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First Page: Unpublished manuscript

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Thirst was a living thing, using sharp claws with jagged edges to pare down the sides of his throat. Each breath feeding it, a maelstrom of glass and sand eroding his lungs. The sun slammed into his flesh, the unmerciful heat of it sliding down his arms and hands, his face and back, pooling into little ponds of lava in the dips and valleys of his body. He braced one foot into the dune and pushed, reaching up to get ahold of something, anything, any tiny one substantial, hopeful thing, to move forward in this desert. He found a root. With a grunt, he leveraged himself up and over the top. Beyond, in its vast, shimmering glory, lay the wasteland.

James Harcourt, veteran explorer, known for his derring-do, his unflinching bravery, woke with a gasp, and wept.

 

Charlotte Lauren Elizabeth Carling, only daughter to the unfortunate wife of the unlucky Edward Carling, wished rather desperately to be anywhere but in church. She was not picky about where; her bed would be fine, perhaps somewhere tropical where greens were lush and plentiful. She would accept Bedlam as a reasonable alternative. Anywhere but church, under the fierce gaze, the heavy brows and the endlessly droning voice of Vicar Tenney. Her foot was asleep and she was very afraid that at any moment, she might be too.

Just as she felt herself drifting off, the doors of the chapel opened forcefully. A tall body, silhouetted by the sun, strode in with the heavy steps of the determined. A rich voice spoke directly to the vicar. “I’ve come for help. I don’t know what to do anymore. I ha…” The same rich voice trailed off as he realized the room was, unfortunately, completely full of people. The silence hung with the dust motes in the air for the space of three seconds. Charlotte was not entirely certain anyone even inhaled. She wasn’t even certain she did.

“I beg your pardon,” he said. “It must be Sunday. My most sincere apologies for the interruption. ” A quick bow to the vicar and he was out nearly with the same force as he was in. Another three seconds passed before the vicar cleared his throat and carried on with the sermon. He must know, thought Charlotte, he must know not a single person in this room is paying him any attention. She tapped her foot and waited three lifetimes for him to finish.

There are any number of times when being a gently bred woman is a hindrance and an irritant and not being able to plow through a crowd exiting a church is one of them. When she was finally able to get through and out into the brisk air and bright sun, nodding politely as required to acquaintances, she looked around in what she hoped was a casual manner to see if any unfamiliar persons of notable height were among the group.

Nothing. She sighed a little, shook her head at her own pointless curiosity, and started for home.

James sat behind the chapel, his burning face in his palms. Of all the idiocy, to not realize what day it was! To not even notice the silent village and piece the thing together! It was a wonder he ever made it home from his first expedition with those stunning observational skills. He let loose a mild curse – under his breath, he was leaning on a house of God after all, and he knew better than to risk any kind of celestial displeasure in his line of work – and waited for the crowd to disperse.

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

24 Comments

  1. Holly Bush
    Jan 11, 2014 @ 07:45:18

    Oh! I enjoyed that very much! I’d be very interested to read more.

  2. Kay
    Jan 11, 2014 @ 07:55:13

    I second Holly, I would definitely read more.

  3. Lil
    Jan 11, 2014 @ 08:09:38

    And a third. I really want to read this book.

  4. Carolyne
    Jan 11, 2014 @ 08:17:58

    I’m intrigued to know more about a character who can be an intrepid adventurer but not even notice it’s Sunday. That’s definitely not a negative, it’s interesting. And I’d read on to hear more about what’s so unfortunate/unlucky about Charlotte’s family. She sounds like she’s bound for adventure herself.

    The writing is vivid, the descriptions gritty, that first paragraph can’t help but catch a reader. There are things I could nitpick–once the story gets up and moving I’d want to spend more time with each character before switching POV back and forth.

    This next is a personal preference, of course, but the first page gives me an expectation that the story will go on to unusual settings and plots; that’s what I’d be hoping to see. From the excerpt, I’m not sure whether it’s going to be a story about further derring-do or about settling back into life at home. In the latter case, I’d hope at least for flashbacks about James’s past experiences in extreme circumstances, with such great descriptive language. I’d love if you can give us a blurb about the plot after you’ve gotten more feedback.

  5. Marianne McA
    Jan 11, 2014 @ 09:04:05

    I loved “Charlotte Lauren Elizabeth Carling, only daughter to the unfortunate wife of the unlucky Edward Carling” – there’s a story there, and a suggestion you will have a lightness of touch about the way you tell it. I can see why you want to introduce James before we join Charlotte in church, but that’s the sentence that sells me the book, and I don’t think I’d have reached it if I was casually browsing. I’d have read the first sentence, glanced at the second, thought it was all too overwrought and returned it to the shelf.

    As I have read on, I hope you get the book published, because I’d love to read it.

    Good luck.

  6. Lynne Connolly
    Jan 11, 2014 @ 09:12:03

    I like this. You’re starting in the right place and what you say in intriguing. Your characters have definite voices.
    You got the British voice over well, too. I only noticed one thing. A vicar is addressed as “Mr.” so it would be “Mr. Tenney” and not “Vicar Tenney.” I’d have liked an indication of date and setting. At first I thought it was somewhere exotic. Is James a vampire, or just traumatised? I’d definitely read more of this one.

  7. QC
    Jan 11, 2014 @ 09:43:19

    I really enjoyed reading this.

  8. cleo
    Jan 11, 2014 @ 09:57:52

    I enjoyed this as well and would keep reading. I have a few quibbles – I found the transition to Charlotte’s pov really abrupt. It almost gave me whiplash. Especially the anrupt shift from worrying about dying in a wasteland to trying to stay awake in church.

  9. Carol McKenzie
    Jan 11, 2014 @ 10:00:17

    I like this and I’d like to read more, along with a blurb, to set the time and place for me.

    Tiny quibbles with point of view:

    “The same rich voice trailed off as he realized the room was, unfortunately, completely full of people.” We’re in Charlotte’s POV, so she may guess what he realizes, but can’t know for sure. Read as a stand-alone sentence though, it reads as James’ POV.

    The last paragraph switches to James’ POV. It drew me out of the story just a bit. If it’s a scene break or chapter break, I’d be less distracted. But it falls awkwardly here, which isn’t anything you could really control.

    I think I’m old school when it comes to POV, so take my post with a couple grains of salt.

    Your writing is lovely, vivid and the first paragraph gave me more than enough physical twinges (I’m the girl who became ill in 7th grade while we read Jack London…). I like the potential for so many characters and their stories, all presented in your second scene. I’d definitely read further. Thanks for sharing and good luck!

  10. Carol McKenzie
    Jan 11, 2014 @ 10:04:17

    And forgot the mention the first change, from James to Charlotte’s POV, is slightly less jarring, only due to what appears to be an obvious scene break. I’d assume in book form there’d be physical breaks on the page which would help delineate POV changes.

    If the POV changes continue, and I’m pretty positive they will, you’ll need to have a care to make sure they’re smooth, happen in logical places (scene breaks, chapter breaks) and not within scenes or especially within paragraphs. Head-hopping will make this story a wall-banger for me, regardless how interesting it is or how well written otherwise.

  11. Carolyne
    Jan 11, 2014 @ 11:43:06

    @Carol McKenzie:

    Head-hopping will make this story a wall-banger for me

    I didn’t want to use the dreaded term “head-hopping” for something this nicely written, so I was being a little oblique in my comment, but…I do agree with Carol on that (and cleo).

  12. Susan R
    Jan 11, 2014 @ 12:11:23

    I’m not really a big fan of historical romance but I enjoyed this excerpt enough to want to read further.

  13. theo
    Jan 11, 2014 @ 16:44:16

    Agree with the dreaded ‘head-hopping.’ Too much on this first page does not bode well for the rest of the story, but it’s so well written otherwise that I could almost forgive it provided it got better as the story progressed.

    My quibble (I do love that word and since people are using it…) I know the vicar saw James as did everyone else and yet, the vicar doesn’t even blink? If he’s an idiot then perhaps Charlotte might think that in the same breath as she does that no one is now listening to him. Any vicar worth his salt would have excused himself and followed James out of the church. So there is room for a thought or two about that and it would give greater depth to Charlotte’s perception of people and, if the vicar plays a part later on, more insight into what kind of idiot he is.

    Beyond that, I’d buy this because it’s just what I enjoy.

  14. Elle O.
    Jan 11, 2014 @ 23:30:25

    I would love to read this book too. Best of luck to the author!

  15. SAO
    Jan 12, 2014 @ 02:25:55

    I thought this sounded like an interesting story, but that you could improve your first page a great deal.

    1) I thought the first para was overworked. “A maelstorm of sand and glass eroding his lungs”? It sounded like he was going to be left with a permanent lung problem. If not, this was hyperbole, which had me rolling my eyes. The desert thing might be intriguing, but it’s a dream, and therefore the desert might not have anything to do with the plot of the book, so any interest you’ve raised is lowered again.

    2) James gets lost in the desert. He weeps over it. I don’t know enough of the circumstances to know if he’d made good plans and something went horribly awry. But then, James walks into a full church with the minister in the middle of a sermon and doesn’t notice that he’s not speaking one on one. It’s occurred to me James might be an idiot. But, I really think this is an effort at drama without thinking over the details. Most churches have the main door in the back, so James would either be shouting from the back of the church, or striding past a lot of filled pews to talk to the vicar at a more conversational range — while failing to note the vicar is behind the pulpit. And why does James expect the vicar to be puttering around an empty church as opposed to being found in his vicarage?

    3) All this effort for a missed meeting. Charlotte sighs and goes home. We readers have to wait. In short, not much happens on this page.

    I think you could do a lot better, your writing is good, your chars have some potential. Don’t contrive a meeting to start your story, start where it starts, which is not with a dream and not with Charlotte going home passively in defeat.

  16. Author
    Jan 12, 2014 @ 11:31:31

    Thank you all for your comments! I….have no idea what I’m doing. This is my first attempt at a book and I foresee some rewrites ahead of me (which is good!)

    I must have reread this first page a thousand times and I agree, overwrought is the word of the day. I need to embrace a more regular diet of simple sentences.

    I also agree the POV shifts are too abrupt. Instead of building up on James then switching over I should spend a little more time with him, so that when my precious idiot dives head first into the Sunday service it makes more sense to the reader.

    For those asking for a bit more, James is home again, raising funds for an expedition. Charlotte is at that difficult juncture where you must either choose the life expected or risk a little for the chance at something more. James is a catalyst but I wouldn’t let him fix her, she must figure it out on her own, and vice versa. As for period, Regency. I almost feel like I should apologize since it’s been done a thousand times over but it’s what I’m most familiar with.

    Please feel free if you have more critiques, I will take any help I can get!

  17. Carolyne
    Jan 12, 2014 @ 11:42:22

    @Author: Thanks for letting us know a little bit more about the story and setting. I’m sure you can make this story work, from such a solid beginning. I like reading what other people might consider “overwrought,” whereas a matter-of-fact, less-descriptive style of prose doesn’t interest me much. I’m always sad when writers are discouraged from creating prose I can really curl up in–but I do understand that some readers don’t care for it, so you’ll have to decide for yourself which direction you want to take, and what sort of story you’re telling. I was hooked enough by that initial paragraph to be willing to go along and find out, on page 2 or 3 or wherever, why James is so out of it that he’d fling open the chapel doors shouting. After his traumatic dream, I assume he’s not in the best mental space right now, and his (hopefully temporary) imbalance, or crazed impulsiveness, or whatever it is, was intriguing. I assumed Charlotte would wander across him on her way out of the churchyard.

    For an author who says you have no idea know what you’re doing, you’re doing it pretty well :) Fix the head-hopping–let yourself linger for a while with each character, whether it’s for a chapter or a (multi-page) section within a chapter, and give your readers a chance to immerse themselves in that character–and I’d bet everything starts coming together.

  18. Jamie Beck
    Jan 12, 2014 @ 12:14:40

    I’m coming in a day late…but I echo the other remarks here. Yes, there were some issues as others outlined, but overall I’m very intrigued. I’m a huge fan of historical romance, so this is right up my alley. And, honestly, if this is truly your first attempt at writing something, then you have quite some talent! Kudos to you. When you finally polish and publish this, please let us know its title. Best of luck.

  19. Carol McKenzie
    Jan 12, 2014 @ 12:16:03

    @Author: if you don’t know what you’re doing, then keep doing it! You have a natural talent here. I’m happy for you… :)

    One of the hardest things to do is teach someone how to tell a story, how to find their voice. You have that. The issues mentioned above are technical…relatively easy fixes and things a novice writer might not be aware of. POV issues are something you can fix fairly easily, just by becoming aware of them. Read the definition of head-hopping and it will become clear what you need to fix.

    There’s also a point where you need to be able to take in critiques, weed through everything and then proceed with edits based on what you think is the right path (I’m reference the over-wrought commentary). That comes with time as well. And distance from your work. Sometimes you need to just put it aside, find another project, and let it rest. Come back with fresh eyes.

    You have a great start here. Really. Don’t get overwhelmed, keep your lovely voice and don’t get flustered because this is new to you. Everyone started somewhere. And you have a great start here.

  20. Dibs
    Jan 12, 2014 @ 12:40:34

    The first paragraph stopped me cold. You open with an image, “Thirst was a living thing,” and then you give thirst claws. That’s the image I expect you to continue with. What clawed animal embodies thirst? I’m waiting to find out. I’m intrigued.
    But the second sentence switches my focus: “Each breath feeding it, a maelstrom of glass and sand eroding his lungs.” What happened to my animal? If the topic is thirst, why am I considering his lungs?
    But this isn’t really a scene about thirst, is it? This is an action scene: the man, trying to pull himself up a sand dune, or out of a crevasse, managing to reach the top only to be disheartened by the sight of more desert. The man’s struggle is your action and thirst is the over-riding feeling that colors the action. Keep it simple, straight forward, keep it moving. Keep this opening paragraph about him and his determination to survive – in spite of the thirst. Use this scene to start to show me why this man is the hero of this book.
    If that paragraph is strong enough, then at the end of the prologue, you don’t need to tell me, “James Harcourt, veteran explorer, known for his derring-do, his unflinching bravery, woke with a gasp, and wept.” You will have shown his unflinching bravery. Isn’t this stronger? “James Harcourt, veteran explorer, woke with a gasp and wept.”
    Although, do you admire a hero who weeps? A weeping hero seems very 20th century when we like to think our men are in touch with their feelings. How else might you convey the notion that he’s plagued by PTSD? Consider your time period and how men dealt with traumatic pasts then. Like others, I think you’re mixing past and present qualities in your characters. I wonder if a hero would go talk with a vicar about his nightmares. I really think he wouldn’t. I think men only voluntarily talk about things that scare them with the most trusted of friends. Is this vicar James’ most trusted friend? And if James was going to talk with his good friend the Vicar, wouldn’t he track him down in the vicarage?
    When we switch to James’ POV at the end of page one, he’s sitting behind the church, head in his hands, wallowing in embarrassment. Is this heroic? Not at all. Yes, a hero can be flawed. But the timing for introducing his flaw is critical. Reveal his flaw too soon and I’m going to doubt that James is hero material.
    We’re at your hero’s core conflict on page one. Unless this is a short story or a novella, this is too much, too fast. Pace yourself on the revelations.
    Thank you for sharing this first page. I’d like to read more of your work.

  21. Elizabeth
    Jan 12, 2014 @ 16:15:36

    I enjoyed Charlotte here: the parental backstory just hinted at, the dissatisfaction in church, the curiosity. (Although: why is she in church if she hates it so much? Did her mother make her come? Then why is she apparently alone and able to look for the mysterious stranger afterwards? Did she come alone? Would she have been permitted to come alone, during the Regency? Her scene fizzles out like a damp squib when she starts home — although I presume that she’ll find James behind the church, in another half a page.)

    I did not enjoy James’ POV. The transitions were abrupt, not only in scene/POV but in tone. There’s the deadly serious over-written first paragraph; an abrupt transition as he wakes up (the “oh it was just a dream” thing, which had better reveal something meaningful if I’m expected not to roll my eyes); another abrupt transition to Charlotte and a much lighter tone and more realistic, more mundane set of details; and then you abruptly drop poor Charlotte as soon as she’s able to ACT instead of listen, and switch over to James kicking himself.

    And, seriously, WHO walks into the sanctuary and expects the vicar to be there waiting? It’s not his office; he doesn’t spend the day sitting behind the pulpit twiddling his thumbs, waiting for repentant sinners to show up.

    A technical note: on a sentence level, the writing is awkward. The descriptions are over-written and the syntax is sometimes stilted. E.G.,”…using sharp claws with jagged edges to pare down the sides of his throat”: sharp claws have points, not edges; to “pare” is to shave off or peel or skin, and to “pare down” is a colloquialism meaning to cut back or reduce to essentials. So I don’t know how claws can pare down his throat and the awkward word choice is the first thing to strike me in this excerpt, in the first line, before I have a chance to become immersed and overlook it.

  22. Author
    Jan 12, 2014 @ 16:56:02

    I meant paring down in a literal sense, not colloquial. Peeling the fleshing downward as it enters the body. But I think I can rework things in a way that will still produce the idea and retain my voice.

    This has been enormously helpful. Are these the sort of things you think would yank you out of a story if you had more than a page to go on, or are details less important in a story you’re already invested in?

  23. Cassie Knight
    Jan 13, 2014 @ 09:27:54

    Dear Author, I’m an editor and I was totally hooked with the raw potential of your story. The first sentence, even if overdone, drew me right in and I enjoyed James and Charolette’s POV. Your first page does what a first page is supposed to do–drag a reader into the story and want them to read more. Kudos to you for getting what so many authors struggle with.

    However, what would prevent a publisher or agent from taking this is the jarring POV shifts. What others told you about POV is completely true and I highly recommend you get a handle on that.

    Truly, this was an amazing first page from someone who says it’s their first. Great job and keep going. The potential of your voice and storytelling rocks!

  24. Marianne McA
    Jan 13, 2014 @ 12:26:56

    I’m feeling a little like I should apologise for the ‘overwrought’ remark.
    To clarify, it’s the first two sentences I’m talking about, and only the first two sentences. If you started at ‘The sun slammed…’ I’d be fine-ish with that. (Totally fine except that it turns out it’s a dream and, while I normally enjoy being wrongfooted by an author, I’m not a fan of that device.)
    I think I’d be happy enough just to know that James was brave and woke up struggling with something he can’t deal with.

    Also, the fact I found those lines purple doesn’t mean anything – as a reader, I’m just throwing out my personal reaction to the page. Sometimes there’s a consensus among the readers who comment which might flag something up for the author, but in this case I think I’m an outlier, and you can safely ignore my reaction.

    And I’m a bit worried that I didn’t get across that overall I’m really positive about the page, interrupted church service, useless vicar et al., and I thought the line introducing Charlotte had a touch of the Dursleys being perfectly normal, thank you very much.

    Sorry that I wasn’t clearer.

    Good luck with the book.

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