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First Page Saturday: Fantasy Romance

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***

No one would ever know. It was a mistake after all. There was no reason that a mistake, honestly acknowledged as such and sincerely regretted should ruin a person's life. Kiara tugged at the man's boots. Hard to get a good grip with the sloppy ooze coating the stiff leather. There certainly had been a lot of blood, spurting out in a thick hot gush over her hand and into her hair.

Disgusting. Her hair, the wretched creature's blood was in her hair. Odd that this distressed her the most but there it was. She would cut it all off, shave her head as bald as a Vagnon initiate rather than risk that his blood contaminated a single strand. She laughed at the image this presented in her mind of her shiny bald head rolling from the executioners block. Surely her hair was the least of her worries. She needed to stay calm, focus on the task at hand, dispose of the body.

She pulled hard, hauling him toward the edge of the cliff and the swiftly moving water below. Hopefully the current would carry him to sea and he'd never be found. But even if he was, the most important thing was that he not be found here. It was too dark to see his face – thank the heavens for that. It was easier to think of the stiffening corpse as an abomination. Not a real person at all. Not even human really.

He dropped quickly once she was able to leverage his top half over the side. There was the harsh thump of him hitting the side of the cliff a few feet below her feet followed by the rattle of loose stones chasing him down and then silence.

Briefly, she considered hurling herself over the edge after him, surely that was the honorable thing to do, but she couldn't bring herself to do it. Maybe Tailey had been right all along – she was coarse and barbaric to the bone, with none of their mother's noble Katian blood. At the moment, this thought struck her fancy and gave her the courage to stand up and turn away from the cliff.

The crescent moon peeked out from behind retreating storm clouds, its thin light casting everything in stark relief for an instant – the crumbled wall to her right, broken stone on hard packed dirt, viscous puddle and black trail sliding all the way to her feet. She could still feel where the fire had touched her skin, burning over and through her. She could see where it had charred the earth where she'd been standing. She shook her head. It didn't make any sense. She should be dead.

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

17 Comments

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  2. Jill Myles
    Dec 18, 2010 @ 09:31:49

    I am torn. I really like this and I like the writing style. The voice is very good, and I’m interested in the character.

    However, this feels weirdly chopped off here and there, like you’re leaving out big pieces of the narrative. She has just killed some guy. She drags his body to the side of the cliff. She got burned by fire. All of this is told very dispassionately. Maybe that’s where the disconnect is? You stray close to telling us what she thinks (the blood in the hair, the fact that she has been told that she is coarse) but there is no emotional anchor, just an unrolling of events.

    She just killed a dude. Obviously she is rattled about something. We get zero emotion from her about any of this. Killing someone is a big deal. She also says later on she is supposed to be dead. And yet…no emotion.

    I think this is a great, great start, but I think it would be AMAZING if there was a sense of emotion coming from the character that would allow us to connect with her better.

    HTH

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  3. DS
    Dec 18, 2010 @ 09:43:39

    I liked it. I did notice the emotional disconnection, but I think that one would have to disconnect emotionally to get this job done.

    I do know that when I found a dead body on a morning walk (a local dispute between a couple of drug dealers) I had and even now have no emotional response to it, just a mild sense of distaste.

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  4. okbut
    Dec 18, 2010 @ 09:43:54

    I wanted to comment, and support your submission, as we are entering a very busy time of year and you might not get the same attention another Saturday would have provided.

    I like the voice very much, but it’s a bit too much detail for a first page, I think. Could be tightened while adding more clues about when, where, why, who and how.

    Leaves the reader un-engaged without nothing to grab you to keep going with the story. Bloody hair won’t do it. Regrets and reflections in the first person POV are always difficult, these should appear after we have a full fledged image of the character. On a first page, this would be a turn-off for many readers.

    Good Luck!

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  5. Janine
    Dec 18, 2010 @ 10:39:32

    @DS:

    I do know that when I found a dead body on a morning walk (a local dispute between a couple of drug dealers) I had and even now have no emotional response to it, just a mild sense of distaste.

    Yeah, but you didn’t kill the man you found.

    Perhaps the heroine (or other character) in this excerpt is meant to be emotionally detached in her personality, or used to killing, but otherwise I would expect more emotion as well.

    I agree with Jill Myles that more emotion would make this scene stronger. More than that, I think I would feel more sympathetic toward the character if she were less emotionally detached.

    The scene is pretty good even as it is and there may be a reason for the emotional distance that we would find out about if we could keep reading further. Or maybe this isn’t the main character and/or we aren’t supposed to feel sympathetic?

    Without knowing more I’ll just say that I liked it.

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  6. Suze
    Dec 18, 2010 @ 10:49:50

    I liked it, and I’m with Jill Myles in that it could be AMAZING, but it felt choppy and disconnected.

    Given that she’s imagining her head on the chopping block, I don’t think her society is all that blase about death, so I’m thinking that there’s a sense of feaked-outedness that’s missing.

    The piece where she’s amused by her bald-headed execution could be hepped up a bit, to make her seem less amused and more hysterical.

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  7. jch
    Dec 18, 2010 @ 10:57:16

    I thought this was a great opening scene. I took her emotional distance as a sign of hysteria or trauma – killing someone who tried to kill *you* would be hugely traumatic, I think, and her lack of emotion came across to me as a sort of shock. I got a sense of internal panic, that kind of detachment that goes with hanging onto the edge of sanity after a horrible thing happened. If that was your intent here, I think you pulled it off very well.

    I won’t get into punctuation and other nitpicky stuff, but overall I thought it was good. Best of luck with it. :)

    ReplyReply

  8. DM
    Dec 18, 2010 @ 11:05:28

    The “distance” everyone is commenting on is an storytelling problem. It’s tough to pick out because the prose is smooth. It’s what I would call an advanced writing problem–when a writer can put together good sentences, has a basic understanding of story and character, but hasn’t mastered scene writing. Read Jack Bickham’s Scene and Structure. No one has written more eloquently on the topic.

    But for now, here is my poor effort: Fiction is written in scenes (action) and sequels (thought and aftermath).

    You are opening with a sequel. Something violent and mysterious has just happened here. We are seeing the aftermath. Scenes are comprised of goals, obstacles, and disasters that bring them to a close creating a new story problem to move us forward in the narrative. What you have here is a bit of sequel business–pushing the body over the cliff–and thoughtful aftermath about the disaster. There’s no real obstacle here, so it isn’t really a scene, and because you haven’t drawn us into a scene where we can observe the character in action, we don’t feel deeply engaged by the disaster.

    ReplyReply

  9. job
    Dec 18, 2010 @ 12:02:21

    There’s a bit of distance and confusion to this passage. I think it’s not that the attitude is dispassionate or inconsistent, as that the focus needs to be tightened.
    .
    Here’s the action and thought of this particular instant.
    .
    .
    No one would ever know. It was a mistake after all. There was no reason that a mistake, honestly acknowledged as such and sincerely regretted should ruin a person's life. Kiara tugged at the man's boots. Hard to get a good grip with the sloppy ooze coating the stiff leather. There certainly had been a lot of blood, spurting out in a thick hot gush over her hand and into her hair.
    .
    Disgusting. Her hair, the wretched creature's blood was in her hair. Odd that this distressed her the most but there it was. She would cut it all off, shave her head as bald as a Vagnon initiate rather than risk that his blood contaminated a single strand. She laughed at the image this presented in her mind of her shiny bald head rolling from the executioners block. Surely her hair was the least of her worries. She needed to stay calm, focus on the task at hand, dispose of the body.</i?
    .
    She pulled hard, hauling him toward the edge of the cliff and the swiftly moving water below.</b. Hopefully the current would carry him to sea and he'd never be found. But even if he was, the most important thing was that he not be found here. It was too dark to see his face – thank the heavens for that. It was easier to think of the stiffening corpse as an abomination. Not a real person at all. Not even human really.
    .
    .
    That stuff in bold is what’s going on in the scene. Everything else is happening elsewhere.
    If we isolate out the what’s-happening-now stuff:
    .
    .

    Kiara tugged at the man's boots. Hard to get a good grip with the sloppy ooze coating the stiff leather.
    .
    Disgusting. Her hair, the wretched creature's blood was in her hair. Odd that this distressed her the most but there it was. Surely her hair was the least of her worries. She needed to stay calm, focus on the task at hand, dispose of the body.
    .
    She pulled hard, hauling him toward the edge of the cliff and the swiftly moving water below. It was too dark to see his face – thank the heavens for that. It was easier to think of the stiffening corpse as an abomination. Not a real person at all. Not even human really.
    .
    .
    That’s exciting. That’s the meat. Everything else is the parsley.
    .
    It is good to show random, unrelated thoughts in moments of high tension. But they shouldn’t be taking 60% of the words. When we want emotional impact, it’s probably better to stay ‘in scene’ and stick with the character’s right-this-minute action and thought. Consideration of has, will, or might happen and what that means in a larger context could maybe fit better as a short introduction or in a later moment of reflection.
    .
    .
    The writing overall is gritty and tense and intimate. Very fine.

    ReplyReply

  10. Ciar Cullen
    Dec 18, 2010 @ 12:36:53

    I like the voice a lot. I think it just needs a few less “was”s and
    “had”s (probably because you’re dealing with the violence in the past), and some more emotion (unless she’s shut down for a reason we’ll learn). And what DM said is right on target and reminder I can use. Keep going! This first page thing is hard!

    ReplyReply

  11. FunnyGirl
    Dec 18, 2010 @ 13:14:26

    I really enjoyed this and would keep reading. Maybe just a sentence or two of adding a bit of emotional response, or noting her lack of it, would help the emotional distance.

    I think there is conflict – that she just committed a murder is inherently full of it. I hate that every scene in an action book has to open on the murder itself/ someone running/ someone fighting. It makes them all read the same. I didn’t feel that I needed to read about that. Maybe adding just a sense of urgency (maybe she thinks she’ll get caught right then?) may increase the immediate conflict. But I liked this. I liked the voice and the way it unfolded.

    ReplyReply

  12. Wendy
    Dec 18, 2010 @ 15:23:16

    I can’t wait to read the book!
    I disagree with the comments requesting more emotion be shown by the heroine.Is she an assassin? Is she protecting someone? The voice is so competent that I am confident that the backstory will satisfy any perceived ‘emotional distance’.

    ReplyReply

  13. JB Hunt
    Dec 18, 2010 @ 15:36:07

    I liked this and also agree with many of the comments here that it can be even better.

    One suggestion — delete the first two sentences. Your third sentence would make a GREAT opening line.

    All best!

    ReplyReply

  14. Karen
    Dec 18, 2010 @ 16:09:31

    OMG! Love, love, LOVE it! A TRUE coldhearted heroine who kills! However, I cannot say that she is truly merciless or barbaric. Why? Because why does her emotions seem all over the place? Why, after a moment of pure bloodshed, do you see fit to insist that it was a pure mistake? Why, after throwing the body over, would she feel the need to commit suicide? Quite an odd thought process for our psychotic girl, hmmm? If you want to write about a cold blooded sociopath, then do so without feeling the need to “soften” her as that just defeats the whole purpose. Next thing we’ll know is that she’s starting to cry after another kill.

    ReplyReply

  15. Author
    Dec 19, 2010 @ 11:49:30

    This is great feedback. It’s all very helpful. She was meant to be in shock, on the edge of panic but holding on so it’s interesting to see how that did and did not come across. I started the story here because of the repercussions to her family if people were to find out what this man was and that she killed him. So she has to figure out how to hide all that, protect her family and then, later, deal with the witness. Covering her tracks to protect her family is the focus of the rest of the chapter. I could maybe nudge that awareness/concern forward? Oh, and she is a soldier by profession so I didn’t want a total meltdown from her. Anyway, thanks so much for commenting.

    ReplyReply

  16. Susan/DC
    Dec 19, 2010 @ 15:49:51

    I liked this. While not perfect, it struck me as more professional in execution than many of the other Saturday submissions I’ve read here. I’m curious and want to know what happens next, which is, after all, the purpose of the opening page.

    As for the heroine’s lack of emotion, I understood it to mean that the heroine is in shock, which she handles by focusing on the specific task at hand. Must admit, however, that this is something that bothered me about Lisa Kleypas’ “Dreaming of You”, when Sarah kills the assailant and then (IIRC), seems to move right along with little if any emotional repercussions, which definitely seemed odd to me. My memory isn’t always perfect, so I may be misremembering this, and it certainly didn’t keep that book from being the favorite of many.

    ReplyReply

  17. Jaclyn
    Dec 19, 2010 @ 16:03:02

    Like others, I’m interested in this story but it doesn’t quite work yet. I had to read it a few times to really understand what I think is going on.

    The analysis by @job is dead on, IMO, except some of the “parsley”, as it were, is useful. The reference to the ‘Vagnon initiate’, for instance, is what clued me in that this ain’t Earth, and if it is, it’s not an Earth I know of.

    I couldn’t tell if she did the killing, and that last line, “She should be dead”, made me wonder if that meant they’d both been attacked and she survived and was doing body disposal or if something else was going on.

    Interesting first page. If there were more I’d keep reading.

    ReplyReply

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