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 eyed the business card pinched between my fingers. It was thoroughly crumpled and spiderwebbed like fractured glass. “Nicole?” I called over my roommate’s boy band music. “Have you ever been stalked by a creeper?”
The peppy song faded. Nicole’s head popped out from her bedroom door. Her distant eyes stared past me and into our apartment’s dinky kitchen, “I think so.” She disappeared again, the original level of music resumed.
O-kay. She is my best friend and roommate, but a fat lot of help she is. I tossed the creeper’s business card into my purse, and cinched the belt on my Burberry trench tighter on my rumbling stomach. “I’m going now.” Going to meet him. And I am completely crazy because I can’t leave it alone, or ignore him, or report him. I HAVE to know what he wants with me.
“Ginger, wait!” Her head was back. “Is he cute?” She threw up her hands, “Or is it a creeper girl? I think I’ve had one of those too.”
I fully turned to her, intrigued. “What did you do? Call the police?”
“With the girl, I turned around and followed her. Like, beat you at your own game,” she stabbed a finger at me and shimmied with attitude. “After a few hours I never saw her again.”
Hours? I would have questioned this, but I’ve known Nicole since our sophomore year. Nicole’s weird.
“ And the guy…” she scratched her head, rippling her thick, shiny hair. “He might still follow me around. I haven’t seen him in a few days. Last I saw him was when I was in Chinatown, but he keeps his distance, so…” She ended with an unconcerned shrug.
“Is he cute?” I had an inkling.
She didn’t answer, but looked at me as if it should be obvious.
“I do have a creeper guy, but he isn’t cute. In a human-manly way at least. Reminds me of a ferret.”
Her mouth turned into a pitying frown. “Want me to call the police if you don’t come back?”
“Sure,” I gave a wave and locked the door behind me, knowing it would at least be tomorrow morning before Nicole thought to call the police. And I could already be dead.
C: You have a talent for descriptions. They’re unique and specific without being overwritten. That’s a great talent.
D: Voice and descriptions. I love the ferret line and I have the best visual of that business card and how much she is questioning meeting up with the creeper.
C: I would love just a bit more from the main character. Fortunately, there are lots of places you can accomplish this. For instance, instead of saying “she is my best friend and roommate,” you could have the character mention a time when they were younger and she was a fat lot of help that time, too. This would give the reader an idea of things the main character enjoys, how long they’ve known each other without having to say it (twice), and give an opportunity to flex her voice more.
D: I sense worry mixed with bravery. I’d love to see a little more reasons why your character would be willing to go meet with a potential stalker. Tying a clue of her past into her reasoning could help us see some more about your character.
C: Unsure of the genre, this is tricky. If you’re writing a thriller, then for sure I’m worried she won’t come back…almost too much so. Why would you meet a creeper if you thought you were going to die. I’m not convinced I should be sympathetic at all to her. If, however, I knew this was a romance going in, I would not be concerned for her safety.
D: The threat of not making it back alive provides a nice bit of tension.
C: She seemed a mix of curious and resigned. And like Dedra said above, without knowing what would possess her to go meet a “creeper” who might kill her…I’m not connecting with the glib vibe she’s throwing out.
D: I didn’t have a strong emotional connection with this. I’m slightly concerned about your character’s well-being. I think the emotions would ratchet up if I could understand why it’s so important for her to meet with the stalker.
C: Adult / New-Adult
C: Sigh. I so badly want this to be a thriller so I can be anxious for her right now. But my guess is a romance.
D: Suspense romance?
Hook (Reason to Keep Reading):
C: To meet the guy. Though I’d be more anxious to do so if a) I had a name. She looks at the card. Give us the info on it and what she thinks about that. b) Where she met him. This can be a one-line half-thought, but some indication of when and/or how long it’s been since she received the card would be helpful. c) If she seemed more worried. She asks her best friend a shallow question, gets a surface answer. Neither express dread, or frankly, curiosity, and then she heads out. If you want the reader to be concerned for your main character, you either need to amp up the threat and how oblivious your character is to her doom, or make her just as nervous as the reader.
D: She’s going to the meet so I’m expecting something to come of it.
D: There’s a lot of lightheartedness with your character’s voice. The last line provides the tension, but I wonder if being consistent with the tone would help. Maybe she could envision how she’ll die by ferret bites or something to tie in with her subtle humor that you’ve crafted.
Main Character Goals:
C: To…die? I honestly don’t know. She wants to meet with a “creeper” but that’s not something I can relate to at all without more information, so it kind of seems like a death wish.
D: She’s going to go meet with the stalker. This gives me some decent intrigue to keep reading, but I don’t know why she’s willing to go.
Where to focus energy:
C: Take your masterfully crafted physical descriptions and apply that skill to your emotional descriptions. I love rippling hair and ferret faces, now give me belly-aching stress and a fiery resolve to learn what the creeper wants (or you know, whatever it is that’s driving her out to a potential death). Also, I would develop the relationship with her friend more. If this character is recurring, then the audience will connect better if you show why they’re best friends instead of just saying it. And unless the brief conversation between the roommate is necessary, I’d adjust or cut it. I like seeing that she’s not alone, but we don’t really learn much about either one of them or the situation from it. It’s important to make every word count in the beginning of a book!
D: There are some unnecessary phrases and dialogue that could be removed to move us to the action faster. There is a lot of the conversation focused on the roommate, but I’d love it to reflect more about your character and her internal debate. If the dialogue is essential make it influence your character’s decision. I like to look at what’s essential. What do I have to get across? Then I trim away everything else. What do you want to make the reader feel? What do you want us to understand about your character? Make sure those are coming across with your dialogue.
If you’d like to submit your own document for critique, then go to our Free Critiques page.