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First Page: Cupid’s Love (Working Title)

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Genre: Contemporary Romance with a paranormal twist

Prue Harrison didn’t know which was worse, dealing with this bride or telling her friend about the cake order she needed him to make by next weekend. He would need to stop everything and work his ass off to get it finished in time, which meant she would have to hear an endless amount of whining and moaning. Oh, well, she’d dealt with it in the past. If anyone could convince him to take on the job, it was her. What good was being a wedding planner if she couldn’t utilize her family’s bakery for her own personal gain?

Sighing, she climbed out of her car, straightening her meticulous suit. The old building in front of her had housed The Yellow Rose bakery since her grandfather opened the doors in the 1940s, fresh out of the army. Almost every afternoon of her childhood had been spent at one of the small tables in that bakery, working on homework or reading a book while her dad made and sold delicious treats.

Opening the door, she braced herself for the wall of warmth, laced with mouthwatering smells. Sure enough, her senses were assaulted with whiffs of chocolate, mingled with vanilla, tinged with sugar and a hint of yeast. Scents that told her she was home, in a safe, comfortable place.

Thankfully, the front of the shop was empty except for a tall, lanky young man with a shock of dark red hair that stood behind the counter wearing a smudge covered apron. Josh, her life-long best friend and her only hope of making the Princess Bride happy.

“And how is my favorite baker in all the world?” she asked, piling on the sweetness in her voice.

Josh looked up from the cookies he’d just finished transferring to the display tray. “What’s the order and how soon do you need it?”

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

22 Comments

  1. Anonymous
    Apr 23, 2011 @ 06:37:12

    For me, it was high on atmosphere, low on content. I don’t care if an anonymous woman gets her cake in time, and that’s about the only conflict we’ve got, here.

    I know that the ‘start when the action starts’ rule can be over-emphasized, and I think the atmosphere-building was done quite well, but I just don’t care about the story.

    There are a few awkward parts, too – I think the idea of senses being ‘assaulted’ is a bit overdone, and I don’t think it works in this context. I could be wrong, but generally I believe that familiar scents burn out the related receptors in the nose (or something more scientifically accurate), so that people barely notice smells they’re really used to. So I can’t see your character being assaulted by the bakery smells. Also, “a tall, lanky young man with a shock of dark red hair that stood behind the counter wearing a smudge covered apron” very much gives me the mental image of a bundle of red hair, all alone, wearing an apron.

    Finally, I feel like maybe you’re missing some opportunities to make your writing really memorable. Like, going on about the sweetness of the bakery and then having the main character “piling on the sweetness in her voice” is frustratingly close to a coherent imagery, but isn’t quite there. I don’t think you want to overdo stuff like that, but a little would be great.

  2. Willa
    Apr 23, 2011 @ 07:43:55

    As a first page it didn’t ‘grab’ me and make me want to continue reading.

    A woman gets out of her car, enters the family bakery and is about to ask the baker to make a cake for an upcoming wedding that the heroine is organising . . .

    It doesn’t have a sense of urgency or atmosphere or a twist of some kind that would make me rush to the checkout . .

  3. SN
    Apr 23, 2011 @ 08:00:35

    Ditto about this:

    “a tall, lanky young man with a shock of dark red hair that stood behind the counter wearing a smudge covered apron.”

    A person is a WHO, not a THAT. I know it has become really common in America to use ‘that’ for people, but you really shouldn’t – the same way you should never refer to humans as ‘it’.
    You should change that sentence around too. At the moment you’ve written that the hair is standing behind the counter, wearing an apron!

    I like the atmosphere you’ve created though. I’d probably read a little further than this (provided you fix that sentence!) as I don’t think there’s enough here to make me decide whether to give up or keep going with the book.

  4. kali
    Apr 23, 2011 @ 08:44:39

    This also didn’t grab me, although I can see the promise in it. I think the problem is that we as readers are drawn on by curiosity and tension, and while I *could* have been curious about what happens when she enters the bakery, you have already told me: She’ll convince her friend to help her.

    Tension can also be raised by letting us see the stakes–how close is the wedding? What will failure do to her business? Give her some skin in the game and a bit of uncertainty, and people will want to read on.

    And ditto about the shock of red hair that stood behind the counter ;)

    Otherwise, keep going and good luck–

  5. Gwynnyd
    Apr 23, 2011 @ 09:19:12

    Since it said this has a “paranormal twist,” my brain tried very hard to find one. I read the sentence “Oh, well, she’d dealt with it in the past.” as “Oh, well, she’d deal with it in the past.” and was expecting time travel. Apparently not. Too bad.

    Josh is her long-time, best friend and what she notices about him is his hair color? Hair color seems like something that is taken for granted after a long acquaintance. I’d expect some more personal comment. Do the number of smudges on his apron correlate to his mood or something? Was his hair not red the last time she saw him?

    I agree that this was sweet but unmemorable, and it did not particularly draw me into wanting to know what happens next.

  6. theo
    Apr 23, 2011 @ 09:26:26

    SN already commented on the red hair wearing an apron. There were a couple other things as well. The way it was written, she’s worried about her friend getting the cake done for her (friend’s bakery) then I find out that her family owns the bakery in which case, who cares that it’s her friend, it’s his job. That was center stage for me as I read the remainder of the entry.

    The scents I didn’t have a problem with. If you’re away from them for any length of time, you’ll notice them again, but ‘assaulted’ didn’t quite sit right with me. These are familiar, family, growing up smells. Those, at least to me, wouldn’t assault the senses. They would comfort, remind, refresh, bring old memories to the surface. Assault is the driver’s room where I work that smells like someone’s dirty socks, grease, oil and gas, with a skunk tossed in. The grease, oil and gas doesn’t bother me. I’ve lived with that smell forever, but the dirty socks and skunky odors assault me and make me wince every time I walk past the room.

    Unless this is a time travel, the name Prue doesn’t work for me. It’s too Regency/Edwardian/Victorian for me, but maybe not for everyone else. I know names are often hard for the author and sometimes aren’t set in stone until the book is almost finished. But in this case, Prue is just too old fashioned to work for me.

    Last, I would love to tell you that you have something to pursue here, but I have no idea what’s going on other than your Hn, (at least, I think Prue is your Hn) is a wedding planner and she needs a cake. If the bride is bossy or snooty or nasty, give me that scene first. Make me care that your Hn will be able to get the cake done so she doesn’t lose the job. In this case, I don’t care because there isn’t anything to make me.

    Some good editing and rethinking in some spots will make a world of difference here.

    Kudos for putting it out there. Tough, tough thing to do.

  7. Lynne Connolly
    Apr 23, 2011 @ 10:25:52

    Well I really liked this one. It reminds me of something else, but – oh yes, Doreen Orsini’s “Tanner’s Angel,” but that was a BDSM book.
    There is a bit of cleaning up to do, for instance, the shock of red hair. she might notice it if it stands out against the background, or his white clothes – use it in action, rather than a static description.
    But I’d read on.

  8. Sharon
    Apr 23, 2011 @ 11:07:46

    I agree with the preceding comments about this conflict just not grabbing me. I don’t have any reason so far to care whether an unreasonable bride gets her way.

    More importantly, it did not ring true for me. I work with a woman who bakes wedding cakes for a living, and it would have to be a pretty spectacular cake, along the lines of the ones prepared for the royal wedding, made in the shape of a castle with the entire surrounding village or something similarly outrageous, to require an entire week to make. My friend makes several multi-tier, elaborately decorated cakes every Friday for delivery on Saturday. That’s her job.

    Furthermore, if he’s a baker, presumably he wants people to hire him to make cakes. She’s bringing him business, not asking for a favor. A wedding planner isn’t going to need to use family connections or deal with whining and moaning just to get a cake made, even if it is short notice.

    And, as someone else asked, if her family owns the bakery, what is this guy’s status there? If he’s an employee and he’s whining about doing his job, I hope he gets fired.

    I suggest completely rewriting this opening with a different dilemma, but if you’re really tied to this scenario, you at least need to provide some special circumstances to explain why this particular cake can’t be made in a few hours, or why he is too busy to squeeze it into his schedule this week. You also need to give us a reason to care, by showing us what’s at stake for our Hn. How will her life suffer if she can’t make this bride happy?

  9. dm
    Apr 23, 2011 @ 11:59:01

    There’s no hook here.

    Probably the best discussion on crafting hooks is found in Don’t Sabotage Your Submission by Chris Roerden. Hooks are tough to master. And there is a lot of confusion about what constitutes a hook. It’s not “starting in action” and it’s not “setting up the main conflict on the first page” although both of these things help make a first page compelling. It’s snagging the readers interest, making them curious, crooking your story finger and beckoning the reader in with a come hither smile.

    Roerden’s book is an amazing primer on the subject because the examples are so well selected, they make you realize how many great books DON’T start with a good hook. They start with a literary fetish instead. A trope an established audience will read no matter how slow the first few chapters, because damn it the book has vampires, angels, navy seals, pirates…you get the idea.

    Your book has wedding planners and bakers and cakes. You’ll notice there is no Harlequin line called “Hot Cakes.” So if this is the story you want to tell, you have to work this first page to infuse wedding planners and bakers with a helluvalotta interest.

    How to do it?

    Well, get the situation clear in your own mind first. Ask yourself: what is the worst thing that will happen if Prue cannot get this cake? What are the stakes here? Will she lose a client? Not big enough. Will her business go under? That’s much better. Is this bride someone who matters to her? A best friend? A best friend who stole Prue’s one true love and now Prue has to plan the wedding?

    Next, ask yourself, what is the obstacle here? Hot Baker Boy might not want to make the cake? Not good enough. Hot Baker Boy has sworn she’ll never get another cake out of him if she won’t go out to dinner with him? Better. But wait, Hot Baker Boy works for her family bakery. You’ve cut some of the conflict out from under yourself there. Think about whether the family-owned bakery helps or hurst your story.

    Now, to the all important bottom of that first page. Where to leave use? With a question. Give Prue a decision to make. And make it a hard one, where she has something to lose no matter which way she turns.

  10. Las
    Apr 23, 2011 @ 18:25:19

    I agree about the lack of conflict, but it IS the first page, so I might continue reading for a while. But it does reminds me why I never read straight contemporaries longer than category length–whatever conflicts they do have just aren’t compelling enough for me to stick with for long. I’d need to read the paranormal bit pretty soon after the first page.

  11. dm
    Apr 23, 2011 @ 20:09:44

    @Las

    You raise a really great point about contemps. When we open to the first page of a book, we’re actively looking for a reason to keep reading. We’re looking for a sign from the author that this will be a great read. In a mystery, a puzzling or ghastly crime will elicit our curiosity. Who did this? In a historical, particularly now that so many of them are Regencies, an unwanted betrothal or a heroine facing life threatening poverty are likely to draw us in. Suspense titles usually drop a girl next door in a sea of dangerous spies or other clandestine types. There’s clearly something at stake. Paranormals usually put the heroine in supernatural peril on the first page if they can, double dipping so to speak, with both a hook and a fetish to reel us in.

    But what does the contemporary have? What are the familiar tropes of the modern romance that we can’t resist reading? I have to admit that I’m not sure. Presents tend to be historicals in disguise, in that the heroine is often facing ruin or poverty in some forgotten pocket of the universe that follows all the rules of Heyer’s Regency world but peoples it with tall, dark, and handsome tycoons, sheiks, and captains of industry.

    But when I open a single title contemp with none of these genre elements, no murders or vampire angels or spy assassins or dark and handsome Greek tycoons who thoughtfully wax their chests, I have no idea what to look for to assure me that this author knows how to spin a story. It’s both a great freedom for authors–there are fewer preconceptions about what kind of book you should be writing–and a great danger–you’ve got no clear way to reach out to readers and say: here be dragons!

  12. Pat
    Apr 23, 2011 @ 21:47:34

    @dm

    I think you have put your finger on what I find lacking in most contemporaries, and it’s a problem for this opening. It’s hard to think of a wedding cake’s being imperfect as a major problem, and it’s hard to think of people who might consider that a major problem as worth a reader’s attention.

    There isn’t anything particularly wrong with this opening, so my criticism is really about the expectations it raises. I might read a few more pages before putting this back on the shelf, but I want something to tell me the heroine isn’t a superficial nitwit and has some real problems to confront.

  13. Liza Lester
    Apr 24, 2011 @ 00:11:59

    You’re leading with a mess of infodump and some put-upon internal monologing (a narrative style I wish authors of contemporaries and UF would use less often). I see that you are trying to connect to the chick lit zeitgeist of homey food/wedding industry, family, and pluckish heroine with a cute job–but as other commenters have stated, there are strategies that can accomplish your setup more actively, whether through wordsmithing, dialog, or dramatic action. I think you’ll do better with more plot in motion on the first page.

    Re. creating conflict in contemporaries: many problems of our time don’t get tapped by romance authors (crippling student loans? job outsourced? mortgage under water? STDs? heroine make more money than hero?), perhaps because they are too close to home for a comfortable fantasy, and aren’t, um, romantic. Historicals already have a fantasy element that is hard to get away with in a contemporary setting.

  14. Heather
    Apr 24, 2011 @ 00:39:57

    I didn’t like Prue at the end of paragraph one and wouldn’t continue reading. She’s expecting that the baker will stop working on whatever he’s currently working on so the cake for Her client will be done on time. I don’t care that it’s for a job she strikes me as selfish

    Heather

  15. dm
    Apr 24, 2011 @ 00:49:10

    @Liza Lester

    You are right. There are plenty of contemporary conflicts authors could tap into for juicy stories to equal what we see in historicals. The mortgage under water is just as good as the gambling father or brother of the Regency, the crippling student loan every bit as grim as the dreaded future as a governess plot. Maybe these plot elements are too close to home for comfort, but I suspect we’d have stronger contemporaries if authors would take the plunge. The success of chic lit has caused a lot of the plotting of that genre to bleed over into contemporary romance. And while there are successful books that straddle both markets, I would argue that the emotional intention of chic lit is entirely different from that of romance. Chic lit seeks to amuse and entertain by finding what is universal in the contemporary urban female experience–it’s not about the journey to partnership between two people falling in love–it’s more often a rite of passage story that sometimes includes flirtation and sex.

  16. Jane Lovering
    Apr 24, 2011 @ 10:11:45

    Maybe it’s being a Brit and reading and writing for the British market, but I’d say contemps (and I’m not talking about M&B and similar here, but the wider market) should hook you and reel you in with the characters. Romance, after all, is about people, about their lives and their trials and tribulations on their way to their HEA,so I’d say read contemps if you like something a little more psychological, a little more in-depth characterwise,if you want to get to know the people and care about them.

  17. Courtney Milan
    Apr 24, 2011 @ 11:02:32

    I agree with most of what has been said, but there’s a fundamental problem here that’s been bugging me, and I’m going to try to articulate it.

    Side gripe: “meticulous suit”–how can a suit be meticulous? A suit can be meticulously tailored or meticulously clean, but the suit itself is not meticulous, unless that happens to be the paranormal element in the story.

    And then we get mixed bakery signals: she’s walking into her old family bakery, and you’re hitting us over the head with warm/comfort/good smells, but she’s walking into it uneasy, knowing she’s going to have to talk her friend into doing something.

    You’re not lining up your emotions with the scene. If she’s dreading the task ahead, don’t describe the scene as comforting for her–describe it in terms of that vague unease. She shouldn’t be pinging on comfort, comfort, comfort; she should be thinking with annoyance about how he changed out the tables and she doesn’t like the new plastic ones. Or something like that.

    What it comes down to is this: I have the very subtle sense that you’re just describing the way you think this should look. You’re not using the setting to move the story forward.

    And I think that echoes what a lot of other people are saying. This feels like a pastiche, not the start of a story. It feels to me like you’re putting words on the page and not noticing that they need to be knocked around and lined up to point in a direction.

    I don’t know if that explanation of mine makes any sense, but this feels to me like an early draft: something where you’re just putting stuff down because you’re not quite sure where you’re headed.

  18. SAO
    Apr 24, 2011 @ 12:39:48

    Character shows in the choices and actions your character makes/does. Prue is jumping through all the hoops set by a difficult client, she puts on a false front to get her old friend to work overtime. Without a compelling reason for her to kowtow to the client or not make an offer (like of the the client’s cash) that Josh can’t refuse, I’m not very impressed with her.

    I think Prue should be looking after the interests of her old friend and family’s bakery, meaning making sure that they have a good reason to want to make that cake.

    If she had a good reason (debts, need to rescue a faltering business, etc) and she genuinely seemed to appreciate the favor she was asking, I’d like her better.

    I second the comments about no conflict. I really don’t care if Prue or Bridezilla get their cake.

    BTW, a cake that’s a week in the making sounds like a stale cake to me.

  19. Ann
    Apr 24, 2011 @ 12:46:44

    I would also like to discover what the hint of paranormal involves. Time travel would interest me, but please let us know what paranormal element(s) are within the plot.

  20. Maura
    Apr 25, 2011 @ 10:34:21

    I lost interest before the end of the first paragraph. So she’s a wedding planner. It’s her job to get things like this done. And a professional baker’s probably well used to working overtime during high wedding season. That’s *his* job. So by the end of the first paragraph you’ve told me that the friend, who appears to be your H, is going to be a whiner, and that Prue (I agree with this name being excessively old-fashioned, and also throw in that it is likely to be most familiar to readers as the name of a main character on the “Charmed” TV show) doesn’t have enough fortitude to deal with the daily vagaries of her job without feeling sorry for herself. That’s not such a terrible trait, but I don’t want it to be the first thing I learn about a prospective Hn.

  21. Valerie
    Apr 29, 2011 @ 12:50:57

    I just wanted to chime in to say you really need to be aware of the associations some of the names and phrases you use have. Prue? I am immediately expecting this to be thinly veiled Charmed fanfic. “Princess Bride”? Really? I get what you’re trying to say, but I can’t hear “princess bride” without seeing Buttercup and Westley in my head.

    In the first paragraph, your use of pronouns was muddled. “Prue Harrison didn’t know which was worse, dealing with this bride or telling her friend about the cake order she needed him to make by next weekend. He would need to stop everything and work his ass off to get it finished in time, which meant she would have to hear an endless amount of whining and moaning.” I know what you meant, but I struggled a little to keep straight that “her friend” was Prue’s friend, not the bride’s, and “he” wasn’t Prue (this is probably in part because I am annoyed by the use of the name Prue, and would prefer if your Hero were a male wedding planner named Prue :D)

    pS: whining and moaning hero? Pass. Baker whining about DOING. HIS. JOB? PASS.

  22. mae bayley
    May 04, 2011 @ 10:12:13

    Commenting strictly as a reader, I had few problems with this opening. The use of “this bride” made me feel like something got cut off — what bride?? But I found it interesting enough to keep reading.

    As for the name “Prue” — it works just fine for me. And as for it reminding people of some character or other — so what? How many names won’t remind someone of someone?

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