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First Page: Unnamed Fantasy

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The hill went up and down and up and down the hill went a girl. She was tall and pretty and at the moment she was tired to death. Her large, grey eyes were falling shut with exhaustion; her brown, wavy hair plastered itself across her forehead with sweat and fell in a lifeless, sticky, tangled mess past her shoulders, while her knees buckled under the strain of another ascend.

Jessica lost count of the number of hills she had to navigate in the past few weeks and her strength was rapidly leaving her in the absence of decent food and rest. Her left hand was trembling with the effort of steadying a large, battered trunk that unevenly followed her progress up the hill with a threatening rumble of its wheels. She was surprised that after all this time the trunk was still in one piece and that its wheels haven’t fallen off yet; she didn’t exactly treat it with care and consideration its old age should have inspired.

Her right hand was resting on her guitar that, unlike the trunk, was lucky to be firmly secured at her side. However, its leather strap was digging into Jessica’s neck as fiercely as though it was made of claws and more than once she wanted to fling it off and as far away from her as it would fly. She thought better of it, though, because her guitar was her sole source of income at the moment and she’d rather not starve to death just yet.

Her back was bending under the challenging pressure of heat and fatigue and the soles of her feet were on fire. Jessica stopped on the top of the hill and doubled over, bumping the guitar out of the way. She put her hands on her knees and closed her eyes. Breathing heavily, she prayed for strength or shelter: a snug, little cave with a waterfall or a lake would be an ideal place to stay and rest for a while.

She was covered in dirt and dust and desperately wanted to take a plunge and change out of her jeans and boots. She also hoped to find something by way of food somewhere. Jessica was getting more and more concerned about her diminishing food supplies: they were almost exhausted by now and she knew that unless she came across something edible, she would not be able to proceed.

Standing upright again, she looked upwards, squinting at the bright glow of the setting sun that, together with a collection of strange, dusty clouds, obscured the sight of the mountain top she was aiming at. She might have been once fascinated by the fact that Cassandra chose that particular spot for Cranberry Hill, but right now she rather cursed her for that. The sun was rapidly sinking out of sight, illuminating in its dying light a vast hilly land that still lay ahead of her. Jessica sighed and began her descend.


The queue is empty so if you want to offer your first page of an unpublished manuscript for critique email me jane at  Fiction only please.

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. SN
    Jul 30, 2011 @ 04:34:37

    #1 Start with the second paragraph. Your first sentence is both too confusing and too repetitive, and the rest of the paragraph is redundant.

    #2 I had a problem with this:
    “rapidly leaving
    decent food and rest
    large, battered trunk
    unevenly followed
    threatening rumble
    firmly secured at her side
    challenging pressure
    bright glow of the setting sun
    strange, dusty clouds”

    I’d leave all that description until further in the book. Set your scene, draw us in, and then and only then bring out all the adjectives and adverbs.

  2. SN
    Jul 30, 2011 @ 04:35:50

    I should add though that I am interested in the story you’re telling us.

  3. Laurence Brown
    Jul 30, 2011 @ 04:49:55

    I’m looking forward with the next chapters. Good luck.

  4. Marianne McA
    Jul 30, 2011 @ 06:38:29

    I found it a little awkward to read. For instance, it’d make more sense to me if it read ‘Jessica had lost count’ rather than ‘Jessica lost count’ and ‘Jessica was surprised… it’s wheels haven’t fallen off yet’ just sounds incorrect. Either she is surprised they haven’t fallen off yet, or she was surprised that they hadn’t fallen off yet. Equally ‘began her descend’ reads oddly – I’d have said began her descent.

    Perhaps it’s a British v. American English thing. But it threw me from the first sentence, which I almost really liked, except that I read it that she was going up and down the one hill repeatedly – like Sisyphus.

    And probably there was a bit too much description – ‘large. battered’, ‘snug, little’, ‘strange, dusty’ – it’s all a bit much somehow. And the desription of the guitar strap was distracting. .

    Having said all that – on some level it worked for me. I liked that Jessica had a plan, that her concerns were ordinary, that she was headed somewhere interesting.

    From the point of story alone, I would like to read on, like to know what happens next. Oddly, I like the author’s voice, without particularly liking the writing style. I wouldn’t buy it in this incarnation, but if it was written more simply, I might.

  5. C.J. Chase
    Jul 30, 2011 @ 07:14:11

    I’m going to give you three areas for you to work on.

    I agree that the book opens in paragraph 2, if not even later. The first sentence is awkward, and the point of view is omniscient and very distancing. I feel like I’m a bird looking down on some nameless person rather than seeing the world through Jessica’s eyes.

    The second area to work on is show vs tell. Let me take the fifth paragraph to show you what I mean. “She was covered in dirt and dust” — is telling. Show me the dirt and dust. Let her lick her lips and feel grit on her tongue. Let her wipe her forehead with the back of a hand, then see the dirt smudge. Don’t tell me she’s almost out of food. Show me her checking her stores and finding only one bruised apple and a couple stale chips. In paragraph 4, you have “She put her hands on her knees…” This is a great showing sentence. You didn’t tell me she was tired. You showed the actions of a tired woman. Do this for the whole thing, and your reader will really identify with Jessica.

    Last, I realize this is only a first page — just six short paragraphs. But give me some clue as to why it’s important that she walk up and down all these hills. You haven’t given an info dump (thank you!), but give me a hint of a conflict to come. Just a sentence or two will do to keep me intrigued. Is she running from something? Show me her glancing over her shoulder to see if she’s being followed. Is she searching for something/someone? Show me her scanning the horizon with the sinking feeling she won’t get there in time.

    You’ve got some nice stuff here. Just take it up a notch so we identify with Jessica and are intrigued by her.

  6. SAO
    Jul 30, 2011 @ 08:11:26

    I was really put off by the first sentence, which, along with the rest of para 1, probably prejudiced me against your book. ‘The hills went up and down’???!!! That’s a great detail for a second grade author. It’s marginal for a fifth grader. Okay, so this may seem like a harsh review, but I recently had kids in elementary school, read lots of their stories and that’s what struck me.

    However, the rest didn’t seem real. Few mountain or hill trails have paths smooth enough for a trunk, even one with a hell of a lot better wheels than the wheels on any wheeled luggage I’ve had. So, she is either on a paved path or sidewalk or she is dragging/hauling and constantly lifting the trunk. Empty, the trunk has to be a good 10 pounds. Full, it can easily top 50. Even full of relatively light stuff, like clothes, it will be a good 40 pounds. I know, I take wheeled trunks on planes regularly and I weigh them to be sure they won’t go over the airline’s weight limit.

    Hills where a cave is the best shelter don’t have smooth paths. Hiking trails do not remove every last tree root or rock that a human can easily step over, but a wheeled trunk can not be maneuvered around. So, if she were really hiking/walking on a real trail for days, she’d have abandoned the trunk a long time ago for a heavy backpack. It would be a much, much easier way to carry than whatever is in her trunk. There is a reason you never, ever see hikers with wheeled packs. Why stores that sell equipment for light hikes on smooth trails do not sell wheeled packs for trail-walking.

    If she’s not deep in wilderness that with paths the trunk won’t roll on, she doesn’t need to hike for days. She hitches a ride to the closest trail from her goal and has max, a day’s light hiking, which is still torture with a wheeled trunk.

    You mention food, but everyone can survive okay without lunch. That means she’s camping. She needs a tent. Did she put it in the trunk?

    I know a lot of edible plants. You get the stuff like dandelions and acorns which can be reasonably plentiful but are very bitter and unpleasant to eat. You get mushrooms, which generally need to be cooked, and require a lot of knowledge of mushrooms. Mushrooms and nut trees are generally found by people who spend a day in the woods hunting for their dinner and and/or people who know exactly where to look. They are not found by people walking a trail and happening upon them. You might happen upon a few edible mushrooms, but certainly not a dinner’s worth.

    You get blueberries or blackberries in season. Yes, if you happen along a clump of berries in season, you might get a decent quantity. Not enough to compensate for no food for dinner.

    All of these foods have short seasons and can’t be relied on. When I lived on the side of a mountain and had a very fruitful hazelnut tree, of the sort that grew wild on the mountain, I got no nuts. The squirrels ate them all.

    In short, this is completely unbelievable. Either you’ve never been on the easiest of short nature trails and never seen a wheeled suitcase or you didn’t apply any real life experience to your writing.

  7. jayhjay
    Jul 30, 2011 @ 08:13:26

    I agree that the book opens in paragraph 2, if not even later. The first sentence is awkward, and the point of view is omniscient and very distancing. I feel like I’m a bird looking down on some nameless person rather than seeing the world through Jessica’s eyes.

    I totally agree here. Aside from the confusing first sentence I couldn’t figure out what was bugging me but I think this is the problem. Honestly I think this would have lost the book for me right there.

    I also think there are some weird tense things going on (I noted the hasn’t/hadn’t thing as well). I think the story could be interesting but I think it needs some better editing for language.

    Great start though and good luck on your book!

  8. Lynne Connolly
    Jul 30, 2011 @ 09:20:50

    Nice for the most part, but let’s go into details:
    The first paragraph is in the omniscient point of view. Modern editors and agents tend to hate that, it distances the reader. So jettison it.
    You have a disembodied body part “her hand rested on her guitar.” Change it to “she rested her hand on her guitar” and it makes more sense and it’s more active.
    Why are the trunk’s wheels threatening? And trunks don’t usually have wheels – do you mean large suitcase?
    “wheels haven’t fallen off yet” should be “hadn’t.” Watch your tenses.
    You’re also a bit cavalier with prepositions.
    “Her back was bending under the challenging pressure of heat and fatigue and the soles of her feet were on fire.” That’s “telling,” not “showing.”
    Caves are not snug, they are cold and damp.

    On the whole, you distance by that omniscient first paragraph and by using lots of “was” sentences. They aren’t all passive, but you need to add a bit of vigour to your sentences, and you also need to “show” instead of “telling.” You do a little of this, but it isn’t visceral enough, we don’t feel Jessica’s despair or weariness, we’re told it, therefore we aren’t invested in her. And if we’re not invested in her, we won’t read on.

  9. SAO
    Jul 30, 2011 @ 09:44:51

    I have a wheeled trunk. The wheels are roller skate wheels, meaning they roll smoothly on surfaces that you could roller skate on (like airport floors) and that they roll much better than the run-of-the-mill luggage wheel. They do not do turns well, wheeling around an obstacle is a pain.

    The trunk, being a footlocker, is big, bulky, and awkward. It’s easy to bump your leg when navigating the short, smooth distance from curb to check-in counter. You are not happy if you got dropped off at the wrong terminal and have to roll the thing down long airport corridors or on sidewalks to the next terminal.

    BTW, most footlockers will just fit the airport size limits and you really, really want a wheeled one.

  10. Meljean
    Jul 30, 2011 @ 10:01:17

    Ah, well — I really loved the first line. It’s probably my favorite so far of these first pages; it has a great rhythm and it does exactly what she’s doing, and then brings us right into the character at the end of it. I do agree that the omniscience is a problem, but cut out “the girl” and put in her name, then get rid of the rest of the first paragraph, and IMO, you’re fine.

    I also agree that the rest can be trimmed down. I like it, though, and I’d continue to read on — especially if she got somewhere within the next paragraph or two.

  11. Berinn
    Jul 30, 2011 @ 10:19:39

    I’m with the other comments. Kick out the first paragraph – it’s a lot better without it. Without a doubt, the story has potential to grab me, but the purple prose is holding back the action. It feels like you’ve overworked the first page, and I’m guessing your voice starts to come through a lot better in the following pages. I like the starting scene to your story – it feels right, and I’d read more.

    A couple nitpicks… The word “and” feels overused. Also, watch out for word choice (e.g., ascend–>ascent, descent–>descent). Thanks for sharing and best wishes!

  12. Anne
    Jul 30, 2011 @ 10:44:39

    I have a question, I see a lot of issue with omniscient POV, but is it possible to balance first person POV and also let you know what other characters are thinking or feeling later in the same book? How does a writer give insight into everybody important but avoid Omniscient POV?

  13. Wahoo Suze
    Jul 30, 2011 @ 11:34:50

    I liked the first sentence. It kind of felt like the opening of a fairy tale. But then the rest of it didn’t match that feeling, so it probably doesn’t belong.

    I’d like to keep reading, but you do have a lot of technical errors. Use a consistent tense. Don’t use verbs when you need a noun.

    Keep writing, though, this shows a lot of promise.

  14. Lynne Connolly
    Jul 30, 2011 @ 12:21:36

    Anne, you use what’s known as limited third, or third person, and change the person from time to time.

  15. Liz Talley
    Jul 30, 2011 @ 13:35:10

    Just to address the first sentence. It is awkward, but it also has rhythm. You might can keep it if you keep the intent but reword.

    eg. Up and down went the hills before her. Up and down went the girl.

    Jessica lost track…

    I agree with others that you need to lose the physical description in the first few sentences. Weave them in later by having her losen a piece of bown hair from the sweat across her forehead.

  16. Liz Talley
    Jul 30, 2011 @ 13:37:39

    @Liz Talley: Posted before I finished, but you get the gist. And I misspelled loosen. Sorry about that.

    I do think it’s intriguing. Anytime you have a sweaty, tired woman alone on a path, hungry and without a place to rest, you’ve got something I want to keep reading. I love survivalist stuff :)

  17. Anthea Lawson
    Jul 30, 2011 @ 13:38:00

    To reply to Anne, above, you filter the emotions through your POV character. We are *always* making judgments about how other people are feeling — by paying attention to their body language, actions, and words. So if the hero is mad at the heroine, you show it. Quick and dirty example– “He scowled at her, his already firm lips making a harder line. When he spoke, there was no mistaking the anger in his voice.” etc.

    As to the First Page, I agree with closing the omniscient distance, I also struggled with the trunk, and I’m very intrigued by the fact that she’s a musician. You’ve gotten some great advice here on how to tighten things up. Good luck!

  18. Liza Lester
    Jul 30, 2011 @ 19:23:20

    @Meljean: I agree, I liked the opening. I often cringe a little at the first lines of these first pages, but the ups and downs of this girl set a distinctive scene of repetitive travel, without belaboring the details (that came later).

    In fact, that paragraph does all the scene setting you need. Next graph: action, or at least intent. You can remind us of the aching feet, irritating trunk, and the gnawing of the guitar strap while moving on to more interesting events.

    I would not kick the opening, because the following material clunked, rather–I would start over from the seed of graph one.

    A distant third person narrative can work (See Sherry Thomas), but it is not typical in Romance. Fantasy may be the genre for you (as you have labelled it in the title). A little omniscience can give a legendary, time-out-of-time feel, even if your setting is the present day. You’ll need more finesse if you want to shift to close third person, however. It might be easier, as Meljean said, to bring it into a more limited third person from line one.

    Get a stronger grip on general craft, and you’ll get away with breaking the Rules. Not everyone will like it, but that’s art, baby.

  19. Cara Ellison
    Jul 31, 2011 @ 00:01:38

    The hill went up and down and up and down the hill went a girl.

    Excuse me, but what the heck? Upon first read, this sounds like a horribly mangled sentence. On second read it sounds like a terribly constructed sentence.

    Just no.

    She was tall and pretty and at the moment she was tired to death.

    Why do I care if she’s tall or pretty? And this is showing, not telling. And what is “tired to death”? That doesn’t sound right. At this point, I think you’re enjoying your adjectives just a bit too much. My guess is you’re throat-clearing here. I think you need more action.

    Her large, grey eyes were falling shut with exhaustion;

    Don’t care that they’re large and grey right now, but falling shut with exhaustion is good.

    her brown, wavy hair plastered itself across her forehead with sweat and fell in a lifeless, sticky, tangled mess past her shoulders, while her knees buckled under the strain of another ascend.

    This is a long-ass run-on sentence. First, why do I care what her hair looks like? Why are you telling me all this non-essential stuff? I don’t care what she looks like. I want to know what is going on.

    I skimmed after that, but this struck me:

    Her right hand was resting on her guitar that, unlike the trunk, was lucky to be firmly secured at her side.

    Why is the guitar lucky? I get that might be a flourish, but it doesn’t work for me because I fear you’re going to start giving other objects the characteristics of people. And also, why is the placement of her hand important?

    Sorry if this sounds harsh but it sounds like a very raw rough draft.

    Also, I know it is labeled fantasy, but it sounds vaguely dystopian to me – which was actually kind of intriguing.

    Good luck with it.

  20. Tamara Hogan
    Jul 31, 2011 @ 09:01:32

    The thing that struck me most about this page was the sense of distance I got from the point of view work. As others have mentioned,the first paragraph seems omnicient, and then the second gets us a little closer to Jessica in a distant third sort of way. A few simple edits could pull us in even closer, help us experience Jessica’s plight more viscerally. Take for example the following sentence:

    Jessica was getting more and more concerned about her diminishing food supplies: they were almost exhausted by now and she knew that unless she came across something edible, she would not be able to proceed.

    Consider the following (excuse the quick and dirtiness!): Omit some words, simplify the language…

    Jessica was concerned about her diminishing food supplies. Unless she came across something edible, she couldn’t proceed.

    Focusing on Jessica’s physicality brings us closer yet:

    Jessica’s rumbling stomach reminded her that her food supplies were diminishing. Unless she came across something edible, she couldn’t proceed.

    Reducing occurrences of Jessica’s name when we’re in her POV brings us closer yet, as does word choice:

    Her rumbling stomach reminded her that she was nearly out of food. If she didn’t come across something edible soon, she’d drop.

    You see where I’m going with this. The closer you bring the reader to Jessica and her dilemma, the more we care about what happens to her.

    Thanks for putting this out there, and best of luck with revisions!

  21. Maura
    Jul 31, 2011 @ 10:33:40

    I liked the first line, but I had to read it twice before I understood how it should read. A comma might be all it needs: The hill went up and down, and up and down the hill went a girl. I don’t have a problem with omniscient POV, but you do need to make sure that whatever POV you use seems consistent. I also agree wholeheartedly with #20 that paring back some of the redundant language would go a long way toward getting us identifying with Jessica right off.

  22. Janine
    Jul 31, 2011 @ 17:46:54

    @Liza Lester: I agree with you (and also with Meljean, as far as liking the first line). I’m glad you mentioned Sherry who opens every one of her romances with at least a few paragraphs in omniscient, before switching to close third person. I think it can work, it just depends on the execution.

    In this first page, the switch from omniscient to close third was jarring, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done more smoothly. It worries me to see new writers being advised never to use a particular technique, since I think that is one of the reasons so many books don’t stand out from the crowd…

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