By Joe Moore
We’re getting down to the end of critiquing our anonymous first-page submissions. This one is called THE MARONITE. Enjoy the sample. My comments follow.
A bullet whizzed past his head as he ran down the alley. Somewhere else in the city, the sound of a gunshot would have prompted someone to call to the police. Not here, and definitely not at this hour. The man looked back, his three-piece suit sprinkled with blood. They weren’t far behind.
Fuck! They’re trying to make it look like a mugging.
The thirty-something got to the street, finally reaching his car. He shoved his right hand into his trouser pocket, frantic, his usually carefully coifed hair falling into his eyes. He wiped at the blood and sweat on his forehead. Earlier, the two men had tried to knock him out and failed. Those Krav Maga classes at Chelsea Piers had saved his life, for now. Desperate, he unlocked his car, and then, as his attackers emerged from the alley at a full sprint, dove into the driver’s seat.
Anyone could have easily mistaken the would-be killers for professional football players or ex-military, trained to kill. Both had hefty athletic builds and were over six feet tall. They’d been caught off-guard by their prey’s martial abilities when they had tried to pistol whip him near the front of his building. They wouldn’t make the same mistake twice, though. Those bonuses were too big, and they wanted them too badly. The assailant on the left broke off and situated himself in the street, diagonally from the car. He trained his pistol on the driver while his partner tried to keep their victim from closing his door. But it slammed shut and locked.
They’d failed again.
The driver turned the ignition.
The car revved.
His hand tingled as he pushed the gear shift into first. He watched the tachometer flicker then looked up. It seemed like only a few milliseconds between the explosion from the pistol’s barrel and the sound of windshield glass popping. The bullet hit him in the chest. He could feel the heat as the metal sank into a lung. Blood started rushing out onto his shirt and tie. He let go of the parking brake, disengaging it.
First, the good news. This is a heck of an opening scene. It has strong visuals, a solid sense of place, and enough tension to fill any reader’s plate. The situation is dire. We don’t know who “thirty-something” is—that’s a cliché, by the way—but by the end of the page, we’re all holding our collective breath. It would be hard to imagine someone putting this one down without turning the page. I know I would keep reading to find out if he makes it or not. So overall, I consider this an excellent, attention-grabbing start to an action-packed thriller (or mystery).
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out a couple of things that bugged me about this example. It’s something we’ve discussed before, but I would refrain from dropping the F-bomb on the first page. Now, granted, if this gets published, anyone that picks up the book has already seen the cover and read the back blurb. So if the marketing department did their job well, the language might not be an issue to the potential customer. But there are a whole lot of folks out there who would see that and put the book back down. If the F-bomb was removed, would it change the story? Would it change the character?
Another thing is that there’s a good bit of telling here, and I don’t think it’s needed. Telling us that the guy is frantic and desperate is redundant to the man’s actions. This scene is so frantic and desperate, we don’t need the writer to say, “Hey, just in case you didn’t get it, let me remind you that my guy is frantic and desperate.” We get it.
Finally, I would shift the last few sentences into a more active voice and eliminate the last few words. Here’s my suggested rewrite:
He felt the hot metal sink into a lung. Blood rushed onto his shirt and tie as he released the parking brake.
Overall, I think this is a promising beginning that just needs a little editing and clean-up. Good job.
So what do you guys think? Would you keep reading?