First Page Friday #11: Contemporary Romance

Happy Friday the 13th!  I hope it’s a lucky one!

This week’s submission:

Contemporary Romance First 500 – By Mindy Hardwick

“There is a man. He is a man from the past.” Dallas peered into the crystal ball. A gust of crisp fall air blew her fortune telling booth sign to the ground. Dallas shivered and pulled her purple cape around her. After living in San Diego for ten years, she wasn’t used to the cooler fall temperatures of the Oregon coast river town.   “What does he look like?” Dallas’s only customer of the afternoon leaned forward.“He has dark…”A loud burst of laughter jarred Dallas. She looked up and frowned. A large crowd gathered around the booth to her left. A hanging stenciled sign read: Plots to Hell. It was all a ploy to support the Riverview Fall Festival. Buy an imaginary plot to hell for your ex-boyfriend or girlfriend and receive a certificate to hang on your wall. It seemed foolish to her, but the booth had a steady stream of traffic.

“I’m sorry. I couldn’t hear what you said. Can you repeat it?” The woman smiled at Dallas. “There seems to be some competition.”

Dallas gritted her teeth. Everyone wanted to buy one of the imaginary plots and it was costing her customers. “Excuse me. I will be right back.”

Dallas strode across the wet grass. She pushed her way through the crowd until she reached the front of the make-shift booth.  “Hello,” Dallas’s voice rose above the crowd as she tried to attract the tall, slender man’s attention. “I am trying…”

“Yes?” The man turned. His jet black eyes met hers.

“Bryan.” Dallas sucked in her breath. She knew coming home to the small town where she grew up would be challenging. But she couldn’t let that challenge stop her. Dallas took a deep breath.  She squared her shoulders and looked Bryan straight in the eye. She wasn’t the same love struck teenage girl. She was a grown woman, who, up until two months ago had a very successful design business. She had fallen in and out of love and had no reason to be worried about her old feelings for Bryan.  “I am trying to give fortunes. My booth benefits the town’s weather disaster fund. My customer cannot hear her fortune.” Dallas looked around for the cause Bryan was supporting. Every booth was supposed to support a local non-profit. The only sign Dallas saw was Riverview Real Estate Company.

Bryan gazed at her empty booth. He turned back to her, winked, and said. “Ladies and Gentlemen. Who will buy the next plot from hell?”

Dallas fumed. Without thinking about how she would pay for it, she said loudly. “I will buy the next plot.”

“Sold.” Bryan said. “To the fortune teller.” He waved his hand at a tall and gorgeous blonde woman working behind him at a long table. “Please bring your payment to my assistant. She will give you the certificate and you can fill in the name for your plot.”

Dallas faltered. What was she thinking? She didn’t have money to buy foolish things like imaginary plots to hell. She barely had grocery money.

Reader Participation – What Do You Think?

Before reading my take on this novel opening, please take a moment to record your thoughts in the poll below.

Your thoughtful critiques and suggestions for the writer are also welcome in the comments section. Explaining your vote gives the author even more insight into where they’re hitting the mark and where they can improve.

The Writeditor’s Feedback

 Critique Key

Original Text is in italics.

Red is text I recommend removing.

Green is text I recommend adding.

Blue are my comments.

Contemporary Romance First 500 – By Mindy Hardwick

“There is a man. He is a man from the past.” < Starting with a strange line of dialogue is a bit jarring. I would put this after the second line so that it’s clear it’s dialogue relating to a crystal ball. Dallas peered into the her crystal ball. < Changing “the” to “her” clears up two problems – it makes it clear that she is a female (I assumed she was male) and it makes it clear that she is the one telling the fortune (rather than getting her fortune told by someone else). A gust of crisp fall air blew her fortune telling booth sign to the ground. < I’d like a clearer picture of this booth. Is it just a little stand? Is it like a tent? Did the sign fall from a pole or was it just a paper sitting on a table? Where is the booth located? Dallas shivered and pulled her purple cape around her. After living in San Diego for ten years, she wasn’t used to the cooler fall temperatures of the Oregon coast river town.  

 “What does he look like?” Dallas’s only customer of the afternoon leaned forward. < I’d rather have a description and name of the customer here and then learn that it’s the only customer of the afternoon in a separate sentence.

“He has dark…”A loud burst of laughter jarred Dallas. She looked up and frowned. A large crowd gathered around the booth to her left. < At first I thought you meant there was a crowd around her booth. It would help if you made it clearer from the first paragraph where exactly this booth is – in an amusement park? On a boardwalk? At a fair? A hanging stenciled sign read: Plots to Hell. It was all a ploy to support the Riverview Fall Festival. Buy an imaginary plot to hell for your ex-boyfriend or girlfriend and receive a certificate to hang on your wall. < It’s not clear if this is a tagline, a thought, or just mistakenly in present tense. It seemed foolish to her, but the booth had a steady stream of traffic.

“I’m sorry. I couldn’t hear what you said. Can you repeat it?” The woman smiled at Dallas. “There seems to be some competition.”

Dallas gritted her teeth. Everyone wanted to buy one of the imaginary plots and it was costing her customers. < It’s not clear to me why it would cost her customers since it would attract people to the area and it’s an unrelated service. “Excuse me. I will be right back.”

Dallas strode across the wet grass. She pushed her way through the crowd until she reached the front of the make-shift booth.  < I’m struggling to picture the scene. Where are they that there is wet grass? How big is the crowd? “Hello,” Dallas’s voice rose above the crowd as she tried to attract the tall, slender man’s attention. < What tall, slender man? Presumably the booth owner? “I am trying…”

“Yes?” The man turned. His jet black eyes met hers.

“Bryan.” Dallas sucked in her breath. She knew coming home to the small town where she grew up would be challenging. But she couldn’t let that challenge stop her. < These two lines are telling something that you could easily show. Dallas took a deep breath.  She squared her shoulders and looked Bryan straight in the eye. She wasn’t the same love struck teenage girl. She was a grown woman, who, up until two months ago had a very successful design business. She had fallen in and out of love and had no reason to be worried about her old feelings for Bryan.  < It’s not clear to me what falling in and out of love has to do with having or not having feelings for Bryan. I also think you’re telling here when showing her feelings would be stronger. “I am trying to give fortunes. My booth benefits the town’s weather disaster fund. My customer cannot hear her fortune.” Dallas looked around for the cause Bryan was supporting. < I thought she already knew that he was supporting the festival? Every booth was supposed to support a local non-profit. The only sign Dallas saw was Riverview Real Estate Company.

Bryan gazed at her empty booth. He turned back to her, winked, and said. “Ladies and Gentlemen. Who will buy the next plot from hell?”

Dallas fumed. Without thinking about how she would pay for it, she said loudly. “I will buy the next plot.” < Why does she buy a plot? What does she think it will accomplish? Make her motivations clear.

“Sold.” Bryan said. “To the fortune teller.” He waved his hand at a tall and gorgeous blonde woman working behind him at a long table. “Please bring your payment to my assistant. She will give you the certificate and you can fill in the name for your plot.”

Dallas faltered. What was she thinking? < As a reader, I want to know what she’s thinking too. What makes her go from angry to buying a plot? Is she trying to show him up? If so, how? She didn’t have money to buy foolish things like imaginary plots to hell. She barely had grocery money.

My Overall Thoughts

I think this could work well as an opening with a few modifications and clarifications. Overall, the writing feels a bit too sparse – too lean on the details. Fleshing things out a bit would help root the reader in the story.

Key Places to Improve:

  • Location – A sense of location is really important in setting a scene, but it’s unclear where her booth is located, how many other booths are in the area, what type of booth it is, etc. Take some time to flesh out those details.
  • Voice – There wasn’t much sense of voice in this opening. I should be getting a sense of Dallas’s personality traits, but I’m not, for two reasons: 1. The word choices didn’t provide insight into her personality, and 2. Her motivations were not clear (Why is she so upset about this other booth? Why does she buy a plot in hell? Why is she even fortune telling in the first place?).
  • I struggled a little bit with her logic because I don’t understand why the “plots in hell” booth would compete with her fortune telling booth. Additionally, when it is explained in the narration that the “plots in hell” booth is fundraising, it makes her seem a little petty that she would make a fuss about its success. This plot point would make more sense to me if either: 1. The rival booth was also fortune telling and stealing her thunder, or 2. She hated or was opposed to the cause the booth was fundraising for.

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 2.5

The writing itself was not bad, but perhaps a little on the bland side. It was definitely too sparse and vague, like a draft written with just the bare bones. If you pump up the voice and flesh out the details, this could work  well as an opening for a romance.

A note on the grading scale: The rating of the first chapter does not indicate the rating of the novel as a whole nor does it indicate the writer’s overall ability.

Connect with Mindy

You can connect with Mindy on Twitter, her website, and at her blog.

Submit to First Page Friday – (currently booking 3rd week in January)

If you’d like to submit your novel for First Page Friday, please send the following to ellenbrock@keytopservices.com:

  • The name you want me to use in the blog post (real name, alias, or anonymous).
  • The genre of your novel.
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About the Editor

Ellen Brock (AKA The Writeditor) is a freelance novel editor who works with self-publishing and traditionally publishing authors as well as e-publishers and small presses. She owns the editing company Keytop Services and the writing and editing blog The Writeditor. When not editing, she enjoys reading, writing, and geocaching. Check out her freelance novel editing services and mentoring.

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One thought on “First Page Friday #11: Contemporary Romance

  1. aroundtownandback says:

    I think this has a lot of potential and I agree that it is sparse. It probably could be expanded from the first 500 into the first 1500 words. I was curious to know more about Bryan. He has black eyes and is selling hell plots, so I’m guessing he has some kind of demon thing going. If that’s true, I’d like to know more about what he looks like.

    One more thing: “plot TO hell” sounds like some sort of transportation, and “plot FROM hell” sounds like a bad storyline. I think you need to say “plot IN hell” and stick with that. Or else something like an acre in hell, which sounds more clearly like real estate to me.

    Keep it up!

    Also, Ellen, I enjoy reading your blog and insights!

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