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First Page: Untitled Women’s Fiction

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David watched  his wife and daughter laughing and squabbling affectionately in the cockpit and suddenly it all came back to him in a rush- the deception and the guilt coming at him relentlessly in spite of his earnest attempts to ward it off. His stomach turned over sickeningly with the thought of what he’d done. He took the teak cleaner up to the deck and started wiping the rails.

With each stroke of the rag on the smooth wood, a mantra repeated itself in his head. How…How…How… How could I have done it? He leaned his forehead on the fiberglass, trying to stop the trembling, clutching the stained rag like a lifeline. Suddenly a noise came from the back of the boat and he realized Caroline and Hannah were coming . He straightened up and concentrated on his rubbing.

"We're going to go for a walk around the marina to see who's here," said Caroline. "We'll be back in a few minutes."

David rubbed industriously at the wood, avoiding looking at his wife. "I should be done here by the time you get back and then we can go out on the water."


Windswept's mainsail was up, and the jib was a clean, crisp white   against the azure blue sky. Wind filled the canvas with a snap as the sails billowed. The boat immediately heeled over with the force of the wind and surged forward through the waves with barely-leashed power.

Reaching down to kill the engine, Caroline stood to savor her favorite moment in sailing- the first instant with only the sound of the wind and the waves and the feel of the boat under her feet, driven solely by the power of nature. She grinned at David and he smiled back, akin in the joy of that marvelous feeling of anticipation and accomplishment. When he turned back, the smile turned to self-loathing.

Caroline handed the wheel over to David and wrapped her arms around the mast to savor the beauty of the afternoon. She didn't mind letting David have his fun.   She enjoyed just being here, feeling the boat slice through the water, heeled over with one rail in the water.

Holding on to the mast with one hand, she stretched the other above her head, getting the kinks out after a hard week at work. Her long brown curly hair was blowing wildly in the wind. She hadn't had enough ambition to exercise before this first sail of the season and she was going to feel it tomorrow. Most of the time it was just the two of them on the boat and she crewed the boat alone, but she enjoyed the work. It was a labor of love.

She loved Windswept more than she thought it was proper to love a possession. The boat had been a part of the family for their entire married life, since it had been their wedding present to each other 16 years ago.

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. Anne Douglas
    Jan 22, 2011 @ 07:42:03

    This starts in the wrong spot for me.

    It would read better to me, by opening on the nicely set scene of the sails and that moment when the motor stops (know just what the authors means there :) ), then bringing in the scene with the husband after. (ups the guilt factor too I would think. The nice moment of enjoyment then all the guilt floods back in)

  2. Joanne
    Jan 22, 2011 @ 08:07:33

    A man feels guilty (and is he, by any chance, freaking whining about what he did?), a woman thinks she should have exercised, a child goes into town, the weather is fine for sailing, the man and woman have been married 16 years. So?

    Your writing is good (IMO) but this opening doesn’t tell me anything that makes me want to keep reading. As Anne Douglas said it starts in the wrong place, at least for me.

    I think you have a nice way with words they just need to be arranged in a way that draws the reader in for the story.

    Thank you for putting your work here and good luck with your writing.

  3. DS
    Jan 22, 2011 @ 08:20:41

    @Anne Douglas: I agree with where the story should have started. By the time we get to sailing I really had no patience with David and was hoping he was going to get dumped for someone more interesting.

  4. Cynthia
    Jan 22, 2011 @ 08:42:11

    I agree with you about starting with the sailing, which is why I did start the book that way. Two different editors, however, said it would catch the reader’s interest better if I started with David and his guilt so we know from the outset there is something nasty going on.

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  6. loreen
    Jan 22, 2011 @ 09:39:51

    Is the story going to continue in David’s POV, or switch back and forth between him and Caroline? Given that this is “Women’s Fiction” and David has done something terrible, am I right that Caroline’s perspective will be dominant? I don’t mind a story that changes back and forth, but I don’t think it should switch frequently on the same page, especially not the first page.
    I agree that the story is starting in the wrong place. Either back way up and start with David or begin with Caroline in her perfect world that is clearly about to be destroyed. Also, I think it only works to keep the reader in the dark about David’s big bad secret if the perspective stays with Caroline. If we are in David’s head, I would find it irritating to read further without knowing anything about what he did. Embezzled money? Sold the house and moved the family to Alaska? Slept with another woman? Killed the family dog? No one thinks to himself, “I cannot believe I did that terrible thing I did.” They think, ” I hope she never finds out about the money/body in the closet”
    If you are going to keep the secret suspenseful, you need to stay away from David’s POV until the cat is out of the bag.
    That being said, I think you evoked the fun of sailing really well. And I hate sailing, so that is saying a lot!

  7. Helen Jones
    Jan 22, 2011 @ 09:48:18

    I agree with your editors, cynthia. As pretty as a scene with the sailboats would be, nothing would be happening. they all tell you to start in the middle of the action. this way you know right away that not all is well is this idyllic setting, you know he did something wrong, and it’s not a small thing. good writing.

  8. Renda
    Jan 22, 2011 @ 10:18:26

    I like your writing very much.
    Don’t like starting with David, though.
    And I did wonder about how many POVs there would be. Are we doing to get the daughter’s at some point, too? None of these are dealbreakers for me, though. Just want to reiterate I like the writing.

  9. Valerie
    Jan 22, 2011 @ 10:25:22

    I was really kind of hoping by the end of David’s narrative that he was going to blow up the boat in a dramatic guilt-driven suicide attempt. Whiny guilty husband is NOT interesting or engaging to me.

    I like your voice, but I don’t like what you’ve chosen to write about thus far. Why should I care about these people?

  10. Carol J
    Jan 22, 2011 @ 10:55:11

    “In Medios Race.” A writing instructor drummed this into our heads ~~ start in the action. I know I don’t always do it, however. That being said, I want the warmth of July and to be on the water. You brought me to that place with your second page!

  11. Sao
    Jan 22, 2011 @ 10:55:43

    I didn’t like the first section with David, it smacked of author keeping me in the dark about the big secret. I don’t mind things like, “David scrubbed the boat, forcing the images away. On this beautiful day he refused to feel guilty,” because that is part of his thought process, not author saying Nyah,Nyah, I know a secret and I’m not telling!

    The other problem is that you are telling us he feels guilty, but there’s no action. It would work much better if his actions (result of guilt) made wife wonder what was wrong Nd be a cloud in her day. Or if he was trying to hide something from her.

    Presumably, if he was so wracked with guilt that he nearly tossed his cookies, his wife of 16 years would notice. She can think oh, it’s just one of his moods. But you’re going to have a hard time convincing me of the realism of your actors if she sees nothing wrong and he’s a real baddie.

  12. Ann T
    Jan 22, 2011 @ 12:12:12

    I liked you starting with David. Lots of questions and his “whining” didn’t bother me. Actually, I don’t get why his angst is any different than the 100s of other characters with angst. Where you lost me, and I totally agree with your editors, is the next scene. Like others have said, you write well and the description was well done but you went from something interesting to something not interesting and lost me. Can you expand on the David scene? Or at least, get Caroline doing something more active. Just seems to be an abrupt transition between the interest of the David scene to the next. Good luck!

  13. Rachel
    Jan 22, 2011 @ 12:41:33

    @Carol J: “Start in media res” is one of those writing “rules” instructors drill into students’ heads because some other instructor drilled it into their heads as being a “rule,” not because it serves the writing. It works better in some cases than others. If you’re writing a spy thriller, having a bomb explode in the first sentence may be the perfect catalyst for nail-biting plot progression. If you’re writing character-driven women’s fiction, you don’t set off the bomb until the reader knows the character well enough to care that her dream of being a hand model is destroyed by the loss of her fingers.

    One issue I have with the writing is POV related (and I see this in published books all the time, so obviously it’s not a killer for everyone). “Her long brown curly hair”–Who thinks about the length, color, and texture of their own hair that way? That’s author intrusion. Unless all the description is somehow relevant to the story, “Her hair” is all I need to know here.

    I’m also not fond of “was verb-ing” constructions when they can be easily simplified. In the same sentence, “Her… hair was blowing” would be smoother if her hair just “blew.”

  14. Tamara Hogan
    Jan 22, 2011 @ 13:10:16

    I thought the opening scene with David was a little heavy-handed in how it established a suspenseful tone. As an author, I think you’ve tipped your hand a little too early. Consider starting with the second scene, with Caroline enjoying being out on the water, until she notices something…odd and SPECIFIC about David’s behavior. (A woman who’s been married to a man for 16 years is likely to notice something unusual about his behavior, communication style or body language – unless he’s a complete sociopath.) Let the tension build slowly, assiduously. See what happens.

    Speaking of which… ;-) I thought David’s scene used a few too many adverbs: suddenly, affectionately, sickeningly, industriously. I think sparing use of adverbs generally makes already strong writing even stronger.

    Thanks for putting this out there. I think your editors are giving you some good advice.

  15. DM
    Jan 22, 2011 @ 14:27:58

    “In Medios Race.” A writing instructor drummed this into our heads ~~ start in the action.@Carol J:

    If that is how they spelled it, treat their advice with caution.

  16. Courtney Milan
    Jan 22, 2011 @ 14:45:04

    I immediately assume that David is cheating on his wife, and that makes me immediately not want to read this.

    If David is not cheating on his wife–if, for instance, he is in fact selling secrets about US troop movements to the enemy, or he has suggested the boat trip so he can secretly auction off the family home to pay for his gambling addiction–I would really like to know that up front, because that would give me a reason to want to keep reading.

    Right now I read this and think, great, this is going to be a story about cheating, and only cheating, and then more cheating. I want to read this not one tiny little bit. The stories I have read that I liked that involved cheating never lead with the cheating–they lead with character and conflict other than cheating (you do have conflict other than the cheating, right?), and let the bits about cheating come out naturally. But this is so heavy handed that it makes me feel like, if I read this book, I will have to suffer a deluge of cheating and angst about cheaters, with no reprieves whatsoever.

    All that being said, other people like those books, and they sell, so I may just not be your audience.

  17. galwithhoe
    Jan 22, 2011 @ 16:41:21

    The husband opening doesn’t work for me.

    I feel jerked around: The husband is so whiny that I expect him to slip up and say or do something suspicious… He doesn’t. And then comes the lovely POV of Caroline but it’s completely unrelated to the whiny husband’s woes… She is clueless.

    I feel like I was promised immediate tension but then the author doesn’t follow through.

    I love the second part. Good writing there, and if this were the beginning, I would keep reading to find out what happens next. I don’t need the dramatic opening. Let the tension build.

    Thanks for sharing.

  18. Cynthia
    Jan 22, 2011 @ 16:53:39

    Such diverse comments! I agree with both sides of the “In Medios Race” issue because there are good reasons to go either way– and I have.

    Some background– I submitted this last July and several changes have been made in chapter one since then. There is more character development for all three main characters on page one and beyond. The book will use two POVs, with Caroline’s the predominent one, say, 65%/35%.

    I was very interested in Tamara’s and Rachel’s comments and I think they both make excellent points. A slow character- driven opening followed by an emotional confrontation would be better for the genre for which I’m aiming. I had perhaps jumped the gun in trying to amp up the tension early on but I should reevaluate.

    Thanks to all who gave this a look and I look forward to reading more of your insightful opinions.

  19. SAo
    Jan 23, 2011 @ 00:34:48

    I think one of the reasons no one really likes the opening scene with David is that it seems like a tacked on addition. Nothing wrong with starting with David if something happens in the scene or it’s the beginning of the conflict (ie wife suspects something).

    I suspect your original opening scene with the sailing and the wife’s growing worry about David threaded through would give us the right mood and showcase your writing skills.

  20. Kristi
    Jan 23, 2011 @ 00:39:20

    Cockpit reminds me of a plane and it bugged. Why dont you think about using transom instead?

  21. Cynthia
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 10:47:53

    Actually, Sao, that is exactly what I’ve done throughout the rest of chapter one and more as the conflict heats up and Caroline finds out he’s been unfaithful to her. After some blow-ups between the two, David moves out and his “girlfriend” knocks on the door intent on snatching David herself. Hannah goes into hysterics and throws her out. From there on, life becomes a nightmare for the entire family.

  22. Cynthia
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 10:49:27

    Because a transom is not a cockpit. A transom is on the back of a boat– the part where the name of the boat is often put. Both the cockpit of a plane and a sailboat have similar characteristics and origins and cockpit is the correct term for where the captain and passengers sit in a sailboat. I’ll see what I can find for a subsitute of it bothers everyone, but I’m inclined to leave it be.

  23. Ell
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 21:32:37

    “Cockpit” bothered me, but if you know it’s a sailboat *first*, it wouldn’t. So changing order would help–put something that indicates boat in early. Or just “the sailboat’s cockpit” where it now says “the cockpit”.

  24. Cynthia
    Jan 25, 2011 @ 08:26:54

    Good point, Ell.

  25. Nadia Lee
    Jan 26, 2011 @ 02:02:11

    It is “in medias res” NOT “in medios race”.

    I agree w/ what Courtney Milan said.

  26. Sharon
    Feb 20, 2011 @ 21:25:03

    “Cockpit” was a problem for me, too, because it made me think we were in an airplane. When I got to “teak cleaner”, “deck” and “rails”, I realized we were on a boat, but that switch in orientation was jarring and pulled me out of the story. I suggest that you save references to the cockpit until after your readers know that we’re on a sailboat.

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