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First Page: Unpublished Manuscript (Fiction/Romance)

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Ariana was sitting beside his side, and when the Prince revealed his name: she couldn’t help it. She started to laugh and buried her face in his stomach. Prince Findley, however, did not seem disturbed in the least by this, and didn’t move from his lazy position, but instead, bent one of his knees and crossed the other over it. “Yes, I know. My mother and I have had quite a few squabbles over that one, but I go by Fin. Findley is used only on formal occasions. And…..” he had looked back down to where the Princess had been laughing in his shirt, but she had stopped, and had lain her head sideways on his stomach and lain down that way, so that she was looking at him as he spoke, and smiled at him. The Prince couldn’t help but notice how blue her eyes were, or how much the contrasted with her rich, chestnut hair, which had hints of red in it. And how nice her smile was….and… “Fin??” the Princess asked suddenly, “what are you waiting for? Go on, I’m listening.”

“What else do you want to know?” he asked.

“Well……what do you like to do?” She answered, rolling onto her back and looking up at the sky, oblivious to the fact that he stared at her the whole time he rambled, telling her of the jousting tournaments, and going into detail on a few keen ones he had participated in. Ariana didn’t understand any of it, of course, but she liked to hear his voice.

He slowed. “NO” Ariana said, keep talking!

“Hmm?” he looked lazily down at her, a smile playing on his lips. “I mean… were telling me about the best lance to use??” she offered, and set him off rambling on different kinds of lances and best way to use them. They sounded like they were categorized the same way arrows were, and she told him so. He looked down at her, smirking, “You know, I have yet to see you use your alleged “capable skills” with you bow and arrow”

“I am more than capable Prince Findley” Ariana said sweetly. “Alright said Fin “show me.”

Ariana sat up and walked over to where her bow and arrows lay up against a tree and grabbed them. The prince scrambled to his feet and jogged up to his “beloved” and stood behind her as she notched an arrow. “You see that apple hanging from that tree over there?” The prince squinted, “No….” the princess looked over her shoulder, “WAY over there?” the prince squinted harder, “How on earth are you planning on hitting THAT????” but even as he said it, she took a breath in, and released the arrow. All of a sudden, there was no red speck in the woods. The prince’s jaw dropped, “HOW DID YOU HIT THAT APPLE????” she smirked up at him, “Oh, I didn’t. I hit its stem.”

Fins jaw dropped. He looked from Ariana to the tree and back again. Ariana laughed at him and nudged him back down. He leaned up against the tree and she leaned against him. “Tell me about you Ariana” said Fin.

Ariana leaned up against him, sitting in his lap as he played with her hair, “Well…..I love to shoot arrows!”

“Well” said Fin “you must have great aim because you hit me right in the heart.”

“Hardy har har.” Ariana mocked as she leaned her head back to look at his face, as they both chuckled. He looked down into her eyes and continued playing with her hair, ‘And??” he said.

“Well I am – was terrified of marriage to a guy I didn’t know.”

“I also love to horseback ride, preferably without a side saddle.”

“Or any saddle at all for that matter….”

Ariana settled back on Fin as they continued to talk.

“I also like to shoot rude annoying suitors” Ariana said.

With a smirk. Finn squirmed uncomfortably, “Um….do I count? I mean…..I’m your betrothed….so….haven’t I passed the “suitor” stage?”

“I don’t know….I think you are right on the border since I did just meet you.” Ariana said with a remarkably straight face.

Finn didn’t know whether she was serious or not, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to find out, thankfully right then one of his men shouted, “SIRE!!! We’re ready to move out!”

“Hallelujah” Fin said under his breath.

He stood up and offered the princess his hand, “Well your majesty, it looks like we’re ready to move out.” then over his shoulder he called, “Bring the princess a horse!” Ariana stood up, but her eyes grew wide as the ginormous beast was led over to where they stood.

She gulped, “Um Fin…. I think that horse might be…well…um…a little bit too big.” Fin laughed “alright then, you can ride with me.”

Ariana blushed, and would have argued, but she didn’t want the prince to know she was deathly afraid of very large horses, so she consented. He helped her put her foot in the saddle, and then helped her swing up. She sat in the saddle feeling on top of the world. Finn had to see to something with his captain, so he walked off to the side for a moment. Ariana held her head up high and glanced down. This wasn’t so bad….as long as the horse didn’t move. All of a sudden she felt a *thunk* behind her and felt arms circle around her waist. “Ready to go?” Finn asked.

Ariana nearly screamed…until she realized it was Fin. Even though she had been lying on his stomach only moments before the strength of his chest and arms shocked her. She leaned against him and closed her eyes. The last thing she remembered was feeling him lightly kiss her head and then she fell into a deep dreamless sleep.

“Ariana…Ariana…..Ariana…?” Ariana opened her eyes and blinked confusedly. She looked up to see a handsome face staring down at her; she gasped and sat up strait. She looked around disoriented, and then she realized she was in her room, in her bed, and THERE WAS A BOY SITTING BESIDE HER IN BED!!!!! She screamed until she got a closer look at the “boy.” “Fin!?!” she yelled, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN MY BED???” “Actually”, said Fin, “this is our bed….well as of tomorrow it will be our bed.” Ariana was confused, “then what are you doing here?” she asked. “Well, I came to wake you up,” said Fin, “we got here so late last night you parents didn’t get to see you, and so we need to go do that.”

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and 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


  1. Ainslie Paton
    Aug 24, 2013 @ 05:20:40

    Writing well is so much harder than it looks.

    Because we all read and we all write, it’s easy to forget how difficult it is to construct simple and meaningful sentences, create interesting characters, engineer realistic, or witty, or insightful dialogue and develop engaging scenes as part of a dynamic narrative designed to sweep the reader away.

    It’s bloody hard stuff.

    Most of us authors spend years developing the ability to write well. Most of us have help. We join a writer’s association, have critique partners, ask other writers and readers who we trust to be brutally honest, to read our work and give an honest opinion of it.

    And we re-write and re-write, and read and read. And it’s hard work. You have to be either incredibly lucky or relentless to get good at this writing caper.

    Sometimes we have to face the fact what we’ve written sucks. That’s all part of the learning. The next piece sucks less. And the next is even less sucky, all the way to hardly sucks at all.

    By the time you’ve hit hardly sucks at all, you’ve really sweated, been embarrassed, given up, started again, thrown things at the wall, eaten too much sugar, and wondered about the meaning of life.

    But you start at sucks. And there is no little pink pill you can take to skip the heartache and hard work.

    Starting at sucks is a brave thing to do. It’s putting yourself out there, it’s baring your hopes. It’s declaring you want to be a writer. It’s signing up for the hard slog.

    You’re starting at sucks. You’ve done the brave thing. Now you need to do the hard work, like all of us trying to write well do every time we sit at a keyboard.

    Read more in the genre you want to write in. Join a writer’s association. Find critique partners who will be totally honest with you and listen to them. Examine what you’ve written with critical eyes. And write and write and write. Try out some competitions where you can get even more feedback. And try and stay away from too much sugar.

    We all have writing days where our words suck, our sentences go nowhere, our dialogue makes no sense, or is out of keeping with the time we’re writing about. We all have stories that flap about, confuse, bore and go nowhere, but over time, you get less of the sucky, and more of the hardly sucks at all.

    Good for you. You’ve joined a fairly exclusive club of mad people who write. You’re starting in exactly the right place and you’re on your way. Here’s to sucking less and less and less until what sucks becomes something that sparkles.

  2. Kierney Scott
    Aug 24, 2013 @ 05:57:16

    This does not read like a historical romance. For example use of the word ‘guy’ is not in keeping with the time period. Romance readers are on the ball and will pull you up on any/all historical inaccuracies. Also errors pull the reader out of the story. If you choose to write historical, there is another layer of work. It is fun to experiment. You might find your voice suits fun and flirty contemporary romance. Good luck!

  3. jch
    Aug 24, 2013 @ 07:24:17

    Ainslie — very nicely said, and excellent advice.

    Just learn your craft, be open to help/criticism, and learn from others. Read as much as you can, and practice before you try to publish.

    The first thing I’d do to begin improving this particular page is lose all of the excess question marks, ellipses, and all caps — those are the mark of an amateur writer and serve only to annoy your readers. When I see such excessive punctuation, it generally tells me that the content of the writing isn’t up to par, and the writer doesn’t know how to convey the emotion of the passage, instead relying on punctuation to do the job. It doesn’t work.
    Also odd that with such a lot of punctuation, there often isn’t any where needed (missing quotation marks, etc.).

    Watch your spelling.
    “Fin” is spelled more than one way here. If you don’t care about the basic details of your characters, your readers won’t either.

    Stay on track.
    This page went off in several different directions, and I found myself skimming through.

    I still don’t know your genre: is this going to be historical? YA? NA? If historical, Kierney makes some good points with her comment regarding how essential it is to be accurate. Do your research — “ginormous” is very unlikely to be accepted in a historical context.

    Was Ariana dreaming the bit about Fin and the arrow/apple, etc.? Is this modern, and she was merely fantasizing or dreaming? Or was she still in that time period, and simply waking up the next day? Transitions are very blurry.

    Bookmark Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary. Consult it while you’re writing, and you will easily know when to use “straight” as opposed to “strait.” It’s a simple thing to do that can help your writing a great deal.

    Sign up with some writing groups, maybe even take a course on basic grammar, and keep trying. You might have a good story in there; being open to constructive criticism will help you find it.
    Best of luck, and thanks for sharing.

  4. Carol McKenzie
    Aug 24, 2013 @ 07:58:29

    I’d suggest printing Ainslie’s reply and reading it every day. It’s excellent advice. And we all start at ‘it sucks’. The difference between those who write and those who don’t is getting past hearing you’re at that stage and getting better at the craft so you can move past. And that’s where you’re at now.

    Don’t give up. What you have here needs work, but underneath the problems with this page, I do find a story I might like to read more about. I’m intrigued by what sounds like an arranged marriage; I like a heroine who succumbs to fits of giggles but likes to shoot arrows, and is kick ass at doing it. And I like a hero who can be laughed at and not get his feelings hurt. It makes for an interesting set up for a romance.

    Thanks for posting and good luck! It’s hard to do but you’ve taken a crucial step on the road to being a better writer, and that’s seeking criticism of your writing. It’s a universal truth that everything you write will be critiqued by everyone who lays eyes on it, from sites like this, to beta readers, to editors…and, if it’s your desire, hopefully agents and publishers and people who buy your published books. Learn what you can from those who offer constructive criticism and let the rest roll off your back.

  5. Zoe York
    Aug 24, 2013 @ 08:20:24

    As others have said, spending time on writing craft will help you with the next re-write (and the one after that). This reads more like a chapter outline than a first page. My outlines are often riddled with exclamation marks and all-caps – I use them as shorthand, but no one else would get the nuance of what I’m thinking for that scene.

    I agree with Carol, you’ve got some interesting elements that I’d be interested to read more. The framework isn’t right just yet, but that will come with practice and research.

    One thing I’d suggest you read more on is point of view (POV). Sticking with one perspective for a good amount of the scene is easier for readers to follow, and lets them sink into the reading experience.

    Good luck!

  6. Carol McKenzie
    Aug 24, 2013 @ 08:27:52

    You may want to think about the point of view you want to use in this story. You’re all over the board between Fin (Finn) and Ariana, which is called head-hopping. It’s confusing for readers to have to adjust to whose head we’re in at the moment.

    Romances typically were written from the heroine’s POV but can be written from both hero and heroine’s POV. You just need to make the switches between the two very clear and at very logical breaks, such as chapters. But to switch within paragraphs or scenes is jarring and will take readers out of the story in a heartbeat.

  7. Ainslie Paton
    Aug 24, 2013 @ 08:34:59

    Just for the record, pretty much everything I wrote yesterday, with the possible exception of a happy birthday email – yeah – sucked! Just an ordinary day in the life of a writer.

  8. reader
    Aug 24, 2013 @ 09:56:11

    I’ll have to agree with Ainslie. Your page reads as though it’s pretty much the first thing you’ve ever written. It has a distinctly middle grade or young adult style. That said, I feel a certain potential buried beneath your inexperience. I think you have a good imagination and a sense of characterization. Now all you need is patience and persistence. When you read, read to learn. Pick apart the best writing to better understand what makes it good. I’ve found no better teacher than the excellent fiction of other writers.

    Keep having fun with the process. You’ll get there.

  9. Judy Canter
    Aug 24, 2013 @ 10:51:16

    I will try to comment on things not otherwise mentioned:

    First of all, I like the concept of this scene. It’s placed in nature and you’ve established she is a skilled marksman with a bow and arrow. This, in my mind, creates an adventurous and independent-thinking heroine. (Maybe I have the movie Brave in my head, lately.) Of course, her fear of large horses made me question this . . . you’ll need to sort this out. Since this is only the rough draft beginning, just keep ‘how your character is portrayed’ in mind as you write.

    If this is a dream: how much does it play into her character concept? Is this dream telling us that she wants to be this way, and she’s not? Is this her fantasy playing out in her head? Or – does it reflect her real life?

    (If it’s not a dream, of course that just needs some clarification in your revision efforts.)

    The first sentence:

    Be sure that you are clear about whom you’re referring to. In the first sentence, you mention ‘him’ and even after the first two sentences, I’m unsure she is sitting next to Prince Findley. Perhaps a rewrite such as:

    Duplicate words: The first sentence is a good example of a duplicated term/word. “Ariana was sitting beside his side, and when the Prince revealed his name: she couldn’t help it.”
    Here you use ‘beside’ and ‘side’ – though not the same word, they both contain ‘side’ which repeats the point. If you sitting beside someone, you are sitting by their side. It’s akin to ‘double negatives’ like ‘he wouldn’t not do that’ – there’s no need for the extra ‘not’ because it’s already stated.

    Also, in this first sentence, you end with a colon and a statement “name: she couldn’t help it.” – This is confusing, she couldn’t help what? This would make sense if it was included with the following sentence regarding her laughter over his name.

    Look for areas where you over-use words to make a point: “was sitting” is the same as “sat.”

    If you were to rewrite the first sentence to alleviate these issues it would read: “Ariana sat beside the Prince. When he revealed his real name, she couldn’t help it, she laughed, burying her face in his stomach.”

    Of course, that’s still awkward, but an improvement. It shows they were 1) sitting together with minimal words, it’s such a simple concept that you don’t need to jazz it up. 2) who she was sitting next to, ‘the prince,’ though we don’t know his name yet, this still allows you to bring in the humor with his last name). 3) The related-topics are grouped: Who she was + who she was with is in one sentence, and then the laughter is in the next sentence.

    Further: why couldn’t she help it? Take a line to tell us what’s amusing about his name. I’m not sure how “Findley” is pronounced. I read “Fin-dly” rather than “Find-ly.” Did he say it with an unusual accent, perhaps?

    I include jokes and humor in my short stories, and I’ve realized that if the character finds something to be funny, I have to realize that the audience might not get the joke, and maybe it needs an explanation.

    Physical involvement: you have to ensure your physical activities make sense for the position your characters are in. For one, I wondered why she was suddenly so comfortable with the prince to nuzzle her face to his shirt if she just met him and learned his name (of course, later I find that this might be a dream so this might not need explanation, though I still think it would help). Consider using less words to describe physical interaction. Too many can complicate an otherwise simple concept.

    Punctuation and capitalization are fundamental. Be certain that all dialogue is punctuated and you close your quotes.

    Dialogue between characters should be placed on separate lines. Since you did this for a large section of this piece, and only certain chunks were pressed together, I wondered if the lack of doing so wasn’t from your story, but from a tech glitch when you submitted it with the form. Look over your work and ensure that different characters have separate lines for all of their dialogue. Once it’s pressed into a paragraph (intentionally or accidentally) its harder to see and fix.

    Last but not least – your ‘Chestnut hair with red highlights’ – it’s a commonly used hair description. I’ve seen it in numerous romance stories I’ve read over the last few years. Perhaps shake it up a little bit. Just my two bits.

    Good luck :)

  10. Caro
    Aug 24, 2013 @ 10:57:11

    Wow, Ainslie, what a wonderful piece of advice.

    When I read this, I remembered. I remembered my first book and how horribly sucky it was. But I didn’t know it at the time. I thought it was fantastic. And heck. In a way it was fantastic. I’d managed to get all the way to writing The End. But in every other way, it sucked.

    Three books later, three The Ends later, I finally wrote a book that wasn’t very good, but it didn’t suck. I had taken classes, joined a couple of critique groups (which can be very, very good or very, very bad), gone to dozens of writer meetings, and found a writing buddy. I learned. I kept writing.

    Now I write… pretty good stuff. Occasionally. And yeah, sometimes I still write sucky stuff.

    That’s the best advice I can give to anyone in your situation, author. Keep writing.

  11. Elyssa Patrick
    Aug 24, 2013 @ 12:21:04

    Ainslie said it so well.

    I’ve hesitated about replying to this thread, mainly because I want to get it right.

    First, it’s an incredibly HUGE step to put yourself out there to strangers. To even people you know. It can be scary, because you don’t know how people will react and you want your writing to be loved, enjoyed, and read some more. Because, hey, if you didn’t, you wouldn’t want to pursue publication, whether it be indie or the NY route.

    We’ve all started at the suck place. My first manuscript? Totally sucked. My second manuscript? Sucked less but still bad. My third manuscript? Things clicked but it still sucks for some. And so on and so on.

    No matter what you put out there, for some, your book is just not going to work for them at all. But you shrug it off (because you can’t please everyone and you shouldn’t try to do that, because crazysauce) and you move on.

    With each thing you write, you do become a better, stronger writer. Just don’t stop believing in yourself and your dream. If you really want this, you’ll do it, no matter how hard it is. No matter how many times you get kicked in the teeth. No matter how many times you despair that you’ll never make it. You’ll get there. Just write, write, write and read, read, read. Do things Ainslie suggested. But no matter what . . .

    Just don’t stop believing in yourself. Or your dream. Keep writing.

  12. Melissa Blue
    Aug 24, 2013 @ 14:33:53

    Listen to Ainslie. She is wise. I’d add that you will write another book that could make your suckiest work look like literary gold. Even if you’ve been going at this writing thing for years and years. Let go of perfection. Embrace revision because that’s the true art of writing.

    Also, buy a new copy of your favorite book. The one you’ve likely read one million times and could probably recite word for word. Get a good old dead tree copy. Get different colored highlighters and then highlight all the dialogue in one color. Description with another. Pure narration/navel gazing in a different color. Since it’s your fav book then you probably know what that one line means and that it’s really foreshadowing, underline it. Underline the when the character truly start to change. The book is likely seamless but by doing this you can find the seams and that’s craft. You’ll be able to see the book in parts and that can help you see things like POV, grammar and punctuation, paragraph breaks, page breaks, pacing, etc. Someone gave me this advice. I thought they were insane. It actually worked.

    Best of luck.

  13. Moriah Jovan
    Aug 24, 2013 @ 14:40:50

    What Ainslie said (which I propose should be a Tuesday letter of opinion), with corollary:

    Remember that even once one learns how to make an excellent pizza, there are still going to be people who hate pizza. It doesn’t mean the pizza sucks.

  14. Carolyne
    Aug 24, 2013 @ 16:26:57

    @Melissa Blue: What interesting advice for a practical way to see the structure behind the magic of a great story. I’ve done that with my own manuscripts, highlighting down the side of a printout, but only came to the idea recently. I wish someone had suggested that, when I was just first contemplating the idea of writing a whole novel, or in one of those creative writing classes. I love this: “The book is likely seamless but by doing this you can find the seams and that’s craft.”

  15. Caro
    Aug 24, 2013 @ 19:16:11

    Remember that even once one learns how to make an excellent pizza, there are still going to be people who hate pizza. It doesn’t mean the pizza sucks.

    Very true, Moriah. The trick is to get good enough at the craft and good enough at knowing your voice to walk away from peeps who don’t like your pizza because you know your pizza is actually quite good.

  16. cleo
    Aug 25, 2013 @ 11:56:32

    Thank you for posting this. I think you have something, but it needs a lot of work.

    I’m not sure this is where your story really starts. It took me awhile to figure out that they are two young people getting to know each other before an arranged marriage, since they seemed so physically comfortable with each other. I want to know more about why Ariana put her head on Fin’s stomach – how long ago did they meet? Was there an instant connection? Is she just really casual? Does she do this with all her suitors? It just read as a little wierd to me. I personally want to see them meet.

    There’s a fairy tale quality to this that makes me more forgiving of the anachronisms, but you should still be careful of them.

  17. Loreen
    Aug 25, 2013 @ 12:14:38

    I feel like you have plunges us into the middle of a scene and it takes a while to figure out what is going on. This reads like a slice of the 2nd or 3rd chapter. It is great to start in action, but try backing up a little. Maybe your story starts when the hero and heroine meet? I don’t quite understand how they are rolling around together and already engaged but she doesn’t know is name. Wouldn’t that have been in the official engagement documents? Or wouldn’t someone have mentioned it?
    I am also not clear about whether this is historical or set in some kind of fantasy kingdom. Back up a little and give us clues.

  18. SAO
    Aug 25, 2013 @ 12:38:20

    I thought there was some good stuff here, obscured by a few issues. I liked the interplay between Fin and Ari and they seemed like likable chars. The few issues:

    1) ‘Beside his side’ in the opening sentence starts me off on the wrong foot, expecting a lousy writer. I really wonder how many comments on your inexperience and suckiness you’d have gotten if this mistake had been buried in the middle.

    2) You’re showing a familiarity between Ari and Fin that your words contradict. They are lying close together, touching like lovers, but he’s telling her his name, as if they are strangers. Even if they were, if they were marrying tomorrow, she’d have had rehearsals.

    3) I hate dreams and am dubious that people can fall asleep on a horse, (unless severely sleep deprived) and be hauled off the horse and put into bed without waking up.

  19. jane o'reilly
    Aug 26, 2013 @ 08:32:29

    Everyone has already picked up on the fact that you’re not too far in to your writing journey, so I’m not going to comment too much on that, only to echo what others have said: sharing your work and asking for feedback is a big step. A huge step, in fact. And you have got some fundamentals bang on – such as getting the hero and heroine together very early on.

    There are problems at micro level – sentence structure, grammar, dialogue etc – but I don’t think there is much point focussing on these at this stage, because fixing the spelling mistakes won’t make this story work. The reason for this is because it’s not clear what the story is about. We’ve got two characters having a very nice conversation, and that’s it. Because there isn’t a clear story goal from the outset – we don’t know what Ariana wants – we’ve got no clear conflict (something stopping her getting what she wants). Think about the opening scene of Star Wars – Princess Leia wants to get the plans to the rebels (her goal) but the Empire is closing in. She’s being shot at, because the empire wants to stop her (conflict) and therefore we’ve got a clear story goal (will she get the plans to the rebels?) and we’ve got tension.

    If you haven’t read any books on writing, I would suggest starting with GMC by Debra Dixon, Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, Techniques of the Selling writer by Dwight Swain and Scene and Structure by Jack Bickham. Focussing on 3 act structure and GMC will really help at this point.

    The Romantic Novelists’ Association (UK) and Romance Writers of America are worth joining if you can afford it.

    Best of luck and above all, keep writing.

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