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First Page: Reasons To Believe

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McLean, Virginia October 1985

Claire Campbell winced at approaching headlight beams. As the station wagon passed, she sighed and focused on the curve ahead. Deadman’s Curve, they unimaginatively dubbed it as teens, which, in Claire’s case, proved nearly prophetic. Her right knee ached. She gripped the wheel, ignoring the pain, as she navigated this curve yet again. The pain was not memory, though memory played its part; Hat Trick took the curve too fast, too high, and Claire went through the VW van’s windshield, landing on the crumpled hood of a Cadillac. Now, exhausted, hurting, and afraid, Claire made the curve and eased off the accelerator. The semi-circular driveway was up ahead on the left, flanked by hedges, missing it was easy.

She flipped the turn signal and braked for another approaching car. Her fingers hurt. Relaxing her grip on the steering wheel, she took a deep breath as she flexed them. When the car passed, she released the clutch and turned into the driveway, crawling forward in first gear. Her mother’s Mercedes was parked in front of the house, her driver nowhere in sight. Probably sneaking a smoke in the bushes, Claire thought, stopping behind the silver car. She killed the engine, then leaned back and sighed, looking the house through the bug spattered windshield, wishing her mother was out for the evening.

It was a big house, brick with white shutters. Tall, narrow windows offered a glimpse of a softly lit, empty living room. The porch lights burned, twin sentinels that did not welcome her. Oh God, she thought. This was home, but it wasn’t hers anymore. Had it ever been, she wondered. She and Jill debated that question often enough. Jill. A familiar ache filled her, threatening to pull her under. She pressed a button and as the seatbelt retracted, raised her hip and dug into her pocket. Her fingers closed around a pill bottle. With practiced skill, she popped the top and rolled two Percocet into her palm. She tossed them into her mouth with a casual flip, then capped the bottle, shoved it back into her jeans. Rubbing tired eyes, she took a last look around, then opened the BMW’s door.

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

16 Comments

  1. Leslee
    Jun 20, 2009 @ 04:25:30

    It was interesting, but too much description. There is no action firing the story. She is driving, something about an accident but you don’t know when it happened, and then a house. You might want to pick a different place to start the story so that the reader get a better sense of your heroine and you are drawn into the story by some time of action. Maybe skip to the confrontation with the mom or go back to when she is getting ready to get in the car and drive to her childhood home.

    The description is good and I like the time period so I hope you keep going.

  2. Stephanie
    Jun 20, 2009 @ 07:14:44

    For me, this is a case of too much telling and not enough showing. Plus, do we really need to observe every car that passes the main character on her drive? The action would seem to begin when she pulls into the driveway and reluctantly climbs out to approach the house.

  3. NCKat
    Jun 20, 2009 @ 08:11:42

    Ditto on the too much description bit. Also, your grammar and sentence structure need a lot of work.

    For example:

    Deadman's Curve, they unimaginatively dubbed it as teens, which, in Claire's case, proved nearly prophetic.

    is incomplete and awkward. It could be something like this:

    “Deadman’s Curve” was coming up; it was an unimaginative moniker she remembered from her teens, yet all too apt in her case.

    You’ve left out quotation marks and other punctuation. I believe a good amount of editing would make this much better for publication.

    All in all, not sure I’d read this as the “coming-home, pain-killer addict” has been done before.

  4. Leah
    Jun 20, 2009 @ 08:22:50

    I don’t always have touble with too much telling, but I did think that, say, describing her taking off the seatbelt might have been going too far–something that you might write as you’re telling the story to yourself, but then cut in revisions. I also thought that the accident flashback could do with a little more emotional punch, esp if it was the cause of her physical issues. As for the thing with her sister…. I know that most people have multiple tragedies in their lives, but if a main character has tons of reasons to be wounded, it gets to be a little much for me. Unless the two situations are connected in some way, I would pick one to focus on and either drop the other, or relegate it to the background fairly quickly. Of course, if she’s going to investigate her sister’s death, that would be different. Depending on the cover blurb, I’d read further.

    Good luck!

  5. Kristi
    Jun 20, 2009 @ 08:44:21

    I thought this was pretty good. I have a couple of things to consider.

    #1, driving to a daunting location as the start of a contemporary story is a pretty frequent opening.

    #2, I agree that too much clear baggage up front before I bond with a character can turn me off to the character. Make me care about her and who she is first, then I’ll care about her baggage.

    #3 Watch the “she thoughts,” and “she wondereds” You don’t need them in her POV. Just let her have a direct thought.

    I liked that she tensed every time a car went by. It was a neat way of showing that she’d been in a car accident and she still wasn’t over it. Maybe you can be a little more subtle there, and not spell out the accident quite as clearly, but if this is meant for one of the lines, then spelling it out isn’t a bad thing either. It helps get to the point.

    In a way, I’d like to see her reaction to the pain killers a little more clearly. How does it feel when she takes them, what drives her to take them, and how does she feel afterward? All those questions if drawn out and shown through use of deep POV techniques could really help this opening.

    Good luck with this. I think it is a strong start.

  6. Carolyn
    Jun 20, 2009 @ 08:47:17

    I liked the description, I don’t mind easing into a story at all. I did find Deadman’s Curve a little confusing; past and present seemed to merge.

    I would certainly read further. Good luck with it. :-)

  7. Jane O
    Jun 20, 2009 @ 08:49:01

    I also don’t have a problem with too much telling, but here I could use a bit more.

    I understood that she had been in an accident, but at first I thought it was quite a while earlier, then I wasn’t sure.

    The pain was not memory, though memory played its part; Hat Trick took the curve too fast, too high, and Claire went through the VW van's windshield

    Six weeks ago, Hat Trick had taken the curve…? Two years ago…? (At first I thought Hat Trick was a cutesy name for her car.)

    This was home, but it wasn't hers anymore.

    Why isn’t it her home? Does she live someplace else? In which case, why is she here?Apparently not to see her mother, since she wishes her mother weren’t here.

    Who is Jill? I assume that explanation is coming up soon.

    This is all a bit nitpicking and easily fixed. I do find this intriguing and would gladly read on.

    And thank you for not beginning in the middle of a dramatic scene. That is a fashion of which I am getting heartily sick. I prefer to find out who’s who and what’s going on in a more leisurely way.

  8. Anon Y. Mouse
    Jun 20, 2009 @ 09:25:49

    Bored to tears, to put it bluntly. Nothing’s happening. She’s driving and thinking, which is pretty much the consensus worst way to open a book. Except perhaps waking up and thinking.

    Find a new beginning. This isn’t it. I was told once to start at the moment everything changes. So, my advice would be to forget this beginning and find the right one. Start with action, to draw your reader in and make them care, and then filter in bit by bit, as it naturally comes up, the backstory rather than dumping it all rather haphazardly in the first few paragraphs.

  9. likari (LindaR)
    Jun 20, 2009 @ 09:39:06

    Claire Campbell winced at approaching headlight beams. As the station wagon passed, she sighed and focused on the curve ahead. Deadman's Curve, they unimaginatively dubbed it as teens, which, in Claire's case, proved nearly prophetic. Her right knee ached. She gripped the wheel, ignoring the pain, as she navigated this curve yet again. The pain was not memory, though memory played its part; Hat Trick took the curve too fast, too high, and Claire went through the VW van's windshield, landing on the crumpled hood of a Cadillac. Now, exhausted, hurting, and afraid, Claire made the curve and eased off the accelerator. The semi-circular driveway was up ahead on the left, flanked by hedges, missing it was easy.

    WTF?

    What does this mean? I’ve been working so hard to figure this paragraph out, I haven’t the interest or the ability to go on.

    I was going to rewrite the paragraph, but honestly I have no idea what you’re going for here. Okay. I’ll try again. (notice how nothing I’ve written so far is useful or interesting?)

    Headlights blinded Claire just as she came to Deadman’s Curve. The station wagon passed; she gripped the wheel and focused on the road. The aching in her right knee, always there, intensified as she entered the curve. She saw Hat Trick again, taking the curve too fast, too high. Again she flew through his van’s windshield. Again she landed on the hood of a Cadillac. But this time, she made the curve, eased off on the accelerator, and spotted the driveway up on the left, almost hidden by hedges.

    I wonder if the problem is that you’ve done the equivalent of writing the paragraph twice, once from third person and once from third person subjective limited (or whatever that third person/first person hybrid is called). Then you’ve put the two paragraphs together.

    I think you’re trying to get as much detail as you can into the opening, which is good. But you have to remember the limitations of your style. If it’s subjective, and you want to put the reader in the character’s head, then you can’t have details that the character wouldn’t be thinking of in the moment.

    My rewrite is probably too stark, and of course it’s just a suggestion. I could be all wrong!

  10. JulieLeto
    Jun 20, 2009 @ 18:11:34

    Wrong place to start a book. Too much description, too confusing, too much being said without saying anything at all. Go about ten pages into your manuscript and see if you can start there. Sorry…

  11. Anon
    Jun 20, 2009 @ 18:24:04

    @JulieLeto:
    Have to agree with that.

  12. Anion
    Jun 20, 2009 @ 19:26:52

    I’m sorry, is this Dead Man’s Curve in the middle of a residential area? One tends to think of “Dead Man’s Curve”s as being sharp turns at the edges of cliffs, with the ocean or whatever below, in isolated areas. I don’t really think of them as being just a few yards away from somebody’s house. Perhaps it’s just me, but it doesn’t work for me.

    Also, pill bottles aren’t really comfortable in jeans pockets. Why wouldn’t she keep them in her purse or something?

    Concur with the other comments about the writing.

  13. Amy
    Jun 20, 2009 @ 20:14:54

    @likari (LindaR): I definitely prefer your rewrite of that paragraph.

  14. Danielle Thorne
    Jun 20, 2009 @ 21:03:22

    For me, just too many telling details crammed in. I think the whole section could be cut down into one paragraph. If the house is that important, start with her sitting in the driveway or something. Good luck! You’re so brave to put your WIP on here!

  15. Claire
    Jun 21, 2009 @ 02:56:44

    Thank you for the wonderful comments. I’d thought of opening the book with her arrival at the house and let what happens establish she’s estranged from her mother (a Senator) and was raised by the housekeeper. Her sister was a suicide, and haunts her, though not literally. All of this, including the accident and the resulting dependence on painkillers can, as has been pointed out, be worked in as of the scene where she arrives home. I really appreciate everyone’s comments and the guidance is invaluable.

  16. Tammy
    Jun 21, 2009 @ 16:55:32

    I agree with Anon Y Mouse – driving/thinking, driving/thinking…*yawn.*

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