Week 5 Mini-Critique

TITLE: Untitled
AUTHOR:  Julie T.
GENRE:  Contemporary Romance

A rustle, a squawk, and then a chorus of shrieks and chattering and decisive scolding more suited to the deepest jungles of the Amazon than the placid tree-lined streets of a Los Angeles suburb erupted overhead. Wow. That’s one mighty long subject for a sentence.

Erin Reynolds tipped her head toward the sky and grinned, never slackening her pace as she ran. The wild green parrots of South Pasadena were feeling lively this morning. Well, good, because so was she, and their impetuous calls only served to further bolster her spirits. It was also one of those unusually clear and beautiful days that tended to occur this time of year, shortly after the annual Rose Parade. The San Gabriel Mountains rose in dark splendor to the north, outlined in crisp strokes against the pink dawn sky. Erin could practically see every ridge and fold in them.

She sped up a notch, enjoying the feel of her new trainers Is this a new usage? I’ve only seen British authors refer to running shoes as trainers, so it feels a bit odd in a California setting slapping against the pavement. Her feet felt lighter than air, her lungs were appreciating this run rather than rebelling, and she was going to clinch the biggest deal of her career in about two hours. So this was what hard work, imminent recognition, and being fit felt like. She’d take it!

Turning right onto Orange Grove Avenue, once known as Millionaire’s Row due to all the captains of industry from the late nineteenth century who had built their personal castles along it, Erin wove between a towering palm tree and a jacaranda, stripped of its violet blooms and lacy green leafs against the winter’s light chill. Erin loved this wide boulevard with its graceful buildings—although almost none of the original mansions remained, most of them victims to what some termed modern progress. It was a huge pity, she’d always thought. In her graduate design and structure classes, she’d been privileged to see old photographs of the enormous houses and their intricate details, inside and out. They were the inspiration for the vision of Reynolds & Riley: a return to the graceful lines of a vanished age that also blended seamlessly with contemporary times. Her trademark signature was hot right now in the small but competitive world of Southern California architecture, and she meant to keep it that way.

Inhaling the refreshing promise of the early air, she veered across the empty road and headed down one of the side streets. Ah—Craftsman-style homes, her personal favorite. Her own house was a Craftsman bungalow, neither as grand nor stately as these, though very cozy and emblematic of her style. These were huge, dark, and impressive. She knew one that her grandfather had helped build was on this very street—

“Craawk! Craawrk, krik!”

The parrot tumult burst out right above her, and she looked up again, heedlessly crossing a driveway without checking. A small flock dipped and twirled not twenty feet in the air right overhead, flapping in bright jade, scarlet, a yellow splash. They must be wrangling over tree space, Erin supposed, although it all sounded fairly light-hearted.

“Back atcha!” she called out, hearing the whoop in her voice, still running.

With her next breath, she hit something very solid that grunted and caught her as she windmilled to the ground. A graceless “whoof!” came out of her in a startled gasp, and she reached for the first thing she could—which seemed to be a broad, manly chest and arms that felt like steel traps. The crash of breaking pottery was followed by a spray of hot liquid against her ankles, and she gasped again, this time uttering a curse that was certainly inelegant.

“Whoa!” said a low, very male voice. Strong hands steadied her. “Did the coffee get you? Are you okay?”

Erin felt caught by the hands and arms, held within a circle of powerful strength. It evoked a feeling she puzzled over in that split second of the brain scrambling to explain an entirely unexpected event.

It felt, she realized in a muddled corner of her mind as she let her astonished gaze travel up over the body of the man in whose arms she rested, like the contentment of coming home. Ooh. Coming home? That’s a pretty strong attraction for having known him all of five seconds.

“Oh, my—I am so sorry—your mug—” she stuttered as she looked into the most dazzling pair of eyes she had ever seen. They were the color of fresh limes, of old glass Pepsi bottles, filled with a thousand facets that all seemed to reflect the growing light of the day with individual gleams and shimmers. Erin stared, mouth open, still in his arms, completely lost in those fascinating orbs. The hackneyed phrase, windows to the soul, whipped through her mind with serious intent. She thought, This is who that saying was invented for.

“Well. Not broken, nor screaming, nor telling me to back off, buddy, I know kung fu. You must be all right,” he said. Nice line! His tone had moved from concern to amusement and, if her ears heard right, a touch of—interest?

Erin stared. The gorgeous man looking back at her grinned, a slow, lazy thing that started with the corners of his mouth and took over his whole face. Damn, this guy was sexy. Damn, he knew it, didn’t he. Erin shut her mouth. An answering fire rose in her belly and zoomed right down to her nether regions.

Well, good morning indeed. She could play this game with the best of them, never mind that it was not yet seven a.m.

“Mm-hmm,” she purred, letting one hand trail down his chest. She only noticed now that he was clad in a robe over navy and tan pajama bottoms and—gulp—nothing else. No wonder she’d been able to feel his tightly-muscled pecs so well, since they’d been naked underneath the plush maroon robe. She had to steady her voice.

“Yes, I’m just fine. Thanks so much for catching me. But I didn’t catch something—your name. Unless you want me to call you my hero?”

A blink was the mystery man’s only reaction to her outright flirtation.

Julie, you’re an excellent writer, and you’ve painted a lovely picture here of a southern California morning and a classy neighborhood. One of the things I really like is that you’re not just filling space by telling us about the houses Erin runs past; since she’s an architect, this very specific interest helps to show her character as well as describing the setting. The parrots form a nice background, with their colors and sounds helping the reader to see what’s going on – and I love how she talks back to the parrot. More important, the parrots are again not just distraction but the cause of Erin’s accident.

Sadly, that’s where the story falls apart for me—with the huge cliché of the heroine slamming into the hero’s “broad, manly chest” and being caught by “arms that felt like steel traps.” The situation was also predictable in that he would – of course – be wearing practically nothing.

Editors have seen this opening so often that it’s no longer a cute meet for the heroine to collide with the hero. The editor’s immediate reaction is going to be, “I’ve seen this one a few hundred times before”, and then the next reaction is apt to be, “Hmm. The author must not read much romance or she’d know this is a cliché.” And that’s just about the kiss of death.

If the first few pages are predictable (and I’d bet my next mortgage payment that the man with the great eyes and the broken coffee mug is also the man Erin will see across the conference table in two hours when she tries to clinch “the biggest deal of her career”), then the editor isn’t going to spend much time finding out whether the story gets better a chapter or two down the line; she’ll move on to the next manuscript in the pile. Why handicap yourself in the first three pages?

This isn’t to say that heroines can’t ever again collide with heroes. I wouldn’t dare say that it’s impossible to put a cute, fresh twist on this scenario. But it is very difficult.

You write banter and dialogue very well – there’s not much of it here, but I love that line of his about how she’s not screaming at him to back off so she must be all right. I’d like to see this couple meet in a less coincidental, less predictable way, so we can see their banter really shine and begin to see what’s going to cause conflict between them.


5 responses

11 02 2009
Week 5 Winners and Other Thoughts « Chase the Dream Writers Contest

[…] Week 5 Finalist Week 5 Mini-Critique Winner […]

11 02 2009
Julie Trevelyan

Thanks so much for picking my entry this week! Your critique is right on target and very helpful. To be honest, it was one of my first novel attempts…that has languished around for some time, ahem…so your comments are right on the money and help me see with more clarity where I might be able to revise and take it in a different direction. Thanks!

17 02 2009
Carly Carson

Hi Julie,

Fun opening. I love a hero with a good sense of humor.


20 02 2009
Rachelle Chase

Julie – it’s hard to have the right balance of narrative about the surroundings and action, as well as weave them into the story. But you do an excellent job of this! As you describe the houses and the parrots Erin sees as she runs by, I’m right there with her seeing them — and they are interesting to me. They add to the story, without ruining the pacing. This is very hard to do, but you do it well!

Like Leigh mentioned, the predictability of Erin slamming into the hero is what prevented this from hooking me. But, I’d hate to see you scrap the whole beginning — all that delightful detail and insight into Erin. Just tone down the parrots (if they are no longer needed) and change her meeting with the hero — what’s he doing that will surprise her and the reader and cause Erin to stop?

At any rate, this is a well-written snippet. Lucky you that one of your “first novel attempts” is written so well! 🙂

20 02 2009


Rachelle–thank you so much for your critique as well. This is so awesome that you two do this contest, and winning this mini-critique has been so helpful to me re: my writing. And thanks for the compliment about balance! That sort of praise keeps me going… 🙂

%d bloggers like this: