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First Page: Entrata – Suspense

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It was just an ordinary Saturday night for Isabelle Nelson.

After working all day, it was finally 10:40 and her crew had left, so with her paperwork finished and most of the restaurant lights turned off, she did a quick run through one more time to make sure all of the equipment was properly shut down.

After verifying that it was, she shut off the last of the back lights and went to the front of the building, entering the office and squatting down the spin the combination on the safe. Once it was locked, she was ready to go. Standing up straight, she grabbed the cup of pop she had poured herself and grabbed her keys. Turning off the office light, she walked out and shut the door behind her. Then she stood in front of the alarm until the green light told her it was ready and she could set the alarm. Once the beeping began, she quickly walked out of the building, locking the door behind her and then making her way out to her car.

It had been a very long day, and all she wanted to do was go home, take her shoes off, and finally relax. She had worked 11 to close, which was nothing out of the ordinary, but seeing as she was having problems at her house, she had to run to Wal-Mart that morning to get some necessities.

At 19, Belle still lived at home with her parents. Normally this was no problem, but recently when her parents accepted an old couch from an old friend, their house became infested with bed bugs.

Bed bugs—tiny little demons that invaded your home and ruined your life.

Okay, they hadn’t really ruined her life, but they were still extremely inconvenient. Nearly everything in the house had to be thrown out—what hadn’t been thrown out had been disinfected and put into thick black garbage bags and stored in the trunk.

The trunk because Belle was currently living out of her car.

When she went home, she would go into her family’s camper in the backyard to get a shower and use the bathroom, then she would change into pajamas and go out to her car. She already had a pillow in her backseat, but she kept her comforter in their camper as she didn’t want anyone at her work to know that she was living like a homeless person.

It was humiliating and exhausting, not to mention uncomfortable.

Sighing as she got to her car, she pulled out her car keys to unlock the door. Belle opened the door and slid into the driver’s seat, leaving the door open and one foot outside the car as she reached across the counsel to put her purse in the passenger seat, then she placed her Diet Pepsi in the cup holder. As she slid the key into the ignition, she was startled by the sudden sound of footsteps pounding on the pavement—and it sounded like they were headed right toward her.

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

8 Comments

  1. Lori
    Jun 08, 2014 @ 06:11:11

    That was like reading a laundry list.

    First Belle did this and then she did that and then that and once this was done she did this other thing… and none of it was interesting. None of it. Not the closing up, not the bed bugs, nothing.

    This needs to start in a different place and with a greater sense of being there. Don’t list actions, describe them. And if they aren’t integral, cut them. This whole page needs to be cut.

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  2. Jolanda
    Jun 08, 2014 @ 07:19:49

    First of all, I don’t think it’s smart to put up a first page with a spelling/grammar mistake in it: “squatting down the spin the combination on the safe”. I had to read it a few times to understand what was meant.
    There may be more mistakes, but I stopped reading because I lost interest. As Lori said, it was like reading a laundry list.

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  3. hapax
    Jun 08, 2014 @ 08:12:13

    Even though you give us paragraphs of details, none of them tell us anything about Belle. I mean, we know her age, where she lives, where she works, what soda she drinks — but we know nothing about her personality, her opinions, her hopes and fears.

    I forget who it was, but in one of these “first page” features, a commenter brilliantly noted that the first page should establish two things: What does the main character want? and What is preventing her from getting it?

    Even if it isn’t the main conflict of the story, giving me this kind of set-up is enough to keep me reading.

    Your story begins, I think, in the last sentence of this page.

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  4. Michele Mills
    Jun 08, 2014 @ 08:20:32

    There’s no suspense in your suspense novel! And you need to pull us into your mc by using deep third pov, or switching to first person? The way it is now, as was said above, is so distant and removed it’s like a laundry list. I don’t know her or her personality. I can’t hear her voice. And what is up with the backstory about the bed bugs? Why is she sleeping in her car? How is the bed bugs backstory increasing the suspence of this scene? In order to pull off your set up I need to be invested in the protagonist (I’m not) and I need to be practically jumping out of my seat when she hears feet pounding on the ground (I’m not).

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  5. theo
    Jun 08, 2014 @ 09:29:48

    I have to agree. This read like a laundry or grocery list for me. A step-by-step of the scene set up, something you would do before you actually write the scene. These kinds of things go on the 3 X 5 cards you use to plot out your story. Not on a first page.

    As to where the story starts, I don’t care about the bedbugs, don’t care right now about the fact that she’s living in her car (and really, if she’s forced to because the house is being fumigated, there’s no shame in that.) That is all backstory that can be filled in later. Your story starts where something happens that will change your MC’s life. And that’s when she gets into the car and hears the footsteps heading for her.

    Another exhausting fifteen hour day putting out fires, one literally, at the restaurant she managed meant it took Belle two tries before she was able to slide the key into the ignition of her one time new car. She had a love-hate relationship with the thing, The doors creaked, it bounced down the road in a lopsided manner at times and sometimes it wouldn’t start, but it was hers. She turned the key and…nothing. Once again, the damned thing was being temperamental. She swore at it hoping just once, it could actually hear her, when the sound of pounding footsteps reached her ears. As they grew closer, she realized they were heading straight for her. The hairs on the back of her neck stood up and a sudden stab of fear shot through her. She was the last to leave after all. She turned the key again, praying that this time, the engine would catch and she’d be out of there. Safe and sound.

    I know she’s worked a full day, I know it was stressful, I know her car gives her trouble all the time and I know that she must be the last one left because she makes no mention of getting help from a coworker to start the car. I know she’s counting on her car to keep her safe.

    If it’s important to the story that she’s living in her car, let the good guy/bad guy, because I’m expecting whoever is running to get in the car and tell her to move, bring up the fact that the car is full of crap. Later. Work that information in.

    I want to ‘hear’ your voice on the page. I want the characters to come alive on it. If you list everything each character does, they have no soul and no way for your reader to connect with them. There are very few women who haven’t been in a situation where they’re glad to be safe in their car because someone or something, spooked them. Draw on that emotion so we feel it on the page.

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  6. Carol McKenzie
    Jun 08, 2014 @ 10:42:07

    Hi Author!

    Your last sentence is where your story starts. And your last sentence is the best sentence on the page. The stuff that comes before reads like your notes for back story, or your outline for the scene, as mentioned by others. It’s stultifyingly dull. No one wants to read a step-by-step description of what someone is doing, especially when they’re not doing anything really all that interesting. It’s not suspense to read about her closing up the restaurant.

    And based on your whole first page, your first sentence isn’t accurate. It’s not just an ordinary Saturday night. The girl is living out of a trailer and sleeping in her car because of bedbugs at home. You’ve made it clear this is far from ordinary and it’s causing disruption in her life. The only ordinary events are she’s working late and closing.

    If you wanted to use what you have written, it would need some work to tighten it and add some sense of what Belle is feeling. Is she tired? Elated to be done? Exhausted? Show us that. I don’t get anything other than she’s annoyed at having to go to Wal-Mart in the morning, and humiliated because she’s sleeping in her car.

    I’m also not sure why the elaborate set-up of the bedbugs and the whole living in the car thing. Unless sleeping in her car and living out of the family’s camper is a key component in the story, you’ve spent a lot of first page real estate on tiny bugs.

    Start the story where the story starts. If she’s just closed up shop, you can describe that in a sentence or three.

    “After an exhausting twelve hour shift at the restaurant, Belle dragged herself to her car. Her muscles were already in knots and the prospect of spending another night sleeping in her hatchback was almost unbearable. But since her parents had gotten a used couch from some good friends–probably not such good friends anymore–Belle had been camping out in her Honda Civic. At least until the bugpocalypse was history.

    As she slid the key into the ignition, she was startled by the sudden sound of footsteps pounding on the pavement—and it sounded like they were headed right toward her.”

    You also have a really wonky sentence (I think it’s a comma splice…I’m never good at remembering what it’s called): “She had worked 11 to close, which was nothing out of the ordinary, but seeing as she was having problems at her house, she had to run to Wal-Mart that morning to get some necessities.” Take out the comma and replace it with a period and make this two sentences. Your first full graph could also be split into more than one long sentence.

    There are a few spelling errors. It’s console, not counsel, for where the cup holder is. The sentence with the safe is missing a word or two. A good proofreading would take care of those little things.

    I’d be interested in reading what happens next, simply because I think something might happen. But if the laundry list style of writing continues, I think I’d lose interest pretty quickly.

    As far as genre, is this meant to be YA or NA?

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  7. SAO
    Jun 09, 2014 @ 08:05:22

    This is a nice example of why you need conflict on the page. The things Belle did have no meaning. She could have done the same things as a snarky, Goth guitarist who wants to be the next Patty Smith, and she could have done the same things as a cheerful church-goer whose goal is to be a wife and mother.

    Obviously, the minute something actually happens, like the creepy guy shows up, how they react will be very different, right? Susie Sunshine will gasp out a prayer and Snarky Goth girl will snarl a swear.

    Without any sense of who Belle is, I’m not very interested in the story. Detail has to be meaningful.

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  8. Jane Lovering
    Jun 09, 2014 @ 11:35:18

    Hello author

    I’m afraid it’s true what everyone says – this reads like a list of ‘doing things’. Y’see, books do have those things in, but only when it’s really necessary to the story. To either show us, the readers, what the character is like, not in what she does, but in how she thinks. For example, if you listed all these actions out and then told us your character had OCD, and had to check things and do things in a certain order, then that would be okay. But try narrating your own day in your head. Do you think ‘I got out of bed, swung my legs to the floor and went to the sink to brush my teeth’? Or do you think ‘wow, that was an odd dream, must remember to get..where are my slippers? WHO’S HAD MY SLIPPERS? Oh, yes, and I ought to stop by and get the car looked at…’

    Novels are, as someone said, ‘real life with the boring bits taken out’. You’ve left some of them in. Go and read a few novels, especially those written by people in the field you want to write in. Then read some outside your field. See how the authors manage to tell a story without the boring bits. See how they manage to drip information through the text, and tell us about characters through their actions.

    And good luck.

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