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First Page: Elijah – Fiction

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Fifteen year old Marissa Dubois was very excited about her very first babysitting job.

Technically, she claimed she was experienced since she did have a four year old half-sister from her mother’s second marriage, but she really didn’t spend very much time with her younger sister. Her mother and her second husband, a man five years her senior, spent a good chunk fighting over each and every little thing. Sometimes Marissa would hear them yelling so loudly with such rage that one of them would begin to throw things violently against walls, crashing noises and shattering, sudden cries would fill the air.

Her baby sister, Annalise, would begin to cry, calling out for her mother.

Marissa would lie in bed across the hall from Annalise’s room and ignore her cries, keeping her eyes screwed shut and promising herself that if she could only stay detached and find some way to begin saving some money, she could run away in a year or so and never have to deal with any of them ever again.

That was where her babysitting job came in.

The job had been an unexpected blessing; the neighbors were very strange people, and had been in the entire two years that Marissa and her new ill-fitting family had moved into the little bungalow, tightly squeezed between two nearly identical bungalows on the short, dingy street of the neighborhood they could actually afford to live in. They were as reclusive as could be; for the first year that they had lived there Marissa didn’t even believe that anyone lived in the house. There were never any lights on, and while there was one rusty old truck that resided in the driveway, it never left, not for a single hour of a single day.

Then one day late in May Marissa had been walking home from school and as she passed the neighbor’s house she saw the fleeting shadow of someone quickly ducking out of the window as her gaze reached their level. Pausing in her steps, she had frowned, looking at the window for longer and even going so far as to stop, staring in the curtained window of the house.

No one appeared, so feeling vaguely creeped out, she continued on her way up the driveway and into her own shoddy bungalow.

She hadn’t said another word about it.

Shortly thereafter, she witnessed a silver Lumina pull into the driveway one day, and out came a rather stern-looking woman with impressive posture, glasses and her dark hair pulled back into a no-nonsense bun. When Marissa nosily inquired to her mother about the strange visitors next door, her mother had irritably informed her that it was the new nanny, and that Marissa would do best to mind her own business and stop spying on the neighbors.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and 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


  1. Marioanne McA
    May 03, 2014 @ 04:47:17

    I think the writing is just a bit clunky, which makes the page hard to read. For example:

    “the neighbors were very strange people, and had been in the entire two years that Marissa and her new ill-fitting family had moved into the little bungalow, tightly squeezed between two nearly identical bungalows on the short, dingy street of the neighborhood they could actually afford to live in”

    Genuinely, the picture this created in my mind was of a group of rather odd-looking people standing shoulder to shoulder in a narrow alleyway between two houses for two years. Which is stupid reading, I know – but even when I bent my mind to it, I wasn’t entirely sure what the sentence says. Are the neighbours the people who can ‘actually afford’ to live here, or is that Marissa’s family?
    Even the phrase ‘actually afford’ is sort of stranded in the sentence – in my head it needs bolstered with some supporting detail, for example … of the only neighbourhood on this side of town that they could actually afford…

    That’s picking on that sentence, but it’s just as an example of what I mean by ‘clunky’ writing.

    Sorry to seem negative, but I think it could use a further rewrite for clarity.

    Good luck

  2. Kate Sherwood
    May 03, 2014 @ 06:12:28

    I agree about the clunky writing – I had to re-read several sentences to get their meaning, and that’s not good.

    I’m also a bit concerned about the lack of… well, the lack of ANYTHING on this page. It’s backstory, and it’s usually a good idea to start with current actions, but that’s a rule that can be broken if there’s a good reason for it. I’m not seeing the good reason, here.

    If you started without action but used it as a way to REALLY establish character, that seems like a good reason to break the rule, to me. But we don’t get a clear picture of the MC, here. She seems like a fairly typical resentful teenager, really – her parents fight, she wants to run away, She doesn’t do anything to help her little sister, so we’re not setting her up as a noble martyr. She’s just a teenager. I’m not saying she’s not worth writing about (I’d personally love to see more books about typical teens, rather than magically wonderful Mary-Sues), but I don’t think there’s anything special enough to justify space on your opening page.

    Or you could break the open-with-action rule if you were establishing a really strong authorial voice, but we don’t really get that here, either. Or if you were focused on setting – but this setting seems pretty typical, so far.

    I think a really great first page combines all of those elements (character, voice, setting, AND plot), but sometimes the story we want to tell may not fit naturally with a first page that has all those elements. But a good first page should have at least one of them, and I’m not seeing it here.

    Maybe you could experiment with writing several versions of your first page, each of them focusing on ONE of those elements, and then you could try to boil them down into a few great sentences each, and then combine them into a masterful first page?

    I’d definitely recommend trying to add more “showing” to your writing – “telling” comes naturally when you’re giving backstory, but your first sentence is set in the current time of the story and it’s pure telling, so I think you may benefit from paying some attention to that.

    I might try something like:

    “Marissa Dubois wiped her clammy hands on her jeans–again–and took a deep breath before ringing her neighbor’s doorbell. She knew that lots of fifteen-year-olds had babysitting jobs, but this was her first, and it was for people who were, even by Dubois standards, more than a little peculiar.”

  3. Jo Ramsey
    May 03, 2014 @ 07:45:29

    I agree with the previous comments. Nothing *happens* in this page. You tell us all about Marissa and her messed-up family (at least it sounds messed up), but that isn’t the same as showing it. The page seems to jump around in time; you talk about the baby sister crying for her mother as if it’s at the same time as Marissa having a babysitting job.

    And because of the way it’s written, we have no sense of emotion at all. Your telling about Marissa’s mother and stepfather fighting is in the same tone as the babysitting job being a blessing. Because of that, and because of the jumping around I mentioned, I don’t feel anything at all. We should *feel* Marissa’s anguish about the fighting. Instead of telling us she’s burying her head and wishing she could make enough money to leave, you need to be inside her head, *showing* us that pain and anger, or whatever emotions she’s feeling about it. And honestly, I’m only guessing at the emotions.

    My suggestion would be to do a complete rewrite of this. Have Marissa excited about the job and going home to find her parents fighting. Have her hear her baby sister crying, and then have her run into her room and hide under her pillow. Or something. If I were writing this, I would completely leave out the backstory about the neighbors being unusual and Marissa spying while they moved in. Their “weirdness” can be *shown* to the reader through Marissa’s eyes when she interacts with them, by how they speak, what they’re wearing, what the inside of their house looks like, etc.

    And one little niggling thing… Your sentence that begins “Her mother and her second husband, a man five years her senior…” Your pronouns are completely unclear, and it reads as if it’s Marissa’s second husband, a man five years Marissa’s senior. Aside from the unclear pronouns, would a 15-year-old really think “Mom’s second husband is five years Mom’s senior?”

    The best way to fix this is to let *Marissa* tell her story. As written, it reads like you’re just listing Marissa’s life, and you’re listing it out of order to boot.

  4. Carol McKenzie
    May 03, 2014 @ 11:51:05

    Hi Author, and thanks for sharing.

    Others have commented on the clunky, confusing writing, so I’ll skip that.

    I’ve read this snipped three times now, and still come the same conclusion: It makes no sense. Even if the sentences were clearly written, your story is off.

    You make a promise in the first sentence that Marissa is going to have a babysitting job. You reinforce that later on, in two separate sentences. The job was an unexpected blessing. That leads me to believe that it’s a done deal, it’s a sure thing.

    But then you tell us the only contact she’s ever had with the neighbors has been a fleeting glimpse of a shadowy figure through the window. She’s had no physical or verbal contact with these people, so who gave her the job? Did she imagine it?

    And then you take that all away in the last paragraph. There is no babysitting job; there’s a nanny.

    So I’m left wondering what the heck is going on, and not in a good way. I’m confused with the plot, which is contradictory and one I’m not buying. So, there’s nothing here for me because I can’t buy into your plot.

  5. cleo
    May 03, 2014 @ 12:08:26

    I like the first sentence – it pulled me in and it captured the excitement of a 15 year old – two verys in the same sentence is usually too much for me, but I think it works here.

    The rest of the page didn’t fulfill the promise of the first line for me, but I’d keep reading a little further.

  6. SAO
    May 04, 2014 @ 09:41:34

    This is all telling.

    But more importantly, Marissa seems to have no affection for anyone. Is her mother getting hurt? Does she care? She’s lived, in the same house, I presume, with her half-sister, but “she really didn’t spend very much time with her younger sister.” How is that possible, if they live in the same house? If she doesn’t spend much time in her mother’s house, then this isn’t an issue.

    The only way this makes sense to me is if Marissa is a sociopath, in which case, you have to make her fascinating to get me to read about her.

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