Tuesday, December 9, 2008

First Chapter Critique #1

Love Story (untitled), Chapter 1

by Ali Katz




Prologue


Pain in her ears woke her. Then, everything hurt, every joint and muscle. Her very skin burned. When she tried to move, the cold hit her.


Groggy, Melanie opened her eyes half-mast against a mid-afternoon light while waiting for her limbs to respond and the fog to lift from her brain. What was she doing lying in bed, stiff and hurting—alone—in the middle of the afternoon? Where was Josh?


"I'm here, Baby." Light as air, his voice carried on a breeze from the open window. A third story window. Impossible. A ringing in her ears grew louder; she must have misheard.


Pushing herself up, she scrabbled for the comforter only to grow more confused by what she wore. A dress? Melanie never wore dresses except to perform. She hadn't performed in months. The thin fabric bunched around her hips. The hose sagged. She gathered the bedclothes, buried herself in layers and began to shiver.


"Josh?" The word croaked from her aching throat.


"I'm here." Barely audible, directionless, but definitely his voice. The man himself was nowhere to be seen.

She swung her legs off the bed, and as she stood, a wave of dizziness struck. Catching herself with one hand against the footboard, she avoided falling then stumbled to the window.


A thick crust of ice coated the shelf of snow on the sill. When did it snow?


Disturbed, she pulled the sash closed, turned away and froze. A wild glance around the room revealed dirty glasses, plates of uneaten food, a mess she would never consciously allow and had no memory making. Had Josh done this?


Then she caught her reflection in the mirror over the vanity and stared in horror. How long had she been lying in bed? Puffy eyes stared back from a face she barely recognized, red, chaffed, the lips, dry and flaking. Stringy, unwashed hair hung limp on her shoulders. The dress, ugly, black, unfamiliar, wilted on her frame. And she stank; she needed a shower. The prickling of a thousand insects crawled over her skin, growing unbearable as the blankets warmed her.


Her tongue felt like sandpaper and tasted like desert. Shivers turned to quaking as she reached for one of the half-empty glasses. The blankets fell to the floor. Melanie followed. How did this happen? She couldn't remember. What day is this? A breath caught in her throat and stuck.


Something had happened, but every time she tried to focus, her brain fogged. A deep pain erupted in her chest.

"Josh!" she called, but her voice barely squeaked past her tightened throat. "Josh where are you?"


"I'm here, Baby."


His arms came around to embrace her from behind. Her eyes fell closed. "Have I been sick?" Of course, the aches, the shivers, she was feverish. She'd been sick.


"Try to remember."


Her mind snatched at fleeting thoughts, but they evaporated so quickly. "I don't remember anything. How long was I asleep? Your voice is strange. Why do you sound so far away?"


"I'm right here. I'm not going anywhere until you say. What's the last thing you remember?"


Wincing, she took a deep, cleansing breath and tried to summon a memory. "I waited dinner. You were late." When did that happen? How much time had she lost?


"Yes. I stopped to get you flowers."


Flowers. Her lungs locked; a low, pitiful sound emerged. "You knew I'd be angry. I was. I was mad." She moaned and floated back into his arms.


And through them to the floor. Shaken, she stared at the ceiling. She remembered the bell ringing in the middle of the night, walking down the stairs, grumbling and rehearsing what to say, thinking Josh had forgotten his keys again. Instead…


"Mrs. Taylor?"


"Yes, what is it?"


"I'm Officer Nadine Madden. There's been a terrible accident."


Chapter 1


Five years later


"Daniel, get down here." Russell was using the damn speakerphone again. The voice sounded hollow, barely intelligible. His annoyance, however, came through loud and clear. "Will you stop by the booth? Tell the cellist to get her cute little butt in here? Dollar signs are floating out the window."


"Right." Daniel set the receiver in its cradle. Not willing to try his manager's patience when it came to money matters, he smiled at the receptionist (mental note: Diane) and the teenage daughter (Emily) she'd brought in to meet him.


"Sorry, ladies, gotta go make some music." The girl tittered when his lips brushed her cheek, but her nervousness was gone. "Great meeting you, Em." He had a gift for putting fans at ease, in spite of himself.


Rule number one: Always leave 'em thinking you're a nice guy.


The door to the isolation booth didn't budge when he tugged. Locked. Naturally. A few steps farther, the next one, leading to the control room, opened. Music from an open mic escaped into the hall.


He let the heavy, soundproof door swing closed behind him. The deep voice of the cello swelled until it filled his head and started his chest vibrating with its power. A little surprised, he had to admit he didn't recognize the piece she played.


A quick glance through the glass and his finger stalled above the mic's switch. Pretty, he thought: long, straight black hair, creamy complexion, black jeans, black silk blouse—very Goth. Goth always drew his eye, especially the long-legged, tight-bodied kind, though he couldn't see the face beneath the hair until she raised her head.

Daniel recognized the woman immediately.


Well, hello again, Mel-an-ie. He moved his hand a few inches to hit record, wishing for video. This he wanted to keep. Everyone always said she was good, but this private solo sent chills through him. Alone in the studio, she played with the uninhibited passion of someone who thought herself unobserved, making love to her instrument.

He stepped back from the glass to watch from the shadows.


Fingers flying over the strings, her whole body thrown into the playing, she breathed as though trying to inhale the sound. Little moans of pleasure escaped her throat now and then, adding their own voice to the music. A dewy sheen covered the exposed flesh of her face, neck and chest.


Beautiful. So, this is what had stolen Josh's heart—all that seductive passion. Strange, he'd missed this aspect of her. On the few occasions she'd accompanied Josh to one function or another where Daniel was present, he'd thought her mousy, too reserved for his old friend. He'd heard talk, though. When she came into the picture during their junior year at Julliard, their whirlwind romance became legend—brilliant young composer falls for stunning, amazingly talented unknown.


Maybe not so strange he'd missed it, since Daniel didn't stick around to watch.


And, apparently, his perception was tainted.


A twinge of guilt prodded him. Where has she been for the last five years? Josh's death must have been hard on her. A better man would have looked in on the wife of a friend.


He studied her through the rest of the unfamiliar Allegro. As the music burst into its final chords, she shuddered and threw back her head with an expression that might be pain or ecstasy—an intensity that sent a ripple of almost sexual arousal sweeping over him. My God, she's exquisite.


The music ended. She fell against the chair, flushed and breathless, exhausted. Her limbs trembled.


Setting the machine to burn the track onto a CD, he gave her a moment to recover then flipped the mic switch.


"Melanie." She jumped at the sound of his voice; her gaze locked on the glass. "They're waiting for you." He angled forward until the light from the booth illuminated his face. He waved, then gave her his sexiest grin, knowing she'd recognize him.


Melanie turned the prettiest shade of fuchsia and waved back.


***


Jeez, how long had Daniel been there?


Daniel Sanborn, Teen Idol. He remembered her? Surely, not. Their last award ceremony was more than six years ago. He wouldn't recall much about that night, drunk as he was. Someone must have reminded him.

Melanie lovingly replaced the cello in its case. Burdened under its weight while balancing her purse, bottle of water, music folders, she muscled open the door and narrowly missed colliding with Mr. Rock Icon himself.

"Wow, Melanie, are you always so hot? What were you playing? I didn't recognize the piece."


Heat blossomed on her face. So, she'd gotten a little carried away. "You startled me, Daniel." In spite of herself, she couldn't help smiling at those laughing, blue, Peter Pan eyes. The man just refused to grow up despite having seen the last of thirty-five. His body, proudly displayed behind an open shirt and low-slung jeans, drew her attention as intended, but the kohl-lined eyes hooked her. Their black frames turned the blue irises almost sapphire.


A knowing grin graced those full lips. This time, she refused to be embarrassed. "You might have said something sooner. It's one of Josh's."


"Uh uh, you would have stopped playing." He seemed genuinely happy to see her. "Here, let me carry that."

The studio was just down the hall, but she handed the heavy instrument over gratefully.


"Has it been published, Josh's piece? I usually recognize his work."


"No, he wrote this one for me." His claim surprised her. "I thought you were through with classical music. You're still interested in modern composers?"


His eyes narrowed. "Yes," he said, making the word a dare. "Josh was my friend. Of course, I followed his work—and others' as well, believe it or not. Do you think I whored my soul along with my talent? Is that what he thought?"


Whoa. "I'm sorry." She quickly tried to smooth things over. They had to work together for the next week. It was a careless assumption on her part; she didn't know him well, but she'd heard him play. "I didn't mean to imply anything. You know Josh was proud of you." Daniel and Josh were friends long before she showed up. Surely, he knew better than she how Josh felt.


In front of the studio, Daniel reached for the knob and paused. "Forgiven," he said with a grin. "Meet me for coffee after the session."


Coffee? Innocent enough, but his grin was hard to decipher. This move back into the world was a giant step for her, a chance to break from her shell, get accustomed to people again, but she'd rather avoid unwanted advances for a while. No, that wasn't fair. Nothing he'd done so far gave her reason to question his intentions. Anyway, could he be any gayer?


He probably wanted to talk about Josh, which scared her more than the idea of fighting him off. Icy fingers gripped the back of her neck.


"What should I do, Josh?" she murmured then glanced up quickly, realizing Daniel must have heard.


His brow rose to his shaggy hairline.


Like a breath without substance, her ghost said, "Talk to him."

***

A blast of cold air greeted them as they left the sweltering, ninety-degree New York afternoon to enter the coffee shop next door to the recording studio. Daniel took Melanie's elbow. With a nod to the kid behind the counter, he guided her to a private booth in the back.


"Move over." He slid into the booth next to her and, slinging his knee onto the bench, turned his back to the room to face her.


"Trust me," he said to her guarded expression. "This is best. Angel will come to take our order as soon as he can get away." He didn't often venture out without security. He loved the fans, but for the most part, they scared the p*** out of him. "How've you been? You kinda fell off the face of the earth. I didn't get a chance to talk to you at the funeral."


"You were there?" Surprise flashed across her face but dulled quickly.


Why should his presence at the funeral surprise her? If nothing else, the business relationship the band had with Josh warranted the group's attendance. Josh, though, was more than a business relationship. Was it possible she didn't know about his and her late husband's more personal affairs?


"Of course. We all went," he said. They'd flown in from the coast just for the day. No one ever discovered how word got out. "A crowd of fans swarmed us as we left the church. We couldn't ask you to deal with them, so we didn't go to the cemetery."


"I don't remember the funeral, Daniel."


"Nothing?" Recalling her state at the church, the fact didn't surprise him. That creepy mother-in-law of hers must have propped her up.


"I didn't know until… No one stayed to… We probably should talk about something else."


"No one stayed with you? Do they call at all?" She wouldn't meet his eyes. He reached for her hand where it lay on the table. "Okay, we'll talk about something else."


They f*****g left her alone. He might have known if he'd given her any thought at all. Josh told him she had no family—Daniel always considered the fact part of the attraction, since Josh's parents were such cold-hearted p****s. Still, his mother should have taken to her. She was, after-all, the instrument which got rid of Daniel. It seems the senior Mrs. Taylor didn't like her daughter-in-law any better. He should have guessed, but at the time, was too busy hiding his own grief to think too long about his rival's problems.


His rival? This woman was not a rival. Even if she knew about him, Daniel couldn't blame Melanie for his own decision to leave. He couldn't even blame Josh. Josh didn't want him to go. In fact, he'd asked him to stay. Asked, begged, demanded…but Daniel's anger wouldn't allow him to listen. He made a preemptive move, knowing who the loser would be in the end.


Rehashing all this did neither of them any good. Josh had an approach to dealing with the kind of stress that kept him from getting things done. Daniel repeated the old mantra aloud. "Pretend you're all right." Good advice, for the most part. Pretend long enough and you can't tell the difference.


She heard. She offered him a weak smile then pulled her feet onto the bench to hug her knees. The move gave her a bit more space and put an effective barrier between them.


The teenaged barista chose that moment to show up for their order. In the few moments it took for Daniel to ask for coffee and Melanie a latte, the tension left her body. "Pretend you're all right" apparently worked for her. No doubt she had practice.


Her gaze wandered the room beyond his shoulder. "Someone over there recognizes you. Or thinks she does."

Now that she'd brought it to his attention, he could feel the eyes boring into his back. Without turning, he asked, "Do you see a big, bald guy in a gray suit at one of the tables? Probably wearing shades." He'd be surprised if Sandy was around. No one knew he'd slipped over here for a few minutes alone with her.


She made a quick sweep of the room and shook her head.


Okay, he could handle this. "One girl, right?"


"Yes."


Resting his arm along the back of the bench, he forced himself to relax. Just a fan and Melanie here to witness what happened—nothing was going to happen.


These irrational fears grew worse every year. Okay, he was a coward, but too many unpleasant incidents made him cautious. Caution was a good thing in this business—or so he continued to tell himself. He needed to get a grip. For a while, he'd tried toning down his appearance, hoping to blend in better, but fans were going to recognize him. He had to get a handle on these panic attacks or he'd be back to drinking, or worse, before his well-earned ulcer had a chance to heal.


Stop drinking. Blend in. What next? Go straight?


He'd been zoning. A quick glance in her direction found his fingers toying with a lock of her hair—more nerves. She didn't seem to mind, but gently lifted the hand aside when she caught him watching.


"You're hands are beautiful," she said.


Josh had thought so, too. Long, strong pianist's hands, he'd called them. Enough!


"So, how are you?" He repeated his original question. Sitting here, across from the woman he'd spent so much time anguishing over, put him in a constant state of deja vu—perhaps too much blast from the past.


"I'm okay. I've been teaching, but won't be going back in the fall. If I don't get back in the circuit soon, no one will remember me."


Footsteps approached from behind. He turned his head slightly to find a young woman standing politely off to the side, waiting for his attention.


"I'm sorry to interrupt," she said. "I know how rude this must be, but I'd kick myself a thousand times if I passed up the chance to get your autograph. Would you?"


"It's all right, darlin'." It wasn't in him to brush the girl off. He reached for her paper and pen with what he hoped was a sincere enough smile. "What's your name?" They chatted while he composed a message. As she walked away, her excitement showed in the way she scooped her things from the table and practically danced out the door. He laughed to himself over all the fuss. Maybe he should try a little harder to make "pretend you're all right" work for him as well.


When he turned his attention back to Melanie, she said, "That was nice of you."


"Thanks. My craziness is pretty transparent, isn't it? We've had some bad experiences." Then steering the conversation back to where they'd left off, he asked, "Why are you taking gigs like this? Talk to Zankel. You should be playing at Lincoln Center."


She shrugged. "No, this is what I need—work, no pressure. The house costs so much to keep up. Josh loved our house. I don't want to lose it."


She needs to make a living, he thought. Josh's royalties must be thinning out. Everyone's were. Five years is a long time to go with no new sources of income. How'd she get by for so long?


Angel brought their order. Melanie wrapped the paper cup in her hands and breathed deeply of the coffee's aroma. "Thanks for introducing me around today."


"No problem. Tomorrow, warm up in the studio where the producer can hear you. Give him something to remember besides your name. Bring a demo; he'll ask for one."


A rough sigh parted her lips. "Of course. I should have thought… I'm so rusty."


"You'll manage. Don't miss a chance to make an impression. Are you thinking of stretching yourself? There's work in Hollywood." He lowered his head to catch her eye and grinned. "I understand you're outrageously versatile."


She glanced up from her coffee wearing a wry smile. "Anything with strings. They need me for two more tracks this week. That's the plan to date. It never occurred to me to branch out permanently. I like the song we recorded today, though."


"Yeah? I agree. Sam wrote a sweet ballad this time. Not award material—not this one anyway. Those are hard to come by since Josh." The five songs Josh wrote for The Wanton Boys had rocketed to the top of the charts; three won awards for the group—and the writer.


"I seem to remember one or two in the last few years—not so bad."


"Aha, you're paying attention." He'd wondered how far her interest went. Whenever he'd approached her in the past, she'd seemed so aloof. The one time he'd tried to shake her out of it, he hadn't gotten the reaction he planned from her—or her husband. "The guys recognized you from the Grammys. Remember the party after we won for Sweet Silent Thoughts when I tried to kiss you."


She blushed. "I'm surprised you remember. You were drinking."


"True enough. Not drunk though. Besides, even drunk, total rejection is hard to forget. You weren't even tempted—scarred me for life."


Laughter bubbled from her chest. "For about five minutes, maybe. You left with some redhead."


Cute. So different from what he expected. Women mystified him. "Melanie, you noticed," he teased. But had Josh noticed? "How flattering. I needed consoling. Besides…" He grinned. "I'd been drinking."


"You surprised me. Aren't you gay?"


"Oh, what makes you think so? Are you listening to rumors?" He gave her hair a playful tug. "Make it up to me. Have dinner with me tonight."


"No, Daniel."


"And, why not?" More rejection—again, without a second's hesitation—and he was being so charming.

"Do you mean apart from the fact you abuse alcohol and drugs? Aren't you seeing someone?"


"Yeah, apart from that." Heat rose in his own cheeks. The first two didn't apply anymore, but he wasn't about to try to convince her. The last? "What does Ramón have to do with it? I said dinner, Melanie, not dessert. So, why not?"


"I don't date."


"When a gay man asks you to dinner, it's strictly platonic, sugar."


Her only response was to stare at her knees, making him wonder if she, in fact, disagreed with the truth in that statement.


"Are you saying you haven't gone out to dinner with a friend since Josh died? Not healthy."


"Probably not, but I'm happy this way, Daniel."


He wondered if 'happy' was the word she intended. It occurred to him Melanie might not be recovered from her grief. He could see it happening. Josh had a way of reaching into your soul and making it his. What chance did either of them have?


The silence stretched between them. After a few moments, she raised her head, jaw set. "You and the others can come to dinner at the house some night before you leave," she said.


He got the impression the offer had not come easy.


43 comments:

fairchild said...

Eep! I'm first. Well here goes.

**Technical Stuff**

"I waited (at) dinner...etc."

I think there should be a demarcation before we get to the coffee shop, to denote the POV switch.

**Overall Crit**

Prologue/ Hook: Strong. Very gripping. I think the prologue was done right. It packs a lot of emotion and drama. And provides the right amount of context to chapter 1.


Plot: Good. I'm not big on romance novels but I can see how this would work. There's lots of places the story can go so it's got potential, IMO. I'm not entirely sold on Melanie talking to her dead husband's ghost, yet, though. Seems a little out of place, IMO. I wonder exactly what role Josh's ghost is supposed to play.

Characterization & Dialogue: Very strong. The characters are three-dimensional and realistic. They are both charming, talented, and interesting. The love triangle is always an enticing dynamic, this one's got a bit more of an edge, with the 3rd party being dead, the 2nd party being gay, I think. Although, I'm not quite clear on whether Daniel is gay or bi?

Pacing & Flow: Okay. It felt a little slow, but again, I don't read a lot of romance so I be might off here.


Scene-crafting: Strong. All of your scenes were very active. The settings gave appropriate introductions to each of the MCs lives.

POV/ Narrative: Very Strong. Over the course of the prologue and 1st chapter I feel like we really got inside the heads of the MCs--got to know their personalities well. Their backstories were told in a natural way that didn't feel forced or infodumpy.

Overall: Great start. This did everything it needed to, I think, to set up the rest of the story and hook the reader. I think you did a great job of it.


You're very brave to put your first chapter up for us to crit. Good luck with this novel!

DCS said...

Overall I thought this piece has interesting characters and a very intriguing basic premise. It is going places. The dialogue is well done and the pacing is good.

Here are some suggestions: I don't think you need to bother with the prologue. It doesn't add anything to the story because you tell me that Melanie is Josh's widow in Chapter One. How he dies is an element I can wait to learn later. Disclaimer: I am not a big fan of prologues in general.

POV shift. The second POV shift (outside the coffee shop) caught me by surprise because it wasn't marked with **** like the first. I think it is better to limit the number of shifts per chapter to avoid the problem of head-hopping. Let Daniel and Melanie show us their voices, but shift once a chapter, if at all, unless it is vital for moving the story forward. Here I think you could have stayed with Melanie till the end of the chapter.

Some nits to pick:

I don't know anything about the recording industry. I found it odd that Daniel would not be aware Melanie was going to be working with him for a week ahead of time. Also, would Daniel's manager have sent him on an errand to give a message to Melanie? Aren't there studio minions for such tasks? It would mean they would have to meet through some other coincidence, but you could easily make that up.

Nice job, as I said. Keep trimming and polishing.

Kat Harris said...

Your prologue does a great job conveying her confusion and disconnection with what is going on around your MC, but I would cut it in half. It doesn't take much for the reader to understand that she's disconnected, and in prologues, I believe less is definitely more.

Eliminate all inklings of backstory, e.g. "Melanie never wore dresses except to perform. She hadn't performed in months."

As DCS said, you should really weigh the necessity of the prologue.

You do a really good job grounding readers in the setting. In some places, it's almost a little overbearing. For instance "...sweltering, ninety-degree New York afternoon..." is a little redundant. I know that's really nit-picky but it's one of those small things that make a huge impact on whether I'd continue to read.

Your characterization is strong. Your conversation is good EXCEPT the line: "Do you mean apart from the fact you abuse alcohol and drugs?"

I've been a musician for years, and I don't know anyone who would be so formal in a rhetorical question. It would be more like: "Ya mean apart from the needle tracks in your arms?" Or "Ya mean aside from you being a user?"

You've got a good premise here. It will be excited to see where this goes.

Good luck Ali Katz and keep tightening and revising.

Julie Butcher-Fedynich said...

PROLOGUE - first paragraph is too vague, it wanders. You may not need it. From what I understand, a character waking up is not a favorite of agents. It makes me feel tired. If she woke up on the ledge of a building, freaked out and almost fell, them maybe :)

NIT-PICKS
Maybe not so strange he'd missed it, since Daniel didn't stick around to watch.

POV does he call himself Daniel?

Burdened under its weight while balancing her purse, bottle of water, music folders, she muscled open the door and narrowly missed colliding with Mr. Rock Icon himself.

Awkward

Melanie turned the prettiest shade of fuchsia and waved back.

I don't know why, but this strikes me as wrong.

Do you think I whored my soul along with my talent? Is that what he thought?"

SHE thought, isnt it?

Still, his mother should have taken to her. She was, after-all, the instrument which got rid of Daniel. It seems the senior Mrs. Taylor didn't like her daughter-in-law any better.

than she'd liked him? got rid of him? what?

PLOT -

Unclear what his inner conflict is. You need to set it up more clearly. Her inner conflict is very plain. (BTW nice touch with the ghost)
Him, I don't know why he would keep himself from her, guilt? Sexual persuasion? It's not there for me.

Also you really need to beef up the sexual tension. We need heat along with the guilt. Plain guilt I can get at Mom's:)

SYNOPSIS
You held my attention, and I critique a ton of romance novels. Thats really amazing. Your characters are fresh, the paranormal element will probably get you published.
I was not wild about my first impression of the heroine. Dirty, itchy, smelly....ick. Who could love that? I think it makes her seem weak. I wanted to shake her and yell "Get a grip, woman!"

The sexual tension needs to start here so it can build. The only time he thought her hot was with the cello. What man could compete with that?

ALl in all, a good read.

Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease (Wikipedia): 85.2
Aim for 60 to 80. The higher the score, the more readable the text.

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level (Wikipedia): 3.6
Approximation of number of years of education required* to read text.

Gunning-Fog Score (Wikipedia): 6
Approximation of number of years of education required* to read text.

Coleman-Liau Index (Wikipedia): 9.1
Approximation of number of years of education required* to read text.

SMOG Index (Wikipedia): 4.8
Approximation of number of years of education required* to read text.

Automated Readability Index (Wikipedia): 2.9

Reading ease is a little high at 85. That is usually from complicated sentences.

I would say one more revision and send it out. You have talent!

TerriRainer said...

For me it was a bit slow and confusing in the prologue. I like prologues, but IMHO they can actually deter the reader.

I think it adds more mystery if you read from the first chapter. You do show us most of what is in the prologue, enough to be curious, anyway.

Oh, and I like the ghost of her dead husband, can make future love scenes INTERESTING, LOL.

Kat's use of "being a user" instead of "you abuse drugs and alcohol" does seem to sound more realistic.

By the end of the chapter, I wanted to read on! There are a few awkward wording issues but this seems very original (gay/bi guy as hero in a romance).

Good luck!!!

:) Terri

AC said...

I agree with the others, I think you can lose the prologue. I was much more hooked by her in the recording studio, etc. than by her waking up.

I would read on!

The Screaming Guppy said...

Prologue:

Pretty neat stuff in here. I agree that you might able to shorten it some – just a few trims here and there. The description is rich and vivid, without going overboard.

One line seemed weird to me, and I think you should cut it out: She moaned and floated back into his arms.

I like ending of the prologue. Very strong finish.


Chapter 1:

I don’t read romance. However, it seems that adding the paranormal element to romance is something that’s popular in publishing now. (At least from some of things I’ve read on agents blogs, etc.)

I’m not a fan of the random interjections in italics as someone’s thoughts. I think you need to reserve that for the ghost. Also, italics and parentheses in the second paragraph struck me as really strange.

I enjoyed the scene with her playing the cello. Very well written. I’m a huge fan of the cello, and its amazing to watch people play it. I think you really captured that here.

I don’t like this sentence: The man just refused to grow up despite having seen the last of thirty-five. I understand what it wants to say, but it’s oddly worded and unclear. I had to read it three times.

Also confusing: His claim surprised her. "I thought you were through with classical music. You're still interested in modern composers?" Might just be my lack of music knowledge, but the two sentences seem to contradict each other. I think it’s the use of modern and classical so close together.

When Madeline says: It was a careless assumption on her part; she didn't know him well, but she'd heard him play. I felt confused. I don’t know why, but I was assuming that he was a singer all this time. Maybe it’s the use of the term Teen Idol, which reminded me of American Idol. Since that’s such popular culture, I wonder if I won’t be the only reader to make that assumption. Is there a reason we can’t know what Daniel does in the music industry, specifically, sooner? We don’t find out he plays the piano until the end of the chapter. I don’t see a reason to indirectly withhold this from the reader, as both Madeline and Daniel know this fact.

Anyway, could he be any gayer? I didn’t get Daniel was gay until this sentence. He doesn’t seem gay to me at all. He gives a “sexist” smile – the last thing a gay man is is sexist towards women. And all the talk about how sexual she is playing the cello doesn’t support him being gay. Nothing in Daniel’s head at all, actually (prior to this scene) suggests he’s homosexual, or even bisexual. Maybe a hit at it when we’re in Daniel’s POV the first time would help. Maybe he checks out some dude’s butt on the way to see Madeline.

This line: His brow rose to his shaggy hairline. Is an awkward transition. I really wasn’t sure if she was seeing Josh’s ghost or looking at Daniel’s face. Easy fix, I guess, just replace he with Daniel.

This entire passage is confusing:

He should have guessed, but at the time, was too busy hiding his own grief to think too long about his rival's problems.

His rival? This woman was not a rival. Even if she knew about him, Daniel couldn't blame Melanie for his own decision to leave. He couldn't even blame Josh. Josh didn't want him to go. In fact, he'd asked him to stay. Asked, begged, demanded…but Daniel's anger wouldn't allow him to listen. He made a preemptive move, knowing who the loser would be in the end.


My guess is this is a hint that Daniel liked Josh. Do we need that here, if that’s the case? We’re learning about two characters, in detail, this first chapter. This one paragraph only left me with a wrinkled brow, and didn’t give me any kind of clarification. Since we move away from this so quickly, I think this chapter would flow better without it.


“Go straight” as in date women or as in don’t do drugs?

Another place I found confusing:
He'd been zoning. A quick glance in her direction found his fingers toying with a lock of her hair—more nerves. She didn't seem to mind, but gently lifted the hand aside when she caught him watching.

"You're hands are beautiful," she said.

Josh had thought so, too. Long, strong pianist's hands, he'd called them. Enough!

"So, how are you?" He repeated his original question. Sitting here, across from the woman he'd spent so much time anguishing over, put him in a constant state of deja vu—perhaps too much blast from the past.

"I'm okay. I've been teaching, but won't be going back in the fall. If I don't get back in the circuit soon, no one will remember me."

Footsteps approached from behind. He turned his head slightly to find a young woman standing politely off to the side, waiting for his attention.

"I'm sorry to interrupt," she said. "I know how rude this must be, but I'd kick myself a thousand times if I passed up the chance to get your autograph. Would you?"


Maybe all we need is more dialogue tags here. I thought he was looking in the direction of the new person (the fan) and then I thought Josh was talking to a third person for a minute, and that the girl that asked for the autograph was a fourth. After re-reading, I realized the conversation was with Melanie. Add some tags, and when the girl walks up, I would give her dialogue tag something more specific – like the newcomer said, the fan said, or even the young girl said – to avoid any confusion.


"When a gay man asks you to dinner, it's strictly platonic, sugar." Aside form him calling himself gay directly, the rest of sentence really conveys “gay” to me. Maybe sprinkling a little more of this through the text would help bring out Daniel’s gay side. He doesn't need to be a super flamer, but more hints would be nice.

Overall feelings:

While I wouldn’t read this type of novel, I think you’re setting up some good stuff. A love triangle is always dramatic, and the fact that one third of the triangle is a ghost, well, that makes for an interesting twist. Since I don’t read romance, I wonder if it’s normal to have two points of view and not stick to one. I think it could work, but I found myself questioning who the audience would be. Madeline is a very tragic character, and I feel sorry for her but I don’t feel attached to her – she seems a little weak so far, very timid and shy. This is not a character I enjoy reading, but I know there are people who do. But, on the other hand, she has a lot of room to grow - the underdog can be a very powerful character to the right audience. I think that Daniel is the more interesting character so far, but I wonder if he would be an appealing main character for a romance audience. Again, though, this only chapter one, so it’s very hard to make a call about that now.

Aside from the few places that were confusing, I think your writing is really nice. You capture detail in a very beautiful way, and I think that’s the strongest aspect of this piece. Sorry if this was nit picky, but since some of the basic ground was already covered by previous posters, I thought this would be helpful. Good luck!

Ali Katz said...

Wow, these are great comments and far more than I expected in this format. Thanks to all who commented so far.

I have a question, though, and it's very important. What have I done to make everyone think this is a romance? Where does the assumption occur?

Thanks.
ali

Crimogenic said...

You don't need the prologue; the chapter starts strong without it. Not into romance, but if I were I would read more.

Authoress said...

I found this chapter compelling; I was drawn in and I care about what's going to happen next.

Many have commented that they didn't like the prologue. I liked the prologue. It ends strongly and propels us with ease into the "five years later." Sure, it can use some tightening. But I wouldn't ditch it.

You've gotten great feedback on mechanics-type stuff, and I won't be redundant. I'd actually like to comment on the believability of Daniel, your gay character.

I have a fair number of gay friends and acquaintances. I would like to state unequivocally, as a heterosexual female, that the kind of sexual energy I'm already feeling between Daniel and Melanie would NOT be possible if Daniel is truly "living the gay lifestyle;" that is, has had at least one relationship with a man.

The "male sexuality" that turns on a heterosexual female just isn't present in an all-out gay man.

Now, if he's bisexual, or if he's ambivalent (that is, attracted to men but doesn't want to be gay because he likes women), then the scenario is more plausible. Or if he USED TO BE gay and has had a transformation (yes, it happens -- I have friends like this, too), it would work.

But you've done such a great job of establishing a "low, hot sizzle" between these two that I can't believe for a moment that Daniel is gay.

That's just me, coming from my many personal experiences with homosexual friends.

So I guess I'm saying that you need to make sure you understand the psychology behind Daniel's gayness. The more well-developed he is "behind the scenes," with a true understanding of what "makes him tick," the more believable his character will be. Personally, I will not be able to suspend disbelief enough for an eye-makeup-wearing, edge-to-the-voice, calls-his-mother-twice-a-day type of man to sweep a heterosexual and pretty sexy woman off her feet.

I WANT him to be believable; I want to read the rest of this story. :)

You are a strong writer with a clear sense of direction in your writing. I truly wish you the very best on this project!!

Kat Harris said...

Ali,

I think it's the title.

Kat

Dylan said...

Not much of a critique but... I loved it. I want to read more. My only problem was the "opened her eyes to half mast" right at the beginning of the prologue. I hiccuped on that and then moved smoothly into the rest. Good Luck

Ashleen O'Gaea said...

I have only lately taken up romance novels (which I think are ideal for the treadmill and stationary bike at the gym), and I agree that this one has a slowish start, but ... we women're supposed to like slow, aren't we? And want to get to know people before things start hearing up? Isn't that what romance is about?

As I reader and a writer I am a fan of prologues, and liked this one. Especially the "I'm not going anywhere until you say" line of Josh's, because it suggest to me that he's there for a reason -- and with Chapter 1 we know he's still there, which means so is the reason.

When you say "His brow rose to his shaggy hairline," I think you mean his eyebrows -- because otherwise, brow means forehead ....

In the sentence, "It seems the senior Mrs. Taylor didn't like her daughter-in-law any better" it was clear to me that she didn't like the implications of Daniel's relationship with Josh; but I think "seems" should be "seemed."

"Josh had an approach to dealing with the kind of stress that kept him from getting things done" is technically clear, but not, readingly clear -- that it's the kind of stress that paralyzes, not the approach that keeps him from getting things done. Simple to fix, if it's not just me.

"Resting his arm along the back of the bench, he forced himself to relax" could take a his fingers almost touching Melanie's shoulder to set up his entwinement in her hair.

Does "Remember the party after we won for Sweet Silent Thoughts when I tried to kiss you" need a question-mark, or is he commanding her to remember?

"You and the others can come to dinner ... some night before you leave" makes me wonder exactly what others she's talking about? The old band? Are they in NY? The group she's working with on the current gig? We don't know who they are.

I would definitely keep reading. I hope there's a lot more with the ghost, and that maybe Daniel has his own experiences with Dead Josh, which maybe he finally dares tell Melanie about because he did hear her speak to Josh in the studio.

TerriRainer said...

I went on the assumption it was a romance based on the first thing we read :

"Love Story (untitled), Chapter 1
by Ali Katz"

Sorry if it's not a romance, maybe the genre would be helpful in the future for these chapter crits.

:) Terri

Anonymous said...

First of all, good on you for being brave. I hope you get a lot out of the comprehensive comments you've received. There's lots to like here, and the concrits will help you sharpen this even more.

I haven't many new things to add except that I notice you do this a lot:

Wincing, she took a deep, cleansing breath and tried to summon a memory.

Shaken, she stared at the ceiling.

You start with a dangling phrase, before going on to subject, verb and clause. Tecnhinally, this is fine (they're not dangling modifiers because your subject is mentioned straight after the comma), but stylistically, I found that it began to grate. A lot of writing guides / literary people recommend avoiding dangling phrases, wherever possible; many think it's weak writing.

Of course, what you cut or rephrase is completely up to you. (I'd rephrase a few of them)

Overall, I liked it and think this could be a really interesting story.

Sponge said...

First... this looks like a paranormal romance. Not my genre... but it wasn't painful for me to read. Actually, I had more pain from my computer which kept zonking out on me. ;[

For what it's worth, I didn't have a problem believing that Daniel was gay. Or at the least, he swings both ways. :)

I think the fact he kept thinking about Josh was a clue. Also some of the dialogue. And his clothes. Of course. :)

I was one of those that had some problems with the prologue. At the least, it needs to be edited - a bit. Make her observe more and not ask so many questions. Another thing is I couldn't figure out some of the actions - like she finds herself fully dressed and things are really weird, so crawls back into bed to huddle? And there was also a really choppy ending to the prologue. I would just delete the entire prologue entirely and find another way to show the reader that Melanie has been dreaming about her dead boyfriend/husband.

The chapter itself needed a little editing, but it read a lot smoother than the prologue.

One thing... I don't really trust Daniel. Is he supposed to come across that calculated? :[

Anonymous said...

Oops, "Anon" here again, wishing to apologise for a mistake in my comment.

I mispelled 'technically'... while giving you feedback and advice on grammar. :) (If anyone can do it, I can!)

Sorry about that.

disorderly said...

Ali, I think the working title gave everyone the impression this is a romance. I know it did me. If it's not a romance, I'm going to be disappointed, because I can see so much potential here for a thoroughly delightful read that's not in the "heaving bosom/manly chest/limpid pools for eyes" or "tough-as-nails female protag meets her match in callous bad boy with a heart of gold" mold. (I’m not a huge romance reader, but I’ve found a few good ones that amount to guilty pleasures.)

Ahem.... Be that as it may (Biased? Me? ;-) ), I'm still thoroughly hooked here, even though I'm embarrassingly ill-educated when it comes to the music scene's inner workings. Your characters are exceptional, IMO, and your dialogue "feels" real for the most part. (Exceptions noted by others.) Your flair for description is astonishing in its light, breezy effortlessness. (Again, exceptions noted by others.) I really pay attention when someone else has written something I wish **I** had written, and I kept finding those spots all over this.

A few impressions:

I pegged Daniel as bi, or possibly even gay out of rebelliousness or for some reason other than true sexual orientation. It's obvious he and Josh had a "thing" (and I kept wondering if Melanie knew), but there are too many other clues that he enjoys women, too -- and those were intentional on your part, I believe. (You seem to be too much in control of what you're trying to do to make mistakes like that.) I agree with Authoress: There's lots of sexual tension here between the two major living characters we've met so far.

I'm ambivalent about the prologue. I have no problems with prologues (especially when there are years and years between the inciting incident and what happens next), but perhaps this one is a bit long? If you're looking for dramatic impact and not backstory, I'd shorten the prologue as much as possible without removing anything that can't be handled somewhere else.

This is a nit, but I found the use of italics for both internal voices and the ghost's voice...annoying? That's not quite right. It wasn't confusing, but it knocked me out of the scene when you switched between them. (That very well may be an idiosyncracy, though.)

Overall, I really, really enjoyed this. I was surprised, because I hit “goth” and music scene and thought, “Uh-oh. I’m going to have to restrain my primitive urges to bail on something that is SO not in the realm of stuff I would read for pure pleasure.” I was wrong. This is something I think I would read just for the fun of it. Surprise! (I love that kind of surprise. :-) )

Can you give us a clue about its genre? Obviously there are paranormal aspects, but where else does it fit?

Bless you for being such a brave soul, and thank you for sharing this with us! :-)

Anonymous said...

I'm not a fan of prologues, especially this one because you don't need it. All it tells the reader is Melanie's husband is dead and she's not coping, information that comes out in the first chapter. Nor am I a fan of italicizing thoughts (why this thought and not that one), though "ghost" okay. I had trouble with "kohl" and had to look it up, though I figured it was a brand and needed capitalization. "Teen Idol" seems dated (maybe rock star).

What I do like are the rounded characters, the strong writing, and the makings of a good story.

What I wanted more of was Daniel bringing to mind (or telling Melanie) one incident that would help the reader understand his idea of a "bad experience," which he mentions twice.

I am bugged by Daniel's sexuality. (This is the one thing you don't handle deftly.) Melanie seems to think he's gay, hints at an affair with Josh, but has him leaving a party with a redhead (no gender). If the redhead was a woman, Melanie would likely assume that Daniel's preference is bi. Daniel intimates he's gay when he comments about going straight.

Seems to me there's a lot of energy being wasted by the reader trying to determine Daniel's sexual identity. Unless the story is about Daniel trying to determine his sexual preference, why not get it out up front: (Bisexual) (gay) (straight) man encounters late wife of his former (friend) (lover) for first time in five years at recording session.

I would read the next chapter, but sorting through someone trying to come up with or to grips with his sexual identity doesn't interest me.

For this blog/contest I am flamingo—I already have a Google identity that is my email address and didn't realize when I signed up for RallyStorm that it would be a problem. Anonymous seems so…well, anonymous.

marieconley3 said...

Don't have the time at the mo. to give detail crit, but I do agree that you need to start without a prologue.

You did a great job of catching my attention and holding it. I love the concept.

Chelle said...

Hey Girl,

Okay, just a few comments. You know I love your stuff. And the whole ghost thing is cool.

I don't think you need prologue at all. Sort of confused me a bit on the first read through. Then after I read the comments and ch 1, I got what was happening. I think you can weave this info into the story.

I too thought it was a romance. The title gave me that impression. So as I read, I thought he was debating about hooking up with his old best friend's widow. When I realized there was a ghost I thought maybe this was going to be a whole m/m/f thing happening.

Also, I didn't get he wasgay until I read Authoress' comments. He didn't strike me that way. (If there is a way. wink wink) But I thought he found her attractive and wanted to hook up.

Also, I thought there was too much backstory for a first chapter. It sort of distracted me a bit.

Well, that's about it. Love ya, Ali

Sandra said...

Hi Ali,

First, let me answer your question about why everyone (including me) thought this was romance. The title certainly is an influence; however, even if you changed it, I would still think it a romance. So far, to me, the central conflict seems to be that Melanie has not recovered from Joshua's death and needs a relationship (probably romantic) with Daniel to heal. If there is another aspect to this story, perhaps it needs to be introduced in the first chapter.

I don't think you need the prologue either, although I think it does a good job of protraying M's confusion. I'll still comment on it.

She gathered the bedclothes, buried herself in layers and began to shiver.--Although you mention earlier that it's cold, this sentence by itself seems like you're showing us the effect of the cold without the cause.

The prickling of a thousand insects crawled over her skin, growing unbearable as the blankets warmed her.--The insects aren't literally there, are they? With all the dirty plate, it's possible. ;)

Dollar signs are floating out the window.--I like this line.

I'm a little confused about the setting. Does D go into another isolation booth or the control room? Wouldn't his manager be in the control room?

A little surprised, he had to admit he didn't recognize the piece [the cellist] played.--I think this is clearer if you reference the cellist before calling her "she." The last mention of her was a couple of paragraphs ago.

On first read, I thought Daniel was straight--he certainly seemed attracted to Melanie! But the eyeliner (whiche I caught the second time) could be a signal he's bi. I was confused by the part about the mother-in-law on first read.

In general, I thought this was well-written. I got a good sense of the lead characters, and they seemed well-developed and likable.

I don't have time for further comments, but I hope this was helpful. Good luck!

I thought you were through with classical music. You're still interested in modern composers?"--This seemed contradictory to me.

If Josh is still talking to Melanie, why does it take her five years to get out of her shell? Shouldn't Josh be urging her to move on? I know his presence must make that difficult, but he seems to realize she needs a living partner.

Sandra said...

Oops, a few paragraphs got out of order in my previous comment.

disorderly said...

Can I just wonder aloud here why so many people seem to be fixating on Daniel's eyeliner as evidence he's gay? He's a rock star, and he's in a studio setting. Eyeliner on a guy doesn't seem at all out of place to me in that context. It also doesn't seem out of place on a male into the goth scene (which is where my fixation seems to be with both characters). By 35 Daniel might have grown out of his attraction to makeup, but some real-world straight or bi men with whom I'm acquainted haven't. (I blame LA, but then I blame LA for a lot of the weirdness in the world, so....)

(I just noticed my verification word below is "obsene." I'm not sure what to make of that. LOL)

Enigma said...

Hi Ali.

First thing I noticed is your description words at the start of sentences actually stop the flow of reading.
eg: Disturbed,
Groggy,
The words that follow describe the situation/emotion, perfectly, without the need of the first word.

I didn't get the sentence.
I waited dinner.

Th last line of the prologue didn't make me shiver as it was supposed to, as I'd already figured out it was a ghost.
You give too much away in the prologue.

Guessed he was gay from his dialogue. lol

Loved the banter between the two characters, but unfortunately the first chapter didn't hook me enough to want to read more.

But I am wondering if he's going to fall for her and turn straight.

Sponge said...

Can I just wonder aloud here why so many people seem to be fixating on Daniel's eyeliner as evidence he's gay? He's a rock star, and he's in a studio setting. Eyeliner on a guy doesn't seem at all out of place to me in that context.

__________________

A LOT of rockstars/performers slick the black eyeliner on - Pete Wentz, for example.

It's weird. But I wouldn't call it gay. ;]

Sponge said...

Forgot to mention - it's called guy-liner and manscara. :]

Leatherdykeuk said...

Lovely piece that kept me reading despite it being one of my least favourite genres.

I would lose the prologue altogether. What backstory you need you can introduce in single phrases and backstory in the backstory (she never wore dresses...) is a real turn-off.

Chapter 1 was a delight. It flowed beautifully. I would alter the references to Melanie being 'Goth' since that will quickly date the piece.

I was impressed.

Lady Glamis said...

I like your prologue. It is well-written and kind of got me interested, but I don't think you need it. It confused me more than hooked me.

Plot: Good. I'm mostly interested in Josh's ghost. That's what would keep me reading at this point.

Although I do agree that you have a LOT of backstory in here for a first chapter. Kind of feels bogged down with that...

I am really confused as to Daniel's sexuality. Really confused. I agree with other comments about you needing to make it clear right up front what he is. Unless that's what the whole story is about, then you've got a great start, I suppose.

Dialogue: Good. I like italicized thoughts, by the way. I do it a lot in my work. If handled correctly, I believe they can add a lot to the piece. Using quotations for thoughts can get confusing with actual dialogue. I guess it's just preference. Depends on your own style.

Description: Fantastic. I thought you had a good balance, and it was well done.

If I had more time, I would nitpick the typos I found, and other such stuff, but I'll just give you my overall opinion and say I think you have a great start. I would definitely keep reading.

Great Job!

Jeanne said...

Since everyone's done such a great job on the technical stuff, I'll restrict my comments to the following:

o The ghost is intriguing.
o Daniel's sexual ambivalence is fresh and interesting.
o You write about the music scene in a detailed and knowledgeable way.

Any one of these would set your work apart -- with all three, you've got a real hook.

Nice work!

javajune said...

Overall I thought you wrote a great prologue and strong first chapter. Your writing is very compelling and I loved the ending to the prologue.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ali,

I'm c.e. lawson from Authoress' forum in RallyStorm. I didn't want to use my google name because I didn't want to confuse people.

Congratulations for being the first brave soul to post. I usually feel more comfortable doing a combo of line crit and general comments, but I’m not very familiar with Blogger, and I don’t know if I am allowed so many words in a response. I’ll do my best here.

Regarding your prologue. In general I liked it. Your descriptive powers are very strong, and you take care to hit all of the senses. Nicely done. Her intimacy with the ghost is also well done. I’m not actually sure why you need to call it a prologue, since so many people have a bias against prologues, and it might turn them off before they even give it a chance. Why not just call it chapter 1? Now for some constructive crit for the prologue.

You have a tendency to use this particular structure in your sentences pretty frequently. Frequently enough that it pulled me out of the story:
Pushing herself up, she scrabbled for the comforter only to grow more confused by what she wore. I’d try to search those out and vary the structure more so it’s not so frequent/distracting.

I wonder if you can make the last line of the prologue have more punch by making it less obvious that he’s not really there with her. Do you need to italicize Josh’s words in the prologue? She’s hearing them. So just put them in quotations. Isn’t that all we need to know until later? I don’t know if he’s just in her imagination right now, or something more, but telegraphing that he’s not with her in the conventional sense by using italics lessens the punch at the end, IMO. Then after, when you establish with the reader or with Nadine that she’s either imagining the words or Josh is a ghost, then maybe use the italics?

Now onto your first chapter. I read some of your other crits on this piece, and I can see that several people have problems with your use of italicized thoughts from your POV character. I did that as well with my WIP, and I got similar feedback from people. It does seem to grate on people. And I concede that it is tough to decide which thoughts get italicized and which do not, considering how much of the narrative in a close third person POV is character thoughts. And you are DEFINITELY writing a very close third. So I’d probably agree with ditching those, unless you have a rare statement that you really need to emphasize.

Next, the characters. Nadine seems fragile, but like she’s starting to heal enough to start becoming stronger. I don’t have enough of her to give you an opinion of her character yet. You’ve only given us glimpses at this early stage.

You give us much more about Daniel’s personality. I am pretty confused by him at this point, and I think you might do well to be a bit more straightforward about his sexuality. His behavior and thoughts about Melanie certainly do not seem gay. I was told about his gayness, but didn’t see it for myself. If he is gay, perhaps he’s using that as an excuse to keep his distance from a relationship with which he’s not yet comfortable? Yet he’s the one pursuing time with her, so again, I’m a little confused. Also, I think it’s a little much, almost creepy, when he plays with her hair at the coffee place. And reaching for her hand. Too much intimacy too soon there, IMO, when she’s done nothing to invite that sort of intimacy/physical closeness from him.

I think you could improve the clarity in this piece. By the end of the prologue and first chapter, we should have a good foothold in the story. Yet your readers here aren’t even sure of the genre, let alone the main conflict/theme/plot. We can make lots of guesses here, because there’s so much potential for story, but it’s not yet clear and I think it should be by now.

Some of the sentences were difficult to understand, as were some of the statements that the characters made – both internal and aloud. Here’s a random example where I think you need more clarity:

"I don't remember the funeral, Daniel."

"Nothing?" Recalling her state at the church, the fact didn't surprise him. That creepy mother-in-law of hers must have propped her up.

"I didn't know until… No one stayed to… We probably should talk about something else."

"No one stayed with you? Do they call at all?" She wouldn't meet his eyes. He reached for her hand where it lay on the table. "Okay, we'll talk about something else."


No one stayed? What does that mean? No one called? In five years? What does that mean? Why would he ask that? That part didn’t make much sense to me. I think you know exactly what you mean, but it’s not translating through to the reader because we don’t have the info that you do.

I also think you’re trying to fit a LOT into the first chapter, and that includes a lot of backstory – Josh’s, Daniel’s AND Melanie’s, plus Melanie’s steps to healing and getting herself back into society, plus Daniel’s own emotional “stuff” (exactly what I’m not quite sure yet), plus whatever Josh and Daniel had. It’s too much, IMO, and it’s sort of all mixed together. And much of it is told instead of shown.

I think there is too much internal monologue going on, when you can illustrate much of what you need to convey by showing it instead, either through behavior or dialogue. And sometimes you DO show all you need by dialogue or behavior, but you go on to explain it again with internal monologue. Trust the reader in these instances. Don’t overdo the internal narration. An example of this is when Melanie mentions going back to work because she doesn’t want to lose the house. Then Daniel muses about Josh’s royalties running out, and such. We already know enough – her husband died five years ago and she needs to make money to survive. We don’t really need that musing of Daniel’s there. It’s clutter.

So to sum up – I enjoyed this, but I enjoyed reading the prologue and the cello scenes more because they had a clear purpose, and did not overwhelm the reader. Once you got into Melanie and Daniel meeting and talking and thinking of all of that backstory, it was a little overwhelming. Overall I’d recommend figuring out two main things – how to present Daniel’s sexuality so it’s more clear, and then streamline what you want to accomplish in each scene to lead your readers down the garden path to that end, without too much distracting info. An example of distracting info is the part about Daniel’s irrational fears with meeting that fan. Can that wait until later? After the reader has a chance to setting in with the main issues? Unless that is totally relevant to the immediate matter, and it doesn’t seem to be.

Good luck with this. You have a wonderful way with sensual description, and I know you have created three compelling characters here – but clarity and purpose is key. It’s a wonderful start, though, and I know you can revise this into something really wonderful. You’re almost there already.

Anonymous said...

Darn, that's me above (c.e. lawson). I called Melanie Nadine the first two times I mentioned her. Sorry! :)

Opinionator said...

I don't have time to do a good crit, so I'm limiting myself here. I'm interested. I care about the characters. I want to read more. There are two items of fact that I noticed. You mention "well-earned ulcers." It is now medical fact that ulcers are not caused by stress but by a bacteria and are treated with anti-biotics that result in a complete and permanent cure. The guys who discovered that got the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2005. The other comment is a sort of grammar thing. When Daniel addresses her as "Sugar," it is capitalized because he is using it in lieu of her name.

Opinionator said...

I don't have time to do a good crit, so I'm limiting myself here. I'm interested. I care about the characters. I want to read more. There are two items of fact that I noticed. You mention "well-earned ulcers." It is now medical fact that ulcers are not caused by stress but by a bacteria and are treated with anti-biotics that result in a complete and permanent cure. The guys who discovered that got the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2005. The other comment is a sort of grammar thing. When Daniel addresses her as "Sugar," it is capitalized because he is using it in lieu of her name.

Ann E. Bryson said...

You are brave to go first!

Overall, I enjoyed this first chapter and I would continue to read more. Your characters are engaging, and I like the ghost husband aspect. The scene where Daniel is watching her play cello is lovely, and the sexual tension (at least on Daniel's part) is evident and strong throughout the chapter.

The section when they're at the coffee shop was a bit confusing--particularly the part about the mother in law and the "rival" discussion. I realize that there's backstory, but you need to clarify the thoughts a bit.

It stunned me that he was gay--actually I was still unsure at the end. There were a lot of hetero male actions--he seems like a swaggering rock star, full of himself at first (until you get inside his head more), and then the sexual tension between him and Melanie also points to straight.
Is he really gay? or was that just part of his image? I'm not sure.
And if he is, then why is he so drawn to Melanie?

As far as the technical stuff, most of it has been covered.

Like I said, I'd definately want to read more. Great start!

Annb

Feywriter said...

Somehow my comment didn't stick! Short version, I guess:

The title and how interested Daniel seems in Melanie implies the romance.

Grammar issue I haven't seen mentioned: 'scrabbled' should be 'scrambled'.

Prologue: I liked the prologue. Really sets up the paranormal aspect, and shows how Melanie was affected. Could be tightened and shorter though.

Daniel's sexuality: You beat the reader over the head with how many times both Daniel and Melanie mention his gayness. Show rather than tell. From his thoughts and actions, I get the impression he's bisexual rather than full gay.

I like the story. I don't think there's too much backstory (then again, I'm not one too talk). The pace was good. Enjoyed the dialogue and internal monologue. I'm interested in what will happen to these characters, and how Josh's ghost will fit in. You've shown the music industry well. I would read on. If it's not romance, however, then I have no idea what the genre is.

beeha said...

You have the kernel of an intriguing, and what could be a wonderful, story/novel, here. A kernel. You need to relax. You are trying too hard to write at times.

General rules of writing: Less is better - less words, less--none, if possible--adjective/adverbs, less syllables...less, less, less!

You are a writer. You are a good writer in terms of plot and ideas and dialogue--though dialogue still needs some smoothing--dialogue is HARD, and at its core -- yours is GOOD; its weaknesses are only related to the Good, Solid General Writing Rules.

Examples from your work of General Writing Rules to work on. The following I cut and paste out of your piece as I was reading; therefore, it may be a bit rough, but I am hoping only to help you become a Solid Good Writer, no pieces missing. Please find your writing follwed by my mumblings below:

"Angel brought their order. Melanie wrapped the paper cup in her hands and breathed deeply of the coffee's aroma."

---Above sentence good example of cut, cut, cut the adjectives and adverbs – she breathed in the coffee -- is strongest (not even aroma is necessary)-- less is more-- as I said above, relax and don't try so hard. RULEs of writing: (I'm sorry for the repetition - but I'm cutting and pasting what I was noting while I read your piece.) Less is more. If you can use a word w/less syllables it is probably the better word; if you can do without the word, it is probably better, if you can write with the fewest adjectives/adverbs the better. One must always look for the bon juste, of course; and there, depending, at times, and rarely – exceptions to the rules. Read Hemingway, William Carlos Williams; Mark Twain – just a few examples – no matter how LONG the sentence might be – look at how few, if any, adverbs/adjectives – look at how lean the writing is. In general, the less, the better.

Show; don’t explain, as you know. BEWARE: when treading into adjectives, adverbs, “big words,’ the territory gets dangerous when one does not have MUCH experience –- it is the path to editorializing and explaining, rather than showing.

Reread these paragraphs and see if you GET what I am saying. They are beautiful in idea - now make every word count in them to reflect the beauty and bring your work to life.

Remember: Writing--Good Solid Writing--is kinetic.

He moved his hand a few inches to hit record, wishing for video. This he wanted to keep. Everyone always said she was good, but this private solo sent chills through him. Alone in the studio, she played with the uninhibited passion of someone who thought herself unobserved, making love to her instrument.
He stepped back from the glass to watch from the shadows.


Fingers flying over the strings, her whole body thrown into the playing, she breathed as though trying to inhale the sound. Little moans of pleasure escaped her throat now and then, adding their own voice to the music. A dewy sheen covered the exposed flesh of her face, neck and chest.


He studied her through the rest of the unfamiliar Allegro. As the music burst into its final chords, she shuddered and threw back her head with an expression that might be pain or ecstasy—an intensity that sent a ripple of almost sexual arousal sweeping over him. My God, she's exquisite.


Heat blossomed on her face. So, she'd gotten a little carried away. "You startled me, Daniel." In spite of herself, she couldn't help smiling at those laughing, blue, Peter Pan eyes. The man just refused to grow up despite having seen the last of thirty-five. His body, proudly displayed behind an open shirt and low-slung jeans, drew her attention as intended, but the kohl-lined eyes hooked her. Their black frames turned the blue irises almost sapphire.

I am almost ready to shut-up; one last example. Sometimes we have to let go of something we love -- Good Editing is Also Good Writing...and oh so hard and painful at times:

Like a breath without substance, her ghost said, "Talk to him."

You write and think too well, not to hone your craft so that you create magic.

I wish you best and I will be watching and reading for you.

Yours,

--beeha, http://2cob.wordpress.com

Christine said...

First impression: I enjoyed it. Reminded me of the movie "P.S. I Love You" (which is good) ... you do not, however, want it to head into the territory that Grey's Anatomy is currently in (Izzy's Denny is back ...)

The reason why I will keep reading: because I want to know if Josh the Ghost will keep appearing. Because I want to know if Daniel is gay. Because I want to know if Daniel and Josh were lovers. Because I want to know if Daniel and Melanie will fall in love. I hope they don't, because ... how could a woman who loved her husband so much fall in love with the man he may have had an affair with? And how can Daniel fall in love with the woman who may have broken up his relationship with Josh? Daniel should hate Melanie, shouldn't he? Or at least be a bit more bitter about it ...

A couple notes:

Daniel seems like the type to do what he wants whenever he wants – I don’t understand why he would be taking orders ... “Not willing to try his manager’s patience ...”

"'Oh, what makes you think so? Are you listening to rumors?' He gave her hair a playful tug." It's too soon for Daniel to be tugging her hair. Tugging of hair is playful, flirty, and signals companionship - which they don't have.

You lost me here: "He'd been zoning. A quick glance in her direction found his fingers toying with a lock of her hair—more nerves. She didn't seem to mind, but gently lifted the hand aside when she caught him watching."

I really liked this: "Josh had a way of reaching into your soul and making it his. What chance did either of them have?"

Are we supposed to be confused on his sexuality? Because if so, good job, I am thoroughly confused: "an intensity that sent a ripple of almost sexual arousal sweeping over him. My God, she's exquisite" and "Sitting here, across from the woman he'd spent so much time anguishing over, put him in a constant state of deja vu—perhaps too much blast from the past" say different things very loudly.

Overall, it sounds like a paranormal, gay/bi-sexual, love triangle story which may be original. Keep at it and good luck!

Christine
christinewritesabook.blogspot.com

Merc said...

Hi Ali,

Take all comments here with a hefty does of salt. :P 'Tis just my opinion, and I is opinionated at times.

I don't have a lot to say; a few points, and I'm afraid my brain is too far gone with sleep deprivation to be very thorough here. Sorry about that. I'm also not nitpicking. Here goes:

Prologue

1.) It begins with someone waking up. An instant turn off for me; and as there is nothing new or different about this waking up opening from the way too many I've read, I'm generally not inclined to read past that first paragraph.

2.) We don't get her name until the second paragraph, but I wonder why? I see no benefit to this other than annoying the readers (like me ;)) who HATE this convention with a burning passion. I'd use her name right away.

3.) I don't really find a hook here, and since it's a prologue I'm even more skeptical about how it works or why it's needed now. (After reading ch 1 I see, but I'm not sure you even need it then... I rather like how the emotions and mystery about Josh comes out from Danny boy and Mel in the actual chapter.)

Chapter One
This has a hook, and pulled me in right away despite not being my genre. I liked the speakerphone line, and the writing is crisp and pulled me. It's a shame, IMO, that the novel doesn't just start here, and has the prologue.

If you cut the prologue entirely, I think this would have a great opener. I mean, sure, people skip prologues all the time. Sadly, I end up reading them if they are there and make first impressions based on that.

I liked the asides in italics and parentheses in Daniel's POV scene; that amused me and is a great show of his personality. I really liked him by the time I'd finished the chapter, and would read on--and I'm so NOT a romance reader. ;)

The recording scene is well described and I could picture it well--I really don't know what to say in actual criticism of the first chapter. I'm not familiar with genre conventions or anything like that. All I can tell you is I really like Daniel and would read on for a bit.

The romantic triangle with a ghost is DEFINITELY intriguing to me. I'd be curious how that goes, and I'm wondering what happened to Josh (but that curiosity came from ch 1, and the interaction between Daniel and Melanie).

Mainly, it returns to the prologue. I wouldn't read past the first few lines if I was picking this up at random. I WOULD read on if the first thing I saw was chapter one.

Sorry there's not much here. Good luck and thanks for sharing! :)

~Merc

Merc said...

Ali,

I have a question, though, and it's very important. What have I done to make everyone think this is a romance? Where does the assumption occur?
The title? :P Or whatever decided to call it "Love Story". I guess that was where I assumed the genre (since it wasn't stated).

Would be really excited if it wasn't as I'd be more inclined to read. O:)

Yvonne said...

I posted a lengthy critique but it isn't here....arghh

Basically...I would be OK with the prologue if you tighten it up. As is, it's hard to read. Don't overwrite...i.e. half-mast eyes. Details like the snow on the sill are good but ditch the insects.

POV shifts need to be carefully handled so as not to jolt the reader. I, too, do not see your Daniel as a gay person. Don't mention that but let your reader wonder at the depth of Daniel and Josh's relationship. Italics? OK for the ghost voice but other than that....I don't think you need them for internal monologue. Other nits: prettiest shade of fuschia worked....heat blossomed on her face, not so much.

Finally, your closing of Chapter 1 is very nice.

This is an abbreviated crit but I have to rush off to my day job.

Good luck,
Yvonne

H. L. Dyer said...

Sorry I'm so late getting to this. I read it right away when you posted, but then my mommer's furnace unexpectedly died and we spent 3 days trying to repair it, which severely limited my online time.

Overall, I thought this was a great start. It was an easy read, and your characters are well-developed.

I am Switzerland when it comes to prologues. They are great when they work. In your case, I am sort of torn. I think starting with the drama associated with losing her husband adds some needed tension. But I agree with the other critters that it isn't necessary to the story, as the loss of her husband is mentioned so many times in chapter one.

I'd say you need to choose. Either keep the prologue, and have the characters only vaguely refer to it in chapter one, or cut the prologue and let the dialogue and thoughts from chapter one fill in the details.

I don't understand your question about why this seems like a romance. If it isn't a romance, we are certainly not seeing the story conflict in this chapter.

If this isn't a romance story, then I think you might not be starting your story in the right place.

I think this is close to ready.

Good job, you!