The first sentence told me the novelist was in trouble. The rest of the paragraph confirmed that. And the second paragraph was no better.
Fortunately, the author had sent me the genre novel for a critique. So I was able to show her where she had missed the opportunity of a story’s most important words. If potential readers aren’t attracted by the first page, they’ll never read the second.
That’s why in critiquing fiction, my first assessment point is the hook:
Does the author attract reader attention from the first paragraph and on the first page? Does it begin with a story or with backstory/explanation? Are key character(s) quickly introduced by showing them engaged in a conflict or action? Are character(s) likable and distinctive?
Here’s what I told the author:
Those were not the kind of comments the author hoped to hear, but what she needed.
In revising the opening pages for her, I cut the confusing “literary” paragraph. Then I replaced the reference to “a figure” with the character’s name—at the start of the opening sentence. Now the story began with a character in action.
Next I changed a time reference from vague to certain, converted the rest of the paragraph from passive voice to active, and trimmed redundant words. Suddenly the story had a first paragraph that invited people to read the second.
That’s its job.