Point of View
Hook Critique Series: Article 3, Part 2
Today we’re following up with the second part of our article. Julie Bellon generously allowed us to post a critique of an early first page draft from her novel All Fall Down. (You can see that here.) Below is her revised first page and her comments on the revision process.
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Something was wrong. Rafe could feel it. He’d opened the door to the building that housed his family’s business, but hesitated before going in. The hairs on the back of his neck stood straight up. With a cursory glance into the lobby of the building, he couldn’t see anything wrong. Chalking it up to being in Afghanistan too long, where he relied on his senses to stay alive, Rafe went in, tugging on his collar. Maybe that was it. He was reacting to the civilian uniform of a shirt and tie when he’d rather be in his Navy SEAL gear. It’s not like I could have shown up in desert cammies and boots, he thought. But it might have been worth it to see the look on his brother’s face if he’d walked into the meeting dressed like that. Vince was always a little obsessive about appearances.
Looking up at the second floor landing where people could enjoy the atrium, Rafe swept the area, looking for anything out of the ordinary and saw a man intently watching him. Stepping forward to get a closer look, the man noticed his interest and turned, disappearing. Rafe went to the elevators, all of his senses on alert now. Should I go to the second floor and take a look? Am I overreacting?
With a grimace, he tried to loosen his tie, just a little. It felt harder to think when he was buttoned down with a tie, but he decided it was an over-reaction. Some guy looking at him didn’t mean anything was wrong. It could be he wasn’t looking forward to the meeting with Vince so his body was telling him he shouldn’t go in. Ever since Vince had been made acting-president, he’d been making demands on everyone and Rafe planned to say no to anything Vince asked him. Their father would be on his feet soon and Rafe would be back in the field when knee healed. There was no point in starting anything with Dad’s business. Rafe wasn’t planning on being here longer than he had to be. He pulled on his tie again, definitely regretting the choice of attire.
The thing I like best about Angela and Heidi’s editing is that they get to the root of the problem quickly. They gave me all sorts of examples and ideas on how to fix things. With my journalism background, a lot of times I’m told my details are too sparse. So I try to beef them up and overcompensate. Angela and Heidi could see what I’d done immediately and pointed out how important word economy is on my first page. It made me look at it from a different view and allowed me to cut out all the extraneous stuff that was weighing down my first page—because you definitely don’t want a bloated first page. Hooking the reader from the start is really crucial to me and I was grateful to have their help in doing that.
The second thing they pointed out was that there weren’t strong stakes in my first page and it’s important to start out with some tension. Rafe being anxious about a basic business meeting wasn’t quite enough in this setting, and these editors saw that. So, in taking that advice, I added a paragraph where he actually sees someone watching him. Is that the man that’s set off his internal alarms? I think it pulls the reader in faster and made the opening page much stronger.
That’s the best part about having experienced editors examine my work—they can look objectively at my weak spots and help me make it stronger. I’ve gotten several compliments on my novel and how it hooked them from the first page, and that’s partly due to Angela and Heidi’s earlier critique of my work. Great editing is worth its weight in gold!
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To finish reading All Fall Down and to find anything else our spotlight author has written, see below:
Julie Coulter Bellon
Unpredictable suspense with a touch of romance
Time to hear from you. Do you relate to what Julie expressed about overcompensating for our writing “weak spots”? What strengths do you want to master, and what writers rock that strength for you? Comment below!
Hi Julie. I do think this beginning is stronger–much tighter. I like the way we see inside his mind–wondering whether to trust his instincts or write them off due to their being hyperstimulated for so long. Such a great insight into that process of learning when to trust ourselves and how we pit our reason against our gut. It makes him a character I want to get to know. And I want to go up to the 2nd floor and see what’s up myself!
I love that the tension here is subtle, but definitely there. It’s always difficult to find that fine line–you want tension, but you don’t want it overstated or obvious. You want foreshadowing, but you can’t be predictable. Writing is a delicate art, and this is a great example of how to use your skills to fine tune the words until they have just enough dissonance. Great job!
I think so, too, Angela. It really ratcheted up the tension and made me want to know more about Rafe right up front. You are an amazing editor! Thanks again.
Thanks Amy! I agree about the fine line and the true delicacy of writing tension. It’s a journey, that’s for sure. 🙂