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First Page: Adventures of Pearl Whyte

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Chapter 1: Death of a Legend

A full moon illuminates a cloudless black night sky. A sixty foot long wooden hulled airship floats lazily in front of the moon; its ninety foot cigar shaped helium filled gasbag holds the double decked airship secure against the aether. Below, the city of Baltimore sleeps in the late night hours. The March winds blow steadily and the airship’s propellers twirl lazily keeping the ship at its station.

‘All hands, attention’ says Captain Turner. The portly thirty year old man strokes his thin close cropped beard before thrusting out his chest and both chins.

The airmen stand around in their sky blue uniforms staring expectantly at the Captain and the taller, muscular man beside him. A cool wind blows across the smooth wooden deck.

‘I know we have not been together long, but, I have been given an important task tonight and I am sure you men will acquit yourself admirably. I should hate to have anyone figure poorly in my report’ he says in a thin voice.

‘Ah, beggin’ the Captain’s pardon, but, what are we doing floating above an empty rail station?’
‘I’m glad you asked, Midshipman. There is a train due to arrive shortly carrying an important cargo. The USS Cerberus has been ordered to provide escort and see the train safely from Baltimore to Washington, DC.’

‘A train at this hour? Should we run out the guns or be on the lookout for English airships; seems too far inland for those boys’

‘Ah, good questions. Commander Whyte will handle the details of the mission and your preparations. I will be leaving him in charge, but, I have every confidence in all of you’ says Captain Turner before walking across the deck and entering the upper deck and his elegantly furnished Captain’s Cabin.

The muscular man straightens the white cuffs of his dark blue uniform jacket and picks imaginary lint from the gold braid of his sleeves before turning to the airmen.

‘Now, let’s stop polishing the brass and get to your stations. Midshipman Hampton, have your crews man the port and starboard gatling guns. Jefferson, I need you in the Crow’s Nest, shout out when you see the train arrive. I am not sure what manner of threat the USS Cerberus is suppose to guard against, but, I want all of us prepared for any threat. Hopefully, this will prove to be quiet night’s sailing and we’ll be able back at the airfield by morning’ says the Commander.

‘Commander Whyte, sir. Any chance we will be back at the airfield in time to attend the ten year celebration?’

‘Let’s hope so, Midshipman. I do believe my daughter’s beau has finally worked up the nerve to ask for her hand in marriage. It will do my heart good to know she will be well provided for’

‘Ah, Midshipman Jones, sir? He is a good match for Miss Pearl, if I may be so bold. I only mean that he is a fine young officer with a good future in the Aeronautical Corps ahead of him, sir’ says Midshipman Hampton. The young man looks down at the holy stone polished deck and absently rubs the back of his neck beneath his black hair.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

13 Comments

  1. SAO
    May 12, 2012 @ 05:37:16

    Well, I’ve read page one and can only guess that I haven’t met the hero, heroine and I don’t know what the plot is. Okay, I got the setting, but that’s not enough to draw me in. I’m not entirely sure if I’ve met a POV character.

    The tone is distancing: “The airmen stand around in their sky blue uniforms staring expectantly at the Captain and the taller, muscular man beside him.” This is omniscient POV and not very descriptive. There is no emotional reaction to anything. This may be because the scene is not very exciting, but I think the reverse may be true. The scene isn’t exciting because no one seems to be excited/worried/whatever about dropping the brass polishing in favor of manning guns. Is Whyte relieved/excited/happy for his daughter? Is Hampton sucking up to Whyte with his comments? Is he jealous of Jones? Looking to boost his friend’s standing with the friend’s future father-in-law? We don’t know these people, we don’t know why they do things and therefore, we don’t care and the scene is boring.

    You don’t need to start with action, but you do need to start with a POV character with a goal and a possible conflict to that goal. Hampton wanting to get back in time to prevent Pearl from marrying the wrong guy. (Note, I’m totally making this up, because you haven’t provided me with any information.)

    I will note your first sentence is a perfect example of why I hate present tense. The present tense is used for repeated or general actions and I read it that way; as a general statement about the illuminating properties of full moons. So, I started reading sentence 2 the same way, and it wasn’t until the end that I realized you were describing a specific scene and a specific moon. I dislike being jarred or confused, particularly in the first pages. And just to be picky: if the sky is illuminated, it is not black, it is blue, perhaps very dark blue, but not black. What the moon is really doing is illuminating the scene under the sky.

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  2. Kate Sherwood
    May 12, 2012 @ 06:43:32

    I share SAO’s feelings (well, except that I like present tense just fine).

    You’ve got some nice descriptive bits, but I’m not engaged enough in the story to care. There’s no sense of tension – whatever their mission is, it doesn’t seem too dangerous, given that we’re hearing people chatting about someone’s impending wedding at the same time. We don’t have a clear POV character yet, and maybe that’s deliberate because you plan to kill everyone on board in a fiery explosion. If that’s your approach, I’d get to it, or give us some other reason to care about these guys when they explode. So far, I don’t care about any of them, and don’t see any action happening.

    My Nitpick: I don’t know details of the social structure of your world, but I found the ornate uniforms, captain’s quarters, and “if I may be so bold”s to be a strange mix with the easiness of the commander and men’s discussion of his daughter’s relationship status. If the world is super-formal, I don’t think the conversation would have happened. If it’s not super-formal, why all the rituals?

    You also have some grammar issues you need to look at. Hyphens are needed between some words (“wooden-hulled airship”, etc.), commas or other punctuation marks are needed at the end of dialogue, etc.

    Good luck with this!

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  3. Ren
    May 12, 2012 @ 07:10:26

    You will meet people who will tell you that all adjectives and adverbs are evil and need to die. I’m not one of those people, but I will say you’re using way too many. There is no non-dialogue sentence free of them. There are six modifiers in one (compound) sentence describing the airship, which reads like a bulleted list of airship characteristics.

    There’s a lot of detail, but it’s not relevant detail. It doesn’t further readers’ understanding of what’s happening or why they should care. A POV character to filter the information would be useful. A guy watching his lardass captain spit on the deck he’d spent all afternoon polishing with holy stone brings me more into the story than an omniscient narrator stating the captain’s portly (and thirty and bearded…) and the deck is polished.

    I’m going to pick on “lazily” (which is used twice in the first paragraph, by the way) to explain why most adverbs are unnecessary. Here, it’s modifying “floats.” Floating is not something that can be done with great vigor; laziness is inherent, so “lazily” isn’t modifying the word at all. When modifiers aren’t modifying, THEN they’re evil and need to die.

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  4. Lynne Connolly
    May 12, 2012 @ 08:09:28

    There’s too much omniscient narrator here. Ask yourself who is “talking” when you are describing things? Then try to put it in the point of view of one of the main characters, that’s if you want to draw a reader in and get her to read page two.
    You need to brush up your grammar, especially your punctuation. Commas and hyphens are routinely omitted from this piece. Capitalization is also haphazard, being there when it shouldn’t be (eg Captain’s Cabin should be lower case) and absent when it should (gatling gun should be Gatling gun).
    Present tense – count me among the haters.
    Nothing happens, nothing. Someone I don’t care about makes an announcement about other people I don’t care about. Why should I read on?

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  5. Lil
    May 12, 2012 @ 08:18:31

    You could get rid of a lot of the description in here, which would allow you to get to the point much faster. Although you the author may need to know all the things you’ve discovered in your research, I the reader only need those things that are relevant to the story. The overuse of adjectives makes this sound as if it were written by a high school student.

    One thing that strikes me as odd is a midshipman daring to ask the captain about the mission and the captain considering that a good question rather than intolerable impertinence. Discipline seems extremely lax, which doesn’t fit with the formality.

    And you must fix the punctuation. When there are this many mistakes, it is hard to see anything else.

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  6. hapax
    May 12, 2012 @ 09:31:01

    The piled-up adjectives really distracted me, without adding anything to the story. Pick out one or two items that you want the reader to focus on, like a camera zoom-in, and save the descriptions for that. (Also, why are things like “Captain’s Quarters” and “Crows Nest” capitalized? And why should an airship, of all things, have a “crows nest”?)

    The dialog about the mission, etc., struck me as a textbook example of “As you know, Bob” (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AsYouKnow) and is a painful to read. The set-up tells me what I need to know already — this is steampunk, they’re military on a night mission, and this is absolutely the LEAST appropriate situation (except perhaps in the middle of running from the zombie attack) to start gossiping about balls and engagements and such forth.

    I did like the bit of characterization in the end, with Hampton rubbing his neck and staring at the deck, which to me hinted that perhaps he is a bit interested in Miss Pearl himself — unless it is another unnecessary detail, in which case it (and the whole conversation) must go.

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  7. reader
    May 12, 2012 @ 10:42:32

    This reads like you’re so focused and self-conscious about painting a specific scene, you’ve forgotten the people in the story. You’ve got (somewhat generic) details with a steampunkery flavor, plus a group of what feels like secondary (somewhat generic) characters standing around on their marks, speaking when it’s their turn to speak. They feel like cardboard cutouts and when they do speak, it’s all hearsay and not admissable in a real story.

    Please grab a couple of your important characters, the characters to whom the story belongs, put them center stage and let me know what they want and how desperate or eager they are to get it. Draw your focus away from the pretty scene and let me see some heart and soul. Then you’ll have something that will pull me to Page 2.

    Relax and have fun with your characters. You do have some nice description in there and you write readably (though I hate this tense, too.) I like the atmosphere of the story and if it were more character-focused with a sense of what’s at stake personally for someone, I would likely buy and read the whole thing.
    Good luck!

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  8. Lucy Woodhull
    May 12, 2012 @ 12:25:25

    Like Ren, I am not an anti-adverb- or anti-adjective-ite, but yikes: too many. Try googling the grammar and punctuation Mecca “The Owl at Purdue” to brush up on commas and especially hypens. The lack of hyphens threw me off reading several times. You’ve got the makings of a nice airship adventure here, if only you settle on a hero/ine and ground us in their thoughts and feelings about what is happening. We don’t need all the nitty gritty all at once. Let the story unfold and the backgrounds and deets will revel themselves in good time and not in s dump. Good luck!

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  9. Cervenka
    May 12, 2012 @ 14:09:15

    The harsh truth: I would read no further. You might have an interesting story in there, but as others have said, it’s buried under too much irrelevant detail and basic punctuation and capitalization errors. Your chapter title tells me there is a presumably important death coming up, yet I feel no sense of foreshadowing, nor do I have any indication of who (or what, if it’s the ship) will die, or why it’s important.

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  10. Bren
    May 12, 2012 @ 21:56:45

    The language needs severe tightening. I also don’t think all adverbs and adjectives are evil, but I do believe that the need for them dissipates when you choose a stronger verb for your sentence.

    My eyes couldn’t stop stumbling on them, especially when you stacked them on each other in long, drawn-out sentences.

    Here’s what I mean:
    A full moon illuminates a cloudless black night sky. (You don’t need “black” “night’ AND “sky”, pick one and delete the others).

    A sixty foot long wooden hulled airship floats lazily in front of the moon; its ninety foot cigar shaped helium filled gasbag holds the double decked airship secure against the aether.

    (This sentence is 31 words long. You have 6 words modifying “airship” and 6 words modifying gasbag. WAYYYY tooo much info and I stumbled over this sentence and had to force myself to read on).

    Below, the city of Baltimore sleeps in the late night hours. (This is a good, succinct sentence. More like this, please)

    The March winds blow steadily and the airship’s propellers twirl lazily keeping the ship at its station. (17 words, including 2 different adverbs to tell us that the airship is basically hovering in place).

    I could go on, but I think I’ve made the point. You might have the most interesting story ever buried under all these words but your average reader is probably not going to read on to dig it out. Tighten your prose, choose strong verbs and use adverbs and adjectives sparingly.

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  11. Bren
    May 12, 2012 @ 23:31:35

    oh just another tip, midshipmen are typically styled as Mr. Lastname in verbal address, never Midshipman Lastname

    http://debretts.com/forms-of-address/professions/armed-forces/royal-navy/midshipman.aspx

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  12. Maura
    May 13, 2012 @ 16:15:13

    I am a present-tense hater; it takes a lot for a first page to grab me to the point where I’d read on if it’s written in present. This one doesn’t. In addition to what others have said above… if this is called “The Adventures of Pearl Whyte,” why not introduce us to Pearl on the first page instead of starting off with a page of awkward exposition?

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  13. kim
    May 15, 2012 @ 10:24:27

    Count me among the present-tense haters. It only works in rare circumstances.

    I also agree with SAO above – I have absolutely no clue what’s going on, or who the main character is, or what he/she wants.

    The dialogue seems a little unnatural. I can’t describe it nearly so eloquently as some of the other commenters, but there is this weird mix of formality and informality going on that seems inconsistent. Perhaps that’s just the way they talk in this world, but I can’t grasp the level of fantasy present in the world to gauge it.

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