Critique: A Push Toward Excellence Part 2

Take Charge of Your Author Career

Megan Reads Greta’s WIP

Whether you’re a traditionally published author with a seven book contract, or a raw beginner, you need a fresh set of eyeballs on your work to push yourself to excellence.

As an interesting experiment, Greta 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 Greta’s first page:


It’s hard to build a business when your clients keep dying. [Awesome opening line. Immediately we know this is a cozy mystery or thriller.] Take this morning for instance, Harry—he’s the owner of the salon I work in—handed me a note. My 10:15 canceled. Last minute. And I couldn’t even get mad at her. She was dead. [There’s the dead body. A necessary trope for this genre.]

I waded to my aqua-blue, faux leather chair through a sea of gossip, dumped my patent leather purse in the cupboard under the lighted mirror and sat. [I love the imagery here. I know exactly what this salon looks like through this single sentence.] My reflection stared back at me wearing an annoyed expression. I adjusted it to solemn.

I felt heartless. Honestly, I liked Trudy. She was one of my favorites. But when all your clients are seventy-five and over, you can’t let yourself get too attached.

Maddy glanced my way and batted her eyelashes, quite an accomplishment considering the amount of mascara she coated them with. “You heard about Trudy?”

I nodded. “Third one in seven months.”

“It’s going around.” [Nice foreshadowing. I’ll be shocked if there isn’t at least one more dead body before the end of the book.]

“I’m starting to feel like a jinx.” [Possible conflict looming: will she become a jinx? Will more of her clients die? Will the elderly clients blame her and avoid her? Good reader questions to keep pages turning.]

“It’s not just you, sweetie. We’ve all lost at least one.”

“Imogene.” Harry’s smoker’s voice bounced off the checkered linoleum floors and yellow walls. He only called me Imogene when he was with a client.

“Yes, Harry,” I said.

“Can you take a walk-in?”

My spirits lifted. Maybe the morning wouldn’t be a total loss after all. In the mirror I saw Harry, hips swishing dangerously close to Camille’s shears, coming toward me. Behind him was a fragile looking, white haired lady—guesstimate eighty-five. I sighed. She wouldn’t be around long.

From A Brush With Death by Greta Boris (Work-in-Progress)

My Critique

I love this first page. We know so much about the book and the character in just a few words. Greta does a great job of setting the stage and presenting the premise: a young woman working with the elderly who is going to be dealing with dead bodies in one way or another.

My only critique is something that you—the reader of this blog post—couldn’t know but I get to see: the next two paragraphs. I want them, or some version of them, on the first page.

“This is Imogene,” he said to her. “Don’t let the tattoo fool you, she’s one of our best.”

The white haired lady eyed the Rosie the Riveter tat on my right biceps. A frown formed on her face. I don’t think she approved. But she hiked herself into the chair with Harry’s help.

Why do I think this extra bit is important? Because of the character revelations that it portrays. If we can get something about Imogene’s tattoo on that first page, we know more about her as a person, not just her career:

  • She’s somewhat unconventional in a very conservative environment
  • Imogene is likely in her 20s or early 30s since she has a visible tattoo
  • Rosie the Riveter is an icon originally from the 40’s, representing feminism and female strength, something Imogene must idealize or aspire to become.
  • Her clients also lived through that era, giving her a more personal connection to their history.
  • She likes memorabilia and perhaps is a bit of a rockabilly (especially in combination with the patent leather purse)

I think Greta could probably tighten the last paragraph before the page break (beginning with “My spirits lifted”) to get rid of Harry’s movement toward her. Although the hip sway does characterize her boss, I’m not sure he’s important enough to warrant the first page description.

If we cut out everything after “a total loss after all” and move up the introduction, we might be able to get that tattoo and all that it implies on that critical first page.

That said, I’m definitely hooked. In fact, I’ve already read the entire book, and after re-reading this page, I’d be happy to go on and read the book again! 🙂

What 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.

Legend has it I was born with a book in my hands. Thirty-ish years later, I’m a stay-at-home-mom who prefers a good story over doing the dishes. Only now, I’m building my own fantasy worlds! I am the award-winning author of The Sanyare Chronicles, a fast-paced dark fantasy adventure set in the nine faerie realms, and Program Director of O.C. Writers, A Network of Published and Aspiring Authors, located in Orange County, CA. To find out more about me and my books, visit my website at!

3 thoughts on “Critique: A Push Toward Excellence Part 2

  1. Yeah, this is a great, punchy beginning. “I couldn’t even get mad at her. She was dead” was fantastic. This almost has the feel of a hard-boiled detective novel despite the protagonist being a hairdresser. It’s in your style and I love it. Great description, early entry into the conflict… I would totally read this book. =)

  2. Love the comments and the excerpt. Terrific beginning to a mystery. Thank you for giving us a revisionist’s eye to this page.

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