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First Page: Strangers – Romantic Thriller

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“Taxi?”

The window, automatic, wound down and a Peruvian man with a round face stared at me.

“Miraflores?”

He nodded and got out of the taxi. He brushed past me. The contact threw me off balance.

He picked my Karrimor backpack off the floor and in one graceful movement dumped it in the boot of the taxi, showcasing an impressive feat of strength. Opening the front passenger door I saw a grey Nike sports holdall had shotgunned me and got in the back.

The leather smelt fresh. I slid in.

We were soon out on the motorway.

“Is it far?”

He turned his head to look at me and not the road ahead as a succession of traffic signs blurred past the window.

“30 minutes.” He said.

I buckled up.

I looked out of the window to see a full moon shine bright above me, giving the cirrus clouds the appearance of a see through negligee. The moonlight seemed brighter, more beautiful on this side of the world, and its scars more granular. Who’s life is redundant now Trevor Grammer? Me, seated in a taxi, soon to see the Pacific Ocean, and the world thereafter or you, staring at a long list of unread emails with your only source of excitement the thought of which sandwich you’d choose from Pret A Manger? I allowed myself a smile.

As the taxi pulled off the motorway and onto a narrow street paved with small shop fronts I asked the driver.

“Where’s the Pacific Ocean?”

“Other way.”

“Oh right.”

I closed my eyes and visualised. The Google map of Lima appeared. I’d studied the map a dozen times after booking my chosen hostel, and there was a single road that went directly from the airport to Miraflores. Alongside it a view of the Pacific Ocean. My right finger teased the silver chain around my neck, which felt tighter than it had done when Dad had brought it for my 16th birthday.

“Can I smoke?”

“Si, si.”

On the outside I smoked a cigarette and smiled. Inside, I thought is this guy taking me the long way to rip me off? That was the good scenario. The taxi hit a bump in the road shifting the cogs in my brain, to go faster and faster, to the bad scenario.

The seatbelt torqued, snapping tight. Wheels screeched to a halt.

“Hey man this is fine. I’ll get out here.”

The taxi driver didn’t say a word. The lights turned green. He continued to drive. He came to another set of traffic lights.

“This will do. Let me out.” I said simultaneously trying the plastic door lock with my hand when it shattered. The noise boomed around the radio less taxi. His head turned.

“Money.”

“Yeah of course. How much?”

“All of it.”

“What?”

“Give me your fucking money!”

The horn behind us sounded again and then again. Sweat started dripping and my heart pounded from the familiar energy of fear I had felt when Trevor Grammer had tapped me on the shoulder December 15th, Friday, requesting me to join him in his office. His foot hit the accelerator, hard.

“OK, be reasonable, how much do you want?” I said.

“All of it gringo.”

“What?”

He started laughing before continuing to drive.

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

11 Comments

  1. Kate Sherwood
    Mar 29, 2014 @ 06:00:23

    The first few lines are confusing because there’s no attribution. And there’s a few little errors to catch (“who’s” instead of “whose”, “see through” instead of “see-through” “radio less” instead of “radioless” or “radio-less”, etc.)

    You also have some times when your antecedents get a bit mixed up – “simultaneously trying the plastic door lock with my hand when it shattered” sounds like her hand shattered, And “…Trevor Grammer had tapped me on the shoulder December 15th, Friday, requesting me to join him in his office. His foot hit the accelerator” makes it sound like Trevor Grammer is driving the taxi. On a related note, ” saw a grey Nike sports holdall had shotgunned me and got in the back” makes it sound as if the holdall got in the back.

    Getting closer to the content – I didn’t get a good feel for the MC. I think smoking is enough of a turn-off for most non-smokers that you may be limiting her appeal just by having her smoke. If it’s important that she be a smoker, maybe she could do it later in the story, or at least not in an enclosed cab? Your call, obviously, but my reaction was negative.

    And I also wasn’t too impressed with her resentment against Trevor. At first I thought she’d been dumped and horribly insulted… I know the term ‘redundant’ for someone losing their job, but surely the employer didn’t say her life was redundant, did he? (If he did, yikes!). But then it turned out she’d just been laid off, so I guess Trevor was her boss. I get the feeling he’s being set up to be the romantic lead (b/c she obviously has strong feelings for him and b/c his name was mentioned twice on the first page)… if that’s not the case, you might want to dial back his prominence. She just seems like a petulant kid, being mad that she got laid off and thinking she’s proving something to her boss by… going to Peru?

    Other than that, I like the setup but would like to feel more urgency and fear. The MC takes this VERY calmly (except that her grip is somehow strong enough to shatter plastic? I didn’t really get that part). I like tough women, but it’s also nice to see them being tough, not numb or stupid. This is a scary thing that’s happening! Even if she stays tough and calm on the outside, I’d like to see some internal reactions that indicate her fear. She’s apparently feeling the same degree of fear now that she felt in a safe office back in the UK when a familiar man tapped her on the shoulder. I think you’re blending in back story at a peculiar spot, and you’ve lost the urgency of the current scene.

    All that said – I’m intrigued by the setting and the set-up, and I’d like to see how she gets out of her troubles and falls in love. Right now, I wouldn’t read on because of the issues above, but if you could tighten up your writing and work on really getting me emotionally involved in the scene, I think I’d like to see more.

  2. Marianne McA
    Mar 29, 2014 @ 07:18:46

    I had niggles with the writing all the way through: ‘who’s’ for ”whose’ and the moonlight having scars etc.

    I really enjoy reading Susanna Kearsley and Mary Stewart, and what they both excel at is transporting the reader to another place – this page didn’t give me any sense of Peru. That might be deliberate, but a stronger sense of place could have enticed me to keep reading.
    Also, oddly, I didn’t feel much suspense. That’s partly because of the writing – there’s a genuinely scary monent where she realises she should be able to see (or hear/smell?) the ocean and she can’t, but you undercut the tension immediately with an irrelevant fact about her necklace. But partly it’s because the reader barely has time to register the danger before the situation reaches a climax.

    And after that, it all fell apart for me. Her ‘be reasonable’ request seems TSTL, the way she equates being kidnapped at night in a foreign country with being tapped on the shoulder in her office seems bizarre, and the taxi driver morphs into a cartoon evil villain with his ‘gringo’ and laughing.

    Sorry to be so critical.

    I would read this type of book – as I said above, for my personal tastes, a stronger sense of place would help sell me the story, as would a slower build up of tension. I’d like to be in the car with her, wondering if she was right to be scared – to see her considering her options, to get to know what she’s like. I liked, for example, that she bought time with a cigarette to let herself calm down and work out if she was sure the ocean should be visible. I liked that she didn’t doubt her recollection of the map. But I’d have liked that interlude to last longer – why doesn’t she think about phoning someone – does she consider what she might use as a weapon? I’d enjoy, I suppose, having the chance to be more thoroughly apprehensive before we find out if she’s actually in peril. But that’s all personal taste.

    Good luck.

  3. cleo
    Mar 29, 2014 @ 07:42:10

    I agree with the above comments – I was confused about what was going on. I’m also wary about the set up – white American going to Latin America and immediately being robbed / kidnapped seems like an ugly cliche. And the robbery doesn’t ring true (not that I’ve been robbed in a taxi).

  4. Lynne Connolly
    Mar 29, 2014 @ 08:22:40

    Well done for submitting your work!
    Lots of formatting errors here. Speech tags take the minor case. Numbers are usually spelled out. So, ““30 minutes.” He said” should be “Thirty minutes,” he said.
    You miss beats. Like Marianne says, when she realises she can’t smell the sea (ocean?) she should have an inner feeling that will go to character. Panic, perhaps, or mild surprise, or grim acceptance. Something. “Pret a manger” needs its accents, and needs to be in italics. For me, a Brit, that immediately says “London,” since Pret is a southern chain. If you’d said “Greggs” that would have been north, but I doubt most readers outside the UK would pick up on that.
    You have two examples of wandering body parts, ie body parts that act independently of the person they’re attached to. “My right finger teased the silver chain ” is one of them.
    Mostly, it’s all “telling” and not “showing.” “The contact threw me off balance.” for instance, tells her nothing about her internal feelings. We have no idea what her character is like.
    The set-up is somewhat cliche. Is the hero going to swoop in and save her? I hope he’s native Peruvian too, that would make it more interesting, but right now it’s an “us and them” thing I’m not entirely comfortable with.

  5. theo
    Mar 29, 2014 @ 08:36:31

    I’ve come across as a bit harsh of late with the comments I’ve left on first pages and that’s not my intention. When one posts a first page here though, I would hope it is done to get the kind of feedback that will help them strengthen and improve what they’ve written.

    That said, I don’t think your story really starts on this page until the taxi pulls off the motorway onto a narrow lane. Up until then, all of my warning bells were going off that this would be another first-person telling of a story rather than showing us anything. And that’s pretty much what you’re doing until the taxi pulls off. Telling us a lot of backstory that could be better woven in later.

    I don’t know what a gray Nike sports holdall is. I thought someone had gotten into the back of the cab from the other side. I kept wondering if the person in the back seat was in cahoots with the driver or if the driver was planning on robbing them both so that didn’t work for me. It needs to be clearer. You know your character. We don’t. We need to in order to care enough to read on.

    A couple other nitpicks…rarely do seatbelts tighten when you hit a bump, regardless of how bad the bump. They will tighten up considerably and lock when you’re thrown forward after you’ve slammed on your brakes. It would still unlock though. The lock on the door wouldn’t shatter. It would pull off if she were in a vehicle with a lock that pulls up or it would snap off if she were in a vehicle with one that is on the side of the door and pops toward the inside of the car. The window is automatic as you make a point of in the beginning. If it is, why doesn’t she try the window? There’s other traffic around, you haven’t mentioned a weapon on the driver so why wouldn’t she be creating some kind of commotion in the vehicle in the hopes that someone, anyone would see? Or hanging out that window trying to attract attention.

    Much of this didn’t ring true for me. I understand I’m a bit more picky than most when it comes to car things, but that’s my life/job/hobby so yes, those things make me wonder if I can trust the author to get the other details right.

    As it is right now, with the other issues mentioned and my own, I wouldn’t read on at this point. I think there might be something interesting there, but right now, I don’t care enough to find out.

  6. Carol McKenzie
    Mar 29, 2014 @ 09:25:44

    I can only echo what the others have said, particularly Theo’s last paragraph. There’s nothing pulling me in. There are too many distractions with grammar and spelling, and oddly turned phrases, that keep me confused and out of the story.

  7. Shaya
    Mar 29, 2014 @ 10:20:33

    I’ll be honest. I would not keep reading this story. There are too many errors in the writing including basic sentence structure. It was confusing to read at times. Discounting the numerous errors, the story line that is there is cliche and contains nothing to hold my interest. We are presented with yet another heroine who loses her job, apparently considers it shattering enough to be terrified when she called into the office and then fled the office to the other side of the world, and now five minutes after leaving the airport, she is being robbed. I realize that this is only the first page, but rather than pulling me in, you have managed to make me completely uninterested in what happens from this point forward because I’ve read this story line a hundred times.

  8. SAO
    Mar 29, 2014 @ 12:47:00

    I’m sorry, but this felt like an exercise to me, not a real scene. On the plus side, figuring out how to make it real is not that hard. You just have to picture it. I find it easier to detail what and why it wasn’t working than to tell you how to fix it. Also, I spent a fair amount of time being confused by a lot of it.

    1) The lack of attribution and my lamentable knowledge of Peruvian geography had me seriously confused at the beginning. I didn’t know who said, “TaxI?” or who said “Miraflores” (I’m still not entirely sure). I thought maybe her name was Miraflores. It took me a while to parse everything, so I started with a puzzle, rather than being drawn into your scene. I thought you wanted to avoid attribution to draw us in (winning points in your writing exercise), but it had the opposite effect for me.

    2) “He brushed past me, knocking me off balance” At first I thought he physically knocked her off balance. It took a few sentences to figure out it was figurative, but I still don’t understand it. Usually, you see someone moving, and move out of their way. Nothing suggested speed on the taxi driver’s part. If you’re trying to say he moved too close, why didn’t she jump out of the way? I still can’t really figure out who was where. If it’s important, act it out with a car and a friend. If not, skip it.

    3) I was also confused by the “floor” he picked the Karrimor backpack off of. I hadn’t had any sense of being in Peru (Miraflores sounded like the MC’s name to me) and now I’m even more at sea. I’ve concluded this is an error and you meant ground. But again, I’m presuming the driver got out of the car to pick up the backpack and I struggle to put together what about his actions were bothering the MC. You told me she was off balance, you didn’t show me him doing anything.

    3) She is “Shotgunned” by a “Nike Sports Holdall” I presume you mean the bag was on the front seat. I didn’t know what this meant, again, I was figuring out a puzzle, not being drawn into the scene. Maybe you were trying to say something in an interesting way, but it didn’t work for me.

    She opens the door and looks long and hard enough to recognize it as a Nike sports holdall, rather than a gray bag? It’s a lot of detail for something that, even if important later, it unlikely to be a focus of attention now. (So, I felt like you checked off the box labeled detail).

    4) I’ve been in a lot of taxis, none with leather seats. We have a car with leather seats, it’s not new and it smells the same as our other car with cloth seats. If the taxi is new and leather-seated, that, to me, would be far more noteworthy than the brand of the bag on the front seat. Taxis often smell of the air freshener hanging from the rear-view mirror. Or, in 3rd world countries, of stale cigarette smoke. I’ve been in 3rd world taxis with plastic upholstered over the cloth to prevent stains, with red velvet re-upholstery in a very old car, but never with leather. Maybe Peru is different, but it doesn’t sound like Unnamed is familiar enough with Peru not to be surprised by leather. So, this felt like you needed to do all 5 senses and you stuck one in. What does Peru smell like? Car exhaust? Ocean? Tropical flora? Too many people, not enough deodorant?

    5) It’s not until we’re talking about the Google map of Lima that I really figure out we’re in Peru. The Pacific Ocean told me it wasn’t New York, which is what I thought originally. Nothing of your detail, from Nike Sports Holdall to smell of leather in taxi gave me a clue as to the continent. I guess I skipped over the detail of “Peruvian” rather than S. American face. Mostly because it wasn’t followed up by enough detail.

    6) He gets on the motorway, then gets off and she tries to picture the map of Lima, but we have no idea of whether they’ve been going for a long time and should be in Miraflores. I didn’t even know we were in Lima. I don’t have a clue if there’s a problem.

    7) Equally, “narrow street paved with small shop fronts” tells me nothing. Does it feel like a back alley with seedy-looking guys? Does it look like a bustling town center with young people out having a good time? And, you mentioned “paved” so I want to know if it was paved. Well paved? Potholey? Dirt? The one thing I do know is that it is not paved with shop fronts.

    8) What time is it? In some seasons and places, it’s dark at 7:30 pm and people are still going home from work. Is this close to midnight?

    9) When she’s getting nervous, she doesn’t scan his eyes in the rear view mirror or try to read street signs. She merely fingers her necklace. She doesn’t even think about how much this might cost her.

    10) “Hey man this is fine. I’ll get out here.” I don’t know where “here” is. I am totally clueless. I don’t know what she’s thinking. I don’t know if we’re talking about a small town at 8pm or a bad city neighborhood at 11pm.

    11) What shattered the lock? When did the lock go down? Usually locks clicking make people nervous, but we saw her get in the taxi and never saw the lock go down. Is the lock up or down? I don’t understand what’s happening with the lock. What about the window? What is she doing? What is she feeling?

    12) She’s in the back seat, without, as far as I can tell, making a real effort to escape. The driver’s in the front seat. Presumably he’d wait for a dark alley to demand money. Where are they? Does she look out the window for help. What does she see?

    13) In the middle of this scene, who cares about Trevor? Not me. If you’d made the scene tense, Trevor would have disrupted the tension. But I’m too busy trying to figure out what is happening to feel any tension.

    14) At the end of the page, I don’t know how long she’s been in Peru and how well she speaks Spanish. I don’t know if she’s TSTL and got into a skeevy-looking cab late at night looking rich and clueless or if she’s a savvy expat who had bad luck.

    I don’t know who she is, not to mention her name. Is she a teen on her gap year? Is she a Ninja sent for a job?

    This might sound like a lot of criticism, but it’s one page and it’s a hard page to get right. If this is important to your story, get the details right and skip Trevor. If it’s not, start somewhere else.

    If you’re going to set your story in Peru, get Peru right. Or at least make me aware in para #1 that we’re not in New York City (where I’d bet there are plenty of Peruvian taxi drivers, given that you can find South Sudanese taxi drivers in Portland, Maine, which is a far less cosmopolitan place, not to mention in the second whitest American state.)

  9. Mary
    Mar 29, 2014 @ 14:14:06

    I must add myself to the list of people confused by the scene and what exactly was happening, particularly the first few paragraphs. I like the detail about the map.
    I must also add, as a woman who looks white, speaks Spanish fairly fluently, and has traveled to both Spain and Mexico, the the protagonist is female, at the end the taxi driver should address her as “gringa”. Like many other nouns, gringo has a male or female form. If you are in a large group, you will be called “gringos”, because it is likely not everyone is female. But as she is alone in the car, he would refer to her as “gringa”. Unless Peru is different, but I don’t see why it would be. Make sure you’ve not only researched the culture, but also the language. Also I’m not liking the while “evil Latin-American taxi driver”. I’ve met so many nice taxi drivers, even in sketchy cities. I hope the rest of the Latino characters are not stereotypical or villains.

  10. Jane Lovering
    Mar 30, 2014 @ 03:39:22

    I agree with the other commenters, but would add – is the protag male or female? Doesn’t say (or did I miss something, apart from the ‘silver chain’ for the 16th birthday, but then I bought (not brought) my son a leather bangle for his birthday). He/She reads to me like an overconfident man, do women say ‘hey, man, this is fine?’ Sounds ‘male’ to me… Are we reading it as female because the first name to be

    Would also just add that my kids (young teens) say ‘shotgunned’ when they ‘bagsie’ the front seat of the car for an outing, so that word didn’t give me pause… But I also thought that the bag belonged to another passenger, and that nameless protag was called Miraflores (maybe that’s why we’re reading him/her as female, because that’s the first name we see and we’re automatically reading that as ‘protag’s name’).

    If this is worked up, I’d be interested in reading about Peru, a country I know very little about but find incredibly interesting!

  11. Arabella
    Apr 05, 2014 @ 18:27:24

    What a strange reaction to someone trying to rob you.

    I would echo basically everything everyone has said, but probably more than anything, NO TREVOR. Completely inappropriate to be name-dropping a potential love interest in the middle of an attempted robbery. Especially so randomly. This just makes me annoyed with the female already. I also hate “Trevor Grammer” as last name, but that’s just me. The way it sounds… I don’t know, it just bugs me.

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