First-Page Critique #103

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 this section on why first-pages matter to us.

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

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 #103

In her nearly thirty-one years on earth, Kelly Stevens could count on one hand the number of times that she had just known something was meant to be. First, there was finding her childhood dog, Rowdy, in a shelter. The second was meeting Brandon Stevens, the love of her life. The third and fourth were her children, Jacob and Emily. And so it was on a frigid, late November day that Kelly sat staring at what she believed would be the fifth thing on her list. 

“I’m telling you, Nia,” Kelly said, holding her phone in one hand and a half-eaten chicken salad sandwich in the other. “This house is the one. I can feel it in my bones.” 

“You’re unbelievable!” her best friend Nia Maxwell said, laughing. “You’re bordering on stalkerish behavior, you know.”

“I am not stalking the Johnsons.” 

“You’re stalking their house, and that’s pretty much the same thing. They haven’t even put up the For Sale sign yet.”

Kelly sighed and tucked a wind-blown strand of her dark blonde hair back behind her ear.

“But can you imagine the kids and I moving into this house? We could hang a swing on the oak tree. We could get a dog.” She took another bite of her sandwich, and gazed across the street to the two story craftsman-style house, its wide front porch just begging for a pair of adirondack chairs. 

“They do have some gorgeous trees on their property,” Nia conceded.

“If I can buy this house, everything will change. I’ll be able to prove to everyone that I can make it on my own.” 

“Nobody is doubting you,” Nia said. “You’re already handling everything beautifully.”

Kelly frowned. She had worked hard to make it look like she was doing well, but behind

Critique #103

Greatest strength: 

C: I’d say your greatest strength is the tone you set. It’s upbeat, perky, us against the world. It reads like chick lit or commercial fiction, so if that’s what you’re going for, ten thumbs up.

D: Your writing is very clear and easy to read. I like how you gave us nuggets of information and then clues to establish the recent trauma in Kelly’s life. 

Character development: 

C: I think you handled this really well. I get a sense of who Kelly is and how she thinks. Her desire is also clearly stated and we have reasons to root for her.

D: I love how your character is actively shaping her future. So many elements in this first page tell me about her. The fact the for sale sign isn’t up yet tells me she’s determined. She’s basically on a stake-out to secure a better future for her children. And she feels the need to prove something which could lead into tension.


C: Her desire to buy a house that will magically fix everything gives us both short-term tension (will she get the house!?) and long-term tension (oh, honey, buying this house isn’t going to fix anything). 

D: The tension is well executed. We can see that Kelly will have to face the beliefs she’s crafted about herself and how others see her. External tension is always great, but this internal tension we get on the very first page has enough merit to span the entire book.


C: I think the emotions in this first page are clear and well-executed. I’m getting excitement, hope (however misplaced), and anticipation.

D: I’m feeling for your character. She’s trying to fix her trauma by covering it up (been there). At some point, I’m expecting the pain to break free. I love how optimistic she is.


C: Adult

D: Adult


C: Again, this reads chick lit or commercial fiction to me. Or maybe the sunny start of an impending horror if you really wanted to go that way.

D: Chick-lit or contemporary.

Triggers & Delays (Reasons to Keep Reading): 

C: I would keep reading to see if she gets the house and to watch it NOT solve any of her problems.

D: You give me anticipation in the first paragraph when you tell about Kelly’s premonitions. I’m expecting you to tell me about a new one and you deliver. This is a great tool to help your readers trust you as an author. And you set us up to expect more information about Kelly trying to buy the house. 


C: Upbeat, perky, fun. 

D: I get optimism, but also that tinge of hurt in her heart for what she’s lost and what she’s trying to prove. My guess is her husband died, or possibly he’s serving in the military, but my bet is on he passed away. But I’m not sure, and that gives me another reason to turn the page to find the truth.

Main Character Goals: 

C: You did a good job stating her goals upfront and giving us the reasoning behind her goals. Not always easy to do so quickly without sounding forced, so good job.

D: Yes! I know exactly what she wants. You give us an internal and external goal. Great job!

Where to focus energy: 

C: Make sure you don’t lose the momentum you’ve built in this first page. Your readers are expecting to see the relationship between Kelly and Nia and Kelly and her kids struggle and grow. Keep the tone consistent and whatever your genre is in mind and you should be golden. 

D: Simple phrases like Kelly frowned could be embellished a little, pulling in her surroundings to add to the story. She could pick at her threadbare coat as she frowns–that would give me even more clues about her. Or you could foreshadow the house not being all she dreams as she notices a broken pane of glass. It’s fine as is, but every chance you get to add more feeling, more insights into your story, more setting–take them. 

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 comments! Then send us your own manuscript!

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