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First Page: Cinema Lumière – Women’s Fiction

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Chapter 1.

‘Nellie, that’s disgusting.’ I jerk my head off the pillow as a guff of foul air hits my nostrils. ‘What on earth have you eaten?’
Nellie, whose face is about four inches from mine, opens one eye. She glares at me then lets out a cross little fart. The eye closes, there’s another guff and a bubble of drool slithers from the side of her mouth.
I sigh. It’s pointless trying to reason with Nellie so instead I haul myself out of bed and stumble across the room towards the kitchen. My feet and fingers are freezing and my toes have turned that mortuary blue you see on television corpses. In fact they’re so bad this morning that for a sleepy split-second I wonder if maybe I died during the night. Maybe I’m just a ghostly shadow drifting back and forth from bedroom to kitchen, trapped for eternity between a gaseous bedmate and last night’s pile of dirty plates.
The kitchen floor isn’t helping – it’s gravestone cold. I shuffle towards the fridge and feel something sticky underfoot. The bin, which is usually under the sink, is lying on its side with a selection of half-gnawed pizza boxes and shredded crisp packets spilling from its open mouth.
Nellie, I think.
I pick up the rubbish and lay out Nellie’s breakfast in her bowl on the sideboard. Then I flick open the child’s safety catch on the fridge and reach inside for the milk. My eyes blink to adjust to the light that shines from behind the out-of-date sausages, and it’s only now that I remember my dream. Although it wasn’t really a dream, it was more of a mini film, whose images were brighter and more vivid than anything I’ve seen before:

In it, I was sitting alone in a cinema on a red velvet seat. It was dark but I could make out the thick crimson curtains drawn across the screen in front of me. From the projectionist’s booth behind my chair came the whirring and clicking of film reels being changed.
‘Hannah!’
I jumped at the sound of the voice and twisted round to see a familiar figure standing behind the shaft of light streaming from the booth.
‘Victor!’ I said, both elated and astonished to see him.
Victor smiled from his elevated position and pointed towards the screen. Seconds later I heard the soft muffle of the curtains drawing apart. When I turned back, I saw that the screen was blank, except for one bright red feather in the top right-hand corner. There was something mesmerising about the feather and I watched it float downwards, gently swirling back and forth as though blown by an unseen breeze.
The moment it touched the bottom of the screen I awoke.

I close the fridge door and try to shake from my head the image of Victor high in the projectionist’s booth. Why is he still hanging around the edges of my mind, sliding unbidden into my dreams at night? It’s been over two years now, why can’t he just leave me alone?

Nellie is still asleep when I carry in her breakfast so I waft the bowl past her nose to coax her from her morning coma. She opens both eyes and rearranges her mouth into something resembling a grin.
‘Nellie, have you been in the bin?’ I say.
Nellie looks at me as if I’ve suggested she’s eaten the television.
‘Yes, you,’ I say. ‘No breakfast till you come clean.’

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

12 Comments

  1. Kate Sherwood
    Jun 29, 2014 @ 05:29:48

    There’s not a whole lot going on here. The narrator wakes up and makes breakfast for her dog and remembers a not-exactly-riveting dream. Nothing to grab me.

    And then the narrator seems to expect the dog to clean the kitchen, so I wonder if it’s NOT a dog, but that confusion isn’t really enough to make me want to keep reading.

    I don’t think “guff” means what you want it to – the first usage could have just been creative use of words, but when you use it twice in two paragraphs, I think you should chose another word. Possibly the more mundane but also more accurate “puff”?

    I can’t really say much else because I don’t KNOW much else based on this page. And I don’t FEEL too much else. The narrator apparently has an illness that makes her toes blue, or else is living in such extreme poverty that she can’t afford heat OR slippers, but I don’t really FEEL her illness OR the cold…

    Assuming the home is cold, what are the other details you could show us that would make it feel more real? Was she snuggled up to the dog for warmth all night and has to reluctantly force herself from the thin protection of the covers? Does she skip across the cold floor, then indulge in a moment of crouching to warm her toes with her fingers before getting on with her tasks? I mean, blue toes are cold, COLD toes, but I’m not seeing her act like a freezing person.

    (But, wait, pizza boxes suggest she’s not that poor, so… why are her toes so cold?)

    I think this page feels like you’re trying too hard to tease us – lack of clarity about the cold, acting as if the dog isn’t a dog (or, alternatively, acting like someone else IS a dog), a hint about Victor but no actual explanation… it’s important to not force feed back story to the reader, but I think it’s better to avoid back story by having a really compelling front story, rather than by dangling hints about things that probably don’t really matter.

    So, yeah, for me this doesn’t really work. I could be wrong, and maybe on the very next page all the dangling threads from this one are caught and wrapped up into a beautiful quilt, but based on this limited view, I don’t think I’d keep reading.

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  2. Kate Sherwood
    Jun 29, 2014 @ 05:39:02

    @Kate Sherwood:
    ETA: I did a bit of digging and apparently “guff” is used in Scottish dialect to mean an unpleasant smell, so maybe it works here! Except you have to consider your audience, and your consistency. Are you writing for people who know Scottish dialect? And are you using dialect throughout the piece, or did this one word just slip in?

    (Well “bin” suggested we were in the UK somewhere, but I guess it’s more familiar to me than “guff”).

    We can see what other readers say!

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  3. Sue Hurley
    Jun 29, 2014 @ 08:09:06

    Hi there,

    Thanks, for posting.

    I’d keep reading. :) I’m a huge dog lover – presuming Nellie is a dog – and I love the imagery of being in bed with your dog and the dog farting. Love the teaser of the dream, too. So for sure I’d keep reading to see what’s up. I love beginnings that don’t reveal everything. :)

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  4. Marianne McA
    Jun 29, 2014 @ 08:17:15

    I wouldn’t use the word ‘guff’ but I’m aware of it enough that it didn’t throw me, though I had Nellie as a baby at first. Also, I’ve a friend who has bad circulation (in her case as a result of anorexia), so I chalked up the fingers and toes to that.

    Overall though, I agree with Kate. The dream (vision) isn’t interesting enough to pull me into the story, and there’s nothing else there.
    Even the dog is mostly asleep. The nearest you come to capturing my attention is the last paragraph:
    “Nellie, have you been in the bin?’ I say.
    Nellie looks at me as if I’ve suggested she’s eaten the television.”

    The rest – and I’m really not a tidy person myself – but the dog in the bed, the rubbish on the floor, the unwashed dishes and the out-of-date sausages – rather than leading me to identify with the protagonist, I feel like she’s slovenly and I don’t want to spend more time with her.

    Which is insanely harsh: I often have unwashed dishes and frequently there are out-of-date sausages left in the fridge at the end of a week. But because I’m constructing a character from those clues, and all of those clues – apart from the fact she loves her dog – are negative, I’ve ended up feeling negative about the person and the page.
    That’s why the last part is the only part that I’m drawn to – because it suggests another positive quality – a sense of humour.

    Hope that helps: it’s not that I think it’s a bad page, just that it wouldn’t make me want to read more.

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  5. Carol McKenzie
    Jun 29, 2014 @ 09:02:31

    David Lynch and Mulholland Drive.

    That’s what I get when I read this, although there is no dog in bed in the movie and it takes place in California. But there’s a pervasive feeling of disjointedness that Lynch creates in his movies that comes across on this page.

    That said, I’m not sure you’ve got the chops to pull off that kind of writing. I don’t think anyone has, except Mr. Lynch, and then again, he makes movies.

    There’s really not much here that gives me any type of clue to who your MC is, other than her name is Hannah and she possibly suffers from Raynaud’s Syndrome, or what she wants, other than to find out of the dog got into the trash. The importance of the dream seems to be overshadowed by Nellie’s escapades. I’m not sure if what I am reading is enough to pull me further into this story. I think here a blurb would really be helpful.

    The thing that made me roll my eyes though: a latch on the fridge, but not one on the door to where the bin is kept. I keep wondering if it’s the dog she’s trying to keep out of the fridge, but not making an effort to keep out of the trash.

    I’m with Marianne as well about the negative image: I’m cringing at the description of the flat, while looking at my desk, which has yesterday’s coffee cup and an empty soda can on it, and I suspect one of the cats may have yarked up his breakfast on the basement floor. But it’s my coffee cup and my cat’s yarking, not someone else’s life I’ve been put in. Everything you’ve described, from the opening sentences, to the end, is off-putting, including…especially…the dog and her smells.

    Quite possibly your story starts some place else? Where something happens to the MC?

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  6. Ros
    Jun 29, 2014 @ 09:35:14

    I did not realise Nellie was a dog until I read the comments. Drunk/hungover woman was what I got. Dogs sleeping in beds really grosses me out, so I’m already put off, I’m afraid.

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  7. Ros
    Jun 29, 2014 @ 09:36:35

    @Carol McKenzie: Not everyone has space to keep the bin behind a door. Freestanding bins are pretty common and much harder to dogproof.

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  8. Carol McKenzie
    Jun 29, 2014 @ 09:40:52

    @Ros: I read the bin was under the sink, which, to me, is behind a closed cabinet door. That may be a difference between US and UK kitchens though. I have cats and the garbage can needs to be behind something, preferentially with a latch, because the cats love to get into the garbage.

    That said, I still want to know why there’s a child-proof latch on the fridge.

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  9. wikkidsexycool
    Jun 29, 2014 @ 10:21:01

    Hello Author,

    Thanks for having the courage to submit this. As soon as I saw your title and the genre, I was so excited! But then . . .

    I don’t think is where your story starts, so I have to agree with the previous comments. While Nellie sounds precious, some of the confusion about her can be cleared up when you state:

    “Nellie, whose face is about four inches from mine, opens one eye.”

    My suggestion would be to let the reader know right away that Nellie is a dog, perhaps by adding something like “My mixed breed border collie, Nellie, whose face is about four inches from mine opens one eye.”

    I use dogs a lot in my own writing, so I can connect with many of the things Nellie is doing. One of my pitties (pit bulls) is always letting one rip, and yeah, it is disgusting! But in your first page Nellie appears to have clearly defined character quirks, even more than the lead.

    Only I’m not sure starting with the dog farting and drooling is the right place to hook most readers. Based on the title, I thought I’d find the main character sitting in a half empty theater, gazing rapturously at the screen. Perhaps she’s dressed in clothes of a by-gone era, and that’s where she draws her strength, from the love stories and black and white films of long ago. Maybe she’s a woman who longs for another time period, and that’s what makes her stand out from everyone else, because she likes who she is. I dunno.

    But like I said, I love the title. And I wanted to love this first page. But there’s not enough to pull me in.
    Sometimes its good to stop and figure out exactly what you’ve got with a story. Your title implies one thing while your beginning has pieces and parts of what you’d like to convey. Imho I’d ditch the dream and just put her in the theater, as well as putting the reader in the theater. After the theater, she comes home to Nellie, and you can work the in the drooling and farting then. But even so, something’s still gotta happen. I’m not saying it has to be Woody Allen-ish (I forget the name of the movie where Mia Farrow was lost in the old films she watched). You can put a new spin on it. Who knows? Maybe Nellie will turn out to be the next Benji or Rin-Tin-Tin to save a studio.

    I wish you all the best with this, and I hope you’ll post a short blurb on the premise.

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  10. Carol McKenzie
    Jun 29, 2014 @ 10:25:37

    @wikkidsexycool: The Purple Rose of Cairo…

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  11. SAO
    Jun 29, 2014 @ 12:47:01

    I agree that farting dog in bed is pretty disgusting and turns me off from your protag and story. It took me too long to figure out Nellie was a dog. I spent half the page trying to figure out what Nellie was, rather than being drawn into your story (and the farts didn’t encourage me). I like dogs, but nothing you wrote about Nellie reminds me of why I like dogs, it’s all why I don’t want a dog.

    Victor and the red feather sound intriguing (and like they might be your story) but we promptly go back to the farting dog and the messy apartment. Further, Victor isn’t active in the brief glimpse we get, so it’s not really a scene, just a vignette. So, this is a hint Fun Stuff Ahead! I hate these kinds of hints because I’m reading the book for the fun stuff, not the mundane scene that the hint is in.

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  12. Willaful
    Jun 29, 2014 @ 14:34:42

    I’ve noticed scenes in which pets are written as if they’re people, and then there’s a big reveal, in quite a few stories lately. I didn’t get that sense here though; it seemed pretty clear Nellie is a dog.

    What did confuse me is the memory of the dream. I thought it was switching to reality before it actually did, at her jumping at the sound, so maybe some more text to show we’re still in the memory would be good.

    ReplyReply

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