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First Page: You Stole My Heart

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“You have done what?”

Normally seeing this shocked expression on her chubby boss, Sarita Gupta’s face would have sent Ayesha Solanki into peals of laughter, but not today. Today she was feeling grateful – grateful to be back into the safe haven of her workplace. Silence engulfed them as they both tried to overcome their concerns. While Sarita looked surprised at the sudden appearance of Ayesha in the office, she on the other hand knew that Sarita had to be prepared for the scandal that may give their competitors and the media a cause to attack them. She knew she could be arrested by tomorrow and she was even prepared for it. The resignation letter was already typed but before facing the mayhem of tomorrow she needed to prepare Sarita. She could still tolerate the shame of being arrested but under no circumstances could she hurt this woman, who had been like a mother to her from the time her parents had died in a car crash six years ago. Today if she was working as a passionate art dealer, it was all due to this lady in front of her. Damn Armaan Ranaut for putting her in this position!

“Aunty ji, Aap baito!” hastening towards Sarita, she guided her towards the plush white love seats, kept near the wide window from which one could see the hustle and bustle of Juhu Tara Road. By now, Sarita understood that the situation was grave. Ayesha had never called her Aunty in the office.

“Please Auntyji, sit down.” Where did one begin explaining how things had gone so wrong that she was on the verge of being arrested? All because of a stupid, priceless, antique necklace. Only a few days back, she had been so excited to learn that it was part of the collection that she would be cataloging. To touch something so rich in history was like a dream coming true for the historian in her and she did know the history of the necklace by heart. How it belonged to the ancient 10th century Cholas and then after passing through the hands of the Mughal queens had landed up with the royal family of Ranaut. But as of now, it was lost.

Gathering her wandering troubled thoughts, Ayesha focused on Sarita. Sarita’s well-manicured hands were shaking as she picked up the glass kept in front of her. Her movements – deliberate as she took steady breaths to calm herself, before turning her full attention to Ayesha, “Tell me what happened in Ranaut.”

“Didn’t you get a call from Prince Armaan?” asked Ayesha, taken aback to see Sarita’s lack of knowledge regarding the whole situation. She was so sure that by now someone from the Ranaut Estate would have called. But apparently, The Prince was going to use his political power to watch her humiliation publicly.

“I thought you were getting along fabulously with the family.” Sarita looked her usual composed self. She seemed to have reconciled to the fact that they were about to incur a huge loss with this deal not working out.

“I was, till the media decided to mention in Page3 that we had a thing going on.”

“We?”

Why didn’t Sarita read the tabloids? At least she could be spared an explanation of the gory details. Taking a deep breath, she plunged ahead.

“The media had made innuendos that Armaan and I was having an affair?”

“Were you?” Clearly the usage of the first name had planted a seed of suspicion in her mind. In their line of business, formality was given utmost importance.

“Of course not!” The denial was too quick, enough to merit a sharp glance from her mentor. Mentally she crossed her finger as the memory of the stolen kiss under the bougainvillea laden gazebo, under the clear night sky, treacherously crept up in her thoughts. Shaking her head to bury the image, she continued, “An antique necklace was stolen from the Ranaut estate. It was not only atrociously expensive but was given to the present Rani Pragyan Devi by her late husband.”

“Ouch! But I still don’t understand. Why are you here? You have never left a project half way. That’s why I had specifically given it to you. Pragyan Devi had personally called me up to send her the best I have, to catalogue their antiques.”

How does one throw a punch line without sounding like a fool? They give it straight. “They think I have stolen the necklace!”

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

11 Comments

  1. Marianne McA
    Jun 29, 2013 @ 04:55:54

    One of the complaints you get most often about the first pages here is that the story doesn’t start here – that the first page is set up, and the real story starts later.
    Here I feel like the story started some time ago – that the hero and heroine have met, been attracted, been driven apart by your conflict – it just seems, on first read, an odd place to start.

    More particularly, the scene doesn’t hang together for me: I can’t guess, for example, what statement from Ayesha caused the initial unanswered question to be asked. And Sarita is surprised, then shaking, then her usual composed self – but I can’t understand what her motivations are – why she goes from shaking to composed, for example.

    And therefore I’m not drawn into the story about the necklace and the prince because I’m having to work hard to understand the two characters I’m meeting.

    Good luck.

  2. Willa
    Jun 29, 2013 @ 07:17:41

    I agree with Marianne Mca – when reading I felt like I had just been dropped into a page much further into the book . . not the first page .. and so was lost.

  3. Lil
    Jun 29, 2013 @ 09:02:30

    First off, let me say that this sounds like a book I would love to read. The setting and the characters and the plot all sound intriguing.
    But…
    It sounds as if you have taken some advice, but it hasn’t worked out too well.

    1. Start with something dramatic.
    You do that. The opening question sounds dramatic. But it never gets answered. What on earth did she say to prompt the question? With no answer, the question just hangs there, and instead of creating drama, it seems pointless.

    2. Weave the backstory into conversation.
    Again, you do that, but the end result is confusing rather than clarifying. There’s too much thought in between the bits of conversation, thought that would require uncomfortable gaps of silence. And I’m still not sure I know what happened.

    I don’t know what the best way to fix this would be. If you need to start with this conversation, maybe include the necklace and theft here. Ayesha could just tell Sarita about that. Then afterwards she could think (or feel guilty) about the fact that she didn’t mentioning the Prince and her relationship with him.

    Whatever you decide, there’s enough potential here to convince me that you can make it work. I look forward to reading it some day.

  4. Jane Davitt
    Jun 29, 2013 @ 09:46:51

    I liked the different setting and the hook for the story. You have a lot of potential.

    Having said that, when I’d read this, I thought ‘stilted’. Don’t be afraid to use contractions in speech. You could also trim a lot of the uses of ‘had’ and make it flow better, feel more immediate and natural.

    “Ouch! But I still don’t understand. Why are you here? You [have never left] never leave a project half way. That’s why I [had specifically given] gave it to you. Pragyan Devi [had personally] called me in person [up] to send her the best I have, to catalogue their antiques.”

  5. SAO
    Jun 29, 2013 @ 09:52:12

    This looks like something I’d be quite interested in. However, you stuff too much confusing backstory into your page.
    Take Para one:
    You have done what?”Normally seeing this shocked expression on her chubby boss, Sarita Gupta’s face would have sent Ayesha Solanki into peals of laughter, but not today.

    This is really confusing to parse who is speaking, who is the MC and who is the narrator. Second, we don’t know either char, so telling us what Ayesha normally would feel is taking the place of showing us what she is feeling now.

    Today she was feeling grateful – grateful to be back into the safe haven of her workplace. Silence engulfed them as they both tried to overcome their concerns.
    We don’t know why Aye needs a safe haven or what the concerns are, so we can’t feel them with your chars.

    While Sarita looked surprised at the sudden appearance of Ayesha in the office, she on the other hand knew that Sarita had to be prepared for the scandal that may give their competitors and the media a cause to attack them. She knew she could be arrested by tomorrow and she was even prepared for it.

    I had to work to figure out who “she” was.

    The resignation letter was already typed but before facing the mayhem of tomorrow she needed to prepare Sarita. She could still tolerate the shame of being arrested but under no circumstances could she hurt this woman, who had been like a mother to her from the time her parents had died in a car crash six years ago. Today if she was working as a passionate art dealer, it was all due to this lady in front of her. Damn Armaan Ranaut for putting her in this position!

    This is all telling, not showing.

    Next, this entire page is a reaction to the scene (not shown) where Ayesha is accused/learns she is suspected of stealing the necklace. Maybe you should start there.

  6. Caro
    Jun 29, 2013 @ 10:23:10

    I like the potential. The unique setting is interesting. The hints of princes and plots is good, but I think there just needs to be some basic work done on the writing itself.

    “The media had made innuendos that Armaan and I was having an affair?”

    This sentence along with some others makes me think English might not be your first language? I might be wrong, and don’t mean offense, but this is a grammar mess. If you don’t know why, then you need to take a class in grammar and I’d also suggest doing a lot more reading. Because as you read, you’ll gain an ear for catching messes.

    Why didn’t Sarita read the tabloids? At least she could be spared an explanation of the gory details. Taking a deep breath, she plunged ahead.

    Here’s one reason why I found much of this page confusing. You talk of Sarita at first. Then you have another sentence where I’m not sure if Sarita is going to be spared but I’m thinking it might be Ayesha? Then you have another sentence where I’m pretty sure the “she” is Ayesha instead. As a reader, I have to stop, think this out and then move forward. Makes for really choppy reading.

    Sarita’s well-manicured hands were shaking as she picked up the glass kept in front of her. Her movements – deliberate as she took steady breaths to calm herself,

    You have some POV problems here and elsewhere. How does Ayesha know that Sarita’s taking steady breaths to calm herself?

    Silence engulfed them as they both tried to overcome their concerns.

    Here’s another POV problem. This time it’s omniscient, I believe. I think you might want to look into some POV classes too.

    Finally, I found the first full paragraph overwhelming. Way too much information thrown at me before I could even center myself in the scene, figure out the MC to some extent and just get grounded in what emotions are going on. I have to take in and digest:

    1) shock of boss
    2) grateful to be back at work
    3) prepare for scandal
    4) Arrest likely tomorrow
    5) resignation letter
    6) boss is like mother and will be hurt
    7) parents died in a car crash
    8) some guy named Armaan threatening her

    Wowza. I’m limp on the sofa waving a handkerchief in front of my face. Too much to deal with in one fell swoop. I don’t need to know everything, just one thing about your MC or two that will draw me in. Think of introducing your MC to the reader like you’d introduce yourself to a new acquaintance. Would you blurt out your parents died in a car crash 6 years ago as you shook hands?

    So while I’m really liking the premise, I think there’s still basic work to be done on the writing itself.

  7. hapax
    Jun 29, 2013 @ 10:46:56

    I agree with others that the setting and the premise are very interesting, but the writing style is confusing and off-putting.

    There are a lot of sentence fragments and use of passive voice here, but the biggest problem is, I think, constant switching of POV.

    Here’s a suggestion: every time you use “she” in this passage, replace it with the name of the character it refers to (I’d do it for you, but honestly, a lot of the time I couldn’t figure it out!) Then see how many times you switch from one character to another being the subject of the sentence.

    Try and re-write the passage so that your main character is the subject of most of those sentences; it might snap this bit into focus for your readers.

  8. Sunita
    Jun 29, 2013 @ 11:02:18

    I agree with the other commenters; the POV shifts and the amount of information introduced make this confusing to read. In addition, as Carolyn says, there are basic grammar mistakes throughout the page.

    I like the setup and the relationship between Sarita and Ayesha, and the plot, while not unusual, could be fun in this context.

    If this is supposed to be Indian-inflected English, then you can accomplish that with word usage and speech patterns while still making sure the grammar is correct in English and Hindi. Unless you are consciously trying to use slangy, Bollywood-type Hindi, don’t use aap baito because it’s grammatically incorrect and jarring as the first introduction to Hindi (especially since both characters’ last names imply that Hindi could be their mother tongue).

    Are Sarita and Ayesha relatively conservative and/or traditional? You might show that with a quick reference to clothing, mannerisms, or something like that. Because lots of people like getting into the gossip section of the Indian papers and consciously strive to do so. I like the reference to “Page 3,” which is India’s equivalent of tabloid gossip, but since it’s contained within regular broadsheets like the Times of India, I wouldn’t refer to tabloids; that suggests a separate type of paper as is found in the UK.

    (Edited to fix tags)

  9. Mary
    Jun 29, 2013 @ 12:16:04

    I too was confused by POV and unclear pronouns, which is something I used to have trouble with. In your head, you know who is saying and doing what and then you don’t realize that you are confusing the reader.
    As a half Indian girl, I can say that some of the grammar issues sound a little like what some of my Indian relatives really talk like; so it does sound accurate in that way. At the same time, it’s a little jarring and, in prose, sounds clunky and awkward, which is not what you want. I think you could get across an Indian speaking English in a better manner by adding slang or you could just drop it altogether…
    But kudos for submitting this and I would definitely be interested in reading it if it were published!

  10. Lucy Woodhull
    Jun 29, 2013 @ 12:36:04

    I agree with the other commenters in that you have plot and character soup going here. Consider where your starting point ought to be. If she really is about to be arrested, then the start could be at the moment she’s arrested. If not, then what is the inciting incident that leads her down the rabbit hole?

    The first paragraph was packed with so much my head spun by the time I got to the end. Pick up your favorite adventure romance (or whatver genre this is) and observe how the prose is broken down. Paragraphs and sentences of differing lengths will build and ease excitement. Consider how the story must unfold — the audience must know A before they know B, which leads to C. Then you can write in the proper order. You’re weaving too much back story in all at once. We don’t need this much initially. Only what is necessary to the plot, otherwise an adventure story especially gets weighted down. Pace is everything, and too many relatives/lovers/whatevers slow down the heroine as she tries to escape the cops!

    She/she or he/he (or, oy vey, she/she/she) scenes are TOUGH to write in terms of pronouns. What I try to do it always make a she refer back to the last female character named. If you’re switching people, use a name or a sobriquet for clarity. Then you must go through slowly and carefully to make sure every pronoun’s owner is obvious. It gets easier with time.

    I’d enjoy a book in this setting, and I like a smart heroine in jeopardy. Good luck!

  11. Rubina
    Jul 01, 2013 @ 04:42:16

    Hi All,
    Thanks for all the suggestions and advice. I will take it all in and will try my level best to make the changes [rehash] in my story. A lot of my questions have been answered here and you all are great. You give it straight and to the point which every new writer needs. Will definitely work on my pronouns, POV and the grammar.

    Thanks for not telling me to pack my bags :)

    Have a great day.

    Regards
    Rubina

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