How to create Leap-Off-The-Page Characters – Stefanie London

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Stefanie London

 

It takes a skilled author to balance all the needs of creating a great book. You’ve got to combine story, plot, conflicts, characters, romance, craft, style, voice and more to get readers engrossed in your tale. And each person approaches it differently.  So here’s Stefanie London to tell us how she focuses on characters!

 

Leap-Off-The-Page Characters

Stefanie’s first book!

When I decided to write my first book (which became my debut novel, Only The Brave Try Ballet) I didn’t think specifically about the characters (or the plot…or the conflicts. Yep, reformed pantser here!) Rather, I allowed the hero and heroine to develop along with my slowly climbing word count.

Now when I write I give a lot more thought to my characters before I dive into the story. You no doubt have read about the basic requirements for creating a character: names, physical appearance, GMCs (goals motivations and conflicts), and backstory.  These are all VERY important elements. But you need more in order to round your characters out and make them real to the reader.

Here’s my list of requirements (in addition to the above) for ‘leap off the page’ characters:

Habits and Behaviours

Everybody has behaviours or actions that are unique to them. My husband quotes movies as though it’s a second language and I always make my tea in a fancy teacup (I won’t drink it out of a mug). Sometimes the quirk might be something trivial or sometimes it might be more serious. My third book (due out early 2015) features a heroine who suffers with panic attacks and she practises yoga and breathing exercises to combat this.

True Fear

Understanding what your characters fear will allow you to better figure out how they need to develop in order to reach their happy ever after. In Breaking the Bro Code my hero is afraid of public speaking, but his ‘true fear’ runs deeper than that. Ultimately he fears rejection – whether from an audience or from the heroine – because he was abused as a child. Vulnerability goes along way with getting the reader to fall in love with your characters. Even the most alpha of heroes is afraid of something.

Just out!

Passion

Passion will lead your characters down new and frightening paths, it will force them to change their behaviour and to grow. Again in Breaking the Bro Code the heroine, Elise, is passionate about her struggling dance studio. It the passion to keep her business alive that pushes her to accept a deal from the hero, even though she knows it’s bad idea to work with him. Without that passion her decision to enter into this arrangement would have felt flimsy and contrived.

Voice

If all your characters sound the same when they talk and think, they won’t ring true to your readers. Their voice also needs to reflect who they are as people, their personalities and their life experience. For example, in Only The Brave Try Ballet the heroine thinks the following:

“She was determined to be the consummate professional, even if it was harder to pull off than the pas de deux from Don Quixote Act Three.”

Only a ballerina (or someone very familiar with ballet) would compare a person to a pas de duex.

Flaws

A perfect character is a boring and unrealistic character. The adage that ‘nobody is perfect’ needs to apply to your characters. When designing my characters I like to give them four key personality traits and I ensure that one of those traits isn’t so positive. For example, if you have a character who is hard working, loyal and intelligent I would balance that by making them stubborn or suspicious of others. The negative trait gives you something to work with while you’re helping your characters grow on their journey to happy ever after.

 

I hope you find this post useful next time you’re working on your characters. I’d love to hear about your characters, have you used any of the above things to make your characters leap off the page? Let me know in the comments below.

Thanks, Stefanie, for this insight!

You can read more on her thoughts on writing and life on Stefanie’s website, follow her on Twitter as @Stefanie_London, check out her Facebook page, or find her on Pinterest among other places! 

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First Page Feedback – Written

Though the (in)famous Bulwer-Lytton (stolen by Snoopy!) line is cliched, starting on a dark and stormy night does work well sometimes… :) Here’s a YA project that uses that image!

Rain pelted the window. Summer storms were common in the mountains and Vhalla had no fear of the thunder which rattled the glass against her shoulder. She adjusted her apprentice robes around her, situating the book on her knees.

She had finished work early. Rather than going to the Master of Tome and letting him know she could do more Vhalla chose to round out the last few hours by reading on her favorite window seat. No one would be interested in coming to the library in this weather anyways.

Sometimes, it was the kind of quiet that could make your ears ring. The thick masonry and plush carpeting muffled even the closest cracks of lightening. In her favorite perch she could normally see the capital city which spilled out from the palace beyond. Today, it was cast in shadow blurred by the downpour.

Vhalla flipped the page, looking away from the foul weather. The low cry of a horn  reverberating through the din of the storm called her attention. It echoed through the city,  followed by another, and another. Placing her bookmark between the pages Vhalla turned her attention past the water beaded glass.

Horns could only mean one thing. Vhalla squinted her eyes. The notes were now being sounded on the palace wall. Far below her the Imperial gate was being opened. She shifted onto her knees.

It was a military party. Soldiers home from the front. Her heart began to race. Had they won? Was the war over?

Her breath fogged the glass and Vhalla wiped it away with her sleeve. It was by the intermittent flashes of lightning that she could make out the horsemen. There were only about twenty riders.

Victory rode through the city in full force with sunlit pennons fluttering in the wind. Victory waited until better weather for their parades. Something was wrong. This was a messenger party, a delivery, an escort, a –

Vhalla’s mind went blank.

The haunches of two horses were white from the capes their riders wore. The princes had returned. Torchlight from the palace servants finally gave her enough light to see by.

One prince helped the other from the saddle, gripping slumped shoulders and pulling the body off limply. She couldn’t hear the words that were being shouted over the storm but she could tell by the body language that they were frantic and angry. The man was finally frustrated enough to throw off his helmet.

Golden hair, a large enough build to hoist a man over his shoulder, Prince Baldair carried his elder brother out of Vhalla’s field of vision. Her heartbeat filled her ears. Prince Aldrik was injured. Their crown prince and future emperor was injured. With haste Vhalla was on her feet. Sprinting through large bookcases and dodging rolling ladders toward the main aisle of the library.

First Page Feedback from Mary-Theresa Hussey

There seems to be a hint of Norse mythology in the names Vhalla and Baldair, which is great. The names are unusual, but also accessible to readers which is helpful when creating a world and not wanting to alarm newbies.

Some exciting story elements are given to us–she’s an apprentice, there is magic, the country is at war, a prince is injured. And even the weather and season come in on the first page!

But I’m not too sure that the opening paragraphs are quite as compelling as they could be–or should be. It just feels as though it’s a rather quiet opening for an exciting story–but perhaps that will change as things move along. And did the heroine finish her work, her homework, her assignment early? There are different connotations to her not letting her master know.

Minor point–no “e” in lightning! Once was correct, once was wrong. And usually the thunder has the cracks as the lightning the flash. :)

Thanks for sharing this and good luck!

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First Page Feedback – Second Chance

Second Chance is a popular theme–but may be a bit overdone as a title! :) Still, @VikkiHolstein has crafted an appealing opening…
Kelsey stared through the bug splatter smearing the windscreen of her little Hyundai. Eyes unfocussed, she slowly shook her head. ‘I have no choice.’

Frowning, she shifted her gaze, took in the familiar street of the little town she’d called home for sixteen years.

Nothing had changed. Nothing on the outside, anyway.

Is that how everyone would see her? Unchanged? The same old Kelsey Davidson?

Looking in the rear view mirror, she studied her reflection. Hair dark brown thanks to the latest colour wash, eyes a little harder, face a little thinner, the last five years hadn’t altered her outward appearance that much. Not so far as those that knew her could see anyway.

Inside, in her heart, though, was a different matter. If people could see that part, even a glimpse, they would turn away from her, shocked, horrified.

So she would keep that part hidden.

Things would come out. Things bad enough to make the people who had known her before, cringe. Other things nobody would ever know. Could never know what she’d done since that night.

Chest tight, she blinked. Maybe this wasn’t the best plan after all. She’d survived those years on her own. Learnt to stretch money, or do without. Learnt that having someone else depend on her put a whole new perspective on things.

Ignoring the burn of her cheeks, she put the little car in reverse; let it idle while she took a deep breath.

Closing her eyes a moment, she reached for the key, turned the car off, and pulled the handbrake on.

Who was she kidding?

This was it. There were no more choices, was nowhere left to run.

For better or worse, she’d come home.

Glancing in the rear-view mirror at the little girl, still asleep in her My Little Pony car seat, she knew, facing her demons meant nothing compared to keeping her promise to Jaiyden, and securing Pipa’s future.

Everything she’d done the past four years had been for Pipa. Now though, time worked against her. Pipa couldn’t grow up happy while they moved home every few months. Couldn’t go to school, make friends.

Have a normal life.

They needed to settle; she needed a job to support them. One that afforded more than just fuel and food money. More than just an existence. Not that she expected to find that here. No, once people knew, or thought they knew, she wouldn’t be able to walk down the street without whispers following. That would make it even harder for Pipa to fit in, to be happy.

Being here for as long as sorting out Pipa’s future took would be long enough, too long probably.

Even if she could turn her back on reality, pretend that this wasn’t the day she’d been dreading, she couldn’t. The twenty dollars in her purse would either give her half a tank of fuel, or feed them for the day.

First Page Feedback from Susan Litman

This is quite engaging! A bit repetitive in places, but overall very good tension. The author provides just enough mystery about the heroine’s obviously fraught homecoming and clear desperation to make the reader wonder what comes next, which is very important. I’d love to know what comes next, what’s gotten her into such dire straits with her child—and how she plans to get out of the situation!  There are solid hints that she has a more than checkered past in her hometown—that her appearing without a penny and with a fatherless child wouldn’t shock anyone, and yet her desire to change herself, and the fact that she’d left town to try and do so, comes through  clearly. A great, strong opening.

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First Page Feedback – A Shot At Forever

A Single Title Contemporary–so HQN!–from @AvaQuinnWrites. This heroine has some interesting rules…

 

Rules. Sheridan Ward lived her life by three. It was because of those rules that she sat in this nameless bar on another Thursday night somewhere in West Texas.

Her gaze swept the honkytonk and she sighed, feeling as worn down as the sole of a rancher’s boot. Most of the time she liked rules. They helped her make her way alone in this crazy world. Everything worked out in the end if you followed the rules. That’s what old Jim had taught her. And he’d been right. Mostly. Only now they’d become more like a cage that locked her away from the life she really wanted. A life that would soon be within her reach.

Sheridan tamped down the ridiculous flare of hope that lit inside her at the thought and concentrated on the real reason she was here.

Rule number one: Know the game better than anyone at your table. She flicked a glance over her shoulder at the crowded bar. After an hour casing the place, she was damn sure she knew the game better than anyone in here.

Besides, even though the honkytonk was jumping like a grasshopper in a chicken coop, she’d snagged the third stool on the left at the bar—her lucky spot no matter what dive she walked into. Right now she’d take luck anywhere she could find it. Lord knew it  was the one thing her rules couldn’t counteract.

She picked up her beer and took a long swallow then placed it back on the coaster—right in the center, with the label facing her.

Rule number two: Know your marks better than they know themselves.

She swiveled around and leaned an elbow against the top of the bar as she took in the joint. Everything she needed to know about the people who frequented this place was
written all over it. Dark wood paneling covered the walls. Steer horns and elk antlers vied
for room among the tattered sports pennants from glory days long past.

Neon signs threw their unnatural light across the smoky dance floor as couples shuffled their feet to the mournful rhythm of the country music. Others nursed their beers as they slouched at the waist high tables that corralled the dance floor.

But sitting pretty at the far end of the room was the real reason she was here. Half a dozen competition grade pool tables with cowboys at each and every one of them. From her seat, she had the perfect angle to note stances, grips, follow through, though she barely took in the men themselves.

Not tonight. Tomorrow she’d choose her marks after studying each player—the skills, the eyes, the body language. That part she’d been a natural at from an early age out of necessity. Now it helped her to survive in a different way. She shook off the depressing thought and focused on the present and her most important rule.

Rule number three: Trust no one. Especially the law.

First Page Feedback from Allison Carroll

Full disclosure—I’m a country girl. I love the personality in this first page. From the colorful colloquialisms to the rustic setting, I was on board. Thinking about the market, though, I realize too much of this kind of “flavor” can be a turn off for readers. I think you stay on the right side of that very fine line, and you do it by making the heroine multidimensional. She’s not just colorful colloquialisms. She’s smart and resourceful, perhaps devious, definitely a loner, and these are all compelling characteristics. That said, I’d recommend being mindful of how heavily you use this country vernacular as the story progresses. You want to leave a little salt in the shaker (ok, clearly not as good with the expressions as you are;).

The rundown of the rules gives this opening structure and momentum. I like how we see the heroine utilizing them as she sets up her con. I’m intrigued by her, but I don’t quite feel sympathetic toward her. Is there a way to soften her a little more for the reader? She’s alone, living on the wrong side of the law, feeling caged, but hopeful. Perhaps tease out a bit more what she’s hopeful about, giving the reader even more reason to root for her.

 

 

 

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First Page Feedback – The Keys of the Music Box Witch

Ooh, time travel can be great–and oh, so tricky… @ARCook_writes has a wonderful imagination…
Chapter One: Gunslinger

The last one is waking up now.

She groans as she sits up on the unfamiliar ground. Her eyes must be burning—she squeezes her eyelids together tightly and grimaces. Sensitive areas on the body tend to experience a burning sensation once the subject has been through the Chronological Relocation. The others felt it as well. The Pirate was the most expressive about it. He is a verbal artiste with curse words. But I will get to him shortly.

Eventually she forces her eyes open. She glances about at the stark black trees keeping vigil over her, as light gray flakes descend silently in the stillness. A growing sense of panic takes root in her chest, but she quickly reins it in. It is instinctive for her, to suppress panic and fear, but she doesn’t remember why.

She doesn’t remember anything.

That realization begins to sink in, and now she looks down at herself. She mentally notes the tattered duster coat, the worn pants, the button-up shirt and the dirt-caked boots. On the ground beside her is a leather brimmed hat and a rifle. A fleeting thought whispers through her mind: Am I supposed to be dressed like this? These are men’s clothes…

Interesting she should think that now. Such a notion hasn’t crossed her mind in years, where she’s from.

She lays a hand on the rifle lightly, not sure if it belongs to her. But it must, since she finds pouches of gunpowder and bullets on her belt that match up with this firearm. She scratches her short brown hair, trying to register everything around her. The usual questions begin tumbling through her mind like a landslide: How did I get here? What was I doing before this? Where am I? Who am I?

It’s that last question that sometimes terrifies most of my guests. But this one manages to keep her calm as she slowly gets up, dusting the gray flakes from her coat.

“Hello? Anybody out here?” she calls. There is no answer, of course. As she brushes away the flakes, she holds a few in her palm and looks at them closely. She realizes it is not snow, as she first thought, despite its off-white color. She rubs the substance gently between her fingers, and sniffs at it. Her face wrinkles in confusion and distaste. I suppose there is a small sense of relief as well, since it proves she does remember something, at least. She remembers what ash is.

She picks up the rifle, and a whiff of a notion returns to her like an age old friend. I know how to hold a rifle, she thinks. I know how to use one. I hit my marks true every time, faster than a hawk on a rabbit. I’m even better than…I can’t remember who…but I can shoot…shoot… 

Someone died…someone was shot…did I do it? No, I was upset…but not at who died. At who shot him. 

Someone is dead…someone…

First Page Feedback from Mary-Theresa  Hussey

There are some strong elements–I like the sense of confusion and feeling of “lost” in time and even place. Those really ground the story and character.

With only a few hundred words, it’s hard to really ground the reader. The opening two paragraphs with lines like “The last one is waking up now” and later “my guests” make me wonder if there’s a narrator to the story and what his/her purpose is. And yet from the woman’s close POV thoughts at the end of the page, we’re in her perspective and experiences. How do those two elements balance? Will it lead to reader confusion as well? :)

I like the little header “The Gunslinger”–because that is who the heroine is dressed as, perhaps, but maybe the first line hearkens back to the mysterious observer? 

There’s a pirate and others to come as well!

I’m not entirely sure if the opening is quite as compelling as it could be, but there’s enough to interest a reader and want to know what happens next at least! I think this is one of those stories where a reader’s expectations–from back cover copy or cover or such–will really help the reading experience.

But I’m still curious about a Music Box Witch!

Good job!

 

 

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First Page Feedback – Desperate

First person is unusual in our series titles, but has worked. However, it doesn’t let the reader get insight into the other characters in the same way. Here’s K. Evers’s Romantic Suspense story…

 

 Will this night ever end?

I continue to fight the overwhelming urge to toss and turn, and deliberately attempt to regulate my breathing.  Stay calm.

Fisting the blanket, I hold it tight against my chest and listen to the relentless pound of rain against the bedroom window.  Sunrise is still another hour away.

I am about to take a step that will irrevocably change the course of my life.

I am strong enough to go through with this?

I can’t be certain, but I have to take the chance.

Doubt, razor sharp, claws at my insides, as once again, I analyse the plan in minute detail, checking for holes. There will be no limit to his anger once he discovers I have left.  My chest compresses with the weight of a wrecking ball, and prickles of fear pierce my skin like tiny acupuncture needles.  I fail to supress a full body tremor and he makes a low disgruntled noise in the back of his throat.

I can’t risk waking him.

Carefully, I disentangle myself from the heavy limbs that cover me.   My bare feet sink into the heated carpet as I walk silently around the room.  I gather my clothes and personal items, and head downstairs to the second bathroom.

A flick of the switch floods the room with bright light, and I grip the vanity tightly as I wait for my face to slowly come into focus.  The reflection is of a dishevelled woman, wide-eyed and pale.  Her pupils are dilated and there is a slight tremble in her lower lip.

Anxiety floods my body like a tidal wave intent on murder and I look away.

I was hoping the reflection would show someone brave and fearless. Determined. Or at the very least, composed and hopeful. I want, no need to be able to put my trust and confidence in her. Believe in her strength and courage to go through with this.

But the face in the mirror also reflects a split lip, a blackened eye and a cheek marred with an angry purple bruise.  Both the reason I am leaving and a sample of what will happen if I am caught.

If I am caught…

It’s not too late to change my mind.

The abuse has escalated.  It is not usual for him to leave marks that are visible – not when he knows so many other ways to do it.  My confidence falters and I look away.

The water from faucet floods my cupped palms, rising up over my fingers before spilling down into the basin.  The water is cool, refreshing, and I watch it for long moments, willing it to soothe and calm my racing pulse.  I draw air deep into my lungs, then do it again.

Today is the day.

Months of preparation and planning have led to this moment.

I will not turn back now.

I glance back to the woman in the mirror.  There’s a cool determination in her green eyes now.

First Page Feedback from Tahra Seplowin

Romantic Suspense submissions written in third person and past tense will have a stronger edge at Harlequin, so I’d suggest switching to that. The opening was a bit slow. Without much to anchor me as a reader, the submission didn’t kick off until “I can’t risk waking him” as it’s a clear, concise stake that I understand right off the bat. The info presented earlier – that she’s in bed waiting for the darkness to end – can be easily conveyed a few paragraphs later in one line before she heads to the bathroom. While the looking-in-the-mirror approach to her appearance is clichéd, it works here because what we see is different from what we expect. The switch to the confident woman in the last line is a strong hook. It’s a change in character that moves the story along, ups the tension, and develops the character. The heroine has shown us what’s at stake, what her goals are, and that she has just overcome the internal blocks. We’re not told, we’re shown, and it’s conveyed in a cooler, concise, more confident tone. She’s ready to set that plan in action and escape. 

With some revisions it could have a great deal of potential.

 

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First Page Feedback – Without a Doubt

Sandra P has a Harlequin Special Edition opening!
If Mason Gray were to summon up a favorite female fantasy his ex-girlfriend Tara Michaels would rank up there with Angelina Jolie or Cindy Crawford. For bonus points he could even remember how Tara had felt wrapped around him as she sighed his name.

Although considering she walked out on him three years ago, it was unlikely Mason would get the opportunity to relive any romantic encounters.

“Who’s that guy Tara’s talking to?” Mason pulled the tap to pour a draft while he  surreptitiously spied on his ex-girlfriend.

Tara hadn’t been exactly thrilled when Mason had talked the manager of the Alley Cat Bar  to allow him to bartend a few nights a week as research for his next book. She hadn’t come out and accused him working here just to get close to her again, although he wouldn’t have denied it if she had.

“That’s Jeff.” David Bronner accepted payment for a Margarita from a pretty brunette and  headed for the cash register. “Tara and Jeff dated for a few months, but they’ve been broken up for a while now.” David after depositing the money into the cash register returned with the woman’s change. “Not sure why he’s been hanging around again, but he and Tara seem to have a lot to talk about.”

David moved to wait on another customer while Mason served the draft with a variety of uncharitable thoughts spun through his mind. Naturally Mason had considered Tara had moved  on given the length of time he and Tara had been broken up, but this was the first sign of serious competition he’d encountered. Maybe it was time for an intervention.

“Hey, Tara,” he said, pausing at her side, “care to introduce me to your friend?”

The smile on his face was pretty much an illusion as Mason had basically disliked Tara’s  friend on sight. The guy in front of her reeked of grace, charm and too many hours spent inside a spray tanning booth. Jeff’s pretty boy looks no doubt made him popular with the ladies, although if he was here to sweet talk Tara into reconciliation, he was going to have to get in line.

Mason had been here first.

Expecting her to give him a look that could wither glass on a lesser mortal, Mason was a  bit nonplussed when she simply supplied the introductions with a non-glass withering look on her face. “Mason, this is Jeff. Jeff, Mason.”

Scooping up a couple empty bottles of beer, she then turned towards the trash can where the bartenders deposited the recyclables.

“Sorry I can’t stay and chat,” she added, “but duty calls.”

Then after tossing then a blithe smile she scooted off to the far end of the bar. Leaving Mason to chat with Jeff. Alone.

Yeah. This probably wasn’t going to go well.

“You’re Mason Gray,” Jeff said, his pleasant tone not suggesting that he was aware of the
past Mason shared with Tara. “My younger brother loves your books.”

First Page Feedback from Susan Litman

You’ve got a smooth writing style, and I like the idea that the hero is a writer, working in a bar to do research for his book—she establishes this immediately. Also set up right away is the fact that Mason (said hero) is still pining for his ex, Tara, who also works at the bar, except that “sulking” might be a better word—he comes off less heroic than borderline stalkerish. Too, his concentration on Tara’s physical attributes in his sexual fantasies makes us wonder if we want to root for this hero to get her if she’s the heroine! What about who she is as a person? A couple of other points about the execution in the opening:

  • Quite a lot of backstory dump in the first paragraphs, not only about Tara and Mason’s breakup but apparently about her breakup with Jeff, a guy we see hanging out in the bar whose presence upsets Mason.
  •  There’s a lot of description here, and much of it seems negative. (In fact, Mason paints the very ex-girlfriend he claims to miss in a rather unfavorable light, which reflects pretty poorly on him.  Again, in terms of setting him up as a hero, this isn’t working to great effect.)

There’s a nice energy to the story and the setting is good–reunion romances do well in Special Edition. Just make sure we want the hero and heroine to get back with each other!

 

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First Page Feedback – Flying Doctor’s Revenge

And another Medical! Charlotte balances the emotion and drama in an appealing way.

Dr Ethan … tossed the newspaper in the bin with the force of a baseball bat. Damn that family. Blazoned all over the front page, smiling like heroes but he knew the cold hard truth about them. If he ever had to meet one face to face he wasn’t sure he could restrain himself. Annie he said quietly to himself, a single tear trickled down his face. Ethan tried to shake her out of his head but she never left him. Absentmindedly twisting the gold wedding band around on his finger.

Come on Ethan get your mind back on the job, Ethan headed into the gents. Any mention of that family’s name got him so angry and flustered he could hardly think straight. He needed to splash his face with cold water before he exploded. The plane would be taking off soon and where the hell was the new nurse?

“Oh ‘scuse me,” said a pretty young nurse that he hadn’t seen around before. Ethan froze to the spot. Rarely did he see anything of such beauty in the men’s toilet.

“The ladies had no loo roll,” she smiled. It was one of those unforgettable smiles that instantly soothed his rage.

For the first time ever Ethan was out of words. “Erm, no worries.” He wandered over to the sinks. As he splashed his face he noticed her reflection still in the mirror, hovering by the door. “Can I help you with something?” he asked.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to stare, but you’re Dr. Ethan Vaughn aren’t you?”

“The one and only,” he smiled. “And you are?”

“I’m the new nurse. I’m joining you on your trip to the White Cliffs and I’m honoured to be working with such an amazing doctor. I’ve heard so much about you.”

Ethan never got bored of pretty women complimenting him, not that he would go there again.

“It’ll be good to have you with us…. Sorry I didn’t catch your name.”

“Oh sorry, I’m Kizzi. Kizzi Taylor.” She held her breath hoping she wouldn’t be caught out. This was something she was determined to do on her own without the backing of her family.

“Why don’t I give you a quick tour before we head for the plane?”

Kizzi smiled, “Sure lead the way Doc.”

A strong smell of citrus filled his nostrils, taking him back to happier times, she wore the same perfume as Annie had on their wedding day.

“I know this may be intrusive but what made you become a nurse?”

“I wanted to help people and get job satisfaction.”

Her reply didn’t surprise him most people who became doctors or nurses said
the same. “I bet your family are really proud of you.”
“Not really, they’re mad I didn’t join the family business.” Kizzi swallowed the lump that had rose in her throat. Just once she wanted them to be proud of her but they never were. She could never do anything right and that hurt.

First Page Feedback from the Medical Editors:

We really enjoyed reading your sample and feel you have set up an intriguing situation with plenty of promise for emotional conflict between your hero and your heroine. We like the fact that they are thrown together on a journey, as that will give rise for lots of opportunities for them to spend more time together then they perhaps might like!

We did wonder whether for a more dramatic beginning Ethan could walk into the men’s room and find Kizzi there. Perhaps he is reading the paper as he does so. There is an opportunity for humour here, so don’t be afraid to take it! 

We also feel perhaps you could look at Kizzi’s reaction to Ethan a little more. She can be dazzled and slightly overwhelmed by him, but maybe not say to his face that he’s amazing. It makes her appear a little gushing, when we want her to be a strong independent heroine, making her way in the world. 

Equally, Ethan enjoying being complimented by pretty women, makes him seem a bit arrogant, when we want to see his vulnerable caring side. With that in mind, it would be great to see his emotional reaction to his memories of Anne. Smell is very evocative, so Kizzi’s perfume could instantly transport him back to his wedding day, reminding him how he felt, how beautiful she was etc. 

We are presuming from the sample, that Kizzi’s family and “that family” are one and the same. If that is the case, you will need to give a credible reason why he doesn’t recognize her surname, and she isn’t more anxious about being found out. That said, this has great potential for emotional conflict, so if we’ve misread that situation it might be worth considering anyway! 

 

Well, meeting in the toilet will certainly be a good story to tell others! Good luck!

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First Page Feedback – Somerset Cove

And we’re back to doing our own First Page Feedbacks after an exciting week of SO YOU THINK YOU CAN WRITE’s online conference!

Karen C has sent in an opening for HQN…
“Okay, so I understand the fondant is on backorder for two weeks, but you DO realize that this is a bakery, right?” Jenna fumed as she ran a hand through her long brown hair. It was
clear there was nothing she could do about the situation; she’d just have to change her game plan until it was available. At least luck was on her side and she didn’t have any wedding cakes to prepare in the next couple of weeks.

She finished placing her supply order, hung up the phone and popped her hair into a pony tail before returning to chopping the pecans for her signature turtle cupcakes. After
emptying the nuts from the food processor into a clear plastic container, she rounded the counter and pulled open the large stainless steel door to the commercial refrigerator and placed the chopped nuts next to the sliced strawberries. The blast of air that escaped helped to cool down her frustration with the supply company. She took a deep breath and enjoyed the momentary reprieve. It was nearly five o’clock and she still had so much
to get done at the bakery to prep for tomorrow’s creations. Although she opened early in the morning, it helped that she closed at three o’clock so that she could spend a few uninterrupted hours preparing for the next day. Usually Emily, her best friend and business partner, would be here to assist but she had the day off since she worked a wedding the previous weekend.

Over the course of the next hour, she prepared the fluffy buttercream, chocolate and cream cheese frostings and placed them in the refrigerator. She broke down all the cardboard boxes from the supplies she got earlier in the day, gathered them under her arm and went out the rear door to stack them by the dumpster in the cobblestone alley. She smiled when she felt the warm rays of sun on her face as it was getting ready to hide behind the mountains for the day. Early spring in New England was such a beautiful time, she thought to herself. Just as she was turning around to go back inside, she heard the slightest whimper coming from behind the dumpster. She stopped. Unfortunately she’d heard that noise before and it caused a knot to form in her gut.

 

First Page Feedback from Allison Carroll!

This first page does a great job orienting the reader—I know the heroine owns a bakery, in partnership with her best friend, in New England, and it’s spring. All great information to have, and it’s presented seamlessly within the action of the scene. The last couple of lines is really where things take off. What is making that noise?! (Seriously, can you tell me?) It’s great this mysterious catalyst happens early in the first chapter as it’s really what’s going to hook the reader. That said, I felt perhaps too much time is spent showing her work. Consider infusing the scene with some more of her personality and indicators of where she’s at emotionally. Is she enjoying her work? Feeling rushed? Happy to have some time alone? I get the sense it’s just another day for her at the bakery (until she takes the trash out!), but is that a good or bad thing? A subtle cue or two will make these opening paragraphs that much richer! 

And there are a lot of dense paragraphs–perhaps consider breaking them up a bit? 

 

 

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last minute prep for Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write 2014 contest!

We think we know how you  might be spending your weekend–getting ready to submit your manuscript at 10:00 on Monday, September 22nd! (that’s New York/Toronto time–we want to be sure all IT hands are on deck in case there are any issues!
And for the next ten days we’ll all be reading and commenting on manuscripts, hoping to find the 25 who will go on to the top round.

 

But before you send off that first chapter, don’t forget to check out today’s Calendar Events–and see what some of the highlights of yesterday were!

 

 

Pippa Roscoe watched Harry Met Sally–for work!–for inspiration on creating chemistry… 

Allison Lyons and Kathryn Cheshire answered questions on our Community Forums.

And to see our thoughts on the brave souls who submitted synopses, check here! :) 

 

So take your time to process all you learned this week and polish that chapter and then work on the rest of your manuscript. 

Good reading–and writing!

Posted in Contest, Editors, So You Think You Can Write, Writing Tips | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment