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First Page: STRANGER AT THE HELL GATE

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Nightfall never came without a price in this city.

Like so many others in this world, the city was a conglomeration of concrete and chrome, its suburbs spinning off from the center like great galactic arms. Humans huddled together, heaping dwelling upon dwelling, building their spires in admirable attempts to pierce the skies. In time, the city’s heart grew so thick and congested that sunlight could not penetrate its depths. Day and night alike were eternally cloaked in a blanket of electric illumination. People moved in masses, caught in the ebb and flow of common, unremarkable life.

Further from the city’s center, the architecture thinned, the population thinned. Here, the sunlight reached the earth, washing the slower pace of less-urgent living in a warm glow. By daylight, the streets were touched by light’s grace, each cloudless day a blessing.

By night…that blessing was forgotten.

A woman in travel-worn trousers and a half-cloak hurried through the trash-strewn streets. Soon, the sun would set and night would begin its chaotic reign. She didn’t want to spend another night hiding in a church. She didn’t want to spend another night looking for a church to hide in.

The sunset painted the buildings with a desperate wash of sullen orange, doing little to gentle the harshness of weathered stone. The light created long shadows, shadows she ‘d swear moved as she strode through the deserted streets.

She covered her mouth and nose against the scent of smoke and sulfur, so thick in the air that she tasted it. The woman knew full well there were dark things that kept to the shadows, waiting for daylight to die. Those dark things were hungry for the moment when the shadows would swallow the city, giving them free range.

Careful to keep to the still-sunlit center of the street, she moved quickly and determinedly through the city, whispering a quick prayer of thanks when she caught sight of her destination. A green neon sign over the porch blinked into life, gleaming through the rising shadows: DEMONIC INTERVENTIONS.

By the time she’d climbed the steps, sunlight had surrendered to the damnable dusk. She pulled her dusty cloak more tightly around her and shivered.

Not a good omen, she mused. It wasn’t in her nature to be superstitious but she couldn’t suppress the chill.

It wasn’t the nicest building in town. It may well have been the least inviting. Something about a stone door bearing strange symbols made a person think twice about knocking.

Or maybe it was the deep claw marks that marred it. That could have been it, too.

When the door was yanked open by a silver-haired man wearing little more than pants and a pair of leather boots, Sonya almost turned and ran down the steps. Thin lines of scars dotted his body like dewy cobwebs and a black leather strap crossed his chest, hinting at a weapon on his back. But that wasn’t what scared her.

It was the flatness of his stare. He had the coldest eyes she’d ever seen. Those eyes told her that scars and weapons were both daily exercises.

The man did a quick up-and-down glance before crossing his arms, filling the doorway. “I think you got the wrong address, lady.”

Everything about him screamed run. It took a lot of effort not to listen to his unspoken signals.

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

18 Comments

  1. Holly Bush
    Jun 30, 2013 @ 07:55:43

    This is a very strong first page. I don’t read this genre, and am not actually sure what genre it is, but it doesn’t matter because a sense of urgency and despair are apparent and I am interested in why the woman is on the steps and who the man is with the cold eyes. I would make one suggestion to the author – try making the paragraph that begins with ‘A woman in travel-worn trousers’ and the following short paragraph, your first paragraphs. Follow that with the ‘Like so many others in this world’ and the rest of the description of the city and then ‘She (or The woman) covered her mouth . . .’

    This may not make this page any stronger because it is quite good already but I’ve found sometimes that opening from a person’s perspective can hold a reader through that critical first 250 words. In any case, Bravo!

  2. Lil
    Jun 30, 2013 @ 08:16:35

    I agree, this is a very strong opening. It doesn’t sound like the sort of thing I normally read, but that doesn’t keep me from being impressed.

    I do have one quibble. After the opening (and scary) line, you have a paragraph telling me that night and day were indistinguishable in this city. That confused me, and makes me agree with Holly. Starting with the woman might be a better opening. (Although if this were mine, I’d find it hard to ditch that opening line.)

  3. Carolyne
    Jun 30, 2013 @ 08:40:36

    I like this! I’ll get down to nitpicks pretty quickly since I don’t have major criticisms except for that second paragraph.

    I agree that it’s a strong opening line, and I’d suggest losing the second paragraph entirely and waiting until later to give us the low-down on the architecture if we need to see it. You could fold a hint about the different parts of the city into the next paragraph, with something like: “Far from the congested city’s center where day and night alike were cloaked in an electric haze, its massive architecture thinned. The population thinned. By day sunlight reached the earth, and the streets …” You’d still have the contrast between the inner and outer city, and the reader won’t have to climb over that second paragraph about someplace we are not, to get into the part about the place where we are (“Here,” where the sunlight reaches the earth).

    Another quibble: the woman in this-this that and a this-this that hurrying through the this-this that. It’s a bit clunky.

    I also wonder about the phrase “less-urgent living,” which suggests suburban peacefulness and tidy backyards, not an area that is less populated but still reeks of sulphur and danger.

    The first page definitely pulls me in. A little more tweaking and I’d have no quibbles at all.

  4. Lynne Connolly
    Jun 30, 2013 @ 10:55:52

    Just tell me when it’s coming out, will you? There are things, but I think they go with your voice. I’d be afraid of changing it. Like Holly, this isn’t a genre I read a lot of, but I’d definitely read this one.

  5. reader
    Jun 30, 2013 @ 10:56:25

    I agree with your other commenters. Start with Sonya and use her name right off, in the first sentence. Give us her, first, so we can start connecting with her immediately. There’s too much city description that we don’t really need. You could trim it a bit and move it further down, once we’re following along with Sonya.

    I really like some of your descriptions, mostly the ones in the later paragraphs. Some of your earlier descriptions feel a little too contrived or artsy. The later ones feel more real and organic to the scene.

    Skip all “the woman” stuff and put us up close and personal with your character. The woman is too generic. You don’t want generic.

    I don’t read much of this type of story, either, so I don’t know if this beginning reads like well-trod ground to fans of this genre. However, your writing skills are strong enough that I’d keep reading further to see if it continues to be interesting. That’s what you want.
    Good luck with your work.

  6. Viridian
    Jun 30, 2013 @ 10:58:38

    I absolutely agree with Holly Bush. Start with the woman hurrying through the streets. Everything before that is blather — well-written blather, but blather nonetheless.

    This is a beautiful opening and I’d certainly keep going. Well done.

  7. Yttar
    Jun 30, 2013 @ 11:07:38

    I liked the world set up at the beginning of this more than the story once the woman was introduced. The world seemed interesting, hopefully sci fi/futuristic. Then we get to the woman’s clothes and that made me think this was high fantasy, not even urban fantasy. So unless this is science fantasy, I’d look at the genre coding words (at least for me) and see if they’re saying the genre you want them to say.

    Examples
    Chrome, galactic arms – science fiction, futuristic
    Trousers, half-cloak – high fantasy, historical
    Demonic Interventions – fantasy
    Concepts like “living” shadows and still believing in superstitions – fantasy
    “People moved in masses, caught in the ebb and flow of common, unremarkable life.” – dystopian

    Depending on which genre this first page falls under determines whether I’d want to read more. If it was straight up fantasy (high or urban), I’d probably pass on it. The concept seems overdone. Same as if it were dystopian. But if it fell under science fantasy, like the world suggests, then I’d want to read more.

    Still, I thought this page was rather well written.

    The only other thing I’d add was that I’d like the woman’s name introduced when she’s introduced. Because for so many paragraphs she’s refered to as the woman, I can only guess that when the first female name is used it is her, but I’m not sure.

    Good luck with this.

  8. theo
    Jun 30, 2013 @ 11:08:15

    I’m going to be the voice of dissension here and say that your opening with the city is great with just a few more tweaks to make us feel the oppressing atmosphere. You’ve almost made it a character and that works for me. I understood the city-without-sunlight idea that you’re going for and didn’t have any trouble with it, but I think it’s still a bit lightweight. However, without the city description, I think you might lose a lot of the tension here and I think in this instance, it works. But again, this is just me and obviously, the other commenters disagree completely.

    You do have a few areas that I think you can strengthen, but overall, one of the better first pages I’ve seen.

    Also, since I have no idea what genre this is, I’m going to step out in faith and say that with this opening page, I’d still read it. My genre of choice or no.

    Good luck!

  9. JL
    Jun 30, 2013 @ 11:24:15

    I also really liked this. I understand the comments saying to start with the woman hurrying, and I think that would work well. But I really did like the atmosphere of the city in the first paragraphs. It drew me in and gave me a sense of what kind of tone to expect for the rest of the book. I do feel like I’ve read this ‘type’ of opening many times before, but I found this unique in the details.

  10. hapax
    Jun 30, 2013 @ 12:12:11

    Assuming this is fantasy or science fantasy here, this is a genre I read LOTS, and your opening doesn’t sound at all cliched to me.

    There are a lot of places you could go with this story, and most of them are interesting.

    One small quibble — and it shows how strong in general your writing is that this really struck me — is that I’d dial back on the alliteration.

    I mean, *I’m* a sucker for alliteration, and even I found it a bit much here. In just the first big paragraph, I read “conglomeration of concrete and chrome”, “suburbs spinning off from the center”, “great galactic”, “humans huddled …. heaping”, “admirable attempts “, and so forth, and it goes on like that throughout the entire excerpt.

    Like any literary device, a pinch of alliteration adds flavor, too much is overwhelming.

    You’ve got some very rich metaphors going as well; you might want to be careful that they don’t clash too much. The city spinning out like a galaxy is a great image; but then a sentence later we’ve got the city’s “heart”, then a “cloak / blanket”, then the “ebb and flow” of life; unless these are cliches robbed of all meaning, the mixed metaphor comes off as something very strange.

    Similarly, you create a lovely scene with the “warm glow” of “light’s grace” as a “blessing”; then within paragraphs the same light is “desperate” and “sullen”.

    But these are VERY minor nitpicks. I only mention them at all because this is such a great opening, I want this to be the best it possible can be!

  11. Marianne McA
    Jun 30, 2013 @ 12:33:02

    Have we read an earlier draft of this? There was another door like that sometime ago IIRC.

    I agree with Theo: I liked the opening paragraphs very much. They’re what made the page stand out for me. And I didn’t feel a need to know the woman’s name earlier than you gave it to us. Made sense to go from the general to the particular to meeting her as a character.

    The bit I thought was unnecessary was: “The woman knew full well there were dark things that kept to the shadows, waiting for daylight to die. Those dark things were hungry for the moment when the shadows would swallow the city, giving them free range.”

    You’ve already created that tension so beautifully in the first sentence, and this just seemed a less elegant repetition of your first statement – a little redundant, a little bit not trusting your readership to have assimilated that idea.

    But yes, really good. To misquote the advert: I don’t read demons, but if I did, these would be the kind of demons I’d read.

  12. Lucy Woodhull
    Jun 30, 2013 @ 13:50:36

    I enjoyed this, too. I don’t know what to tell you about lose the beginning/don’t lose the beginning. Most romance doesn’t open up with a sort-of omniscient narrator giving us the lay of the land. I might tell you to lose it/keep it based on whatever press you might be thinking of sending this to, or whichever agent. If it’s your first book, I might err on the side of losing it to be safe. You’d hate for someone to stop reading when the rest is so great. The first line can stay regardless.

    The pickiest of nits:

    1. “The light created long shadows, shadows she ‘d swear moved as she strode through the deserted streets.” <- "Strode" seemed odd to me, as it suggests a lot slower manner of moving than the hurrying she's really doing. Small quibble, I know.

    2. Lose "the woman." If she's your MC, and we're in her POV, she does not think of herself as "the woman." She thinks of herself as herself, with a name and everything.

    3. The half-cloak made me think of Hobbits, like Yttar. It might work in your grander scheme, but it did stick out to me.

    Good luck! But I bet you'll sell this quick if the rest is as strong! :)

  13. Caro
    Jun 30, 2013 @ 17:22:57

    I don’t know what genre this is yet, but I, for one, loved they way this opened. It tells me I’m in the hands of someone who knows how to put words together to paint a really fascinating picture of a city. Maybe it’s self-indulgent as a writer to play with words like this, but only someone who has real talent can pull this off. I vote this writer pulled it off.

  14. Kate Sherwood
    Jun 30, 2013 @ 17:41:27

    I’m definitely in the minority, but to me this felt overwritten. Even your first sentence, with its double-negative, was a bit too much for me. (For my taste, “Nighfall always came with a price in this city” is cleaner. Or “In this city, nightfall always came with a price,” for a bit more atmosphere).

    Some of the words felt as if they were chosen more for their sound and effect than for their meaning – like, what’s so “admirable” about the attempt of the buildings to reach the sky? I agree that it sounds great, but you’re writing something that feels very dystopic, with overcrowding and overdevelopment (as I read it), so I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be admiring.

    Similarly, I like some of the imagery, until I think about it. All the stuff about the sunset washing the walls with orange is great, but even in the suburban part of the city, by the time the sun was low in the sky sunlight really wouldn’t be reaching anything but the periphery, right?

    As someone above said, the alliteration felt overdone to me, as well. I thought you also overused the repetition (“The architecture thinned, the population thinned,” and “She didn’t want to spend another night”x2).

    And I flat-out don’t understand what it means to say that scars and weapons are both daily exercises.

    I’m intrigued by the setting and the characters, but for me, the writing is trying too hard. Obviously there are others who really enjoyed it, so maybe it’s nothing to worry about. But if you were able to tidy up some of what I’m catching without losing what others are enjoying, maybe your story would be even stronger?

  15. Jillian
    Jun 30, 2013 @ 20:45:32

    AWESOME!!!!
    Please, do not change so much as an “an”.
    I loved how you drew us in from a large overall, to the smaller picture, then, made it personal.
    I would order this book based on this first page alone.
    No “nit picks” here, just a sense of intrigue.

  16. Angela Booth
    Jun 30, 2013 @ 22:27:19

    I’m joining the crowd. I loved it. Once it’s published, and I’m sure it will be, if your blurb sucked me in, I’d read it — even though it sounds as if it’s a fantasy, and I don’t read much in that genre.

    Well done. :-)

  17. Maria
    Jul 01, 2013 @ 03:15:43

    The first line made me stop reading. I thought it was the mix of ‘came’ ‘never’ and ‘without’ that made it clunky.

  18. KitKat
    Jul 03, 2013 @ 09:34:16

    I never read whatever genre this is. I really liked the opening though it is really good. It made me want to keep reading. It kind of reminded me of that movie Priest. It’s kind of dark and dreary. Good luck with your novel! You’re off to a great start!

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