First-Page Critique #102

Here at Vanilla Grass, we want writers to succeed and we’re willing to sacrifice our time to help improve literature by coaching one author at a time. You can see why we care in our Changing the World One Voice at a Time post and why first-pages matter to us.

All submitted first pages are anonymous and we follow the same critique guideline on each.

Whether you submit or not, you can learn from the critiques we post. For a full list, click here. Each posted first-page has been read and evaluated by both Carolyn (C) and Dedra (D).

And sometimes, they don’t agree! But that’s why multiple opinions are so important. One reader might love what you write and another might not care for it. Same with editors. So read the commentary, and tailor it to what you’re seeking to accomplish with your manuscript!

We approach critiques by asking if the author met certain criteria and by focusing on their strengths and weaknesses in a question, answer formatted response. At this time, we don’t focus on line-editing, as we believe it can distract from the more important issue of content quality.

First-Page #102

[Submitted Manuscript]

The shuttle rang from an impact, lurched sideways and rose like a beanstalk elevator, sending his stomach on an equally wild ride. With sweaty hands, Holtz Mitsumi clutched the arms of his acceleration couch and swallowed repeatedly, struggling to keep his stomach contents where they belonged. How was that possible? Holtz thought. We have the aerodynamic profile of a rock. And, speaking of rocks, “Did something just hit us?” Seated next to him in the pilot’s couch, Mei Ricci, gritted teeth, face hard in concentration, worked the controls trying to keep them alive and pointed in the right direction. She nodded once, sharply.

“But we’re still at ten thousand meters. What could possibly be up here?” Mitsumi hated that little whine in his voice, but there it was. He’d never yet been able to avoid it when he was scared and, silly as it was for a starship captain who’d made countless planet falls, this one frightened him. 

“I don’t know, Captain,” Mei said, eyes glued to the instruments, her voice clipped. “But we knew it was possible.”

Holtz stared at the shuttle’s screen showing what was visible beyond the hull—nothing but a swirling mass of clouds streaming past at impossible speeds.

Not wanting to disturb Mei from keeping them alive, Holtz activated a comm with the Are We There Yet? sailing serenely in orbit far above the swirling debris strewn maelstrom that passed for atmosphere on planet Seldon. A loud clang announced the shuttle’s encounter with another piece of detritus kept aloft in the thousand kilometer per hour winds. “How are we doing, Sentaa?”

“Five by Five, Captain.” She chuckled. “You should be on the ground on target in ten minutes.”

Critique #102

Greatest strength: 

C: You know your genre. This screams sci-fi and is exactly what a sci-fi lover would expect when they pick up the book. Knowing your audience and what they expect is half the battle. So, good job.

D: You’re creative. I’m loving the idea of a couch shuttle flying through space. I love your character names. I can tell you’ve been writing for a while. 

Character development: 

C: I am having a hard time reading the characters. I’m not getting a lot of emotion from them besides sarcasm and concentration. At first, I thought Holtz was worried about things hitting them, but by the end of the page Mei is chuckling, so I wasn’t sure what to think. Giving Holtz a goal or want right away will help establish a starting point for his character development and give something for the readers to latch onto.

D: I see a little in Holtz Mitsumi when he says he doesn’t like the whine in his voice. But I’m not sure if the characters are human, how old they are, or anything about their goals or preferences. 


C: The beginning felt like it had tension, because something hit them. But, as I mentioned above, the first page ends with a much more light-hearted feel, so the tension is lost.

D: Other than Holtz frustrated at his whine, I’m not sensing physical danger or conflict between the characters.


C: I think you have the start of emotions but are missing the follow-through. We get a hint of worry when their ship is hit, but the concern for it is either lost in technical formalities and jargon or not present. Even in the sci-fi genre, emotions are part of what pulls the reader in. Take a moment longer to put some weight behind what Holtz is feeling so the readers can relate.

D: Without tension, I’m not feeling much emotion. One way I like to add emotion is to imbue descriptions of the setting with feeling. For example, “Marcos huddled in a dank pit, so dark and sulfuric that even the spiders refused to scurry about.” From this, you can sense that Marcos is alone. We’re not sure yet if he is scared or hurt or cold, but as readers, we start to put ourselves in his shoes. How would you feel in a dark, wet, sulfur pit?  How can you describe your setting in space to hint at your character’s feelings? Or the relationship between the people on the couch?


C: This reads adult to me.

D: I’m not sure because there’s no indication of age. 


C: Science Fiction for sure.

D: Sci-fi.

Triggers & Delays (Reasons to Keep Reading): 

C: I feel like I’m supposed to get a hint of foreboding at the fact that they were hit at an altitude they shouldn’t have been. Giving us one or two more thoughts from Holtz on this would help solidify this.

D: We have one hint of the couch landing in ten minutes. Foreshadowing something dangerous that will happen in the next few paragraphs will give me a reason to turn the page–if this is a thriller. If it’s romance, you could add some body language tension. If it’s scary, hint at something that makes the characters want to pee their pants or something. Give us hints and follow through.


C: I got a sarcastic tone from this read, which seems fairly common in novels that take place in space. A little more emotion might add some character depth and strengthen whatever tone you’re going for. Again, I got a hint of foreboding, but not enough to worry about it.

D: Your phrase, “And, speaking of rocks,” makes the text read lighthearted for me. I’m expecting an easy, relaxing read from this first page. If that’s what you’re going for, awesome. But if you’re writing a romance, thriller, comedy, or emotional drama, I need to get that sense from the beginning. 

Main Character Goals: 

C: I feel like the only clear goal we have is landing, but Holtz is not doing this, Mei is. Giving Holtz a goal will give the start of your book some needed direction.

D: I’m not sure what the characters want. Mei seems intent on steering the ship, but that goal will end as soon as they crash or land. 

Where to focus energy: 

C: I’m not sure some of the phrasing is working. The aerodynamic profile of a rock makes me think the couch they’re on is terrible at flying, but then Holtz is surprised they hit something. The “Are we there yet?” sign gave me pause, and I didn’t grasp the “five by five” comment. I would take these moments to add a little more emotion and a little more world building. Part of the fun of sci-fi is the new world the readers can immerse themselves in, so don’t be afraid to show it!

D: I would love to see more descriptions that establish emotion, tension, and character development. Make me feel like I’m sitting on the same couch, thrusting through space, and let me know if I should be terrified or giddy, sad, embarrassed, in love, or whatever. Every word you use on this first page is pivotal to whether or not a reader or an agent will keep going. With a little bit of deep-digging, you can make this even better. 

If you’d like to submit your own document for critique, then go to our Free Critiques page.

What did you think? Do you agree with the critique? Would you keep reading? Tell us in the comments! Then send us your own manuscript!

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