Day Twenty-One of July’s First Page Workshop with Pitch Wars Mentors… Lynnette Labelle
Welcome to July’s First Page Workshop with some of our past and present PitchWars mentors. From a Rafflecopter lottery drawing, we selected many wonderful writers to participate in the workshop. Each mentor has graciously critiqued a first page for one lucky writer. The writers are anonymous. Follow along all month to view the first page critiques. We welcome comments and further suggestions, but please keep them kind and respectful.
Here are the next two mentors and their critiques …
Lynnette Labelle is a freelance editor, developmental/content editor, and copy editor with over thirteen years of experience. She’s the owner of Labelle’s Writing on the Wall, an editing and coaching service for writers.
Lynnette’s clients range from new writers to New York Times and USA Today best-selling authors like Roni Loren, Rebecca Hamilton, and Cristin Harber. Lynnette works with writers seeking traditional publishing and indie authors.
Lynnette specializes in substantive/developmental editing for romance (romantic suspense, paranormal romance, romantic thriller, contemporary romance, and romantic comedy), mystery, psychological thriller, suspense, horror, crime, paranormal/supernatural, fantasy, urban fantasy, dystopian, women’s fiction, NA, YA, and SOME science fiction (no aliens or futuristic stories). She also helps writers create hooky query letters and strong synopses, and she teaches several writing classes.
Lynnette has a bachelor of education degree from the University of Manitoba, where she specialized in English and French. She excelled in Advanced Creative Writing in university and studied writing for children and teens through the Institute of Children’s Literature. She’s a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Romance Writers of America, and Savvy Authors.
Lynette’s first page critique …
When submitting to agents, editors, or contests, please use industry standard formatting. Times New Roman (or Courier, but I prefer TNR), size 12, 1” margins all around, ½” paragraph indents, and double-spaced text. No extra spaces between paragraphs and only one space between sentences.
When editing for clients, I use Track Changes so that the majority of the comments are in the comment bubbles on the side and the changes are in the text. Much easier to follow. Unfortunately, the comment bubbles won’t post here, so I did what the other mentors did and placed the comments in the text.
The dragon lay stretched out across a rock, Did the main character come across the dragon by accident? Is he startled to have found it here? Is he relieved to have found it? Had he been tracking it? Or did he look over and the dragon was there? its body brilliantly Avoid using adverbs. green in the sunlight that splashed Word choice? Can sunlight splash? through the leaves overhead. It Try to avoid starting a sentence with “it”. In this case, you need to replace “it” with a specific word. Otherwise, the reader will assume “it” replaces the last singular noun “sunlight”. was enormous—bigger than the whole hill fort Interesting. I want to know more about the fort. Not now, of course. It’s good to leave a reader wanting more. The trick is to know when to hint at something and when to give more. This worked.—and its great Avoid using adjectives. Use stronger nouns instead. throat rippled and flickered Tighten. Pick one and cut the other. as it breathed. Thick, blue smoke Is the smoke from the dragon or something else? Be specific so the reader can imagine the scene. If the dragon blew the smoke, did it make a sound when he did? Does the air smell like a campfire? eddied in the hollow around us. The dragon is in the hollow with him? If the dragon is that close, I would expect Gwydion to smell it. What does it smell like? And Gwydion should react to having the dragon so near. Is he scared? Brave and determined to kill him?
Slowly Avoid adverbs. Use strong verbs instead. And why did he lift the sword slowly?, I lifted my sword and pointed it my sword (I cut some of this to tighten.)at the beast. How is the main character feeling? Is his heart racing? Are his hands sweaty, making it difficult to keep the sword from slipping from his grip? Show us. Buried dialogue. Change paragraphs here to fix it. “Heed me, worm,” I commanded. Stick to invisible dialogue tags like “said”, “asked”, or dialogue tags that show the volume of the voice like “whispered”, “yelled”, “mumbled”, etc. “Commanded” is a telling dialogue tag because you’re telling the reader what the character did instead of showing. “Be gone. Or (This is stronger as two sentences.) by the Goddess, I will smite you dead.”
It Replace “it”. raised its head. Give us more. I want to know if the dragon seems threatened, afraid, or mad. Show its body language or facial expression. Add the main character’s reaction to the dragon’s action. We need to know how Gwydion is feeling. How is his body reacting? What is he thinking? Dig deeper.
“Gwydion!” Who said this? Where did he/she come from? Is he/she close or far? Behind him? Coming toward him? Standing and calling his name from a distance? Rushing forward and calling him?
I jumped Why did he jump? Was he startled? Or is he jumping to get somewhere? Make this clear. If we know the MC is alone with the dragon and a voice comes from behind him, we’ll understand why he’s startled, but without enough details, it’s hard to understand what’s happening and why. and dropped my willow-sword This threw me. If he’s using a willow-sword, it should be mentioned the first time the sword is mentioned. Otherwise, the reader will think this is a second sword., then followed it to the ground What do you mean? Did he drop to the ground? Did his gaze follow the sword as it fell? Be specific. Is he concerned about the sword? Can he reach it? Or is he afraid he won’t be able to get to it before the dragon takes advantage of his vulnerable state and attacks? so the folds of my cloak would hide the pale linen of my tunic. Interesting. I want to know why he wants to hide this, which makes me want to read on to find out. Great job at hooking here. A quick glance A glance is quick, so this is redundant. over my arm showed no sign A glance can’t show anything. It’s something you do. Rephrase. of the lizard-dragon. Is this the same dragon or another one? If it’s the same dragon, use this description above. The shouting What shouting? It seemed like someone called his name. I didn’t get the sense someone shouted. had scared it off. Wouldn’t he have heard the dragon fly away? Wouldn’t he have felt the wind caused by its large wings as it took off? I pressed my cheek against mouldering leaves Why? I don’t see a reason for him to do this. Readers will believe anything as long as it’s motivated, but this isn’t., and tried to slow my breathing. This threw me. Was his breathing racing? If so, we needed to see that before he tried to slow it. And how did he slow it? Did he take longer, deeper breaths and hold them? Did it work? Show us.
“Gwydion!” Exclamation points should be used sparingly. You’ve already used two of them on this page. How does he react to his name being called this time?
“Go away,” I mouthed. To who? We need to see someone has approached him and what that person is doing so we know if he/she is a threat or an annoyance.
The sound of my sister’s tramping grew nearer, If she wasn’t close, how did he expect her to read his lips? If he hears her approaching before he sees her, why is he mouthing to her? And why did he mouth it? Why not tell her to go away? and I hoped the thick undergrowth around the hollow would hide me. Who is he hiding from? Her? Then why did he mouth to her? From the dragon? But he already pointed his sword at the dragon. It knows he’s there. I’m confused. This place had been my secret This would be stronger if you stared the sentence like this, “I had kept this place a secret”. for the past year—since my Father my father (common noun, no capital F). went away left. “Went away” isn’t strong enough. It was a place Here, I could go to be anything, I liked: I could be a fisherman, and the hollow my coracle, I could be a warrior, and the hollow my chariot, or I could be a chieftain, and the hollow my great hall. I could be anything, But if Arianrod Who is this? His sister or someone else? found it this place, the its magic of the place would be lost. Why? Can’t he share its magic? I knew, even then, that its secrecy alone made it special. This bumped me. I don’t understand the logic. Why would its secrecy make it special? It sounded like he wanted to keep it a secret because it’s “his” place. Somewhere he can go to imagine he’s whoever he wants to be, to forget who he really is or the life he has to live. That would be a special place to him. But, that’s not what you’re saying here. You’re saying its secrecy is what makes it special.
I love dragons and was excited to see this was a story about a dragon, but the first line didn’t hook me. After the first paragraph, I’m still not grounded. I don’t know whose point of view we’re in.
The first paragraph tells me what the POV (point of view) character sees, but I don’t know how he feels about dragons or this particular dragon.
I wonder how old the main character is. I feel like he’s a boy, but I don’t understand why he’d go after the dragon and not someone else, like an adult. Doesn’t anyone else know about the dragon? I can’t imagine the adults would send the boy, but if they did, I’d like to know why. In other words, I need a little more about the MC so I can understand why he’s the one threatening the dragon.
I don’t have a good sense of the main character’s GMCs (goals, motivations, conflicts). You want to start the story either at the inciting incident or as close to it as possible. This is the moment where the main character’s everyday life is turned upside down. It’s the moment when he must decide what to do, and he’ll strive to achieve that goal throughout the novel. I don’t see that here. It could be that he wants to get rid of the dragon, but I don’t know why he needs to do this (motivation) or what’s keeping him from attaining this goal (conflict). And it’s not a very strong goal if it’s met because the dragon left on its own. At this point, I’m not sure if you aren’t starting at the right spot in the story or if you need to flesh this scene out more.
That said, the story seems interesting. I like the main character’s imagination and how he holds this place dear to his heart. I want to know more about him and go on an adventure with him. I’m also curious about his little sister and would like to see her character further developed if she’s more than a walk-on character. It’s hard to tell from one page. 🙂
Thank you, Lynnette, for your critique. That concludes our July first page workshop! Get ready for Pitch Wars! The Pitch Wars Mentor Wishlist Blog Hop starts August 2 with the Pitch Wars submission window opening August 17 window. opening August 17.