Welcome to our first-page critiques! These critiques are meant to give insight into how we might look at a manuscript as it comes across our desks on submission. We’ll strive to be critical but not mean. Because it’s only about 800 words, 2 pages at the most, the amount of feedback is necessarily limited—we don’t have access to more than a couple of pages!
It’s important to note that this manuscript was submitted specifically to be critiqued on the blog, we do not/will not use random submissions for this purpose. We’re not going to pull your piece out of our submissions inbox and critique it, so no need to worry about that!
The next opportunity to submit a piece for critique will be open soon, so please watch the blog or our newsletter for more.This month’s editor providing critique is Carina Press freelance editor Carrie Lofty.
The First Page
This was submitted by Author A as the first page of what is described as “a new twist to our beloved shapeshifter romances while tying in the mythology of Scotland.”
Author A included a query from which I pulled these elements: Alethea sheds seven tears into the ocean in mourning for her husband, a Scottish fisherman. A selkie named Coire responds to her grief.
They say seven is a lucky number, but I never believed that was true. My mother died when I was seven when she was trying to save me from drowning. My father and my sister always said the sea called out to me. That must be true though even though I detest bodies of water, I could not stop myself from moving to a small port town. My house rests right in the curve of a small cove that is where I meet my husband. He is well was a fisherman, he died out at sea during his seventh trip after our wedding. I look out to the sea from the sandy beach the cool breeze blowing my brown locks back into my face. I wipe my eyes and head back inside. I am having a hard time feeling my fingers from the chill in the air.
The warmth from the fireplace quickly removes the chill that has seeped into my bones. When the moon rises the beach can get chilly, Lucas always loved how the beach felt on a chilly night. It reminded him of his childhood home in Scotland his house rested on a cliff side looking out at the choppy sea. He said he would take me there on our anniversary next year because seeing it in person will always out beat the pictures on the internet. I hear knock at the back door leading out to the beach. Turning my head towards the door I see the figure of a man, his dark hair dripping water.
I get up quickly heading to door I notice he is only wearing shorts. His whole body is dripping water. I open the door, “Come in it is too cold warm yourself up by the fire,” I hand him a towel leading him to the chair that is nearest to the fireplace.
“Thank you. You are truly kind letting me sit here next to the fire,” His voice is deep and sends a shiver down my spine.
His eyes are as blue as the sea his hair as dark as the abyss. I can feel my heart skip a beat and my breathing hitch as I study his face, “I know how cold it can get here in the cove. I would be heartless leaving you out there. My husband has gotten multiple colds sitting out there watching the stars dance on the water. Let me get you change of clothes and I’ll dry out your shorts,” I quickly add before heading to the bedroom filtering through Lucas’ clothes trying to find something that would fit this mysterious stranger.
To start, I find it refreshing to read a concept that fans of shapeshifter paranormals might enjoy, with a fresh take on another sort of lore. Selkies–or seal folk–are definitely uncommon. That can work to an author’s advantage, in that a new approach and unusual mythology can be of immediate interest to readers looking for something a little different. However, that unusual mythology can require additional care with regard to worldbuilding. There is no “shorthand” for selkies like there is for wolf shifters, such as alphas, packs, and fated mates. In crafting a story such as this, it’s important to find a balance between pacing and the necessities of establishing a compelling, complete world for the romantic protagonists.
That said, I don’t feel that this first page finds such a balance. In the opening paragraph, there’s mention of her late mother, her family, her husband, and the cove where she’s settled, but I found it difficult to picture Alethea’s actual location. We read that her husband was Scottish and the cove reminded him of his homeland, but is Alethea in Scotland now? Also, the first paragraph opens with a bit of exposition about the number seven and her mother, so I was surprised to read that she was actually overlooking the water as opposed to reminiscing about it. Then she heads indoors where there’s a fireplace, but is it her house? A cabin? A lodge?
To me, a solid sense of place is lacking, which ties in with rushed pacing. I would like to know a little more about her “normal” before Coire arrives. The adage “start where the change begins” is valid, and it’s something I look for in a story’s opening pages. This, however, moves so quickly that I hardly have an understanding of where she’s at before she opens the door–both physically and emotionally.
The latter is important because her grief sets off the chain of events that follows. Because the query mentions that Alethea cries seven tears into the sea–and that’s why Corie appears–I would hope to see her crying brought forward. She wipes her eyes, but that’s all. I assume it will be significant, even if she doesn’t know it at the time. Also, the opening few sentences focus a lot of energy on the number seven. Ideally, her backstory would be more relevant if it’s going to be explored at this early stage. Perhaps work on tying her past and present together so that we have a quick understanding of why seven is important enough to kick off the romance.
I found it difficult to believe that a woman on her own would open her door to a barely-dressed stranger. There’s an affinity for her old way of life, in that she doesn’t want this man to catch cold as her husband often did. However, I would’ve liked Alethea to have at least a small internal argument about whether it’s safe to open her home to a stranger. Also, does she have a small moment of reflection or sadness when rifling through her husband’s things? The smell of him? The memory of how he wore those clothes? Perhaps she’s reluctant to see them on a different man. Any detail along those lines would be a nice addition to further establish the start of her healing.
From a practical perspective, this submission lacks several basic elements of craft. I suggest that the author reviews grammatical foundations, such as run-on sentences and the presentation of dialogue. Those structural issues made the progression of events more difficult to follow.
Would I keep reading? I’m afraid not. The combination of rushed pacing, craft issues, and irregular worldbuilding is too much to keep me reading, despite the fresh, welcome take on shapeshifter romance.
Do you have questions about my feedback or the First-Page Critique program? Your turn to add constructive feedback for the author in the comments section! Or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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