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Note: The author had updated this piece and I forgot to load the updated piece. Sorry early commenters!


The witch leaned back in her white leather chair and looked at Skye. Skye leaned against the door jamb and looked out the floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall windows. She was used to her employer’s way of doing things, and knew that whatever happened next would be on the witch’s schedule.

Finally, the woman shrugged as if she’d seen what she was waiting for. Her voice was dry and controlled as she said, “A woman came by earlier, looking for you.”

The witch stood up then, her all-white outfit almost blinding in the sunlight streaming into the office. As she stepped forward Skye straightened and readied herself. The witch was no match for Skye physically and they both knew that, but her approach still felt like a threat. And despite all the times Skye’s brain had lost interest in survival, her body had slightly different ideas. It was always ready for an attack, always ready to defend itself using whatever means necessary.

But the witch had no intention of touching Skye, of course. If she wanted to cause harm, she had more subtle methods at her disposal. Instead, she stopped walking and looked Skye up and down as if searching for a clue. “She was a very interesting woman.”

Skye didn’t want to get dragged into whatever the witch was up to, so she kept still. She couldn’t control the conversation, but at least she could refuse to participate.

Of course, the witch was used to this approach and didn’t seem at all put out. “I’ve decided to meet with her again, and I’ve decided that you will be present.”

Skye supposed she could argue, but it didn’t seem worth the effort. “When?” She’d come to the office to discuss an amulet the witch wanted retrieved, but she could be flexible with her time, if the price was right.

The witch moved toward the door, close enough that Skye had to step aside to avoid blocking the way. “Now. The woman is waiting in the boardroom.”

Of course she was. The witch started walking, and Skye followed behind her. It must look strange, the coiffed and styled CEO striding down the hall with an androgynous, leather-clad hoodlum behind her, but the witch’s employees were used to strange sights. They were smart enough to keep their mouths shut. And after seven years, they must be used to seeing Skye around the place, even if none of them was exactly sure what her role was. Skye was sure that as long as the witch kept paying well and giving generous bonuses to her most useful employees, none of them would really care what Skye was up to.

They reached the conference room doors and the witch strode inside, directly to the head of the table. “Close the door behind you,” she said over her shoulder, and Skye complied.

Then she let herself really look at the visitor. Skye was a warrior; as soon as she’d stepped into the room, she’d seen the guest, scanned for weapons or other threats, and calculated possible terrain issues if a battle did occur. But that was all automatic, and surface level. Now she took the time to find the details.

The woman looked about half-way between Skye’s age and the witch’s—maybe somewhere in her late thirties. She was dressed in a dark business suit. Skye was no kind of expert on fashion, but the outfit looked expensive, without being as high-maintenance as the witch’s all-white ensembles.

And the woman wearing the clothes? The witch was right—the woman was interesting. Skye had spent a lot of time and effort on shutting down her abilities, ignoring the screaming mental messages sent by practically every outsider she met, but she wasn’t able to shut this out. As practiced as she was, she couldn’t ignore the overpowering nothingness where this woman’s presence should have been. The stranger was either a highly trained, heavily guarded telepath, or she was… something else. Something new. Either way, Skye knew why the witch had decided to have this meeting.

 

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

9 Comments

  1. SAO
    Mar 16, 2014 @ 05:20:06

    There’s a lot positive to say here. Looks like an interesting world and Skye looks like she’s an interesting character; I like treasure-hunting plots and the writing is smooth.

    But hopefully, you didn’t post this so we could sing your praises, no matter how nice that would be. You wanted what could be stronger:

    1) They are both emotionless. Skye deliberately so, but I don’t know about the witch. Hence you have a scene with great potential for conflict that is fairly flat.

    2) You want your MC to have a goal (okay amulet) and a motivation to get around those guardians. Just doing a job means if the danger is high, we wonder why she’s risking her life. If quest is ho-hum, we’ll be bored.

    3) I don’t know enough about the witch’s character. If Skye had a reaction about the witch’s assignment, (you can do it in internal thought and keep her exterior blank) then I’d be able to read the witch better. These were probably three ways of saying the same thing.

    Bottom line: ramp up conflict, show us who the witch is, and make Skye care.

  2. Kathryn
    Mar 16, 2014 @ 05:58:41

    Hi, I enjoyed this and I’d definitely read more. I only had one issue I found it slightly passive in regards to the mystery woman who wants to see Skye. That fact that your MC had no reaction internal or external to this information was odd especially if its a plot point. I get that she doesn’t want to show emotion in front of the witch but maybe a little internal reaction there could help.

  3. Patricia
    Mar 16, 2014 @ 08:04:18

    I quite liked this and I would continue reading. However, it bothered me a bit that I still didn’t know the witch’s name by the end of the page. Skye has been working for this woman for years; surely she calls her by a proper name at least sometimes. If not — if refusing to call her by name is a little personal rebellion, for instance — that is worth noting, too.

  4. wikkidsexycool
    Mar 16, 2014 @ 08:57:43

    Hello Author,

    Thanks for having the courage to submit this. I agree with SAO that the writing is smooth. But it also reads as unfinished to me. As the poster Patricia pointed out and I second, your witch character should at least have a name, or something in the piece should tell the reader why Skye refuses to address her by a name.

    Because the first page continued on without Skye saying it, I’m leaning towards it being deliberate. But readers shouldn’t have to guess that long, and I hope since your main character appears to work for this woman/witch, she eventually gets a name.

    I guess the reason why this reads as unfinished to me, is that I can see places where description and a bit of embellishment could be added to this tale to make it stronger. I like the idea of Skye being assigned missions so I’d read on, however just like SAO pointed out, there’s not much emotion coming from either character.

    Why isn’t the witch upset that the assignment wasn’t completed?
    And a bit later in their conversation, if Skye is readying herself for a fight, where’s the urgency? True, there are a couple of sentences telling the reader what Skye thinks about all this, but by this time (and since as a reader, I still don’t know either character) I can’t choose a side if they did tangle. Basically as the reader I’m just as emotionless as your characters because that’s what I get from the scene.

    A bit more description on the office itself can help set the tone. You don’t have to go overboard, but there’s a way to insert more vitality on your world building into this scene. You just have to pick your spots. If Skye’s boss is a modern witch, are her spells kept on an iPad sitting on her shiny desk? Maybe in Skye’s inner thoughts you can paint more a picture for the reader, that as cold and impersonal as the office feels, its reflected in how Skye deals with her employer.

    I wish you the best with your writing, and if you have a chance to post something on the on the premise and genre, it would help. This piece has a lot of promise.

  5. Author
    Mar 16, 2014 @ 09:32:07

    Hi, guys! Sorry for the confusion with the multiple versions.

    As per wikkedsexycool’s request – this is an urban fantasy with strong romantic elements. (Except most of the story takes place in a rural area – rural fantasy? modern fantasy? I’m not sure of the right terms for that one).

    I don’t have a formal synopsis, but the general idea is that a group of misfits are assembled in order to fight a big bad. (There are wells of evil all over the globe and over millenia communities of human guards have evolved near these wells, making sure that the evil that escapes is dealt with before it can get too big. One of these communities has been destroyed (First Nations people pushed off their land when a hydroelectric dam was built) and now the evil is loose, and growing.) So the mysterious woman in this scene has come to get Skye and add her to the band of misfits, but Skye of course has her own issues, including a Tragic Past associated with one of the other misfits. Drama and monster-slaying ensues.

    So my concerns for this scene – it may be starting too soon (how many First Pages are ‘starting too soon’?) and maybe I shouldn’t start the story until the misfits are assembled. But I wanted to give a taste of the lives the two main misfits (the romantic leads) are leaving behind in order to show the emptiness of their current lives. And the witch does come in later, as a sort of morally ambiguous resource who will help the misfits… for a price.

    My other concern is one that you guys have mentioned, and that’s Skye’s lack of affect. I WANT her to come across as emotionally numb, because her big character arc for the book involves her coming back to life and rediscovering her passions. But the witch is similarly numb (and destined to stay that way), and then the new woman is playing HER cards close to her chest (for Reasons), so, yeah… three deliberately flat characters. Hmmmm…

  6. theo
    Mar 16, 2014 @ 10:00:11

    Frankly, I started skimming about halfway through because the witch, the witch, the witch became increasingly annoying. If that’s all Skye’s boss is known as, then call her Skye’s employer once in awhile or please do give her a name because she’s a completely flat character who I thought at first was called a witch rather than a b****.

    You first tell us Skye is a warrior, then you give us a bit of Skye’s perspective;

    Then she let herself really look at the visitor. Skye was a warrior; as soon as she’d stepped into the room, she’d seen the guest, scanned for weapons or other threats, and calculated possible terrain issues if a battle did occur. But that was all automatic, and surface level. Now she took the time to find the details.

    Could be more active with something like this:

    Skye read the room the minute she’d stepped in. The visitor carried no weapons or other threats that she could ascertain, but never let her guard drop.

    So, we know she’s some kind of warrior/paramilitary/adventurer type person without telling us she’s a warrior.

    Even your last para reads very passive to me. She tells us she’s spent a lot of her life trying to block out surrounding thoughts. There’s a lot of telling explanation.

    She dropped the wall she’d erected long ago to block the constant mental screaming and waited for this visitors thoughts to hit her, but the overpowering nothingness was just as powerful and caught her off guard. This stranger was either a highly trained, heavily guarded telepath, or she was… something else. Something Skye had never encountered before. Someone perhaps as powerful as herself. Now she understood the meeting.

    I think some good, tight editing would make a world of difference here. But to spend an entire book with three flat characters would be a very hard sell for me and I’d have to put it back on the shelf.

  7. wikkidsexycool
    Mar 16, 2014 @ 10:36:11

    Hello Author,

    Thanks for the update. Based on your new first page and your post, I’d say ditch the witch. Right now, imho you’re starting in the wrong place. The witch/employer is a distraction at this point, since your tale has to do with a visitor coming to see Skye in order to get her to join their group.

    Why is Skye “the one?” What’s so special about her, aside from the witch sizing her up, at the same time that she’s doing to the witch?

    Think about other stories where a group is looking for someone to round out their group. The new X-Men franchise comes to mind. As Eric (Magneto) and Charles go looking for more mutants, the audience gets a glimpse of their powers (for some, not all). Perhaps you can start with Skye completing a mission and the “visitor” watching her (if you must keep the witch, then they could watch Skye from her office). That way the visitor can make up her mind that Skye would fit in with their group, but her reservation is how aloof Skye appears when she dispatches her foes. It’s just a job or a completed assignment for Skye, but for the visitor it’s a matter of life and death.

    If you’re going to make three flat characters, then you’re making more work for yourself as a writer. Be careful that they don’t come across as having a similar “voice” since they’re so emotionally muted. Thanks for letting us know that the genre is urban fantasy. But you’ll have to step up your world building if that’s the case.

    Even with your new first page, your own personal touch regarding world building is missing. There’s a meeting with a witch, then a walk down the hall for another meeting with a new visitor. After reading the first one and now this one, I’d say the first needed more, this one needs less.

    Part of the problem may be that you don’t have a clear vision on what your tale is about. I think once you do, your story (and your opening) will reflect that. Something tells me by the time you finish this your beginning will be much different.

    I wish you the best, and I hope you’ll post your first page again once the story is complete.

  8. SAO
    Mar 16, 2014 @ 11:02:23

    @Author

    If you want Skye’s character arc to be coming alive, you could try cynical ennui for her opening scene. Let us feel a sigh of been there, done that. A slightly bored MC is often a bad idea, but I think you have enough interesting going on, we’ll be okay. “Sigh, another monster to slay” is infinitely more interesting than “Sigh, another class to teach” or “Another document to file.”

    That being said, it’s hard to carry off an exciting scene with two flat chars. I’d write the witch as scheming. She can seem on the surface charming or all business, but Skye can let us know that she’s not. That would inject more conflict into your scene.

    I agree with others that the witch needs a name. I’ve spent a lot of time as a foreigner, and I can tell you it was annoying when people called me or thought of me as “The American” or “The Blanc” rather than by my name, if they knew me well enough to know my name. Because not using my name meant they thought of me not as an individual, but as a generic member of a category (and they hadn’t bothered to figure out that I am not a carbon copy of every other member of my group).

    Your brief synopsis is lacking a clear plot. Maybe you are afraid someone will steal your plot (not really a risk IMHO), but if not, I strongly suggest you have a plot hammered out before you go further and that should be a strong reason for Skye to care about the goal she is fighting for, not just because she was hired to do so. And that all elements: Skye’s arc, romantic interest, battles with evil cohere and reinforce each other.

  9. Carol McKenzie
    Mar 16, 2014 @ 12:53:48

    Hi Author,

    I’m late to the party, but I like this. I get the sense of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo…not sure if that’s intentional. But those are the characters I see in my mind…at least Skye, to me, now looks likes Lisbeth Salander.

    And because I like this, I really want to like it, and that makes me find the littlest things to nit pick. So forgive me if I go off on little things…but they’re little things that I notice.

    You may want to check for repetitive word usage. You’ve used “of course” three times in this opening. “Of course”, to me, has a “oh, by the way” or “you should have known this, but I’ll tell you anyway” feel to it, and using it more than once has me feeling like I’m being lectured on points I should have known, something common that I’ve managed to miss. Maybe a bit condescending.

    Same with leaned in the first two sentences. Everyone’s leaning…one of them can do something else, I think, to show ennui or relaxed control.

    “…all the times Skye’s brain had lost interest in survival, her body had slightly different ideas.” Skye’s brain, IMO, is part of her body. I think you want to convey she’s consciously given up the interest in survival, but her body (and brain) have other ideas. Her body reacts because of her brain, not by any conscious thought on her part. She’s not thinking she should fight, but her brain is controlling how her body reacts.

    “Then she let herself really look at the visitor. Skye was a warrior; as soon as she’d stepped into the room, she’d seen the guest, … … Now she took the time to find the details.”

    I think you have your actions out of order. Skye closes the door, then lets herself really look at the visitor. But then you have what she did as soon as she stepped into the room, and then she’s back to looking at the details. You can convey the same action by removing the “Then she let herself really…” sentence.

    Skye’s no expert on fashion, but she knows what expensive or high-maintenance clothes are. “Skye knew enough about fashion to recognize expensive clothes…and the contrast with the witch’s high-maintenance style.”

    And finally (yes, I have a finally) either name the witch or make it an obvious point of not naming the witch. Make her the Witch. Give her some kind of identifier other than a generic word. You might as well just call her that lady. She’s obviously a strong character, and she should have some kind of name. And if the woman visitor remains “the woman” I’d be bothered by that as well.

    Thanks for sharing. This is a really interesting opening and I’d be curious to read more.

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