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First Page: Long Time Gone (Contemporary Romance)

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“Oh, come on!”

William Freston glanced up from his book to see a young woman scanning the nearby shelves, held tilted at an angle as she read the spines of the books in front of her. She reached a hand up, touching each tome with her fingertip as she muttered the name to herself, shifting forward to examine the next book and the next, becoming more and more agitated as she moved down the line. With a frustrated huff, she blew the blonde tendrils that had escaped her ponytail out of her eyes and stalked back to the other end of the shelf, scanning the titles even more slowly.

When she reached the end once more, she leaned forward and knocked her forehead against the wooden end of the bookshelf, emitting a hushed groan. William had to stifle a chuckle. The girl was cute, without even trying. He wondered what she was looking for, but then she stomped away towards the circulation desk, fists on her slim hips, and he went back to his reading. It was almost closing time, and he wanted to finish before then.

Not being a denizen of this city, he couldn’t exactly check the book out of the library, and his search for a copy at the local bookstores to replace the one he’d lost had already proven futile.

He was lost in the ebb and flow of the words on the page when she returned, but her low curses dragged him back to the here and now, and he watched with interest as she checked the shelves again, searching for the obviously misplaced volume she wanted. William dropped his gaze just as she spun to face him, but not before he caught the angry spark in her bright green eyes. Feisty, he thought. And gorgeous.

Dragging a hand through his curls, he readjusted his glasses and tried to focus on the words before him instead of the woman who was now stalking from side table to side table, grabbing up and then dropping each book with a thump, as if they offended her for being the wrong item. The thumps and the curses grew louder as she neared him, and he bit his lip, trying to keep his mouth from twitching upwards into a grin.

The long lines of her tan skirt filled his vision. He looked up.

“Hey,” she said, and William noticed her hands twisting together. “I, uh… don’t want to be rude, but…” She indicated the books at his feet. “I’m looking for a book that’s supposed to be on the shelves, and I was kinda hoping you have it. The librarian promised it to me, see, for a paper I’m writing that’s due next week, so I really need this book…” She trailed off, blushing. “And I’m too-talky Trixie now.”

He fought the urge to raise an eyebrow. Trixie? Scooping the books off the ground, he stood, stepping into her space and holding the spines outward so she could read the titles for herself. “What are you looking for, pet?”

Trixie did a double take at his endearment, then flushed brighter. “The Complete Works of Alfred, Lord Tennyson,” she said. “Which you don’t have. This is so not my day.”

William smiled. “I daresay it is after all.” She flashed him a look that plainly said he was off his rocker, but he ignored it, twisting to pick up the book he’d laid over the arm of his chair. “I have it right here.”

“Oh.” Her face lit up and her eyes sparkled. “Oh! That’s wonderful! You’ve saved my life! I thought I was going to have to make do with Selected Poems, which, you know, isn’t complete.” Her face fell. “Unless you wanted to check it out?”

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

41 Comments

  1. SAO
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 08:26:07

    Wow! What a mountain out of a molehill. Not much happens here and I don’t like your MCs. He’s patronizing, (stifling chuckle at her frustration, calling her pet) and she’s disrupting the quiet of the library over trivial problem — and seeming to expect him to hand over the book because she needs it.

    This is not the book for me.

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  2. cleo
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 08:43:36

    The first couple lines pulled me in. And then I got bogged down. There’s too much description for my taste, and some of it pulled me out of the story – especially feisty and denizen.

    I can’t tell when this is set. If this is a contemporary, I wonder why she doesn’t just google Project Gutenberg for the complete works.

    And when he called her ‘pet’ – that really pulled me out of the story. I’m not sure when or where this set, so I’m not sure how common a nickname it is for the setting, but personally I would not respond well to a male stranger calling me a condescending nickname.

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  3. QC
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 08:46:39

    I like the visual of the woman stalking along the rows of books and ultimately knocking her head against the end of the bookshelf in frustration. I’ve never been good at being quiet in libraries myself. I do not like William. The stifled chuckle bothered me and when he called her “pet” I really started to dislike him.

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  4. Lynne Connolly
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 09:01:19

    Just wanted to say that “pet” is a common endearment where I come from in Manchester, UK. It’s no indication of patronising behaviour, just that the person doesn’t know your name, so substitutes something else. Everybody calls everybody “pet” or “petal.” Mostly women, true. Men, in Liverpool are “la” or “lad.” However old you happen to be! You’ll get “pet” or “la” during a normal purchasing transaction. Or “love,” or “mate.”
    If it’s not set in the North-West of England, then I take it back because I don’t know what the connotations are elsewhere.
    I liked the piece. It’s a nice meet, and I’d read on. A “settling in” piece.

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  5. theo
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 09:27:49

    The writing here isn’t bad but there’s just so much of it! And it goes nowhere. You could boil this down into half a dozen sentences and because it goes nowhere, it doesn’t grab anymore from me than a passing glance. Just enough to know I don’t like condescending men (pet?) or childish women/girls (dropping books on the table because they’re not the right one) so that doesn’t help your cause. The one thing I did like was her scouring the shelves the first time and thumping her head on the post but beyond that, there isn’t much here to care about one way or another.

    Also, I’m with Cleo. If she needs it that bad, why isn’t she googling for the book? Which makes me wonder with the voice here if you didn’t start to write this in a more historical setting and then changed it to contemporary. I can see them both in the library vying for the same book in that instance, but not in a contemporary.

    If I read this first page in the bookstore, I’d set it back on the shelf unless it had a stellar blurb to entice me to read more.

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  6. SAO
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 09:53:17

    @Lynne C

    When I moved to England from Russia, I hung out with Russians who had also recently moved. Several of the women commented on how freaked out they were to be called “love.” They took it as a pass and it was really uncomfortable for them to be in a store, buying something and have a middle-aged, motherly-looking “lesbian” make a pass at them (ie a clerk in a shop called them them “love”). Our husbands worked for an American company, so they were used to American English and customs, but not British.

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  7. cleo
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 09:56:03

    @theo – I’m glad I’m not the only one who noticed that. (OT aside – when I tell my college students about competing for books in the library stacks when I was a student, they’re astonished. It’s amazing to me how much that part of the culture has changed in 20 years.)

    ETA – I do like the idea of a meet cute in a library, but I think that if this is a contemp, you need to work in something about why it has to be this print book.

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  8. Liz Mc2
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 10:55:59

    I had a totally geeky college English instructor response to this: a) as others have said, this text is available online; b) I thought this was the city library? if she’s writing a paper, why is she not at the university library? c) libraries have a hold system: if the librarian “promised it to me,” s/he would, in fact, set it aside (and there’s an online request form for this, and prior to that, a paper form); d) even if this is set pre-Project Gutenberg, if you actually needed the Complete Works to write a paper, it would have been the text ordered for class, or your instructor would lend you a copy/photocopy the poem you wanted to write on or something. You’d never be *required* to write on a text you hadn’t been given access to, so this isn’t a real problem, it’s self-made. This set-up is implausible. (If they’re fighting over a particular book of criticism, OK).

    But I might shake that off–most books don’t really get academic settings right–expect William is a jerk. She’s obviously upset and having a problem and he’s chuckling about how cute and feisty (ugh) she is. I don’t want to read any more about someone like that.

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  9. Lynne Connolly
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 11:01:04

    @SAO: Brilliant! It’s just a thing. People hardly register it! Lesbians, love it!

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  10. Lynne Connolly
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 11:05:21

    @Liz Mc2: Unless the book is a very special anthology, maybe with the notes she’s looking for, then I agree with the others, easily done online. Maybe make it clear it’s a particular edition she’s looking for?

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  11. Carol McKenzie
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 12:13:03

    Pretty much agree with the above about the amount of information, the “nothing” happens except they meet and he has her book, etc. (and why isn’t she looking it up online? Even the public library should have a computer.)

    What strikes me though is the disparity in the characters. He seems to me to be much older than she; she’s in college and I’d peg him in his 60s by the formal speech and word choices. If that’s the romantic pair, I’m not so much interested.

    And if she’s doing a double take and flushing brightly at his term of endearment, I get the sense she’s not used to hearing it in conversation. I moved to Kentucky almost a year ago and the first time a clerk (male) called me ‘honey’ in a store, I did a double take. Now, I know everyone is going to call me honey eight times in a conversation, along with dear and sweetie. So I’m no longer doing a double take. For Trixie (do not like the name; I’m taken to the Trixie Beldon mystery series from my childhood) to not be used to it makes it seem an oddity for the story.

    And I don’t really like William, although it’s a bit early to tell. But he seems to enjoy her discomfort a little too much. Even he makes fun of her name.

    Actually, I’d like this very much if he were a time traveler, not being a denizen of this city in it’s current age, but ages ago, come to read a book he read when it was first published. It would explain his speech, his eyebrow raising at her name, etc. Or, it would make me want to read further into the story.

    Thanks for sharing!

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  12. Viridian
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 12:27:42

    Pet peeves:
    (1) “Feisty” heroines.
    (2) Over-confident heroes.
    I am not your target audience. This part made me cringe:

    “Oh.” Her face lit up and her eyes sparkled. “Oh! That’s wonderful! You’ve saved my life! I thought I was going to have to make do with Selected Poems, which, you know, isn’t complete.” Her face fell. “Unless you wanted to check it out?”

    I’m not sure what it is, but that passage made her seem excessively child-like.

    Your prose is lovely, but there’s a bit too much of it. It you cut down on your word count so that a bit more was happening a bit more quickly, I might read on.

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  13. Lucy Woodhull
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 13:20:17

    I have to agree with my esteemed Internet colleagues that this one made me roll my eyes a bit — just a bit, not enough to get them stuck.

    The other thing that struck me is that this is clearly a tome that is available for free on Google Books, or for probably a buck on Amazon and, since this is not set in the past, what kind of idiot student wouldn’t have just been reading the thing on her tablet, phone, or computer from the comfort of her couch? This common sense, unfortunately, shuts your whole meet cute down for me. Contemporaries have got to be contemporary, and I get it — it’s a pain in the ass. I write adventure romances and sometimes the heroine just can’t be able to make a quick call to fix stuff… except that there are fifty phones in proximity, and I’m trying to make sure she’s not too stupid to live. PITA, but you have to deal with it.

    I wouldn’t read it because I’m over ladies described as “feisty.” Good luck! Your writing is good, and I think you can do better.

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  14. Melissa Blue
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 13:26:06

    First, thing first, your voice shines through. Good job on that. For most authors that’s the hardest part to pin down.

    All right. Let’s start from the top.

    ““Oh, come on!””

    This is a personal nitpick, but ground this dialogue from the beginning. If you’re going to start with dialogue, let it tell me something about the character, not just her current situation.

    “William Freston glanced up from his book to see a young woman scanning the nearby shelves, held tilted at an angle as she read the spines of the books in front of her.”

    I like this, but I have no sense of where he’s at. Is he sitting at a table? Sitting cross-legged on the floor, leaning against a wall? Has he stolen one of those step-stools and plopped on it?

    ” She reached a hand up, ”

    This is partly why you’re getting bogged down. This is unnecessary description. “She reached up” will do. You can’t reach with your head or torso.

    You have this:

    “touching each tome with her fingertip as she muttered the name to herself, shifting forward to examine the next book and the next, becoming more and more agitated as she moved down the line. ”

    And then you have this:

    “With a frustrated huff, she blew the blonde tendrils that had escaped her ponytail out of her eyes and stalked back to the other end of the shelf, scanning the titles even more slowly.”

    Ok. I get it she’s frustrated. You’ve spent the first paragraph on her and I know nothing about the POV character. Personally, I’d cut the first and keep the second because you’ve weaseled in some description about her. Now show me how he reacts to her. Is he irritated, amused? Something that says something about him. Your opening lines are the handshake to the reader. Hi, I’m Character. This is me.

    I’m looking for this:

    “When she reached the end once more, she leaned forward and knocked her forehead against the wooden end of the bookshelf, emitting a hushed groan. William had to stifle a chuckle. The girl was cute, without even trying.”

    Action then reaction. Cut to stuff like this faster. You can bleed in description along the way. Paragraph two, three and four are problematic for these same reasons. Again, personally, I’d cut it to look like this:

    “When she reached the end once more, she leaned forward and knocked her forehead against the wooden end of the bookshelf, emitting a hushed groan. Dragging a hand through his curls, he readjusted his glasses and tried to focus on the words before him instead of the woman who was now stalking from side table to side table, grabbing up and then dropping each book with a thump, as if they offended her for being the wrong item.”

    From there you can add in he’s just there to read because he’s not a “denizen of the city” in dialogue. I’m going to assume he’s about to tell her that and then you’ve wasted words on the first page/second page repeating yourself.

    So, overall, cut into the action. Give more character. She does sound young. She blushes twice and that’s not helping unless she IS young. I wasn’t bothered by his amusement and he didn’t come across patronizing to me. I find the mishap plausible. I had the fortune of doing legal research when the major library my college used was under construction.n Some of the books we needed were there. Not all, but some. We couldn’t use computers. We had to learn it the tried and true way first. So, I didn’t blink at that until someone in the comments pointed it out. Oh, and cut back on the exclamation points.

    Hope this helps. Keep what resonates and toss the rest. Either way, good luck!

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  15. Mary
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 13:28:05

    I do not like it when heroines are called feisty by anybody, but especially the hero. Also, as someone who frequently gets called “cute”, it’s not a term I particularly like, in all honesty. And the “without trying” part confuses me-do people above the age of maybe 16 try to be cute?
    If I hadn’t had such an instinctive negative reaction to William, his calling Trixie “pet” wouldn’t have bothered me if it was a typical term of endearment where he lived. I moved from the midwest to the South and suddenly everyone was calling me honey. My friend moved to the States from Essex and called all women he didn’t know various pet names (which did creep some waitresses out, so we told him to tone it down a little). So…pet names to strange women isn’t inherently evil in my opinion, but I already don’t like William so it annoys me.
    I also am not fond of the girl. She comes off a little dumb and annoying, to me. Other people have mentioned that her problem doesn’t make sense.
    And, while not a huge problem, bright green eyes are a rare physical trait but yet 60% of romance heroines have them. So I rolled my plain brown eyes at that.

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  16. coribo25
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 13:45:08

    I’d suggest changing the hero’s name only because the combination of William, glasses, curls and the endearment, Pet, put me in mind of Buffy, William-fic (Victorian/nerdy human version of Spike before being vamped). Anyone who’s been in the Buffy fanfic fandom will know what I mean. It may not be your intention, but that was my first thought.

    And yes, Pet and Love are common endearments in the north of England.

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  17. Sandra Schwab
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 14:22:24

    @Lynne Connolly: If I’m not mistaken, the standard scholarly edition of Tennyson’s poems is a 3-volume work edited by Christopher Ricks. There’s also a “selected” one-volume edition available (just called Tennyson: A Selected Edition).

    Considering the whole build-up (heroine getting more and more desperate because she can’t find her book), the final revelation which book she is looking for, is somewhat ridiculous. The text makes it sound like a very rare book indeed (after all, William can’t replace his lost copy, but has to read the book in the library), when it’s “just” poems by Tennyson. I also don’t understand why she can’t use the Selected Poems you mention at the end of the excerpt: it is not likely that she is going to write a paper about ALL of Tennyson’s poems.

    This might be considered very nit-picky (I have to agree with Liz Mc2 that many novels don’t get academic settings right), yet it is another weakness added to a text which already has quite a number of problems. The descriptions of what is happening are nicely done; the reader can easily visualise the scene. However, like the others who have commented, I was put off by the characters. William came across as rather condescending and also slightly creepy, I’m afraid, since he appears to be quite a lot older than Trixie. Meanwhile, the heroine’s behaviour is rather obnoxious: she is in a library, but she is loud — she is stomping around, letting books fall back on the tables with a thump. Obviously, she doesn’t care that she might disturb other patrons. That’s not really cute in my book.

    I’m sorry this is so negative. As I said, I think you’re doing a good job at describing what is happening and at thus enabling your reader to visualise the scene. It’s the characterisation and the itty-bitty details that still need some work.

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  18. Marianne McA
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 14:46:26

    I don’t mind a book that starts slowly, but there’s nothing here that makes me want to read further. There’s no conflict to be resolved – all that happens is two characters meet.
    So if you’re not going to draw me in with events, you’d need to draw me in with characterisation or humour.
    I see the heroine through William’s eyes first, mumbling and stomping, but unlike him I’m not entranced by blonde hair and green eyes so she just strikes me as inconsiderate. And William – he’s a reader, bordering on pretentious if he thinks of books as ‘tomes’ and residents as ‘denizens’ – but there’s nothing to him that catches my interest.
    I think humour in books is very hard to gauge – other readers might find it funny enough to read on for that alone, but it’s too mild to sell me the book.

    Sorry: that seems very negative, and it’s not that I think it’s a bad page. It’s just it doesn’t give me a reason to read on. If you could work in some suggestion of the conflict (he needs the book too/he is a Tennyson-reading serial killer) that might pull me in.

    Good luck.

    I’m from N. Ireland, so maybe our usage is different from the mainland, but I’d read someone who ‘checked out’ library books as American. No reason she shouldn’t be American and he from the North of England, of course. (My in-laws are from the North and one of the childrens’ highlights when they visit are the “Eh up duck”s from all and sundry.)

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  19. Vanessa
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 15:26:31

    Your writing is clean and fluid. I do think that you get a little bogged down in the descriptions though, and some of the sentences are run-on. It’s possible to describe the heroine’s predicament without giving us a step-by-step account of her actions. You’re not describing a soccer game here.

    Other than that, the main problem I have with this story is probably subjective. I have a huge problem with grown women acting like precocious children, and I wouldn’t be able to stand your heroine if she keeps on like this (“too talky Trixie”? Seriously, what self-respecting woman would talk like this in front of a complete stranger?). Try to make her less childlike, especially if you’re gearing up for a more serious type of story. Men might find her behavior charming (though I doubt that most of them will), but keep in mind that most romance readers are women and would probably like to relate to your heroine, which might be hard to do if her main character traits are “cute”, “childish” and “feisty”.

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  20. Ana
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 23:02:07

    I’ve read this before as a Spike/Buffy fanfiction on Elysian Fields. I remember I enjoyed it then in that context and well done on trying to get this out there to a wider audience.

    This first page reads identical to the Elysian Fields version – albeit with a few name changes. I think in order for this manuscript to get picked up for publication and to be widely read, you need to get away from the Spike/Buffy-ness of the text.

    From reading the previous comments, it’s obvious that several Spike-isms (‘pet’, ‘love’ and perhaps later you’ll be using ‘cutie’) are causing some uncertainty about your hero. Whilst these words work wonderfully as shorthand for those of us who know Spike and the attitude associated with them, I think it would be good for you to take a step back and try to imagine how he comes across to someone with absolutely no background in Buffy. I agree with Lynne Connolly in that if you’re not going to set this in northern England (from memory this piece takes place in California), then maybe do away with the ‘pets’ and ‘loves’. Remember that Spike’s speech pattern is a product of Joss Whedon and comes with a context.

    Continuing on with the Whedonisms – please get rid of the Buffy-speak. I’ll admit that I’m not a huge fan of Buffy or her massacre of the English language (I read Spuffy for Spike), and hearing her catch phrases come out of an original character would ring bells of ‘unoriginal’ and ‘straight out of the 90s’. If you want to keep her as a Californian Valley Girl-type, maybe look up what idioms are used by that social set today. I, personally, would do away with the rapid-fire teenage girl speech as I find it alienating and childish – and that is not a good first impression for a heroine to have! Also, not so keen on Trixie – as others have said, it sounds a little silly.

    I hope this makes sense as I’m currently writing through the head-cold from hell! Once again, well done for putting this out there and I wish you all the best with it.

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  21. Angela Booth
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 23:12:59

    Kudos to you for your bravery in posting to First Page. I liked your excerpt because I could visualize the characters, and the setting.

    However, as others have suggested, nothing happens.

    The girl comes across as a peppy moron, and the guy’s creepy.

    He’s paying too much attention to her for no good reason:

    “he watched with interest as she checked the shelves again, searching for the obviously misplaced volume she wanted. William dropped his gaze just as she spun to face him, but not before he caught the angry spark in her bright green eyes. Feisty, he thought. And gorgeous.”

    Why is he watching “with interest”? Definitely creepy, because seems like an older man. (I may be wrong, just my impression.)

    If he’s paying attention to her for a reason, and not because he’s a pervert, you need to make that plain. Foreshadow that you’re going somewhere with this.

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  22. Author
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 00:11:57

    Thank you all for your comments. It’s given me a lot to think about!

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  23. Lynne Connolly
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 06:35:21

    Aha! Now it makes sense! Buffy/Spike. Yes, I see. And yes, I agree. You have to make your characters work on their own account, if you want to take it out of fandom. And either update it, or deliberately set it in a period. If you want to do that, put the date above the piece, so readers know from the get-go.

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  24. cbackson
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 09:05:08

    I agree with a lot of commenters here, but I think the ultimate root of my negative reaction to this is how male-gaze-oriented it seems. It might be a useful experience for you to try writing this from the heroine’s point of view. Presumably she’s not supposed to come off as a not-particularly-bright young woman whose primary virture is her figure and her blonde bangs. Make sure you’re able to find her inner life (even if that’s not the POV you ultimately use).

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  25. Jane Davitt
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 13:27:05

    I have real issues with pulling fanfic to publish. I started out writing Buffy/Spike way back in 2003 and it was and, IMO, still should be, an ironclad rule that you don’t profit from fic. In your author notes on fanfic.net you even say:
    All characters belong to The Man, not me. I play with them for fun, not profit.

    That aside, I’m gobsmacked that you’d take a Spike fic and still call him William in the to-be-published version, complete with curly hair and glasses. That’s just cheeky.

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  26. theo
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 13:51:03

    After reading the comments about this being a Buffy/Spike fic (never watched the show so it didn’t register *ducks and runs*) I can see why the opening makes little impression on me. You’re writing it on the assumption that people reading it are familiar with the Buffy/Spike universe. You’re going to have an extremely limited audience if you’re relying on people 1. familiar with that universe who can fill in the blanks for a readership and 2. that you’re going to have a huge interest from people who have never seen the show if you don’t fill in the blanks, because they won’t try to which is apparent by the comments you’ve gotten so far.

    You’re better off writing a story with characters you imagine rather than ones that are already in cult status. But! That’s just my opinion, and it’s like a nose after all…

    @Jane Davitt: Was that his real name on the show? Goes to show how much I paid attention. I had two small children and a very ill father during the years it was shown and just never had time to watch it.

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  27. Author
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 14:51:50

    Yes, I’ll admit it, it’s fanfiction. And I’ll admit I barely changed anything either – at the time I submitted this to Dear Author, weeks and weeks and months ago, I was more curious about reactions to my writing style than anything else. In the world of fanfiction, you rarely get honest critique, and certainly never of your writing ability. It’s always “OMG this is so grate pls rite moar now!” I wasn’t thinking about how the characters would come across, TBH. Rookie mistake.

    That said, I’m a little bit upset somebody would ‘out’ me on what is meant to be an ANONYMOUS page. Honest critique is somehow easier to handle from behind the curtain.

    As to it being cheeky – shrug. Almost all of the ‘best’ authors I’ve run across in the world of Buffy fanfiction have done the exact same thing (repackaged all human fanfiction as an original story and published it). I certainly don’t begrudge them. A novel length story is hard work and takes a long time when you also have a real life. It makes sense to start with something you’ve already written – especially if it’s an all human story based on a supernatural world. That’s pretty far from the original intent of the show, and most of those are only stories about Buffy in the sense that the characters share names and physical traits with the Buffyverse characters.

    I’m not sure I’d use this particular story, or even one that started out as fanfiction. Again, I was hoping for more attention being paid to style. Lesson learned!

    One thing I’ve noticed about the First Page feature since I’ve been watching it – 600 words may not be enough for readers to properly critique the opening. If everything is explained, the submitting author is accused of an info dump. If not, commentators invariably express confusion and wish more information had been included on the first page. It’s a no-win situation.

    In this case, in the next 600 words (or so), it’s explained why the heroine wants this particular book, and a hard copy version, rather than Googling her subject matter. The hero’s age is revealed (only a few years older), as well as his reason for sounding so stuffy (not just because he’s based on an old vampire – there’s a reason!). It’s confirmed he’s British, and that ‘pet’ isn’t meant to be offensive. It’s made clear that the heroine is a little young (a freshman), and that the library is more or less empty, so she’s not disturbing anybody. She does settle out of her silly pout quite quickly. The Buffy-speak remains, since I didn’t change much, but I wouldn’t use such speech in original fiction. I can’t help but wonder what the comments would have focused on if I’d been able to submit a longer excerpt, since many of those concerns would have been answered. Then again, maybe they wouldn’t have been answered satisfactorily. :)

    I appreciate hearing there’s too much description. I often feel I include too little compared to most published romance novels, and I have to force myself to go back and add it in. Taking some of that out would speed up the opening and reveal information sooner.

    I’ve also changed my writing style slightly since I submitted this. Not so many long, complex sentences with multiple participial phrases.

    In retrospect, this probably wasn’t the best choice to submit, but it still gave me many valuable insights. I appreciate those of you who’ve taken the time to comment and point out weaknesses and strengths. Thank you!

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  28. Jane Davitt
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 15:25:23

    @theo:
    Yes, as a human in Victorian times, his name was William. Spike was the name he assumed when he became a vampire.

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  29. Jane Davitt
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 15:38:59

    @Author:

    It’s been a while since I was active in the Buffy fandom but it certainly wasn’t the done thing amongst the best authors or any authors when I was participating.

    Or my fellow authors and I would’ve published our epic BDSM Faith/Wesley fic, Secretary ten years ago and become millionaires way before James did ;-)

    I write fic. I write original. They don’t mix well. If you want to get published, start fresh. It’s harder initially; world building and character creation from scratch are difficult, but the rewards are huge when it comes to pride in what you’ve made.

    And now I’ve been grouchy and had a Hallmark moment, so I’ll shut up :-)

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  30. theo
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 16:01:40

    @Author: I do think you missed what the criticism was trying to tell you here and it has little or nothing to do with the fact that it’s FF. I mentioned it earlier and I will again. Your characters in this example are completely unlikeable. That’s inexcusable on a first page. You have to have a reason, however minute, however passing, to want to like at least one of them and most people here didn’t care for either and it’s because neither are fleshed out at all. We see a condescending male (much comes from the smirking and the ‘pet’ which although it’s acceptable in GB isn’t so much here and since we have no way of knowing the background of the male character, that’s how he comes across) and a childish girl who is having a snit because she can’t find the book she needs and there’s no explanation as to why it has to be in tactile form. And this is because again, your characters are coming from a pre-established realm where those who watched the show don’t necessarily need the blanks filled in but for those of us who didn’t, it comes across as a shallow, flat page. Were I reading this on a Buffy fan site, there would be a lot of leeway given because I’d already know the characters.

    So it has to do with world building and giving shade and meaning to the words on your page and if you ever read Janet Reid’s blog, you’d see tons of examples where she’ll post two or three sentences that speak volumes rather than 1000 words that tell you nothing.

    Craft needs to be learned. I’m still learning and I’ve been trying a lot of years. Writing fan fiction is completely different from investing yourself in two or three or twelve characters that come to life from YOU. We’re not trying to discourage you, we’re trying to get you to open yourself to your own imagination, not piggy-backing on someone elses.

    I don’t mean to sound nasty and I probably do, but my other question is, if there are hundreds (if not thousands) of free Buffy fic online to read, why would anyone want to pay for it? In any form? By an amateur? Do you see what I’m getting at?

    @Jane Davitt: Thank you! I thought it might be after the comment on not changing the name, but I wasn’t sure.

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  31. Moriah Jovan
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 16:11:10

    @Author:

    A novel length story is hard work and takes a long time when you also have a real life.

    Yes. Yes it is. Original fiction is even harder.

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  32. reader
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 16:28:24

    “A novel length story is hard work and takes a long time when you also have a real life. ”

    So? If writing a novel isn’t something you want and need to do, do something else. Don’t complain about it. No one’s holding a gun to your head.

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  33. Author
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 16:29:49

    @theo

    No, I totally got that part. I’m sorry that didn’t come across. I understand that the characters are unlikeable. I didn’t consider how creepy/ditzy they would be out of context.

    The point I failed to make clear is that I was more curious about my writing style than intending to publish this particular piece. I have original fic begun, but I submitted this one because it was my most polished writing at the time.

    To the others: I’m not saying I intend to publish this. I said I don’t begrudge those who do publish their fanfic. It’s clearly a popular trend, and whether it started out as original fiction or based on other characters, the best authors still put a lot of time and effort into it. There’s no need to denigrate it.

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  34. Author
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 16:58:06

    For anybody still paying attention – this is the beginning of an original fic. I probably should have submitted this instead!

    Jade had one maxim she lived by. Don’t do anything foolish. She might amend it to don’t do anything dangerous, or dangerously foolish, or foolishly dangerous, but the basic concept remained the same.

    With the sound of gunfire ringing in her ears, Jade suspected she’d once again managed to do something both dangerous and foolish.

    There was a reason she’d instituted this maxim long ago, ever since she’d fled her mother’s house. Olivia Williamson dove headlong into the foolish and the dangerous, dragging her only child with her, and Jade had rebelled from the moment she was old enough to care for herself. Despite the way she carefully constructed her life to avoid the types of situations she had been embroiled in since childhood, the now twenty-six year old still managed to find herself in circumstances beyond her control on a regular basis. It made her wonder just how impossibly crazy her existence would be if she ever let loose the tightly held reins of her life.

    Now was not the time for self-reflection. Now was the time for running. And calling 911. Maybe. As she aimed her feet away from The Chapel of the Bells and down the Vegas Strip, Jade was glad she kept herself in shape. In shape meant being able to run farther and faster, away from Carlton Peabody and whatever foolishly dangerous scenario he had involved her in.

    “There’ll be nothing to it,” he had said, smiling a thousand watt smile that had done something to the pit of her stomach. “It’ll be a lark.” And she’d agreed, the fifty thousand dollars the handsome stranger had offered her doing as much to throw her inhibitions to the wind as that blinding smile.

    Once she was safely entrenched in her own room, the door bolted for good measure, Jade flopped on the rumpled king bed with a sigh of relief. Seconds later, she flew to the closet and tugged out the slim black briefcase within, wanting the assurance that it was really there. She snapped open the case and let out a second sigh of relief. The sight of the cold hard cash nestled inside eased the furious beating of her heart. At least it wasn’t all for nothing. Holding the briefcase close to her chest, Jade let the memories of the day play out in her mind.

    “Hi!” A baritone rumble caught her attention as she pedaled away on the exercise bike in the hotel’s gym. A glance in the mirror showed Jade the room to be empty except for the average sized man with dark hair, which suggested that he was talking to her. Not in the mood for conversation, she gave him a frosty smile and turned away.

    Apparently not taking the hint, he stepped closer, into her line of vision, and the features she would have labeled as non-descript bloomed into breathtaking as he smiled at her. With her sudden lack-of-breath, Jade was forced to slow down, and she waited for him to speak.

    “Name’s Carlton,” he said in an offhand way, and the combination of his pearly whites with that deep voice caused her heart to beat faster, even though her legs were no longer moving.

    She didn’t reply. Talking to strange men was not something that came easy to her. Instead she watched him steadily, calculating exit strategies in the back of her mind.

    He didn’t seem fazed by her lack of response. “You’re probably going to think I’m a crazy person, and guilty as charged.” The smile brightened in direct contrast to his words. “But I really need your help.”

    “Help?” Jade repeated, and then mentally berated herself for her lack of wit.

    Carlton grinned disarmingly. “I’ve gotten myself in a pickle. I, uh, have a bet going with some good friends over whether I’ll marry a girl. I intended to honor my commitment, but she has apparently come to her senses and realized I’m not such a catch after all. She’s run off and I’m bride-less.”

    “That’s too bad,” Jade said cautiously. “I’m not sure…”

    He lowered his voice. “It’s a substantial bet. Bad enough I’ve lost the girl… I can’t bear the thought of losing the money too. So you see, I need a stand in”. At her alarmed expression, he laughed. “Oh don’t worry, it wouldn’t be legally binding. Think of it more as a… joke.”

    “I… I don’t think so.” Chocolate voice and shiny smile aside, Jade was quite certain this constituted a foolish choice. “I don’t – it sounds awkward.”

    “I can pay you,” he said quickly. “Not that I think you’re the mercenary sort, but if would make you feel better, you can think of it as a temporary job. I have…” He squinted, thinking. “Fifty thousand in cash that I won earlier. That’s a pittance compared to what I’ll lose if I don’t show up this evening. You’re almost a dead ringer for Michelle. You’ll save my life.”

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  35. Lynne Connolly
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 17:03:50

    Quite a few people above have commented on the style. However, from someone who has seen maybe half a dozen Buffy episodes, and who has created her own paranormal world, here goes:
    The first two paragraphs are flat. There is no real connection with either character. Why is he interested in her? Or not interested in her? It’s a description, that’s all. To write romance you have to connect with the characters. If you explained that (maybe he just needs to rest his eyes after an intensive study period, maybe she’s exactly like his dead love, maybe she has a cute butt – something!) the reader would have more connection with him, since it’s his pov.
    Maybe studying deep third point of view techniques would help you.
    The voice is an odd mixture of American (“Stomped”) and British (“pet”) so the voice probably needs to be more consistent. The idea is not to put static backstory in, but to reference his surroundings, to make the backstory active, maybe by reflections on how electronic media have changed study, maybe something else.
    I’m a bit more tolerant of the “nothing happens,” but instead, I’d like a connection, a hook, something to keep me reading, and in this passage, there is none.
    Editors have been known to reject a book after one paragraph. It’s a tough world out there.

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  36. theo
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 17:28:02

    I didn’t consider how creepy/ditzy they would be out of context.

    That right there is the complete problem with the first piece. With the second piece, you’ve made the same mistake with backstory again you made in the first. We don’t care what mom said. The first two paragraphs are building tension and catching interest. The next two just slam on the brakes till the ABS kicks in and my eyes glaze over.

    And that’s part of your writing style.

    Lynne probably just put it as good as anyone. Style isn’t one thing, it’s a culmination of all of the things it takes to write a good story, voice, character, plot, flow…it really is hard work to write. If your heart is there, you will and you’ll be willing to learn how. If it’s not, you’ll never get past the fan fiction because it’s a safe world to live in. And everything is already there.

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  37. cleo
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 17:39:28

    @Author: I think this has potential. It’s a little heavy on the description and info-dump for my taste, but it’s intriguing.

    I was confused by the second half – it took me awhile to figure out that it’s a flashback explaining how she got into her current problem. I think that even if I hadn’t read the first part, I’d be yelling at the heroine not to take this creepy man up on his too good to be true offer, so I hope there’s a good reason for her to take the money and take him up on his crazy offer.

    Good luck to you and keep writing. ETA – I think your original piece is much stronger than the fic.

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  38. Author
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 20:46:38

    Thanks cleo, theo, and Lynne for giving it another pass (and everybody else who responded earlier). That’s exactly the kind of advice I was looking for. And I did appreciate the earlier comments as well, if I didn’t make it clear. That’s why I came here in the first place, rather than staying in the ‘safe’ realm of fanfiction.

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  39. Viridian Chick
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 21:02:09

    I like your original fiction excerpt much better. There’s a much stronger sense of character. Your first lines are killer, and it’s apparent your stye has improved since writing your Buffy/Spike fic. However — you’re still a bit wordy.

    Don’t stop in the middle of a perfectly good story to go off on a random tangent. Like this:

    “There was a reason she’d instituted this maxim long ago, ever since she’d fled her mother’s house. Olivia Williamson dove headlong into the foolish and the dangerous, dragging her only child with her, and Jade had rebelled from the moment she was old enough to care for herself. Despite the way she carefully constructed her life to avoid the types of situations she had been embroiled in since childhood, the now twenty-six year old still managed to find herself in circumstances beyond her control on a regular basis. It made her wonder just how impossibly crazy her existence would be if she ever let loose the tightly held reins of her life.”

    Your character’s next line fits perfectly: “This was not the time for self-reflection.” If you do this kind of thing often, I’d put the book down in a hurry. I have a strong dislike for unimportant information being dispersed at seemingly random points in the narrative. I don’t need her life story to understand she dislikes crazy situations. I don’t even need to be told she dislikes crazy situations to understand that she dislikes crazy situations. It’s already apparent through her actions.

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  40. Jane Davitt
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 22:14:54

    @Author:

    I can empathize with the need to have a critical appraisal of your work rather than assurances that it’s perfect. We all want to hear the latter, but we know it’s not true ;-) I remember winning a favor from a BNF; she asked if I wanted her to write me a story and I chose another option on offer and asked her to con-crit a fic of mine without sparing any punches. Improved it immensely and I learned a lot from her comments.

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  41. Author
    Aug 14, 2013 @ 00:45:11

    @Jane Davitt:

    Yes, that’s it exactly! I love all the “This is wonderful!” comments (who wouldn’t), but the ones which have been most useful in helping me improve my writing have been the ones with concrit. And I ask for it, but rarely get it. One of the reasons I began writing fanfic was to obtain feedback on my writing, so I could improve. Even a good beta will only focus on certain aspects. This seemed like the place to come for an honest evaluation. I got what I wanted, and then some. :)

    ReplyReply

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