First Page Feedback – Murder Most Unusual

Ooh, a great title and compelling opening! :) Thanks, Michelle Somers (@msomerswriter), for an exciting start to the day!

They make it look so easy in books. Murder the victim, move the body.

Stacey Holland adjusted her grip. Puffing the hair from her eyes, she squinted through the vast darkness. She could have been curled up on the couch right now, a good book in  one hand and hot triple chocolate and marshmallows in the other. Instead, she was freezing her buns off in the cold, making a name for herself.

Cold plastic dug into her palm. Damn, she hated when her mother was right. Fame wasn’t won from back row seats. You had to get out there and get dirty.

She scrunched her nose and felt the crack of dry mud on her skin. Yep, if nothing else, she ticked that box ten times over.

A cow mooed in one of the far paddocks and the chill night air sliced through her  wet clothes. Sweat covered her skin, a trickle running down her collarbone to fall between  her breasts.

She tightened her grasp, took a deep breath and heaved. Digging her heels into the rainsoaked grass, she leaned back, using all her weight. Every last kilo that normally made her despair, but now gave her leverage.

Plop!

The ground slammed hard against her butt. If she’d lost those extra five kilos, the fall would’ve hurt a helluva lot more. As it was, the jar pierced at her coccyx and then juddered up her spine.

Mud soaked through her jeans.

Great!

She dropped her head into her hands. She wasn’t a ‘why me?’ kinda girl, but now was as  good a time as any to start.

On paper it would have moved by now.

Reality’s a killer. Her lips twitched.

So, why am I here, butt-deep in mud? The response was instantaneous. Because I love it.

Cold shivered through her body. She didn’t care. Her heart lightened, her lips curving upward. She shook herself off, slithered and squelched her way to her feet. Rubbing her still protesting backside with one hand, her other held the now dislocated arm of the body before her.

Her nose scrunched as she tugged at a loose blonde curl. Then she dropped to her haunches and stuck the ball back into its socket. The click echoed through the dark, not that it mattered.

It wasn’t as if she were doing anything wrong. Much.

All was fair in the name of love and research.

##

He drew on his cigarette, squinting through his night vision binoculars as the parody unfolded.

Not long now.

A light flickered. He tensed. The distant yellow bobbed slowly toward the barbed-wire boundary, then disappeared. A car door slammed. An engine growled, dulling to a  murmur as a double wide beam danced across the ankle-length grass.

He pressed back against the gnarly tree trunk. Ten minutes of darkness ensured she wouldn’t return.

Stacey Holland. Author extraordinaire. His nostrils flared. She thought she knew death. Pain, even. She didn’t know shit. But she’d learn soon enough. He was one hell of a teacher.

First Page Feedback from Patience Bloom

The opening to this entry is quite enticing with what we think is the heroine moving a dead body. I love the description of the atmosphere, her efforts, and overall frustration. I would only suggest expanding this opening a bit more, combining some of the paragraphs so that we’re more deeply hooked into the story. Maybe we could have more of her point of view, what she’s thinking about all of this, maybe additional information about her. This seems mainly like a teaser and not a full-fledged opening with a dynamic character. I love how it ends with the guy watching her (though isn’t smoking a bit passé?), but there might be a smoother way to do this. I would see this as a short paragraph after a longer opening. Overall, the energy of this entry is fabulous and I want to keep reading. Nicely done.

 

Too, remember the first page space is valuable–she scrunches her nose twice. Is this going to be a tic throughout the story? Or is there a way to use something else? And check with house style on points like blond/blonde. For Harlequin, for instance, blonde is a noun, and blond is an adjective. So “The blonde checked her daughter’s blond hair” would be correct for us! And is “parody” the right word for what you want to say? It could be–we don’t know the villain!–but it doesn’t seem that she’s playing this for laughs…

Thank you for sharing!

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First Page Feedback – Leaving Louisiana

Alison sent this in without a genre chosen–it’s a moody, intriguing opening for sure. Either YA or New Adult perhaps…. Or maybe this is more of a prologue? Interesting in any case!

JAMIE
It saddens me to think this is the last time I will ever sit on these swings. I will never have Jared push me so high I feel like I could kick the moon again. I’ll never walk on the wooden barrier of the playground and pretend I’m a tightrope walker in a circus. No more hours will be spent building castles in the sand and digging up artifacts we had long ago forgotten. Jared interrupts my nostalgic moment.

“I know you have you reasons for wanting to leave but I love you so much. I don’t know what I”m going to do without you.” His hands were shaking as he held mine. He does this when he’s nervous and I feel horrible because I know I’m the reason why. He doesn’t support the idea of me going off to university alone. He’s waiting for me to respond and I don’t know how to comfort him.

“I love you, too.” I squeeze his hands. As if my words are confirmation, he gets down on one knee never taking his eyes from mine. I freeze.

“I’ve known you for as long as I can remember. I’ve kissed you every day since nineth grade and I’ve loved you since the day we played in the sandbox while your parents settled into the house next door to mine. Don’t let me find out what life is like without you, Jamie. Stay here and marry me. You need family and home to help you get through this; not escape. I can provide that for you and I will provide that for you for the rest of our lives together if you just say yes.”

The word is caught in my throat. This moment is the moment I’ve dreamed about since the day I met Jared when I was seven years old. I always pictured us living in my house across from the park with that beautiful sandbox. This is everything I ever wanted, “No, Jared. I can’t,” until last month when everything changed. “I’m sorry. We’re barely eighteen. You wouldn’t be doing this if I wasn’t leaving tomorrow.”

He finally breaks his gaze, clears his throat, composes himself and looks up. He can’t look me in the eyes. “I would have done it eventually. I had no intention of ever being with anyone else. We don’t have to get married right away just say that you will.” He feels his pockets and pulls out the box. The man I love is kneeling in front of me with the most beautiful ring I have ever seen and promising me forever and I can’t even pretend that I want it.

First Page Feedback from Mary-Theresa Hussey

It’s an evocative, intriguing first paragraph. Great images of being on the brink of childhood and grown-up and these choices let us see who the heroine is changing from.

The first person element is appealing as well for this NA/YA genre, so that fits in well. I’m not quite as sure about the dialogue from Jared. It feels a bit more mature for a teenage boy, but we don’t yet know who Jared really is, so maybe it makes sense for his character (fyi–ninth grade).

Though his dialogue does show that there’s something more going on with Jamie’s life–his helping her”get through this; not escape” is definitely alerting the reader that some big change has just happened.

A minor point, but digging in the sand is mentioned three times—though the rule of threes can be extremely effective, I’m don’t know that the playing in the sand is going to be the metaphor that resonates throughout the story. But maybe it is? :)

Overall I think this is an effective, moody opening in the narration, but the dialogue could use a bit more of a punch. 

And a great opening with a once-wanted proposal that is probably going to be denied–way to subvert expectations and let us know the heroine isn’t going to take the easy way out…

Thanks for sharing this project, Alison!

 

 

 

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First Page Feedback – Aflame

This if for Harlequin E Historical Romance. SJ Cameron opens the story with definite action! 

A moan.

He paused on his way back to the box for a moment wondering if someone was hurt. There it was again, a tone he knew so well, followed by a whispered, “my love”.

The wide theatre corridors were empty of patrons. He stilled, staring hard at the slight movement of red. Reaching for the edge he wrenched the curtains apart. The couple froze and it took a moment for their shock to register. Disbelief, closely followed by fury, settled over his face. Stepping back, he dropped the curtain. With a look so dark and brooding that none would have mistaken the turmoil behind his dark eyes, he stormed down the hall, past occupied boxes, where patrons were enjoying a performance oblivious to the firestorm brewing outside.

The main doors to the theatre building flew open as he exploded out as if driven by the hounds of hell. Doormen scattered as he thundered down the steps. Charging on to the street outside he struggled to fill his lungs with air. Footsteps sounded behind him.

“James, wait!” Jordan was breathing heavily in pursuit. He ran down the stairs and halted on the first step with a hand on his brother’s shoulder. A fist swung around and clipped Jordan clearly on the jaw, forcing him to reel backwards. Gripping his chin, he stared up into James’ face with desperate eyes. “Please, try to understand. We didn’t mean for you to…” he stopped, frozen in place by the barely restrained anger in his brother’s eyes.

“You bastard.” He took a step towards Jordan and then halted, not trusting himself not to kill the man. In a low and menacing voice he spat out, “that is my wife, mother to my child, and you…”.

“Please, James, I love her…I always have!” He gripped James’ arm then froze. Jordan watched as years of friendship and loyalty leeched out on the pavement between them.

James opened and closed his fist twice weighing up whether to strike Jordan again. Shaking visibly he turned and strode away into the night.

Jordan thumped down on the step in despair, feeling weary and pained, not as much by the physical blow but the emotional gut punch he had sustained. They had always been close as brothers. James had pulled Jordan out of more scrapes than he could count. Now it would take a miracle for the damage to be undone. Jordan put his head in his hands.

Suddenly, noise and smoke erupted from the theatre. “Fire! Fire! The theatre is on fire!”

First Page Feedback by Deirdre McCluskey (Harlequin E)

This opening includes a dramatic confrontation and a fire – lots of action to pull us into the story! There are a few stylistic changes that would add emotion and immediacy.

Repetition of sentence structure can become monotonous and drain a scene of its sense of urgency. Some examples of repetitive structure: “Reaching for the edge, he wrenched the curtains apart.” “Stepping back, he dropped the curtain.” “Charging on to the street, he struggled to fill his lungs.” This sentence structure (the first parts of these sentences are participial phrases) can be used effectively for tone and variety, but the action (“he wrenched”, “he dropped”, “he struggled”) is diluted and complex sentences will slow the reader down. You may want to use this construction sparingly.

Use of the passive voice makes the characters the subject of the action: “Disbelief…settled over his face.” “Footsteps sounded behind him.” “A fist swung around and clipped him…” As with the participial phrases, the passive voice can add variety to your writing. But a more active voice will put the reader closer to the action. For example, rephrasing “The main doors to the theatre building flew open as he exploded out as if driven by the hounds of hell,” as “James exploded through the theatre doors as if driven by the hounds of hell” invites the reader to feel James’s fury rather than just observe it.

The story is told in the third person, with insight into the thoughts and motivations of the characters. But frequent shifts in point of view can make it challenging for the reader to follow the action and know who to root for. For example, in the first three paragraphs we accompany James as he discovers the couple in the theatre. At that point we think that he is the hero. But in the fourth paragraph we switch to Jordan: “a fist swung around and clipped Jordan clearly on the jaw.” Now our sympathies have switched. Which character do you want the reader to identify with? Limiting the POV to one character for one scene or chapter will enable the reader to form the emotional attachment necessary to become invested in the story.

These first pages demonstrate a love of historical romance, storytelling, and an ear for language. You have the plot and characters in place to captivate readers – I encourage you to look closely at your writing and make sure you hook your readers on Page 1 with emotion, drama and action!

A minor point, but having too many characters with similar sounding names can also grow confusing. James and Justin aren’t exactly alike, but there is a possibility for confusion–as Deirdre said, we had to go back to track the actions with the names to follow everything!

 

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First Page Feedback – Animal Instincts

Here’s a Superromance submission. Lauren James knows pets are always appealing! 
Straddling a sexy hunk of a man on the freshly mown grass of her local park should be a dream come true for Charlie Morgan. Instead, she wavered between pissed off and turned on. But that’s the thing about dreams, reality never meets expectation.

In her dreams, Mr Perfect is a handsome fiancé, or even better, a husband – a fellow dog lover and all round Prince Charming. He’s organised a romantic picnic for three with gourmet deli items for the deliriously happy couple… and a lovingly cooked piece of porterhouse steak for their fur-baby, Daisy. And of course, Charlie is stunning in a cute sundress, her crazy curls tamed to cover-model sleekness.

That was the dream.

Cut to reality.

The man beneath her was hunky alright, but Prince Charming he definitely was not. Having just crash tackled the man for attempting to steal a friend’s dog, Charlie was harbouring less than romantic feelings for him, and was looking less than gorgeous in lycra jogging pants, an old AC/DC tour t-shirt and an unzipped hoodie from her animal welfare centre, New Beginnings. And she was pretty sure she had doggie drool smeared in more than one place.

“As fun as it is getting a free lap dance, sweetheart, maybe you wanna tell me what the hell just happened?”

The deep timbre of his voice sent a shiver down her spine, making her wriggle against him. It took a moment to register his question as her gaze roamed his face, taking in arresting deep blue eyes, a shaggy mop of brown hair, a sexy scar through his eyebrow and some sort of tattoo playing peek-a-boo through the neck of his shirt. At her obvious  interest, his lips formed an impossibly sexy smirk, revealing an even sexier dimple.

Ignoring the flutter in her stomach Charlie focused on the issue at hand. This arsehole was a dog-thief. She’d caught him luring her friend’s dog away from the park. She narrowed her eyes at him. It wasn’t fair that the world’s scumbags could be so attractive and charismatic. She wouldn’t be fooled so easily this time.

“Don’t think you can flirt your way out of this, mate. You were committing a crime!”

He quirked a brow, seeming more amused than unsettled by the accusation. His smirk stayed in place… and damn him, it was like a direct ‘on switch’ to her lady parts. She
squirmed again which elicited a stifled groan from him.

“I was joking about that lap dance. You might want to stop moving right about now. I prefer to take my women out on a date before it gets this far.”

Her jaw dropped at his audacity. Cocky son-of-a-bitch.

Stop lusting after the criminal.

First page feedback from Piya Campanya

A great opening line prefaces this fun first page. You have a very intriguing set up here, and there are already a lot of questions open to draw the reader in. Was this guy actually committing a crime? How does the heroine always find herself “lusting after criminals”? In a short time you have effectively conveyed the situation at hand, as well as many facets of the heroine—she’s a loyal friend, a lover of animals, she has a strong moral compass and she’s a little impulsive (and it looks like this is a quality that has gotten her in trouble more than once).

While we’re treated only to the heroine’s POV so far, we also get an impactful first impression of the hero: he’s basically been attacked, but he can’t turn off the charm nor hide his amusement. It’s immediately obvious that these two have chemistry, and this first page makes us want to see more of their banter and interplay.

As the story goes on, I would keep an eye on the portrayal of the heroine, making sure her reactions are believable in the context of the story. Her impulsive nature is a promise that it will be fun to learn about her, but it should never lead her to overreact or be needlessly reckless. In order for the reader to root for the heroine, she needs to be able to understand her decisions even if she doesn’t agree with them.

Just watch your tenses–the opening lines are almost a synopsis than something happening in the here and now!

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First Page Feedback – Trust

Oh, we do love some space opera stories! Here’s an intriguing one by Maya Aodhan (@aesa_K) that is definitely out of this world! 

“This is the Monte Cristo, requesting docking permission,” the pilot spoke into the ship’s comm.

“Acknowledged, Monte Cristo. You are clear for docking bay B16.”

“Should be parked in moments, Captain.” Rafe Ibán’s deft touch over the ship’s interface guided them into port.

“Good.” Vaea Dantes rose from the co-pilot’s chair.

“You want me to give Eryn the heads up?”

“Yeah. I want to get this meeting done with.” Vaea scrubbed a hand over her short, dark cap of hair. “And get out of this forsaken place.”

“Good luck, Captain.”

“Keep those magic fingers ready, Ibán. If things go well, I’m relying on you to save my ass.”

“Wait…what?” Rafe turned in his chair and stared after the captain.

“Crap.”

Vaea checked the safety on her pistol. Only an idiot went to Deyater station unarmed. She settled her weapon into its thigh holster. Her body armour was sleek and black, with the pits and scarred edges that spoke of frequent, and violent, use.

Vaea glanced over as her 2IC entered the airlock corridor. Eryn Grimm’s dark hair coiled in wild waves around her shoulders. All six feet of her spoke of Earthen Equatorial heritage, her dark skin offset by the greens and browns of her body armour.

“I haven’t been on Deyater in years, Captain.”

Vaea envied Eryn’s ability to stride easily in her ‘yes, mistress’ boots. Aside from a handful of occasions, she had always tugged on combat boots in varying degrees of battered use.

“Figured the Captain of the Monte Cristo should go pay her respects to the Administrator.”

“Oh, she is gonna love meeting you.” Eryn said.

The airlock released with a hiss of air and Vaea stepped into the chill…and smell, of the docks.

“Ugh.” Eryn wrinkled her nose.

“Dirty socks and rancid milk.” Vaea slid her falsified ID across the plate. The secure elevator opened. “With underlying notes of body odour.”

“A bit like Ibán’s quarters.”

Vaea slanted a look at Eryn as she keyed the level for the Administrator’s offices. “How would you know?”

“He has talented fingers.” Eryn shrugged.

“But the cleanliness of a wet dog with no table manners?”

The elevator doors closed.

“Why do you think we use my quarters?”

“Nice. You do have a whole…French boudoir thing going on.”

Mais oui, ma chère.” Eryn winked.

The gut swooping movement of the elevator had them shifting.

“You should try some style in your quarters, Captain.”

“My quarters are just fine.”

“Vaea.” Eryn shook her head. “You need serious help.”

Vaea lifted a dark brow. “It’s just a damn room to sleep in, Grimm.”

“Sleeping wasn’t what I had in mind.”

Vaea snorted.

The elevator doors slid open. Eryn gestured to the crowded walkway. “Chin up, Cap’n. You can always shoot anyone who stares at your tits. Unless it’s the Administrator. Refrain from shooting her.”

Vaea’s laughter drew eyes toward them.

“No promises.”

First page feedback from Deidre McCluskey (Harlequin E)

I’m intrigued by the opening of this book! Without too much exposition we have a scene that establishes the setting, main characters and a hint at the action to come. The setup has a nice “Firefly” quality to it –Vaea’s pistol and battered armour suggest a space frontier, and I like that women are in the positions of power. It’s a nice reversal of the normal roles and that always creates interest!

Even though there are only three characters, I found it a bit confusing at first. Could we simplify by leaving out the name of the ship? If the first lines began with “Should be parked in moments, Captain,” we still have enough information to know we’re on a spaceship, and the name could be introduced later when we have a better idea of what’s going on.

Dialogue needs to establish tone, to move the action forward, and to describe character. The dialogue between Vaea and Eryn does these things well. We get a sense of their relationship and some hints at the action to come. More attribution in the dialogue would be helpful. We don’t know enough about the distinct voice of each character to be able to tell who is speaking. Inserting “Rafe said” or “Vaea said” more often would clarify.

Additional description of the physical surroundings would establish the setting more convincingly. Vaea is on a spaceship. The airlock opens. Then she’s on an elevator? A walkway? Is it indoors? As a reader I’m not sure. A few words of description would place me in the scene without slowing down the pace.

I love how you’ve dropped us into the world of the characters by creating a scene instead of explaining the setting, characters and action. A touch more description would make it even more immediate. Well done!

Intriguing, for sure! Hopefully others enjoy space opera stories as well… :)

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First Page Feedback – Ink Slapped

Another HQN first page! @Authoramjones (A.M. Jones) has sent in a page with a very intriguing title…. 

 

It’s only the first day of searching, and I find him. Shock courses through me as I pause in the door. My character has unique coloring and a large build with shoulderswept, chestnut hair. It feels like my brain sent a hologram of him right in front of me in a rundown, honky-tonk bar in downtown Nashville. Naturally, the rest of Jimmy’s Bar grows distant as I take him in. He’s currently setting up to play live music with a band and sing the blues or country or whatever Nashville is famous for.

Propping himself on a stool, he grabs his guitar and starts tuning it. The rough fingers turning the tuners grab my attention as I walk closer to get a better look at him. This is an added bonus since my character plays a guitar. Hair falls forward like a curtain around his face and he runs a hand through it. The gesture is unfamiliar. My character doesn’t have this mannerism. I don’t realize how close I am until he glances at me from the corner of his eye and turns his head my way.

Tired eyes turn curious as he searches my face, “Have a request?”

Straightening my glasses and squaring my shoulders, I shake my head and turn away toward the bar. How the hell am I going to do this? Slowing my steps, I throw over my shoulder, “Wish You Were Here. Acoustic style.” Take that you good-looking, country-singing hunk of man. His band mates groan at my request. I shrug at him, figuring it’s not their style, but he only gives me a tight smile. Unease worms its way up my spine for a moment.

Flagging the bartender, I order a Black and Tan—something stout to calm my nerves quicker. The patrons are nothing but tourists. Anyone paying attention can always tell the difference between the locals and tourists. Most of the men wear cowboy hats. This isn’t Texas. The women sport cowgirl boots with tight jeans. My phone buzzes in my back pocket, and I answer without looking, “Yo.”

“Tay, Tay! Find one?” Savannah’s voice sounds excited and slurred.

“Actually, I have and I’m currently drowning myself in Guinness to work up the nerve.”

“Will he look good posing next to me? Not too good, I don’t need him making me look like a frump. What’s he like?”

Savannah’s the heroine to my hero. Although, she doesn’t know I just want him on the cover. I do want to take some pictures of them together for promotional items. I start with the basics. “He’s getting ready to play with the band. A microphone insures there’s singing involved.”

A gasp and then, “A musician?” This is what I’d describe as a faraway or wistful voice in my novels.

“An exact replica of Jaxon, but he’s not your type.” I glance at his work boots and a wrinkled T-shirt as if he just rolled out of bed.

First page feedback from Allison Carroll!

This first page has a ton of potential, and I think a little polishing will really have it hooking readers. It certainly seems to be setting up one of the most interesting meet-cutes I’ve encountered! That said, I think the scene could benefit from putting a little more of the narrator’s personality on the page.

 One of the first impressions she makes is her remark about Nashville being famous for “whatever.” As a reader, I haven’t spent enough time with this narrator to understand what emotion might drive a comment like this and it feels dismissive, almost as though she has this bad attitude about having to come to such a place to scout for her model—not a great first impression. Then, later, she’s disparaging about the tourists, intimating that she’s a local. This feels contradictory—a local who doesn’t know what type of music Nashville’s famous for.

 Her excitement at the prospect of finding a cover model and her nervousness about approaching him are more inviting sentiments for the reader, but not quite enough to build a strong sense of her, and with first-person narration, I really want to feel that connection right away.

 Additionally, her phone call with Savannah is a prime opportunity to infuse some personality and a few more clues about plot. Is she alarmed, concerned, unsurprised that her friend’s words are slurred? The line “she doesn’t know I just want him for the cover” implies Savannah thinks the narrator might be looking for more, but what? A hook-up? A rebound? A muse? A date? And why is Savannah under this impression? Consider hinting at what the narrator’s hang-ups are when it comes to men.

 The last paragraph is a great tease, but give us more! He’s not Savannah’s type, but is he our narrator’s? Does she feel something surprising for him outside of her almost clinical evaluation of his physical traits? This could be a great place to start tipping the scales on this mystery narrator and her plan!

 

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Addison Fox on archetypal characters

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Addison Fox had written nearly fifteen titles before coming to Harlequin Romantic Suspense with her Steele family series! As a writer she’s fascinated by the archetypal characters–why readers respond to them, and what you can do to make them your own. 

 

What’s So Appealing About Certain Characters?

Whether we call them hooks or stereotypes, archetypes or clichés, there are certain characters we all know and love. The hooker with the heart of gold. The eternally rugged and delicious space cowboy. Or the suave debonair international man of mystery.

I bet you quickly had an image in your mind of each (Julia Roberts, Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig, perhaps?), but I’d also suspect the mere mention of each type put a series of defined characteristics in your mind as well. Certainly, the actors who played these characters contribute to the positive association, but perhaps there’s something more.

We love these character types because we want to see them redeemed. And as we watch their progress, conquering hurdle after hurdle, we know by the end of the story that they’re worthy of love and have earned their happy ever after.

 “I love you.”
“I know.”

Did you all just sigh with me? I’m of the opinion that fewer pieces of dialogue in the modern film cannon are as succinct – or as purely character driven – as those five words. Princess Leia’s declaration of love and Han Solo’s arrogant response are original. And oh so real.

That small passage also illustrates how powerful the use of archetypes can be. When you know and understand your characters, their actions, their dialogue and their approach to every situation must flow naturally from who they are.

For these reasons, archetypes can be an important tool in the writer’s toolbox. Leveraging a well-known character type as the protagonist of your story offers an immediate shorthand to the reader. The stakes are higher, too – after all, it’s now up to me to make that character original and different – but in exchange I know going in that my readers have the subtle sense that they know this character from page one.

Our heroes and heroines aren’t cookie-cutter, but we can use well-known archetypes to set our characters on their journey of self-discovery. After all, before Leia, Han was a lonely smuggler traveling through the galaxy with his furry best friend. Through the power of love – one he tried desperately to avoid – he gained a wife and lover, a best friend, a ghostly father figure and a team of loyal subjects. He might have done the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs, but even our space cowboy couldn’t outrun love.

As a final step, next time you’re brainstorming, I’d encourage you to take a well-known character archetype and see how you can alter it to make your story unique. Does your working girl heroine who appears to only care about climbing the corporate ladder foster puppies? Or does your loner cowboy spend every weekend with an aging grandparent? Or maybe your tough murder cop likes to paint abstract art….

Humans are strange, wonderful, dynamic people and finding those subtle cues that make a character unique helps breathe life into them on the page. Yes, we want our heroes and heroines to be larger than life, but we also want our readers to see the very real thread of humanity that rounds them out.

 What about you? What are some of your favorite character archetypes? I had a blast recently playing with the international man of mystery archetype (James Bond, not Austin Powers!) while writing Liam Steele, the hero of my July release, THE MANHATTAN ENCOUNTER. Liam might have mysterious missions down to an art, but he’s got a thing or two to learn when Dr. Isabella Magnini comes into his life.

Happy Writing and Reading!
Addison

Thanks, Addison, for sharing your insight! Don’t miss finding out more about Addison–and all her stories! on her website, Facebook or following her on Twitter as @AddisonFox

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San Antonio, here we come!

 

Just wanted to mention there are over thirty Harlequin editors from three continents attending the Romance Writers of American conference this week in San Antonio, Texas!

Be sure to keep an eye out for us–we might be wearing a “Think Harlequin – Editor” button, or racing around herding up some authors, chatting in the seating areas or grabbing something from Starbucks! (And, of course, giving workshops, taking appointments, talking to agents and all that other professional stuff… :))

Do keep an eye out and if you spot Mary-Theresa Hussey (@Matrice) you can also talk to her about any ideas you have for the SOLD! blog. We’re always looking for new posts and fun things.

So get your boots and hats on and get ready for lots of learning and talking and laughing and more.

Looking forward to seeing anyone who is there!

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First Page Feedback for Colonial Cousin

Here’s another Historical–@IsabellaHauthor (aka Isabella Hargreaves) features a potential Australian setting–very interesting! 

1817 New South Wales

The road from Emu Plains to Parramatta was unusually quiet on this warm November day. William Wardell was almost home – home being his verandahed Georgian house overlooking the Nepean River. He was eager to see his daughter Katherine again after three long months away supervising shearing and lambing on his Bathurst Plains property, with only his shepherds for company.

The afternoon was ebbing fast as his horse’s effortless canter swallowed the long miles of dusty road. The station dray was following in his wake, but it was too slow for a man in a hurry to be home.

He wore the ‘uniform’ of the colony of New South Wales – duck-weave trousers, boots and coarse waistcoat. Even without a coat, perspiration trickled down his weather-beaten face from beneath his cabbage-tree hat. He absently mopped it away with the sleeve of his linen shirt.

Oppressive pulses of cicada song battered the air. Hooves thudded and saddle leather creaked, overlaying the stillness of the bush. Sunlight reflected off the craggy outcrop of rocks ahead where the road ran through a cutting. He squinted in the bright light.

A gunshot rang out. William’s hand instinctively seized his pistol and cocked it, but before he could pull the trigger another shot brought searing pain to his shoulder. The weapon fell from his senseless hand. He spurred his horse onward to escape, but a third shot crumpled him and his reflex jerk on the reins checked his flight.

Two men clad in filthy government-issue appeared on the rocks above the road. ‘Stand and deliver,’ one shouted.

Slumped over his horse’s wither, blood pumping from his body, William had little choice. In seconds they had pulled him down, collected his pistol and emptied his pockets. They mounted his horse and left him to die on the road to Parramatta.

***

Woodleigh, England
February 1818

The day’s mail lay neatly on the library mantelpiece.

Alexander Woodleigh, Viscount Linton languidly fingered the post as he searched for a handwriting of interest. He was a man looking for change – for a new way of living – one that didn’t replicate his past and certainly didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps. Tossing several invitations to one side, his hand hesitated, then pounced upon an unusual envelope. Quickly his finger broke the seal. This missive seemed to herald all of those things.

“Charlotte, listen to this!”

Little Woodleigh
Parramatta, New South Wales
16 November 1817

My dear cousins
Please pardon my presumptuousness in writing to you although we are not yet acquainted. However, I have tragic news to convey.

One week ago, your cousin, my father, William Wardell, was killed by escaped convicts. We buried him at Parramatta and I write now as the upset and rush of activity is over.

Once more, I am at home at our family property, named after your home. As there has been no contact between my father and you since his departure from England, I shall tell you of his life here.

Feedback from the Historical Team:

“Funnily enough, with this first page, my eye immediately jumped to the second paragraph, which really set the pace and the urgency of the scene. Switching this with the first paragraph would draw readers in from the very first line –it’s not always necessary to give all your information in that first paragraph!

 This has a great, vivid style, making it really easy to visualise that long, hot road ahead and the frustration of William wanting to get home. There’s a lovely contrast between the lazy pace of the November heat and the urgency of this man.

However, it is worth noting that using William to introduce this story, it could set him in our minds as the romantic hero – which we later find out is not the case. As a reader approaching this Historical romance, I would normally expect to see the hero, heroine or both appear on the first page. Perhaps this might be solved by clearly marking this section as a Prologue, or by changing the style slightly so we’re more distanced from William’s thoughts. Or maybe we could have seen this moment from the heroine’s point of view – as she waits for her father to come home?

The next section promises a strong, interesting hero in Alexander and hints at William’s daughter Katherine as the heroine. Just a note – if Katherine is Alexander’s cousin, I did wonder how closely this hero and heroine might be related. Again, although it’s great to intrigue your readers and we’re always encouraging authors to play with expectations, to avoid confusion you do need a stable framework and characters for readers to emotionally invest in right from the start!”

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First Page Feedback – The Boxer and the Madam

And another Harlequin Historical submission for our First Page Feedback. @JewelCourt certainly has an engaging title!

New York City
1880

Grace gathered her skirts and stepped carefully around the puddle of blood soaking the sawdust floor of the Hurdy Gurdy. Atop the blood floated a yellowed tooth. She looked away, coming face to face with the tooth’s owner. The evidence was borne by his grin as he clanked a dirty glass against that of his companion, a large gentlemen sporting an eye turning a dangerous shade of purple. The fact that each was responsible for the other’s injuries cooled their conviviality not one whit.

Ahead, Mr. McMullen’s broad shoulders broke a path through the unruly crowd toward the small ring situated in the center of what had previously been the dance floor. The boxers were squared off. The fight was about to commence. She scurried after Mr. McMullen, but was waylaid by a hand that grabbed her upper arm before she could reach him.

“How’s about a go?” asked the man in the garishly checked suit. His breath smelled of onions and cheap beer.

“I’m already engaged,” she said with a polite smile. The only other women in the Bowery bar were prostitutes, therefore, it was no surprise he thought she was working. Upon her entrance, she’d scanned the other women present on the off chance there existed a rose among thorns, but all the women looked too hard worn for her cliental. Prostitution was a difficult life that wore a woman down long before her time, but she took care of her girls. Like her, they had no better options. Plus, her patrons expected a certain youthful freshness. And she ensured they paid dearly for it.

Despite her demurral, the man’s grip on her arm remained tight. “How’s about he wait his turn,” he said.

“Kindly remove your hand, sir,” she said firmly. She palmed the knife strapped to her thigh through the slit in her skirt pocket.

But before she was forced to act, McMullen turned back. It took but one long stride for him to reach her side. “Woman’s already taken,” he said.

Garish Suit took one look at McMullen’s towering bulk. “Didn’t mean no trouble,” he mumbled and dropped her arm. He backed away through the crowd.

“Thank you, Mr. McMullen,” she said, removing her hand from the knife. “I was prepared to stab the toad, but I fear that would have distracted from our errand.” She reached up to ensure her hair was still smoothly in its place. “Now, let us observe your Mr. Sullivan.”

McMullen secured them a vantage point at the very edge of the ring. She was sorry to lose him as an employee. His sheer bulk was often an advantage. Within the ring, the boxers were stripped to their waist, highlighting their contrasting frames. The boxer with the enormous waxed moustache was easily twice the other. He stood as bulky as a bear and nearly as furry. In contrast the smaller, light-haired man was lean and smooth. Only a battered nose marred his handsome face.

First Page Feedback from the Harlequin Historicals Team

Now there’s something delightfully refreshing about a cool, composed, unshakeable heroine (especially facing a gruesome puddle of blood!) and this first page certainly delivers on that front.

Generally there’s a good fluidity to the writing – it’s expressive, getting across the sense of both the rowdy hall and the heroine’s experience nicely. We did pause at ‘cooled their conviviality not one whit’, wary that the rather old-fashioned arrangement of this sentence may be off-putting to some so early on (despite the historical period!). However this was soon forgotten!

We were excited by the down-to-earth, gritty, setting. There’s something about the fact the boxing ring used to be a dance floor that particularly caught my eye and seems to hint at more – has the heroine similarly fallen to her position from a more wealthy lifestyle? If so – what lovely layering!

We did wonder about heroine’s ethics as her role as a Madam, but the sense that she has very little choice does come across. It didn’t stop us wanting to read on, especially with the mysterious errand still to be uncovered, but we would be looking for further signs of justification later in the manuscript.

Intrigued to see more of the hero and how he makes an impression on this tough heroine – especially if he’s the smaller of the two boxers!

Overall an intriguing, well-written first page, with plenty to capture our interest – nice work!

Thanks to all–and hope it was helpful!

 

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