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First Page: Urban Fantasy Romance

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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.

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There was no way I could keep my eyes shut, it was almost midnight and an unsettling feeling in my stomach kept me from a sound sleep. In eight hours, I will be on a flight to London to assume my new position at the Museum of London, one of many firsts in my 26 years of life. For a while, I just stared up at the ceiling of my old childhood bedroom pondering.

I don't know what made me more nervous, leaving my family for the first time or fear of the unknown. I was going to miss the changing of the New England seasons, the smell of the spring flowers in bloom, the crisp fresh ocean breeze on a summer night and the ever changing foliage of the fall. Most of all, I was going to miss my loving yet controlling mother, always meddling in my life, my protective tough guy on the outside father, who I had wrapped around my little finger, even the closeness of my family and friends around whenever I needed them. My heart is telling me I have to go–a job opportunity like this doesn't come but once in a lifetime and the strange pull inside myself also securing my decision even more.

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. Kimber An
    Oct 23, 2010 @ 06:10:54

    I enjoyed this opening image. It brought back feelings I remember when first striking out on my own. I don’t take well to First Person POV, so if the last paragraph makes sense to everyone then that’s why it’s not as perfect as it could be to me. I would love to see what’s going on the last paragraph broken up and shown to me instead of told. For example, the heroine could remember something her mother did which was controlling, but loving. You could throw in there something which indicates most young people feel their parents are controlling and maybe she’s not really. Because there’s a difference between a bully and an overenthusiastic parent, and a loving mother is the latter.

    Take heart. If some of the feedback here stings, please try to remember they’re only trying to help. I posted my first page here a few months ago and now I’m published.

  2. Patty H
    Oct 23, 2010 @ 06:54:36

    Your main character and the reader are waiting for something to happen. Try going forward in your story to find a better place to start. Put her in the new job, so we can see (showing) all the uncomfortable pieces, instead of telling us all she will miss. Everything that you’ve told us could be sprinkled in later in scenes that act out all of the information we need to know. Think ‘scene’ then ‘sequel’. You’ve opened with what is more of a ‘sequel’ or a reaction to a decision (accepting the new job). Open with action–which doesn’t have to be a sword fight or a car chase–but does have to be forward movement. Let us see her doing, instead of thinking.

    Good job putting it out there for us to read.

  3. query1
    Oct 23, 2010 @ 07:14:49

    I know we say first page but I wish we had first three to five because the feeling of sadness in this piece doesn’t lead me to the excitement I expect from urban fantasy.

    I want to explore the world and figure out what’s going on. Here I’m wondering how long it will take to get where ever the the heroine will be going. Unless something significant happens between bed and arrival in London (assuming she ends up in London), I’m not sure why this is the starting place of the story unless it’s the prologue.

    The writing itself was easy to read but all the sentences are very very long and nothing but introspection happens here. I get no feeling of who the heroine is, what her personality outside of sadness.

    I remember 26 and although I might have had moments of sadness when I moved, they were far outweighed by excitement and occasionally flat-out terror about upcoming my new life.

    The reason I mention it is because first impressions are paramount whether meeting a real life person or starting a story. How we are introduced to a character is how tend to remember that character. One must work hard to overcome biases that are created with a wrong first impression.

    Perhaps this is unfair but in Urban Fantasy, I want to know that the narrating character won’t be spending a lot of time feeling sorry for themselves. Opening with feelings of sadness is a little too close for me.

    I’d read a few more pages to see if the starting point was in the wrong place and figure out whether or not I like the narrator’s voice. (Key in first person.) Right now I’m ambivalent.

  4. Pat
    Oct 23, 2010 @ 07:50:18

    I’m sorry, but I’m afraid this doesn’t grab me.

    First off, what tense is it supposed to be? You switch between past and present.

    The description of New England seems too much like a tourist brochure. What she is going to miss should be personal to her. Maybe the white daffodils by the front step or the color of the sugar maple outside her window.

    Her parents also seem like cliches. That isn’t the way you think of people you love. You need at least a picture of them.

    “One of many firsts in my 26 years of life”? Does she need to tell herself how old she is? And “the strange pull inside myself also securing my decision even more”? This doesn’t even make sense.

    To me, it just doesn’t sound like a real person thinking.

  5. Sarah
    Oct 23, 2010 @ 08:08:22

    If I read a blurb on the back of a book that described an urban fantasy set at the Museum of London with an American protagonist, I definitely would read the first page. Unfortunately, this first page sets up an expectation that the protagonist might angst her way through the rest of the book.

    In my opinion, starting the book with her first day on the job and showing her nervousness about that would be much stronger. I can empathize more with someone who is nervous, but active. Someone nervous who is lying on the bed just makes me want to tell her to get going already.

    In other words, I need to know that when the heroine hears the call to adventure she won’t just sit there and ponder.

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  7. Gwynnyd
    Oct 23, 2010 @ 09:43:20

    It’s … sweet, but it feels neither urban nor fantasy and the romance is only a vague feeling that since it is called “romance” there will probably be some later. As long as you are deep in her POV, give the reader some clues about where this heading. Can she tick off her firsts? Or compare them? “…getting a job at the Museum of London. I felt the same fizz of excitement and fear roiling around in my guts as I’d had when I staked my first vampire” (horrible cliche, I know). “I can’t wait to get away from mom’s stupid rules. In London, no one will care if I straighten my hair while watching tv, or levitate the morning paper, and I can leave open books on my very own table. But when the ghosts wake me with nightmares, well I’l just have to cope on my own. I can’t hang onto mom forever.” Tell the reader something to give a clue where this headed. Or, as the other commenters mentioned, skip this and start later.

    Good luck!

  8. hapax
    Oct 23, 2010 @ 10:28:16

    The easiest cliche opening to right is protagonist waking up in a room, and wondering where s/he is.

    Second easiest is protagonist lying down in a room and thinking about where s/he’s been.

    Unfortunately, they are both terrible places to start — passive and infodumpy.

    I have a lot of drafts that start this way, because it’s a great way for the writer to sort things out in her own mind, ease into the character’s voice, and so on. So there’s nothing wrong with it as a writing exercise.

    But I’ve never written (or seen) a story that couldn’t be improved by cutting the entire scene entirely in the final draft, and beginning where the actual story begins.

  9. hapax
    Oct 23, 2010 @ 10:30:24

    The easiest cliche opening to right

    Gaah. Easiest to WRITE, to WRITE — critic, proofread thyself!

    However, fortunately, it’s the easiest to MAKE RIGHT as well!

  10. josephine myles
    Oct 23, 2010 @ 10:30:28

    There’s a lot packed into these two paragraphs, and I think it’s an information overload. I’d suggest setting the scene more – putting us into the character’s immediate environment and describing her reactions to it, and then bringing in these details about her family a little later on.

    Maybe some more movement would help – if the narrator got out of bed and started interacting with things that sparked off these thoughts about her mother – perhaps a gift she had been given by her, particularly if it was one that illustrated just how meddlesome she is.

    And as someone else has mentioned, keep an eye on those tenses. It’s jarring to have them change like that. Still, there’s plenty of potential with the idea and your narrator being on the brink of such a huge change is a great starting point for a narrative.

  11. josephine myles
    Oct 23, 2010 @ 10:33:28

    @josephine myles: I said it was a great point to start, but I have to agree with hapax that the waking up in bed part is a cliche. How about starting with her on the aeroplane? Or throwing us straight into her first day at work?

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  13. Tamara Hogan
    Oct 23, 2010 @ 11:24:33

    I agree with those who have said that this doesn’t seem like the optimal place to start your story. It feels pretty static, passive and introspective to me.

    The main character seems to be on the cusp of a major change in her life. As a reader, I’d prefer to learn about the heroine by watching her react to something real, rather than overhearing her thoughts about her fear of the unknown.

    By the end of the second paragraph, we know a lot more about the weather in New England, and the heroine’s feelings about her father and mother, than we do about the heroine herself, or the situation she’s about to walk into. Page One isn’t the right place for such detailed information about anyone other than your heroine.

    On revision, you might try dropping her into the new situation, and making her deal with it. Her reactions, and the decisions she makes when she’s in unfamiliar territory, can be very, very telling in terms of character.

    The mix of past and present tense in the first paragraph of the book was startling, and quickly threw me out of ‘reader’ mode into ‘critique’ mode.

    Thanks for putting this out there. Good luck!

  14. Caroline
    Oct 23, 2010 @ 11:42:48

    Sorry, but this is basically the leaving Arizona monologue from the opening of the movie version of twilight. Almost the same word choices. Check it out and see.

  15. Ell
    Oct 23, 2010 @ 11:44:00

    It reads to me like the beginning of the outline, not the story.

  16. Julia Sullivan
    Oct 23, 2010 @ 11:48:59

    You started too early, as others have said. It’s like if you went to the theater, took your seat, and saw the tech people sweeping the stage, setting up the scenery, and adjusting the lights—you might leave in impatience, and even if you didn’t, the impact of what was to come would almost certainly be blunted by all the mundane business that came before.

    As others have also said, this is an easy problem to fix, and one where the principle of “Show more often than you tell!” can be your friend.

  17. Tasha
    Oct 23, 2010 @ 13:12:27

    Your opening sentence is a comma splice. Your second sentence is a different verb tense from the first one.

    Given that neither sentence grabs me anyway, that’s where I stop reading.

  18. Lynne Connolly
    Oct 23, 2010 @ 13:53:18

    The others have more or less nailed it. But the Museum of London prefers to employ Londoners, and people who know a lot about the city. So maybe you need to explain why they employed her, what her specialism is.
    It’s very short, and I liked the tone, but it would be nice to have a little more direction.

  19. Laura Vivanco
    Oct 23, 2010 @ 16:02:14

    I was going to miss the changing of the New England seasons, the smell of the spring flowers in bloom, the crisp fresh ocean breeze on a summer night and the ever changing foliage of the fall.

    This sentence makes me wonder how much she knows about London, and what the differences are between “the changing of the New England seasons” and the changing of seasons in London. Hasn’t she worked out that there are plenty of deciduous trees in England?

    Maybe other readers would respond differently, but once I’d started asking myself questions about trees, flowers and seasons in London and New England, I was more than a little distracted and just skimmed over the rest of the page.

  20. FunnyGirl
    Oct 23, 2010 @ 16:42:30

    I’ve never read a first person “as you know, Bob” before. She’s telling us things she already knows, so I feel like this entire page is 100% for the reader’s benefit, and pointless otherwise. Show us her first day on the job and axe all the telling us about it. I agree with the others on picking a tense, etc. Good luck!

  21. Miss Moppet
    Oct 23, 2010 @ 16:48:01

    I worked in museums for several years so I’d love to read an urban fantasy set in a museum. Urban history and urban fantasy are the perfect combination.

    But: I strongly suggest that you don’t use the name of the actual museum, because referring to real institutions can lay you open to libel. If, for example, one of your characters is a curator at the Museum of London, one of the real curators could argue they were being described. It can be exactly the same sort of museum, but I think it might be best to change the name to something different, like, say, “The Museum of Urban History”. Also if it’s not a real place you’re free to fit the setting around the plot without people emailing you to say they went there last summer and it’s totally different.

    Apart from that, what everyone else said, and particularly what Gwynnyd said. For me, the first page needs a character to focus on, confirmation of the genre, a bit of atmosphere, something happening and a hook to pull me into the story. So far – and admittedly this feels like only half a page – I’ve only got one out of five.

    I always learn a lot from reading these, so thank you for posting and best of luck with the book.

  22. Maura
    Oct 23, 2010 @ 20:43:47

    I’m afraid I had a lot of trouble with the writing here. Your tenses are all over the place. She “will be on a flight,” but she “stared at her ceiling.” She “was going to miss” her family, but her heart “is telling her” to go. It was hard for me to get past the first paragraph.

    “There was no way I could keep my eyes shut, it was almost midnight and an unsettling feeling in my stomach kept me from a sound sleep.” This comma doesn’t belong here; it should be a period or a semicolon.

    I’m sure we can all relate to this kind of mood, but I’ll echo others in saying that it’s passive and infodumpy. Ditch this and start where the story starts.

  23. Maili
    Oct 23, 2010 @ 21:26:37

    @Laura Vivanco: Well, the narrator did say “I don't know what made me more nervous, leaving my family for the first time or fear of the unknown.”

    It strongly implies she hasn’t visited Britain yet. The narrator probably thought London was nothing but a concrete jungle with a river running through it and that it always rains. :D

    I agree with Miss Moppet on changing the name:

    Technically, there isn’t the Museum of London in one place and in a singular sense. It’s a collective of museums and archive libraries but officially, it’s three museums.

    - MOLM (Museum of London: Museum) near St. Paul’s (cathedral)
    - MOLD (Museum of London: Docklands) in Canary Wharf
    - MOLA (Museum of London: Archaeology) near Old Street tube station.

    I know this because I made the same mistake. A friend and I arranged to meet at – in her words – “the Warehouse”. I assumed she was being funny and so I turned up at the MOLM, but she was at MOL Docklands, which is located in a warehouse, a few miles away. Oh.

    So, which of these three was the narrator talking about? :D This is why I feel Miss Moppet is right – invent a museum. It’d make your life much easier. :D

  24. Maili
    Oct 23, 2010 @ 21:31:45

    but officially, it's three museums

    Correction: two museums and an archive library. I don’t know, to be honest. I only know them by said friend’s nicknames: the Museum, the Warehouse, and the Brothel.

  25. Sao
    Oct 24, 2010 @ 13:21:41

    If there’s anything worse than starting your book with the classic sit-and-think, it is starting it with lie-down-and-ponder.

  26. Ankaret Wells
    Oct 24, 2010 @ 13:32:50

    I’m British, and novels about the UK with American protagonists always have to work extra hard to convince me. I might well love this if I had the book in my hands, but it’s hard to tell from this extract.

    Like a couple of other commenters, I was distracted by the confusing changes in tense, from past to present and back to past and then back to present again. Maybe you could try rewriting it in past tense and then in present, and see which seems to fit the scene best to you?

  27. Jane Lovering
    Oct 25, 2010 @ 04:05:41

    I kept re-reading this, knowing that something disturbed me, and I finally figured it out – this reads to me like the opening of a YA. Change 26 to 17 and it would work just as well (apart from above mentioned glitches in tense, content). At 26, this young lady sounds much younger, with her introspection and self-absorbtion. While I realise that a lot of people are still living at home at 26, most of the ones I know are railing against it, desperate to leave and set up their own place. This young woman sounds a little bit ‘young for her age’ with her worries about leaving her family for the first time. Perhaps you could make her a little more grown up by implying that she’d already left home once, but it had been a disaster and she’d been driven back by emotional/financial problems?

    I’m interested to know where it goes from here – and, speaking as a Brit, it would be nice to have some more UF set here – so I’d love to see you make it work!

  28. okbut
    Oct 25, 2010 @ 08:44:03

    Introspection 101 is terrible on first page: telling the reader what the protagonist is feeling without providing much background, wasted opportunity and space.

    Who is she? why is she going to London? in what capacity? for how long? and so on. In spite of the personal musings, we still arent very informed at the end of the first page, except knowing she is 26, living at home, lying in her own childhood bed and going to London. BORING.

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