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First Page: Unnamed Urban Fantasy

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Between one flicker of a dim street lamp and the next, a new being flashes into existence. The apparition slumps against a brick wall, cool rain dripping down the face as it stares, wide-eyed and bewildered at the unfamiliar surroundings. Of course they are unfamiliar- the buildings and streets are as new to these eyes as the watcher is to them. Even the body is a strange physical hindrance, but when it begins to move, shivering uncontrollably, the watcher realizes it is cold. This is a new sensation, and it is considered with confusion.

The possession of a body is itself new and different, though it cannot remember what it was before, if indeed it was anything at all. It is young and female, and she knows that she is a girl.

Not only has she a body, but something more as well. A second layer above the skin, artificial, and with a moment's thought she knows the word for it: clothing. She has clothing. But the clothing is not thick. It is not meant for these conditions, for the dark of night and the water pouring from the sky.

More words come to her as she thinks, and she knows that if she only waits long enough then soon, soon she will understand what has happened, why she is here. But to wait out of the weather (rain, the word whispers through her mind) would be best. She needs to find shelter. The girl examines her long limbs closely and the words come: legs, feet, standing, walking. Walking is what she wants to do.

The girl places her hand against the rough brick behind her (building) and pushes. She comes stumbling up, just catching herself on awkward feet. She stands uncertainly, shaking, precariously balanced with only two small points of contact with the earth.

Walking involves lifting one of those points and placing it in front of the other and she is loathe to try it, but she does so. Braced carefully against the building, she takes her first step. Her second. It is familiar within seconds, and she braves taking her hand from the supporting wall. Success- she stands and walks. Her lips curve in what she realizes is a smile.

The girl's triumph is short-lived. Now, behind her, a sound- a growl. Thick and low-voiced, an animal snarl causes her heart to leap into her throat and her breath to come short and fast. The growl repeats, sounding closer. She hears the soft pads of some nightmare creature closing in. Terror grips her.

Her new skills are all she has. She lifts one foot, sets it down, lifts the other. She does it again, faster, faster. Now she is moving, leaving the dubious shelter of her brick wall and traveling, alone, by foot, and she knows the word for this new action:

Running.

The cool evening rain makes her clothing stick to skin, and now she is running down the dim city street with no thought in her mind other than fear. She does not know where she is going. She only knows that she must keep running, she must save herself from her enemy.

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

22 Comments

  1. Joanne
    Jan 23, 2010 @ 07:00:39

    LOVED IT.

    I never read Urban Fantasy -unless incorrectly labeled as Romance- but I Loved this first page.

    I wonder how she knows that the animal is to be feared but that is only because you give reasons for everything else she ‘knows’.

    Thank you so much for putting your work here and much good luck with your writing.

  2. HeatherK
    Jan 23, 2010 @ 07:13:57

    Interesting, however two things pop out at me. Placing words in parentheses is distracting, in a major way, IMO and I find the use of present tense jarring and even more distracting than the parentheses. Having said that, it does make one wonder who this girl is and where she came from.

  3. Bernita
    Jan 23, 2010 @ 07:26:52

    Though I’m not fond of present tense, I think it works well here.
    The term “apparition” bothers me because I associate it with ghosts, not an obviously corporal creature.
    Nevertheless,I think you’ve done a very nice job and I would read on.

  4. taymalin
    Jan 23, 2010 @ 08:01:26

    The only thing I would change, and it is a very minor thing, is the mention of her clothes sticking to her skin in the last paragraph. I’d stick that sentence in the paragraph about her clothes and focus on the emotion of fear and the action in the last paragraph.

    Good job :)

  5. Castiron
    Jan 23, 2010 @ 08:38:59

    This works very well for me. The only place that jarred me was that I wasn’t clear on whether “the watcher” was the person who’d just appeared or a second entity observing. But the general atmosphere and language is good. I start wondering whether this is a supernatural creature that’s manifested in female form or a normal woman who’s had something weird happen to her, and I’m interested enough that I’d read further.

  6. Nicola
    Jan 23, 2010 @ 08:54:07

    Hmm, this is a tricky one because I really don’t like present tense. However, I did find the premise intriguing enough that I would keep reading nevertheless – at least for a while.

    I had the same experience as a previous commenter in that the word ‘watcher’ threw me at first and I thought for a moment that there was another person watching. Also, I wasn’t sure how well the parentheses worked. IMHO, I think it might read more smoothly if words like ‘rain’ and ‘building’ got their own sentences and were italicised. For example:
    “But to wait out of the weather would be best. Rain. The word whispers through her mind.”

  7. Polly
    Jan 23, 2010 @ 10:15:03

    I don’t like present tense for books. If this is a prologue, and the rest will be in past tense, that’s ok, but I find present tense distracting to read over the course of a novel (even though it’s much easier for me to write a story in present tense, hmm).

    A few specific nitpicks–like another commenter, I didn’t like the use of the word apparition in the first paragraph. While I suppose she is technically an apparition in that she appeared, to me the word signifies transience, and possibly transparency, and if she’s corporeal, the word doesn’t feel right.

    I don’t like the last sentence of the first paragraph. I thought the passive voice was awkward there, and even if you don’t want to reveal her gender in that paragraph, I’d still flip the construction around and say, “It considered the physical sensation with confusion,” or “the watcher considered the physical sensation with confusion.” I don’t have a knee-jerk reaction against passive voice, but that particular line felt awkward to me.

    I didn’t mind the parentheses.

    Overall, really strong. I enjoyed it and the writing is strong. I would keep reading it, though maybe not if the whole book is present tense.

  8. Jane O
    Jan 23, 2010 @ 10:23:46

    I thought this was generally very effective, but I had a bit of a problem at the beginning. The word apparition has already been mentioned -’ it doesn’t seem right to me either. Then I was confused about the watcher. Is she the watcher or is the creature that chases her the watcher?

  9. gwen hayes
    Jan 23, 2010 @ 11:49:25

    What a great premise!

    It starts very omnisciently and that worked for me because I could feel the distance between the new entity and her body because of it. However, I’m not really on board with the phrase like “of course”, like a narrator is talking to us.

  10. Maili
    Jan 23, 2010 @ 14:17:11

    Enjoyable. I wouldn’t pick this one up if I were in a bookshop because I’m not keen on present tense.

  11. job
    Jan 23, 2010 @ 17:28:17

    This is a fine, well-crafted presentation. I’d definitely turn the page.

    But . . . having turned the page and the next one and the next, I’d probably set the book back on the shelf if we didn’t move into Past Tense.

  12. Tae
    Jan 23, 2010 @ 18:50:43

    ditto what everyone else said, really dislike present tense that I stopped reading after the first paragraph and read the reviews. It sounded like it was worth going back to read, so I did. Definitely piqued my interest and would like to see more.

  13. MHN
    Jan 23, 2010 @ 19:59:21

    Hello, all. This is the writer of the page.

    First of all, thanks so much to the Janes for posting this. I’m really excited for the chance for feedback from people who aren’t friends and family, and it looks like I’m getting what I wanted. And thank you to all who are commenting! This is so helpful!

    It seems like the two major issues are the first paragraph and the present tense. I’ll definitely be changing the opening– unlike you lovely people, I suspect agents aren’t bothering to read past it. The whole book is written, but I’m having a hard time selling it.

    As for the present tense, would it change things if I said it does drop into past tense in about 10 pages? Or is that not soon enough? I chose the present tense to emphasize the dream-like quality of this particular scene, and I’m loathe to lose that tone. But it seems that one decision might lose a lot of readers right off the bat. Hmmm…

    Again, thank you so much!

  14. Susan/DC
    Jan 23, 2010 @ 21:58:09

    I think the present tense works in this situation because we are participating in the experience as it happens. If the protagonist were thinking about it in the past tense, I don’t think it would be as effective. I like the sense of being in the middle of the characters mind as words and knowledge appear to her. However, this works in short bits and not for an entire book.

    Like others, however, I was confused about the watcher and that pulled me out of the story a bit. Other than that, thought it was interesting and definitely not the same old/same old.

  15. Polly
    Jan 23, 2010 @ 21:58:58

    Looking over the selection, I honestly don’t think the dream-like quality would be lost in past tense. And as one of the readers who really doesn’t like present tense, I think it would help me.

  16. Polly
    Jan 23, 2010 @ 22:00:08

    Ha–I love that two people just wrote in with the complete opposite opinions. Good luck.

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  18. LizA
    Jan 24, 2010 @ 03:22:38

    I think the present tense works very well here. It is definitly more immediate than the past tense. I think the fact that people are irritated by it is not so bad either, as it keeps the readers alert and plays with their expectations.
    If it is clear this is the prologue, that should be fine. I never just read the first page and put the book down (until it is beyond terrible) but would have a look somewhere in the book too, reading a random paragraph, which should make it cleaar not the entire book is in the present tense…..

  19. HeatherK
    Jan 24, 2010 @ 03:40:10

    After reading the other comments, I have to agree with LizA. If this is a prologue, I would probably skip a few pages into the book to see if the present tense continued, and if not, I’d be willing to pick it up and give it a chance. I know some books begin with prologues in first person, which I don’t care for, when the book is written in third. I think a few short pages of present tense is something I could manage to get through, but not a whole book because as I stated previously, it is rather jarring for me when reading it and detracts from the story.

    And as someone else said, there are numerous ways to make the words in parentheses stick out without using ( ) to mark them. You can Italicize them or use-’em dashes-’for emphasis, among other options.

    The premise is sound and does capture the attention, despite the format. I confess, I’m a picky reader, but you’ve definitely piqued my curiosity with this one.

  20. Julia Sullivan
    Jan 24, 2010 @ 13:10:09

    I don’t think the problem is the present tense. I think the problems are the circumlocutions and wordiness, which cloud the brilliance of the central idea (which is brilliant—I love the depiction of a just-materialized being trying to get used to its new corporeality while dodging danger).

    But there’s some pruning to be done. I had to read the page several times before I figured out that “the apparition” and “the watcher” were both referring to the just-materialized being. Don’t get into “burly detective syndrome”–it’s OK to say “the girl” or “she”.

    Think about paring this back by about a third for clarity, and my guess is that the present tense will work just fine.

  21. Jennifer M
    Jan 24, 2010 @ 20:29:19

    Like most of the others, I found the word “apparition” to be jarring and confusing, because to me, an apparition is a ghost, but clearly, you are depicting a corporeal being. Likewise the word “watcher” seems to imply the existence of another being nearby and I had to reread to figure out that you were still referring to the original being that had just flashed into existence.

    Once I got past the first paragraph, the rest of it flowed smoothly for me. I’m okay with the present tense to start with – I like the immediacy of it. However, be careful with the length of that section. If I was reading it in ebook format, and all I got in the sample was the first few pages, I wouldn’t know that the tense later switched, and then I might not go on to buy the book.

  22. Suzanne Rossi
    Jan 29, 2010 @ 16:16:35

    I like urban fantasy, but find the present tense distracting. Well-written and I could read further if put in the proper tense.

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