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First Page: Unnamed Contemporary

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Lili and Jane stood, crushed between the doors of a downtown 2 train and tired commuters on their way home. Lili leaned against a door, rubbing her aching shoulders. She tilted her head back against the door’s glass window and drifted off to sleep a little bit, calmed by the rocking movement of the train. To a native New Yorker like her, it was as good as a lullaby. The train pulled up to a sudden stop mid-tunnel, sending the horde of commuters smashing into the two women. Jane looked up through the window, and dropped her magazine.

"Sweet minty Jesus!"

Lili jumped up, her eyes wide, and turned around to see what had made Jane yell out. She could see nothing in the tunnel but another train full of tired people, waiting to get into the next station. She poked her friend viciously in the shoulder.

"What the hell is wrong with you? Is there something out there in the tunnel?" Lili stared at Jane, whose pale face stared out at the other train, her blue eyes wide and her mouth open. Putting her hand on Jane’s shoulder, she asked her, "Are you alright, Jane?"

Jane turned slowly towards her best friend, her blue eyes bright with emotion. She bent down towards Lili.

She whispered, "Look at the other train." Lili looked and again saw nothing.

"What am I looking for?"

"By the center pole, see that guy in the lavender shirt?" Lili squinted, searching the crowd in the adjacent train. Then her eyes landed on him. He looked like all of the other Dockers-clad masses.

"You mean the banker guy? What about him?" Lili honestly didn’t think he was anything to stand up and shout about, much less during rush hour. From where she was standing she could see that he was about average height, with sandy blond hair cut in a middling length. He leaned against the train pole, his briefcase in one hand and a magazine in the other.

Jane let out a long sigh, staring out into the other train compartment, then said, "He’s it. The One."

Lili stared at her friend, and then back at lavender shirt guy. "Oh is that all? You didn’t have to wake me up from my nap for that," she said as she turned back around to lean on the door. "Wake me up when we get to the next stop."

Jane screeched, "Lilibeth!" Several businessmen standing next to her moved away from her, gingerly edging to the farther door. "I mean it! I know that he’s it!"

Lili opened one brown eye. "Like Daniel, the polygamist? Or back in high school, Michael? I heard he and his partner just had a lovely ceremony in Vermont. Let me go back to sleep."

There was another sudden gasp from Jane. "What is it this time?" There was no answer from her friend, who was transfixed in front of the window. Lilibeth turned around. There was lavender shirt staring right back at Jane. "Well, I’ll be damned."

With a sudden lurch the train started moving again. Jane pushed herself frantically against the door. "Oh please let him be on the track across from ours. Oh please, please." The train pulled into the station, seconds ahead of another one in the opposite track. As soon as the doors opened Jane was out, pulling Lili along with her.

"Jane! What is wrong with you, ooph!" Her words were cut off as she careened into something very hard behind her. Or rather, someone. Strong hands, held her up and stopped her freefall onto the floor. Lilibeth looked up into a pair of very dark blue eyes.

He smiled. The corners of his eyes crinkled just slightly, and Lili felt all sorts of inner workings go very warm. "Are you okay?" He asked.


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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and 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


  1. Katrina Strauss
    Mar 28, 2009 @ 06:22:01

    A face can’t stare. Does everyone in this story have blue eyes?

  2. Treva Harte
    Mar 28, 2009 @ 06:26:42

    The first paragraph could go but after that I liked it. I would have been happy to read more.

  3. Bev
    Mar 28, 2009 @ 06:56:06

    My first thought why did the horde of commuters just smash into them, then I didn’t have the sense that it happened at all because there was nothing to show anyone had bumped into them.

    Then when she said “the one”, the only thing I could think of was The Matrix, which had me wondering what genre this book is.

  4. Fae
    Mar 28, 2009 @ 07:07:58

    I kind of feel like I’m reading a Japanese comic. Or watching some anime. The screeching and melodramatic sighing…I can almost see the big shimmering anime eyes.

    I…definitely would not read any further. Sorry. The only anime I like is yaoi and even then I snicker at it pretty often.

  5. Courtney Milan
    Mar 28, 2009 @ 07:29:48

    There’s a nice sense of humor to the dialogue, and I definitely get the idea that these characters are not cardboard cutouts.

    But… the writing feels clonky to me. Just in the first paragraph, the following things felt awkward to me:

    1. The word “doors.” This is problematic for two reasons. One, it’s repeated three times in as many sentences. Two, there are a lot of things you can use in the place of “doors” that would help build your scene, perhaps by describing the doors, or other scenery in place. Three, it annoys me that they’re leaning against the doors on the subway. Aren’t you NOT supposed to do that?

    2. “Lili and Jane stood, crushed between the doors of a downtown 2 train and tired commuters on their way home.” One thing that made me wince when I read this was that you can’t understand what this sentence says until you get to the end of it. That is, if I start reading this sentence, I read “Lili and Jane stood, crushed between the doors of a downtown 2 train.” And that means something very specific: Lili and Jane are standing at the entry to the train and the doors are closing around them. Then I read the rest of the sentence, and I realize that no, that is not at all what is happening. You never, ever want your reader to get the wrong image halfway through your sentence because it will jerk them out of the story. Anytime they have to go back and reread a sentence to figure out what you mean, it means that you are giving them an opportunity to say, “the heck with this story, I’m outta here” and that’s not a good thing for you.

    3. The POV feels wonky. That is: this is not the experience Lili would have. She leans her head against the car and falls asleep. If she’s jerked awake, the first thing she experiences won’t be the sudden-stop mid-tunnel; it’ll be the feel of inertial change as she’s knocked off balance. From her experience of things (mostly asleep), she’s going to feel the stop before she either processes the stop or sees any of its effects.

    4. There are some weird causal problems that make this feel fake. The way you’ve written it, it sounds as if Lili and Jane stand still and are hit by a wave of passengers, but Lili and Jane are as subject to the deceleration as everyone else. Now, that’s just a matter of wording, but after being slammed by a bunch of people, instead of recovering her balance/grabbing for a vinyl strap/swearing, what Lili does is look at Jane. And Jane doesn’t recover her balance/grab for a vinyl strap/swear at the people who slammed into her; she looks up, and out the window and drops her magazine. The events you describe lack appropriate reaction.

    5. The commuters do not appear to be obeying the laws of physics. If they’re standing right at the doors, they’re in that narrow passage of space between seat and entry, and the hordes of people near them are going to be to the side, horizontally in the train, if you will. If the train stops, the inertia is going to send people swaying up and down the train–in other words, vertically. There isn’t room to fit a horde of people. At most, you can fit two or three besides Lili and Jane in that space right by the doors.

    6. Lack of specifics make the scene hard to envision: e.g., tired commuters and throng of commuters, instead of describing the woman seated nearby who might have taken off a high heel and be rubbing the foot. You do a lot of saying “there’s a forest out here!” but don’t mention any trees. I have a strong visual imagination and fill in giant gaps left by authors, such that I usually don’t notice if description is sparse. But I could not form a picture of this in my head.

    And that is just a few minutes worth of picking on one paragraph. Now you could delete that paragraph and start with “Sweet minty Jesus!” but the rest of the writing throughout the page feels similarly awkward: people screech and overreact, are described as only a set of blue eyes.

    Nice premise, interesting characters, but the execution doesn’t make this scene feel real to me.

  6. joanne
    Mar 28, 2009 @ 07:41:55

    I’m a hard-sell on contemporaries and for me there’s something about the immediacy of a contemporary story that doesn’t leave any room for error in the opening paragraphs.

    I would have liked to have seen some sort of description of the two women.

    Wouldn’t they have been crushed between the other commuters and the doors of the number two train?

    Any woman willing to go to sleep on a subway train needs her head examined, not a new love life.

    Lili “jumped up” and then Jane ‘bent down’ to her friend. Is Jane inordinately tall or did Lili sit down again?

    Who says “sweet minty Jesus”? That’s just odd.

    When Lili “careened hard into something behind her” I had another ‘huh?’ moment.

    The rhythm of the writing is good, I think, and I would have read more. The story itself is just another naive friend/sophisticated friend in the City so although I would continue to read I would hope for something new and different damn soon.

    Thanks so much and keep writing!

  7. KristieJ
    Mar 28, 2009 @ 07:42:59

    Sorry to say this one needs work for me to want to read on. It’s a cute idea, but when I try and picture it, it doesn’t come clear. Here’s an example

    “Jane! What is wrong with you, ooph!” Her words were cut off as she careened into something very hard behind her. Or rather, someone. Strong hands, held her up and stopped her freefall onto the floor. Lilibeth looked up into a pair of very dark blue eyes.

    He smiled. The corners of his eyes crinkled just slightly, and Lili felt all sorts of inner workings go very warm. “Are you okay?” He asked.

    How can you careen into someone behind you as I get the impression she is moving forward. And if he is behind her, how can she look into his eyes without one of them doing pretzel moves?

    Another question – how can one drift off while standing? I can understand it while sitting, but standing in a crowded subway and falling asleep – can’t picture it.

    But I do like the concept.

  8. Sarabeth
    Mar 28, 2009 @ 07:56:41

    I can’t add anything more about the writing that hasn’t already been said, but the idea is cute and one that I would read.

  9. Leah
    Mar 28, 2009 @ 08:05:54

    I, too, had the problem with seeing the characters smashed in the doors at first. And I am not a fan of the “sweet minty” expression. Other than that, I am a little interested…does Jane make a habit of picking out total strangers as “The One”? (Kinda dangerous, really). Is this One going to be attracted to her friend instead? That could set up some interesting conflict. So I might read on, depending on the back cover blurb.

  10. she reads
    Mar 28, 2009 @ 08:37:02

    I love contemporaries, and based on this first page I would flip on to the next to see where this scene goes… you’re close to getting me on board with this.

    It’s confusing though- the smashing against them (other commuters) part and Lili I’m not feeling like we’re inside her head/perspective. Also I’m not feeling emotion. So Jane has a habit of saying “the one” to wrong guys? How does Lili Feel about that? Is she bitter? Did she give up on love? What do they look like? I know it’s just page 1, but starting off strong is way important!

    It’s a bit rough around the edges but I could see real potential for a fun story ahead…

  11. theo
    Mar 28, 2009 @ 08:37:03

    Several nitpicky things here for me.

    They were standing but Lili jumped up? It’s been a long time since I rode a commuter train, but when I did, seats were like gold. If Lili found an empty seat, she’d scramble like mad to claim it before anyone else did.

    I agree with whoever said any woman who would fall asleep, for even a second, on a commuter train is either an idiot or drugged.

    I have no idea if the other train was already stopped or if it stopped when they did, but the way you’ve written it, there just isn’t enough time for either of them to really see someone in the next train. Unless the trains are traveling side by side, they fly by too fast to get a good look anyway and here, they spend a great deal of time checking Mr. Lavender Shirt out.

    Banker “type” guy, maybe. Not banker guy. She’d have no idea that’s what he is.

    I’m pretty lost in the last three paragraphs. Jane hopes Mr. Lavender Shirt is on the track across from theirs, so I’m guessing the trains were going in the same direction which means they’re side by side. If they both exit the trains at the same time, Mr. Lavender Shirt is going to be on the other side of the tracks. He has to either take a walkway above the tracks to get to the other side, or go down to street level if they’re an L, and come up the other side. Or Jane and Lili do. Since you’ve not marked this as a paranormal or fantasy, I don’t think he flew across the tracks.

    Those are just a few of the problems I read. I’m sorry, I know my comments probably sound harsh, but I think this needs a lot of work. As a reader, I wouldn’t have gone past the ‘banker guy’ comment.

    Good luck.

  12. Lori
    Mar 28, 2009 @ 09:28:03

    I love contemporaries but I thought I was reading an Urban Fantasy. When someone declares a stranger The One I immediately thought demon or angel or saviour. I’ve seen some hot men on busses or on ferries and never thought The One, just thought “hey, hot guy”.

    I think everyone else pointed out the inconsistancies with standing and falling and all that.

    I’d love to see this again after rewrite. I like the easy voice. Good luck!

  13. LindaR (likari)
    Mar 28, 2009 @ 09:48:01

    I agree with others here that this might be a cute concept, except I don’t know because I can’t trust that you know what you’re doing. This reads like a first draft — where you know what you’re talking about because the picture of the story is playing in your head, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the words you’ve put down will translate in my head into the same picture. (<– that sentence was a first draft too. argh)

    I suggest you strip this sequence down to the bones (the action) and then fill it in (the muscle and skin):

    First para:

    On her way home from an exhausting day, Lili was crushed between her fellow passengers and the commuter train doors. The lullaby-like rocking movement nearly made her fall asleep when the train stopped mid tunnel, smashing her even more tightly against her friend Jane and the others.

    Q: How can Jane be reading a magazine when she’s smashed up with the other passengers?

    Later, my brain was irritated trying to figure out how anybody could see someone in another train car if it was as crowded — supposedly this is rush hour?

    Anyway, I don’t think I’d read past the first paragraph, mainly because — as I say a lot — I’m lazy and don’t want to work that hard as a reader. The hard work part is the writer’s job.

  14. Zippy
    Mar 28, 2009 @ 11:23:01

    I love contemporaries so this one caught my eye.

    Overall premise: promising
    Immediate reaction: confusion

    Comment #1: I’m confused as to whether this story is about ‘The One’ in the next car or the ‘hard one with the blue eyes’ behind Lili. Upon second thought, The Official Romance Rules state the alpha hero WON’T be the one in the lavender! :)

    Comment #2: in the last paragraph the doors open. That means passengers would immediately be surging out of the car, implying forward movement. Yet Lili careens into something hard behind her. That doesn’t make sense. Wouldn’t that ‘something’ be the one to run into her?

  15. Maili
    Mar 28, 2009 @ 11:46:50

    I thought I would like this because I could relate to the claustrophobic feel of being in a packed carriage during rush hour as described in your scene, but I had problems visualising your scene.

    Some moments it’s suggested your characters had no space to move and some moments, they could move around with ease. I can’t seem to get a grip on where they were or exactly how it was because you keep shifting the visualisation around. For example,

    “Lili jumped up, her eyes wide, and turned around to see what had made Jane yell out.”

    Jumped up from where? That line surprised me because of this opening line:

    “Lili and Jane stood, crushed between the doors of a downtown 2 train and tired commuters on their way home. Lili leaned against a door, rubbing her aching shoulders.”

    I had this image of them standing yet squashed between doors and a mass of commuters in the carriage. Where did Lili jump up from? If they were sitting, they couldn’t be in front of the doors, surely? Was it only Lili sitting in a seat, next to Jane who was standing in front of the doors?

    There are more similar problems. Is the other train right next to their train, or is it across a platform? I couldn’t get a picture of where the train was at all.

    What’s a “downtown 2 train”? It might confuse international readers as it did me. Perhaps it would be a good idea to clarify or generalise it enough for your readers to know what you were trying to paint.

    “Another question – how can one drift off while standing? I can understand it while sitting, but standing in a crowded subway and falling asleep – can't picture it.”

    I can because I did it from time to time. Grip a ring above your head, rest your head on your raised arm and rest your eyelids. :D If there’s no spare ring, relax and sway with movements of the train. I don’t do it late at night when there is just me and a passenger in the carriage.

  16. Maili
    Mar 28, 2009 @ 11:53:01

    Add to say: But the problem with sleeping while standing is when you really fall asleep, you will topple over and crash against someone. I did this too many times.

  17. SonomaLass
    Mar 28, 2009 @ 11:58:36

    While I agree that some of the specific action is hard to follow from the descriptions, particularly careening into someone behind you, I like the voice and the premise here. I like the quick strokes with which you paint the girls, and the hints you show me about Lilli’s personality by contrasting her with Jane.

    After the rewrite to clarify what the reader is meant to visualize, I would definitely read more.

    Oh, and I agree that someone who commutes regularly can doze off standing up in the train. Especially if you commute with a buddy.

  18. Anon76
    Mar 28, 2009 @ 13:20:17

    IMHO, this needs work. Especially when it comes to movement and space.

    Too many times I am left saying “but, how can that be” based on previous or later sentences. Like the woman being pulled forward but careening into a man behind her. (Though to me, that is not the only instance of, hmmmm?)

    And I felt a bit disoriented over whose point of view I was in. I think that mostly came from this paragraph:

    “By the center pole, see that guy in the lavender shirt?” Lili squinted, searching the crowd in the adjacent train. Then her eyes landed on him. He looked like all of the other Dockers-clad masses.

    This dialogue is said by Jane, but followed up with Lili’s viewpoint. Such things are really important in keeping the reader grounded to the scene.

    While I don’t hate this writing, I do feel there are all kinds of wonderful things to learn when putting pen to paper.

    All my best wishes to you on a successful career.

  19. Reader
    Mar 28, 2009 @ 13:55:18

    I, too, think this needs a lot of polishing. A lot. The awkward, confusing descriptions and high-school-girl dialogue sound amateurish, not just first-draftish, and I’d question the judgment of any publisher who put this out.

    Granted, I’m also a hard-sell when it comes to chick-litty contemporaries, but if they’re well written, I’m at least willing to get through the first chapter. Sorry, but I had trouble just getting through this first page. A female character glancing at a man and repeatedly shrieking, “He’s the one!” isn’t much of a hook, and certainly not a very original one.

  20. JoB
    Mar 28, 2009 @ 14:15:08

    I’m going to ditto what everyone else said about the placement and relationship of bodies in space.

    You might — I know this sounds silly, but I find it useful for things like fight scenes — you might get a couple three dolls and work out exactly how they move in the scene.

    What bothers me most in this segment is the ‘That’s him!’ moment. This may be my own idiosyncrasy.

    As an instant of paranormal recognition — good.
    As squee girl who makes this kind of mistake all the time it turns the story into a ‘not for me’.

    Just me. But I’d tone it back a notch.

  21. JulieLeto
    Mar 28, 2009 @ 18:27:27

    This one lost me in the first sentence. “Crushed between two doors” means…well, exactly that. Crushed between the doors. I had to stop and think about the rest of the sentence and if I were a tired, overworked editor with no time to read, I’d have put this one aside.

    But I’m a hard sell on contemps, too. They really have to sing. This one simply has too many confusing phrases and the characters have no character. I think the writer needs to rethink their opening and really try to get the characters front and center.

  22. Maura
    Mar 29, 2009 @ 11:16:46

    I lost interest after the first paragraph, because of the writing style– all the sentences in the paragraph are the same length, with the same rhythm, and it makes for a very dull, clunky read.

  23. Julia Sullivan
    Mar 30, 2009 @ 20:14:09

    I wanted to like it because it was a contemporary set in New York, and because the heroine has a female friend. All of this is too rare.

    This draft, though, has too many problems for me to like. Best of luck in working those out. I think everyone else has already given lots of good advice.

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