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First Page: The Lucky Charm – Contemporary Romance

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It was Valentine’s Day, a day that inevitably sucked if you were single, and though Izzy Dalton was definitely single, she thought of it less as the celebration of love and more as a working holiday. But to the guests at the party, she supposed she was just another young woman in a red dress, smiling at her date for the night.

Hoping to get lucky. Maybe even hoping for love. The truth was Izzy didn’t know much about love, but luck was something she could get behind.

Valentine’s Day, she thought impatiently, what a load of bullshit.

“You’re sure he’ll be here?” she hissed into the ear of the handsome man she’d been gazing gooily at all night. If she played it right, nobody at Ombre, the ultra-exclusive lounge Graham had dragged her to, would know that her smiles could have melted ice at a thousand paces, and they’d still never, ever melt him.

“He’s here. I know he’s here. Ombre’s the place for a first date in Seattle, at least according to some.” The fury in the man’s petulant voice grew louder and more noticeable, so Izzy gripped his arm harder and tried to smile brighter.

“Good. Just like we practiced then.”

“Why are you even doing this?” he hissed. “Nobody will touch your story. It’s bad press.”

The words were almost an exact replication of what her best friend Ava Reilly had said mere hours earlier when they’d been on their weekly skype call, and hearing them a second time made Izzy pause.

“It’s Valentine’s Day. You’d better have a hot date, and I mean something other than a carton of Cherry Garcia ice cream,” Ava had said pointedly, smirking because for the last few years, Ben and Jerry had been Izzy’s significant others with very few exceptions.

There was no reason to feel ashamed of this, Izzy had told herself, or to feel a sudden churning deep in her belly at the deception she was planning. It was business; nothing personal.

“Graham’s definitely hot,” she’d answered, but Ava hadn’t known her since college for nothing. Plus, she was an actress trying to make it in LA and therefore had developed a finely tuned bullshit filter.

“There’s something you’re not telling me, Izzy. Who’s Graham?” Ava’s increasingly stern expression wavered on the screen, pixelating with the mediocre wireless connection. Skype were the only way that they’d found to deal with the fact that Ava was currently broke and in LA and Izzy couldn’t ever take time off from being a slave to her job to see her best friend.

“A guy I met at Starbucks.” That much was technically true, but Izzy’s conscience pinged with the lie. The worst part of the entire situation was that it was probably inevitable Ava would figure out the truth, and then she’d know the worst about Izzy—not only about her lack of moral compass, but about what she was going to do to a man who couldn’t even see her coming.

“If this was a real date, and not something you made up to get me off your case, you’d have showed me half a dozen potential outfits and sent me pictures of every pair of shoes you own.”

It was all true. Ava, with her short choppy blond hair, gorgeous green eyes, and long legs, was one of those girls who always looked great. Izzy. . .well, she usually didn’t give a shit. And while she’d learned enough that she could get by well enough on her own, a hot Valentine’s Day date was just the sort of event that would typically send her running to Ava for advice.

“Fine, it’s not really a date,” Izzy sighed, leaning forward to prop her chin on the palm of her hand. “It’s technically work.”

Ava’s frustrated expression said it all.

“I know, I know, I work all the time. But this time, I’m the one who’s taking control of the situation. Graham knows something really important, and he’s going to help me get a huge scoop on a story.”

Frustration morphed into concern. “Izzy, I’m worried. This doesn’t sound like you.”

That was pretty much the problem. This whole thing wasn’t her at all, but she was committed now.

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. DS
    Oct 27, 2013 @ 08:15:40

    The opening was ok although I had the feeling I had read it before– it’s a fairly common set up. However, I began skimming after the paragraph that introduced the absent Ava. I thought it was pretty clear that nothing that I cared about was going to happen for the rest of the page — and I was right.

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  2. Marianne McA
    Oct 27, 2013 @ 09:13:51

    I don’t like your first line – it read as a non sequitur.
    The conclusion doesn’t follow from the premises – which would be fine if there was a punchline, but there isn’t.
    And then the heroine is in a red dress at a party, except the rest of the passage doesn’t sound like a party, so I’m confused from the off. (That might be a US/UK usage thing.)

    Then there’s a digression to tell us about Ava, and I’m left with a clearer picture of Ava (her job, her looks, her helpfulness, her moral standards) than of Graham or Izzy.

    I know the idea is to create enigma, and draw the reader in, but I need something to hook me into the story: here it’s a girl doing something unspecified she’s a bit ashamed of, and while we’re told she’s committed to the action, we don’t know why. There’s nothing to latch on to. (If the action was given – she had to kill those puppies – I’d want to read on to know why; or if the reason was given – she had to do this or the pirates would never release the treasure map – I’d be invested in her success; or if I knew something interesting about her – she exchanges witty banter with Graham as they wait – I’d want to spend more time with her.)

    I hope that’s helpful. Good luck.

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  3. Vanessa
    Oct 27, 2013 @ 09:19:11

    I feel like there’s too much going on here, and none of it is really catching my interest. It’s Valentine’s Day and the heroine is lamenting her lack of a love life without giving us any explanation why she’s been single for so long. She’s sitting across from a man she’s attracted to yet isn’t the slightest bit interested in her, again without giving us a clue towards the reason for his indifference. And there are hints that she’s here on some intriguing mission, though there isn’t enough information for me to really care what it is. Add on a flashback conversation to a friend who seems mostly irrelevant to the scene, and you just get a jumble of plots that really doesn’t belong on the front page to your novel.

    Also I think there’s a typo: “she hissed into the ear of the handsome man she’d been gazing gooily at all night” -> you probably meant “googily”
    EDIT: Nevermind the typo; I just looked on Google and it says that gooily is an actual word so I guess you don’t need to change it.

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  4. Patricia
    Oct 27, 2013 @ 09:24:40

    Your opening sentence has 36 words, three commas, and starts with the very weak It was. I was disoriented before I even got to the first period. I think you could tighten this up a lot. My suggested rewrite would be: Izzy Dalton thought of Valentine’s Day less as the celebration of love and more as a working holiday. All of the essential information, less of the padding.

    A lot of your other sentences are similarly convoluted and could use tightening as well.

    The flashback also feels like padding. We don’t need to know what the best friend thought about this working date. We need to know what actually happens on the date. I get the feeling that Graham and the pursuit of the story are the main point of your book, so keep your focus there.

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  5. Carol McKenzie
    Oct 27, 2013 @ 10:56:45

    Thanks for sharing. I think there’s a great story here that needs a bit of work.

    I’d like this to start with the last sentence…. “This whole thing wasn’t her at all, but she was committed now.”

    Your first graph is two sentences…with a very long first sentence.

    “It was Valentine’s Day, a day that inevitably sucked if you were single, and though Izzy Dalton was definitely single, she thought of it less as the celebration of love and more as a working holiday. But to the guests at the party, she supposed she was just another young woman in a red dress, smiling at her date for the night.”

    “Valentine’s Day, a day that inevitably sucked if you were single. And Izzy Dalton was definitely single. For her, today wasn’t about celebrating love. It was about getting the story, getting the scoop. But right now it also meant looking like every other woman at the party, clutching the arm of her date, smiling up at him with what she hoped looked like love. Or something close to it. Maybe just lust.”

    There’s a lot going on in the rest of the story and I got lost. I’m not sure who Izzy is, or Graham. Or Ava, or who’s the actress. You start at the party, have a flashback and give us a lot of history about Ava, who’s not actually present in the scene. I think you’re trying to tell us about Izzy by using Ava as a mirror, but it’s cumbersome. Have Izzy show us who she is, rather than have Ava try to tell us.

    Your dialog, which should keep the story going, drags the story to a halt with each line of speech. I don’t need to know someone’s got a mediocre Skype connection or they chat weekly, or who’s broke. It’s not crucial to this scene to have all that cluttering up the dialog. You’re taking up a big piece of first page real estate with irrelevant details.

    Also, I get the sense Author is from the UK or Canada… “Skype were the only way.” I think US English would be “Skype was the only way.” Which immediately, and unfairly, puts images of EL James and 50 Shades in my head, particularly since the story is set in Seattle.

    Tags like ‘hissed’ bother me…but that may just be me. Also gooily is an icky word, although I know what you mean. But it’s an icky word…

    Lastly, in romance usually, but not always, the first male introduced is the hero. I’m hoping you’ve made it clear enough that Graham is a shill and her actual romantic interest is the “scoop.” Because I don’t really like Graham.

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  6. Lucy Woodhull
    Oct 27, 2013 @ 12:42:38

    I finished this having absolutely no idea what’s going on. Journalist? Secret agent? And I kinda don’t care.

    I agree with the others — less mystery, just tell us what the heck is going on. Your plot should be the intriguing thing, not the way you don’t tell us about it. I don’t need the business about Ava — Izzy is at a place to do a thing (What thing? Who knows.), and it’s an important thing, so get to the important thing. What’s her emotional state about the important thing? I don’t know right now. What does Graham have to do with any of it? He’s withholding, it sounds like. I only care if he’s the hero. If he’s the hero? Get to him and Izzy and the situation rather than the crappy Skype signal.

    On to Izzy. Who, where, why? I literally know nothing about her except the couple of cliched things she says about V-Day and that she didn’t pick an outfit. Many romances have to do with V-Day — you’ve got to add something original to the single-gal-oh-shit-it’s-Valentine’s-Day thing, and Ben and Jerry’s ain’t it. The only part in which I liked her was when she said she didn’t give a shit, because it was an actual character attribute and it felt real to me.

    I’d start over again — go back and give us a reason to be interested in the opening rather than just not telling us what’s happening. You only get a paragraph or two before we start to check out. Give us one or two real things about Izzy as a reason to root for her. Her being the heroine isn’t a good enough reason. I don’t mean she needs a sick cat and a dying grandmother — just a thing or two to make her real and vulnerable and root-for-able, which is totally a word.

    Good luck! The writing is smooth and good, so I know you can do eeet!

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  7. Nemo
    Oct 27, 2013 @ 12:56:14

    I agree that the first sentence has to go. It’s a very common cliche and does nothing for the setting or mood. There’s a lot of fluff here that’s cliche and doesn’t add to the story. In some places you use commas to interject info that isn’t necessary. Example:

    If she played it right, nobody at Ombre, the ultra-exclusive lounge Graham had dragged her to, would know that her smiles could have melted ice at a thousand paces, and they’d still never, ever melt him.

    You can either give the name (Ombre) by itself and the reader will figure it out or give just the description because you name the place in the very next sentence. It’s a very clunky insert.

    I have no idea what’s going on, who the main character is, or why the text keeps shoving this terrible thing she’s going to do at me. It’s a mix of info I don’t need and a lack of info I need to ground me or entice me into reading further.

    I think you need to step away from it for awhile to get an outsider’s look and then rewrite it.

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  8. Jamie Beck
    Oct 27, 2013 @ 13:22:02

    I sense potential here (both for the story and the writing). As others have noted, you could tighten up the prose and give us more pertinent details. The first time I read the passage, I ended up feeling a bit confused. I reread it, thinking I must’ve skimmed over important information. Turns out I had not, so I still felt confused.

    I get that Izzy is some kind of reporter (serious journalist, gossip journalist, ??). Her relationship to Graham is less clear. They met at Starbucks…but did they become good friends? Colleagues?? We know he’s handsome, but is she interested in him romantically? And why is she being cagey with her good friend Ava (worrying about Ava knowing she has no moral compass) but yet Graham seems to be involved as some kind of co-conspirator? And why is Graham so irritated (fury/petulant voice, etc….and, by the way, you have them both “hissing” at each other, which isn’t a great visual)? You don’t need to give us every detail, but two or three key details are necessary for us to understand what is happening and care about the outcome.

    I think you used Ava as a device to try to give us a bit of the set-up, but as others note, it’s not too effective. I’d rather see Izzy and Graham ensconced in a heated discussion about what they are doing and why he thinks she’s doomed to fail. This is actually a fun opportunity to show them to be forced to “flirt” with each other to keep up the Valentine’s date ruse (which would be especially delicious if there is genuine sexual tension, at least on Izzy’s part). Also, let us see more of Graham and why he’s agreed to help her if he thinks the “story” sucks. {I’m assuming Graham is the hero, as opposed to the mystery man they’re hoping to snare into this trap}

    Thanks for sharing your work. I know it can be difficult to read through critiques. Hope my thoughts are helpful. Good luck!

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  9. SAO
    Oct 27, 2013 @ 13:32:06

    I don’t know what’s going on here. I suspect it’s maybe because you want us to be eager to know what the mystery is, but if we don’t relate to your char, we don’t care.

    I think you’d get a lot more mileage by putting us in the here and now of the scene and then dropping a bombshell. Show Izzy dressed to the nines at Ombre with a hot date for Valentines and then drop the line that her smile might melt a glacier at 1,000 paces, it would never melt Graham.

    Ditch the stuff about Ava. If Izzy is really on a hot date and/or important scoop, is she going to be thinking about past conversations with her best friend? Or alert, ready for action in this scene?

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  10. beth
    Oct 27, 2013 @ 15:18:40

    Thanks for all the really good feedback–okay, it wasn’t good, but it did help a lot.

    I knew the opening was the weakest part of the story, and everything you’re saying proves that right. I think what happened was that so many people wanted MORE info up front, and I tried too hard to shoe horn everything in. Less information, more action is clearly needed.

    Yes, Izzy is a journalist, Graham is not the male protagonist, but her informant and I’m not sure this came across, but he’s actually gay.

    The entire scene is supposed to setup the mistake Izzy makes in judgement which sets our story in motion. Obviously there just isn’t enough of that in the first 600 words to grab your attention, which is something that I can hopefully fix.

    Again, thank you for all the feedback, it’s really helpful and hopefully I can adjust the beginning to match the rest :)

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  11. SAO
    Oct 28, 2013 @ 00:46:46

    Getting Izzy’s goal on the page would really fix a lot of this for me (if you ditch the Ava bit which pulls us out of the scene). What’s great is she has a goal for the book and the scene, so getting it on the page would be easy.

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