First-Page Critique #108

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 #108

[Submitted Manuscript]

Alex rubbed his eyelids and shimmied down his tie. He avoided the mass of correspondence in his grip and dumped it onto his tiny kitchen counter to deal with later. Mr. Martin’s demands thumped through his head as he slipped off his shoes. He’d worked for the financial institution for two years now, and lacked knowledge in too many facets. His brain felt like it was impaled by a mace-repeatedly, his skull ready to explode with everything that had overwhelmed him since… Since his escape-which he didn’t want to think about right now. He wanted a drink.

The dark liquid scantily filled the bottom of the glass when he paused, clenching his teeth. He wasn’t a believer in mind-body-soul voodoo practices. Where he came from, it was the spout of witches, the delirious, or those of dark oaths, but his darling, Edi, insisted he learn to reach his soul, calm his mind, and breathe his body to health rather than drink his inner-termites away. And he’d do anything for Edi. Of course he’d never admit to her he’d compared her techniques to such evil things.

She’d only agreed to their exclusive relationship two months prior, but in that time every dead thing within him was resurrected. His senses, his emotions, his purpose, his dreams. She made him unregretful about his escape from his birthright, a feat he’d never thought possible. And even though there would always be natural, gnawing guilt, she miraculously made him happy. Ecstatic even.

He pushed away the temptation-filled glass and dropped onto his couch. His eyes closed and he inhaled with purpose, flexing and stretching his hands, neck, and back. Pressing his thumb to each of his fingertips, he replayed the sweet memory of meeting Edi. It never faded, and it prodded him to remember just how lucky he was to court her, but also just how much he could lose. Was it too early to strip the armor protecting his heart? He exhaled and glanced at the velvet-covered box on the counter. He would find out tonight.

Critique #108

Greatest strength: 

C: The hook at the end of this chapter would definitely make me turn the page! A 2-month long serious relationship to a woman his happiness hinges on and already a ring. I’m predicting delicious disaster.

D: I love your descriptions. You’ve taken emotions and imbued them into how you describe objects and actions. Excellent job. And you end with a hook–awesome!

Character development: 

C: I have mixed feelings on this one. Alex comes across downtrodden in tone and body language, but internally says he’s happy. Some addition of visceral reactions or even just body cues that show the joy he says Edi brings would help the reader gauge his current character a little better.

D: I’ve gotten a lot of information about Alex in this page. He’s feeling overwhelmed, he’s willing to sacrifice what he wants for someone else’s ideals, and he’s in love. I’d love to see more of these details come from dialogue, though, so it doesn’t just feel like backstory.


C: There’s a tiny hint of tension with his escape, but as the reader I don’t know enough about it to feel the urgency or anything else about it. There’s tension at the end with the box, though.

D: Tension is alluded to, but I’m not really feeling it because this is more of a narrative than a scene. I think I’d easily feel tension if Alex interacted with someone because you’re descriptions are spot-on for me.


C: Again, I’m definitely getting the worn-out, beaten down by life vibe, but I’m not receiving the feelings he has for Edi. Instead of saying that she was his world, you might consider adding specific instances in which his life has improved because she’s there. What dreams did she give him back and why? What purpose does he feel now because of her? Why does he not regret his past decisions anymore? You don’t have to hit the reader over the head with it, but casually mentioning a sentence about how she laughed whenever he’d worry and how that let him know she was all that mattered (or you know, something relevant to your story and written in your words), would give a much crisper picture of what she means to him.

D: You have the foundation for the emotions to come out, just give us more story through interactions and dialogue. Let us feel his opinions about Edi through talking to her, or cleaning up after her. Yes, he’s putting the bottle down for her and that can work, but it would come across better if he was on the phone with her, or something else so it doesn’t come across as backstory. I glaze over narratives, but I jump into dialogue and action.


C: Adult

D: Adult


C: No idea. A mystery escape and an already established romantic partner don’t give me a lot at this point. If I picked it off a shelf, I’d honestly say horror. You have the good-that-might-turn-bad element in the romance and a shady mystery that haunts an already magic/supernatural-skeptical main character. All you’re missing is the creepy house left in a will.

D: The ring-box makes me think romance, but there is some definite mystery vibes with action because of the escape. I’m hoping for an action/romance.

Triggers & Delays (Reasons to Keep Reading): 

C: The box at the end. There are a few awkwardly worded sentences and a lot of telling instead of showing to get to before that point. It’s a common misconception that you have to withhold everything from the reader at the beginning. Giving specifics (just a bit more about his escape, for instance) would help me feel that was a trigger instead of a passing fact.

D: The ring box definitely has my attention, but you also got me curious about that escape. You mention the escape again two paragraphs down and this time tell us he escapes his birthright, but it feels maybe too vague. Maybe not. It depends on how the rest of it goes. I suggest that when you talk about the escape again, you give the readers slightly more details. You teased at the beginning, now give us some substance. Readers won’t invest if you only tease. Prove that you’re trustworthy by giving a chunk of info: a memory, an association with a tangible object, something that helps us feel and understand why he needed to escape or that he’s better/worse off for going through with it.


C: Skeptically hopeful?

D: Bringing up the escape makes me think of danger. So Dangerously hopeful.

Main Character Goals: 

C: To marry Edi.

D: To overcome his past and move on with Edi.

Where to focus energy: 

C: I would clean up the prose so they read a little crisper, and I would focus on developing the relationship he has with Edi a little more instead of just telling us it exists and he’s happy that it does. I might also give just a tiny bit more about the escape he made OR the consequences of his escaping with more specific detail so the reader cares.

D: Get us to some action/dialogue sooner so the things you mention can come across more naturally, instead of as backstory. I’m impressed with how many details you packed into this page, so I’m confident you can do it effectively. I’d love to read your edits as this intro has my interest piqued.

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


  1. I truly appreciate this detailed and specific feedback. It made me so excited to continue writing, and a relief to see this page from new eyes! Writing is personal, so I have a difficult time seeing where I’m wandering without another person’s input. Thank you for your honest and constructive critique! I appreciate your time and have loved the information you provide on this website.

    1. Holly,
      We’re so glad that you found helpful advice in the feedback. The revision process can feel daunting because writing is personal! And it is normal to feel adrift without feedback from others. So thank you for trusting us to help you improve your work. We love helping our fellow writers find their voice and be the best they can be.
      Most of all, remember to keep writing!

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