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First Page: unpublished manuscript (historical romance)

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Diana White had no sooner pulled on her gloves than she heard her twin charges shriek on the front stoop.

Their screams, which sounded like a cross between a whoop for joy and a scream of one fearing for her life, did not rattle the young governess.

She had been the twins’ tutoress going on three months now and knew that it took something as small as a bee or cricket to cause a commotion with the twelve-year-olds.

“Now, now, girls,” Diana admonished, polishing her spectacles with her handkerchief and stepping into the April sunshine. “Ladies do not raise their voices in public. And they certainly do not screa-aaaaugh!”

Diana squealed as a mangled something was dangled in front of her face. Even without her glasses she could see that it was an animal of some sort and as it was burned to the point of being blackened, it was very, very dead.

“Henrietta Godwin, you put that creature down this instant!” she scolded. She pushed her glasses up onto her nose and found the girl now chasing her sister with a dead bird.

Thank goodness I’m not the fainting type, she thought.

Henrietta, born of the same stout demeanor, remarked matter-of-factly, “Oh Diana, I’m not hurting her. Or the bird for that matter. I cannot help but tease Rose. She is such a goose sometimes!”

Rosalind, on the other hand, was the swooning type and stood cowering behind the old horse chestnut tree in the yard. “Please put it down!” she wailed.

Diana found herself smiling despite the impropriety of the situation. She couldn’t help but picture the scene with a much younger version of herself and her older foster sisters, Wilhelmina and Isabella. She would most definitely have been the one dangling the beast.

“Diana, please make her stop!” Rosalind begged, freeing Diana from her daydreams of the past. Diana stuck her hand out and waited for Henrietta to hand her the bird.

“Now, Henrietta, change your gloves. The bird is filthy. And Rosalind, splash your cheeks with some cool water. Your color is high and it looks rather indecent,” she ordered, once the beast had been transferred to her possession. When she was sure the girls were safely in the house, she let out the giggles she had been suppressing for the past few minutes. She could have seen herself doing the same as the wily Hattie had.

“Now, how can I turn this into a lesson?” she asked no one in particular. If it was one thing Diana was good at, it was finding ways to make her students’ learning fun. She wasn’t sure the headmistress of The Broadworth School of Girls, the forenamed Mrs. Broadworth herself, would agree, especially after The Great Baking is Chemistry Disaster of 1830 in the school kitchens last year, but her opinion could not be taken too seriously. The woman still insisted that her girls learn needlepoint and did not allow “those dreadful novels” to be used as teaching material. Her employers, the Godwins, seemed pleased with her work any way, since they hired her and all. And, besides, the fire wasn’t even that big.

 

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

8 Comments

  1. Lynne Connolly
    Jul 21, 2013 @ 07:46:10

    This extract took me right back to one of my favorite childhood books, “What Katy Did.” It made me smile and the atmosphere is great. Right from the start, the non-British words like “stoop,” and “tutoress” clued me in to this not being a British set historical. It reads smoothly.
    That’s good and bad. It reads very much like a young adult story, in its style and vocabulary. The incident is exactly like something out of a (good) children’s book. So romance it ain’t. Yet.
    However, this isn’t a starting scene, unless there’s some hot man around to save her from the mangled something. It’s an amusing incident, probably not the inciting incident of the story. She makes no decision to change her life here. So maybe save it until later?
    There are a few things where you could tweak the story. Watch your passives and check all the places where you use “was.” Can you replace it with something more active, or even just get rid of the “was”? (note that sometimes “was” indicates a transitive verb – it’s not always necessary to replace it).
    The direct thought jarred for me. It broke the smoothness of the narrative. I’d replace it with “Thank goodness she wasn’t the fainting type,” just to keep it in deep third – and maybe rephrase to get rid of the “wasn’t.”
    I’d give this a chance and read on, hoping the hot hero is just around the corner. Even though she doesn’t seem to be a very effective governess (or tutoress!)

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  2. Lil
    Jul 21, 2013 @ 08:03:10

    I’m a bit confused about the location of this. From the first sentence I assumed it was in New York City, where we have stoops. But then the girls were running around (hard to do on a stoop) in what sounded like a country setting. You might find a dead bird in the city, but a horse chestnut tree take up a lot more space than you’ll find on a city street. And I couldn’t help wondering what the girls were doing outside, even just on the stoop, by themselves.

    You are allowed to use he verb “said.” Most of the time, it is your best choice. Any emotion, etc., should come from what is said and the behavior of the speaker. Frequently, you don’t have to write anything at all if it is clear that the actor in the paragraph is speaking. But you never use “said” at all, and the alternatives start to seem intrusive.

    Sometimes you seem to have the wrong word or description. For example, you can’t squeal “aaaaugh.” Try it and you’ll see. And I don’t think you can be born of a demeanor.

    The set up with the twins strikes me as off. Maybe it’s just me, but finding it funny to chase her twin around with a dead, partially incinerated bird—a thoroughly disgusting object—does not make Henrietta sound like a delightful tomboy.

    As a purely practical matter, what is Diana going to do with the bird now that she made Henrietta hand it to her? Come to think of it, how on earth is she holding it? If Henrietta held it by the feet—the most likely way to keep it from falling apart—how did Diana grasp it? And once she disposes of it, she better go change her gloves too.

    You have potentially good characters, but I think you need to do some rethinking and rewriting on this.

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  3. Lucy
    Jul 21, 2013 @ 09:40:33

    Some of this is lovely and I think this has lots of potential.

    I too was a bit confused about the setting. Like others, I got a British flavour – I’m British myself – but I’m not sure. (I was about to go on a rant about “tutoress” and then I looked it up – it’s used by Defoe in Moll Flanders a hundred years earlier, and by Thackeray in Vanity Fair twelve years later, so it clearly wasn’t an unknown word in Britain at the time. However, it does look like “stoop” is exclusively American, and it’s certainly not a word I ever use in that context.)

    And I may be mistaken, but I think someone called Henrietta in a historical setting is much more likely to be Hettie – Hattie is short for Harriet.

    I’m a little perturbed that Diana seems so indifferent to Rosalind’s clear distress – isn’t this girl in her care? But she gets no sympathy whatever, just a cold instruction to make herself look less indecent. Perhaps this is accurate for the time, but it’s also quite upsetting. I get that Diana is identifying strongly with Henrietta at this point, but has she really no empathy at all for the girl who’s just been really upset by what is frankly a truly horrible sight?

    Also I’m not sure “beast” is quite the right word for a dead bird (or even a live one, unless it’s particularly large and monstrous and attacking you) – maybe consider “corpse” or “carcass” if you want to avoid overusing bird?

    I’d also jump on board with most of the other comments here.

    Good luck!

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  4. Marianne McA
    Jul 21, 2013 @ 11:20:31

    I like it too.

    It gives you the country and date unobtrusively, a bit of insight into the heroine and a general feeling it’s a light-hearted book.

    Nitpicks – when you have “She would most definitely have been the one dangling the beast.” I don’t think you also need “She could have seen herself doing the same as the wily Hattie had.”
    And although the final sentence is about Diana, it reads like it’s about Mrs Broadworth, and my brain was so busy sorting that out that the punchline fell a little flat.

    Also, not a nitpick, because there’s nothing wrong, but just to check you intended to make her longsighted (in case you don’t wear glasses yourself.) I’m very shortsighted, so would see something close to my face better without my glasses.

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  5. Maili
    Jul 21, 2013 @ 13:24:06

    And I may be mistaken, but I think someone called Henrietta in a historical setting is much more likely to be Hettie – Hattie is short for Harriet.

    Historically, it would be Etta, Ettie, Nettie, Nattie, Natty or Nana, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some had shortened it to, like you suggested, Hettie or Hetty. Some did shorten Henrietta to Hattie or Hatty, and Harriet to Hettie or Hetty. This isn’t a surprise as Harriet is an English form of Henriette.

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  6. Loreen
    Jul 21, 2013 @ 14:04:36

    Your writing is smooth and polished. I think that you set up Diana as a fun, competent woman. Something about this reminded me of Julia Quinn’s work – the humor and the strong relationships between women in the family. However, like someone said above, as much as I like the humor, nothing about this says “romance” to me. Quinn or Eloisa James can get away with starting a novel with family domestic drama because they has such a large and loyal readership who trust that they will produce the romance. I am not sure that you can get away with this as a first time writer. When I read a romance, I want the first chapter to include the conflict that will motivate the romance. Unless the hero is an obsessive bird watcher tracking the endangered White Tailed Nitpicker and he swoops down to accuse the girls of bird-murder, I don’t see how this scenario is going to play into the relationship. If I read this as the first page of a romance by an unknown, I would probably worry that too much of the plot will be taken up with the exploits of 12 year old girls. I like YA books too, but I don’t really want to read too much about preteens in my romances. Maybe it is just my taste, but I like precocious charges to exit stage left as soon as possible so that the hero and heroine can get down to business.
    So unless this is headed very quickly towards a meeting with the hero, I suggest that you try starting in a different place….someplace suggestive or exciting or promising of a good conflict that will keep the hero and heroine in frustrated lust for 3/4 of the book at least.
    But again – the writing is really good…I wish you luck.

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  7. Viridian
    Jul 21, 2013 @ 15:18:05

    I like this a lot. Very smooth, professional writing. Very nice. However, nothing really happens. I’d keep reading past the first page, but if nothing interesting happened on the second, I’d put it down.

    I have no objection to the fact that nothing romantic happens on the first page. I’ve noticed that while a great deal of romance novels begin with the romantic conflict, my favorites do not. Heck, sometimes it takes a few chapters. I’m sure others disagree, but I love a good sense of setting and conflict before the romance sneaks in.

    That being said — this opening is still pretty boring. Maybe you should start somewhere else.

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  8. Author
    Jul 21, 2013 @ 15:52:05

    Thank you all so much for your critiques and compliments. I appreciate all of the feedback! Obviously my American speech style snuck through, darn it! I don’t know how I even picked up a New York term like stoop, I’m a West Coaster! The bird is important in the next few pages, as there is a sort of mystery going on, though the hero is a professor not an ornithologist. :) Again, I thank you all for your thoughts!

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