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First Page: Untitled 1 – Urban Contemporary Romance

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It’s been a little over a year since my wife died.

Every evening, alone in Central Park, I run laps around the Reservoir. That’s the only time I allow myself to think about Kelly. I don’t count how many laps I run; I just run in the darkness until I can’t go on anymore, thinking about the woman that she was, and about our life together.

She was a kind woman. Helpful to people in need, always willing to help friends in a jam. And was she sexy? Lord, she was sexy. In Manhattan, where professional models run around like squirrels in a park, they would eye her enviously. It wasn’t just that Kelly was pretty; there was more to her than just being pretty. The way she dressed and carried herself, the way she spoke and laughed: she had grace, you know what I mean? And to top it off, she was whip-smart, too. Running rings around her peers. She was making a name for herself, a name that was already beginning to shine.

Then she died.

She was only 26. Not fair. I don’t know how such a thing can happen. We’d been married for four years—we were waiting for our first child to be born—when Kelly was diagnosed.

And then she died. There weren’t any last-minute cures, no eleventh-hour salvation. She got sick, and then sicker, and then she died.

And I was there. She died in my arms, as the brain cancer stole the last of her. In the end, she was hallucinating that we were both walking on a beach, hand in hand. A beach with sand as fine as flour, a turquoise sea that glittered in the sunlight, and a sky as big and as blue as the world.

That was the vision she was dreaming of when she died.

I want to believe that there was a reason for this. As I run through the cold and cruddy night, I want to believe that she did not die in vain. She was sexy, and she was beautiful, and she was smart, and she had the world at her feet.

But most of all, she was kind. It was in her voice, in her touch, in her smile. It wasn’t that fake sort of kindness, the Look-at-me-I’m-being-so-kind-to-you sort of fakery. She was true-blue. She was decent. She never spoke badly about anyone; not even about people who deserved it. She never did anything behind someone’s back; she was always up-front and honest.

She made me a better man. I didn’t think that was part of our deal, when she picked me.

Because like she always teased me, she picked me.

“Yes you did,” I’d tell her. “But I was your first pick.”

“Yes you were,” she’d agree. “You were my very first pick.”

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. SAO
    Aug 31, 2014 @ 04:29:59

    She was kind, she was sexy, she was prettier than models. I know zip about her and not much more about him. You need details and not just toddlers stopped tantruming, drill sergeants stopped cussing, the suicidal started smiling when she was near. To make me feel his love and loss, I need to know the whole person.

    What do I know about him? He valued kindness (not love) and the fact that wonderful her picked sorry old him. That’s not enough for me to want to turn the page.

    If she’s a ghost, yes, carry on for the whole page, but not in this generic way. If she’s not, one sentence will do then focus on this story.

  2. Kate Sherwood
    Aug 31, 2014 @ 05:19:51

    Yeah, I agree, this felt like too much to me. You could probably do more with less.

    It’s a cliche, but the old “It’s been three hundred and seventy-two days since Kelly died.” has more kick than “It’s been a little over a year”. If you don’t want to go with the cliche, I’d go with another opening. “A little over a year” just isn’t dramatic enough to earn your first spot, and when the rest of the page goes on and on about the death, the sentence loses what impact it had.

    I’d keep the second paragraph, then cut, I think, all the rest. It’s smoothly written, but it’s pure backstory and pure telling – it doesn’t really make me feel his grief, or understand her as anything other than a paragon.

    We can see his grief at least as effectively if we see him doing something, interacting with someone, trying to go on living his life despite the gaping hole in it.

    I do like stories of people overcoming grief, so I’d probably like your setup, but I need to be grabbed more effectively.

  3. cleo
    Aug 31, 2014 @ 06:27:34

    I like the last bit the best – starting with “She made me a better man.” It gives me the first glimpse into their relationship – gives me the first sense that they were a real couple who bantered and teased.

    The rest doesn’t work for me. I don’t trust the narrator. His grief doesn’t seem real to me, because the woman he’s describing doesn’t sound like a real person, but like some idealized paragon who was always kind, always beautiful, and I just don’t buy it. Maybe that’s intentional. Maybe part of his character arc is coming to terms with her memory as he grieves – maybe we’ll get a more well rounded picture of her later. I can’t tell. But right now Kelly reads like a Mary Sue and I have a low tolerance for Mary Sues.

  4. Carol McKenzie
    Aug 31, 2014 @ 08:27:50

    Hi Author, and thanks for sharing,

    I agree with everyone else, and with Kate’s suggestions on edits, and SAO’s comment that your MC seems to value kindness, and possibly beauty, and niceness, and all her other wonderful attributes, over love.

    The writing is smooth, but what’s written isn’t enough to get me to read on. As Cleo says, I don’t trust your MC either.

  5. theo
    Aug 31, 2014 @ 08:48:57

    Though I think this is well written, it reads like the character synopsis I generally do for each one of my characters when they’re first percolating in my head. Most of this information never makes it into the story, but it gives me a foundation to build on when I’m writing them. So, you know a bit about your dead character and that’s fine, but the reader needs to know about the living one. The pain, the depression, the pointless days and endless nights that your MC is going through. I appreciate that he runs until he can’t go on, and I’m not a runner, but I know many who tell me they run until they can’t run anymore and that’s when their ‘runner’s high’ kicks in. They’re waiting for that high and then they run on in a kind of comfort zone. So his running isn’t telling me much. How he feels doing it would, but you’d missed that opportunity. Do his lungs ache? His head hurt? His heart pound in his chest? His legs scream at him to stop and yet, he punishes himself because he couldn’t save her? You’ve missed making me care about your MC and that’s what you need to pull your reader in. The back story and character study here just isn’t enough for me.

  6. Lynne Connolly
    Aug 31, 2014 @ 09:01:50

    I absolutely love this. I don’t like first person, I really don’t like present tense, but you’ve got me. Don’t change a thing. This piece has a magic and an atmosphere and it’s breaking rules right and left. Things like don’t begin with a death, it’s a downer, don’t have too much backstory, start with action.
    I don’t care. Give me more. This man is lovely, he cares and he’s a real person. He’s running so that he doesn’t stop, he isn’t feeling sorry for himself and I’m half in love with him already.

  7. Lana
    Aug 31, 2014 @ 09:28:39

    Thank you for posting.

    I’d like to start by saying that the writing itself is very good. It is smooth, easy to read, and flows nicely. In addition, I did get feelings of his voice.

    The things that need work are the beginning and the telling. Starting with the thought of someone being dead is too cliche. And, as others have mentioned, there is too much telling and backstory. All of this can be sprinkled throughout the story and not dumped all at once. Start with an inciting element (note: this doesn’t mean that a battle must happen, but something occurs that jump starts the story and sequence of events).

    Lastly, also as others have mentioned, the ex-wife is way too perfect making it hard for readers to believe and relate. Sometimes certain quirks and imperfections make someone very endearing.

  8. wikkidsexycool
    Aug 31, 2014 @ 10:30:13

    Hello Author,

    Thank you for having the courage to submit this. I’m going to echo what many others have written, but add my own take. In your first paragraph you mention how he runs alone in Central Park, in the darkness until he can’t run anymore. This was the first flag for the skeptic in me and also the self preservationist, who wonders how he hasn’t been either robbed or assaulted if this is true, because having this routine late at night, each and every night, makes him a target (sorry, but i couldn’t get into the beautiful fantasy you’ve created here in the first few sentences).

    He sounds like a swell guy and she’s perfect in every way. So where’s the story? Because if its another page of him recalling how nice she was, then I wouldn’t read any further. Another thing is the surreal way she dies. Dying isn’t pretty. Brain Cancer is a painful, draining disease that would have her medicated enough that I doubt if she’d be speaking at all by the end. With a quick bit of research I was able to find that before death, speech is slurred and hard to understand.

    If you’re having her die with a brain cancer/tumor, you may want to use this site:

    Your writing is smooth. But for those who have experienced the death of a loved one and had to move on, while I can appreciate your tale and divorce myself from elements that read as grief being used as a plot device, please be aware that you may be called on it by another reader or readers, perhaps someone whose loved one has recently died by the same disease. With as much as you’ve written here, there’s no emotional pull (imho) to either your narrator or the recently deceased. I wanted to like this, and I think if you dig deeper you can fix it.

    I wish you all the best with your manuscript, but I think as reader, I viewed this as pure fantasy in the form of his recollection, and stubbornly refused to buy it. I’m thinking that it may be due to my own first hand experience with death. But the thing about writing is that it’s subjective, so someone else may be just fine with your take on all this.

  9. Patty H.
    Aug 31, 2014 @ 11:45:35

    Thanks for submitting this, author. As I read this I felt so distant from him, but that could work if your purpose is to make him numb, as most people are after a loss. Some people also idealize the one they have lost, which is what I feel he is doing. Grief has no limit and people can go on like this for years BUT for us readers, he’d better start coming back to life. :)

    When it comes to loss, I think the 1 year anniversary is a biggie. Before that mark, you can say, “Last year at this time we were..” There are all the “firsts” that happen. A year plus, people expect you to start moving on with no regard that you may be stuck and the grief may be just as sharp as it was 11 months ago. So the first sentence falls a little flat for me–it’s important but it didn’t punch me in the gut as it should have.

    I realize this is only the first page, but I need something more or I won’t read on. Does he run at night because he can’t stand to see other happy people at the park? Because after work he can’t go to their empty house? SHOW me how carefully he guards himself so I can empathize with him. What does he feel if he unexpectedly comes across a couple running together when he thought he had the path to himself–is he mad? Jealous? Does he look away? It doesn’t have to be huge to illustrate what he is feeling. Good luck!

  10. Lori
    Aug 31, 2014 @ 17:46:23

    I like male POV in romance and your MC is starting strong for me. I like his grief and I believe it because it takes awhile before we allow those we love who died to stop being perfect in our minds. I don’t think his wife is what he says, I think he’s remembering her in that light because the truth can’t be dealt with yet.

    In his conversational tone, you need to be aware not to break the 4th wall. “You know what I mean” kind of comments address the reader directly and that’s a no-no.

    I’d continue reading but you’ll lose me if something doesn’t change the tone soon. I can’t keep reading about the perfect dead wife … what else is happening?

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