Critique: A Push Toward Excellence Part 1

Take Charge of Your Author Career

Greta Reads Megan’s WIP

Whether you’re a published, award-winning author, or a raw beginner, you need a fresh set of eyeballs on your work to push yourself to excellence.

As an interesting experiment, Megan and I decided to critique the first 250 words of each other’s work-in-progress this month. Then publish it so you can see in real time what authors go through when revising their work.

In the revision workshop we’re teaching this weekend, we’ll be taking attendee’s first pages and analyzing them with an eye to the following topics:

1. Where should your story start?      

Action or conflict up front – In medias res
Plot points – not too early, not too late
Don’t: Info dump

2. Good opening hook        

Clear indication of genre
Makes the reader ask questions and want to know more
Don’t: Head hop

3. Setting the scene

Normal world moments before change
Clear sense of protagonist
Clear actual setting – where are they?
Don’t: Have too many characters

4. Tension

Shards of Backstory
Don’t: Give everything away

Here’s my take on Megan’s first page:


The leprechauns were at it again. [Great first line. Says fantasy right away. ] Curuthannor coughed and shot a pointed glare at the wee men. [POV set right away. ] He wasn’t sure they could even see him through the dimly lit cloud of smoke. Three tables away, with a brisk evening breeze, and the stench was still overwhelming. It was perhaps the one thing about the Crossroads Inn that Curuthannor disliked. Everything else about the grass-covered hills, fully stocked bars, and comfortable lodgings was impeccable.[Setting immediately clear]

“Won’t do ye any good,” a rumbling voice growled. “Ye know they’re incorrigible. They’re more likely to come over here and blow it in your face than move away.”

“Perhaps, but it is worth a try. It cannot get much worse.”

“Tha’s where ye’re wrong,” Tryg replied. “Never antagonize a leprechaun. Ye’ve been warned.”

Tryg was a troll, young and small by trollish standards. [Not too many characters.] Standing merely elf height, he hadn’t yet gained the equal width and stocky stature of his older brethren.

“I will take that under advisement,” Curuthannor replied with a smirk. They were leprechauns. Little men with long beards and longer pipes. What could they possibly do to a high elf? [Clarifying the protagonist & foreshadowing a fight. Builds tension nicely.]

Curuthannor was the son of Hatholdammon, the greatest smith in Rómesse Gulch and master swordsman. High King Othin himself had come to commission a jeweled longsword from Hatholdammon’s smithy. Curuthannor and his brothers all trained with their father in the use of the weapons they crafted. It was Hatholdammon’s belief that the smith should be a master of the tools he created, to understand their strengths and weaknesses. Training in the weapons hall was the best part of Curuthannor’s day. [Suggest tightening this, only because it’s part of the first page. Breaks tension a bit.]

From The Elvish War Trilogy, Book 1 by Megan Haskell (Work-in-Progress)

My Critique

This is a great start to a story. Megan jumps right into the action. There is a sense something is coming, a battle is brewing. She gives us a good idea of the world we’re in without dumping a lot of information on us. The genre is clear. Elves, trolls, and leprechauns say high fantasy right away. And, there’s no confusion. We know who the players in the scene are.

I love her description of the Inn. I smelled the stench, felt the breeze, and saw the bar through the haze of smoke. It feels Medieval and other-worldly without her saying it. She accomplishes a lot in a short space.

The final paragraph foreshadows future events. A famous sword, a band of well-trained brothers, and a master smithy for a father all speak of war. If there isn’t a war somewhere in Curuthannor’s future, I’ll eat my helmet.

My only suggestion would be to tighten that paragraph up a tad because I lost the tension from the fight that seems to be brewing with the leprechauns.

First pages must accomplish so many things in so few words. One of the most important is to get the reader to turn the page. I’d keep reading. How about you?

There are still a few seats left in the First Page, Lasting Impression Revision Workshop!

Saturday, March 16, 8am to 12pm in Mission Viejo. Cost is $100 and includes coffee and breakfast goodies.

Greta Boris, Director

Greta Boris is the author of A Margin of Lust, The Scent of Wrath, and The Sanctity of Sloth, the first three books in her 7 Deadly Sins domestic suspense series. Her nonfiction work includes the Amazon Bestseller The Wine and Chocolate Workout – Sip, Savor, and Strengthen for a Healthier Life and PUBLISH: Take Charge of Your Author Career. She’s also the Director of O.C. Writers, a community of over 1,000 published and aspiring authors in Orange County, California.

You can visit her at She describes her work (and her life) as an O.C. housewife meets Dante’s Inferno.

6 thoughts on “Critique: A Push Toward Excellence Part 1

  1. This is a great way to illustrate first page work! Awesome! Here are my comments, for what they’re worth:

    I’d name Tyrg immediately so the reader knows who the two participants in the dialogue are (rather than saying “a rumbling voice growled” as though Curuthannor doesn’t know who it belongs to). I’d also move his description up right under his entry into the conversation for clarity:
    “Won’t do ye any good,” Tryg growled. “Ye know they’re incorrigible. They’re more likely to come over here and blow it in your face than move away.” Young and small by trollish standards, Tryg stood merely elf height, having not yet gained the width and stocky stature of his older brethren.

    “Perhaps, but it is worth a try. It cannot get much worse.”

    “Tha’s where ye’re wrong,” Tryg replied. “Never antagonize a leprechaun. Ye’ve been warned.”
    I agree with Greta: the last paragraph is a bit info-dumpy. And the information given isn’t all necessary at this early point, so it takes me out of the moment you’re building to.

    Other than that, I love stuff having to do with leprechauns, as you know. =)

  2. Super first page and critique. Since I’ve a wee bit ‘o Irish in me, I’ll be reading this one when it comes out.

  3. Good critique. I write fantasy and the opening scene is always difficult for me. I’ll be applying these points to my manuscript.

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