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First Page: YA Paranormal Romance

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Update: You guys, I messed up. The author sent me a revised version and I put up the unrevised one so I am terribly sorry for the confusion (not to mention the early posting). Here is the revised version:

The screen door slams behind me with a loud creak and double-bouncing bang, announcing my attempted escape.

“Lia? You going out?”

I cringe and exhale then turn and face my mother through the dark screening. She’s dressed in her new red interview suit, a face full of going-somewhere makeup, and her hair up in clips where she’s been straightening it in sections. She’s rushed to the door in her stocking feet, causing a fresh run to start near her big toe.

“Just going for a walk. You’d better change those.“ I point to her foot.

“Shoot!“ She hikes up her skirt and starts ripping the pantyhose off. “What the heck am I doing? I haven’t worked in sixteen years. They’re going to laugh me out the door.“

“They’ll love you.“

“Sure. How could they not want such a strong job candidate? Forty-three, living with my mother again, and did I mention the part about no work experience?”

“Mom. They’re going to love you.”

She gives me a doubtful smile and sighs, the shallow wrinkles on her forehead deepening. “Why do you want to go tromping around in those buggy, thorny woods everyday, Lia? You know I hate it.”

“I won‘t go far. I‘ll probably be back before you even get home.”

I know exactly what this is about. In my mother’s mind, I’m still six years old, likely to wander off and get lost, and this time, never return.

There‘s a pause, and I can almost see the arguments forming in my mom‘s mind, but thankfully she doesn’t have time to make them.

“Well… spray yourself so you don‘t get eaten alive.” She opens the door, thrusting the insect repellant at me. “And stay on the trails. And don’t be late.”

“You don’t be late.” I smile at her. “And good luck.”

I mist my arms and legs, then head into the trees bordering my grandma’s house. My home now, too, as of three days ago. I’ve come here for visits my whole life. Now it’s a little more permanent, which is fine with me. I’ve always loved this place. The hot clinging air, the rambling log house, and especially the deep, dense woodland surrounding it. The locals would probably think that’s kind of strange, since most of them remember when I nearly died out here.

I walk and listen to birds, whining insects, sticks snapping under my sneakers. All familiar and welcoming. And a familiar feeling comes back to me as well. Of hoping for… something. I’m not sure what. I promised not to go far, and I didn’t plan to, but once I got going, it was too tempting to keep on walking, exploring deeper into the woods. Anyway, if I’d kept my promise and stayed on the trail, I never would have found this.

The spring-fed pool is so clear I can see the large flat rocks and green plants lining the bottom. Leaves pirouette from the surrounding trees, landing and floating on the glassy surface. Sunlight streams through the treetops in little pockets, making a kaleidoscope pattern on the moss and springy wild ferns growing along the water‘s edge. It feels like my own magical discovery. Shame to let it go to waste.

My t-shirt and shorts are plastered to me at this point, and my skin actually feels thirsty. August in Mississippi isn’t for wusses. Looking at the clear water, the idea of an outdoor bath is starting to seem too delicious to resist. It’s kind of crazy– I mean, I didn’t exactly pack a swimsuit for my little nature walk– but I could use a minute or two of crazy in my life right about now.

I look around, then laugh at myself and shuck my sweaty clothes, leaving my bra and panties on. There may be three hundred acres of my grandma’s posted forest land between me and the nearest human, but I’m not that brave.

I step into the cool water and slip under, blowing out all the stuffy humid air in my body. After a minute my lungs start burning and I resurface, stand up in the waist-deep pool, and wait for the water to stop running down my face. Then I open my eyes.

There in front of me, kneeling on the mossy bank, is the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen, male or female. This one’s definitely male.

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

24 Comments

  1. Persephone Green
    Oct 28, 2011 @ 23:26:25

    I like the premise and the intro, but the present tense really pulls me out of the story. So does the first person, actually, but that’s a personal preference. Present tense, on the other hand, is something I would really only recommend for a very seasoned writer. Even then, it’s easy to screw it up. Badly.

    Urban Fantasy and YA Paranormals tend to use 1st/past tense, whereas PNRs tend to go with 3rd limited/past tense. IMHO,this allows the UF writer to introduce a little sarcasm and dry wit more easily into the plot.

    The ending seems a little corny to me. (“All my mother’s worries about me in the woods are about to come true.”) Also, the last paragraph feels too calm and relaxed like the preceding paragraphs. Maybe breaking it up into individual actions like she’s actually panicking during her thought process might make it more suspenseful.

  2. Alex
    Oct 28, 2011 @ 23:38:21

    I liked this a lot until I got to the most beautiful person ever part. That seemed … weird? Contrived. Especially the Abercrombie part. If she’s scared or even surprised, would she notice that?

    I guess I’m one of those rare individuals who enjoy 1st person present. I do agree with the above poster about the adding suspense. Her thoughts, it seemed should be peppered with emotions as well. Something to indicate she’s scared.

    I also think it would be a better hook if you switched paragraph one and paragraph two. I don’t really like YA stories after the whole sparkly characters debaucle, but it caught me in paragraph two. Then it lost me again in paragraph where you describe him.

    Good luck though! =) It has promise.

    Edited to make first part clearer.

  3. JL
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 00:07:16

    I like your voice and think you have some really elegant descriptions. The present tense doesn’t bother me. What threw me from the story, though, is that once the guy is introduced, all the description is on him. I think it would ring more true to know what the protag is feeling at that moment. Is she scared? Nervous? Excited? Does she hold her breath or fight the urge to scream? I have trouble buying that she would notice the quiver of his legs and ripple of ab muscles before she has any kind of physical or emotional reaction.

  4. Maggie
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 00:26:49

    It’s unlikely I will pick up this book, but the movie sounded very interesting (especially the fact that it stars the very dreamy Sam Worthington) so I streamed it on Netflix. It’s fantastic!

  5. Maggie
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 00:29:08

    Oops. My apologies. The preceding comment was intended for the Toni Blake review. Please excuse the interruption.

  6. Jane
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 00:33:10

    I am so sorry guys but I totally screwed up. The author had sent me a revised version and I failed to post it. I redid the post to put in the revised version. Do you want me to delete your original comments or …? SORRY!!!

  7. Alex
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 00:38:00

    @Jane – oddly I liked the other one better. I didn’t finish reading this one. >8( You can erase mine if “I liked the other better” is not helpful lol. <3

  8. SHZ
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 03:35:10

    In the author’s defence, almost all YA I read is written in the first person. It’s not something I’m a fan of in fiction for adults (unless you’re Jeaniene Frost, Kristan Higgins or Charlaine Harris), but I got over my aversion to it in YA and have read some great books that use it.

  9. Kristen
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 05:36:53

    I always read these but rarely comment. Just wanted to say that I loved this. Loved the voice, loved the description. I didn’t even notice that it was present tense until reading through the other comments. I would definitely read on. Thanks!

  10. JenMcQ
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 07:32:18

    I really liked this. My CP writes YA, and I think present tense first person is not only accepted, but maybe approaching standard in the genre. Based on my CP’s choice of genre (I write historical, by the way), I have been judging more YA in contests, and this would rank up among the top of what I have been seeing lately.

    What I liked the most about this piece was the author’s voice. She moved from dialogue to lush descriptions to introspection in a way I found appealing. I loved the references to something terrible/fateful happening in those woods when she was little, but that she was nonetheless called to explore them again. It upped the suspense for me and made me want to read on, which is what the first paragraphs are supposed to do.

    The one thing that I could say is the author could perhaps reach for a more gripping opening sentence. Though it sets up that the protagonist is trying to “escape”, it was a rather mundane way to open. Given the author’s creative chops with the rest of the piece, I suspect she can do better.

  11. Wahoo Suze
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 10:49:22

    I really liked it. There’s a lot of sensory description, so I can create a 3D, HD, sound-surround image. I’m intrigued by mom’s situation, I’m curious about the past trauma. I’d keep reading.

  12. Darlynne
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 10:56:16

    I like this submission very much, perhaps because I have always been a fan of first person, present tense. The descriptions–a face full of going-somewhere makeup and my skin actually feels thirsty–are clear, vivid and interesting. This is a book I would definitely read. Thanks for posting it.

  13. JL
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 12:01:29

    My comments above were for the previous version. I just wanted to say that I think this version is great and much improved. Fantastic voice.

  14. Abbie Rhoades
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 12:11:31

    Hey Author of the YA Paranormal Romance!

    First off, keep in mind every suggestion I make is only my opinion. And you know what they say about opinions:) Don’t change a thing unless a suggestion rings true to you. You are the master of this universe you created and you can do whatever you want in your world.

    I think first person works well for YA. Present tense is what gets a little tricky because some people like it and some people loathe it.

    IMHO, the very beginning wasn’t grabbing me. I guess the sneaking out/escaping thing just didn’t seem that exciting to me because even when she was caught, it turned out okay and she was allowed to leave anyway. So is it really sneaking out/escaping?

    And there just wasn’t any great conflict or tension between Lia and her mom to hold my attention. In a way I felt like that was all there as a way of setting things up and cleverly delivery backstory. But very cleverly–wasn’t as obvious as a lot of other pieces I’ve read.

    For me the story didn’t get exciting until she says, “The locals would probably think that’s kind of strange, since most of them remember when I nearly died out here.”–That’s when I really perked up and wanted to read more. In fact I wonder if you could move this up to the opening somehow. It gives an immediate sense of danger and that was when I started caring about Lia. But that’s just me.

    And the last sentence–“…male or female. Definitely male.” If he’s definitely male, why the question of male or female.

    Your descriptions were really good. I even re-read them because they were so beautifully done.

    Best of Luck! Keep writing.

  15. hapax
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 16:29:51

    I suspect that I may not be the audience for this one, I’m dying to know more about the mother, and why she moved back to her mother’s, and how it goes on her first day at the job…

  16. Infiniteworlds
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 21:12:16

    First let me say that its nice to see a well written piece on here! After all, this is first page saturday, not first draft saturday. So, good job on that! Your writing moves along at a good pace, is easily read and well described without getting purple. I actually wouldn’t have minded a bit more description, or some more little bits explaining how her surrounding make her feel.
    My biggest issue with this was simply that you listed it as YA paranormal romance. Not that there is anything wrong with the genre, but personally, I’m so overstuffed with YA paranormal romance that I get nauseous at the thought. So when we meet future love interest at the end of the page, and he’s so stunningly gorgeous, I’m cringing and just waiting for him to start sparkling. (shudder)
    And I assume that he is supernatural and therefore ethereally beautiful, but I have a problem with that. Really, what are the chances? I’m tired of romantic characters of either sex being inexplicably gorgeous. Most people aren’t so perfect. Even Johnny Depp has flaws. But they make people even more beautiful, because you get used to them and they make a person unique. Also, flaws are kinda cute! When I first met my husband, I thought he was gorgeous. I also thought he had a funny-looking nose and acted nerdy. But I still thought he was beautiful.
    I guess this is just my little rant on uber-perfection of male love interests, sorry. I just miss the little imperfections that make characters REAL.
    continuing…
    Your MC would not be so attuned to the physical perfection of a man watching her swim in her bra and panties. Her mind would be on the horror of being seen like this, perhaps she would think he was dangerous. She almost died in this woods years ago, and she is far from help, alone, and not in a position to defend herself. Why was he there? Had he been following her? Is he going to hurt her? How could she not have heard him? How long had he been here?
    Even if she is the trusting sort and didn’t consider him dangerous, she would at least be appalled and sink down so he couldn’t see her as well. This is the girl who is so shy that she won’t strip down naked to swim in a pool in the middle of a 300 acre NOWHERE. She’e going to be freaking out to be caught in her undies by a strange man.
    Also, her interactions with her mom are too brief to feel like a scene. They either need to be longer and reveal something important about your MC’s relationship with her mom, or be cut completely. Just start out with her doing homework on a sunny day, and it’s too stuffy and hot but she knows that her mom won’t let her go for a hike in the woods because she’s gotten lost and almost died, and even though she’s older now, there was a attack on a teen girl the next town over, and the suspect hasn’t been caught. That could add something, if she thinks he is the one who did it.
    Okay, I need to go now, too much wine with dinner and I think I’m rambling.
    Good job on your story, best of luck! There’s a good market for this, and btw, I happen to love 1st present, esp from a female perspective, so don’t let anyone talk you out of it! Good luck!

  17. Amy
    Oct 30, 2011 @ 16:14:49

    Hi. This is the author of the page, and I just want to thank everyone who’s taken time to comment so far. It is incredibly helpful to get your perspective, and I’m really taking seriously everything you’ve noticed and pointed out. To JL,alex, persephone and infiniteworlds– I totally get what you’re saying about how we need to see Lia’s reaction to getting caught alone and half-naked in the woods long before we hear anything about this guy’s appearance. The very next page is all about her fear, mortification at being caught in her underwear, and attempt to escape/protect herself, but I realize now that I’ve got to get that in there a little sooner, certainly before any kind of description of his looks. And don’t worry– no sparkles!

  18. Loreen
    Oct 30, 2011 @ 17:09:28

    If the rest of your manuscript is this polished, I say start writing your query letter.
    I do not much like the present tense because I think it leads to a lot of problems with the pacing, but I have seen a few novels recently with the present and they seem to be selling. I am not sure that I would buy an unknown present-tense book, but if the premise was interesting and the book had received positive reviews, I would take a chance.
    For the purposes of this 1st page exercise, it is great that you end with the mysterious young man. However, in a book length manuscript I would like to know more about the heroine and her world. I think it wouldn’t hurt to lead up a little more slowly because what you have so far is intriguing. You have enough mystery here to keep the reader’s attention until you bring in the guy. Why is her mom suddenly in need of work? Did the dad die or run off? Why are they living in the middle of the grandmother’s forest? What kind of a wilderness is this – and where? How did she almost die? These are great questions to capture your reader’s interest. I think you should give the reader a little more time to get invested in the characters and interested in the answers to these questions before you introduce a brand new mystery. If you go a little more slowly, you will build suspense…that is my thought, anyways.
    Good luck with the manuscript – I hope it turns into a novel.

  19. Amy
    Oct 30, 2011 @ 18:41:28

    Hi Loreen. Thank you so much for your comments and your suggestions. I actually have a 71,000 word manuscript completed, and I’ve been writing (and rewriting, rewriting, rewriting) my query letter. This was my final step before beginning submissions because I know how important those first few pages are! You sound very knowledgable. It’s hard when you only get 3 to 5 pages to capture an agent’s interest to know how much setup you can get away with. I keep reading that they want you to get right to the “action”. As it stands, her encounter with the guy is short, and we start getting to know Lia and her family situation before continuing with that mystery. Thanks again for taking time to comment and for your encouragement.

  20. SAO
    Oct 31, 2011 @ 01:16:26

    I thought this was smoothly written and the descriptions are good. However, I think you could up the tension. Not critical, but possible. She is “escaping” but Mom’s okay with it. She nearly died, but she goes off trail. The woods don’t seem creepy. That

    I, too, am bored by the inhumanly gorgeous guy and it tells us nothing. Is he watching her? Is he glaring, smiling, creepy? Because I’ve read so many perfect men (gorgeous, rich, risks his life to rescue kittens and takes the garbage out without being asked) in unpubbed romance, I tend to take this as a danger sign. If I turn the page and your guy has a character, I’ll read on. If he rescues a kitten, I’ll drop the book in the erupting volcano faster than he fishes the kitten out of it.

    The problem with present tense is that simple present (“I walk to school”) is used for non-specific, general, or repeated actions. For a specific action in a specific time and place (“I am walking to school” (now)), you use the cumbersome form am/are/is verbing.
    As an example, you can say, “I walk to school, but today I am riding my bike” and make sense. “I am walking to school, but today I ride/am riding my bike” makes no sense because of the subtle distinctions in time, place and specificity inherent in the choice of tense.

    The fact that simple present isn’t used for specific actions adds a vagueness in. If you say, “I walk to school,” when you mean, “I am walking to school now,” some readers will absorb the vagueness inherent in simple present and be distanced or confused by it. If a reader assumes you are speaking about how, generally, you get to school, they may not immediately realize you are on the sidewalk, en route to school.

    Since understanding why they are distanced or confused requires understanding the subtle differences between forms of present tense, so those readers can’t explain why they feel distanced.

    The readers who aren’t bothered by simple present only need to know what present tense is, so their explanation that it adds immediacy is easy and makes sense.

    But just because the readers who absorb the vagueness from simple present can’t explain it, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

    Present tense is a choice. All I ask is you understand what you are choosing.

  21. Julia Sullivan
    Oct 31, 2011 @ 02:05:14

    I think this is strong, but agree that with some of the tweaks suggested it can be even stronger. Best of luck with it!

  22. Loreen
    Oct 31, 2011 @ 12:41:57

    Amy, I know it is so hard to balance what is best for the finished book and what will grab the agent’s attention. I can only hope that a really good agent will be attracted to good writing in the first sample and then request the full manuscript. After all, they will have the plot synopsis so they will know what is coming next. I am about to go on this road myself and am also nervous about those first pages.
    I hope you will let dear author know when your book is published.

  23. Amy
    Oct 31, 2011 @ 22:27:41

    SAO- good points. Seeing all the objections here to present tense is a little terrifying. Thank you for caring enough to present such a clear and persuasive explanation of the problems you see with present tense. Certainly food for thought!

  24. Infiniteworlds
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 09:03:09

    I have this same issue with present tense: I really like writing in present and I think my writing is more interesting than it is when I write in past. I use first person because I’m writing for YA, and I’ve read far more YA books in 1st. Also I like it better, I feel more involved with the character.
    The first book I read that used present was Mockingjay. (yes, I read the last one first because I was desperate for a non-vampire YA book, and Mockingjay was the ONLY one on the wal-mart shelf at the time.)And let me tell you, it blew me away. It was so active and raw and alive! I loved it! It was only later, when I started seeing if I could write in present, that I realized some people didn’t like it. How could anyone not like it? weirdies.
    I guess my opinion on present is that it has to be used carefully, and only in 1st. If you are worried that it sticks out too much and people will have problems with it, then go back and review some books written in present, see how they wrote.
    They tend to keep the ‘I do, I am doing’ to a minimum. There are some ways around it. I guess that’s kinda vague, what I mean is that you can write present so that it looks like a list of actions, or you can go through every sentence and find a butter way of writing any that could be better.
    And it’s your choice what is better. For example, I think this sentence: “I cringe and exhale then turn and face my mother through the dark screening.”
    Would be better written: “Cringing, I let out the breath I’ve been holding on to. I turn back to the door with a guilty little grin, and there is my mother, her face looking sharp and pinched behind the dark screen.”
    But then maybe that’s just me, and everyone tells me I lean toward purple. I personally think it helps give her mother a mood, which makes being caught a little more foreboding. You can add little details like the grin to show more about your character. I imagined her trying to charm her way out of trouble, hence the grin.
    I have a tendency to babble, but it’s already tuesday so I don’t think anyone else will be posting. I figure you will read this though, because when I posted my first page (which got gunned down for purpleness, btw) I checked back every day for two weeks, just in case.
    Anyway.
    There are a lot of first time authors who used 1st present and got published. I’m going to assume you’ve never been published. If your story is good, and your writing is good, it’s absolutely just as marketable as any other book.
    So don’t let it get you down when you hear people tell you present is bad. You like it, and I like it, and there must be tons of other peeps who like it as well, or all these present tense books that are so popular now would have tanked.
    Don’t let all those literary people cut you down. I read tons of opinions online, and a lot of them were anti-present. But those were the old snots who sit up on their thrones and judge.
    They don’t matter. The readers matter. Your cousin, your niece, your sister, all these bright young men and women who are waiting for the next twilight or the next hunger games, they matter. They are the ones who will be reading your book. So write for them, and write what you love because they will love it too.

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