First Impact: GRIMOIRE by Marcy

— October 17, 2012 (14 comments)
Time for another First Impact critique. Remember, anyone who leaves a critique in the comments is eligible to win a 15-page critique from author Jodi Meadows.

And this feature can only continue with your submissions! If you have a query letter, first page, or even back cover blurb you'd like critiqued, send it to Details here.

Thank you, Marcy, for letting us take a look at your YA Historical Paranormal. As always, this is just my opinion. You are welcome to disagree.

Chapter One ~ February 1805

The last sentence threw me off on my
first read. I think the problem is the
first sentences are a bit misleading.
It was a fine day for a sale, brisk but sunny; -- a good day for traveling, as evidenced by the crowd in the lane. Most came to buy. Some came out of curiosity. But none of them noticed her sitting in the hall, left with nothing but a single trunk.

I love this paragraph. Great voice.
Great emotion. Totally draws me in.
Arlen watched them, blinking back furious tears, winding her fingers together so tight it hurt. She itched to slap their hands away from whatever they touched, snatch back what they'd bought. How dare they? These were her things!

Except they weren't.

Not anymore.

How long ago did this happen? How
fresh is her pain?

This last sentence is a bit awkward.
It had been an accident according to the coroner. Her parents, coming home from a dinner party in nearby Saxton Greene, were killed when their carriage careened into the pond at the entrance to the property. They were found with their driver all frozen and stiff the next morning when one of the kitchen maids walked in from the village.

And according to Mr. P. T. James Esquire, Ssolicitor to her father's estate, there was no money, therefore, nothing to bequest bequeath. In fact, the estate's debts were such that everything would have to be sold.

Now all the pretty things her parents had collected, the baubles and crystal lamps, the paintings in their gilt frames, the plants in the conservatory - even the lovely gown she was supposed to wear for her coming out ball - were walking out in the hands of strangers.

It was all she could do not to scream.

Adam's Thoughts
What a horrible day for Arlen. This is such a great start -- I'm feeling Arlen's pain and wondering what the heck is going to happen to her (does she become Batman? Please tell me she becomes Batman).

The only major thing I want to say about this is about the opening paragraph. It feels tricksy to me, but not in a good way. I like the irony of it -- that it's a nice day for a sale, but the sale totally sucks. But I don't like feeling like I was tricked into believing one thing, when the story's about another.

I also noticed a lot of little errors here and there -- misplaced commas, bad capitals, misused semicolons, etc. Not so much that I think you can't write (you obviously can, and well), but enough that I noticed.

On the one hand, I understand you shouldn't have to worry about these things until the meat of the story is polished. I get that.

On the other hand, I consider them to be our katas. Ultimately, we should be so familiar with them we don't even think about them anymore. We just do it right. I say this for everyone, myself included. Learn to care :-)

What do you guys think about this piece? Does the opening paragraph work for you? If not, how would you fix it?

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  1. I'd have to say that the ironic opening worked for me, though all the other things you pointed out, Adam, I agree with.

    I was thoroughly impressed with the word choice for many things. The word choice helped to place me in the proper time period and location, giving me a fairly decent foundation to build upon for the read.

  2. The story and voice are very engaging. I can feel Arlen's pain too.

    I do like the opening line about the sale, but what confused me was the "traveling" followed by the "trunk." I thought she was one of the travelers. Maybe this would be enough to make things clear:

    It was a fine day for a sale, brisk but sunny[], as evidenced by the crowd in the lane. Most came to buy. Some came out of curiosity. But none of them noticed her sitting in the hall, left with nothing but a single trunk.

  3. I think I may have done the query for this back in the day.

    Sadly, I am once again putting out fires here at work, so I'm going to have to try to come back tonight.

  4. I tripped over the same places Adam did. Especially with the first paragraph. BUT, i do like what you're trying to do there. I think it's clever and a fun way to open the story, i think it just needs a bit more work before you get there.

    The description in the second paragraph was awesome. And overall, i really liked it and would keep reading. It's a great place to start the MS.

    Good job and good luck!

  5. I, too, was a bit confused by the opening paragraph, but I think it just needs a bit of tightening and clarification. I'm not sure the author meant to be tricksy, just that it wasn't worded as well as it could have been. Which is a shame, because it seems that agents get so many queries, that they may immediately skip this one based on a wonky first paragraph.

    The rest is minor, and as Adam noted, issues with commas, etc.

    My only *real* issue is that I felt so strongly for Arlen in her pain that I wanted to know where she went from there. Some clue as to her journey ahead would be much appreciated. Batman? How about Catwoman? ;) Or a cat burglar. Yes! A seeming downward spiral that takes off when Arlen takes control of her future via some creative redistribution of the wealth of others.

  6. First thing first, and this is oh so important, ground me in a a scene in the first few lines.

    Here, are we in the lane, or in the hall? I don't know know of any dimension in which it can be both.

    Reading on, it seems the lane is crowded with shoppers hoping to crowd into the hall for some kind of estate sale. This is fine, in fact, it's great, but make sure it's clearer from the get go, or you risk losing the reader.

    "They were found with their driver," needs a comma to set off the clause, or else it sounds like the driver was the only one stiff and frozen.

    The fact that Adam knows bequest is a noun and bequeath is a verb is one of the many nerdy reasons why we're friends. Either that, or he plays too many computer games.

    Beyond that, I completely agree with Adam. This is a fine beginning, and even if she doesn't turn into Batman, I'm sure it's an awesome story. In fact, go read the query, or the critique, Adam. Doesn't it sound cool?

    Finally, here is my attempt at rewriting the opening:

    It should have been a fine day for a sale, brisk but bright with noonday sun--a good traveling day, as evidenced by the crowd in the lane, all funneling their way toward the manse. Most came to buy; some came only to fondle and browse, overwhelmed by their curiosity. Regardless, not a single soul noticed her sitting in the hall, left with nothing but a single trunk, not nearly large enough to hold the emptiness in her heart.

    I'm over-doing it here, a bit, because that's what I do, and how I write, and you certainly shouldn't copy me, because I'm a gas-bag, but hopefully I illustrate my point: that your opening really works for me, as long as you clear up whether the narrator is outside in the lane, or inside in the hall.

  7. I agree; the second paragraph is stronger, more interesting. I've tried to combine them and add more action, while strenghtening at least one verb, and clarifying some indefinite pronouns.

    The noisy and bad-smelling buyers crowded past Arlen and entered the auction hall, hoping to seize what was rightfully hers. Blinking back furious tears, she wound her fingers around her one trunk of belongings so tight they ached. She itched to slap the buyers' hands away from the precious books and gifts from her father and snatch back the bonnet her mother had given her for her birthday. How dare they buy her possessions?

  8. There's good contrast in the first paragraph, but I'd either try it like Matt or FW said or start with her sitting there in the shade, and then say what she's watching - the people out in the sun.

    The paragraph with the accident has two passive verbs, and it reads like only the driver was frozen. Also, it sounds like they rolled into a small pond, which doesn't sound like it would take them all, even in the cold.

    Here's one way you might try it:

    It had been an accident according to the coroner. An accident that claimed her parents when their carriage careened off the bridge into the river. A gameskeeper came upon their bodies at dawn, frozen on the rocks.

    What I like about the pond version, though, is it sounds like it wasn't any accident, which of course is loaded with drama.

    Other than that, a good sympathetic heroine in a tough spot is a great way to begin a novel.

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. Marcy, my dear, I enjoyed reading your first page. I'm intrigued with the main character, I'm hooked into her emotions, and I would definitely read on.

    However, I wish you would add more scenery here and be more specific as to where Arlen is. Since you mentioned the hall and folks coming to buy her parent's items, I'm guessing it is her home, no? I think you should clarify that.

    Also, I don't have any idea of what your premise is here or what this is leading to. Usually on the first page I can uncover a brief version of an eventual premise, but I didn't receive that here. Although I liked your opening, I think it would have a more significant effect if it had purpose that pertained to the theme. I hope you understand what I mean. ;-)

    I'd read more, good luck!

  11. Hi Everyone!

    Being a writer myself, I know how brave we must be with putting our writing "out there" to be gone through with a fine tooth comb. Ouch! So, I will start out with something positive. I love the concept of the story! After reading, I feel Arlen's dilemma and want to know what she will do after she loses her possessions and is destitute!

    I agree with most....the first paragraph needs more description. Maybe add some depth into the surroundings to give the reader more to grasp. You have used both "lane" and "hall", which is it inside or outside?

    I like the hint of irony_"...a fine day for a sale..." I'd maybe even make it more sarcastic, showing how one might be pretty bitter about losing all his belongings. For example-"It was a fine day for a sale, if one didn't mind everything you hold dear getting fondled, scrutinized, and sold to complete strangers for a fraction of what it was worth."

    Good Job, Marcy! Thanks for sharing and keep on plugging away!

  12. Marcy,
    I very much enjoyed this first page. The story, so far, offers enough intrigue for me to want to read on.
    Writing a novel is an unending journey of corrections and tweaks. Reading and re-reading is the best thing you can do to catch those little mistakes.
    Good luck!

  13. I found the descriptions of the accident and no money left to be a bit of an information dump in a telling sort of way for a first page. I would have rather have this information threaded through and shown via her thoughts or actions as the sale progressed. I know it's acceptable to "tell" when necessary, but I'm not sure that the first page is the right place...

    I too would cut 'a good day for traveling" from the first sentence as it threw me out what is an important first moment in a new story. I was also a little confused as to whose perspective we are in as you mention "as evidenced by the crowd in the lane" and then skip to the girl sitting in the hall. I'd try to keep with the girl and only describe what she can see. If there's a big crowd, describe the hall and how the crowd are picking up and sifting through the goods on display.

    Loved the second paragraph.

    Just my thoughts, take what helps and leave what doesn't.

  14. The ironic opening worked for me, but it's too abrupt. We go from viewing the sale on the road to suddenly being INSIDE the house staring at her and her grief. Connect the dots and use her grief to do it. No one who came to the sale stopped to notice Arlen sitting on her trunk, crying. No one who picked up her mother's China to look for chips felt the agony... Blah blah blah. You can do it better and in your own voice, but you see what I'm saying? That way, you can tell us what happened to the parents, help us feel Arlen's grief at the loss and you'll lose a lot of that "info dump" feel because of the grief expressed. This has a lot of potential. I see it's paranormal. It would be nice if some suggestion of what makes it paranormal could be worked in. Not necessarily the person, but just a hint of strange or "wrong." I thought it was straight forward historical until I scrolled back up and saw Adam's heading. Good luck with it!