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First Page: Unnamed Historical

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"Have you gone mad?" Elinor Russell stared at her brother, torn between disbelief and horror.

Rupert, the Viscount Newell, twisted away to avoid his sister's eye, but spoke placatingly. "Now, now, there is no need to get overset. The man is an earl, after all. It could be the making of you."

"The making of me? The making me a whore, you mean!"

Newell tried to chuckle. "You're a clever girl. I'm sure you could bring him up to snuff if you put your mind to it, and then you'd be a countess."

Elinor picked up a vase. the first thing to come to hand, and threw it at her brother. To her regret, it missed him and smashed harmlessly against the wall. "Do not patronize me, you worthless slug. We both know full well that the Earl of Farnsworth is a disgusting, diseased degenerate, who may be the only man on earth who could make you seem decent and honorable by comparison."

Newell looked offended. "It is not as if there is any choice.    I owe far more than I have. It's a mercy Farnsworth is willing to take you in payment. Otherwise I could end up in the Marshalsea."

"If you think I will agree to becoming his mistress to save you from debtors prison, you are sadly mistaken. You are the one who gambled your fortune away.    Why should I be the one to pay?"

"My dear sister, if you think anyone is asking for your agreement, it is you who are mistaken. You are in my charge, and you will do as I say. Were I to be ruined, you would be too. I assure you, should you find yourself on the streets without a penny to your name, you would think it paradise to be a rich man's mistress."

Elinor looked down in disgust at the emerald silk of her gown. She had been surprised when her brother purchased it for her.  Purchased it, hah!    As if he had the funds to pay for anything. She had thought it unsuitable for a girl making her first appearance in London society, especially since they should be in mourning. She had not realized it was intended to display her for purchase.

"I cannot believe this. You have gambled yourself into ruin, and now you hope to save yourself by ruining me." She turned from him in disgust.

"Enough!" He glared at his sister.    "Thank the heavens that you look well enough. Had I known it sooner, I might have found you a rich husband, but it is too late for that. Farnsworth holds enough of my paper to ruin me. He is willing to take you instead, so that is that."

Newell loomed over his sister. He was a large man, florid and running to fat, but still strong enough to be generally considered intimidating.    It severely annoyed him that she did not appear to be intimidated. Instead she simply looked at him scornfully. "So this is what gentlemen do after they drink and gamble away their fortunes? They turn pander?    How noble! How honorable!"

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

19 Comments

  1. Danielle D
    Sep 11, 2010 @ 04:45:55

    I’m hooked, I want to read more.

  2. joanne
    Sep 11, 2010 @ 06:29:02

    My usual editing comments. I like it more when I start this first page at “Elinor picked up a vase”, even better when I re-read it starting with ““My dear sister..”.

    The problem, for me, is that this storyline has been done many times before, and often very well (Jo Goodman, for an example), so your book would have to start differently to interest those of us who have already read this trope many times.

    If she’s so young that she’s just making her debut then I’m not sure she would be so free with -or have knowledge of- words like whore and degenerate but that can be explained later in the story.

    I do like the rhythm of your writing, so with some minor changes I would read more. Thank you so much for putting your work here.

  3. Rose Fox
    Sep 11, 2010 @ 07:57:34

    Thanks for putting your work out. It’s not poorly written, but it suffers from some beginner mistakes, and there’s nothing much to distinguish it from others like it.

    The dialogue tags, adjectives, and adverbs are often unnecessary. When he says “Now, now” we don’t need to be told that he’s trying to placate her. She’s described as feeling disgusted twice in two paragraphs, and in both those paragraphs she says things that make her disgust quite clear. “Show, don’t tell” is not a hard and fast rule, but at the very least, don’t tell and show the same thing; one is enough.

    In the last paragraph there’s a sudden shift to seeing things from Newell’s point of view. Try to avoid shifts like that. Keep one perspective throughout a scene.

    Most of the dialogue seems redundant to me. “I’m horrified!” “Well, it’s the only option!” “That’s disgusting!” “Well, you don’t have a choice!” It also doesn’t tell us much about them, other than that she thinks human trafficking is vile (and is therefore sensible) and he thinks it’s reasonable (and is therefore odious). Bring in more information sooner, about their personalities and their circumstances. If they’re in mourning, why? Maybe “Mother would never have allowed this!” would be a more stinging rebuke–or a more feeble one, if she’s used to hiding behind her mother’s skirts. Maybe Elinor is outraged because Newell gambled away his inheritance, or hers. Don’t be stingy with information about your characters. If they’re well-rounded, you will always know far more about them than you could begin to convey to the reader, and there’s no need to parcel it out.

    I agree that the storyline is a bit tired, and I don’t get any sense here that you’re doing something new with it. I also sincerely hope there’s no plan for the guy who’s bought her to turn out to be the man of her dreams.

    Please, please, please read up on period dialogue, behavior, and dress. Draw from sources written in the time you’re writing about. Don’t just go by what you’ve read in modern novels; most of them are wrong. Sherwood Smith has a wonderful post about this that anyone who writes in or about the Regency should read.

    Best of luck!

  4. Lynne Connolly
    Sep 11, 2010 @ 08:07:03

    Sigh. I’ve read this. Many times before. There’s nothing fresh about this, nothing that intrigues me.

    I agree with Joanne about her knowledge for a debutante. Girls were usually presented (the official start to their coming out) when they were eighteen, or thereabouts. They could be married off before they came out, but usually, they’d move in society before marrying at about the age of 25 (recent research suggests women and men married later than we always supposed). If she’s eighteen, she’s behaving much older than that. Not credible.

    You know me – I’m a stickler for historical accuracy. Not for its own sake, but because I want to be drawn into a different world in a different time. And I want to make a suggestion. Bring this up to date. Make the brother the inheritor of a business, and he’s made a deal with the big, bad hero of the rival company.
    See what I mean? This plot is standard, interchangeable, but luckily romance isn’t about that. It’s about the characters and their dilemmas.
    So far you’ve only presented an outer plot, the mechanics to make the characters move through their appointed dance. So go deeper. Make it real. And one of the ways you can do this is by making history work for you, instead of the other way about.

    Now for the nitpicking. sry.
    Her brother wouldn’t be “the viscount.” “Viscount” doesn’t carry an honorific “the.” And yes, it is important. If you don’t know why, I’d wonder how deep your research has been.

    Women had gowns for different times in the day and different activities. I imagine the emerald silk is for the night, what we’d call an evening gown. So what is she doing wearing it during the day?

    She can’t become anyone’s mistress if she’s an honorable member of society (and being a viscount’s sister, she’d carry the honorific). Nobody would accept her, not the demimonde, not her own sort. She’d discredit her brother, the title and her relatives. Unfortunately, bad behaviour like gambling and whoring among men was perfectly fine (don’t you love double standards?) but her publicly becoming someone’s mistress without being married first would be unacceptable. To him, too, since he’d be responsible for her downfall. Lady Caroline Lamb tried it after she was married, and ended up killing herself. But that was okay, they said, because she was mentally unstable to start with. Rly?

    And once she has crossed that line, she can’t go back. Even if she married the earl in the end, which I presume is your intention, she wouldn’t be accepted or acceptable at court, the key to respectability in society. And if she wasn’t acceptable in society, her husband’s good standing would come into question – his business deals wouldn’t work, his staff would suffer. Once a whore, always a whore. She’d move on to her next client. Now that is a story I would read! The sister of a viscount, forced into the demimonde by poverty, making a roaring success of her career. Just as long as she doesn’t marry a peer of the realm at the end!

    If he’s a peer of the realm, he can’t be put in debtor’s prison. Byron ran away to escape his debts, but he couldn’t have been jailed for it. One of the only privileges the peerage had in Britain. The creditors just stopped lending money and sent the bailiffs to take what they had.

    So – spice it up, drop the cliches and go for it. Try to start with their internal dilemma, not their outer problems. He’s weak (why?), she’s helpless, and maybe a little stupid not to have worked this out before – that’s more like it.

  5. Lynne Connolly
    Sep 11, 2010 @ 08:08:42

    Just wanted to add – Rose, thank you so much for putting up that reference! The post is wonderful and I really enjoyed reading it.

  6. author
    Sep 11, 2010 @ 08:37:51

    Thank you, Lynne, for all the detail. I’d forgotten about the “no debtors prison for peers.”

    But I do have a questions about the title. I understood from British Titles of Nobility (www.chinet.com/~laura/html/titles01.html). that viscounts did get the “the.” That’s wrong?

    Incidentally, the earl is the villain, not the hero. She runs away rather than become a mistress. But there’s a limit to what will fit on a page.

  7. Rose Fox
    Sep 11, 2010 @ 08:43:40

    Hi author,

    If you look at the page you cited and search for “viscount”, one of the first things that comes up is:

    “83. Cokayne’s Complete Peerage, article on Viscounts Grandison.”

    Similarly, Rupert would be “Rupert, Viscount Newell”. No “the”.

  8. Courtney Milan
    Sep 11, 2010 @ 09:36:52

    It’s slightly less cut & dry then “you can’t put a peer in debtor’s prison,” if you’re wondering. It’s more like “you can’t put a peer in debtor’s prison for gambling debts” and “they wouldn’t go to Marshalsea” and “the method you use to grab a peer for nonpayment of debts is going to be really,

    A few years ago I did an analysis of exactly how you’d go about suing a peer for nonpayment of debt, and this is what I came up with: http://www.courtneymilan.com/crime.php?side#debt

    As for the rest, I agree with many of the comments that have come before. I feel as if the story is probably starting too soon, but possibly starting too late. This has the feel of “I want to start with the announcement that she has to sleep with a man, because that’ll grab people’s attention!” but the end result is that you’re starting with something before we have any reason to care about the characters. Worse, the announcement, while a total bummer, doesn’t place her in immediate peril–just threatened future peril.

    To see what I mean, by “immediate peril,” right now, all Elinor is risking is her brother getting pissed at her. We understand she may risk more in the future. But imagine how much more the reader’s blood pressure goes up if this starts off with her brother walking in, saying “Elinor, may I present to you the Earl of Farnsworth. He’s here to take your virginity.”

    That’s immediate peril. This is just a future threat.

    And so much of the dialogue feels like “As you know, Bob.” They both already know the earl is diseased. They both know her brother’s deeply in debt. This leaches the conversation of much of its urgency. After the first announcement as to how these two entangle, the only purpose of the rest of the page is to fill in the reader. In short, it’s infodump. Infodump done through dialogue, yes, but still infodump.

    The other thing. “Brother gambles himself into trouble and sister pays with her body” is so, so, so cliched.

    This doesn’t mean it’s not doable. It’s cliched because the concept hooks readers. But if you’re doing the cliche the exact same way as everyone else, my eye starts skimming, and I think, “ho, hum, I’ve already read this before.”

    Having done one such story, I think the way to make it work is to start not with the familiar, “Oh, Newell, how could you!” but with the different: what sets this apart from every other story in which the sister pays with her body?

    So. Why is this story different?

  9. Courtney Milan
    Sep 11, 2010 @ 09:37:45

    That first paragraph should terminate with: “really, really hard to implement.” And my edit button is gone. :(

  10. okbut
    Sep 11, 2010 @ 09:48:03

    I liked the dialogue and the characters had potential. There were several errors, such as making a viscount sister a ‘mistress’ or and earl’s wife ‘mistress/whore” not sure what you meant.

    Thank you for submitting, needs work but has potential.

  11. Scarletti
    Sep 11, 2010 @ 11:12:39

    I liked it. It is not usually a premise I read, though.
    I really just wanted to say thank you for not writing a paranormal/urban whatever.

  12. Silver James
    Sep 11, 2010 @ 11:54:13

    But imagine how much more the reader's blood pressure goes up if this starts off with her brother walking in, saying “Elinor, may I present to you the Earl of Farnsworth. He's here to take your virginity.”

    Courtney, if I wrote historical I would so steal that first line! Now that IS an historical I would pick up and read. Like Lynne, I’d also read a book about a “fallen” lady embracing her fall and making the best of it–sort of Moll Flanders with a title.

    I was interested in the characters, enough so that I hoped they’d get beyond the tropes. I also didn’t mind the POV shift as much as most readers will. It’s there, but it didn’t yank me out of the story. Still, something to watch as editors are.

  13. Julia Sullivan
    Sep 11, 2010 @ 18:37:33

    If this book is about how an Honourable Miss Thing becomes a fallen woman—and as Lynne Connolly says, that would be quite extraordinarily unusual for the era, but it did happen—then I might like this beginning more, because you’d be starting in cliché and moving to fresh ground.

    But if this book is about how an Honourable Miss Thing is saved from the clutches of the degenerate Duke and the depredations of her brother, the vicious Viscount, by True Love with some other, not-degenerate Duke (who’s tall and masterful and perhaps a bit cruel, and who served in the Peninsular Wars and is renowned as a woman-hater) then that’s a story that’s been told pretty often, so you do want to rack your brain to tell it in a fresh way.

    And please don’t do all your research for writing a Regency—or indeed any historical–just by reading novels from the past century depicting that era. Read letters, diaries, and novels that were written IN the century you want to capture. It will make all the difference in the world.

    Good luck!

  14. Daz
    Sep 11, 2010 @ 21:40:15

    I enjoyed it and thought that the story had great potential though the historical accuracy needed more work, but others have already pointed those out, so I won’t repeat.

    The other thing I was interested in is how she would know about mistresses and whores, esp if she was as young as you hinted at her being.

    Looking forward to more.

  15. sao
    Sep 12, 2010 @ 02:29:13

    The writing was smooth, the heroine strong, and the opening line a grabber. All to the good.

    The situation of evil brother/father/uncle/guardian a feckless gambler, deeply in debt, and selling off young, innocent heroine to a diseased debauche is beyond cliched. Turned me right off.

    Thinking about it, I realized why it’s such a loser:

    1) The scene is unrealistically awful, so it is hard to make the emotions of your heroine seem real. Instead, throwing the vase seemed like a temper tantrum (BTW, I hate heroines who throw things, it’s a sign in real life of someone with a real control problem.)

    2) It’s not actually the beginning of your story. The beginning of your story is what she does about it and when she meets the hero. Why not start the book with her meeting the hero?

    3) Because this opening has been done to death, you struggle to show that your books is better than the millions of others. This is a particularly common opening for unpublished books so the editor/agent is going to have read tons of losers with a similar opening scene.

    4) You focus so much on the drama, that we don’t get a real sense of who the characters are.

    So, I wouldn’t read on, but I think you have real potential if you start the book in a different place (and assuming your plot isn’t as cliched as your opening.)

    Good luck.

  16. Rose Fox
    Sep 12, 2010 @ 08:21:47

    Oh yes, agreed with sao on the vase-throwing. Are there any circumstances under which you would throw a vase at someone, especially an expensive vase when you’d just discovered you were flat broke? Me either. It just makes her looks like the sort of spoiled, bratty upper-class woman that Jane Austen loved to make fun of–not exactly heroine material.

    I would be much more intrigued by someone who tried to keep her cool under difficult circumstances even when she was really tempted to act out. That would be surprising maturity for an 18-year-old and would make me hopeful for a romance storyline that wasn’t predicated on the H/H being total twits.

  17. author
    Sep 12, 2010 @ 09:47:33

    Thank you all. This has really been helpful. I was not at all sure this was the place to start, and it clearly isn’t. Perhaps when the earl and brother discover that she has left. (And I obviously need to make clear right away that she is not a sheltered 18-year-old fresh out of the school room.)

    Anyway, I truly appreciate the comments and advice.

  18. joanne
    Sep 12, 2010 @ 11:11:19

    @Rose Fox: Re the vase throwing. Different strokes for different readers and all that but me, I like a little glass smashing.

    @author: You’re already ahead of the game if your heroine isn’t 18 years old! Good luck.

  19. Karen
    Sep 12, 2010 @ 16:48:27

    Oh gawd! Another cliched romance novel with the loser (and uncaring) brother in debt selling off his sister to the neighborhood old, diseased, ugly therefore bad guy! I’m definitely gonna give it a miss and look for the day when it gets reviewed by Mrs Giggles, and she calls it “forgetable” and gives it 50 out of 100. My advice: come up with some better plot that hasn’t been done a gazzilion times already!

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