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First Page: The Model Romance

Welcome to First Page Saturday. Individual authors anonymously send a first page read and critiqued by the Dear Author community of authors, readers and industry others. Anyone is welcome to comment. You may comment anonymously. You can submit your own First Page using this form.

As an aside, I have a ton of these entries. Would you commenters be up for one on Saturday and one on Sunday?  Or two on Saturday?  Thoughts?


Paul Farrell stood by the French windows, long legs planted slightly apart, blue eyes narrowed against the light. He was scanning the garden beyond, looking for his friend Stuart’s fiancée. It was a rambling garden, slightly overgrown, and the girl was nowhere to be seen.

His friend called out from the kitchen. “She’ll be round by the fish-pond. Go and introduce yourself – she won’t bite!”

Paul reached an obedient hand to press down the door-handle. He had no real desire to meet the girl. His flight back from assignment in Tokyo had only landed that morning, he was jet-lagged and in no mood to conceal his dislike for a girl who could only spell trouble for his old friend.

Stuart was as trusting as a child, and the girl was up to no good, for sure. Photos of her and her dodgy, sharp-faced associates had been splattered all over their paper the day she’d been evicted from her squat. For Stuart’s sake Paul struggled to keep his mind open, but the truth was he’d lost count of the number of times he’d rescued his friend from the consequences of his impetuous actions. To get engaged to a girl he barely knew, and only seventeen, for God’s sake! Ten years younger than either of them.

He strode the long path to the end of the garden, the faint line deepening in his forehead. When he reached the corner where the fish-pond was situated behind a sheltering willow-tree, he stopped dead, his leather boots coming to a silent halt in the long grass.

Stuart’s girl was kneeling on the low stone wall of the fish-pond, blonde head bent over the water in an attitude of intense concentration, one slender hand slowly skimming the surface. The photos Stuart had e-mailed Paul whilst he was in Japan had shown a tall, androgynous teenager, strikingly good-looking if you liked that angular, boyish look, which Paul did not. The figure in front of him, however, had nothing of the boy about her. Paul fixed his eyes on the curvaceous rear and to his unwelcome surprise felt his heartbeat begin to quicken with a treacherous thud. He must have given some signal of his presence – drawn in his breath a little sharply, perhaps – because without turning to look, she spoke.

“I’ve fed the fish, but it’s no use. Every time, the big ones get all the food.” She rested her palm flat on the surface. “No matter what I do, the little ones never get their fair share.”

Paul stepped nearer, the long grass sighing beneath his feet.

“It’s called survival of the fittest,” he said, his voice harsh in the quiet of the garden.

The girl’s hand jerked with a startled, wet slap on the surface of the water. She scrambled to her feet.

“I thought you were Stuart,” she said. Her voice was another surprise. Deep and slow. And her striking eyes – a cerulean blue, reflecting the late afternoon sky above them – were level with Paul’s chin, even in her bare feet. She had presence, this girl of Stuart’s, and she was staring at him with a confident curiosity that belied her years.

“The bigger fish will always get the food.” He heard the cruelty thread through his words, but felt himself impelled to continue. “The smaller ones are pushed aside, and so eventually they will give up and die.”

He had thought his words might shock her, the teenager that she was, but her eyes widened and her careful gaze filled with a dismal understanding. Definitely not a child, he thought. She knew what it was to fight for survival.

And then it happened. Something the cynical Paul could not explain to himself, no matter how often he thought of it afterwards. There was a flash of something which hit her with equal strength. What was it? Recognition? Desire? Whatever it was, it hit Paul with extraordinary force, like a bomb blast he had witnessed on assignment. Years of experience made him stand his ground, not moving a muscle. The girl, however, let a small cry escape her. Paul watched confidence drain from her face. She took a step backwards, stumbling against the low wall of the fishpond, her long arms spread in panic. Before she fell, he caught her, pulling her slight body with ease into his arms.

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

26 Comments

  1. Sweeney
    Mar 23, 2013 @ 06:47:56

    You’re a great writer but I’m very uncomfortable with a seventeen year heroine. In my mind she’s still a child. Perhaps this is the first time they meet and then the real story will begin 10 years from now? I hope so, otherwise as a reader I’d put this down despite it being so well written.

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  2. Ros
    Mar 23, 2013 @ 07:25:44

    Jane, I’d be happy for you to post two every Saturday, especially if they are different genres. I don’t really have any useful comments for paranormal, for instance, so those weeks I don’t always even read the excerpts.

    To the author, I agree with the previous commenter that I’m uncomfortable with a 17 year old heroine and a hero who is ten years older than her. At that age, that’s a very significant age gap. I’d also see if you can take out a little bit of the backstory from the first page and save it for later. But there’s a lot I like about this and I’d probably keep reading.

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  3. wikkidsexycool
    Mar 23, 2013 @ 07:42:55

    Your writing is good, and while the scene where he meets his friend’s fiancé is supposed to provide a reader with the spark and interest to show these two will end up the main protags, here’s why it didn’t completely work for me:

    First, the ten year age difference. Both men are or apparently will be attracted to a teen? Unless there’s a twist where she’s only pretending to be seventeen and she’s really older (but looks younger) I have to say no matter how polished the writing (and in many parts of this, your writing is quite smooth), I’d pass. As you let the reader know quite often, she’s still a teenager. And these are men. So I’d question why two guys close to thirty aren’t with women, or even females in their early twenties. Plus it reads as if this teen will be the middle participant of a menage. So now it’s not just one older male, but two which may read as if they’re taking advantage of her. Sorry, this is a bias of mine. Even if it were an older female attracted to a younger male teen, I’d still state this.

    As with the first two commenters, I’m uncomfortable, but I’ll add that I’m very uncomfortable with this. In addition, your male lead is a bit stiff. There’s a lot of backstory regarding what he finds acceptable in his own friend’s life, and I struggled to find something that made him interesting. But I get that this may be about his internal fight against an attraction to his best friend’s future, but underaged wife. Thanks for having the courage to post this. I wish you all the best.

    Jane, one on Saturday and one on Sunday would work. If there were some way a short blurb on the book could be added, that would work also, because sometimes the author will comment and the book turns out to be different than what the first page implies.

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  4. SAO
    Mar 23, 2013 @ 07:44:31

    I agree this is well written. Personally, I am turned off by insta-love or the bomb-blast described here. I wouldn’t read on. I’d be concerned about the age gap, too.

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  5. Katia
    Mar 23, 2013 @ 08:04:04

    ITA with SAO. You could have at least made the heroine 23 or 24 thats more believable than 17. I would like to see 2 entries posted on Saturday.

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  6. Marianne McA
    Mar 23, 2013 @ 08:09:25

    I’d exactly the same reaction as Sweeney: I can’t root for a relationship between someone of 17 and a 27 year old. (And Paul’s entitled to disapprove of the engagement on that basis alone.)

    I’m confused by the girl and I think that’s intentional – that I’m meant to want to read on so as to reconcile the two pictures that I’m given – the girl who lives in squats yet cares about the fish – but I’m not intrigued enough by either persona to be drawn into the book. She does, however, sound childish in her concern for the fish – and that just makes both creepy Stuart and creepy Paul seem even more creepy.

    (My 17 year old: very pretty. Older men telling her so intimidate and harrass her. It’s just inappropriate. Especially if the heroine has no family support, as the fact she was living in a squat suggests, these men are beyond creepy in trying to have a relationship with her. )

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  7. Becky Black
    Mar 23, 2013 @ 08:55:52

    I’m also very dubious about her being 17. Unless this is going to be a first meeting and then the story jumps forward a few years, then I wouldn’t find it appealing purely as a romance.

    It’s generally well written, but I do have a couple of issues.

    The description of “the girl” seems inconsistent. In the picture she was tall and boyish, but when Paul sees her she’s curvy and then when he grabs her she’s “slight”. Which is it?

    I’m finding it very annoying that she isn’t named. For one thing it leads to some contrived sounding ways to refer to her. For another it’s just sexist, like she’s not worthy of even the minimal amount of respect of being referred to by name by Paul. Paul does come over as very patronising. Why does he have to mansplain what he means by survival of the fittest? Why does he think his words will shock her? She’s 17 not 7.

    I’ve got nothing against the love at first sight idea, in fact I like it, the whole “wham, your life as you knew it is over, have fun!” is great. But I’m confused by them appearing to be hit by some supernatural force from the outside. Is this a paranormal story?

    I’m dubious about description of a character whose POV we’re in. Is Paul really thinking about the fact his eyes are blue when he’s looking out of the window, or that the line between his eyes is deepening when he’s walking through the garden. Things like that would seem to be better kept for when we’re in another character’s POV.

    Oh and it’s a personal peeve, but I loathe and despise the word cerulean.

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  8. Willa
    Mar 23, 2013 @ 09:10:41

    I really enjoyed your voice. I have the same reservations as the other commenters though.

    Good luck.

    Sat and Sun posts would be good . .

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  9. Shy
    Mar 23, 2013 @ 09:28:51

    Eh. I like your writing style, though it is a bit over-dramatic. Personally, I wouldn’t read on, but that’s just because insta-love and weak heroines make me put down a book automatically.

    It doesn’t bother me that she’s seventeen. It does bother me that she’s seventeen, tiny, helpless, and naive. *That’s* creepy.

    Saturday and Sunday first pages would be great.

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  10. cleo
    Mar 23, 2013 @ 09:34:50

    I’m assuming that this is a contemporary because of the jet-lag, but it feels a little old fashioned to me. I feel like I read a lot of categories with this set up in the 80s and 90s – I’m not that interested in reading another romance with the hero (mis)judging the heroine for being up to no good, unless there’s a twist – unless it plays with and undermines the standard tropes.

    I agree with everyone about the age difference – it might, possibly, work for me in a historical, but not in a contemporary.

    Sat and Sun first pages would work for me.

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  11. Patricia
    Mar 23, 2013 @ 09:39:15

    I have to echo everyone else’s concerns about the age difference. There is no way I’m going to be rooting for a grown man to find a HEA with someone who ought to still be in high school. I am also a bit confused by some of the back story. Lots of people get evicted, but they very rarely get attention from the media for it. Why was this girl in the papers?

    While the writing is smooth, as others have mentioned, I noticed that you default to lots of long sentences with clauses separated by commas. This tendency was particularly noticeable in the sections without dialogue. Some of those could be broken up to add variety.

    Also, your opening line could be stronger. Do we really need to know how his feet are placed right off the bat? I think the real purpose of this line is to let us know that he is tall and blue-eyed, but those physical traits hold much less importance than what we later learn through his thoughts and actions — that he is disapproving and judgmental, protective but condescending towards his friend, and inclined to try to intimidate younger women. Compared to these characteristics, his eye color and leg length are trivial.

    Jane, I would be happy to see more First Pages. They are one of my favorite Dear Author features.

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  12. theo
    Mar 23, 2013 @ 09:59:36

    Saturday and Sunday for me. I love this feature.

    I think the general consensus has become, Hn much too young. As soon as I hit the ages and differences, I would have stopped if this was already published. I too had trouble when my DD2 was a teen. Several times there were inappropriate comments made by men older than her father, even while I was with her, and so I have a real problem with this. If this is a prologue and you’re going to start the real story in the next paragraph or two, say so. Put a date at the top or the word Prologue. If not, you should consider rethinking the age of your Hn. The age gap itself isn’t the problem. The teenager is.

    The writing was good though there are a couple places I think you could tighten it. Paul wouldn’t think of his legs as long or his eyes blue while he’s looking out the window. Someone else would see that. And I too had a bit of trouble with the description in the photo compared to the Hn herself. Photos usually aren’t that far off from the real thing.

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  13. Valky
    Mar 23, 2013 @ 10:09:25

    I have to echo everyone else. Her age is not okay in a contemporary. It made me instantly think of Courtney Stodden and Doug, which is never a good thing if these are your hero and heroine. I assume that she’s probably a model (hence “Model Romance”?), but her childish characterization and stated age are not reconciled by “adult” career. Seriously, she’s seventeen and works in a cut-throat industry like fashion, and needs survival of the fittest explained to her? No.

    Additionally, the in-love-with-my-bestie’s-girl thing squicks me. And I don’t see myself being able to root for your hero to win her, at this point.

    If the story picks back up five to ten years later, when she’s more established and adult, and the engagement has concluded without the hero’s intervention, I’d read on, because you do have an engaging voice. There’s still conflict there without poaching his friend’s child bride.

    Saturday and Sunday first pages sounds like heaven to me :)

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  14. Jane Lovering
    Mar 23, 2013 @ 10:53:58

    The passage doesn’t actually say that she NEEDS to have ‘survival of the fittest’ explained to her, he just does it anyway. Presumably, in the same way as he ‘rescues’ his best friend from situations that he, Paul, decides are ‘rescuing him from the consequences of his impetuous actions’. Sorry, author, I like your voice but I cannot root for your judgemental, condescending, presumptuous bullying hero. If you could slip in a tiny joke about his knowing that he was like that, or someone else remarking on it and him shrugging it off, only to have to come to terms with his behaviour later, I might come round to him.

    Age gap not a problem, I know a lot of very mature seventeen year olds, and a lot of very immature twenty seven year olds, although there is a little bit of a ‘what the hell is he doing with someone that young, do women his own age not find him attractive? And if not, WHY?’

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  15. Lynne Connolly
    Mar 23, 2013 @ 12:05:28

    I looked up Courtney Stodden. Before now, my life was Stodden-less. Thanks a bunch.
    Yes, yes, yes. She’s too young and the whole setup is too creepy. I just saw a Criminal Minds where the villain was a good-looking man who took young girls hostage and groomed them. Reminded me of that.
    If it’s a New Adult, the hero is too old, if a contemporary, the heroine too young. And she’s helpless too.
    To the writing. There are some technical problems. Is he thinking about his own blue eyes, long legs and leather boots, or is that the author describing them? Hands aren’t obedient, they don’t have minds of their own. The repetition of “girl.”
    On the other hand, I like the coup de foudre. It happens, and I like to read how they cope with it afterward. It can feed into character beautifully – does he have trust issues, is she too eager to plunge in head first?

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  16. The Author
    Mar 23, 2013 @ 12:42:25

    Thanks for all the helpful comments. It’s a few months since I submitted this first page for critique, and now I feel a bit of a fraud, because in the meantime I’ve already massively rewritten it. I’m relieved to find I’ve rewritten it along the lines of many of the comments. My story now starts 8 years later, when the heroine is older. This incident is backstory dropped in. The hero is no longer presented as such a control freak. In particular, he doesn’t control his friend’s life – they look out for each other. I’ve particularly had him make no reference to the heroine as “a girl” or with the possessive, which I did in this first page (and to me that was the thing that badly needed changing). I did think hard about the heroine being 17 when they first meet. I think teenage girls can be mature. I married young myself. I’ve endeavoured to make sure the heroine isn’t presented as immature in my rewrite. Your comments have made me think very hard about this issue again, but I think I will leave her age as it is because I don’t think it necessarily needs to be creepy.
    Other concerns I had were whether my style is a little dramatic – especially the bomb blast bit. I’m glad Lynne Connolly liked that part.
    The technical advice is great, thanks. I’m always forgetting characters can’t see themselves.
    This has been a real help to me, thanks, and I’m relieved my rewrites are going in the right direction. Thanks very much for the time you’ve all taken to read.

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  17. JL
    Mar 23, 2013 @ 12:48:38

    I usually try not to be negative on this posts because I think it takes great courage to put the work out there. I do think the writing is good, with the exception of the first paragraph and couple nitpicky, redundant parts (e.g., ‘felt himself impelled to continue’, ‘this girl of Stuart’s’). I am, however, incredibly disturbed by this. The hero reads to me like the sexual predator bad guy of a thriller novel. Where he sees possible desire in the heroine, I see her fear. He’s overly involved in his friend’s life, probably controlling, and has no qualms about taking out his displeasure on a young, innocent person. He’s sizing her up before even having a real conversation with her (‘She knew what it was to fight for survival’), and as soon as he sees a shred of vulnerability in her, he’s turned on. And, of course, the age thing just adds to my thinking he’s probably a psychopath. Calling her ‘girl’ throughout only adds to the ickiness, even though that’s what she is. Not my cup of tea when it comes to a contemporary romance, which I’m assuming this is intended to be by the title. If you are aiming for something darker and grittier, then a new title might be in order.

    ETA: Sorry for cross posting with you, Author

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  18. Lucy Woodhull
    Mar 23, 2013 @ 13:42:30

    I must join the choir singing, “Ick!” at the teenage heroine. Also, all “the girl”s were jarring to me at the beginning. Really contemptuous, and I can see why, but I dislike the hero at this point. I also was confused about how she was boyish one minute and curvy the next. Have your surprising insta-love, I guess, but take the character for what she is. If she’s angular, keep her angular. She can’t swell into Joan from Mad Men just because the hero gets a boner. The writing is good, but the teenage heroine would make me run away. Good luck!

    ETA: Jane, yes, please add more on the weekend. I love this feature, too. And more authors will get their critiques!

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  19. Deb Kinnard
    Mar 23, 2013 @ 13:44:44

    I had my comment planned out, then Author, you say you’ve heavily revised this. Good on ya. I’ve been told that “underage” heroines don’t even work when they weren’t underage in their historical context (i.e., 16 year olds considered marriageable in medieval settings). So since everything I’ve heard says this is a deal-breaker, you’ve already addressed that issue.

    My other issue is that Paul seems rather unheroic. Yeah, he goes out into the garden to check out the girl, but then he appears to be lecturing or instructing her. I find nothing appealing about this. It’s too short an excerpt to see if this is one of his patterns-toward-women things and that’s why he’s still single.

    As a frequent buyer, I’d give this a pass on the hero even if the heroine is now of age. Dictatorial alpha types aren’t my thing.

    May your work find favor!

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  20. Angela Booth
    Mar 23, 2013 @ 19:25:40

    Great writing. Lovely. Overall, I enjoyed this.

    A minor quibble.

    Editorializing terms, as in: “an obedient hand”, “treacherous thud”, and “careful gaze” bug me, because they drag the reader out of the story.

    You’re in Paul’s point of view. So who’s the invisible narrator who’s telling this story? He wouldn’t be thinking of his own hand being “obedient” etc. If you get rid of this, and stick solidly in Paul’s point of view, the piece will be stronger.

    I’m with everyone else on the BIG problem: a 17 year old and two older men. I dislike a girl who’s 17 being with men who are older and more experienced. They come across as predators; she’s prey.

    One man, maybe. However, he’d need a very good reason to be drawn to a 17 year old. He’d need to get to know her first. No instant attraction. That’s just creepy.

    Jane, re more first pages. Yes, please. They’re fun to read.

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  21. Justine
    Mar 23, 2013 @ 19:59:05

    Nice writing style, Author. Would be good to see the rewrite. Can you post it?

    Jane: yes, more please. I live First Pages. Soooo useful and enjoyable.

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  22. Justine
    Mar 23, 2013 @ 19:59:35

    Nice writing style, Author. Would be good to see the rewrite. Can you post it?

    Jane: yes, more please. I love First Pages. Soooo useful and enjoyable.

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  23. Katie T.
    Mar 24, 2013 @ 01:20:39

    Agree with others that the heroine is much too young. Also, the male lead comes off as a pretty big douche. I’ve got no problem with the writing otherwise.

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  24. The Author
    Mar 24, 2013 @ 10:21:35

    Thanks again for all your comments. For those interested in seeing the rewrite, please see below. I’ve made this incident backstory now, not the first page, and it doesn’t get mentioned until chapter four. The actual story starts eight years after this.

    …The dying rays of the sun twinkled and danced on the Thames as they had done that day, eight years ago, on a smaller expanse of water. That time in Stuart’s garden, in the heat of summer, when the sun glinted off the glassy pond and made Paul’s head ache with the light.
    There were times when certain events in his life replayed in his head. Mainly they were times of high stress. The time in West Africa, gripped by his fear of flying, when Stuart had shouted and cajoled him into the helicopter. The time in Afghanistan when he’d come across dead bodies swinging from a bridge, bloated and fly-ridden. These scenes would burst into his head at the most inconvenient moments and stay there. There was nothing he could do to halt the flow of images.
    And then there was the day he met Katerina. In the quiet evening by the Thames, all of a sudden the scene played out in his mind again, unstoppable, with painful familiarity.
    He was standing by the French windows in Stuart’s house, eyes narrowed against the light. The garden beyond was a large, rambling expanse, slightly overgrown, and Katerina was nowhere to be seen.
    His friend called out from the kitchen. “She’ll be round by the pond. Go and introduce yourself—she won’t bite!”
    Reluctantly, he reached out a hand to press down the door-handle. He’d just flown back from the conflict in West Africa and his spirits were depressed and edgy. Half his mind was still on the scenes he had left behind. Stepping out onto the suburban lawn he felt a sense of unreality.
    He had never seen Stuart look so happy. He should be glad for him, but instead he was filled with a sense of foreboding he couldn’t explain. He tried to shrug off his state of mind as the effects of jet-lag, but as he strode the long path to the end of the garden, his unease seemed to grow with each step. When he reached the corner where the fish-pond was, behind a sheltering willow-tree, he stopped dead, his leather boots coming to a silent halt in the long grass.
    Katerina was kneeling on the low stone wall of the fish-pond, cropped blonde head bent over the water in an attitude of intense concentration, one slender hand slowly skimming the surface. She hadn’t yet registered his presence and Paul stared as she bent over the pond. There was something so self-contained about her absorption. The movement of her hand was graceful on the water. Heat shimmered on the pond’s surface, giving her outline a dreamlike quality.
    He must have given some signal of his presence—drawn in his breath a little sharply, perhaps—because her hand jerked with a startled, wet slap on the surface of the water. She scrambled to her feet.
    “I thought you were Stuart.” Her voice was another surprise. Deep and slow and sexy. And her striking eyes—a cerulean blue, reflecting the late afternoon sky above them—were level with Paul’s chin, even in her bare feet. The illusion of unreality vanished with her words. She had presence, and she was staring at him with an unnerving curiosity.
    “You must be Katerina.”
    And it was then it happened. Something Paul could never explain to himself afterward, no matter how often he thought of it. There was a flash of something which hit her with equal strength. What was it? Recognition? Desire? Whatever it was, it hit Paul with extraordinary force, like a bomb blast he once witnessed on assignment. Years of experience made him stand his ground, not moving a muscle. Katerina, however, let a small cry escape her lips. Paul saw the confidence drain from her face. She took a step backwards, stumbling against the low wall of the fishpond, her long arms spread. Before she could fall, he caught her, pulling her slight body with ease into his arms.

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  25. Lynne Connolly
    Mar 24, 2013 @ 10:43:16

    You should never start a story with a flashback. It’s a lovely scene, but you should start with action, with something happening. maybe work in a smaller version later on. Who was it said “Kill your babies”? Whoever it was, they were right. It hurts, but sometimes it has to go.
    My Richard and Rose story started with a scene I loved. I thought it worked. It was Rose’s sister in law brandishing a letter at the breakfast table, telling her family that they had to go to Yorkshire to visit their relative. It took several critique partners to persuade me to kill it. “The story doesn’t start there” they said. “It starts later.” They were right. But I did love that scene.

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  26. theo
    Mar 24, 2013 @ 11:15:32

    Lynne is right. There’s still nothing happening here. The action is your H sitting/standing somewhere, looking over the water and thinking. Looking BACK over something that happened long ago so again, we’re not in the moment with the character. We’re somewhere in the past and have no basis for what’s going on. The only one who knows anything is the H. It’s a nice scene, you’ve made some good changes that don’t squick me out like the teenager did to start with, but it’s still not where your story starts. If you can find a way to make this an action scene somewhere later in the story, kill it. Don’t delete it, save it. You might be able to use a rewrite of it in another story. Late in the story. But not here.

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