Agent Feedback on my First Page Part II: Words, sentences, and voice

The First Page Blogfest comes at a good time.  Last week, my first page was workshopped on agent Mary Kole's website.  I had been feeling like my first page was all right (it did make it through writer idol), but that it didn't really sparkle or stand out in a crowd.  Mary had a sharp eye and quickly put her finger on an aspect of writing that I don't pay enough attention to:  the words and the sentences.

Wait, what?  Um, aren't you a writer?  Well, yeah, but left to my own devices, I'm more likely to focus on the content than the delivery.  It's not a coincidence that all my blog articles under the "Voice" label feature advice from other people, while the "Plot" and "Characterization" labels have articles with my own observations.

Anyways, Mary gave some helpful tips on weighing each word and sentence.  You should check out her critique, as well as her other workshops from that week.  I've been playing with revisions, and here's the latest version.  Let me know what you think.  What do you like?  Dislike?  Is there anything in the original version that you miss?
Note: This excerpt is now fairly out of date as well. I'll keep it posted here for historical purposes, but the final version is now different. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Maybe this James fellow wanted her dead. Kyra considered the idea as she peered off the ledge, squinting at the cobblestone four stories below. A false step in the darkness could certainly kill her, and even if she survived the fall, palace guards would finish her off. But she had known the job was dangerous when she took it. At this point, she just needed to keep moving.

The jump ahead looked to be about two body lengths long, so Kyra backed up. Ten steps, then she drew a breath and sprinted forward. She pushed off just before the drop, clearing a gap of three strides before softening her body for the landing. There was a slap of leather on stone as she hit the next ledge. The impact sent a wave of vibrations through the balls of her feet, and Kyra touched a hand to the wall for balance.

Too hard, and too loud.

Silently cursing her clumsiness, she scanned the grounds, looking for anyone who might have heard her. Shadows teased at the corners of her vision, but experience told her it was a trick of the torches below. Since she couldn't trust her eyes, she listened. Other than the wind that gently buffeted her ears, the night was silent. Kyra relaxed. Tucking away a stray brown hair, she set off, dashing deeper into the compound.

It had been two days since a man had come to the Drunken Dog, introducing himself as James and asking for Kyra by name. He had an unusual offer: he would pay her to steal a ruby from the Palace compound. But there were other nobles in the city with jewels. Why go to such trouble for something easily found elsewhere? The question had worried Kyra, but the pay was generous, and the challenge intriguing.

Thanks for reading, folks.  And remember to check out the other entries!


  1. Nice first page. Both the link to the original version and the critique of the original were interesting to read. I can see the difference and think you did a great job at developing the page based upon the critique you received.

    Well done.

    And thanks for the Alternate Version Blogest. It was fun.

  2. Livia,
    Thank you for posting this critique. I learned so much from it, even about my own writing (I see things that I do in my writing, too, that she pointed out). That agent gave such specific comments that were incredibly helpful. I got a lot out of it!!

    I haven't compared your two versions carefully yet, but in general, I really like your writing style. There were several of what I call "gems" inside that first page, great descriptions. Nicely done!

  3. This was great! I also prefer the revised version. I noticed that the first version was filled with passive verbs - "she had..." "It was not surprising", etc.

    Keeping the verbs active and trying to find the most emotional verbs makes the piece much more immediate.

    I'm not sure why, but a lot of storytellers use the passive verbs - I literally have no idea where that comes from. It's much more prevalent in third person, though, so that might have something to do with it. I don't seem to have the same problems in first person.

    Very brave of you to post and link. Bravo!

  4. Wow - Mary gave you great feedback - so many things I wouldn't have thought of. It is a good first page, but I think the advice she gave you will help make it better. I did notice your sentence structure when I read it and I agree with her that the sentences aren't varied enough - I started to skim.
    I like the changes - I feel more in the moment with her and the the details toward the end help to orient me. So brave Livia - great job.

  5. Thanks for your feedback so far, everyone!
    Suelder -- I know what you mean about storytellers. I think that may be part of the old fashioned storytelling style "It was a dark and stormy night..." "Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess..."

  6. Livia,

    The revised first page reads much better than what Mary workshopped over at KidLit. The language is tighter and I feel the tension more.

  7. Wow. Thanks for the great post and the links. Really good stuff here. And I really like the second version. Very tight writing.

  8. Well written, action packed and–I think this is key—the language supports, but doesn't detract from the plot. Nice revision!

  9. I enjoyed this scene, and will no follow the links. Thanks for sharing all of it with us.

  10. I remember this from Mary's blog!!! GREAT JOB-- really nice changes!!! Flows better and I'm intrigued enough to read on!

  11. I didn't see your page over at Mary's site - I'll have to check it out. Nice writing :)

  12. Nice. You get right to the action.
    Couple thoughts:
    The first line is kind of flat. I'm thinking...what if you swapped the first two lines: she crouched, maybe James wanted her dead.
    IOW start with the action, then add the commentary.
    I feel like you're throwing in backstory into the very first paragraph. I'd rather see some action without explanation before we get into the why's and wherefore's. Don't feel like you have to explain/justify your character's actions to the reader. I'm interested enough with a character who is taking unusual risks. Just let me follow the character around a bit, put me in the scene. Every time you explain something, you take me out of the moment and deflate the tension of the scene. I really liked the middle two paras, and would like to see that go on for a while.
    Good job!

  13. You've a lot more information in this version of the first page. I still want to know more, of course. You've also added alliteration in places. I like that. It spices up the language.

    Nicely done.

  14. Thanks for the suggestions Iapetus!
    Simon -- Um, yes... totally intentional. *races back through to look for alliteration in the passage..*

  15. Great job with the revision. I really like this.

  16. This has a much smoother flow to it than the original; and that one was good too. Wow, I'm so drawn in, right there with her. That little bit of clumsyness as she landed (too hard, too loud) was well placed and gave an insight into her skill. I liked how she used all her senses: touch, sight, hearing when she couldn't see. The whole scene told so much about her character.

    In both versions, I felt the first line "Maybe James wanted her dead" didn't fit the rest of the narrative. You've portrayed him as cunning and secretive, but not as a person setting her up for death. Unless, in the next paragraph or so, you reveal what a suicide mission getting the jewels is.

    As a patient reader, I'm willing to wait for that connection; I'm engaged in her character and the action. Well done Livia.


  17. I definitely got more into the story the last paragraph. There were finally some details to hold on to. Before that I had no idea where she was. Could you tighten the previous paragraphs a bit? And I think the last paragraph stuck out too, because your sentence structure changed, which was a good thing. Sounds like an exciting story!

  18. This is a great revision! I think the biggest change was in the last paragraph, at least that's where it stuck out to me. The revised version is much better, I have to agree.

    I do have to agree slightly with Donna there and say that the first line, though very catching, didn't really fit. If in the last paragraph you mention more about how suicidal (deadly) such a mission would be (instead of just what obstacles are in the way - not all obstacles kill ya...)'

    I would still keep reading through to find out what happens! You did a great job wtih the revision!

  19. This is right up my alley. I would love to read more! I loved the first line, but there didn't seem to be any real follow-up to it. That's my only complaint. :)

  20. I read this first on Mary Kole's blog and I have to say-- you've done a great job revising it! This version is awesome, and flows much better!

  21. Great revision. I want to read more. I really liked the opening line- it hooked me right away. Thanks for participating.

  22. Livia, as with other commenters here, I remember your earlier version posted on

    This version is significantly better: your pacing is good, and you have a nice balance of narrative and action.

    Great improvement!

  23. This is just the kind of thing I like to read. The action was described perfectly, and the set-up did its job...I wanted to turn to the second page. Excellent work!

  24. I saw that Mary critiqued you! I thought she had some fabulous advice.

    I'll echo the others in that the line about James wanting her dead feels off to me here - it seems like he wanted to hire a thief, not that he wanted the narrator in particular to die. Outside that, though, I like the action and tension, and I like what you did with that last paragraph :)

  25. Great description! Really enjoyed it. :)

  26. The internal thoughts threaded throughout made the action more compelling. Great hook. Wish there was another page to read.

  27. I enjoyed your first page, but what I'm missing is her reaction. Someone possibly wants her dead. How does she feel? Sick in her stomach maybe? Cold and hot? And she seems to be in a dangerous situation, but I can't tell for sure. She's so calm.

    You could check out Margie Lawson's deep editing analyses, which will give you ideas on how to add emotion.