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First Page: Unpublished manuscript / Contemporary

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“SO it’s just gossip? You aren’t in love with the Yank?”

Craig Davenport didn’t so much as blink. Him? Love? Just thinking the bloody word gave him the heebie-jeebies. “You know me better than that, pal.” He ignored the scowl that tugged at his friend’s brows. Jett Bracken – like his identical twin, Josh – knew he had neither the time nor the inclination for emotional involvement – or all the crap that went hand in glove with it. Jesus! Thanks to his genetic makeup he wasn’t even capable of it. Not that he’d ever told the twins about the genes. He’d confided all the sordid details of his existence on the planet to just one person.

Jenni…

She-Who-Was-Off-Limits-To-Him.

Reminded of the reason why he met up with Jett at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia every Saturday, he tried to ignore the self-contempt souring his stomach. After three years he should be used to it. He’d always been brutally honest with Jenni, so the fact that what he was doing was kindest for her, annnnd kept the twins happy into the bargain, didn’t sit well with him. It was still deception. “Just make the bloody call, Jett. Before Shae comes back, for Christ sake.” When Jett chuckled with obvious relish, Craig wanted to plant his fist in his best friend’s face.

“Any other girl would have twigged by now.” Grinning, Jett pulled up his kid sister’s number and put the phone on speaker. As he set the iPhone on the bar, both men hunched over it.

“Jett! Love ya dearly, fella – but I’m in a hurry so…”

Jett was happy to skip the chit-chat. “Okay, kiddo. You going to any of the Milongas this w-”

“You’ve asked that question every Saturday for three years and you’ve never made it to any of the blasted Milongas, Jett – so why do you bother?”

Even Craig winced.

Jett cleared his throat. “C’mon, Jen… Life gets in the way. But I do try…” He grimaced, uncomfortably aware of why he made these calls. And that reason was standing right beside him.

The background buzz of the wall mounted widescreen TV; the clink and clatter of bottles and glassware; the drone of numerous conversations… Amid all the racket the silence from the iPhone seemed loud. The two men exchanged a brief glance.

“Jenni?” Jett prompted.

“Tuesday and Thursday. Same as every other week for the last three years. Now I’m going. Lunch date” she muttered.

And cut the connection.

The two men exchanged a startled glance. Without speaking a word, they turned away from the bar and strolled outside to The Deck – the waterside dining area on the lower level of the clubhouse. Built on the banks of Rushcutters Bay in Sydney Harbour, the location was idyllic.

“Better just assume she’s attending the Tuesday and Thursday Milongas for a while” Jett advised as they took their seats at an empty table.

Craig nodded. Jenni hadn’t sounded happy at the end of the call. She’d sounded – well… gutted. Not a trace of light, bright and sunny. Guilt. Remorse. Regret. Each and every one of them savaged him. “So who’s she seeing these days? Anyone we know?” He felt Jett’s gaze sharpen with rapier swiftness.

“And why would you be asking?”

Craig pretended not to hear the edge of menace. “Don’t want to see the kid end up with the wrong sort.” He hoped he’d sounded a damn sight more fraternal than he felt. Truth was, Jenni had been his Worst Nightmare and Favorite Fantasy for years.

“Brendan McFarlane. Well, that was last weekend – but you know Jenni. She could have moved on to another victim by now.”

“Let’s hope she has.” Craig caught Jett’s quizzical glance. “I heard that McFarlane senior’s under investigation for embezzlement – and given that his son has never done a day’s work in his life; and is said to have one hell of a nasty temper when thwarted, she’d be safer dating the Devil.”

“Just so long as you’re not putting your hand up for the job.” Jett glanced over his shoulder, but his wife wasn’t within earshot. “Remember, pal. She’s off limits to you.”

Craig raised both brows. “May I remind you that I haven’t been near her in years.”

“If you know what’s good for you, you’ll keep it that way.” Jett saw Shae emerge from the clubhouse. “Mind you, it does amaze me how you always manage to know the dirt on every guy she sees. It’s like you think no-one’s good enough. Now drop it. Shae’s about to rejoin us.”

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

26 Comments

  1. Katie T.
    Nov 03, 2012 @ 05:48:07

    Too many characters, setting unclear, confusing, I would have stopped reading after the first few paragraphs if this was a book I picked up to browse at the bookstore.

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  2. Kate Sherwood
    Nov 03, 2012 @ 06:29:37

    I agree with Katie – there’s a lot of good stuff, here, but there’s just way too much of it! I couldn’t keep the characters straight, I have no idea what the Milongas are or why it’s significant that some character does or does not go to them, etc.

    It feels like you’re trying to start in the middle of things, but ALSO trying to give us a lot of back story. I’d suggest having fewer characters and easing off on the back story. Make me CARE about a character, and then I’ll be patient enough to figure stuff out about him or her.

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  3. Jody
    Nov 03, 2012 @ 07:35:29

    Yeah, there are lots of characters whose names begin with J and it’s confusing, but I would totally read a book about Aussies who tango twice a week!!! I like the hint of mystery, too. There’s lots of plottiness here, with problems maybe fixed by introducing characters differently?

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  4. dick
    Nov 03, 2012 @ 08:45:15

    It could use some work, but it’s lively. I’d continue reading.

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  5. theo
    Nov 03, 2012 @ 09:00:52

    I think the only character not mentioned is the family dog. There are too many characters being introduced to try and keep straight what in fact is going on. When I have to read through something twice before it begins to make sense, this means there is way too much that is either unnecessary or could be introduced later.

    On that note, I’d love to read the underlying story here. I don’t see a lot of Aussie tales. But this one needs editing, editing, editing to get what I think is probably a really good story, to shine.

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  6. Elyssa
    Nov 03, 2012 @ 11:51:06

    Here’s the problem: you started at the wrong spot. You’re giving us a discussion and telling us about how the hero likes/loves the heroine but maybe if you started it with a scene between the hero and heroine where we could actually see that push/pull in the hero, it might work better. It’s just too much too soon.

    And I thought there were way too many J names–it was hard to distinguish the characters from one another because of that and because the characters didn’t stand out in their supposed role.

    But having said this I’m always game for an unrequited love story and I think you have something here, but you just have to rebuild the foundation a little and shift things.

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  7. hapax
    Nov 03, 2012 @ 12:26:37

    I really like the set-up, and the hero seems enticing, but I agree with the others: too many characters, too many places, too many gadgets and brand-names… Clean up the background noise a bit in order to highlight your story.

    A nitpick — this:

    Thanks to his genetic makeup he wasn’t even capable of it. Not that he’d ever told the twins about the genes.

    makes me think this darn well be a science fiction story about genetic engineering to remove the capacity for emotions. If not, pleasepleaseplease substitute “family background” or “crappy upbringing” or something else.

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  8. sao
    Nov 03, 2012 @ 12:50:33

    I had a number of issue with this. I suspect you may have a great story and also think that if you started with a scene between Jenni and Craig, you be starting this great story. As it is, there are my problems:

    Add me to the list of the confused. Who’s the Yank? Is it Jenni? Is Josh Jett’s or Craig’s twin? I assumed Jett was a woman, so thought maybe Josh was Craig’s twin. Is Jennie related to Jett? (Okay, that’s para 1, on two para 2). Just make what bloody call? What are the Milongas? Who’s Shae? My problem is that by the end of the page, I don’t really know who is who or what is going on.

    This is essentially a sit-and-muse opening, disguised as drinking beer with a buddy. Neither the sit-and-muse nor the coffee-with-BFF/beer-with-buddy opening is ever particularly compelling. Your page illustrates why: the content of the page is mostly about Craig and Jenni’s relationship, but Jenni is nearly missing. There is ZERO interaction between Jenni and Craig. You’ve plunged us into a lot of emotion from Craig, self-contempt, guilt and remorse savage him, desire to punch his buddy, but without a context, it becomes melodramatic.

    At one level, Craig is boozing in a bar because he’s got problems, which appear to be that he loves Jenni, but has never asked her out and she’s pissed with him because he’s dating the Yank and hasn’t even bothered to talk to her in 3 years. Jenni, quite sensibly, doesn’t waste her time on him.

    Now, there are plenty of hints on this page that you’ve got a far better story than that. And if I weren’t so confused I’d probably read on for a few pages to see if you’re going to get to the better story.

    You hit my triggers for someone who is too focused on what other people think. Jett tells Craig Jenni is off-limits and Craig keeps the twins happy. Yes, there’s other stuff on the page, but if the twins’ opinion is more important to Craig than Jenni, Jenni should stay away. And if the twins can’t accept Craig and Jenni dating, they weren’t much in the way of friends. In short, it’s a trumped up conflict.

    As a side point, I remember reading an agent who dumps any manuscript in the trash that starts with unattributed dialogue and this is a nice illustration of why. Yeah, I figured out who was speaking, just as I figured out that Shae was Jett’s wife and some of the other stuff, but I spent too much time figuring this out, rather than being hooked into the story.

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  9. Avery Shy
    Nov 03, 2012 @ 15:02:32

    Not bad. Some issues:

    - I agree with the others on the “too many characters” thing.

    - “Said” is your friend. Don’t be afraid to use it.

    - Double on what Hapax said about the genes.

    - Some of the descriptions are overwritten. “He felt Jett’s gaze sharpen with rapier swiftness.” Feeling someone’s gaze is a little cliche. Feeling it sharpen is silly. Feeling the speed at which it sharpens is just plain ridiculous. Stick with “Jett’s gaze sharpened.”

    “Craig pretended not to hear the edge of menace.” should be “Craig pretended not to hear the menace.”

    “He hoped he’d sounded a damn sight more fraternal than he felt.” Hoped he sounded a damn sight? No. “He hoped he sounded more fraternal than he felt.”

    Be concise. Ask yourself what every word adds to the sentence. Simplify, clarify. Not just here, in this scene, but in every scene you write.

    This feels like a good scene and a good story… but maybe it’s not the right place to start.

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  10. Anne
    Nov 03, 2012 @ 15:40:28

    I agree with the others: too many characters.

    I don’t mind dialogue at the beginning, but please identify who is who.

    I’m not sure I like the dialogue at all the way it is right now. I prefer less and simpler.

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  11. Lucy Woodhull
    Nov 03, 2012 @ 17:26:55

    Ditto on the character soup problem. That, coupled with the “as you know, Bob” nature of so much of this (“Reminded of the reason why he met up with Jett at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia every Saturday…”) made it nigh unreadable for me.

    And yes, mentioning the genes thing makes me think this better be a sci-fi. If it’s just another hero incapable of identifying an emotion, I’m out. I’m so tired of heroes who simply “can never love! sob!” until, of course, they inevitably do.

    Take a step back perhaps, see where your story actually starts, unfold details as they are needed (no info dumping — don’t worry, we’ll get it), and go where your characters want to take you. This seems like a checklist of romance, and I think you can do better. Good luck!

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  12. Loreen
    Nov 03, 2012 @ 18:01:38

    I agree with the others that this is confusing and nothing is really happening. What caught my eye was that he is going to some milangas….Is tango a part of this book? If he is going to tango with this forbidden woman, maybe start there with some vivid descriptions of the milanga – seeing her – wanting to dance with her – but knowing she is off limits…

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  13. MetalQueen
    Nov 03, 2012 @ 18:25:19

    @Lucy Woodhull: What Lucy said. At first I thought it was sci-fi. And I still have no idea who the twins are, or who is who. I’m also out on the hero who can’t love.

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  14. Jane Lovering
    Nov 04, 2012 @ 08:21:48

    Some interesting ideas here, but I was thrown right at the beginning, when I thought that the ‘him’ related to ‘the Yank’, and thought I was reading an m/m romance start. Then, when Jenni came into the mix as his ‘untouchable’, I got confused. Apart from that, I agree, too many people. Way too many for a first page – we don’t need to meet *everyone* in the novel right at the start. Let us meet one or two and get a feel for them and their relationships and personalities, and then start introducing some others gradually, when we can be clear about who is who and who is related to who.

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  15. Author
    Nov 08, 2012 @ 16:21:40

    @Avery Shy: Thank you, Avery. I submitted the first page of my dirty draft some months back, and the work has moved on considerably since then, but it was the question of whether or not to start the story this way that prompted me to submit it to Dear Author. It’s the old trap – I know the characters/their histories/goals/wants/desires/fears etc in minute detail, so there are reams of information in my head when I wrote the first draft – but the reader is in a different ‘boat’, and as it’s the reader I am writing for, I needed to find out how it read to people who don’t have access to the wealth of knowledge lurking in my tiny head!
    So a HUGE thank you – not only for taking the time to read and comment, but for giving me specific and very clear examples of where work is needed, and for offering constructive comment that’s wonderfully free of personal bias. We have a saying here in Australia – highly complimentary :) – Your blood’s worth bottling! Thank you.

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  16. Author
    Nov 08, 2012 @ 16:31:56

    @Kate Sherwood: Thank you, Kate. The first page has changed quite a bit since I submitted this one to Dear Author some months ago, but the feed back/comments from readers such as yourself are still invaluable. It gives me that much-needed reminder that there is a world of difference (in interpretation of the words on a page) between me (who has reams of info on the characters and the story) and the reader whom I’m asking to step blindly into the story with nothing to help them! So thank you; your comments are more than valid. On a side note – the Milonga is a place where tango dancers can gather to dance/practice/refine their tango skills in a ‘real/live’ venue.

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  17. Author
    Nov 08, 2012 @ 16:34:29

    @Katie T.: Thank you for your comment, Katie. It is a sad fact of life that we all have different tastes. Thank you though for taking the time to read and comment.

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  18. Author
    Nov 08, 2012 @ 16:41:51

    @Jody: Hi Jody, WOW! Thank you for your encouragement. You might be pleased to know that since submitting the first page of my dirty draft some months ago, I have progressed this story and now it does begin quite differently. The names starting with J – well, Jenni, Jett and Josh are siblings (the boys are identical twins and in their early 30s) and their kid sister is 24. Jett and Josh’s stories are separate and precede this one in the series, so I can’t do much about the names now. I am pleased you got the tango reference from the term Milonga – I accept that a lot of readers won’t, but I am toying with the idea of a glossary of tango terms (those terms that appear in the story) going up front before the beginning of the story – what do you think?

    Again – many many thanks for taking the time to read and comment, and thank you so much for your encouragement. It’s greatly appreciated.
    Cheers

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  19. Author
    Nov 08, 2012 @ 16:46:45

    @dick: Thank you, Dick.

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  20. Author
    Nov 08, 2012 @ 16:48:17

    @theo: Oh Theo – I’m really sorry, but the Brackens don’t have a dog…

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  21. Author
    Nov 08, 2012 @ 17:00:37

    @Elyssa: Thank you Elyssa – your comments are both encouraging and constructive. You will be pleased to know that in the months since submitting what was the first page of a dirty (first) draft, I have progressed the work and it no longer starts with this first page. J names – can’t do much about that as this is the third story in a series – the first two books are the Jenni’s older twin brothers’ (Jett and Josh) stories. In the current version of my MS, the reader gets to meet the secondary characters one a time.

    Thank you for taking the time and effort to read and comment, Elyssa. It’s greatly appreciated!

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  22. Author
    Nov 08, 2012 @ 17:19:24

    @hapax: Hi Hapax – I really like Craig (the hero). But I had to put him up a tree (so to speak), throw rocks at him, then get him down the tree.

    The first page for this story is no longer the first page I submitted for reader comment some months ago. The story now begins with Craig and Jenni. Since writing that first dirty draft of the story, I think I’ve wrestled to the ground all those annoying ‘what do I call it?’ questions I, as an Aussie have to answer so that Americans know what the ‘it’ is. Once I get the language issues smoothed out, I can relax more.

    Genes – you aren’t the only one who commented on this. Genes/genetic make-up are terms I used on a daily basis in a real life job, so it never occurred to me that readers might interpret from their use that the work was a science fiction! Apologies to you and everyone else on this point. It was not my intent to mislead anyone. I will hunt down each and every one of these terms throughout the manuscript (they appear maybe four or five times throught the 120K word story) and batter them into senseless submission – somehow.

    Thank you for taking the time and effort to comment. I know I say this to all of those who offered comment, but I also mean it. Our time is precious, and I really do appreciate the time you (and others) took to not only read, but to post your thoughts on my first page. This sort of feedback is invaluable to me as a writer. I approach the work as the author, but you as the reader approach a story from a totally different perspective – one that owes no loyalty, interest of concern for the characters or their troubles. Unless the author can persuade you to.

    As a writer, it’s important that I take the time to learn what does and does not work for readers; what they want and don’t want. So thank you for contributing to that learning experience.

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  23. Author
    Nov 08, 2012 @ 17:36:18

    @sao: Oh heck, Sao. I think I’d hug you if you were in the room with me! You’ve reinforced for me that I made the right decision (back in August) to change the way this story opens – and I made the decision for quite a few of the reasons you’ve identified in your comments. The first page I submitted for comment was the first page of my dirty draft of this story. I’d never submitted anything to Dear Author before, so I had no idea it would take this long for it to go up for comment. But it wasn’t a wasted effort. I have been given a far clearer picture of what readers do and don’t want in a story opening; what turns them on/off and what have you than any amount of ‘how-to’ books/tutorials etc have ever given me.

    So thank you, thank you, thank you for taking the time to read my first page, and for putting in the effort to write out your thoughts/reactions. Your frustration levels were obviously through the roof, and for that, I am truly sorry. The author part of me, though, is (selifishly) very glad because there are nuggets of gold in your comments.

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  24. Author
    Nov 08, 2012 @ 17:51:35

    @Lucy Woodhull: Thank you for the advice and encouragement, Lucy. I am hoping the story reads better these days – if you’ve read my responses to others’ comments you will already know that I have reworked this story since submitting the first page of my then dirty draft back in August, but it is still heartening to see that there was some promise in that first draft.

    Thank you for taking the time and effort to read and comment. Writing is such a lonely craft in many ways – sure we have the company of our characters, and they can be hugely entertaining like Craig and Jenni; or supremely frustrating like others I am dealing with in another story, but as a writer, we still beaver away on our own. So constructive feedback from readers like yourself is always invaluable.

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  25. Author
    Nov 08, 2012 @ 18:00:09

    @Loreen: Hi Loreen. So you know tango? Yes, the tango – particularly the Argentine Tango is a crucial element in this story, and while your suggestion to start the story with the hero seeing her at a Milonga would have been great in a boy-meets-girl story, it wouldn’t work in this story (would that it could… ). Craig learned to tango with Jenni and her older twin brothers – they had been taught by Jenni’s father since childhood, you see.

    The story in its current form has been significantly reworked since I submitted the first page everyone has commented on, and I think the issues identified in everyone’s comments have been addressed during that process. But it has still been an invaluable learning experience for me – seeing the comments; getting a clear picture of the do’s and don’t’s from the perspective of readers like yourself. You are, after all is said and done, the ones who will determine a writer’s success or failure, so hearing from people like yourself is gold to people like me – so thank you for taking the time and effort to read and comment.

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  26. Author
    Nov 08, 2012 @ 18:22:20

    @Jane Lovering: Thank you, Jane. After submitting the first page back in August, I broke the story down into scenes, summing each one up in a couple of lines written on different colored index cards for each scene depending on who was driving that scene forward, then stuck them to the wall down the corridor in my house and started reshuffling scenes, looking to see what worked’ what didn’t; what worked better etc. Out of that process I ended up with a different opening for the story.

    Having said all that, there are still points raised by yourself and the others that have become crucial enablers for me as a writer – key things that I can use to strengthen my writing across all genres I write in, so that the reader has a better/easier reading experience. As I’ve read all the comments posted above, I’ve been noting down the key points, and these will be transferred to a checklist (in large font) and that checklist will be taped to the wall above and right behind my PC – a glaring reminder of the the do’s and don’ts from the perspective of readers. When all’s said and done, it’s the readers who matter most to authors. So thank you for taking the time to read my first page, for for making the effort to comment. You, along with everyone else, have helped me refocus my thinking on aspects of technique in general, but openings in particular – and for that, I can’t thank you enough.

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