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First Page: Duly Noted (working title)

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“You know that is quite impossible.” Clara Burbank declared as she pushed her friend’s wheelchair along the path, her eyes following Harold as he chased his new puppy down one of the circular paths of the garden. In an instant boy and dog disappeared behind a copse of bushes.

“One hesitates to disagree with a friend, naturally,” Lady Lucinda Grimsby began in a tone that promised she was not overset by the delicacy of this particular social challenge. “However, I have found that it is, in some extraordinary instances, entirely possible for beautiful young heiresses of marriageable age to attend private chaperoned evening events without undue damage resulting to their persons or reputations. Assuming, of course, that all reasonable precautions have been taken.” Clara rolled her eyes at this pithy little declaration. “Generally speaking, the other attendees manage to go on and live normal lives afterwards.”

“Really, and was your analysis conducted with a large population of murderesses?” Clara challenged. That was, after all, the point.

“You are not a murderess!” Lucinda protested fiercely.

“I assure you that the mere speculation that I might be one adequately discourages any marriage-minded mamas from allowing their precious off-spring to attend a function in my company. There are vanishingly few parents who are eager to take the place of my own.” The last six years had taught Clara as much as any lady needed about the value of a good reputation, and the staggering cost of a bad one. Clara would never be welcome amongst her peers. Respectable ladies could not risk their reputation by association with hers, and Clara could not compromise the small shred of decency still attached to her name by frequenting anything less than respectable ladies. The only other lady she knew who lived on precisely that same knife edge of respectability was Lucinda.

“I do not believe that there is a single gentleman of my acquaintance who continues to obey his mother’s dictates in the matter of the company he keeps. I tend to find those that are so burdened with filial duty singularly uninteresting.” Clara’s lips twitched at eloquent dismissal. Lucinda herself had once been a very proper and obedient daughter. Her unwanted marriage, and the disastrous results, had convinced her of the wisdom of following her own council, rather than being ruled by blind obedience to parental decrees. “In any event, I merely suggested that you attend a small, intimate gathering at my home. Your aunt’s retreat to Bath could not have come at a more opportune time.”

“She intends to stay a fortnight, perhaps more this time.” Clara conceded. Aunt Augusta, their father’s much elder sister, had become guardian to Clara and her brother, Harold, when their parents had perished in a fire. It was that double tragedy that Clara was suspected of orchestrating.

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

9 Comments

  1. SAO
    Apr 27, 2013 @ 04:43:39

    I like Lady Lucinda. The writing is good, although I have a few quibbles, like finishing something LL says with Clara’s lips twitching when convention assumes the named person right after speech is the speaker.

    But, if Clara is the MC, which I think she is, she is passive on this page. LL is doing most of the talking. LL has a distinctive voice. Clara listens. I don’t know who she is (other than a friend of the marvelous LL). What you want us to do is to love Clara and want to read more about her, not more about LL.

    What does Clara want? Social acceptance? Badly or not? What does Clara feel about being an accused murderess? Anger? Hurt? Shame? What about friends whom I assume abandoned her? What about family (and if they believe the accusations, what are they doing allowing her anywhere near Harold?)? And does she feel grief over the loss of her parents? And, of course, did C’s parents die due to foul play?

    You’ve stuck Clara in a situation that ought to be boiling over with intense emotions and she’s strolling through a garden listening to LL’s delightfully wordy opinions. Even 6 years later, is she resigned to being an accused murderer and unable to clear her reputation? And if she’s accepted a false accusation has ruined her life, I’m not sure I want to read about her.

    This was so smooth that it took me a while to figure out this is a sit-n-think. If the conflict is LL’s party, start there.

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  2. Lynne Connolly
    Apr 27, 2013 @ 07:05:51

    Nothing happens on this first page. Right at the end, we’re “told” the information we need to know. It’s “As You Know Bob” at its most basic. they’re telling each other things they know already. So if you want to hook the reader, start somewhere else. I’d have appreciated knowing which historical era this took place in, too. The references to society make it probable that it’s happening any time from the Restoration to the First World War. From the names and the language, I’m guessing Regency.
    To my mind, the best way is to put a little caption in italics, like “London, Spring, 1812,” or whatever. It orients the reader in a reasonably unobtrusive way.
    You have some really long sentences with a lot going on in them. The first paragraph is two sentences (there should be a comma, not a period, after the speech, since it’s followed by a speech tag).
    However, it’s well written, it flows. It would be nice to have a few more details, for instance, are they on gravel? Does it gather under the wheels making it hard to push the chair? Is she wearing a long, flowing dress that means she has to keep twitching it out of the way of the wheels? Is she wearing a big hat that she’s had to fasten on securely because it’s a breezy day? All those things will help the reader engage with the characters.
    The situation is a bit cliched for me, too. “Entering into society” should have more specifics attached to it, such as why it’s important, or not important.
    Specifics – her gaze should follow Harold, whoever he is, not her eyes.
    A copse is a collection of cultivated trees, not bushes.
    Rolling eyes is a very vulgar thing to do, and considered very rude if you’re in Britain.
    “Attendees” is a modern word (you need to look it up in the context of the era you’re writing in. it could be perfectly fine).
    Personally, I dislike inventive speech tags. “Said” works fine for me.
    “Counsel” not “Council.”
    Fixes? I’d have her dilemma demonstrated. Right at the first sentence, have them in a public park being given the cut direct by someone important in society. Then you have action, Clara can react and her friend can come in and talk about it. “Never mind, dear, there’s a cachet in being known as a notorious murderess. Perhaps you can use it to your advantage.”
    “In attending musicales? I doubt it.” Clara gave the wheelchair a vicious push to clear the gravel accumulating under the wheels.
    And so on and so forth.

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  3. InnocentBystander
    Apr 27, 2013 @ 09:05:00

    One small quibble with the wheelchair — a footman would push it, especially over what I’m guessing is an unpaved path. The women would simply ignore that he was there. (Which is how the servants knew everything that was going on with the family.)

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  4. theo
    Apr 27, 2013 @ 11:43:13

    I agree that they are simply rehashing Clara’s backstory and though you do write smoothly and things flow, nothing other than Harold disappearing behind the trees happens here. Though a footman would most likely be pushing the wheelchair, I can accept that Clara wished to do it and perhaps he is walking behind them, but what I can’t accept is that she hasn’t the slightest bit of trouble pushing it, which makes me think they must have stopped, but I don’t know that either. There was no pavement at the time you make me think this is happening (Regency, by the phrasing) and though they might be on a hard-packed path, a grass or moss path, or something gravel, she’d be struggling with that chair. Push one on a non-paved surface with someone sitting in it that weighs more than 80 pounds. It’s a pain in the arse and a constant struggle and yet, it seems to be a cakewalk for Clara because it’s only mentioned once. And Lucinda as the passenger in the wheelchair would be bobbling all over every time Clara had to get it unstuck.

    What I’m trying to say here is that I liked Lynne’s little business at the end of her post for place/atmosphere much better. It spoke volumes with few words. Though like I said, your writing is smooth and I do like your voice, I need some kind of grounding in the story. Something that ‘shows’ me rather than tells me. There’s not enough happening here.

    Also, at this point, I’d love to read about Lady Lucinda. She’s smart, witty and has a backbone. Clara is too much of a milquetoast right now and not the kind of Hn I care for. She should be the standout character on this page. Right now, she’s not.

    I might give this a few more pages, but you’d have to convince me she is worth caring about soon or I’d give up.

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  5. Lucy Woodhull
    Apr 27, 2013 @ 12:04:10

    I agree with the others that you’re starting in the wrong place. I would set a book down after an “As you know, Bob” beginning like this. Also, since we don’t yet know what the hell they’re talking about, the first couple of paragraphs are confusing.

    I’d recommend starting again, and begin thinking that your reader knows bubkus. I like to figure it out on my own, yes, but try not to be too obtuse with it in the guise of being clever. And you are clever — I like LL very much. Clara is unknown to me as of yet — and she’s the heroine. Give me a reason to root for her, and no, just being falsely accused of murder isn’t quite it. I think that if this party is such a bone of contention, then perhaps that’s where we should begin. Contention ain’t just a town in Texas* — it’s always a good place to start.

    Good luck!

    * I have no idea if this is true.

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  6. romsfuulynn
    Apr 27, 2013 @ 12:24:54

    Since this is adrift in time, it’s hard to tell if “wheelchair” is an acceptable word or not. You may want to look and see when the term came into use. (They existed, but the name may not be right.)

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  7. Angela Booth
    Apr 27, 2013 @ 19:22:19

    Your writing flows, and that’s great. Plus, it has a murderess, or accused murderess, which is intriguing. Good things. :-)

    However, as Lynne has pointed out, it’s “as you know, Bob”, just backstory, and nothing happens. Make something happen on your first page — preferably, the accusation of murder. You’re cheating yourself, and your readers, if that accusation happens off-stage.

    With your current first page, as it stands, I wouldn’t read any further… It’s the dreaded kitchen scene (characters nattering on for no good reason), but your characters are out for a walk.

    And yes, please — change the “copse”. As Lynne says, they’re trees.

    “Copse of bushes” reminded me of a book I read recently, which was wonderful, BUT the writer had the main character kicking her horse in the withers (above the shoulders) to get him going. Repeatedly. There was a lot of riding in the book, and a lot of kicking in the withers — the character would have to be a contortionist. It ruined the book for me. This was a backlist title, newly on the Kindle, originally published by a major publisher, and no one caught this totally ridiculous error.

    Duly Noted author, I’m sorry if I appear to be picking on you. I’m not. I really did enjoy your first page. You write well, so I hope I get to read your book once you’ve completed it, and have released it.

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  8. DS
    Apr 28, 2013 @ 10:32:12

    @romsfuulynn: Probably should have been bath chair or invalid chair and it would probably have been quite heavy to push, another reason for a sturdy young footman. I used to work in an old train depot where there was an early 20th century (or late 19th century) wooden wheeled chair used to transport disabled people on and off passenger trains– part of the porters job. It was very heavy and hard to maneuver.

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  9. Loreen
    Apr 29, 2013 @ 15:13:14

    Does her last name have to be Burbank? I keep thinking of the city in CA which had many film studios (including disney i think) and an airport…it jolts me out of regency England

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