" person.

    Would love to read more.

  13. shakabry

    Hooray for monkeys! I have a five part monkey story going on right now at my blog! Yes, this is a shameless self-plug. But what else are the interwebs for?

  14. Chuck H.

    I got here late but avoided reading everyone's (including Nathan's) comments.

    I am, not uncharacteristically, confused. Is the narrator invisible? Able to walk through locked doors? How are they tracking the other person? Can the narrator see through the other's eyes?

    Some good writing and interesting teases but not enough to keep me going. What's really going on here?

  15. Terin Tashi Miller

    I've read the comments, and agree with Nathan's first assessment–there seems to be enough natural mystery and suspense in here in the opening to not have to add to it.

    I understand the character hears voices, and that somehow–perhaps only in the narrator's mind?–while it normally signifies some supposed psychological problem, in the narrator's case it doesn't, which in itself is significant.

    Also that the narrator can get through locked doors, but has some concern about being caught tresspassing.

    That's where I get confused. If the character is concerned about being "caught" or detected, why chase footsteps rather than avoiding them (running the opposite direction, for instance, which may wind up running into them if the hallway is a large square or circle)?

    But as I've mentioned, kudos to any writer putting a page up for critique.

    Which leads me to this last observation: obviously, the writing must be essentially good because our curiousity has been piqued. I for one want to know the answers to the questions raised in the critique by the open-ended phrases, as much or more than the narrator wants "answers." To what, we still aren't sure.

    I'm actually reminded of the opening lines to another great mystery story, which was in fact so removed from the "genre" few consider it a mystery, though it is:

    `In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

    “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”'

    You don't have to be vague, or mysterious, to open a mystery. You just have to start at square one: What happened? Why should we care?

    Because Jay Gatsby "got his" in the end…:)

  16. Dayana Stockdale

    I think it would be better to leave out the words 'hide' and 'follow' that are italicized. It would be more intriguing not to know what the voices are saying, besides are the voices in our heads ever that concise?


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Hi, I’m Nathan. I’m the author of How to Write a Novel and the Jacob Wonderbar series, which was published by Penguin. I used to be a literary agent at Curtis Brown Ltd. and I’m dedicated to helping authors chase their dreams. Let me help you with your book!

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