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First Page: Contemporary Romance Novel

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***

 “You know you’re screwed right?”

Audrey Greer sighed pointedly at her best friend. “Katy you are aware that you’ve said that to me now at least three times since we’ve been sitting here, right?”

“I count four,” their friend Nick offered helpfully.

“Thanks friends, I’ve always counted on the two of you to kick me when I’m down.”

“No trouble, it’s our job,” Nick said with a grin.

“Look, as much of a buzz kill as you two are being, I really think this job is going to be great,” Audrey said optimistically. “Traveling to Natalie Donovan’s hometown for an in-depth interview and feature piece with her will be a piece of cake compared to some of my assignments, plus it’s for Vanity freaking Fair! It’s been my dream to have an article in Vanity Fair and now it’s finally happening!” Audrey did a little shimmy in her chair proud that she managed not to pump her fists in triumph considering their lack of privacy. The three were sitting outdoors having lunch at The Urban Gardener, their favorite lunch spot, in downtown Santa Monica.

Katy eyed her skeptically. “Yes, but the bad thing, remember? Your interviewee is dating Rupert Moore, the Rupert Moore who directed The Sea and Time which you gave a less than glowing review.”

“Savaged him is more accurate,” Nick commented.

Audrey rolled her eyes at him. “First of all Natalie wasn’t even in that movie and second of all it was terrible and totally deserving of all its bad press. Be happy I didn’t force you to go with me to that screening. It had mermaids and time travel you guys. Mermaids and time travel!”

In her five years as a film critic she had seen only a handful of movies that were more self-important and ridiculous, which was a direct quote from her actual review. For most Hollywood directors bad reviews were an occasional fact of life, in a competitive business like film you needed a thick skin to weather the critics, but Rupert Moore had yet to develop his. He’d taken out a half-page ad in Variety to call Audrey a hack in print.  His exact words were “spiteful bitch” with “penis envy” that wouldn’t “recognize a masterpiece even if it was painted on her giant forehead.”  Audrey had laughed about it with her friends and colleagues saying that any notice was good for a struggling film critic but Nick and Katy had correctly pointed out that she had gotten a haircut the following week, with bangs. So maybe the giant forehead bit had made an impression.

 

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

25 Comments

  1. Lynne Connolly
    Mar 10, 2012 @ 06:16:02

    This scene is known as an AYKB scene. It stands for As You Know Bob. You are telling the reader what is going to happen, and not what is happening, and you need more than that on the first page.
    Dare to slice it and go to the real action, maybe when she’s meeting him for the first time. That’s where your story starts, isn’t it?

  2. Abbie Rhoades
    Mar 10, 2012 @ 06:50:42

    I’m in total 100% agreement with Lynne Connolly. She took the words right out of my mouth!

  3. Linda Winfree
    Mar 10, 2012 @ 08:02:26

    Ditto Lynne and Abbie. Drop me into the conflict of her running into him.

    Also, while I’m aware first pages subbed here may be drafts, this page has eight comma errors. If I’m counting comma errors, I’m not engaged in the story you are weaving.

    Good luck and thanks for sharing with us.

  4. Cara Ellison
    Mar 10, 2012 @ 08:17:16

    There were a few too many adverbs for me. “Helpfully” and “skeptically” pulled me out of the story. And I agree with the others – there was a lot of “as you know, Bob.”

  5. Sarah Frantz
    Mar 10, 2012 @ 08:56:09

    Also, the way sentence is currently constructed, it’s the penis envy that has the giant forehead. You need a “who” not a “that.”

  6. dick
    Mar 10, 2012 @ 09:12:15

    Aside from the comma splices, I thought it was OK. So it has an “as you know” flavor; there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that.

  7. Lori
    Mar 10, 2012 @ 09:46:03

    Nice engaging voice which makes for a pleasurable read. But I have to question if a director would really take out a half page ad anywhere savaging a critic and not destroy his own career. As well as publicly saying a woman has penis envy would probably send him slinking back to his cave never to br

  8. Lori
    Mar 10, 2012 @ 09:55:27

    Kudos to the author for having the courage to submit a first page. You have the makings for a fun read, but I think it needs work. Aside from the AYKB aspect and the comma errors, the opening gives no sense of the setting or characters. Take the time to establish who your characters are, and where they’re at. As written, they’re just three talking heads spouting backstory.

  9. Lori
    Mar 10, 2012 @ 09:56:01

    You have a nice engaging voice and I immediately felt like I’d read more happily. And I didn’t pay attention to commas so that’s a positive.

    But I was pulled right out of the story by a director taking an ad out in Variety to savage a reviewer and say she has penis envy. The simple guarantee that his career would be ruined by such a jackass move as well as his reputation in shatters pulled me right out of willingness to read more.

    You need to remember that just because it sounds funny doesn’t make it doable. You lost me as a reader that exact second because I thought you didn’t know your subject.

  10. Bibliotrek
    Mar 10, 2012 @ 10:17:15

    Agreed with previous comments. This bit even felt like a Tom Swifty: “Look, as much of a buzz kill as you two are being, I really think this job is going to be great,” Audrey said optimistically.

    I would totally watch a movie about time-traveling mermaids, though, so maybe I’m not your audience here. ;)

  11. Meoskop
    Mar 10, 2012 @ 10:18:13

    I don’t usually comment on first pages, but there is something in this that reminds me of Nora Roberts. That said, there is a lot of telling. More importantly, the set up one the hero is incredibly off putting it’s not just conflict, he’s a child in his tantrum. I hate your hero without having met him and will think less of the heroine if she become interested in him. A man who chooses those insults in a paid ad he had time to compose? Dick.

  12. Moenen
    Mar 10, 2012 @ 10:18:18

    “As you know” dialogues are bad because they’re forced, unnatural, and rarely convey information in an interesting way. No one in real life has “as you know” dialogues. Dialogue in fiction doesn’t have to be 100% realistic, but the “as you know” dialogue is the equivalent of an actor reading their lines into the camera, instead of to their fellow actors. Any information you feel is vital for the reader needs to be weaved into the story, setting, or dialogue. Trust your readers to figure things out for themselves, you don’t need to spell out everything.

    For instance, do we have to know that Rupert Moore is the director of the Sea and Time, specifically? Audrey already knows this, right? So why doesn’t Katy just say something like: “She’s dating Rupert Moore. Do you really think he’ll be happy about you interviewing his girlfriend after you trashed his movie?” If the fact that he’s a director or the name of the movie is important, you can just mention that later. Just make sure the dialogue and the story flow naturally.

    The part where we find out the history between Audrey and Rupert kind of has the same problem. I actually liked what you wrote here, just not the way you wrote it. Taking out a huge ad to insult a critic is exactly what I imagine a pretentious egomaniac would do, so that was a nice way to show how thin-skinned Rupert is. I also liked how Audrey responded to it; pretending not to care even though his comment still influenced a decision is really relatable. But the scene feels kind of distant to me because we’re only told what happened and how Audrey responded. Maybe you could bring it a little closer by, for instance, having Audrey think about Rupert’s insults, sneer at the thought of letting any of his words get to her, and then brush her bangs from her eyes because she’s still not used to her new haircut. Something like that? I dunno, I think I’m rambling now.

    Anyway, I agree with the others about the commas. You really need to make sure your first page has no spelling or grammar errors. It’s the first thing people see when they read your story and a lot of readers will stop immediately when they see errors.

    I hope my massive wall of text doesn’t scare you off, it’s not like I think your story is totally awful or anything. The “as you know” dialogue is pretty common among new writers, and it’s certainly not some terrible mistake so it’s not like it can’t be fixed. Just keep practising, read your dialogue out loud to see if it sounds natural, and you’ll be fine. Good luck!

  13. DM
    Mar 10, 2012 @ 10:22:49

    “So it has an “as you know” flavor; there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that.”

    The problem with an As You Know scene is that it destroys the illusion of reality. Real people don’t provide handy recaps of things they already know, and real-seeming characters don’t either. As a vehicle for exposition, it’s clumsy. On a first page, it’s deadly. Readers are looking for someone to empathize with, a point of view character they can get behind, if only for a few pages. The whole purpose of your first chapter may in fact be exposition, the character we are meeting may be nothing but a vehicle for that exposition (check out the first chapter of Game of Thrones if you want a great example of a character who exists solely to provide backstory) but we need to be emotionally engaged by them or we’ll stop reading. This does not mean we must be dropped, on the first page, into a scene of action. It does mean we must be dropped into a situation of tension, of emotional want, of hope versus fear. If your character wants, hopes, fears nothing, why read on?

    As a further note for the author, the sharpest dramatic scenes focus on conflict between two characters. Additional characters tend to dilute the drama. As you shape your scenes, ask yourself: what scene in my favorite book/movie/play/show is this most like? Chances are your favorite scenes are conflicts between two characters. Others may watch/comment/complicate the scene, but the real conflict is almost always one on one.

  14. Darlynne
    Mar 10, 2012 @ 10:40:35

    I agree with other comments about “as you know” and the lack of commas; if I’m aware of either, I’m not in the story. What I’ll add, however, is the name of your presumptive hero, Rupert Moore. Although I appreciate that you’ve chosen something beyond the usual, the vision of Rupert Murdoch never left me. That image does not a romance hero summon, in my mind, particularly with his very public and offensive response to Audrey’s review.

    Thank you for sharing your work. I hope you continue to write.

  15. Kate
    Mar 10, 2012 @ 10:47:44

    Kudos, author, for putting your work out there! It takes considerable guts to do it. I agree with the comments about the “as you know” issue and the starting place for the conflict. If you want to stick with the “this is what’s going to happen/here’s why that’s going to be a problem” opening, then it might be better to have the story start with her getting the assignment from her editor or pulling up to the interview site nervous about what’s ahead. (She enters big mansion, feels small and insignificant, etc.) Another option would be to have the assignment be an interview with the director himself. I can see an editor pitting these two together because of their history – she’d do it because it’s good for her career, he might so he could put her in her place. On the whole, it sounds like a fun set up and you have a breezy writing style that reads well.

  16. SAO
    Mar 10, 2012 @ 10:55:36

    I agree with the comments above, but for me, the killer is lack of conflict. You’re basically trying to get me to say, “ooh, this is going to be good.” The problem is I’d rather be seeing the great scene for myself than being told it’s coming by you.

    I admit that this is heightened by the fact that you don’t get to the interview scene in this page, so I all I got to read was the boring backstory, not the great scene and I’d probably read on for a page or two, but if by page three, I’m not in the middle of a scene, rather than a set-up, I’ll put the book down.

    That being said, I have a hard time believing that all this backstory couldn’t be woven into an opening interview scene.

    “Hi, Ms Donovan, I’m here to do an interview for Vanity Fair.” Audrey hoped she sounded like she’d done a million interviews for the magazine, instead of like this was an incredible break-through that she’d better not screw up.

    “Call me Natalie.” Up close, the actress was as lovely as on the silver screen. “What did you say your name was again?” She flashed Audrey her trademarked 1000 watt smile in lieu of an apology.

    “Audrey Greer. Vanity Fair. We’re thinking of a piece on —”

    “What? What did you say your name was?” The smile vanished from Natalie’s face. In fact, she looked more outraged than she did when Brad Pitt drank her blood in The Vampire Strikes Back.

    Oh, Hell. There went the interview and Audrey’s career. Right down the toilet.”

    This isn’t brilliant writing, but you get the picture.

  17. the author
    Mar 10, 2012 @ 11:18:42

    Thanks so much for the great feedback and notes. I wasn’t planning on commenting on my first page at all but I wanted to just clear up one thing -the director mentioned is NOT the hero of my story. Misogyny is not a quality I would want in a romance hero. The actual hero is the brother of the starlet being interviewed.

  18. Anthea Lawson
    Mar 10, 2012 @ 13:40:44

    @the author: Do keep in mind that romance readers tend to ‘imprint’ on the first likely guy as being the hero, unless there are obvious things (like already married, age, etc) that take him out of the running.

    I agree that you’ve got a good voice for this, and that you’re probably starting the story in the wrong place. Keep writing!

  19. nearhere
    Mar 10, 2012 @ 17:38:41

    i really enjoyed the dialogue here. i think you have a real talent for that.

  20. Maili
    Mar 10, 2012 @ 22:56:21

    A couple of issues:

    - “Traveling to Natalie Donovan’s hometown for an in-depth interview and feature piece with her will be a piece of cake compared to some of my assignments, plus it’s for Vanity freaking Fair!”

    By the sound of it, actress Natalie is a rising star who’s dating Rupert Moore, but doesn’t appear in the current release (The Sea and Time)? Then there’s no point is travelling. She could have done what the others usually do: a telephone interview, usually scheduled by Natalie’s agent or publicist (her agency if no current release or distributor if current release).

    Vanity Fair is notoriously tight-fisted with its expenses where newbie interviewers and rising stars are concerned. A major mag would do pieces on rising stars if it involves negotiations with the agency of a desired property, e.g. if VF wants a piece on, say, Angelina Jolie, Jolie’s agency would say, “OK, but only if you agree to do featured pieces on our agency’s two rising stars: Natalie Donovan and Harry Boffman.” VF would agree, just to get their mitts on Jolie. It still doesn’t explain why they would send a struggling film critic instead of one of their own, though. Nor does it explain why VF would be willing to damage its relationship with Rupert Moore’s agency.

    If Natalie isn’t a rising star, but an established actress, then you’d better explain how or why Natalie and her people would allow Audrey to come to Natalie’s hometown as privacy would be a rare commodity for someone like her. This is why I assumed Natalie was a rising star as most rising stars tend to be unguarded and willing to let journalists into their homes. I mean, it took a Rolling Stone journalist – Lisa Bernhard – almost a year to get River Phoenix to agree to an in-person interview in Gainesville (his adopted hometown).

    - “In her five years as a film critic she had seen only a handful of movies that were more self-important and ridiculous, which was a direct quote from her actual review.”

    On average, a working film critic watches 5-10 films per week (usually 10/11AM screenings at selected cinemas (usually a week or two before nationwide release), at certain festivals (usually six months or a year before nationwide release), DVD/digital screeners (usually a month before nationwide release and limited DVD releases for in-depth reviews).

    So, “a handful of films that were more important and ridiculous” is funny because in my experience, there’s at least one ridiculous film per week (this is probably why the majority of film critics are slightly unhinged). It’s not an important issue, though. However…

    – “He’d taken out a half-page ad in Variety to call Audrey a hack in print. His exact words were “spiteful bitch” with “penis envy” that wouldn’t “recognize a masterpiece even if it was painted on her giant forehead.” Audrey had laughed about it with her friends and colleagues saying that any notice was good for a struggling film critic”

    That completely kills my suspension of belief. Four reasons:

    a) Audrey is a struggling film critic with a bad rep, which makes her opportunity to do the Vanity Fair featured interview a bit odd
    b) Rupert Moore would have to be really high on drugs to take out a half-page ad against a no-name critic. His agency would pull this ad behind his back before it’d go to print because it’d affect them just as much as it’d affect Moore.
    c) why would Natalie agree to an interview with Audrey when her lover took out an ad against Audrey? When there’s a possibility that Audrey would slaughter her in the published interview as revenge?
    d) believe it or not, Variety would and do reject that kind of adverts because it violates their T&C*

    *”Does not contain any content that is unlawful, threatening, harassing, profane, tortious, defamatory, vulgar, obscene, libelous, deceptive, fraudulent, contains explicit or graphic descriptions or accounts of sexual acts (including but not limited to sexual language of a violent or threatening nature directed at another individual or group of individuals), invasive of another’s privacy, or hateful[...]” [Last updated: February 2011 | Terms and Conditions of Use | Variety | Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.]

    All those issues can be resolved, though. Easily. One possibility: Natalie could ask to have Audrey to interview her. No one would deny Natalie’s request if she was an established actress. While she may have some suspicions, Audrey wouldn’t know why Natalie would ask for her, which could intrigue her enough to agree.

    Also, instead of having Rupert Moore to take out a Variety advert, he could slag her off in a live televised interview. His agent could explain this away to concerned people that Moore was hot-headed/drunk/high/emotional enough to do something stupid like that. Since it was live, his people can’t edit it out either.

    Sorry for being so long-winded, but hope this helps somehow. Good luck with your novel!

  21. Amanda Jeanette
    Mar 10, 2012 @ 23:04:53

    Your dialogue, and writer voice in general, could use some polishing.

    This is first noticable at “sighed pointed at her best friend.” It tells me nothing about her except that she’s exasperated, and she’s the speaker’s best friend and that’s whta it is: telling.

    The banter feels like it had no real personality in it either. It’s somethign I’ve heard before, more than once.

    A lot of their dialogue is info dump ‘three times since we’ve been sitting here” and “traveling to Natalie Donovan’s hometown for an in-depth intervew and feature piece with her.’

    A lot of the writing outside of dialogue goes Name/pronoun verbed adjectively (prepositional phrase). You really need to work on changing up on these structres, find the most interesting way possible to say these things.

    In general, I see in you the thing that gets my own writing down: too literal. Make the verbs do you work, cut out adjectives unless they ADD to your sentence instead of just widdling it down closer to your meaning, and keep in mind that characters will let inaccuracies go sometimes, there other ways to give context than stilting their language.

  22. Kaetrin
    Mar 11, 2012 @ 01:40:11

    I agree with most of the commenters here. I’d like to add that there was something very engaging about your style, even with the issues identified. I don’t usually read the first page submissions but as this was a contemporary, I took a peek and ended up reading the whole thing.

    Not all that long ago, here in Australia, a DJ by the name of Kyle Sandilands took exception to a lukewarmish review of a tv show he’d been involved in. He responded on his radio show and insulted the reviewer in a very personal way (he was really a pig and commented on her size, her fashion sense, her nose and her ability to attract a man). It didn’t go over well and he lost a few advertisers on his programme but, as much as I don’t think much of him, he appears to still be on the air. And Rush Limbaugh is still going isn’t he? So, given that, I think the director could possibly take out the ad criticizing the review without killing his career, particularly if he already had a bad reputation, but the big problem is that you’ve set up a conflict/tension with a guy who is not your hero. I don’t like the director already because he’s clearly a jerk and while there may be an audience for a time travel mermaid movie, its a bit ridiculous that he’s defending it as high art (IMO). As interesting an idea as the bad boy director might be, if he’s not the hero, I don’t want or need to meet him on the first page. I’m not a writer, so I don’t have any fix suggestions for you about it. Sorry!

    I would like to encourage you though because there is a really nice author voice there, IMO. :)

  23. Sleuth
    Mar 11, 2012 @ 03:23:43

    When I read it, I immediately assumed the director mentioned wasn’t the hero, just because of the “penis envy” bit. But I can definitely see where other readers might be confused.

    I personally don’t think it’s necessary to delete that part. Like Miz Anthea Lawson up there said, the reader will assume the first guy mentioned is the hero – unless something makes it obvious he’s not. Would it be possible to make him the interviewee’s husband, instead of the interviewee’s boyfriend? Or perhaps he’s older? Or (and I hate to say this) unattractive?

    Or have the director mentioned only after the hero’s been introduced, like others have said.

    You could open on the interview scene. Make it clear both girls are uncomfortable with each other. Don’t say why, just let the reader be curious. The brother walks in, they meet and make googly eyes are each other. He asks why she’s so uncomfortable – giggling, she explains her interviewee is dating a guy who hates her.

  24. dick
    Mar 11, 2012 @ 09:19:29

    Most writers, at some point in a narrative, utilize what is essentially AYK. Regardless, although perhaps not as smooth as other methods, it’s not wrong to use it.

  25. Kristi
    Mar 12, 2012 @ 11:14:51

    I really liked it actually. It was very engaging and made me laugh… I like her friends! However after reading all the comments, I’m nodding my head a bit. Probably why I’m a reader and not an editor.

    Now, if I read this later I would be secretly hoping for the Director to be the naughty boy who gets redeemed in the end, darn!

    We really need a follow up for these blog posts. As in “Now published – first debuted in Dear Author’s First Page: Saturday!”

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