Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

First Page: Three Year rule

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.


“If love were a garden, dating would be the weed killer. Unfortunately, many times the worst weeds survive the initial application, often requiring additional energy not only to identify the unwelcome plants, but to remove them.” Elizabeth glanced around the room, cringing at the multitude of blank expressions that stared back at her. She wondered if these women thought she sounded like a man hater or a potential serial killer.

She made a mental note check the local news for any poisonings committed by jilted girlfriends before using this speech again. “Take my life for instance.” She continued, sliding a hand into the front pocket her pale green suit jacket in an effort to look casual. “From the time I was a little girl I imagined my life would be a fairytale romance. A prince of my dreams would show up one day on my doorstep and whisk me away to a huge flowery wedding, with a pearl encrusted wedding gown, a Brady Bunch home and happily ever after marriage. Instead, I barely dated in high school. In fact, my first love was a tattooed ex-marine, Harley rider, who smoked pot. This was extraordinary since I didn’t even drink alcohol at the time. Overall, through my teens I managed to make many bad choices in boyfriends.”

“Finally, in my twenties, I decided to ‘wise up’ and marry an older man who happened to be a preacher. How could you be any safer? Admittedly, he was boring and straight-laced. He was what I considered moderately attractive, no bulging muscles or chiseled features. He was a regular average man. Which I considered optimal since all of the strikingly handsome men of my past managed to cheat on me. Therefore, at age 22, I gave up on the dream of a man that made my heart race as our eyes met. I gave up on finding someone who made my body ache when he wasn’t around. I married Mr. Safe. Mr. Safe was supposed to be a perfect husband, great father and a good provider. Three years later, I realized he was actually an obsessive compulsive, narcissistic womanizer.” Elizabeth paused for emphasis and noticed a handsome man with an amused smirk on his chiseled face, standing at the back of the room. He was tall, with golden hair and broad shoulders. His blue flannel shirt did nothing to mask his huge biceps. A pair of faded jeans perfected his persona. What was a man like that doing at a women’s conference? Elizabeth hesitated with her speech, almost forgetting the words.

He was probably the self-defense instructor, she told herself. Yet something about this man’s expression irritated Elizabeth. She silently noted he probably had deep blue eyes, which she found even more irritating. At that thought, she felt the color rise in her cheeks. She fought for control of her senses as she forced her eyes to move further around the small conference room, while taking a deep cleansing breath. Concentrating on the pale gold and bronze colors of the room, she continued. “Now this is where I’m supposed to tell you what I learned from that experience.” She glanced back toward her only male audience to find him gone. She sighed with relief, which she found odd, but kept going. “So here it is: you can’t possibly determine if someone is the best man for you from the first date, fourth date, survey, website questionnaire or even a year of marriage. The point is when you first meet someone; they aren’t showing you their true self.”

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. Jamie Beck
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 08:41:47

    Hi author. I’ll throw my $.02, for whatever they are worth.

    This is actually a little hard, because there isn’t anything really “wrong” with this (the writing is fairly smooth with just a couple of grammar/syntax issues, the premise/set-up is clear, and her “I’ve been burned and don’t believe in passionate love” is a common theme in contemporary romance). But, there also isn’t anything particularly fresh, compelling, or new here either (at least not in these first 2-3 pages) to make it stand out against the tens of thousands of romance novels being published annually.

    Also, I might take another look at her dialogue. It doesn’t sound completely natural. A lot of the sentences are really long and a little clunky. I understand that, in giving a presentation, she might speak differently than she would in casual conversation, but still.
    Easy example: “This was extraordinary since I didn’t even drink alcohol at the time. Overall, through my teens I managed to make many bad choices in boyfriends.” This might sound more realistic if it read, “Odd choice for a sober rule-follower, and only the first in a long list of misfit boyfriends.”

    The opening metaphor may be a problem too. I get that you are trying to be funny/cute. But gardens are such a stereotypical metaphor for love/romance, I might not use it to open the story. Similarly, when your heroine talks about her girlhood dreams, you also rely on a stereotypical description (the fairy tales/princesses and princes/white gown). I thing agents and editors frown on this kind of thing, so you might want to think of something a little more original.

    That said, I do find the set-up kind of cute (she’s giving an anti-love speech and an unexpected, cute guy in the audience is giving her the tingles). I think if you’re going to stick with this opening, you really have to make her dialogue more clever and interesting…to make it reflect more about who she really is…so we can latch onto her personality and want to take the ride with her. Does that make sense?

    I hope this is helpful. Good luck!

  2. Kate Sherwood
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 08:47:06

    I’m torn. It’s well-told backstory, but… it’s still almost all backstory. The little bits of handsome-man-in-the-room help spice things up, but otherwise… backstory.

    Which… since it’s well told, maybe that’s okay. But another problem is that I don’t really like the heroine, so far. Her backstory makes me think she’s a judgemental, prudish idiot. I mean, *gasp* she fell in love with an ex-marine who rides a Harley and smokes pot? (something weird about the phrasing of that sentence in your version, BTW). That’s not super-shocking in Romancelandia, is it? And she then burned through so many OTHER men that she was ready to give up altogether by the time she was twenty-two?!? So she did a complete 180 and married a man she didn’t love and wasn’t attracted to, because…? In my mind, she probably did it because she was too weak to be able to stand on her own and actually be herself, but given that this is a romance I doubt the ultimate message is going to be that women don’t actually need men to be complete human beings, so…?

    I think I see where the plot is going. And if you’re going to have the hero teach the heroine that she doesn’t have to give up on passion, I guess she has to be a bit stupid about that at the start of the book. But for me, this one’s a bit TOO stupid.

    If you’re sticking with this opening, maybe you could at least blend in something about what her credentials are and why she’s qualified to be speaking to this group? Right now she seems like someone who has no idea how to live her life lecturing other people on how to live their lives, which isn’t too appealing. Maybe a line about her going to school and becoming a psychologist or whatever. I really think she needs something other than a string of personal mistakes in order for me to feel happy about her telling others how to run their romantic lives.

    This sounds more negative than I felt as I was reading, I think. It wouldn’t be an automatic drop-the-book for me, yet, but I would need something significantly more from the FMC in the next page or two, or I’d be out.

  3. Lynne Connolly
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 08:55:59

    Yes, I’d read on. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to see some tweaking!
    The first sentence is stultifying. Mind-numbing. Try to give it a bit more zip. i don’t really see the point of her speech, except to introduce her backstory to the reader. She seems to be trying to say that life isn’t what you expect, and to live for the unexpected. So say that in the first sentence.
    The sentence about the blue eyes is really awkward. I’d cut that out. Let her discover his blue eyes later. And I hate people who smirk. Smirks imply that they’re laughing at you, not with you. Ick.
    “Audience” sounds awkward too, in “her only male audience.” make it “listener” or something.
    And at the end of the passage, I’m left thinking – why should I care? What makes her so special? There’s not really a hook here. I tend to give books a chapter rather than a page, which is why I’d read on, but a lot of people, it’s one and done. With the sheer number of books around these days, you’ve got to grab ‘em fast.

  4. Carol McKenzie
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 08:57:25

    I don’t think I’d read further. I don’t like Elizabeth; she seems bitter about her track record with men, without any redeeming qualities. The drop-by of the guy, who I assume is the hero, seems contrived…and I’m not sure why she’s surprised she’s relieved he’s gone. If I were giving a…speech…talk…conference…to women and a man appeared, who apparently irritated me, I’d be relieved when he left. I would be surprised if I were sad to find him gone, or had a pang of disappointment, or a sense of unaccountable loss.

    As far as the writing, IMHO, you have far to much back story in the form of her giving her lecture. It seems like an easy way to give the reader a large portion of Elizabeth’s past, without having to really work at it. You probably could cut out a large portion of her speech, start when the guy shows up, then disappears, and feed us back story in smaller sections throughout the story.

    And if you look at your first page, it’s composed of four paragraphs…three of them huge.

    Pretty much any book on the craft of writing will tell you many readers will shy away from pages that have large blocks of text. It can be intimidating,especially on a first page. Your text could be broken up in any number of ways, which would also help break up those large chunks of Elizabeth talking to the crowd. It would be an easier fix if a great deal of her speech was just cut.

    There’s also nothing here that would lead me to read further. There’s nothing at stake here…she talks, she sees him, he’s gone. Starting your story later, when they meet, would give you a page of story real estate to have a goal for Elizabeth, have the stakes raised by something happening (more than just her seeing the guy) and you’d at least have a hook to get me to read further. Just the fact that a guy showed up at a women’s conference on, I assume, finding love, isn’t enough.

    Thanks for sharing your work. It’s hard sometimes to put stuff out for critique and opinions, but almost always worthwhile in the end.

  5. theo
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 09:12:29

    Because this is all backstory, I started skimming by the middle of the second paragraph. I understand your Hn is giving a speech somewhere, but it’s not something you want at the beginning of your story. Nothing here grabs my interest enough to keep reading.

    I did go back through it and finish it and there were a couple of things that made me wince.

    She silently noted he probably had deep blue eyes, which she found even more irritating.

    Probably? If she can clearly see the smirk on his face and the color of his eye, probably doesn’t work here. And why would she find it irritating?

    She married a boring, straight-laced preacher who turned out to be an O/C, narcissistic womanizer? Either she was blind and in denial which doesn’t bode well for her as someone I want to read more about, or she saw it and decided she could change him which still doesn’t bode well. In my experience, men such as her ex are unable to hide what they are behind a boring facade unless they’re…can’t think of the word right now, but it’s one of the *path psychological disorders. Her one redeeming trait so far is that she got out of that marriage, but how? Did she divorce him? Something to root for. Did he die? Passive Hn and not so much.

    So, I know about her ex, I know about the guy at the back of the room, I know little or nothing about her other than a lot of backstory that right now, I could care little about.

  6. Patricia
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 10:23:07

    It sounds like your heroine is supposed to be presenting herself as some sort of relationship guru, but her speech actually undermines my confidence in her judgement and advice. I’m not sure why anyone would pay good money to hear her recount her personal failures. Especially if her conclusion is that even after a year of marriage you can’t possibly have enough experience to make informed decisions about the suitability of your partner. It sounds more like her history has clouded her perceptions rather than making her more insightful.

    I actually like the idea of starting with an inspirational speaker’s speech, but it’s got to really zing her audience. It should be the kind of speech that energizes people and makes them want to do what she says and pay for the privelege. I would cut most, or all, of the backstory. If you write a speech that carries your heroine’s audience away, your readers will come along for the ride.

  7. wikkidsexycool
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 10:34:57

    Okay, I checked on Amazon and this book is already up. I thought the title sounded familiar (I really liked the title, and thought the premise could work, through I never bought the book). I think some of the comments here as well as the comments on Amazon can help the author revise this. I’ve seen authors take down books and re-publish to varying degrees of success.

    ETA: Oops. I just re-checked and the current version is the 3rd publishing, which may mean it’s been revised and put back up three times.

    I won’t add to the comments, but I wish the author all the best, and don’t get discouraged, just keep on writing. And read what the successful authors in romance are doing, as well as those who are self-published and successful. I’m finding that its been a help to me to find out what works and doesn’t in the genre from other writers.

  8. Marianne McA
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 11:22:04

    (Sorry: hadn’t seen wikkidsexycool’s comment when I wrote this. So ignore it all.)

    I didn’t really like the opening sentences: they read well initially, but then I got lost trying to work out her metaphor. (The worst weeds need more than one application = you need to date the worst men more than once…?)

    While I’ve never listened to motivational speakers, I can imagine that they use examples from their own life – but it still felt that she was sharing too much for the circumstances. Maybe if you explained why she’s telling the stories? So, for instance, your heroine consciously injects humour into her voice so the audience understands she’s making a joke about her bad choice of boyfriends as a teenager: “I can’t imagine why; I didn’t even drink alcohol at the time…” and we hear the audience laughing sympathetically. And then we understand that her aim in telling that story is to engage with them. (I’m not suggesting that is her aim – just that, as it’s written, I don’t know why she’s telling them this personal stuff and I’d like to.)

    Also, I didn’t like the idea that someone would get irritated at another person for their eye colour. So far, Elizabeth doesn’t have any redeeming characteristics – she comes across as a boring speaker, a little self-involved and even arrogant (in that she seems to feel that everyone can learn from her life experiences). And then she adds in being judgemental.
    I need that offset with some reason to care about what’s going to happen to her – and a visual of a gorgeous hero isn’t enough.
    I can live with Elizabeth being not-very-nice if she’s also interesting – if, for instance, she’s an excellent speaker who is aware of her skill and is holding the audience spellbound, or even if she’s a terrible speaker who bores everyone rigid but keeps persevering conference after disastrous conference because she’s burning to communicate this life-enhancing truth she’s convinced she’s discovered. (And if she isn’t the greatest speaker, the first sentences are fine.)

    Good luck.

  9. QC
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 12:50:03

    I think I get the eye color remark–the guy is attractive and deep blue eyes would make him even more attractive. I don’t think Elizabeth can see his eye color, but is sarcastically commenting to herself about his seeming perfection, knowing that physical perfection can mask other flaws. She’ll not be taken in by blatant hotness. My opinion only.

  10. SAO
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 12:56:15

    Eliz comes off as totally lacking in judgement. She only looks at the surface. She says nothing about Mr. Safe except that he lacks bulging muscles. But, oops, he turned out to be a loser. Nothing in her narrative suggests she has a clue as to why or what she did wrong. So why is she a speaker about relationships?

    But more importantly it’s not just that Eliz can’t see below the surface, I suspect the author can’t either and the book will really be about trading in Mr. Underdeveloped Biceps for Mr. Overdeveloped Biceps. This sounds perfect for everyone who thinks the worth of a man could be found with a measuring tape around his upper arm, this would be the book for me.

  11. Lori
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 13:27:47

    So if authors are putting their first pages up on books they’ve already published, then they’re just trying to take advantage of Dear Author and their readership to try and make sales?

    Offensive to the extreme.

  12. Jane
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 13:33:56

    Well, I do email all the authors before hand asking them if the MS is published. Most of the time I get back a response. I suppose I could start deleting submissions if they don’t respond.

  13. Lori
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 19:06:24

    This isn’t on you Jane, not at all. This is offensive on the author’s part. I feel like they cheated in the hopes of making sales.

  14. Jinni
    Dec 16, 2013 @ 11:28:36

    This is the second one I’ve read that was published. It’s too bad. I like reading the entries, but do feel manipulated if they’re already out there.

  15. Jamie Beck
    Dec 16, 2013 @ 15:02:15

    @Lori:

    I have to agree with you. I think most of the readers and writers who choose to comment here are genuinely interested in helping authors revise their work to make it more universally appealing. Taking advantage of this opportunity and wasting our time by posting work that’s already published is a selfish move and not one that will engender good will.

    I also agree, this isn’t Jane’s fault (who is busy keeping the rest of this site running smoothly for everyone’s benefit and shouldn’t have to micro-manage this when the form rules clearly state it is for unpublished work). People should have some integrity and do what is right. Ok, end of rant.

  16. Carol McKenzie
    Dec 16, 2013 @ 15:22:16

    I enjoy this opportunity tremendously. And this is not Jane’s fault.

    If someone is seriously considering being a writer and being published, there comes a certain responsibility, whether it’s sending query letters or locating beta readers, or taking advantage of a site like this. And just because someone chooses to self-publish, it doesn’t absolve them of that responsibility. Self-publishing is not an excuse for bad behavior.

    There’s a business side (and I view this as a bit of that, even though it’s geared toward helping writers during the writing stage) which requires writers to, at the least, be courteous enough to reply to emails.

    And it requires them to be cognizant of where they send their manuscripts, and for what reason, and to be responsible enough to take action when required.

    End of rant. :)

%d bloggers like this: