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.
I’ve been told that when ships travel through wormholes, the view outside is like a million diamonds sparkling together. I can’t afford even a minute inside the viewdeck, but I have to say, the inside of the Edmonton Rose sparkles almost as brightly, with bold-to-the-point-of-absurd fashion choices, every type of entertainment imaginable, luxurious decor, and more money than your average bank vault.
As I start a gentle, comfortable jog around the third level loop, it occurs to me that I might be the only person on board the Edmonton Rose who isn’t giddy about being here. I mean, the Rose is as close to paradise as space travel can realistically get. Between the time I wake up in the afternoon and the time when my night shift cleaning the water park and locker rooms starts, I am technically free to spend a small fortune on world class entertainment. I mean, even a lot of my coworkers do. I could go see Spiderman: Revolutions at the advance screening, or get back-row tickets to Rose Fashion Week, or spend a week’s paycheck to eat at some of the high-end restaurants.
But I’m not elite, famous, well-dressed, or wealthy. I’m not anything, really. I’m a girl who thought she might have a chance at the major leagues but now is going to spend her life making pennies playing in the minors on a backwater planet. If I’m lucky. I’m on this ship because I ran out of options on Earth and because Euvalia University is willing to give me a chance. I’m here to clean bathrooms at night so I can get a free ticket to Euvalia and, when I get there, to play for EU and hopefully help them win enough that I can make a sort of career playing baseball. It isn’t what I wanted my life to be, but it’s better than unemployment at home, better than trying to support Granny on minimum wage when she gets too old to care for herself anymore, and baseball is basically all I’m good at.
C: You introduce the sci-fi feel of your story and the different settings really well. I could immediately see myself in the Edmonton.
D: The first sentence pulls me in, and right away, I’m hearing a voice through your writing. Great job.
C: Your character has a good voice to start, but loses it in backstory. I can learn about granny and disappointed dreams later. Right now I want to see what kind of person your main character is by how they interact in the sci-fi world you’ve created.
D: I know a decent amount about your character so far. She’s desperate, thinks she’s not worth much, and is poor. I’d love to see these things in action though, without her telling it all. The line, “I can’t afford even a minute inside the viewdeck” says so much that I don’t need to be told again. I want to see your character in action.
C: There’s some tension with revealing she’s a poor worker on this fantastically opulent spaceship, but you lose the power of this with too much exposition.
D: Other than being poor, which is day-to-day life for most of us, I’m not seeing tension. I’d love to see tension building sooner than later. Tension and emotion is what keeps me turning pages.
C: Despondency with a hint of sarcasm? This is another area where showing us what’s going on with dialogue and action will allow her to have a stronger voice and create more emotion.
D: I’m not having an emotional response yet. Your character says she’s got some struggles, but I’m not drawn into her story. I’d love a better glimpse into her life where she isn’t telling us everything. Show us how hard it is to be away from dear ol’ Gran-gran, or how people treat her as less because she’s just a worker, not a lavish guest.
Show me why I MUST read this story. Hit me in the chest with something I can’t put down.
C: It reads YA, but she sounds like she’s going to college. So maybe New Adult? Though that’s a sort of contested age group in the publishing world.
D: YA or adult because of the college reference.
C: Science Fiction with maybe some sports going on. Space baseball.
Triggers & Delays (Reasons to Keep Reading):
C: There’s a soft motivation to keep reading to see how things go, but with the character’s backstory laid out and her hopelessness at the end of the first page, it’s not as strong as it could be. Give me something small to root for, even if it’s just her trying to beat her usual running time.
D: I’d love to see a hint of what’s coming next.
C: Sci-fi wonder. There’s also a sense of that “battling the man!” feel until the third paragraph where it bogs down. It ends with a hopeless feeling when you should want your readers to hope, even if it’s just a little.
D: The tone/vibe I get is disgruntled. If this book has action, I want to get a sense of that here. If there is mystery, give me something to wonder about. If it’s horror, make me scream. Help me see what to expect if I invest the time to read the next two hundred and fifty pages.
Main Character Goals:
C: To make it to a new planet to live a poor life as a second-rate baseball player. As I mentioned earlier, this is an opportunity to throw the readers a bone, even if it’s a small goal to just get us to the bigger ones. If she’s too hopeless to hope her fortunes will change on the new planet, then give us something else, like at least she can be her own person without granny breathing down her neck.
D: It sounds like she wants to take care of her grandma and get through college, but I’d love to see a hint at her internal goals. Why does taking care of her grandma matter? Or what are her dreams?
Where to focus energy:
C: I think your world is pretty awesome and that you set it up really well. I do think the Spiderman reference made it feel too real to me, which maybe you want, but it kind of sucked the wonder out a little. I do like that you were specific, though, so don’t change that. I also would probably ditch the third paragraph entirely and just get us to the action. I might even cut part of paragraph two. All that information is important for the reader to learn, but not yet and not by telling. Give us those juicy tidbits in a dialogue with a co-worker. Or show us some of her baseball skills while she does her menial labor so we wonder what an all-star is doing mopping floors. You have a good foundation, just get us moving and caring about the character before you lay it down.
D: Weave these amazing details that you’ve crafted into dialogue and action. You’ve impressed us with creativity, now blow our minds with delivery.
If you’d like to submit your own document for critique, then go to our Free Critiques page.