Fall First Page Critique Blog Hop

I learned about this from Miss Alexandrina’s blog, and thought it an interesting and useful idea.  We offer up a first page for critique and in exchange, critique the five works above and below ours on the list in return.

So here’s mine:  It’s the first 250 words or so from my present NaNoWriMo work-in-progress, which has a working title of “The Secret Notebook of Michael Faraday”, a prequel to my recently published steampunk adventure novel.

It was unlike anything the boy had ever seen.

He had seen large buildings before, of course. Being from the City, he had grown up in the shadow of the great dome of St. Paul’s, and had even ventured inside once at the end of a morning service when the vergers would not notice a poorly dressed boy. The tall spaces of the great cathedral amazed him, but that building was made of stone, and sat squarely upon the ground. This building was made almost entirely of glass and seemed to soar.

“Come along, Nicodemus,” said Mr. Dalrymple, the boy’s master. “Let’s not dawdle. We have lots to see today.”

The boy, staring slack-jawed and wide-eyed at the wonders before him, could only manage, “Cor…”.

“Nicodemus!”

“Yes, sir,” said young Nicodemus, and followed along behind the man.

The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations was the wonder of London all through the summer of 1851. Since being officially opened by Her Majesty the Queen in May, almost 5 million people had visited and been marveled by its exhibits. Housing the Exhibition was, of course, the Crystal Palace, a enormous building almost a third of a mile long and over 120 feet high.

Nicodemus and his master stopped under the great dome at the center of the building. The space stretched as far as Nicodemus could see in either direction. “What’ll we see first, Mr. Dalrymple? It’s so big!” exclaimed Nicodemus, still straining his neck to look around at everything at once.

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10 thoughts on “Fall First Page Critique Blog Hop

  1. Right off the bat, I like your title; it has a nice cadence to it. 🙂 The set up is fairly interesting too–we get some setting, some character. I don’t get any sense of conflict yet, except maybe that the kid is poor, but my interest in the setting would keep me reading, at least for a while. Because of that, it would be good to work in some more details. Instead of the tall space of the cathedral amazing him, give us something more specific to him, like it makes his heart soar above the dirty gutters and sooty fog of London, or lets him dream of the day he’d rise above the crowd and bustle of the city, whatever would clue us in more to his character and his goals (if he’s not a character we’re going to see again, his goals aren’t as important, but maybe you could use descriptions to hint at the story conflict). The same goes for what he’s seeing inside the Crystal Palace. He’s being amazed, and I want to be amazed too–give me descriptions and foreshadowing of conflict to hook me. 🙂 I love this time period (My NaNo story is Victorian too), but having Dalrymple say “lots” threw me out because that’s a more modern, slangy phrase (this is pretty nit-picky, I know, but I figured I’d mention it). Anyway, I’m curious about where it’s going. Good luck, and hope this helps!

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  2. I agree, the title is solid. I would pick that up in a bookstore on title alone. I don’t like “… the boy…” in the opening line, though. We all know the opening line is critical, and as it is, yours feels vague and distant. I’d replace ‘the boy’ with ‘Nicodemus’. I’d do the same for ‘The Crystal Palace’. It’s referenced in the first line, then at the end of the second paragraph, but not named until the second-to-last paragraph. This threw me, and I had to go back and start over to figure out what it was.

    All that said, I already like Nicodemus, am curious about Dalrymple, and enjoy that period, so I’d keep reading.

    Hope this helps 🙂

    Good luck!

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  3. I am not a fan of this genre, so unfortunately I probably wouldn’t keep reading this story just because I have no idea what the premise is. If you could figure out a way to show the conflict or explain a little bit of the story, I think I would be more interested. The writing is solid, I just would like to know what I’m signing up for before I get too involved.

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  4. I agree with the first critique. I think you have great framework set up and now I’d love to have that same sense of wonderment as Nicodemus felt walking into such a place. There’s an opportunity to make it feel almost magical, but that may not be the direction you are going, so disregard if not. 🙂

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  5. Your first sentence reeled me in–great job on that!

    I was a little bit confused when I learned that the boy’s name was Nicodemus, considering the title of the piece is THE SECRET NOTEBOOK OF MICHAEL FARADAY. Also, the ending paragraph–the one with the “five million people” in it–reminded me a little bit too much of my history books. (Just a little bit.) Maybe you could give it more from Nicodemus’ perspective rather than the straight-up fact?

    But other than that, awesome job! Like I said, I looooved the first sentence and the sense of awe we got from Nicodemus’ view.

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  6. Well, I’m not sure how much I can add to this. The previous commenters pretty much covered basically everything.

    I do agree that I would rather see Nicodemus in the first line instead of boy. Also, it would his master’s dialogue more realistic when he tells Nicodemus to come along because when we speak to people we rarely call them by their name.

    I’m going to guess there are people around them? You didn’t mention if the streets were crowded with everyone streaming toward the entrance to the fair. If so, then calling his name would make more sense, but I would still prefer it left out and his name somewhere else.

    I’m not quite sure how to fix it, but you has “had” and “had been” multiple times in this first page and it was a little jarring.

    I do LOVE the title. I would pick it up for that alone. It also feels like a steampunk novel to me without you needing to state it, and I adore steampunk. The world building is great, and I’m intrigued. I would definitely read on.

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  7. My favourite part of this beginning is the characterisation. You have a great way of portraying Nicodemus’ wonder and his class.

    I didn’t, however, feel adequately hooked. I think the first line is weakened by starting with an unspecified ‘it’ (whilst this works in some stories, I’m not personally a fan of it), and I would like to see more voice from Nicodemus’ perspective – at the moment, I feel far too detached from what he is thinking and observing.

    “poorly-dressed” with a hyphen?
    At first I didn’t get why you were pointing out that St. Paul’s was made of stone, so perhaps introduce the [idea of] contrast with the glass of the Crystal Palace within that previous sentence.

    The dialogue is great!

    ” followed along behind the man” – you could simply have ‘followed the man’. Perhaps ‘trailed behind’ might get the same image you’re going for – but I’m not a fan of the ‘along behind’ juxtaposed together.

    “Since being officially” – clunky? Might work better without the ‘being’.

    “been marveled by its exhibits” – I don’t know if your passive was deliberate, but since it adds very little effect and I naturally first read the phrase ‘had marvelled at its exhibits’, you might want to reword that.

    In the last paragraph, you don’t necessarily have to say that Nicodemus exclaimed; the exclamation mark does that for you, and I knew the dialogue belonged to Nic because it follows his actions.

    I seems like I picked out a lot of things, but that’s because this has a lot of potential to be stunning. I enjoyed this. It has good depth of setting, even if it is a little slow.

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  8. Hi, there! This genre isn’t really my bag, but I was intrigued–more as the story went along than with the beginning. I agree with others who said the first line is a bit vague and not so exciting. It feels like the opening action is dawdling since the master’s telling Nicodemus to hurry along. Could you open with Nicodemus’ wonder at the Crystal Palace? Also, this phrase is awkward: been marveled by its exhibits. I’d simply say and marveled at its exhibits.
    All the best with what sounds like a neat book!
    Missy Shelton Belote
    http://www.missysheltonbelote.com
    Twitter: missyin10ec

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  9. I have to agree with the commenters above me who said the first line needs work – even if you change “the boy” to “Nicodemus”, I still think it lacks the “draw in” factor first lines should have. For instance, with the proper tweaking, I think the seventh paragraph would provide a better opening.

    You did a great job of describing his wonder at what he was seeing, but you do have some issues with repetition (“building” is repeated twice in two sentences, one right after the other, for instance), and it felt too passive for me overall. All things you can fix if you go over this with care 🙂

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  10. Thanks to everyone who left useful comments. I’ve made some changes already and others are waiting for NaNoWriMo to end, as I’m presently working on the other end of the story. I found the 250 word limit a bit frustrating as many of the suggestions you’ve made are addressed right after the 250 word point. It’s arbitrary, but you’ve got to draw the line somewhere!

    Thanks again everyone! I enjoyed being critiqued and enjoyed reading the creations of many of you.

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