Historical Fiction First Page Critique

Happy Friday, everyone! I’m excited to post another first page critique. My goal isn’t to tear writers apart but to point out common mistakes a lot of writers make in their opening pages. My hope is seeing it broken down like this will help other writers recognize the flaws in their own writing. If you have questions about any of my feedback, feel free to leave them in the comments.

If you’d like to submit your first page for consideration, you can fill up this form.

Today’s page is from the first draft of a historical fiction novel. You’ll notice I commented on sentence structure and repetition. In a first draft, these little things aren’t as important and story structure and character development, but from reading I get the impression that this writer is newer, and is still working on mechanical writing skills. These skills will need to be honed by the final draft, so pointing out the sentence level stuff at the beginning gives the writer a chance to practice as they write forward.

Remember, revision goes from big to small. Your first concern should be that your story logic holds together, your character motivations make sense, and that one thing leads to the next. Sentence level editing comes last, after the big, important, potentially “story ruining” problems are fixed.

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In this opening paragraph, I think the writer is missing an opportunity to ground us in the character’s story. The author has a good start by mentioning the snow-covered mountains and the character’s guitar, but I immediately want to know what these objects mean to him. The mountains are pretty, but what was happening the last time the character saw them? He’s having pain in his gut, but I’m not sure why. Is it from the fall or is there something more going on here?

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In the second paragraph, the character spends some time thinking about the life he left in his hometown, but the specifics aren’t quite there yet. He thinks about the gang he ran around with. I’m not clear if this is an actual gang or just a word he uses for a bunch of friends. Why is he thinking about them now? Is he hoping they’re still around or is he wondering if they’ve had just as hard of a time as he has? What kind of “high hopes” did he leave with specifically? Did he pack up his guitar and head to Hollywood? High hopes could literally mean anything. I want to know what it means to this character specifically.

He goes on to talk about someone named Carol, but I don’t quite get what kind of relationship they had. Were they just friends? Boyfriend and girlfriend? Did they plan to get married before the MC up and left? These specifics will really bring the story to life in our heads. We’ll understand why he left and why he’s back now all in the space of the first page.

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Down here at the bottom, we get a hint of why the character left. He couldn’t wait to escape his parents. His father is a drunk who died of a heart attack while the character was away. I want these memories to haunt the character throughout this first page. Does he see his father when he looks at the mountains? Did his father take him camping there? Was that before things got bad and his father raged all the time?

Lastly, the author mentions a postmark that’s been following the MC. I’m not sure what this means. Is it unopened? Is it his home address? What does this mean to him specifically?

As you can see, this first page left me with a lot of questions. The vague writing can be strengthened with specifics that will draw the reader into the character’s head so we understand his goals and desires. Without specifics, we’re left to fill in the blanks, which isn’t very exciting, and leaves us feeling like we’re missing the point. There are also some technical writing issues that I hope the writer works on moving forward.

I’d like to thank the author for trusting me with their words. I hope my feedback is helpful!

I’ll be back next week with a new first page!