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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Today's first page critique raises the tricky area of starting a novel from the antagonist's perspective or getting 'inside the mind of evil'. As this page reveals it can be a very effective technique - but (and this is a big but) you have to be careful. It can very easily fall into cliche. As this first page reveals, however, it can also be a great way to suck your reader in quickly to the story - raising the stakes as well as the tension.

So here is the first page of the submission entitled SINS OF THE FATHER.
My comments follow at the end.

Sunday, August 12

Erin looks like his first. The resemblance was clear from the moment he saw her: the red hair; the delicate nose and freckled skin; the way one corner of her mouth quirks up with dry humor in response to a comment from her companion. Now, watching her unobserved from the safety of fifty yards’ distance and a thicket of brush as concealment, he can see the resemblance to her namesake even more clearly. It’s as though he’s traveled back in time… As though forty years have vanished in an instant and he is a boy once more, flushed with the promise of that first kill.

Fear radiates from both she and her companion. Through night-vision goggles special ordered for just such an occasion, the Hunter can almost see Erin’s dilated pupils, the way her chest heaves as she half-drags her friend to some imagined safe port in the storm. Her friend – blonde, blue-eyed, with a close-trimmed beard and a penchant for watching her when she is unaware – is bleeding. Badly. Between his blood and the haphazard way they forge through the underbrush, tracking them is a simple matter.

The clouds are thick in the night sky, and there are thunderstorms in the forecast. The highway is at least a mile from here. Since he began tracking them, Erin has made some surprisingly foolhardy decisions – frankly, he’d expected more of her, but she’s been running in exactly the wrong direction for the past six hours. She and her friend both have cell phones, he is certain, but there’s no reception in this area – they’d have better luck using tin cans tied together with string out here. It’s only a matter of time.

He prefers hunting in the spring or fall – while the ground is still soft enough to ensure easy burial after the kill, but before the summer’s rampant overgrowth makes progress through the woods slow going. Erin forced his hand this time, but he’s not bitter about that. On the contrary, he’s looking forward to the game. He’s always loved a challenge.

My comments:

I think this first page is very effective in drawing the reader in - it establishes the scene well, raises the stakes and leaves the reader eager to learn more. There are a few minor points however that I think might make this first page even more compelling:

1. The descriptions in the first two paragraphs make it sound like we are in daylight and so when the night vision goggles are mentioned I was taken out of the story as I wondered how does he know the girl's hair is red or the man's eyes are blue if it's at night? By the third paragraph it's clear the hunter has been stalking them for hours but, still, the issue took me out of the story. 

2. The use of the name 'the Hunter'  took me out of the scene as well. Although this first page is written in third person, the thoughts are those of the antagonist and I wondered whether he called himself 'the Hunter' or whether it sounded too distant - pulling us away from the very close perspective we have. I would also delete 'almost' from this sentence - he can either see her dilated pupils or he can't - there is no almost - unless he is imagining it.  If he feels like a hunter I would also like the author to be more specific - what kind of hunter does he see himself as (what kind of predator?) The greater the specificity there is the less likely it is to feel cliched.

3. Though this first page didn't feel too cliched to me, I do think the author needs to tread carefully, especially as the image of the perpetrator as a hunter who views his prey as sport has been done before - you need to keep it as fresh as possible.

4. I thought the last paragraph was very effective. It provided a good segway into the next paragraph/viewpoint. As a reader I wanted to know more about how Erin and her companion got into this situation and what they could possibly do to avoid being the next 'kill'. The author balanced the need for information with the need for action really well, and I for one would read on.

So what did you all think? What is your views on successfully portraying the inner mind of the antagonist? Does this first page succeed? Would you keep reading?


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