Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

First Page: Death Wish

Welcome to First Page Saturday. Individual authors anonymously send a first page read and critiqued by the Dear Author community of authors, readers and industry others. Anyone is welcome to comment. You may comment anonymously. You can submit your own First Page using this form.


I rolled my shoulders and assessed the wraith in front of me. The thing howled like an enraged gust of wind. It was trapped within the circle of containment I’d just cast. There was only two ways it could go now. Back from wherever it came from or through my Rifter.

The Rifter’s blade was a fine curved one, similar to that of a Japanese Tachi, except that it was made of tempered glass, shorter and über light. If I were to whack a human being with it they’d probably sucker-punch me after snapping it like a twig. But on a wraith? It was lethal. If I so much as touched the essence of the wraith with its blade, it would turn into a pile of ash-gray powder. Literally.

The wraith was floating too high up, six feet off the ground. Mind you, at five-feet-six, even if I jumped, I didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of attaining its glowing essence, which was around where its top would be if it were tangible. From afar, the wraith looked like a ball of shiny with a spider’s web thrown on it. Up close and personal, the wraith’s body – if I could call it that – had a quietly smoldering quality to it, undulating like a cape made of fine silvery smoke from burning incense. Deadly smoke.

Some unlucky people confused them with benign spirits and as a result their souls now belonged to the dark prince of the Down & Under, good old Luc himself. A wraith literally sucked the soul out of you, given half a chance.

I blew at my bangs. Okay, let’s do this. Focus. That was the first step, Wes had taught me – that’s my godfather, but more on him later, after I made non-sniffable cocaine out of my spirit friend here. I took a deep breath, shut my eyes and started counting. One. Two. Three. And so on. I could feel the wraith drifting downward, closer to me. I paid it no mind. Now, imagine. Thin tendrils of airy white smoke escaped from my finger tips in my mind’s eye. I waited for the smoke to condense into the thicker texture of morning mist in a forest. I was ready. My eyes snapped open. Finally, channel.

My fingers sent a blast of cold air toward the wraith. The eerie air surrounded the thing and drew it closer to me, like a mini-tornado would. That’s what I loved about Aero. Closer. My other hand held the Rifter’s cloth-bound wooden grip, neither too tight nor too loose. Still closer. The coarse black cloth was good for clammy palms, I’d been told – not that my hands were clammy. Okay, maybe just a tiny bit. Now. I went at the wraith with all I had, running the Rifter’s blade through it.

I missed, barely grazing its intangible mid-section. Dammit. Timing was everything in spellcasting. As the Aero effect faded, the wraith went up and howled, as if the blade had singed it. It had. Then the wraith came back at me with a vengeance. I dodged past it and pivoted to face it. My gaze glued on it, I retreated, adopting a defensive stance.

I closed my eyes for a few, held out my fingers and sent another blast of cold air – this one more powerful. The air began to take shape, slowly etching into a distinct form. A falcon.

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. Marianne McA
    Jun 01, 2013 @ 05:28:18

    Everyone will say this – Aero is a chocolate bar in the UK.

    Also ‘Wes had taught me – that’s my godfather, but more on him later’ – reads like the narrator is telling me the story after the event, whereas the rest feels very much in the moment.

    Overall, I really like your voice, but I lost interest after the first couple of paragraphs. Even though it’s explained well, the technicalities of wraith killing don’t interest me, and the few hints we get about her larger world aren’t quite enough to pull me into the story.

  2. SAo
    Jun 01, 2013 @ 05:47:20

    There’s no emotion here. Was it hard to put the wraith in the circle of containment? Was the wraith scary? When the wraith came back at her with a vengeance, was she scared? What is the wraith feeling? Doing?

    You’ve got a very active scene — someone slaying an evil creature — and you’ve turned it into a sit-n-think. Frankly, your scene where she brings the wraith down could be an archery competition. Focus, Imagine, Channel. My fingers sent the arrow flying. I missed.

  3. Maria
    Jun 01, 2013 @ 06:12:14

    My first thoughts are that all the use of “was” isn’t helping. It makes you tell when you could show.

    It was trapped within … The wraith floated up and flung itself against the barrier.

    There was only two ways … It could disappear back into ether or travel through my Rifter, a finely curved blade …

    It was lethal … You can say that but unless we see it, then it’s telling.

    Second thoughts were that scene setting is missing at the beginning. And watch your use of “it”. There’s lots of action so it’s hard to get a sense of where I am in the story.

  4. Kate Sherwood
    Jun 01, 2013 @ 08:26:17

    You did a good job of starting with the action, but then you almost immediately stopped the action in order to give us a few paragraphs of background. If this is a fight scene, I want to see the character FIGHTING. You can give us the background information later, or, if you must, work LITTLE bits of it into the action as you go.

    You also need to watch your grammar – a few confused antecedents, as someone’s already mentioned, and a verb issue with “There was only two ways” (should be “were”). And I don’t think your use of “Mind you” makes sense – that’s usually used to introduce new, possibly contradictory information, and you’re using it to add supporting evidence. I’d leave it out entirely.

    You’ve got some interesting world building here (it’s not my genre of choice, so I don’t know if the ideas are original or not) and I’d like to see more, but I think you need to really tighten up your writing.

  5. Caro
    Jun 01, 2013 @ 09:18:47

    I like your writing. You have a definite voice and a way with words. True, there are some mistakes, but you can definitely write.

    Here’s my problem with this piece:

    A wraith literally sucked the soul out of you, given half a chance.

    And then she blows at her bangs. Hm. This is a fight scene and she’s trying not to get her soul sucked out of her, right? I’d think there’d be huge loads of tension, angst, fear, determination. But instead I get a bit of backstory and some wry comments about good old Luc. Well, I did get a dammit and some clammy hands, but she seems uber calm to me. So I guess I don’t relate to her.

    Here’s what I would like to see:

    I missed, barely grazing its intangible mid-section. Dammit.

    She’s fighting for her soul here. I want a lot more anger and fear than a simple Dammit.

    Timing was everything in spellcasting.

    And she failed here. So this might be a good spot to mention Wes – but just a drop. I don’t need any details. Just her feelings about what Wes would say if he were here and saw her miss.

    As the Aero effect faded, the wraith went up and howled, as if the blade had singed it. It had.

    Okay. What are her emotions here when she realizes she did hit? Wes would be proud. I will win this battle. I can do this. Make me connect to her.

    Then the wraith came back at me with a vengeance.

    And she feels what? Even a physical reaction – heartbeat, perspiration, something to let me know what she’s going through internally would be good.

    I dodged past it and pivoted to face it.

    Thinking what? Feeling what?

    My gaze glued on it, I retreated, adopting a defensive stance.

    So…. she’s feeling defensive? Insecure? Worried? I don’t really have a clue.

    Also – look at the page itself. This is a fight scene. Yet the paragraphs are pretty uniform and don’t show much white space. This lulls me as a reader – I don’t feel much tension. It’s so easy to fix too:

    I blew at my bangs.

    Okay, let’s do this.

    Focus.

    That was the first step, Wes had taught me – that’s my godfather, but more on him later, after I made non-sniffable cocaine out of my spirit friend here.

    I took a deep breath, shut my eyes and started counting.

    One.
    Two.
    Three.

    I could feel the wraith drifting downward, closer to me. I paid it no mind.

    Now, imagine. Thin tendrils of airy white smoke escaped from my finger tips in my mind’s eye. I waited for the smoke to condense into the thicker texture of morning mist in a forest. I was ready.

    My eyes snapped open.

    Finally, channel.

    I’ll end by saying again, you’ve got talent. This description is gorgeous:

    the wraith’s body – if I could call it that – had a quietly smoldering quality to it, undulating like a cape made of fine silvery smoke from burning incense. Deadly smoke.

  6. Lucy Woodhull
    Jun 01, 2013 @ 11:13:20

    I like your writing, and I think I’d be on board (although I’m bored of paranormal kick-ass ladies, honestly) if this were tightened up.

    I agree with the others that your heroine needs some emotions. So many in writing and in the movies, TV, etc. think that if your hero/ine shows no fear, it makes them badass. It just makes them unrealistic and unsympathetic. Character is revealed through what we feel and fear, and such things also create tension and empathy for the character, both of which are lacking here now.

    Also, 99% of the paranormal-demon/wraith/vampire/werewolf-hunter-lady books I read start with this exact scene (or one where they’re running): she’s alone, battling her baddie of choice, and cocky, self-assured, no realistic emotions. I’m so tired of it, I would never read on. Just because you throw your lady in danger first off doesn’t mean I automatically care. Give me a reason. And maybe start with a different hook that isn’t so overdone.

    “I rolled my shoulders and assessed the wraith in front of me.”

    This is not a great first sentence. Rolled shoulders? Okay. Who cares? Did she crack her knuckles, too? She “assessed” the wraith? Yawn. You can do better — the rest of the page proves it. That sentence tells us nothing about her, and barely anything about the situation. The rest of the sentences in the first paragraph have the exact same rhythm. They do not build tension, and they don’t hook. Change it up, build to an urgency if you’re going to open with action.

    I like your voice a lot, but I feel like you need a breath of fresh air, fresh thinking that would imbue this with a situation and character that aren’t so tired. What makes YOUR heroine perfectly unique? What is she feeling, hoping, dreaming for?

    Good luck!

  7. Lori
    Jun 01, 2013 @ 11:42:18

    I don’t have anything much more to add than the previous commenters. I think it’s good, would prefer a better opening line and 100% love the difference Caro did in increasing tension.

    Be careful with the 4th wall: even though you’re writing in first person doesn’t mean you’re addressing the reader. Take out the “mind you’ and ‘more on him later’. That jars me as a reader and I know an editor who’d red pen the heck out of it.

    Still, I did like this and would read on. So good luck.

  8. Donna Thorland
    Jun 01, 2013 @ 11:42:34

    @Lucy Woodhull:

    Also, 99% of the paranormal-demon/wraith/vampire/werewolf-hunter-lady books I read start with this exact scene (or one where they’re running): she’s alone, battling her baddie of choice, and cocky, self-assured, no realistic emotions.

    I blame the Buffy cold-opens for this. They don’t translate well from one hour drama to fiction if we’re meeting a character for the first time.

  9. Wahoo Suze
    Jun 01, 2013 @ 13:26:05

    The thing howled like an enraged gust of wind.

    You lost me here. Gust of wind. Enraged gust of wind. Does not compute. I can buy the wind howling like a trapped wraith, but a trapped wraith howling like personified weather… I’m not in the story anymore, I’m trying to find a better simile for you.

  10. theo
    Jun 01, 2013 @ 16:43:33

    Mind you

    if I could call it that

    that’s my godfather, but more on him later

    I’d been told

    I’ve mentioned before that first person is not my friend and the above lines are again, a good example of why. Every one of those pulled me right out of the story. If you’re trying for smart and sassy and kickass, for me, it doesn’t work at all. I should be ‘seeing’ the story through the first person’s eyes, I should be in the moment with the first person narrator. I’m not. Those comments make it read like a manual. And I think too it’s because, as SAO said, there’s no emotion in this. She’s not invested in the moment at all. What does she feel? Smell? What does all this do to her physically? All I have are a few lines meant to convey something I’m just not getting here.

    Also, the last paragraph:

    I closed my eyes for a few, held out my fingers and sent another blast of cold air – this one more powerful. The air began to take shape, slowly etching into a distinct form. A falcon.

    made me go, huh? The first blast she sent drew it toward her like a tornado, but unless I’m missing something, it had no shape, no nothing that would make it appear like something. You don’t show us what the blast looked like, you tell us it acted like something.

    You may have a great story here, but for me, it’s just not tight enough or pulling me in enough. She blows at her bangs while she’s fighting a wraith? So does my daughter when she’s working on a homework problem.

  11. Angela Booth
    Jun 01, 2013 @ 18:02:10

    Your writing is wonderful, except for a couple of minor problems. Sincere kudos for that.

    That said… art is emotion. As Caro and others pointed out, you don’t feel it, so we don’t feel it.

    Your entire first page is unrealistic. I think you’re trying for insouciance in your narrator. No one’s insouciant when they’re fighting for their life; and your narrator is fighting for her soul.

    A book isn’t a movie, or TV, or a video game. It’s emotion. You feel it, we feel it.

    Think about these words in your final paragraph, “I closed my eyes for a few”. REALLY? While fighting for her life, etc.? Those words sum up the problems with your first page. Fix them. Read some first-person accounts of how soldiers feel, when they’re in battle. They’re a long way from insouciant.

    Also, consider that your narrator’s fighting for her life and has loved ones. If these may be her last moments, she’s thinking about those she loves, and may never see again. We don’t get any sense of that here.

  12. Pratima (@FableWeavings)
    Jun 02, 2013 @ 13:45:44

    Hello everyone :) I’m the author. Ahem.

    Thank you all so SO much!! I really appreciate the feedback you’ve all given me. I’m grateful for the brutal honesty – this is what I was looking for when I posted this piece and I was served :) (Happily served, I assure you)

    I wrote this one a while back and acknowledge that there are quite a few issues with it. This is a straight-out urban fantasy and I realize that the opening scene and the general storyline is probably as cliché as one can get – which is mainly why I decided to dump it some time ago (it wouldn’t hold my interest and I got bored writing it).

    At the time I posted this, I guess I wanted to know if there was any hope in my writing in general. Even if I probably won’t be continuing with this particular story, I’ll keep all that precious advice in mind when working on my current stories :)

    And Caro and Lucy especially, thank you both for your fantastic advice :)

    Really, thank you all from the bottom of my heart for taking me to task :) Above all, thank you for giving me hope.

  13. Pratima (@FableWeavings)
    Jun 02, 2013 @ 13:56:08

    @Angela Booth: Completely agree that it lacks emotion :) Hmm, I never thought about reading first person accounts of how soldiers feel on the battlefield – I definitely check this out! Thank you for taking the time to read and critique :)

%d bloggers like this: