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First Page: Puppy Love

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Sophie Reid’s car inched onto the Laurel Canyon entrance ramp, slowing to the usual crawl to enter the Hollywood freeway heading east. The hot, dry Santa Ana winds blew across the San Fernando Valley, causing waves of heat to shimmer on the asphalt. She flipped down her visor and looked at herself in the mirror while waiting for the cars to creep through the light metering traffic at the top of the ramp. She snapped her fashionably oversized shades over her gray eyes, and smiled, knowing she looked good. She pushed the appropriate button with her French manicured finger, and the convertible top glided down with a whisper.

On a whim, she had dyed her chin length bob sunflower yellow to match the color of her new Volkswagen Beetle convertible, and she felt like showing off a little. She’d gone braless as usual, and wore a raspberry colored Henley top adorned with rhinestone buttons. She even gave a pageant style wave to the person behind her who had laughed and pointed at her vanity license plate. EW A BUG. It got her, and the car, a lot of attention, and admittedly, she liked it that way.

When more than a few minutes had passed, and Sophie hadn’t moved but a few centimeters, she was sorely tempted to bang ineffectively on her horn to try to get the cars to move faster. At this snail’s pace, her good mood was fading fast. She had left her house with little time to spare, forgetting about the ominous back to school and work traffic that jammed already clogged freeways every September. Now she started to worry that her late arrival would delay the filming of the television show she worked on. The idea of an entire production team of at least hundred people waiting for her arrival made her hands sweat. She shunned a lot of traditional values, but punctuality was not among them.

After what seemed an interminable wait, she finally moved from the entrance ramp onto the actual one-oh-one freeway only to find the traffic at almost a complete standstill. She looked at the car’s dashboard clock and knew she was going to be very, very late to the studio for her call time if she didn’t get across six lanes of stopped traffic on the Hollywood freeway and onto the Ventura freeway to speed her way to Burbank quickly. Looking at the clock again, then her watch, as if the large faced man’s timepiece on her wrist would give her a different time, she realized it was unlikely she was going to make it.

After berating herself for leaving too late and taking the freeway rather than the street, she fished in the large orange tote bag on the passenger seat for her mobile phone, ready to make her excuses. When she noticed that almost everyone was out of his or her car, and the freeway had come to a grinding halt, she stopped worrying whether she would be able to complete the actor’s make-up in time for the filming,.

"Hey, what’s going on?" she called to an older woman, who had exited her Bentley and nimbly sprinted past several cars in a designer business suit and spindly four-inch Jimmy Choo heels.

"There’s a dog on the road," she said breathlessly, only pausing for the briefest of moments to answer. "We’re trying to catch him before he gets run over."

It was then that she saw it. A little red fur ball of a dog ran in between the stopped cars, and dodged every single one of the people who tried to catch him or her. The long dormant animal lover in Sophie woke up and propelled her out of the car, knowing now she was definitely going to be unacceptably late, but not caring any longer, and joined the dog pursuit. The thought of seeing an innocent dog killed on the road scared her and she ran after the dog with no regard for her personal safety. After about five minutes darting around the freeway, she and a tall impossibly broad-shouldered, sandy-haired man were able to corral the dog between themselves and their cars. When he moved to grab the dog, it ran toward her, and she triumphantly scooped the warm body into her arms. The dog’s heart was beating a million miles a minute against hers. She cradled the scared reddish-brown puppy and tried to calm it.

The handsome stranger waved at the frantic Angelenos, "She’s got him." He paused, looking at her hair, then her car, and smiling. "Hey Sunflower," he said nicknaming Sophie for her bright yellow hair, "You want me to take him?"

***

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38 Comments

  1. Marianne McA
    Oct 25, 2008 @ 05:12:40

    Terrible admission, but I’m not a dog lover, so the lovable mutt never wins me over. It’s also one of those things I feel I’ve read too often before. Heyer did it, Crusie’s done it, Brockmann has done it – and they’ve all done it well, so I’d rather read an alternative take on it: it’s an alligator on the road, and the heroine adopts that, or the heroine whips out a gun from the glove box and shoots the dog, because she’s really not going to be late for work. (Might be hard to make her a sympathetic character after that….)

  2. Anion
    Oct 25, 2008 @ 05:19:36

    I think you have like a dozen sentences in a row that start with the word “She”. It’s hugely distracting. I’d suggest you vary it a bit, but honestly, most of this beginning should just go. She’s just sitting in a car, thinking. Nothing’s happening at all. “Sitting in traffic” is one of those opening agents and editors consistently list as cliche and dull, because it is both.

    Given how shallow you’ve painted her in the first few paragraphs I have an incredibly hard time believing she would get out of her car and start hunting for the dog “with no regard for her personal safety”. Also, you spent more time describing her hair than you did describing the actual chase of the dog, it felt like. (And if all the cars are stopped, how is the dog still in danger?)

    Cut the whole beginning. Start with her scooping up the dog. Vary the sentence structure (starting every sentence with “she” makes this read like a laundry list). And we don’t need to know all the details of her thoughts about herself and her hair and her watch (I wear a man’s watch too, btw) and how she likes attention etc. etc. etc. The whole beginning is TELL instead of SHOW.

    As always, JMO.

  3. Mrs Giggles
    Oct 25, 2008 @ 05:57:54

    I have no problems with the heroine being shallow – we can’t all start out as perfect human beings, because there is no fun in that, IMO – but I find the first page too slow for my liking. All that description of the heroine’s appearance and the scenery make a sleepy start, with the bait to reel in the reader’s attention taking place only in the later half of the first page. This isn’t the way to go if you want to command the attention of a casual reader.

    Like Anion, I think it is better to start with the heroine coming across the doggie and later encountering the hero. Let the hero be the one to describe the heroine in his POV to the reader – from my personal observation, the average reader seems to relate better to the heroine’s usually flawless physical appearance if the hero is the one who is doing the description, heh!

  4. Treva Harte
    Oct 25, 2008 @ 07:05:41

    One of my smart editors passed on some advice — never start with anyone in transit. There is no action to be had and no way to immediately engage the reader. A traffic jam sounds like the worst possible choice in that case. Having our shallow heroine choosing between her hairstyle and chasing the dog — for a paragraph or so — might be the way to start.

  5. Keri Ford
    Oct 25, 2008 @ 07:09:07

    Let me start with saying I like the voice. I don't know where you're going with it, but your writing was engaging to read. I did come across a couple things that stopped me.

    This sentence pulled me right from the story:
    The idea of an entire production team of at least hundred people waiting for her arrival made her hands sweat.

    After listening to her go on for 3 paragraphs about her hair, eyes, sunglasses, putting the top down, this seemed exactly the opposite of what she’d like. She even mentioned wanting to show off her new cut. Seems like walking in late and drawing the attention of all the crew would be right up her alley.

    And then you have this sentence that reinforces that:
    It got her, and the car, a lot of attention, and admittedly, she liked it that way.

    I feel like you threw in the punctuality remark just make her not sound so arrogant. Instead it dropped her out of her character. Making her arrogant is fine–it’ll be harder to find a wider audience, but don’t slip out of just make her a little nice.

    And because of all this, enjoying the sun and checking her hair cut/color and all that, I'm not feeling her urgency over being late.

    Maybe I’ve lived in the country too long, or maybe I worked with the public too long, but I don’t see ALL these people stopping to try and catch a dog. I could see maybe one person on the side of the road, but shutting down a freeway? They should all be ticked for traffic obstruction.

    Consider revamping it a little. If you're going to keep her with this attitude, be sure to completely flesh her out. Good luck with whatever you decide!

  6. Kathleen MacIver
    Oct 25, 2008 @ 07:54:42

    I don’t have a problem with her being stuck on herself, if that’s what you intended. I’d have a problem if she stayed that way through the whole story, but I’m assuming that’s not the case. (If you don’t intend her to be stuck on herself, then you need to remove all, or almost all, of the references about how she looks. You’ve placed us in her POV, so these tell us that she’s thinking obsessively about how she looks.)

    Your grammar is good, as is your sentence structure. I think the two biggest problems are that the description is over-the-top, as others said… and that things don’t seem quite realistic enough. It’s not noticeable, because the descriptions keep us from being pulled into the scene… but when I started thinking of ways to pull the reader into the scene more, I began to see that a number of things didn’t make sense. Here is what I noticed, for whatever value it is to you.

    Sophie Reid's car inched onto the Laurel Canyon entrance ramp, slowing to the usual crawl to enter the Hollywood freeway heading east.

    Two prepositional phrases starting with “to” in a row means this could be worded better. Or rather, some of the information left out. Is it important which freeway? Perhaps, if this is how you’re establishing your setting. Is east important? Is which exit important? How about, “Sophie Reid’s car inched down the ramp onto the Hollywood freeway.” Leave the “as usual” information (if it’s important) for a thought she has later on.

    The hot, dry Santa Ana winds blew across the San Fernando Valley, causing waves of heat to shimmer on the asphalt.

    Is this important? You’re working to create your setting, but by making the winds the subject of the sentence, you pull us out of where you placed us… focused on the car and the woman in it. This would fit the POV you’ve moving into better if you had her looking through the waves rising off the tops of the cars in front of her, and if you left the Santa Ana winds until they go through her hair.

    She flipped down her visor and looked at herself in the mirror while waiting for the cars to creep through the light metering traffic at the top of the ramp. She snapped her fashionably oversized shades over her gray eyes, and smiled, knowing she looked good. She pushed the appropriate button with her French manicured finger, and the convertible top glided down with a whisper.

    This also has a bit too much detail. If you want us to think of her as stuck on herself, then it works to have her thinking about herself like this… but I think it could be pulled into her POV a little better. She can smile in satisfaction at her appearance, and that SHOWS us that she knows she looks good, rather than you telling us it. The grey eyes… most of us rarely think about the color of our eyes, so cut that, unless you can give her a reason for thinking about her eye color. Rather than having her push a button with her manicured finger, let her check them, etc. This sort of thing would strengthen the POV and allow you to shorten the descriptions at the same time.

    On a whim, she had dyed her chin length bob sunflower yellow to match the color of her new Volkswagen Beetle convertible, and she felt like showing off a little.

    This leaves her POV, because she wouldn’t be thinking this way. She seems more likely to push that button and think, “If I HAVE to sit here for so long, I may as well show off how my new hairdo matches the paint job of my precious car.” (or something like that)

    And so forth. In general, you just have too many adjectives. I’m not an advocate of cutting them all, like some authors are. But your average sentence has 4-8… especially once you consider that prepositional phrases act as adjectives.

    The idea of an entire production team of at least hundred people waiting for her arrival made her hands sweat. She shunned a lot of traditional values, but punctuality was not among them.

    This struck me as sort of odd and out-of-character, but I’m not sure why. I only share it in case you’d like to know.

    After what seemed an interminable wait, she finally moved from the entrance ramp onto the actual one-oh-one freeway only to find the traffic at almost a complete standstill.

    Delete the finally… your “after” phrase says the same thing, but better. Also… usually, when you’re inching down a ramp, if traffic is at a standstill, you can see it. Perhaps this exit is different, but I don’t know the area, and this struck me as really odd. I assumed it was that metered light that had them going so slow. If the highway was at a standstill, then I would have expected her to see it long before now and be fuming about it.

    I’d cut the rest of the paragraph, unless you can sum it up in eight words or less. It doesn’t seem to give any important information… just repeats things you’ve already told us a number of times.

    After berating herself for leaving too late and taking the freeway rather than the street,

    Why skip over this and “tell” us she did it? Why not let us hear her thoughts as she does it… “showing” us? (And, at the same time, giving us whatever information IS important about the highway and so forth, but from her POV.)

    She fished in the large orange tote bag on the passenger seat for her mobile phone, ready to make her excuses.

    Cut “large orange tote” and change bag to a word that is more precise… purse, briefcase, tote, etc. Cut “mobile.” It’s in a purse, so it’s obviously mobile. Cut “ready to make her excuses.” Just have her fish for it, notice that everyone’s getting out of their cars, and drop it back in the bag. We’ll guess why she went for it, and why she dropped it.

    “Hey, what's going on?” she called to an older woman, who had exited her Bentley and nimbly sprinted past several cars in a designer business suit and spindly four-inch Jimmy Choo heels.

    And OLDER woman wearing heels… sprinted? And did Sophie really notice the brand of the heels as they were flashing by that fast?

    “There's a dog on the road,” she said breathlessly, only pausing for the briefest of moments to answer. “We're trying to catch him before he gets run over.”
    It was then that she saw it. A little red fur ball of a dog ran in between the stopped cars, and dodged every single one of the people who tried to catch him or her.

    First, if the woman sprinted by, then by the time she managed to hear Sophie and hurtle to a stop, she’d have had to come back to Sophie in order to answer her… which doesn’t seem realistic. I’d cut the woman, and have someone in the car next to her answer.

    Overall, though, this still doesn’t seem realistic to me. Do people in CA really care so much about dogs that an entire freeway would stop, just to save a little dog’s life? Over here, in the east, they usually get accidentally hit long before any of this could happen. Especially a small dog. If a large dog managed to get past the fences and barriers, people would swerve, and then traffic would be stopped due to an accident.

    The long dormant animal lover

    This sounds contrived. It makes it seem as though you, as the author, are trying to explain away something that you think will seem uncharacteristic. I think it would work better if she went for the dog because rescuing it would make her the hero, which it seems she’d like to be. (Assuming you can make the everyone stopping to save a dog seem more realistic.)

    knowing now she was definitely going to be unacceptably late, but not caring any longer, and joined the dog pursuit.

    How will joining the dog pursuit make her any later than she’d already be? It’s not like she can go anywhere, even if she doesn’t help. The highway’s stopped.

    The thought of seeing an innocent dog killed on the road scared her and she ran after the dog with no regard for her personal safety.

    Perhaps I missed something. Aren’t the cars all still at a standstill? They were the last time you mentioned them. How is rushing between stopped cars risky?

    After about five minutes darting around the freeway, she and a tall impossibly broad-shouldered, sandy-haired man were able to corral the dog between themselves and their cars.

    In order for them to corral the dog between their cars, then this man’s car would have to be next to hers, which means she would have probably noticed him before now. That also means that she chased the dog around for five minutes, yet the dog happened to return to her car, rather than somewhere else. Also… if this is the hero, then tell us what she thinks of him the first time she sees him. Was it a glance in the middle of a chase? Tell us what that glance showed her, but move right on to whatever else was occupying her mind at that moment. When she got a better look, what did she notice and think? Etc.

    When he moved to grab the dog, it ran toward her, and she triumphantly scooped the warm body into her arms. The dog's heart was beating a million miles a minute against hers.

    Can you really feel a dog’s heartbeat when you’re simply holding it? I think what she’d be more likely to notice was his panting… and perhaps she’d be worried about him drooling on her clothes.

    She cradled the scared reddish-brown puppy and tried to calm it.

    You’ve already told us it’s red.

    The handsome stranger waved at the frantic Angelenos,

    Like I said, I’m on the other side of the country, and I’m ignorant about a lot… and what Angelenos are is one of them. It sounds like a Mexican word, which would make sense for the area… but not for this kind of woman’s way of thinking about things. She doesn’t sound like the type to use Mexican words… unless they’re a well established part of the English language. If this word is over there, then be aware that it’s not in other areas of the country where you might have readers.

    “She's got him.” He paused, looking at her hair, then her car, and smiling. “Hey Sunflower,” he said nicknaming Sophie for her bright yellow hair, “You want me to take him?”

    Don’t explain why he called her that. You’ve already told us her hair matches her car, so the explanations not needed. I like this whole nickname section, otherwise.

    Try to act out your scene, in your mind. Take turns, placing yourself inside every character in the scene. Make sure you understand their current mindset, emotions, thoughts, current goal, etc… then act out the scene and make sure that it all fits together. Doing this will help you avoid these kinds of confusions and enable you to make your story much more rich.

  7. Carrie Lofty
    Oct 25, 2008 @ 07:57:05

    I agree with the comments about show don’t tell, cutting out most of the beginning etc. But I really don’t mind a shallow heroine. I find them really fun. Dogs don’t do it for me, but a woman learning her true place in the world is always a story worth pursuing. Who wants Romancelandia populated by only Mary Sues or kick-ass bitches?

    However, when all the traffic stopped and people got out of their cars, I was thinking much more sinister thoughts–a massive accident, a mushroom cloud in the distance, alien spaceships. That’s just where my mind was. So when it was just a little dog, my own expectations let me down.

  8. Courtney Milan
    Oct 25, 2008 @ 07:59:15

    This didn’t really work for me.

    Here’s my reaction: Oy, the description. It’s not that you’re giving me too much description; it’s that you’re giving me description I didn’t want.

    I agree with those who say the story starts with the puppy chase. But just as there’s too much description of the boring freeway drive before hand, there is *far* too little detail about chasing the puppy.

    For example, let’s start with the description of the puppy. I have to tell you, my initial reaction is that the puppy belonged to the hero, the handsome stranger. And what I really wanted to know was: How does the hero get his puppy, sans leash, lost on a freeway? As a fairly new puppy owner myself, I tend to be just a little judgmental, and the only answer I can think of is this: By being an extremely irresponsible dog owner. And I was starting to get mad at the hero–not a thing that you want to encourage in a reader.

    On a second read, I realized that there was nothing in the page that says the hero owns the dog. So why did I fill that detail in in my head? It’s because I got almost no description of the dog itself. You just say it’s a flash of red fur, and then you tell us what the main character does. Yeah, I jumped to a conclusion. But I did it because you didn’t lead me to one.

    If there’s a detail that’s important to the story, you have to tell the readers what it is, or they’ll make it up for themselves. If the dog is important, show us the dog. Let her notice that it has no collar, that it shies away from people, and follow us down the conclusion: this is a puppy that some asshole who couldn’t be bothered to spay his bitch wanted to be rid of, and so he dumped it on the freeway for an easy solution to his personal pet overpopulation problem. *Show* us a scared, trembling puppy that is going to dart about the freeway because–HELLO, idiotic oafs are bumbling around after it, without any idea how to talk dog language, and they’re scaring it even more.

    Right now, all we get is “red flash of fur” and the puppy is so important to the scene that readers are going to fill the details in their heads if you don’t put them there. Let us see the dog’s body language, so we can start building up a story of what the dog is feeling.

    The next thing that is under described is the freeway. You tell us *where* you are in the freeway system, but how many people know the LA freeways well enough to know what it looks like by just being told it’s the 101? We need to know what the median’s like–can the puppy simply jump over six inches of curb and hit six oncoming lanes of 55-mile an hour traffic? Because the latter is really scary, and it would up the tension if you could include it.

    We need to know whether there’s a big brick wall abutting the freeway, leaving the puppy nowhere to escape, or whether there’s just a wide strip of land. Is it stuck on the freeway, or, if it runs in the right direction, can it reach safety? You want to build up these details not just to show people what the scene likes, but to ramp up the tension. Show us a freeway where there’s no escape, and the only certainty is that if they leave the dog, it’s going to die. As it is, we get nothing at all about the terrain–and it’s the terrain that’s dangerous. Show us the terrain.

    Finally, this is not a complaint about description but about set up. The dog is running through six lanes of parked cars. And that’s not very urgent; even though you use words like “personal safety” I don’t get a dangerous picture in my mind, because traffic is completely stopped. It’s effectively a parking lot, and you don’t ever show us an instance where the puppy on the freeway is in real danger. Your description of the puppy is something like this: “the puppy ran away from people and then they caught it.” Even though there’s a little bit of tension because we know it may die eventually if they do not catch it, there’s no immediate danger.

    I think you could dramatically increase the tension in this scene if not all six lanes of traffic are stopped. Have four or five of them moving. Show the puppy. Show moving wheels in the vicinity. Show the puppy looking towards the moving wheels, and beginning to run in that direction…. Now that is scary, and will get me to turn pages.

    Right now, my reaction is that the details you’re including didn’t draw me in to the story, but I think you could revise this so that they did.

  9. Maya M.
    Oct 25, 2008 @ 08:06:42

    Personally I don’t have a problem with starting with a person worried about getting to work on time – we’ve all been there, so the building tension intantly puts the reader in the character’s frame of mind. I also think it’s pretty revealing about a character’s personality to find out what they do/think in the face of such frustration.

    The part I did have a problem with was the IMHO tired old ‘look in a mirror’ ploy to describe what the heroine looks like (unless there’s a specific reason for looking in the mirror, like checking her teeth for bacon because she had breakfast in such a hurry, or something), and the ‘meet the hero within the first five paragraphs’ ploy (assuming the tall, impossibly broad-shouldered, handsome stranger is destined to be the love interest).

    Also, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that the reader will understand that when he calls her ‘sunflower’, it’s because of her hair. No need to spell it out.

    Good luck, and good for you to have the courage to put this excerpt out in the world!

  10. theo
    Oct 25, 2008 @ 08:08:36

    I won’t reiterate what’s already been said, but I did want to point out that out of the six paragraphs above (sans dialog) you’ve reminded the reader in five of them that your Hn is going to be late. By the last reminder, I started to lose all interest.

    Many agents will tell you, they might find a 130K story interesting but will go with one that contains the same elements that is only 95K more often than not (though not all the time) because those 35K words are most likely superfluous.

    Tighten this whole thing up, give the reader a bit of action in the first two paragraphs and keep your character consistent. If she’s vain in the first two or three paragraphs, don’t suddenly have her develop a conscious and worry about the peons that work for her.

    Then have some fun with the dog chase. She’s vain; everything about her must be perfection according to her own thoughts. What happens if she breaks a heel chasing the dog? Messes up her hair? Falls in some hot tar?

    The premise is a good one to start, though I don’t know if this is drama, comedy, mystery, intrigue. Give the reader a hint.

    Kudos for subbing it and good luck. :)

  11. Maya M.
    Oct 25, 2008 @ 08:09:48

    (comment removed)

  12. Courtney Milan
    Oct 25, 2008 @ 08:10:00

    The other thing that’s bothering me is that if the dog is scared, it will try to get under something, namely the cars. It’s not going to run around traffic, exposed, out in the open. This dog is acting like a puppy playing a marvelous game of chase with a large number of people.

  13. joanne
    Oct 25, 2008 @ 08:14:10

    The whole story started for me with the 3rd paragraph where I found out she was an actress so I can assume she’s attractive, possibly egotistic about her looks, and so the descriptions can come in drips rather then dumps later in the chapter. After the 3rd paragraph the story moved along very nicely for me.

    Since she’s a professional actor I liked that she knew the difference between being noticed and being late, so after that I am/was willing to go with her for a while longer.

    The

    tall impossibly broad-shouldered

    and his calling her Sunflower– with a capital — really seemed unnecessary. Really. Truly. Please.

    I liked the voice enough to want to find out what’s next. Thank You.

  14. Tyg
    Oct 25, 2008 @ 08:19:55

    I won’t comment on the much of the writing, I think there are others here that will do a much better job. Mine’s a minor niggle, it’s the use of the word ‘impossibly’.

    This week I’ve read at least four pieces of writing where impossibly is used as emphasis. Up above the guy (presumably the hero?) is described as being impossibly broad shouldered. I used to skip over it, but now I’m at the Inigo Montoya point of needing to say that word does not mean what you think it does.

    Usually I see it about the hero’s genitals. Alarming.

    I will add to that, I don’t have a problem with the heroine’s interest in her own looks, maybe it’s from vanity, maybe it’s from confidence. I quite like a lady who knows she looks good, I do not necessarily see it as shallow. Nor do I see it as dissonant with distress about not being punctual. Being punctual could well be part of how she’s sees herself and to be late strikes at her professional vanity.

    For that matter she could be vain about her looks, and concerned about making trouble for other people. We are not all flaws, or all virtues.

  15. Kathleen MacIver
    Oct 25, 2008 @ 08:24:17

    Hmmm…

    I didn’t assume she was an actress. I assumed she was a makeup artist FOR an actress… since she had to “complete the actor’s makeup in time.”

  16. Maya M.
    Oct 25, 2008 @ 08:26:15

    “…now I'm at the Inigo Montoya point of needing to say that word does not mean what you think it does.”

    Hee. Watched Princess Bride last night. “He’s only been ‘mostly dead’ all day.”

    And: “…Usually I see (the word ‘impossibly’) about the hero's genitals. Alarming.” Ha ha!

  17. joanne
    Oct 25, 2008 @ 08:32:36

    Hmmm…
    I didn't assume she was an actress. I assumed she was a makeup artist FOR an actress… since she had to “complete the actor's makeup in time.”

    I don’t think they would hold up on filming an entire show for a makeup artist… but then it’s Hollywood…. ya’ never know.

  18. Leah
    Oct 25, 2008 @ 08:36:31

    I pretty much agree with what everyone else has said. I normally skip descriptions of clothing, etc., but in this case, if your heroine is shallow, it makes sense that she’s going to be overly concerned with what she wears. And it’s ok for her to be punctual, too–my MIL is, and beofre I met her, I didn’t realize it was possible for a grown woman to care so much about what she looks like, what things cost, and ok, I dont’ wanna go off on a rant here….. Still, after the first paragraph or so, I found myself skimming through the other descriptions of her commute, to see what the point was. I know when I write, I tend to follow my character around and describe everything I see her say and do. Now, thanks to some critiques, I still do this at first, so I can see what is going on, but then go back and cut everything that is not directly relevant to the plot.

    I have to echo the people who don’t think traffic would stop for a dog on the freeway. I’m sure it’s happened a few times, but really, when you’re barrelling down the highway at 60-80 mph, you’re not going to swerve or stop. When I lived in Indy, a whole family of ducks tried to cross the junction of I-70 and I-465, at the height of rush hour. Traffic was jam-packed and very fast–I’m sure we all felt bad, but no one stopped or even braked that much, because we all wanted to get home in one piece. Also, I think you might need to justify her interest in the dog with more than just “long-dormant animal lover.” Does it remind her of a childhood pet who was hit by a car? Also, when I was single and childless, my pets were pretty much my substitute children, so I can see her having a soft spot for critters, no matter how vain she might be in other ways.

    I like your voice, though, and I like your heroine. Keep with it!

  19. Anion
    Oct 25, 2008 @ 08:42:14

    I should clarify, perhaps–I don’t have a problem with her shallowness, either. I just didn’t think that being so shallow, she would be so desperate to help the dog and not worry not only about her personal safety but about getting sweaty and dirty etc.

    Also, why are she and the hero suddenly the only ones chasing the dog? With all those cars stopped, and at least one older woman going after it…where is everyone else? You mention her “join[ing] the dog pursuit”, so where is everyone else? How many people does it take to catch one little dog? Surely somebody had some jerky or something they could have tempted the dog with?

    An “Angeleno” is a citizen of Los Angeles, there is nothing at all wrong with its use here. And I’ve been to LA a few times; traffic really does stop on a dime there, often for no apparent reason. Not to mention that weirdo pedestrian law they have where cars have to stop the second someone steps off the curb. So I had no trouble at all believing that a bunch of Angelenos stopped for the puppy. I just had a hard time believing our heroine got out and ran around.

    And I ditto what Courtney Milan said about the puppy chase 100%. You spend all this time introducing the heroine, then rush through the actual action, when the action is a perfect opportunity to not only engage the reader, but to actually show us the heroine’s character. This could be quite cute and sweet, and get the heroine nicely rumpled and mussy and she could get upset about it and that could add some conflict.

  20. Lynne Connolly
    Oct 25, 2008 @ 08:42:15

    Far too slow, with too many irrelevant descriptions that bring the action to a screeching halt. It needs to be faster and sharper. And make something happen. Things happen, even in a traffic jam.

    If I were rewriting this, I’d have her arriving for work, late, just a one-sentence thing to explain why she’s going too fast up the slip road to her job, screech to a halt when the dog races across the road, making her skid and maybe nick her bumper on the safety barrier, and then have the confrontation with the hero. Only this time she has an attitude. She’s worried about the dog, angry that he could let it go like that, and angry that she’s nicked her precious car. She grabs the puppy and when he asks her for it back, she lets fly. Her lateness adds to her anxiety.
    Everything else comes through in the subsequent conversation with the hero. Anything you don’t need, save until later.

    This is almost all telling not showing, setting the scene, and it wouldn’t draw me in to read more. Since I don’t know Sophie and I don’t have anything vested in her yet, not even a few chapters read, I couldn’t care less what she drives, what she’s wearing, what colour her eyes are and where she’s going.
    It has some British-isms, like “mobile phone” and some sentence construction, but it might be just a quirk of the LA scene, so I’m not sure if this fits or not.

    nimbly sprinted past several cars in a designer business suit and spindly four-inch Jimmy Choo heels.

    The cars sprinted? They wore a designer business suit? And she has to have really sharp eyes to note that the shoes were Jimmy Choos. Watch your sentence construction.

    After about five minutes darting around the freeway, she and a tall impossibly broad-shouldered, sandy-haired man were able to corral the dog between themselves and their cars.

    She had time to study the man before they caught the dog? Again, you’re stopping the action to describe someone.

    “Hey Sunflower,” he said nicknaming Sophie for her bright yellow hair, “You want me to take him?”

    Argh! Change of pov and stopping to describe something?

    Just as an example, I’d do something like this;

    “Hey Sunflower,” he said. “You want me to take him?”
    She shook her hair out of her eyes. “As I recall, the bottle said ‘Clairol 234, not Sunflower.”

    I don’t really like the heroine. A superficial person with more than a touch of the Mary Sue about her. And a bit of Pollyanna thrown in. I don’t believe that the traffic would stall so badly on a major freeway because of a dog – the minute it ran across the road, someone would have mowed it down. And you really have to cut the descriptions and try to integrate them into the plot.

    I have to add that this isn’t my kind of book, unless it’s by Susan Elizabeth Philips or Jennifer Cruisie. In general, not my thing, so you might be addressing the wrong audience in me. But keep at it. You do create a nice atmosphere and your style is pleasantly breezy, when you’re not stopping the action to describe something, for instance, the dog darting in between the cars is done really well.

  21. Lorelie
    Oct 25, 2008 @ 09:11:56

    Carrie, you always jump to dire and angsty. :D

    Anyway, back to topic-

    I agree with most of what’s said above. Don’t start sitting in traffic, slice and dice away all the fluff. I’m of the group who doesn’t mind the shallow heroine. But if she *is* shallow, chasing the dog’s out of character, like everyone else has said.

    But it looks like I might be setting myself up to be Fist Page Sunday’s resident nitpicker:

    When more than a few minutes had passed, and Sophie hadn't moved but a few centimeters

    because – why is she thinking in centimeters? Word choice is incredibly important. Honestly my immediate thoughts are that the writer’s not from the US, from which I segue into them likely not getting the SoCal area right, something that’s an immediate turn-off for me, since I grew up there. If the heroine is a transplant a bit of the fish out of water thing could be fun – but needs to be explained more clearly.

  22. Katrina Strauss
    Oct 25, 2008 @ 09:44:23

    Having dealt with editors, I suggest rewriting the first sentence to show Sophie driving the car rather than what sounds like the car driving itself. The switch to “she” two sentences later is also confusing, as the previous two subjects have been Sophie’s car and then the wind. “She” who, I ask?

  23. Leah
    Oct 25, 2008 @ 10:31:01

    Just thinking…if you’re invested in the whole traffic jam/puppy thing (and I always think–“but that’s the way it happened!!!!!). Perhaps the cars could have been stopped for some other reason, like a volume delay, the puppy has already jumped out of someone else’s car (maybe they were a new owner and didn’t realize the puppy was big enough to do it), and runs down the lane, stopping to piddle on or scratch at the heroine’s car. When she opens the door to scoot it away, it jumps in with her, traffic starts moving, and she can’t just throw it out of her car, ’cause she’s not heartless. Just a thought, anyway.

  24. shenan
    Oct 25, 2008 @ 10:43:02

    Warning: Annoying nitpicks ahead!

    —–Sophie Reid’s car inched onto the Laurel Canyon entrance ramp, slowing to the usual crawl to enter the Hollywood freeway heading east. The hot, dry Santa Ana winds blew across the San Fernando Valley, causing waves of heat to shimmer on the asphalt. She flipped down her visor and looked at herself in the mirror while waiting for the cars to creep through the light metering traffic at the top of the ramp. She snapped her fashionably oversized shades over her gray eyes, and smiled, knowing she looked good. She pushed the appropriate button with her French manicured finger, and the convertible top glided down with a whisper.

    The sentences in the above seem unconnected. There’s no real flow. Too, the action here doesn’t interest me. The character doesn’t interest me. In fact, I already find her boring.

    Too much description of unimportant details. Too much description period.

    Is this chicklit?

    Just as a matter of curiosity for a rural gal — what is a “light metering traffic”? Is this some common term I’m too much of a hick to know? Or will other readers be left scratching their heads as well?

    —-On a whim, she had dyed her chin length bob sunflower yellow

    I had to wade through that and reread it to figure it out. Do we need all that info? “Bob” tells me her hair is short. I don’t really care how short. Besides, wouldn’t someone just think of their hair as hair and not go into that much detail?

    — to match the color of her new Volkswagen Beetle convertible, and she felt like showing off a little. She’d gone braless as usual, and wore a raspberry colored Henley top adorned with rhinestone buttons.

    Too much description. Does she really give herself fashion reviews?

    —She even gave a pageant style wave to the person behind her who had laughed and pointed at her vanity license plate. EW A BUG. It got her, and the car, a lot of attention, and admittedly, she liked it that way.

    Again the paragraph doesn’t flow smoothly. It’s more like a shopping list.

    —-When more than a few minutes had passed, and Sophie hadn’t moved but a few centimeters,

    A centimeter is about a third of an inch. Do you really mean that her car moved all of about an inch? Why use metric anyway? Is the heroine not American?

    —–she was sorely tempted to bang ineffectively on her horn to try to get the cars to move faster.

    She was tempted to be ineffective? Or she thought about blowing her horn even though she knew it wouldn’t be of any use?

    —-At this snail’s pace, her good mood was fading fast. She had left her house with little time to spare, forgetting about the ominous back to school and work traffic that jammed already clogged freeways every September.

    Ominous means to foreshadow evil. How is traffic foreshadowing evil?

    Is this detail even important?

    —Now she started to worry that her late arrival would delay the filming of the television show she worked on. The idea of an entire production team of at least hundred people waiting for her arrival made her hands sweat.

    Is she the director? An actor? Sounds more like she’s a peon. Directors would direct. Actors would star in a show. So how is she holding up production?

    —–She shunned a lot of traditional values, but punctuality was not among them.

    As a character description, that doesn’t exactly endear the woman to me. Nor has anything else so far made me want to like her. Do you mean to set the character up as unlikable?

    If she liked to be punctual, why didn’t she leave early?

    —–After what seemed an interminable wait,

    Interminable means “wearisomely protracted.” Protracted means “prolonged” or “delayed.” So was the wait actually long? Or did it just seem that way to a really impatient woman?

    —-she finally moved from the entrance ramp onto the actual one-oh-one freeway

    Do you mean 101? Is there a reason for spelling it out that way?

    —-only to find the traffic at almost a complete standstill.

    How did she make it onto the freeway if the traffic was almost completely stalled?

    —-She looked at the car’s dashboard clock and knew she was going to be very, very late to the studio for her call time

    Okay, now it sounds like she’s an actress. But if she is as vain as she appears to be, I wonder why she doesn’t cast herself in a starring role in whatever show she’s in instead of describing herself as simply “working on” the show.

    —- if she didn’t get across six lanes of stopped traffic on the Hollywood freeway and onto the Ventura freeway to speed her way to Burbank quickly.

    I always glaze over whenever an author goes into such exacting detail about a real place. I don’t care what streets someone turns onto or what landmark they pass. It always takes me out of the story as I think, “Yeah, yeah, you did your research. Now get on with the story.” But that’s probably just me.

    —- Looking at the clock again, then her watch, as if the large faced man’s timepiece on her wrist would give her a different time, she realized it was unlikely she was going to make it.

    I read the description of the watch as describing a man with a large face. Why not just say “watch”?

    —-After berating herself for leaving too late and taking the freeway rather than the street,

    You mean a residential road? A feeder road? A main thoroughfare?

    If she left home late and knew the freeway at that time of day and time of year would be jammed, why didn’t she go ahead and take a different route?

    —- she fished in the large orange tote bag on the passenger seat

    Why can’t she just fish in her bag? Or tote bag? Or purse? Do we really need to know it’s large and orange?

    —-for her mobile phone

    Again I ask — is the heroine not American? Otherwise she’d be reaching for her cell phone.

    — ready to make her excuses. When she noticed that almost everyone was out of his or her car, and the freeway had come to a grinding halt,

    What the heck was she doing that she didn’t notice the other cars coming to a complete (from an almost complete) stop and everyone getting out of their cars?

    —-she stopped worrying whether she would be able to complete the actor’s make-up in time for the filming,.

    Is she an actor or a makeup artist? If she’s a makeup artist, she only does one actor’s makeup? Or do you mean “actors'”?

    —“Hey, what’s going on?” she called to an older woman, who had exited her Bentley and nimbly sprinted past several cars in a designer business suit and spindly four-inch Jimmy Choo heels.

    Do we need that much description of the woman’s clothing and shoes? If she is driving a fancy car, I’m going to assume she’s dressed fancy as well.

    —-“There’s a dog on the road,” she said breathlessly,

    Why is she out of breath after a short, nimble sprint? Nimble sprinting indicates lively dashing. Not an old woman’s huffing shuffle.

    I’m with those who wonder why traffic would grind to a halt (even if cars were creeping along an inch at a time) so that everyone could go chasing after a dog. Now, maybe if the traffic had been stopped for twenty minutes or more and everyone was bored, I could see them deciding to play a game of Chase the Doggie.

    The description of the heroine as a long dormant dog lover doesn’t work for me. All of a sudden she is concerned with another living being and wants to join the chase? Why? Not like they need another dog lover chasing about. And what’s with her personal safety issue if the cars are at a dead stop? Why would she be scared of a dog, innocent or guilty, getting killed? Better she should be scared of the dog’s heart beating a million miles a minute. Or the freeway guy’s impossibly broad shoulders.

    I’m also with those who wonder why we got so much description about trivial matters and none when something actually happens.

    —–The handsome stranger waved at the frantic Angelenos,

    Why were they frantic? The dog wasn’t in danger in stopped traffic. The rescuers weren’t in danger.

  25. MD
    Oct 25, 2008 @ 12:18:41

    I liked the writing style, too, and thought the description was short enough that it didn’t slow things down that much for me. Her arrogance didn’t bother me, either. It had a sort of innocent quality to it that was inoffensive. Plenty of people, men and women, are that self-conscious of their looks and take satisfaction when they feel they’re looking especially good. I agree with other reviewers that you can up the tension by having some traffic moving and the pup barely rescued in time.
    I also liked the sunflower thing, but I’m one of those people who thinks it is cute when the hero nicknames the heroine.

    One thing I’d like to know from just anyone who cares to answer it – is it just me (and maybe it is) but doesn’t having a character go braless make you instinctively regard that character in a less than flattering way? I understand the letting-it-all-hang-out thing going on, but I guess I’m just old-fashioned. It gives off a bit of a ‘cheap’ vibe, to be honest–but again, maybe that’s just me.
    And the visual of braless in a henley–I don’t think that’s an attractive look, no matter what boob size you’ve been blessed with.
    (I know, very nitpicky!)
    I do like the start of the story, however! Thanks for putting your work out to be shredded. Good luck!

  26. Kathleen MacIver
    Oct 25, 2008 @ 12:25:42

    Yeah, MD. Me, too.

  27. Lori
    Oct 25, 2008 @ 12:50:16

    The bra-less didn’t bother me and I liked the description in the first paragraph but then it got a little bogged down.

    The gray eyes really turned me off because that’s ridiculous to me. However, the hair dyed to match the car, the manicured nails, the expensive shoes, okay, I’ve met women like her.

    Assuming that she’s a make-up artist, I don’t think a movie would wait for her to show. She might more be worried that she’ll be out of a job if she’s too late.

    I really felt in reading this that there’s going to be a great story following, just the beginning needs a jump start.

    Good luck with this!

  28. Jill Sorenson
    Oct 25, 2008 @ 14:36:25

    I think the freeway scene is unrealistic, but cute. Anyone who would chase a dog in traffic is stupid, but likeable. Going braless in a Henley with rhinestones is crazy, but interesting.

    Good job! :D

    Make changes if you feel you should, but stay true to yourself. You’ve got a quirky voice. Do your own thing!

    EW A BUG–love it.

  29. Elyssa
    Oct 25, 2008 @ 14:58:25

    I actually liked this, but I do agree the first couple of paragraphs where it is her introspective could be tightened. But I like the juxtaposition of this woman who seems all together and stops to save a dog. I didn’t get the impression the dog’s was the hero’s—I thought that it was something like oh this animal trusted only these two kind of thing. I thought the sunflower nickname was cute but would a guy say that to a woman he’s just met?

    The only thing I can think of is that perhaps when she’s waiting in traffic that she sees the dog getting dumped from a car, and you can go into more description of the dog and her whole wait, did that just happen, look at all those zipping cars, and oh God, if I don’t do something, this dog will die.

    And I do think that it’s believable she would notice shoes since she went into details about her own clothes and how she looked.

    I liked this and would read more. I think all that’s needed is to be tightened.

  30. Ann Bruce
    Oct 25, 2008 @ 19:09:03

    One thing I'd like to know from just anyone who cares to answer it – is it just me (and maybe it is) but doesn't having a character go braless make you instinctively regard that character in a less than flattering way?

    A bra is a support garment. If you have nothing to support, why bother?

  31. Jane O
    Oct 25, 2008 @ 20:35:24

    A bir of Mark Twain’s advice to writers: “As for the adjective, strike it out.” To many sentences have that “Dah-dah-dum’ rhythm that really make me think of my high school students, and I just can’t get past it. Sorry.

  32. Mischa
    Oct 26, 2008 @ 00:02:49

    A bra is a support garment. If you have nothing to support, why bother?

    I bother because…

    + I live in the cool pacific northwest and I don’t want anybody seeing my tits poking out at them through my shirt. Maybe I’d feel differently if I had a boyfriend. :-)
    + The little extra bit of definition leaves me looking not quite so flat chested.
    + I feel naked if I’m not wearing a bra.

    I’m sure I could think of a couple more reasons but that’s enough for me, especially the third reason. *grin*

  33. Anion
    Oct 26, 2008 @ 05:45:37

    Ditto Mischa. I hate going braless, it’s tacky and uncomfortable. Nobody needs to see my nipples poking through my clothes, or if I lean forward needs to see everything, and the fabric of my shirt rubbing against my nipples can be painful eventually. Ugh.

    I love bras!

  34. Kaitlin/Bridget Locke
    Oct 26, 2008 @ 21:50:17

    I love COMFORTABLE bras. LOL! Had to add that in there.

  35. Julia Sullivan
    Oct 27, 2008 @ 13:27:53

    A production isn’t going to be held up by the lateness of one makeup artist; the other artists will just fill in for the missing person. Now, maybe if the star is super-temperamental and will only work with one makeup artist, it’s possible they might wait on him or her, but right now it just feels like a mistake by the author, not a depiction of an unusual situation.

    Too much shopping-list description. Using brand names as characterization is lazy. Detailed clothing description as characterization is lazy. “Impossibly” anything is cliche. I’m impatient with all of this, because there seems like a really interesting, fun voice under all of this static.

  36. Masha
    Oct 29, 2008 @ 03:52:52

    I was hoping someone else would comment on some of these things. I’m pretty sure there are other Southern Californians who comment here sometimes. But since no one else did. . .

    This reads as wallpaper L.A. Blond woman, convertible, works in TV, traffic jam. . . It just sounds like someone from outside SoCal writing about what s/he has seen on TV. The “light metering traffic,” while awkwardly phrased, is a good detail and she’s getting on a specific on-ramp. But other stuff feels off. The top down in a Santa Ana? There are women that do it, but the damage to your skin and hair can make you miserable the rest of the day. Usually in that weather, the top is up and the air conditioning is on. Henley top is not a term I’ve ever heard any of my friends around here use. Maybe your heroine is older than my friends and I are (we’re in our 20s and 30s) or maybe you know people in SoCal who do use it. Also, and I could be completely off on this because it’s been a few years since I talked to anyone in the industry, but I was under the impression that TV call times for cast and crew are usually really early, like 6:00 or 7:00 am. So she’d have to leave early enough that she wouldn’t be hitting a lot of the school and normal business traffic. Not that traffic isn’t starting to slow that early in the morning, but she’s more likely to be talking to the guy in the bread truck driving to/from a restaurant or grocery store than a woman in a business suit on her way to the office.

    You’ve got a really great voice. I don’t think the details of the heroine’s appearance make her shallow, just that you’ve dumped too much stuff about her on the first page and it should be spread out through the whole first (and maybe some of the second) chapter. But I’ve read a lot of novels set or partially set in wallpaper California lately (Girls of Riyadh was the last, I think). So as soon as she rolled down the top of her convertible in a Santa Ana and I thought about how dry and cracked my hands have been all week in this one even with huge amounts of lotion and not being outside much most days, this became a book that I’m not likely to continue reading.

  37. Ann Bruce
    Oct 29, 2008 @ 08:15:44

    @Mischa – I live in one of the colder parts Canada, where 10 months out of the year, I wear layers (tank tops and hoodies) or thick sweaters. As for the “extra bit of definition”…the SO says most bras are false advertising.

    And I’ve yet to meet a bra on three continents that’s truly comfortable.

    (Stopping now because this is obviously TMI.)

  38. First Page: Kusanagi: Song of Death (action/adventure)
    Oct 06, 2012 @ 04:02:09

    […] Sylvie Fox shared that the first page she submitted here can now be read in Puppy Love published by Crimson […]

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