Week 9 Mini-Critique Winner


Author: Vanda V.

Category: Sexy Romance

It can’t be! Jude Saunders shrank behind the tourist information carousel.Adrenaline pumped through her veins, and not because she was minutes away from taking a death defying, tandem leap out of an airplane, at ten thousand feet, strapped to God knows whom!She braved another glimpse at the man.

Dressed in joggers, black lightweight pants, and a snug white T-shirt, he breezed into the adjoining shed, picked up a large backpack of sorts and disappeared outside.

“Miss Saunders?”

Jude looked to the older woman perched on a stool behind the service desk. “Yes?”

You’ll be jumping with the owner, Mitch Hayes…”

Jude panicked. It’s him!

“…and he’s the world champion skydiver, so you’ll be in good hands.”

Jude winced. She eyed the woman’s nametag. “Aah… Paige, is there another instructor I could double with?”

“Sorry, lady, it’s either me or cancel your jump.”

Jude spun around to see Mitch fasten an altimeter to his wrist. Her gaze swept over his face, re-examining every detail, just as she’d remembered him – right down to the scar beneath his chin. His features and expression, however, carried an attractive maturity that had not been there when they–

Her gaze dropped to his mouth. She squirmed inwardly as memories surged to the fore in a flash of anti-climactic feelings and sensation: an awkward embrace, the rough meeting of lips.

He spoke, drawing her back to the present. “Have we… met before?”

Her gaze flew to his. “No! We haven’t.”

She watched his brows draw together. His eyes studied her face in search of clues she hoped he would not recognize.

When his expression relaxed, as though admitting a case of mistaken identity, overly efficient Paige blew Jude’s cover.

“Mitch, this is Jude Saunders.” She affected a serious expression and pointed her freshly sharpened pencil at him. “It’s her first time. Be sure to look after her.”

Paige couldn’t have known just how pertinent her words were to the memory of that moment when Jude had puckered up, waiting for Mitch’s lips to press against hers.

Now, mortified, Jude watched slow recognition dawn in Mitch’s clear, green eyes. His confident smile returned, as did his recollection of what he’d called her, and continued to tease her with, after that kiss.

“‘Jude the prude?’ Is it really you?”

Jude felt as though she’d leapt out of the plane without a partner or parachute, free falling, and landed smack on the hard earth, face down.

Intimacy of the lips, and the art of kissing were not what she’d expected, nor what she’d read about in teen magazines for the budding young woman.

Ten years ago, aged sixteen, her fairy-tale illusions of love had been shattered, and she’d acquired a killjoy reputation, thanks to him, the older man of eighteen.

The experience had been so profound that every laugh and jibe she’d suffered as a consequence had shaped her life in more ways than she cared to admit. And while she held Mitch Hayes totally responsible for the ripple effect of that one incident, she’d rather die than do a runner a second time.

Feigning surprise, she said, “Mitch?” She had no desire to travel down memory lane, of first love and how Mitch had snapped her heart in two.

He stared in disbelief. “What are you doing here?”

“Well, I…”

“Are you holidaying?”

“No, I’ve…”


She didn’t attempt a reply. Instead, her gaze roved over his hair. Much longer now but still as gloriously dark and thick as ever. She fought the urge to reach out and brush aside the trademark lock from his forehead. Just as well she didn’t, for his hand beat her to it.

She smiled knowingly. “Old habits die hard, hey?”

He grinned back at her. “Still wrestling with it. But just look at you! Gone is the gawky Jude of yesteryear, with the short bob and waif-like body, and now…”

Jude’s raised brows, and less-than-impressed expression was enough to cut him off mid – uncouth – sentence.

“Sorry,” he said, “I meant it as a compliment.”

“Hmm. Apology accepted.” Then she cracked a smile. “But let’s face it. That was a pretty accurate description of me back then.”

They both laughed. Again, his eyes appraised her, favorably so. “You look good, Jude.” He shook his head. “Of all the places to meet up.”

“Absolutely! Come on then.” She walked past him and set a brisk pace toward the waiting aircraft. She felt his eyes upon her, on the regulation blue nylon coveralls she’d donned. She wore a harness with tight straps over each shoulder, around her middle, and between her legs, which only served to accentuate her form. At least she’d been blessed with her mother’s genes, she thought, feeling thankful for a trim, curvy figure.

With each determined stride, nylon brushed against nylon, metal cleats swung from strategic points on the harness, and a pair of yellow tinted goggles dangled from one hand. She felt her high auburn ponytail swish from side to side in time with each step she took.

A daredevil instinct fired her blood, and suddenly she couldn’t wait to take that jump. She sensed him at her heels, then felt his hand grip her arm, bringing her to an abrupt halt.

“Jude!” He fixed her with his gaze. “Are you sure about this?”


“Making the jump.” His tone carried a hint of caution. “As I recall, you never had the stomach for anything extreme.”

Jude did her best to appear unfazed. She wasn’t about to divulge her worst fear: leaving terra firma. Her new job required her to fly overseas in two weeks time. What better way to conquer her own mountain, than to set foot in an aircraft the size of her nephew’s Lego toys, only to jump out of it?

But another fear threatened. If she stared any longer into Mitch’s eyes, if she deceived herself into believing she read honest concern there, she might set herself up for a different kind of fall.

Leigh here –Vanda, you’re an excellent writer, and you use dialogue very effectively here to pull the reader into the story and tell us a great deal in a short space about Jude and Mitch. I particularly like how Mitch almost recognizes her, almost doesn’t – but then picks up on her identity after all. It’s very well done and believable that she’d have changed so much and that he’d know her anyway, just not instantly.The question I had after reading this section is what the conflict will be. While it’s not necessary to have the whole problem laid out in the first few pages, it’s good to have a hint of what will create tension between the two main characters – and conflict isn’t just having problems, it’s tension between the hero and the heroine.

Heroes and heroines can have all sorts of troubles (he can’t get along with his father; she’s out of cash; he’s having trouble on the job; she’s being stalked) but unless those problems create tension between the hero and the heroine, they’re not really conflict. So problems that affect only one of them aren’t as effective as ones that deeply involve both characters, when it comes to making a good story.

The trouble here is, you’ve raised tension at first, but then you’ve let it dissipate right away. Jude’s breathless over the fact that it really is Mitch she’ll be jumping with and she’s thinking back about how he destroyed her illusions — yet by the end of this section she’s laughing with him and they’re getting along great. Whatever tension existed from their previous relationship is pretty much gone by the end of this first 1,000 words, as they grin at each other and remember old times and she’s saying yes, she was gawky and awkward back then and he’s saying how good she looks now. The effect is that they’re next door to being friends. What happened between them in the past has been dealt with. So in this case, their shared past isn’t going to serve as an effective conflict – at least not as it’s set up here.

I can see potential for conflict between these two. Perhaps Jude’s fear of flying is a point of hesitation for Mitch. Or since she’s afraid to fly, she might try to make him give up sky-diving. Or if their jump goes wrong and they land in the desert and have to hike out together, I can see some conflict rising. But as it stands, at the end of this section, they’re in pretty good harmony. It would be nice to have more of a hint about what’s going to keep them from walking off into the sunset together the minute they’re back on the ground.


3 responses

13 11 2007
What Makes a Hero? « Chase the Dream Writers Contest

[…] without further ado, here’s this week’s finalist and mini-critique winner. It’s hard to believe that there’s only one week left of the contest – there […]

14 11 2007

Leigh – Hello from Queensland, Australia !

Just wanted to let you know how ecstatic I was to see my entry, FALLING, was this week’s Mini-Critique Winner. Thank you very much for your detailed, positive, and encouraging comments.

Your competition was mentioned in the Romance Writers of Australia monthly newsletter. A member from my critique group (Hearts Of Gold) brought it to my attention and I thought it the perfect opportunity to ‘Chase the Dream’.

You’re right in suggesting that, early in the piece, I at least hint at the impending conflict to arise between Jude and Mitch. This is what will sustain reader interest and hopefully have them turning the page. I’ll give thought as to how I can weave this into the first 1000 words.

You’ve also given me food for thought re other points raised in your critique. For example, keeping the tension consistent between Jude and Mitch.

Thank you for your time and the opportunity to enter your competition.


17 11 2007
Anna Campbell

Vanda, great entry! Congratulations on winning the critique. Your dialogue is superb!

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