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First Page: Unnamed Contemporary

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***

"Don’t move or I’ll kill you,"

This probably wasn’t the best start to a night Amicia ever had but she was pretty sure that there had been worse. She might not have been able to think of any right now but she was pretty sure that there were some somewhere back there. Of course being seated in a restaurant with a moron who doubled as her boss and having your waiter poke a gun to the back of her head had to rank pretty high up there.

"What do you want," She asked more curious than she was afraid. After all this kind of crap doesn’t happen every day…thank the source.

"How nice of you to ask. Although it is the gentleman who usually does the ordering. And the correct phrase I believe is ‘what will you have’ not ‘what do you want’. All the same I think I’ll have the salmon. I hear they make it wonderfully here, with just of hint of lemon and-"

"Will you shut the hell up! I wasn’t talking to you I was speaking to the lovely gentleman with a gun to my head!" She snarled at Joshua, her dinner date who was either a moron or woefully unobservant. She’d bet on both.

The small restaurant was packed but dead silent. She wasn’t the only one with a gun pointed at her. There were at least four others including the proprietor. However she seemed to the only one with it pointed at her head.

"I need for you to stand up slowly and head toward the kitchen," the waiter instructed in very low almost soothing voice.

She stood slowly and took a step away from the table. She didn’t even look to her would be date to
save her. From the time he’d seen the gun he’d gone a pasty white. She wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if there was a wet spot left on the seat when he finally stood up. Helpfully Joshua scooped up her purse from the table and held it out to her. It took all the restraint she had not to snatch it and throw it back at his head.

"Nothing to say? This might be your last chance to speak with me,"

"It wouldn’t do any good. Not to mention that I brought you here to fire you. Public places are a much better place to do it. However that makes the whole comforting conversation seem insincere."

Amicia took a deep breath before addressing her kidnapper who was at the moment looking more and more like a savior, "Before you kill me can you shoot him first?" Suddenly the lights went out. Looking out the window she could see it was at least the whole block. This wasn’t good. All that illuminated the restaurant were the small candles on each table.

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

25 Comments

  1. theo
    Jan 30, 2010 @ 09:23:17

    I have to say, I am totally confused here. I have no idea what’s going on.

    This probably wasn't the best start to a night Amicia ever had but she was pretty sure that there had been worse. She might not have been able to think of any right now but she was pretty sure that there were some somewhere back there. Of course being seated in a restaurant with a moron who doubled as her boss and having your waiter poke a gun to the back of her head had to rank pretty high up there.

    She’s pretty sure, pretty sure, sitting in a restaurant with her boss and with the way the tenses are skewed, I took it her boss was female.

    And I get she’s “pretty” sure. It’s used three times in as many sentences.

    “What do you want,” She asked more curious than she was afraid. After all this kind of crap doesn't happen every day…thank the source.

    “How nice of you to ask. Although it is the gentleman who usually does the ordering. And the correct phrase I believe is ‘what will you have' not ‘what do you want'. All the same I think I'll have the salmon. I hear they make it wonderfully here, with just of hint of lemon and-”

    “Will you shut the hell up! I wasn't talking to you I was speaking to the lovely gentleman with a gun to my head!” She snarled at Joshua, her dinner date who was either a moron or woefully unobservant. She'd bet on both.

    Is this her boss asking what do you want? Or her? And I’m sorry, but his not seeing her sitting there with a gun to her head (at least, that’s what I think is going on) is completely unbelievable. Especially in the next section, you say she’s not the only one who is in that position.

    Unless she’s in a war situation, I also can’t imagine her having the presence of mind to ask if he has nothing to say to her, might be the last time.

    I think you’re going for something smart and sassy, but right now, it’s so convoluted, it gives me nothing. The phrasing, the wrong punctuation, I realize this must sound very harsh, but IMHO, this needs a great deal of work and a brutal red pen. No matter how intriguing I might find it that waiters are taking over a restaurant, there’s no way I’d be able to read beyond this.

  2. may
    Jan 30, 2010 @ 10:07:13

    I had to re read a few times to figure out “wait… who’s talking? What? Who’s saying what?” so yes, it was a bit confusing.

    That said, you had me. It’s an interesting scene to start with and I’d love to know more…

  3. Carolyn
    Jan 30, 2010 @ 10:16:56

    “What do you want,” She asked more curious than she was afraid.

    Word is not god; you have to edit Word too. The first “she” should not be capitalized. The second “she” is unnecessary. The sentence reads awkwardly.

    As does the whole piece. I get what you’re aiming for, but found it very confusing. I unhappily agree with Theo – lots of red pen needed.

  4. Jill Sorenson
    Jan 30, 2010 @ 10:16:59

    “Don't move or I'll kill you,”

    Put a period after you.

    “This probably wasn't the best start to a night Amicia ever had but she was pretty sure that there had been worse.”

    The opening line grabs my attention, and this one loses it. Lots of short words in a long sentence gives it a clunky, disjointed feel. You don’t need “that.” Probably and pretty sure sound weak. You have a strong herione, give her strong words, a strong point of view.

    “She might not have been able to think of any right now but she was pretty sure that there were some somewhere back there.”

    Use fewer words to create a faster pace. She COULDN’T think of any right now, etc. “pretty sure, there, somewhere, there” are repetitive.

    “Of course being seated in a restaurant with a moron who doubled as her boss and having your waiter poke a gun to the back of her head had to rank pretty high up there.”

    This seems off because of punctuation errors and a subject change: “her boss, YOUR waiter, her head.”

    Much of the rest is confusing/unclear, but I’ll stop here. Hope this helps! Good luck.

  5. Polly
    Jan 30, 2010 @ 11:09:05

    There are lots of grammar and punctuation mistakes that need to be fixed–”she didn’t even look to her would-be date” not “would be date,” for example.

    Also, you might want to cut the repetition of words out. It’s such a short passage, and “moron” is used twice, and a number of other phrases are repeated.

    I found it hard to believe that the boss, who’s so pasty white and described as possibly wetting himself with fear, would make a wise ass comment about just bringing her there to fire her, as she’s about to be led off by a man with a gun to her head. I would expect him to just say things like,” Don’t hurt me,” and not even think of her at all. I found the actions and reactions of the characters generally somewhat hard to believe–everything event doesn’t have to be believable all the time, but it should be believable within the context of the story.

    I also found it difficult to tell who was speaking various times. I guess my biggest advice would be to streamline the story a bit, and make sure who’s talking and what’s happening is clear.

    Good luck.

  6. Anion
    Jan 30, 2010 @ 11:17:38

    Yes. Tense errors. Punctuation errors. Grammatical errors. Why the heck is she on a date with her boss, who is also so unappealing and stupid that he doesn’t notice the gun, and the silence, and doesn’t really care when they’re pointed out to him? He’s planning to fire her over a nice meal? Seriously?

    The tense errors, awkward language, and repetitions of “pretty sure” made me stop reading after the first para. I only finished it to make sure the problems continued so I wouldn’t feel like a twat mentioning them here.

  7. leela
    Jan 30, 2010 @ 12:37:23

    An interesting premise, but a very stilted delivery.

  8. Lynne Connolly
    Jan 30, 2010 @ 13:01:01

    What they said. The grammatical errors are pretty basic, to be honest, and you really need to polish them out. Punctuation, mainly where you ask questions without question marks and omit neccessary commas.
    The tone put me off a bit. Your heroine is far too snarky for my taste, I really didn’t like the way she denigrated everyone and everything around her, as if she was looking down her nose at everything. So even with the errors polished out, I’m afraid it wouldn’t be for me.

  9. Anne Douglas
    Jan 30, 2010 @ 15:20:39

    I liked the concept, but the delivery had a few *shakes hand side to side* ehhhh points.

    It has a ‘part of a greater scheme’ things going to it with all the guns, city lights going off etc that I liked despite it needing some tightening up

  10. valerie
    Jan 30, 2010 @ 16:49:57

    I’m sorry, but this is nearly unreadable to me with the grammar problems, etc. that everyone else has pointed out. If you’re going to write these long and involved sentences, PLEASE use some commas, if you can’t just wittle them down.

    Also, your dialogue is kind of cardboard (as is the characterization. Especially the boss/date. I get that he’s some kind of proper, stuffy arse, but it feels like you’re throwing WAY too many shorthand “he’s a dick!!” clues in here. He isn’t well-rounded, she isn’t well-rounded. I’m not invested or interested in any of these people). Overall, the whole scenario seems impropable as written.

    All of this is unfortunate, because the concept is interesting. Do some serious rewrites, get a good proofreader, and keep working!

  11. hi
    Jan 30, 2010 @ 16:54:57

    Okay, I can’t take anymore or rather my ego can’t. Your all saying the same thing, which means there is a problem. One I intend to fix. I swear I almost started crying. Its horrible to see something you worked hard on, not quite measuring up. This was an enlightening but pretty brutal experience. I think maybe I’ll just write for me for a while. This is my baby and frankly after this I’m scared shitless of actually getting it published and having a reviewer go through it and rip it to shreds. Probably a sign that publishing isn’t for me. Thank you for all of your honest input. I truly appreciate you taking time out to critique it.

    p.s I believe I told Jane that this was a contemporary but in actuality it is an urban fantasy/paranormal….My bad.

  12. katieM
    Jan 30, 2010 @ 17:03:11

    I found it interesting enough that I would read more, but it would take me a long time to finish it. The grammatical errors would have me rereading so much that I would get tired and stop – a lot. An honest editor with a big red pen is needed here.

    Edited to add: Editors are not reviewers. You should keep writing; you just need an honest editor. You need someone to point out the kinks and show you how to smooth them over. If you can’t take this criticism ( which isn’t brutal in the least, just honest) then someone has done you a great disservice in the past by never pointing out ways your writing could be better. The story premise is really good, it just needs some serious editing.

  13. Anion
    Jan 30, 2010 @ 17:11:59

    Oh, geez, don’t start crying. Look, nobody said we have problems with YOU. We don’t even know you. This is your work, and it has some problems. But they’re problems that can be easily fixed with a little work. And they’re not problems with YOU. It’s not like we’ve all said, “Oh, that writer is a moron, and her hair looks stupid.”

    Okay?

    Book. Not you. Grammar problems. Not YOU problems.

    This shouldn’t make you quit. It should make you look at your work more critically and identify its problems, and give you some tips how to fix what needs fixing.

    Here’s a tip. Go buy ELEMENTS OF STYLE. Read it. Read it again. Then get SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS. Read that one a couple of times too. Forget about this book while you read those. Give yourself a little time.

    Then go back to this book and read it again, keeping in mind what you learned. You’ll see what needs fixing, and it will be fun to fix it (I promise!) because you’ll be able to clearly see the difference. You know what I mean? Like how it’s fun to wash a really filthy car, and se it become all shiny again.

    Go have a drink, and relax. We like you okay, we just didn’t think your work is ready for prime-time yet. That’s all. And it’s honestly no big deal.

    I promise, almost every single one of us wrote terribly in the beginning. You didn’t start a complicated, demanding new job expecting to be perfect at it immediately, right? Writing is the same. It takes time and work and practice. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

    Chin up. Keep trying.

  14. hi
    Jan 30, 2010 @ 17:15:53

    @katieM:

    Your right my writing has never been reviewed/ edited/ critiqued before. Only I ever see it. Maybe the first one always makes you feel like you want to hide in a corner lol. Maybe it gets better. There you go silver lining.

  15. hi
    Jan 30, 2010 @ 17:23:06

    @Anion:

    Okay I’m better now. I have occasional episodes of melodrama. I blame my mother. My baby, the story, is going to continue to be worked on. I’m sure it’ll get better.

  16. A
    Jan 30, 2010 @ 17:30:04

    Dear Author,

    Don’t stop working on this. You have something here.

    The critique you’ve received is honest and fair. You need a better grasp of writing’s technical aspects to make your story shine.

    Despite the tech issues, though, your voice and storytelling are coming through and I enjoy them. I really want to see/know “what happens next.”

    Nurture your ideas and creativity as you learn more about creative writing. Some good books that may help you better understand technical writing are Strunk’s “Elements of Style” (this book is a mini “bible” for almost any kind of writing project) and the Chicago Manual of Style.

    Recognize that, no matter how good the quality of your work, there will probably always be A) people who really like it, B) people who are neutral about it, and C) people who loathe it. Writing is an art and art affects different people differently. Criticism may be tough to swallow, but no art is above criticism, favorable or not.

    Author, thank you for sharing your work with us today. Good luck with your project. : )

  17. job
    Jan 30, 2010 @ 18:42:44

    I like the premise . . . but I’m not sure this page makes me buy the MC’s reaction to this threat.
    I need to see the mental toughness or the cheerful, fatalistic nonchalance that makes the MCs thoughts and words plausible.
    (Or she must be aware the threat is no threat at all, which is cheating the reader.)

    There is this also. In creating the character ‘voice’ you have sacrificed crisp, straightforward writing.

    What I mean. Take this passage:

    This probably wasn't the best start to a night Amicia ever had but she was pretty sure that there had been worse. She might not have been able to think of any right now but she was pretty sure that there were some somewhere back there. Of course being seated in a restaurant with a moron who doubled as her boss and having your waiter poke a gun to the back of her head had to rank pretty high up there.

    I find this fairly unfocussed and repetitive. Does a shorter version lose too much of the voice?

    The waiter poked a gun into the back of her head. Her idiot moron boss gaped and dropped a buttered roll into his lap.

    Amicia was pretty sure there were worse ways to start the evening. Maybe. She couldn’t think of any.

  18. leela
    Jan 30, 2010 @ 19:25:41

    Go get Make Every Word Count by Gary Provost, and Dialogue by Gloria Kempton (the latter is part of the “Write Great Fiction” series). Both are well-written, illustrative, and informative, and given your opening page, I’ll bet you pizza money you’ll find the two books very helpful.

    Then go watch, hmm… “His Girl Friday” and “The Philadelphia Story”. (Possibly also “To Have and Have Not” or “The Big Sleep”, the Bogart/Bacall version). The first two were originally stage plays; the second two have scripts penned by William Faulkner. IOW, not your usual Hollywood hacks doing the dialogue. Listen to the way the characters talk. Close your eyes and see if you can guess who’s doing the talking based on the words they use, the way they put things. Pay attention to what’s being said, and what’s left unsaid. The first two are comedies with damn snappy fast-moving pulls-no-punches dialogue; the second two are dramas with a lot of implication and innuendo doing the heavy lifting. All are excellent illustrations of top-notch dialogue.

    Then go back & reread the two books, seeing where Kempton’s and Provost’s advice explains with what you saw in action in the movies. Grammar you can learn as part of the technique of things. It’s the cadence of a voice that’s hard to learn and harder to master, and having a strong voice can sometimes override technical things, if you develop a voice that also breaks grammatical rules sometimes. Thing is, the only way to learn that voice, in my experience, is by studying examples of damn strong good voices: it’s like learning to write your own music. First you start by learning music that others have written, and figuring out how/what they did so you can adapt the technique for yourself.

    THEN begin revising, and this time, you’ll be able to do it with a trained ear, for both the dialogue AND the narration.

    Nobody’s born knowing this stuff.

  19. SAO
    Jan 31, 2010 @ 01:58:30

    Leela- great advice, I cut and pasted it for me.

    Author: I found the whole ‘there were worse ways to start the evening’ off-putting. It totally cut the drama of the gun. The gun made the snark less funny.

    However, Job’s much shorter version seemed to work. Because the length of explanation about her boss, took me from the scene.

    Then, the ‘more curious than afraid’ didn’t work because I couldn’t figure out if she was pretty used to this or recognized something in the waiter’s eyes that told her it was a bluff.

    So, I never got a mood from the scene. I never got a sense of reactions.

    BTW, what happened to the other first page.

  20. Lynne Connolly
    Jan 31, 2010 @ 08:00:11

    You’re right, this process is pretty brutal. I went through it myself a few months ago, but when I pulled it all together, I found that most of it was right. There were some points I didn’t agree with, mainly because you can’t tell a lot from a first page.
    Then I got to work. The good news is that the book was accepted, and is now out. The bad news, that my editor was much more brutal than the commenters here. I had to slash and burn that first chapter, and start the story somewhere else. So the commenters here were right, and what they helped me to do was to put a distance between me and the story, so I could do a better job with it.
    If you’re anywhere near Columbus, Ohio in April, think about attending the Romantic Times Convention, especially the two-day courses for beginner and advanced writers, that happen before the convention has started. I’m not just saying this because I’m teaching on it, but it’s a great course and you’d be meeting other people in the same situation as yourself. And also writers who have been there and done that. You get them all to yourself for that couple of days.
    If you can’t make that, think of another course. You sound as if you might have been doing this on your own, and the company and advice from other writers who understand that staring into space means that you’re working, is invaluable.
    Those of us teaching aren’t getting paid for it, we’re doing it because someone once did much the same thing for us, and we’re just trying to pass on a bit of what was given to us. And it’s fun.

  21. Karenna Colcroft
    Jan 31, 2010 @ 09:40:45

    @SAO- the first page originally posted yesterday was a repeat of one from a few weeks ago, just revised. (Or maybe the one a few weeks ago was the revised one.) So it was removed.

    To the author- Like others have said, I think you have a good idea here. It’s just that the execution of it loses the idea in the mechanics. The reader can’t tell who’s saying what bits of dialogue, you have a lot of word repetition, and there are other issues.

    You refer to this a couple times as your “baby.” I think as authors we all feel like that. But you have to learn to separate yourself from the “baby.” No one’s criticizing you. They’ve offered *constructive* criticism on your writing. You have the imagination. You just need to work on the presentation.

    People here have given you great advice. Don’t be discouraged; just learn from what they’re telling you.

  22. Cindy from Michigan
    Jan 31, 2010 @ 09:49:07

    Chin up, Author!

    You had a dream and you followed it. Don’t stop now.

    You know how when you get your carpet cleaned, it looks great when it’s still wet? Then it dries, and blotches and crappy spots show up?

    That’s what it’s like to write a book. You think it’s great, and then the ink dries – well, not reeelly – and all these mistakes and weak plotlines and dreaful pieces of dialogue suddenly show up when you come back to re-examine them.

    That’s how it works. You just keep spot-cleaning until your book smells like Febreze.

    Punctuation isn’t your strong point, but that’s easy to rectify. Give some time to studying the rules about periods, commas,and question marks. Go find some sites that also discuss coordinating conjunctions. Join a site that’s devoted to languages and words in general, like Word Reference Forums.

    You seem to have a suspense/gritty bent in your writing. Get an author’s book that resembles that type and don’t just read it. Analyze it. I have found that many times I couldn’t tell you what a story was about that I’ve read lately, but I could give you a list of style points, structure content, and creative energy that I sucked up while reading that book.

    You’ve already done the hard part. You started your book. Now you have to do the brutal part: you can’t stop until you finish it.

    And it’s more than just about the book. Writing one is a fantastic journey into yourself.

    Find the joy in that, and you won’t be able to stop until you get there. Then it’ll feel so good, you’ll want to start all over and write another one.

    Good luck, and thank you for having the courage to step up to the plate and take what we throw at you.

  23. Jill Sorenson
    Jan 31, 2010 @ 10:17:26

    Author,

    I once heard Christie Craig speak at an RWA meeting. When she started writing, she could barely string a sentence together because of learning disabilities. But she had these stories in her head that just screamed to get out. So she worked hard for years and learned her craft and collected hundreds of rejection letters. Now she’s a published author and you’d never know she once struggled with basics.

    In my opinion, creative thinking and storytelling ability are just as important as good writing. You can learn to write better. I don’t know if you can learn how to have a vivid imagination!

    Have you considered joining RWA, or attending a writing conference? Both of these things made a huge difference for me as an aspiring author.

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  25. Carmen
    Feb 01, 2010 @ 09:34:02

    I just wanted to say I loved this bit. I agree with everyone else about the grammar, punctation, etc. But this was hilarious.

    “How nice of you to ask. Although it is the gentleman who usually does the ordering. And the correct phrase I believe is ‘what will you have' not ‘what do you want'. All the same I think I'll have the salmon. I hear they make it wonderfully here, with just of hint of lemon and-”