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First Page: Untitled Manuscript – Contemporary Romance

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The women in my life have condemned me to a slow and painful death. I feel like a character in that Alfred Hitchcock movie, the one where the killer birds terrorize a town, because each word that flies out of my younger sister’s mouth pecks me, gouging my flesh and tattering my clothes.

“The bridesmaids’ dresses are in, and tomorrow I’m meeting with the caterer to discuss the place settings,” my sister Izzy says. Her mass of curly light brown hair bobs and weaves around her shoulders, trying to keep up with the jerky movements that accompany her incessant chatter.

My mother, meanwhile, is flapping her hands together like a seal. “What about the veil, sweetie? Has it come in yet?”

“Yes! Yes! Yes! I love it,” Izzy gushes. “It’s a bouffant veil, and it’s perfect. The tulle looks exquisite, and, well, you’ve seen the gown, mom. And just wait until you see the nosegay bouquets. Everything’s going to come together beautifully. I just know it!”

Peck, peck, peck. This is excruciating. There’s more to come, too, judging from the wedding checklist Izzy sent me by email two weeks ago. Do we really need to rehearse the act of eating dinner? This crap is beyond any sane man’s ability to comprehend. It’s time to get them off topic. “Where’s my future brother-in-law, by the way?” I ask Izzy. “I thought he was attached to your hip?”

Izzy dismisses me with a wave. “Very cute. He’s meeting with the kids at the community center. They’re competing in a basketball tournament today.” She turns to my mother. “So, mom, about the cake. Dragées or edible pearls?”

“What the hell is a dragée?” I ask. Izzy ignores me, so I look across the table at my younger brother Brice. He’s studying his iPhone with the focus of a brain surgeon in the operating room. And my stepfather, Dale, who’s sitting to Brice’s left, is hiding behind the Sunday sports page. Why didn’t I think to bring something to distract me from this madness?

“Gentlemen,” my mother says. Oh, yes, that’s why.

My mother’s voice is loud and firm, alerting everyone that she’s not pleased. The men whip their heads in my mother’s direction. She might look like the quintessential suburban housewife, but I’m almost certain she carries a shank, and if you gave her a couple of cocktails, she could snag a walk-on role on The Real Housewives of New Jersey. Be afraid, be very afraid.

“I thought I made my views on reading at the table clear,” she says. “This is family time. All I ask is that we have one Sunday a month to gather and catch up. Can we do that, please?” She spares me the evil eye.

“Sorry,” Dale says. “You’re absolutely right.” Hearing the appeasing tone of Dale’s voice, I can’t help but grin. He’s a tall, imposing figure, with a full head of salt and pepper curls and smooth, dark skin; he’s not the kind of man to back down from anyone, but my mother’s not just anyone, and he chooses his battles wisely. In an effort to deflect any punishment for his minor transgression, Dale turns to Brice. “Son, put that iPhone away.”

Brice smirks at him. “Sure, dad.”

Izzy directs her button nose toward Brice. “So, Brice, are you bringing a date to the wedding?”

Brice scoffs at the suggestion. “Izzy, it’s a wedding. What single man in his right mind brings a woman to a wedding? I intend to show up unattached and ready to calm the fears of the unmarried ladies in distress.”

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

28 Comments

  1. Kate Sherwood
    Jul 19, 2014 @ 07:08:58

    I like the voice, I like the details, and if the blurb was appealing I’d read on.

    But the MC had better DO something pretty soon. So far, she’s barely spoken, and we know nothing about her other than she’s melodramatic and doesn’t like wedding details. If she gets active in the next couple pages, I’d be fine, but if she just stays passive I’d probably put the book down.

    Nice characterization, though!

  2. Nemo
    Jul 19, 2014 @ 07:41:02

    I thought it was really funny! Surprisingly refreshing. Despite the eternal men’s vs. women’s interests cliche, I didn’t mind it here. Instead of mocking or putting down the wedding talk with patronizing language it sounds like you did your research. That gives me the impression the author respects the characters.

    The technical terms make it believable that the narrator is baffled. Most of the time (which makes me mad) the male/tomboy narrator is confused with normal words like ‘drapes’ and ‘bouquet’ and we’re supposed to find that funny. I actually had to look up several words which added to the realism for me.

    I can picture all the characters’ actions easily.

    All in all, it’s a scene that’s been done a hundred times before, but you did everything right. If the rest of the story is like this or better I’d definitely read on.

  3. QC
    Jul 19, 2014 @ 07:58:08

    I really liked this, but I’d also like it made clear sooner whether the MC is male or female. Just me, I guess. I decided half way through he was male. The line about the shank made me laugh.

  4. Mia Sosa
    Jul 19, 2014 @ 08:20:17

    Hi, all.

    Thanks for your comments.

    The MC is male, and if I’d included the chapter title with his name in it, the reader would know this (or skip the chapter title altogether, I’m afraid). I’ve included lines to signal to the reader that the MC is male (e.g., “the women in my life . . . ” and “beyond any sane man’s ability . . .”), but it’s been a struggle. The reader has to get beyond 600 words before his gender becomes clear. If anyone has suggestions about how to address this, I’d love to hear them.

  5. SAO
    Jul 19, 2014 @ 08:29:57

    I thought the opening para was over the top. He’s being pecked to death, his eyes gouged, and his clothes tattered by mere wedding chatter? (Obviously, I concluded MC is male) Given that he has at least one sister, he’s got to have sat through dinner table conversation about clothes before. My reaction, give me a break!

    Further, I thought that the narrator was not affectionate enough with his mom and sister, Izzy jerks (I wondered if she had Tourette’s or something) and Mom flaps.

    The rest had humor and a voice I liked. If I’d read about the flapping and the jerking and the birds gouging in the middle of a book with this voice, I’d probably roll my eyes and read on, but as an intro with no real action or plot on the page, I’d put it down.

    To sum up, this page is really not working for me, but I suspect your voice would, if you started with more affection and less over-the-top drama.

  6. Kate Sherwood
    Jul 19, 2014 @ 08:35:55

    Oh, I totally missed that the MC was male. Hmmm…

    Damn, I like it less, now. The “the women in my life” line feels more misogynistic/patronizing when it comes from a man. Actually, the whole scene feels a bit icky, with the men withdrawing from the conversation to let the women chatter about their frippery.

    And (my own sexism coming through) I’m less patient with the melodrama, coming from a man. I mean, I hate alphaholes, but apparently I also don’t have much sympathy for men who consider a peaceful family brunch to be “a slow and painful death” just because they don’t care for the topic of conversation. From a woman, I felt like it was humorous, but from a man, I feel like it’s ridiculous.

    Hmmm. I’m interested by my own reactions, there. I can’t really justify them, but that’s my honest response…

  7. SAO
    Jul 19, 2014 @ 08:37:14

    @Mia,
    Since I think you need to have MC do more on the page anyway, I’d recommend him doing something early on the page. For example, he could interrupt Izzy in para 2 and be shut up by Mom, by name. As in, “Joe, don’t interrupt.” Better yet, “Joseph Patrick Blow, where are your manners? You know better than to interrupt your sister.”

  8. Michele Mills
    Jul 19, 2014 @ 08:44:55

    @Mia Sosa: Uh oh, I thought the MC was a woman too! But I like this, I read it all the way to the end, no skimming, it even made me smile. Your voice and the characterizations kept me engaged.
    How to fix so readers immediately identify MC as male? Hmm, how about inserting his name in Izzy’s dialogue?
    Izzy dismisses me with a wave, “Very cute, (insert name here).”
    You could even identify him as male in the first sentence similar to this (of course you’ll reword it using your voice so it’ll sound much better):
    The women in my life have condemned me, a hot-blooded man in his twenties, to a slow and painful death.
    Hope these ideas help. Good luck!

  9. Michele Mills
    Jul 19, 2014 @ 08:50:43

    @SAO: It’s true, I frowned at the first para and descriptions of mom and Izzy at top because they felt a little “mean”, it almost stopped me but I kept going and enjoyed the rest.

  10. Laura Jardine
    Jul 19, 2014 @ 08:56:33

    I like the voice. Because of “the the women in my life line,” I assumed the MC was male, although I started to doubt this because I can’t think of the last time I saw a man’s POV in first person in m/f romance. (If it is m/f?) I suspect the gender of the POV character in this scene would be obvious if one had read the blurb though, as we’d know the name of the character whose family is driving him crazy with wedding preparations.

  11. JewelCourt
    Jul 19, 2014 @ 09:15:39

    Count me in as another one that this didn’t work for. I felt the narrator was a misogynistic jerk and I definitely wouldn’t read on. If he’s going to be so overly critical of his mother and sister, then I’d like to see it tempered with some affection. As it is now, I’m getting a “Bitches be crazy” vibe.

  12. Carol McKenzie
    Jul 19, 2014 @ 10:36:07

    Hi Mia:

    Thanks for sharing!

    I, too, thought the MC was female, something like the black sheep daughter of the family, coming home for the wedding. “Rachel Getting Married” came to mind instantly. “The women in my life” doesn’t specify the narrator is female: think Steele Magnolias from Julia Roberts’ POV. “Man’s sanity” might be considered gender-neutral and/or glossed over, if he reader already has a mental image of the MC.

    So, when I did figure out he was a he, I reread the page and, as with others above, I don’t find him likable. He carries an awful lot of disdain, or even outright dislike, for the women in his life. Actively disliking the wedding process is one thing; he’s pretty much actively disliking his mom and his sister. It makes me wonder how he can actually find a woman to have a romance with, if he dislikes them that much in the first few paragraphs.

    Because of that, your MC isn’t someone I want to spend an entire book with, even if he comes up against the heroine who can take him down many, many notches. I don’t really like him enough to care about that, or read further to find out what happens.

    And I have he hunch the meet between MC and the girl who’s his match happens at the wedding, which would be predictable, and would have me putting the book down as well. I’d rather he meet her at the groom’s basketball thing. Somewhere other than the wedding reception. That, to me, is a cliche or trope. Stick the anti-wedding guy in forced company with the unmarrieds and he’s swept off his feet by the girl who finds him least interesting. Please tell me that’s not what happens.

    Your female characters are pretty stereotypical: twittering bride-to-be, deliriously happy mother who domineers her menfolk. I’d like something else from them as well. I know brides and their moms get all wrapped up in the details, but on that point, I agree with the nameless MC. I don’t really want to read about it. It is over-the-top. I think you’re trying a bit too hard to show us how annoyed the MC is by giving us an amped up version of what might be more realistic.

    What I do like is your writing. It’s smooth and flows, there’s not many errors (Mom should be capitalized when it’s used in place of the woman’s name, as in “So, Mom, about the cake…” Same with dad later on when Brice speaks.)

    There are some nice gems in her…the bit about the mom and a shank, being on TRHONJ. A bit of snark would be fun; too much though is too much.

    You don’t use anyone’s name in any of the dialog, outside of tags. You could have introduced the groom’s name in the second sentence Izzy says, instead of using ‘he’. You could introduce the MC’s name by having Izzy, or his mom use it. Anyone, actually, could have said his name.

    Thanks again for sharing your work. Do you have a blurb?

  13. wikkidsexycool
    Jul 19, 2014 @ 11:07:38

    Hello Author,

    I really enjoyed this. And I knew right away that the narrator’s male. It would be nice to have his name though, so I have to agree with the others who’ve mentioned this. I don’t mind his snark, so I didn’t think it was over the top. In fact, I really liked how he was truthful to a fault. I’d read on because I enjoyed his prickly perspective on things.

    Sure, there are areas where this can be tightened up, but overall I’d say you’ve got a winner!

    I hope you will post a short blurb, and also let us know whether this is available as a self pubbed book (if that’s the direction you plan on taking). Or if you submit it to an agent. My best to you and your very skillful writing.

  14. Lucy Woodhull
    Jul 19, 2014 @ 12:07:51

    I agree that the tone is a touch icky coming from a man, esp. that first paragraph. Jeez, just start a convo of your own if those horrible women are daring to not talk about sports. /sarcasm. Your readership is mostly women, so you may want to dial the contempt (and the bland female stereotypes) down a notch. It might be funny four chapters in, after we love him. At the beginning, it’s questionable. You have a nice wit, and I’d read more without the tired women-are-so-boring thing.

    As for ID-ing the POV character as male, just say it. Have someone address him by name. Have his balls itch, I don’t know. (Kidding. Itchy balls is much more of a chapter two thing.)

    Good luck! You have a great writing style, but nothing is happening. Maybe your start is elsewhere, unless the heroine is about to walk in the room.

  15. cleo
    Jul 19, 2014 @ 12:09:35

    I’m in the fence about this. The first paragraph was too mean spirited for my taste, but I liked most of the rest of it. It took me a while to identify the narrator as male, but I figured it out before the end of the page. I’m not sure this is where your story begins.

  16. Mary
    Jul 19, 2014 @ 12:25:45

    I got that he was male fairly quickly. I actually thought it was going in a m/m direction with the narrator and the sisters fiancée but obviously I don’t know.
    Having sat through hours of wedding talk when I don’t really care, I can sympathize with him but I didn’t like the “flapping” description and he’s a bit over the top

  17. Carolyn
    Jul 19, 2014 @ 13:33:10

    I knew the MC was male also and I never saw him as mean or misogynic; he didn’t dislike his family but rather the process they were putting him through.

    I would most definitely read on, although I think I might get tired of Izzy, bless her heart.

  18. Mia Sosa
    Jul 19, 2014 @ 14:23:55

    Hello, all.

    Thanks so much for your comments, all of which have been helpful in some way. I’m fascinated by the reaction to the news that the MC is male.

    Each chapter tells the story from the POV of either the hero or the heroine. My hero isn’t a jerk, but it appears I’ve given him jerkish qualities on the first page. In the last few pages my hero takes his brother to task for the “ladies in distress” comment, so there’s more to him than the first page shows. I don’t want to lose a reader based on something that’s not going to be carried through in the rest of the book, though, so I’m going to give this more thought.

    Carol, I’m happy to tell you he doesn’t meet his match at the wedding. But the fact that you think he needs to meet his match tells me I’ve veered away from my character sketch. I think I need to start with the heroine.

    Many thanks, everyone.

  19. jamie beck
    Jul 19, 2014 @ 14:29:00

    Hi author,

    Thanks for sharing. I’ve got a mixed reaction. I did suspect the MC was male from the “women in my life” remark, then doubted it until about mid-way through, then the line “This crap is beyond any sane man’s ability to comprehend.” confirmed it for me.

    Like SAO, I did find some of it to be over-the-top cliche (the way the mom and sister were going on about the wedding, etc.), which didn’t work for me. But then the more subtle humor (“Why didn’t I think to bring something to distract me from this madness? “Gentlemen,” my mother says. Oh, yes, that’s why.) worked very well.

    As others have suggested, maybe adding a small amount of affection in his grumblings would give you a better foundation for a hero (the hero needs to love his mom and sister unless they are wicked, awful people).

    This opening gives us setting and family dynamic, but your hero isn’t doing anything but complain. Not a very compelling start. I have no idea what is at stake for him in any of this. I realize it’s tough with the 600 word cut-off and no blurb, but if there is a way to give us a hint up front, try. Maybe there is a better place to start before we get this scene. Perhaps it is just before he enters the house…he gets a text from an ex fiance who dumped him for some rich guy, which sours on his sister’s wedding, or whatnot. Obviously I don’t know your story, I’m just throwing something out there that would put him in action and give him a reason to be so grumpy about his sister’s excitement.

    Nice voice, some good humor, and the writing flows. You’ve got something here. Best of luck!

  20. QC
    Jul 19, 2014 @ 14:49:36

    Elizabeth Bennett loves her mother and sisters, but also recognizes their foibles and occasionally loses patience with them. Perhaps the MC is simply doing the same with his mother and sister. This doesn’t make him a misogynistic jerk, but rather a guy approaching the end of his rope.

  21. Kate Sherwood
    Jul 19, 2014 @ 15:13:15

    @QC: Elizabeth Bennett was female herself, so it was reasonable to assume that her frustration with some of the women in her life was directed at them as individuals rather than them as members of the ‘women’ group.

    This is far too short of a passage for us to make any definitive statements about the character. But it’s not too short to notice that there seems to be a gender divide set up within this family, with the women being concerned with silly wedding nonsense while the men are frustrated with the women.

  22. Carol McKenzie
    Jul 19, 2014 @ 15:48:21

    @QC: But we don’t get to see the love he has for his mother and sister; we get the grumbling and jerky behavior first. That first impression is what’s going to stick with the reader, if they stick with the story, and it’s going to be a long haul for the author to dissuade Dear Reader he’s really a good guy, especially if he’s cast in the hero role. Heroes can have flaws, and they should, but they also need to be likable.

    There’s really nothing loving in the first three paragraphs to give us a hint he’s at the end of his rope. It reads like he’d be happier putting that rope around Izzy’s neck.

  23. Carol McKenzie
    Jul 19, 2014 @ 15:49:29

    And what Kate said.

  24. Lori
    Jul 19, 2014 @ 18:40:39

    I also got that the character was a man and he didn’t read too over the top to me. But he also didn’t endear me enough to keep me wanting to read.

    I think I agree with the suggestion that we see some softness somewhere in this (exasperated but with love) to just make him more heroic. But I liked the tone and your writing is smooth.

  25. QC
    Jul 19, 2014 @ 18:46:01

    @ Carol and @ Kate–I totally understand what you’re saying. Hard to root for a guy who has a “those silly women” mindset.

    Upon re-reading I see the tolerant men vs ditsy women thing, which is reminiscent of parlor comedies of the early 20th century. This reads very 1930s.

    After working in a highly male dominated field, I tend to take the view that this is a flaky person, not this is a flaky woman. This is an intolerant person, not an intolerant man. That said, again, I totally get what you’re saying upon second reading. These characters and the situation smack of old stereotypes. I’d still read on.

  26. wikkidsexycool
    Jul 19, 2014 @ 20:47:21

    @Mia Sosa:

    Hello Mia,

    You said “I don’t want to lose a reader based on something that’s not going to be carried through in the rest of the book, though, so I’m going to give this more thought.”

    Reading is subjective. There are people who’ll love your writing and your characters, faults and all, and others who won’t. The decision is yours regarding what you’ll do with the feedback given here, but if you don’t feel strongly about keeping him as is, or you think that he’s coming across as a turn-off from the sampling of responses here, then you may want to change your first page and some of the descriptive observations of his family.

    I don’t know if this is your first novel or simply a new book in a long list of others. This could also be a manuscript that you put away for a while and come back to, especially if you like the quirks you’ve given your male character and want to keep them, but aren’t sure how to smooth out his edges while retaining his snark.

    QR used the example of Elizabeth Bennett’s family and their foibles, which is sort of what your male lead reminds me of. I do wonder if the narrator had been female if this would’ve come across as more of a chick-lit voice as she observes her family (though even then it could be a turn off for some readers). Since you didn’t post an example of the female narrator’s section of your book, its hard to tell whether she’ll be engaging or not. This may be a good opportunity to get a reaction on how she fares to a reader, if you so choose.

    But I think it’s a good thing that you’ve got this many comments on your first page.

    Something else to consider is that you can lose readers at any point when you release a novel. Some will either like both your leads, and some won’t. Some may not like the story arch, or how the novel ends. Others will gravitate to your first few pages, while there are those who won’t read on.

    This is all part of the process of being an author, and finding an audience for your work.

  27. Carolyn
    Jul 19, 2014 @ 20:48:23

    “…with the women being concerned with silly wedding nonsense while the men are frustrated with the women.”

    Sounds like a perfectly normal family to me.

  28. wikkidsexycool
    Jul 19, 2014 @ 21:03:31

    That should read “story arc, not story arch” in my comment.

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