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First Page: Unpublished Manuscript

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Thinking back on it now, it seems I should have known something was about to happen when I woke up to find Fiona staring at me. She couldn’t content herself with any old stare, either. No. Fiona, in all her infinite wisdom, had decided to climb on my bed, stretch out beside me, and shove her face RIGHT UP into mine. We’re talking “noses touching” level closeness here. I was used to things getting pretty touchy-feely with her, but this went into borderline crazed stalker territory. Now here’s a question for you. When you had a lovely dream about Jensen Ackles (well, at least a character he plays) confessing his undying love for you, and you’re still half-asleep, and there’s somebody warm on your bed, who are you going to call them? That’s right. “Dean…”, I murmured, wrapping my arms tight around this mysterious presence. I was rewarded with a small snort, a muffled laugh, and a “Nope, sorry.” Huh? A GIRL?

That was when I opened my eyes to discover the LOOMING FACE right in front of me.

Now, even when you know the face, this is not generally what you expect to see first thing in the morning. Knowing Fiona, I should have expected it, but still….I reacted the first way you usually would when faced with this sort of thing.

“Aaaack!!” I screamed, launching myself backwards in an effort to quickly reclaim my personal space. I was in such a hurry, as a matter of fact, that I actually managed to both crack my head on the headboard and fall off my bed, finally tangling myself in my sheets on the floor.

Fiona, in the meantime, had hopped off the bed. Now she had come around to me, where she was observing me make a fool of myself with the barest trace of a grin.

“Well, good morning to you too, sunshine. I see you wore the ducky pajamas.”

I turned pink. “Don’t make fun! They’re comfy.”

“I’m not making…OK, maybe I am. But seriously, Jules, they’re bright yellow and have little ducklings all over them. Adorable ducklings, but such fun to mock.”

“See. Even you, Miss Hipster, admit they’re cute.”

“What’s wrong with being a hipster?”

“ Nothing if you have a problem with cute things.”

“What’s wrong with cute things? Isn’t this outfit cute?” She put on an exaggerated fake pout. “And after I worked so hard to get pretty for our date today…” I rolled my eyes. It was the same vintage tee and jeans thing she always wore, except today the jeans were a bit darker than her usual shade and the Rolling Stones tee looked like it actually dated post-1970. “Please. It’s a little late to call it a ‘date’ when you’ve already been in my bed…”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. Why must you twist everything I say into flirting?”

“Because you can’t deny our secret love. Deep in your heart, you totally want some of this body.”

“You’ve discovered my hidden passion. I should have known.” She was so deadpan, people who didn’t know her as well as I did might actually think she was serious. I couldn’t help it. I laughed. At the sight of me giggling, she couldn’t hold her poker face any longer, so then we were both giggling. Not a bad way to start the morning. I finished kicking off the sheets and straggled to my feet.

“I think me calling you ‘Dean’ proves that I’m straight.” Rubbing my head where I had banged it, I glanced at the clock. 8:30? The hell does she want so early in the morning? “Er, Fi?”

“Yeah?”

“Not that I don’t love you, and not that it’s not wonderful to see you and all, but most people are still sleeping in on the first day of spring break. What are you here for?”

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

16 Comments

  1. SAO
    Jan 12, 2014 @ 04:14:24

    Your poor formatting makes this hard to read. Submitting something to any forum without decent formatting is like showing up to the beauty pageant in a wrinkled dress with an odd stain on it.

    I started out liking the stream of consciousness, the voice, but by the end of the page, I was tired of it, because given the gender of Jules’s fantasy, I doubt Fiona is the love interest, making her a secondary character who shouldn’t be taking up so much space on page one.

    I’d be furious if a room mate invaded my personal space like Fiona did. It doesn’t say good things about Jules’s boundaries. And if I woke up to a face nose-to-nose, screamed, hit my head and then got crap about my PJ’s, I’d be ballistic and I’m a pretty mellow person.

    And lastly, nothing happens on this page.

  2. Kate Sherwood
    Jan 12, 2014 @ 07:44:43

    I’m not sure about genre – feels kinda NA, maybe? If so, it might fit a bit better, but for most genres…

    This stopped being cute after about the first paragraph. If these are grown women, they’re kinda dippy. The roomie’s a pain-in-the-ass for no good reason and the MC is apparently just FINE with having her space invaded in an obnoxious way. The banter would probably be funny in real life, but in a book, for me at least, it was just annoying. I was waiting for either one of them to get to the point and let me know why I should be reading this book, but it didn’t happen.

    Later in the book, this scene might work. But as an opening page, I don’t think it does.

    The first paragraph had some POV/timing issues that were a bit weird. We’re given information on what the roomie has done before we see the MC wake up, which doesn’t seem right. I mean, the MC can deduce what the roomie did, but having all that deduction happen while the MC is still unconscious is off.

    And with all the “climbing” and “hopping” and “stretching out” that Fiona was doing, I was picturing her as a cat right up until she started speaking. Especially since cats really like doing that stare-at-sleeping-people trick. If this is a paranormal and Fiona IS part cat – good work! Otherwise,

  3. wikkidsexycool
    Jan 12, 2014 @ 09:34:19

    Hello Author,

    Thanks for having the courage to submit this. Count me in as another reader who enjoyed your character’s voice. It was skillful and rang true, except for a few sentences that struck me as a mixture of modern and formal English. Since this is New Adult (your second to last sentence mentions spring break) I have to agree that Fiona is a pain in the butt, so her painfully silly exchange with the main character didn’t work for me. I really hope she’s not a major character. If she is, then maybe toning down her antics might help.

    Here’s an example of modern mixed with formal English in your dialogue:

    “Yeah, yeah, whatever. Why must you twist everything I say into flirting?”

    The “Why must you” reads like historical fiction dialogue (to me, someone else might feel differently).

    Your character’s voice is engaging enough imho, that you could just go with her thoughts a bit more, and a little less reflection on Fiona. In other words, you have the keys to the kingdom right there with your main character. She can riff on a number of things in her life. I’d say with a little less Fiona you might have something here.

    I hope you’ll post a blurb of some kind about where this is headed, and I wish you all the best with your book.

  4. Carol McKenzie
    Jan 12, 2014 @ 09:39:29

    Hi author and thanks for sharing.

    As mentioned above, you have POV issues. Jules can’t know what Fiona does while Jules is asleep. Especially in first person (she couldn’t know it in 3rd either…) Unless she’s psychic or not really asleep, all she’d know is from the point where she senses a presence in bed and calls it “Dean”… (thanks for the nod to one of my fav heartthrobs du jour.)

    Beyond that though, nothing really happens. It’s cute but not enough to draw me in on a first page. The dialog is, again, cute…and too much cute is a turn off. The dialog also goes on way too long. Written dialog is never like real people talking. If you listen to real people talking, it’s boring, meandering, sometimes pointless. If you choose to keep this scene (not as the first page, but somewhere else) read the dialog with an eye to what’s non-essential. The pajamas? Most of the banter about Dean Winchester? Most of the dialog?

    If the jammie banter is there only to give us a description of Fi, find a better way. Don’t waste 150 words on your first page talking about something that could come about more organically somewhere else. If her clothes are important, and I suspect it’s used to point out the differences between Fi and Jules, show us that _show us_ (not tell) somewhere else.

    Since there is no blurb I don’t know if this is NA, a romance, a paranormal…so I’m a bit lost at how to think about it. That’s usually not an issue with me, but with something that’s a bit meandering, a little guidance might help me decide if I’d want to keep reading further.

    As it it, I don’t really care for either the MC, Jules (?) or Fiona, although at least with Fiona I have something to grab on to. She’s a little more fleshed out than Jules…which is sometimes the drawback of 1st person.

    It’s a challenge to have the reader “see” your MC, since we’re looking out through their eyes, and no one really thinks “As I gazed out over the moors, my blue-gray eyes misted over” or “My short, henna-red hair is a tangled mess; damn the rain on the moors”. I have, and still cringe at the thought, written the “look in the mirror and describe myself” trope in stories. Don’t do that.

    But back to you: Jules strikes me as a doormat. Fiona is insensitive. While an insensitive roommate can be all kinds of wonderful, in the right places and the right amounts, a doormat MC isn’t. I’m way past spring break age, but still, if someone wakes me up before my time, there better be fire or blood, or a damned fine breakfast waiting. Jules reacts, then brushes it off in good humor, giggles a bit and then finally asks why Fi is there. She’s not really bothered by a crack on the head. Any momentum or tension you’ve generated fizzles out.

    Thanks for submitting your work. It takes a great deal of courage. And it takes a bit on my side to be critical; I winced my way through this. But it’s through give and take, having others read your work and reading what they think that gets your writing to the next level. It helps you grow as a writer and learn to read and digest constructive (and sometimes brutal) criticism.

    If you haven’t, I’d suggest two books: Stephen King’s “On Writing” and Noah Lukeman’s “The First Five Pages.” Both are excellent guides on the art and craft of writing. Some of Lukeman’s submission advice is a bit outdated, but the rest is extremely helpful.

  5. Carol McKenzie
    Jan 12, 2014 @ 09:44:57

    The edit feature is missing, so I’m still here.

    I, too, thought Fiona was a cat.

    Be cautious with references to current events or actors. I think Supernatural is still running (I’m a Netflix rerun junkie and woefully behind) but you can quickly date the story with pop culture references, or you can lose a reader who has no interest in paranormal television shows. There’s a fine line, IMHO, between giving characters interesting and trendy quirks, or making your story seem dated.

    Just a thought…it could be someone in her Freshman English class.

  6. hapax
    Jan 12, 2014 @ 10:29:54

    Thank you for your courage in submitting, Author!

    I haven’t much to add to the comments above, but I’ll note this — practically any time you start your story with the main character waking up, you’re starting in the wrong place.

    It’s a natural thing to do — what easier way to get the reader acquainted with the MC than to literally wake up in bed with her? — but it’s almost always a cliche.

    What happens next? What does the main character want? Who does she meet? Where does she go? What problem does she confront? That’s the place this story begins. Keep the descriptive bits and funny banter for a little later, when you’ve already hooked me into caring.

  7. hapax
    Jan 12, 2014 @ 10:34:41

    Oh, and I forgot to add — I know that there are plenty of young adults who talk this way in real life, but the “fake lesbian” flirting doesn’t strike me *on the page* as either cute or funny, but as borderline homophobic — “Ha-ha, look at us, we’re pretending to be gay, we’re so edgy, but don’t worry, we’re REALLY straight!”

    Unless one or both of the characters is actually gay or bisexual, in which case this behavior is both creepy and cruel.

  8. Lucy Woodhull
    Jan 12, 2014 @ 10:59:04

    I actually thought the roommate disturbing the sex dream was a cute twist on the waking up trope. I think that you should go with a more obvious choice (just name a movie star) instead of the whole character thing.

    Your problem is that this goes on too long and nothing happens. Cut to the chase. Banter is cute for a couple of passes, and then it has to turn into a real conversation. The real conversation can also be funny, but you need a destination. I’m not sure what the point of the ducky pajamas is — they’re not that radical one way or the other to be made such a big deal of. I’m always leery when I’m supposed to derive the character of the heroine through clothing on page one. I call that “shoe characterization.” As in “look how CRAZY I am because of WACKY ARTICLE OF CLOTHING THAT’S NOT ALL THAT WACKY.

    Give me a reason to root for her on page one. Right now I like the friend better, but they’re both annoying. I think you have a great voice, but you’re lingering too much on nonsense and not the plot. Writing funny is a hard sell (believe me, I know), so the rest of your game has to be on point. Pace is everything in a lighthearted romance. Good luck!

  9. Laura Dodson
    Jan 12, 2014 @ 11:46:11

    I thought Fiona was a cat.

  10. Kate Sherwood
    Jan 12, 2014 @ 11:54:38

    I’m really relieved to know I’m not the only one who thought Fiona was feline!

    (I though possibly I was turning into a cat lady)

  11. Maura
    Jan 12, 2014 @ 12:16:28

    I thought Fiona was a cat too.

    This setup feels amateurish to me. I was first pulled out by “Aaaack!” Who actually screams “Aaaack?” And the ensuing conversation is a lot more coherent and snappy than any I’ve ever had upon being rudely awakened from REM sleep. If somebody jumped on me and started mocking my pj’s, they’d be lucky if they got a pillow in the face and a “fuck off” before I turned over to go back to sleep.

    I’d suggest losing all of this setup. The story begins when Fi tells the protag what she’s doing here and why she woke her up, right? Skip all the giggling and the ducky pajamas; you can elide the setup into a sentence or two. “When Fiona woke me up at 8:30 on the first day of spring break, I figured something had to be up,” something like that. Do you need the “Thinking back on it now” or can you just start the story?

  12. theo
    Jan 12, 2014 @ 13:35:30

    First off, I too thought Fiona was a cat. So this opening doesn’t work for me at all. Other than the invasion of space, it’s a nothing but a contrived info dump opening to get them to what is most likely the real scene. Also, I have to agree with Hapax here. Kind of creepy on the pseudo-lesbian discussion. My 25yo daughter informed me that none of her friends would be caught dead doing that. Take it with a grain of salt, but she’s the only one I have to go by.

    And really? Who is Jensen Ackles? Actor? Musician? Maybe this is supposed to be NA, but I’m not that old and though I really like Supernatural, I’m not always up on every actor’s name so I had to look him up. This is to point out that you’re going to date your story with current references. I realize Ward got away with it, but even that is waning.

  13. Viridian Chick
    Jan 12, 2014 @ 21:04:51

    I felt compelled to respond when I started skimming the other comments. Ha! I thought Fiona was a cat, too.

    SAO’s analogy about the beauty pageant was spot on. I have never had a positive reaction to a page presented with poor formatting. Don’t capitalize entire words; it doesn’t add emphasis, it distracts from the story. Begin a new paragraph when a new character speaks. Stuff like that.

    I grew up with some very touchy-feely friends. I had zero personal space, often sleeping three to a bed during mass sleepovers. Flirtation? Almost constant. So Fiona and Jules’ interactions seem pretty normal to me… BUT I still found it annoying.

    The voice was very young. 16-17. A little young for an adult living on her own.

  14. Nonny Mouse
    Jan 13, 2014 @ 18:54:29

    Hi, everyone! I am the author, and I’d like to thank you all for commenting on this page. (even if I am wincing through a lot of the criticism.) I thought I’d clarify 1-2 things and see if they change anyone’s reading a wee bit.

    1. This is not New Adult. Jules is meant to be 15, and this is spring break from high school.

    2. Fi is the character’s best friend since kindergarten. Though very cat-like, she is entirely human, and Jules is rather used to this method of wakeup. She’s also meant to be the other
    protagonist, so it’s worrying me that so many find her annoying.

    The plot actually begins RIGHT after this, with Fiona dragging Jules off to “come see what I found!” I just thought it might be better to do a quick character intro first. Was I wrong?

  15. Carol McKenzie
    Jan 13, 2014 @ 21:30:21

    Hi Nonny Author…

    If the plot starts right after this, why not start there? In retrospect, I think your opening was meant to be more along the lines of a flashback, giving us back story, before you got into the plot. If that was your intent, you can see how that played out in the comments.

    You can feed us back story in little bites along the way, but again, with this, there’s really nothing there that’s worth keeping. You could start with the first sentence, pared down a bit, and cut the rest of the first scene.

    First pages should grab the reader, and editors, and drag us into the story, hook us so deeply we can’t put the story down. This first page doesn’t do that.

    First pages are valuable real estate…use that space wisely. Give us a reason to care about Jules, a reason to like Fiona…give us something to make us turn the page.

    Your explanation doesn’t change my view that much. Remember, you’re not going to be there to give the reader an explanation of your work. It has to be part and parcel of the story, and not told to us…shown to us. If Fi does this all the time, then show us that, if it’s worth us knowing that’s what she does. Given what you’d written, that’s not clear, but is it really important?

    The only thing your explanation does change is it ups the cringe factor in regards to the flirting dialog. It’s one thing to have someone over the age of 18 having this dialog; it’s a little different when the characters are 15. For me, now, knowing that, it’s distasteful on some level.

    A quote I have stuck to the wall by my desk (attributed to George Orwell, if I remember correctly):

    A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 1. What am I trying to say? 2. What words will express it? 3. What image or idiom will make it clearer? 4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

    I add to that: Does each sentence I write advance the story?

    If not, the sentence(s) get cut. Sometimes that means whole pages, scenes…occasional chapters get cut. If each word does nothing but take up space, even if they’re very pretty words, they go.

    In your first page, does this dialog advance the story? Do we need to know about bunny pajamas, Dean Winchester and how Fi wakes up Jules? Is it crucial for the reader to know this? And, is it that important that we need to know this on the very first page?

  16. Carol McKenzie
    Jan 13, 2014 @ 21:34:57

    And to answer your question, no, IMHO, starting off where you did didn’t really introduce the characters…or if it did, it introduced them in a way that’s not putting them in their best light. Jules is a doormat; Fiona is insensitive.

    You can introduce characters AND have them doing something at the same time. Start with your second page, maybe even your second chapter…some place where the action starts.

    Also, you may want to read the Sunday submission to DA. While it has a few issues, it introduces two characters in a way that has most readers wanting to read more.

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