Wednesday, January 22, 2014

First Two (Adult Fiction) #2

GENRE: Women's Fiction

The Monday following her fourth birthday, Molly stood on the steps of Great Aunt Sophia's cement stoop in St. Louis, her hair still jumbled from sleep, her too-short jeans ending near her ankles. Her mother pressed a ten dollar bill into her hand, hastily planted a pink lipsticked kiss on her cheek, and skedaddled down the steps in her high heeled shoes.

"Only until I can get on my feet, baby," she called to Molly.

By the time Molly reached seven years, she had figured out that "on her feet" more likely meant "on her back," a sad and precocious realization for one so young.

Despite her mother's haphazard care, Molly loved her with a wounded passion, dazzled by her glamour and her frantic energy, compared to Aunt Sophia's tightly curled perm and tightly pursed lips.

And the men. Molly liked the men, too. They made her laugh. They brought her gifts.

By her twenty-seventh birthday, Molly worked as a waitress at Dawn's Early Light. She visualized life as a giant jigsaw puzzle waiting to be solved, the colorful pieces spead in front of her like the jumble once scattered on Aunt Sophia's card table. Someday she'd find her perfect fit, but it definitely wouldn't involve Dawn's Early Light--or Vinnie.

With no high school diploma, Molly had bounced from meaningless job to no job at all, quitting, or being fired from at least thirty-one different attempts to earn a living. She was only sporadically in contact with her mother, long over the grief of Aunt Sophia's death, but she had inherited her mother's energy and ebullient spirit, and it seemed quite normal to her, except for the brief disruptions of homelessness.

Dawn's Early Light was just a little restaurant squeezed into the first floor of a tall St. Louis office building, a hopelesly hokey place, its walls plastered with off-kilter signs like Come In and Get Fed Up, and Customers Who Find Our Waitresses Rude Ought to See the Manager. Fake diner interior, noisy, tainted by the smell of fried eggs and hashed brown potatoes. But regulars came for the carbo-laden food from six in the morning until three in the afternoon when Dawn flipped the Open sign to Closed.

That February morning, Molly greeted the breakfast customers, the winter air still trapped in their coats. Most of the six o'clock crowd worked at St. Louis' Barnes Hospital complex--interns, nurses, aides. They wore uniforms, some as unbecoming as Molly's starchy dress, but she felt certain their jobs must be far more interesting. They dealt with crises, matters of life and death, bad news, good news. All she dealt with was the choice between ham, sausage or bacon.Day after day.

Molly didn't actually see Vinnie enter the restaurant. She was taking an order from two nurses when he came behind her, spun her around and forced her into a dance, maneuvering her between the tables, singing a snatch of Alice Cooper's lyrics, "I can't do right when all I want to do is wrong."


  1. You have some great stuff here that makes me care for Molly; however, the first two pages are back story until the last two paragraphs. IMO, you should start there and weave the back story in later.

  2. Jennifer Owen-Davies-In the first 500 words you really want to draw the reader in, and what you have here is mostly telling instead of showing, and I know it's a way to get your readers to care about Molly, but I feel it can wait until we know more about the story. I want to know more about was is going on now! What is Molly going to do to change her life and why doesn't she want that life to include Vinnie? I did enjoy reading it, but would want to know more about what is going on to read further.

  3. I agree with the other comments that there's too much backstory in your opening. I don't mind the beginning description of her staying with her aunt, but there's lots of telling going on once she's 27.

  4. I agree with Lanette. Your story really starts at the last two paragraphs. The rest is interesting but if pertinent to understanding Molly, they need to be placed later in the story as private thoughts, or in dialogue.

  5. I agree as well. The exposition is too much, but you've got some great lines, like "the winter air still trapped in their coats." And I was confused about whether her mother had come back or left her for good. Sounds like she stayed with Aunt Sophie, but then there are a couple of suggestions that her mother was with her, like "despite her mother's haphazard care."

  6. From author treat: Thank you for your comments. I will move some of the exposition to later as you suggested but I think we have all been brainwashed about starting with action. We are trying to grab an agent's attention. But many of the best authors start with some exposition. After all, we are only talking about 500 words. How impatient can you be?

  7. I tend to think of openings as "active" versus "action." If you can have your main character doing something, being present in the scene, it doesn't need to be intense drama, or a chase scene, etc. When I get stuck on how to start a story I go through some of my favorite books, I pull them from my shelf or to go Amazon and click First Look. Jodi Picoult has some really terrific openings. The Tenth Circle in particular, both the prologue and the first chapter begin with one paragraph of visceral, unique exposition. The word choices she uses specifically evoke emotion or an image. Then, the following paragraph connects those observations to the current day. She paints a visual first, then shows the character doing something.

    I like the writing here. The idea of the birthdays as a beginning theme works for me. Perhaps if the timeline is tightened, you can show a short list of a few birthdays and the traumatic/life-changing events connected to them. A few lines or one paragraph's worth. Then you can move to "By her twenty-seventh birthday,"... You can then show her currently in the restaurant, maybe doing something mundane to reflect how she feels about the state of her life. What follows "That February morning" could be combined there, since that shows her actively in the restaurant, present day. In this active setting, you can trigger some of the exposition you've covered elsewhere. She could see a woman who reminds her of her mother, or who even knows her mother, and more narrative is triggered by that interaction. So again it's active, but you have room to drip in those other story elements.

    I don't think it's all or nothing: action or narrative. The trick is finding a way to do both that is engaging and pulls the reader in. If it was easy, I guess we would all be bestsellers :)

  8. I thought I was going to wag my finger about the "when she was..." structure of this, but you had me convinced pretty quickly. I actually think it's pretty hook-y, although I can't promise that that is anything more than my own personal opinion.

    Right here is where I zoned out because I felt it crossed the line into too much exposition: "With no high school diploma, Molly had bounced from meaningless job to no job at all, quitting, or being fired from at least thirty-one different attempts to earn a living." I think the description of Dawn's Early Light, for instance, is terrific but could be moved down after the next paragraph, when the action begins. And I think that paragraph about the high school diploma, Aunt Sophia's death, etc., should probably be doled out piecemeal later in the story--it isn't really relevant to the story yet.