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First Page: Coming of Age/Romance

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I'd been a salesman for Live Well for close to a year when I started hearing rumors. After collecting our commissions at the home office another agent would pass something on, about the FBI, about our founder, Don Broadnax, having his house searched, his bank account seized. The next thing you know it's on the front page of the Chronicle, a three-column story about how he and other people in the company were involved in fraud, the criminal not civil kind you buy your way out of. Our founder and other men whose names I didn't recognize made unlawful collections from Medicare and Medicaid, the article said. More invoices were "manufactured" than turned in by people like me. The day the newspapers hit the lawns they closed us down. The door of our two-story building was padlocked, a notice plastered on the glass, the F B I so big you could read those letters from across the street. Some people did, but most were on our side, reading every word. Humiliating for those of us who had been proud of our company, the bathroom aids we ourselves sold to old people. And everybody, including me, was out of a job.

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

17 Comments

  1. galwiththehoe
    Feb 05, 2011 @ 04:22:17

    That’s already an entire story in the first paragraph. Do you flash back to show this story unfold in real time? Or is this an in-a-nutshell introduction and the “now” story starts after it?

    If it is the latter, it reads like an infodump without any emotion. Why not start the “now” story and show how the character is still affected by his or her past?

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Tamara Hogan
    Feb 05, 2011 @ 07:21:39

    Agreed, galwiththehoe. It sounds like an interesting scenario that could motivate or catalyze all sorts of here-and-now action and behavior – but I’m not clear why the author starts the story with this recitation of events. To me, this paragraph reads like a set-up. Does the here-and-now story kick off with the very next sentence, which isn’t provided?

    …And everybody, including me, was out of a job.

    So why was I buying a brand new Beemer?

    (or boarding a plane for Paris, or joining the Army, or doing some other specific thing that gives us insight into this nararator and his situation.)

    Yeah, here’s the set-up. Now what? ;-)

  3. DS
    Feb 05, 2011 @ 07:37:35

    If it was any sort of action story– mystery, suspense, etc, it should probably be started with the FBI coming in and locking the place up while the POV character watches. However, as a “coming of age story”, it seems a little odd— unless the POV character is the youngest salesman in the US or this is going to highlight something in his past.

    Bathroom aids? I’m not sure I want to know.

  4. Suzanne Rossi
    Feb 05, 2011 @ 07:49:13

    This author is making the same mistake most new authors make by assuming the reader needs to know everything right off the bat. We don’t. Tease us.

    What’s the MC reaction to all of this? Is he/she pissed off? Sad? Panicking at the thought of finding another job? Stunned in spite of the rumors?

    Maybe begin the story with dialogue like, “Damn!” I exclaimed after reading the FBI notice tacked to the door.

    This is all off the top of my head, but you get the drift. Personally, I wouldn’t use flashback. It’s hard to pull off and the reader already knows the outcome, so the story has to hold our attention.

    Thanks for inviting us to read your page.

  5. Becky Black
    Feb 05, 2011 @ 08:13:44

    Having to go to the office to collect commission sounds awfully old fashioned. Are they paying them in cash or something? Why wouldn’t payment just go straight to bank accounts? There could be any other number of reasons to go into the office, so that seems an odd one.
    ~
    Is it a slow news day that this story of fraud at a personal bathroom aids manufacturer is a three column news story? Unless the Broadnax guy is a huge bigshot and the firm is a major employer locally then why is it such a big story?
    ~
    “most were on our side” is a bit ambiguous. I initially read it as meaning “being supportive of” rather than on their side of the street.
    ~
    Do sales people turn in invoices or orders? Invoices go to customers.
    ~
    The bathroom aids thing is just kind of giggleworthy. The sort of thing we all know are needed, but really don’t want to hear much about. That might work for comedy, but romance? Hmmm… Maybe just “disability aids” instead, which would cover bathroom stuff and other things too.
    ~
    My main problem is that it’s a slab of exposition after which all I know about the narrator is that he’s a salesman, he’s out of a job and he was proud of what he sold. By contrast I know a lot more about Don Broadnax. He founded the company, he’s a fraudster on a big scale, he’s happy to rip of the government. If things are as bad as they appear, then he’s going to jail. He’s got some exciting stuff going on! Right now I’m more interested in Don than in the narrator – whose name I don’t know.
    ~
    It just needs to be more personal, more about the narrator and happening now. I’d rather see it as a scene where he shows up to the office to find it locked up and then the rest of the information could come out as he runs around trying to find out what’s going on.

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  7. ward jones
    Feb 05, 2011 @ 09:38:36

    Thanks for all of your comments. Very useful, and yes, this is and continues to be a work in progress. A finished novel, if you’d care to look, is described on my website. http://www.wardrjones.com

  8. Ankaret Wells
    Feb 05, 2011 @ 10:38:29

    I don’t really mind about the bathroom aids being mentioned – I think I assumed they were bath-to-shower conversions or something like that, though you could certainly read it as something more personal.

    I did slightly wonder why, in a romance / coming of age story, we were being introduced to a failed salesman. Is he the hero? The antagonist? Someone who just got caught up in Broadmax’s schemes? I know it’s just the first page, but I kept thinking where’s our heroine?

  9. JB Hunt
    Feb 05, 2011 @ 11:09:40

    I think this works really well. It doesn’t read like a romance as much as it does a work of general fiction.

    Everybody has assumed the narrator here is a man, but this could easily be a woman’s voice. There are no gendered pronouns, are there? The voice doesn’t sound southern, but there’s a “folksiness” to some of the phrasing that I really like.

    I love the double meaning of “most were on our side” and think you’ve managed to be clever there without being cute.

    I don’t think the voice is emotionless, as has been suggested. The tone I sense is resignation, which makes an interesting place for the character to begin. What will his/her arc be — a movement from defeated to hopeful?

    I want to know what comes next. What sort of quirky characters worked at the company? Which ones were crooks? Why was our narrator so clueless? How has everyone wised up? What’s the community/town look like?

    I would definitely read on.

    So who is the character? Author, can you comment?

  10. job
    Feb 05, 2011 @ 11:15:11

    This information may well have a place later in Chapter One. I don’t think this serves as a good first page.

    Couple few thoughts on this:

    — You give lots of specific information. But it’s questions that make reader turn the page, looking for answers.

    So maybe not so much,
    ‘This, this, and this happened.’
    And more,
    “Why was the FBI following me?” “Where had all these ill-gotten gains disappeared to?” “Who was really behind the swindle?”

    — If a story beginning includes sensory stuff, like the touch of somebody’s hand or a cold steering wheel or a police whistle or the taste of an ice cream sundae, the reader can build the setting in her mind. This lets her settle down inside the fictive world.

    This first page is all very abstract. Nothing the reader can ‘see’ or ‘touch’.

    — The reader wants to connect with the character as soon as possible. At the end of this first page I don’t know anything important about the character.

    — I need white space. I’m cross-eyed trying to read that huge block of text.

    — Exposition has an underlying organization. It could be chronological; could be in order of importance; could be items supporting some argument or leading to some conclusion.

    I can’t find any underlying organization to the specific information presented.

    — It is good to start a story with something interesting going on.

    Medicare fraud is not interesting in and of itself. The reader needs to see the character’s personal stake . . . after she cares about the character.

  11. Becky Black
    Feb 05, 2011 @ 11:33:02

    @JB Hunt:

    I was going with “salesman” being the clue that it’s a man. But without that there it’s definitely ambiguous.

  12. Anonymousss
    Feb 05, 2011 @ 11:36:27

    –> There are no gendered pronouns, are there?

    The narrator calls himself a ‘salesman’ in the first sentence – and the segment is written in first person POV. I think a female protagonist would be more likely to refer to herself as a ‘salesperson’ or ‘sales associate.’

  13. Barb
    Feb 05, 2011 @ 13:17:30

    Unemployment of a Salesman.
    Ugh. This is is not a beginning that would make me turn the page.
    Chop out the repetition and unnecessary details, so you can get to the real story. For example:

    The door of our two-story building was padlocked, a notice plastered on the glass, the F B I so big you could read those letters from across the street.
    I'd been a salesman for Live Well for close to a year when I started hearing rumors. The next thing you know it's on the front page of the Chronicle, Our founder and other men whose names I didn't recognize were arrested for fraud, the criminal not civil kind you buy your way out of. Humiliating for those of us who had been proud of our company. I was out of a job.

    And that's how I ended up here…

  14. JB Hunt
    Feb 05, 2011 @ 13:48:59

    My gosh, I totally skimmed right over “salesman.” Yikes! Yep, a woman would call herself a sales rep, for sure.

  15. BlueRose
    Feb 05, 2011 @ 16:01:35

    ONE GIANT PARAGRAPH that writes like a police confession statement.

  16. SAo
    Feb 06, 2011 @ 11:48:50

    When I read a book, I want to know the main character and the plot. If it’s a romance, I want to meet both main characters.

    I’ve finished the first page, and I don’t know the hero. I don’t know if he was too dumb to see the writing on the wall, if he was taking part of in the fraud, or if being out of work will be a minor or a big problem for him.

    Since Live Well is in the past, I don’t know anything about what the book is about, what’s about to happen. So, I’ll pass on this one.

  17. Sharon
    Feb 12, 2011 @ 16:09:17

    I liked it more than some of the other readers. I thought it was an interesting scenario, and I liked the way it was presented. The tone of detached resignation worked for me, and I didn’t need any more detail or emotional involvement.

    That said, I do wonder what this book is about. The backstory got me interested, but I have no idea where the book is going from here. And I am confused about a coming of age story that is told in first person by an adult, and is not recounting his childhood.

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