Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

First Page: unpublished manuscript, new adult

Welcome to First Page Saturday. Individual authors anonymously send a first page read and critiqued by the Dear Author community of authors, readers and industry others. Anyone is welcome to comment. You may comment anonymously. You can submit your own First Page using this form.

She was screaming. She was screaming for him, weeping and pleading. The boy could hear her voice growing hoarse as the minutes passed, as his shoulder grew numb from hitting the door of his prison. Was he crying with her? He thought that maybe he was. But it was dark, so dark in here, that he couldn’t even tell. He couldn’t stop his search for an escape long enough to feel his face. He was so close to her, so close to protecting her! They had always been close, hadn’t they? He had never even taken a breath without her near him. She’d been born first but her fist had been tightly clasping his wrist. Even now she never wanted to be where he wasn’t. She always said that, didn’t she?

And now the separation. And the screams. Even if she had been silent, even if she hadn’t cried out continuously until his body shook with pain, he would have heard her. Hadn’t he always heard her? His thoughts fractured. His mind was almost as shattered as his ankle was. There was only one solid thought in this darkness, only one hope. His fingers, numb from the cold, frantically ran along ever crevice, every inch of the dark floor looking for anything, anything, that could help her. And the screaming continued.

The girl didn’t know she was screaming. She wasn’t conscious enough of her surroundings, of herself to know how her voice keened like a wild animal in a trap. She wasn’t even aware of the man, not really. Her body may have tried to shy away from his touch but inside everything was black. She was huddled inside herself, the pain ricocheting so that she didn’t dare try to escape. She didn’t dare try to swim back into consciousness of herself.
Then everything stopped. The absence of sound roared into her ears. It forced her to the surface of awareness even though she knew it was a trick. She could hear screaming in the distance, somewhere beneath her. She knew it was him, knew he would come if he could. The thought made her open her eyes.

There was light here, so much light that it blinded her. She was on the faded linoleum floor that was dotted with blood. It felt cool against her flushed face. She could see the stove, the pasta still merrily bubbling. How long had it been? It felt like years, oh God it felt like years! But the pot was still bubbling. She didn’t bother looking around her. She knew that the man was still there.

As if summoned, the man came up behind her, leaned down and touched her, pushed her on her back. She saw his eyes, his perfect face, his smile, his absence of clothes. When he touched her again, when he spoke to her like a lover would, she shuddered once then violently threw up.

When the silence began, he howled, enraged. She wasn’t dead, he knew she wasn’t dead But it was the other thing, the thing that could cause her silence, that drove the last traces of fear or pain out of his mind. He rushed the door again, again, again, again! A crack. A crack! It took the sound a moment to reach his ears over his frantic breathing.

His fingers brushed across the door and his heart gave a leap of triumph at the feel splintered wood. He hit the door again, his breath coming in harsh pants, to revved for screaming now, his eyes narrowed on the tiny splinter of light in front of him.

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. Lorenda Christensen
    Feb 09, 2013 @ 04:29:13

    I thought this had a great beginning. It gives us instant questions, and I strong reason to keep reading.

    But then…the questions start piling up faster than we’re receiving answers, and by the end of the page, I’m totally lost. Some of this was due to the abrupt POV switch from the first “he” to the “her”, but the introduction of the second “he” is where I started to lose interest.

    That being said, if I bit more information was shared about who all the characters are, I think this is a very attention-grabbing start. I would definitely read on.

  2. Paula
    Feb 09, 2013 @ 04:34:37

    Honestly, I’m not impressed. If I’d picked up a book and that was the first page, I wouldn’t continue reading.

    Violence against women doesn’t make for a good hook, neither does what reads very strongly as a rape. The shifting POV is strange and confusing, and while that may be the writer’s style, it’s… liable to turn a potential reader off. As it stands, it reads a bit too much like the opening teaser to an episode of Criminal Minds or some other violent crimes procedural.

  3. SAO
    Feb 09, 2013 @ 04:38:55

    Too much screaming for me, compared to giving us a clue as to what’s going on. He’s in a prison and she’s in a kitchen next door cooking spaghetti? With a naked man touching her like a lover, but she doesn’t appear to be fighting? It wasn’t making a lot of sense to me.

    Too much of the action focused on screaming and futile actions, rather than coping with what is happening/going to happen. Add to this the lack of names and I have no connection to your characters. I’m not rooting for them. I’m completely distanced.

    I started to say I wouldn’t read on if something started with a rape or near rape on page one, but I probably have read such a book. With a strong, fighting woman. One who is resisting mentally, even if she can no longer resist physically.

    This is my personal two cents.

    In a more objective mode, in the second to last para, you refer to the boy as ‘He,’ but in the previous para, ‘he’ is the rapist, that made it confusing. It made complete sense to me that a would-be rapist would howl if his (presumably attractive) victim added the decidedly off-putting smell of vomit to the scene.

  4. SAO
    Feb 09, 2013 @ 05:03:37

    Some of my inability to connect to your characters was your word choices, which didn’t seem to be in keeping with the POV:

    She’s wounded and facing rape, but refers to the spaghetti as “merrily” bubbling?
    Her rapist spoke to her “like a lover would”?
    The rapist’s face was “perfect”? (a meaningless word, which conveys neither expression or features)

    If this were me, nothing would be “merrily” anything, any words spoken by the man would be perceived negatively (parody of romance, hateful, slimy, etc), and his face would be hideous, even if he was Michelangelo’s David brought to life.

  5. Marianne McA
    Feb 09, 2013 @ 05:34:38

    I agree with Lorenda that the first part drew me in, but you lost me further down the page.

    I do understand why the pot of pasta: it begins to give us clues as to where this is happening, and a familiar domestic background should make their ordeal more scary. But given that everthing up till then is vague and nightmarish, the sudden appearance of the merrily bubbling pasta just hit my incongruity button and made me laugh.

    My feeling would be that the first part where an unnamed ‘he’ is reduced to almost animalistic reactions through fear and pain works well. As a reader, I want to read on and see him released. But then – and I’m not a writer, so this is really cheeky – I’d skip the paragraph where she’s in a similar state, and begin with her coming round – give her name, as well as a floor and a stove: two amorphous characters in a row was a bit much for me.

  6. Patricia
    Feb 09, 2013 @ 07:46:25

    I found this overwrought and confusing from the first sentence. The peril is turned up to eleven but you haven’t painted a clear enough picture to figure out what is going on. At the very least you should give your boy and girl names. They are siblings; they would know what to call each other.

    Once I figured out a rape was occurring, I started skimming. Pulling off an on-screen rape without putting off the reader is difficult, and this did not manage the feat.

    One final nitpick: they are fraternal twins (they must be since they are not the same sex) and they were born holding hands. That is not possible. Identical twins sometimes share an amniotic sac and therefor can touch each other, but fraternal twins do not.

  7. cleo
    Feb 09, 2013 @ 08:26:36

    I agree with the other commenters – this initially drew me in, but then I got confused. I think you have something interesting here, but it needs some work.

    I didn’t figure out the basic scene until reading the comments – that their house was broken into, he’s locked in the basement, she’s being attacked. I was initially expecting some sort of paranormal element – when she was suddenly on linoleum, I was like – oh, this is like Catch 22, she’s left her cell and she’s somewhere else now – either in her mind or in reality.

    I was also a little squicked out when I realized that they were brother and sister – there’s something about the way the boy is described thinking about his sister that didn’t quite work for me, and that felt a bit, um, icky or sexualized, or something uncomfortable. I’m afraid I can’t explain it better than that.

  8. wikkidsexycool
    Feb 09, 2013 @ 10:09:56

    Okay, I liked it. I see what you’re going for. This has a paranormal element to it, and it read to me like the boy was now seeing what she’d gone through, (the man has appeared again, and she’s fearful of another attack, which she should be) He (the brother) is fighting to get to her and he finally knows. So I’m wondering if it’s really him having the flashback, and he’s in prison because he killed her attacker. Yes, I have questions, because when you write of her losing her “voice” it makes me think she’s never told anyone. But now he knows.

    I’ve delved into something similar with my writing, so I wish you the best with how you’re going to handle such a jarring beginning. So, here’s a list of my questions:

    Is he in a physical jail? Or one of his own making? (like he wanted to help her, but was restrained from doing so)

    She’s screaming, but it’s in her mind right? It reads to me as if this attack stunned her and she retreated inside herself, too terrified to scream except in her mind.

    Now, the last part makes me think the boy has broken through and is getting ready to rescue her, based upon the crack of light. So either he’s somehow broken through a physical barrier, or he’s gotten through to her mind. I like the either or of it, and I hope there’s an element or “hopping” here, where she saves herself, with some help from him.

    To wrap this up, I’d read on. I really wish there was a blurb on what the story is about. My best to you with this.

  9. theo
    Feb 09, 2013 @ 11:15:57

    Jillian Hoffman’s Retribution is the only book that opens with a rape that I’ve been able to read and I loved it. Definitely not a romance, pure thriller and I loved the ending however, it didn’t just jump into the rape/action. We got a page or two of action of a different kind, drawing us into Chloe’s world before her rapist attacks IIRC. That’s what I think is lacking here. Agreeing with the other comments on POV changes and disembodied characters, I have no reason at this point to care. The only background I have is that twins are locked up by an attacker. I’m not even sure if this will be paranormal (one twin holding the other’s hand which I agree is impossible with fraternal twins but in an alternate world…) or just that strange bond some twins (usually identical) share.

    Each paragraph in itself is not bad, but together, they’re a mishmash that’s very hard to follow with no names, no real sense of place or time…this could be 2013, 1953 or some other realm. I have no clue.

    And again, my nitpick with ‘was.’ Was is NOT a bad word, but its overuse is. Your first couple sentences:

    She was screaming. She was screaming for him, weeping and pleading. The boy could hear her voice growing hoarse as the minutes passed, as his shoulder grew numb from hitting the door of his prison. Was he crying with her? He thought that maybe he was.

    Are not drawing the reader into the immediate moment.

    ‘Her screams ripped through him. Weeping, pleading for him to help her. He heard her voice grow more hoarse with every passing moment, but his prison door refused to budge from his battering, no matter how numb his shoulder grew. He might be crying with her, he couldn’t tell. The dark was all that surrounded him, blocking out everything but her.’

    And since they’re disembodied characters with no name, even that’s not as powerful as it could be.

    Rework, rephrase and give us a bit more to care about and I think you might have a good story here. I don’t know. This is too hard to tell.

  10. Mary
    Feb 09, 2013 @ 12:02:29

    Okay. I like your writing here. For the most part, it’s strong and the word choice, grammar, etc. is good.
    I also think that the story you are telling is interesting, and that the reactions of the characters seem realistic/interesting. BUT: I had to read the page 2 times to understand the scene, and then a 3rd time to make sure. It’s all just not very clear, and when I was first about to make a comment I would have said: “I have no clue what’s going on here.” It’s the other comments that helped me figure it out.
    I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with starting in a dark place-but make it clear what’s happening. I don’t think you need character’s names or anything like that, but either make it clear soon after the first page, or add something in here to clarify. I’m not really sure what you would add-it’s your book, after all. But I think it needs something, if even something in formatting to make all the POV shifts and pronouns clearer.
    I would keep reading, but if after 5-10 pages I’m still confused, I would give up.

  11. Shy
    Feb 09, 2013 @ 16:53:56

    I agree with the other posters here; the scene is confusing, and the emotions are a little too intense. I had to read the scene several times to understand it, and rather than feel pulled into the scene by the emotion, I felt distanced by it. I’m gonna go ahead and say it: you’re trying too hard.

    (Disclaimer: this is going to be personal advice from someone isn’t a published writer, so beware.)

    I used to do the same thing. I figured that suffering and conflict was interesting to the reader, so I ramped it up. But “crying” and “screaming” and “keening” are over-wrought descriptions; they sound intense, but they’re just words any writer could spit out; it doesn’t make the reader feel them. Pull back a little. Understating emotion is more effective than overstating it.

    You need to:

    – Focus more on the events that are happening, less on description. Repeat nothing. A concise explanation of the horrifying events taking place will do more for your audience than any length of purple prose.

    – Don’t beat around the bush about them being siblings. You don’t need a roundabout description of hand-holding and birth. You can just say “his sister”.

    – Don’t beat around the bush about ANYTHING. You can call it a basement, not a prison.

    That being said, you’ve got 601 words here and I still don’t have a clear idea of what’s going on. Are they kids or adults? If I had to guess, I’d say teenagers, but I’m not 100%.

    Why did the attacker break the brother’s ankle and lock him downstairs? He’s a witness. If this is a random act of violence from a stranger, why didn’t he just bash the brother in the head? If the attacker is someone known and trusted and this was a premeditated assault, why didn’t he wait attack whilst the brother was gone? Is the attacker an abusive parent? That makes a little more sense, I guess, but I don’t get the impression that’s what’s going on.

    Edited for more nitpicking: pasta sauce makes a sound when it bubbles. If the sauce is bubbling, the room is not silent.

    Even more nitpicking: how does her brother know she’s not dead? And I don’t get what you’re trying to imply by having him worry about some mysterious “other thing” that might cause her to be silent. Is he worried she’s… unconscious? Gone? Being raped again?

  12. hapax
    Feb 09, 2013 @ 21:58:51

    Agree with all the above comments.

    I’d just add that if this is to be a romance novel, you’ve got three potential main characters on the first page: a rapist, a woman being raped, and her brother, who is in some manner (it’s not quite clear *what* or *how* he is sensing all this) experiencing this rape as well.

    I’m having a real hard time imagining any of these characters going on to a romantic relationship with a HEA any time soon. I’m not saying it’s *impossible*, but that you the author have set yourself up with quite a challenge; and it would take some extraordinary reviews or word-of-mouth for me to bother to go any further.

  13. jch
    Feb 10, 2013 @ 17:44:14

    I realize I am chiming in late, but I just wanted to add a few more comments to everyone else’s…

    I agree with many of the “nitpicky” issues pointed out already, so I won’t rehash those, other than to say that I thought the “merrily bubbling” pasta worked in context — the incongruity of it, the intrusion of something so normal into the girl’s consciousness, while she is in such a *not* normal situation — was effectively written, in my opinion. I thought it added something to the scene that it may not have otherwise been able to convey (that the attack, etc., happened very recently in time, that it occurred at a place where things had been so normal only moments earlier.). I thought it really worked as I assume the author intended.

    Overall thoughts on this page….Wow.
    This opening scene is very intense, and it most definitely grabbed my attention and left me wanting more (even taking into account the “cringe factor” of what is actually happening). When I stopped reading, I had all kinds of questions: is the girl alive? Will the boy get to her on time? How will they both get through this? Who is the rapist, anyway? Etc…
    This is a good thing — exactly what you want your first page to do.

    I don’t know whether this is ultimately a romance or thriller or whatever, but it doesn’t matter (I’m sure it would be clear on the cover and back blurb of the book). I bought into the closeness between the twins and the horror of their situation. While the page may need a little polishing here and there, it definitely had enough narrative tension to evoke a reader response — whether fear or worry for your characters, disgust over what’s happening, or anticipation of what will happen on the next page. I think many, if not most readers will be intrigued and invested enough to turn that page to find out more about the identities and fates of these characters, and that is a true accomplishment. Well done. :)

    Best of luck, and I hope you will let the community here know when this is published!

  14. Cara
    Feb 10, 2013 @ 18:06:53

    There’s a saying in writing – kill your darlings. I’m sorry, but to be blunt, this whole beginning reads pretentious and ‘darling.’ It’s confusing to most readers, not because we’re stupid, but because the writing is too busy being something other than telling a story. There’s clearly talent here, but dear author, dial it back a few notches and let the story speak for more than the writing.

  15. Natsyea
    Feb 14, 2013 @ 11:23:09

    So this is a little late but I was out of town…I wanted to thank everybody for the critique. I definitely understand what you guys are saying in reference to the rape. It’s very hard writing something that way that doesn’t immediately turn readers off but gets the necessary point across. The scene I’m going for here is absolute despair so I’m glad that worked i just need to work on not losing my readers. I will definitely be working on that. And thanks @theo I did not know that about fraternal twins. To shed some clarity, the scene is taking place with the brother locked in the basement and the sister and the rapist upstairs. Sadly, I know if I have to explain it I didn’t do a good job of writing it! Though I would classify this story as a twisted coming of age story more than a romance, it definitely has a hea. However, this scene takes place years before any sort of romance or hea happens. I will take all of your thoughts into consideration for the re-write though. Thanks again!

%d bloggers like this: