First-Page Critique: A Spicy Opening Scene

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Welcome to our first-page critiques! These critiques are meant to give insight into how we might look at a manuscript as it comes across our desks on submission. We’ll strive to be critical but not mean. Because it’s only about 800 words, 2 pages at the most, the amount of feedback is necessarily limited—we don’t have access to more than a couple of pages!

It’s important to note that this manuscript was submitted specifically to be critiqued on the blog, we do not/will not use random submissions for this purpose. We’re not going to pull your piece out of our submissions inbox and critique it, so no need to worry about that!

The next opportunity to submit a piece for critique is will open soon, so please watch the blog for more.

This month’s editor providing critique is Carina Press editor John Jacobson.

The First Page

This was submitted by the author as a first meeting scene.

Author A described this manuscript as “An intense and spicy story of one woman’s need for a baby. What she finds is more than she bargains for and more than she could handle.”

Jasmine Thornton pulled into the parking lot of D. W. Morris LLP, cutting off the ignition, her nerves started to get the better of her. This was a big favor to ask of him, Damien may be upset that she kept him out of the loop for so long. They did not keep secrets from one another. She didn’t know how he was going to take this. She had to get it over with, reaching for her phone, finding his name and hitting talk.

“Hey,” Damien Morris said from the other end.

“You busy?” Jasmine asked trying to hide the shaking in her voice.

Resting her head on the headrest of the seat, letting her eyes close. She needed to relax, this was exciting, Damien will agree, once he realizes how bad she wants this.

“For you, never.” He said. She could hear the smile in his voice. Damien always had a smile waiting for her. Sometimes spending only five minutes with him made everything better.

“Great, I am on my way in,” she said. Ending the call.

Damien was standing by the grey weathered wood L-shaped reception desk waiting for her, seeing him in his baby blue suit pulling at his toned arms, with two buttons of his white shirt undone and the exposed brick. The sunlight coming through the window gleamed off his dark brown skin, making the perfect GQ cover, he was great man candy she could look at him for hours. The ding from the elevator caught his attention, and he turned and gave the smile that was meant just for her. His smile made her feel at ease. He is her person and she, his. Obviously, she had binged watched Grey’s Anatomy too many times. Jasmine would like to think they are in some way like Meredith Grey and Christina Yang, granted neither are dark and twisted as the T.V. duo but they had each other’s back when it mattered. They both have had their fair share of crazy family drama, no bombs in body cavities, or ferry boat crashes, but they had each other.

“Looking good, there with that purple lipstick.” He said wrapping his arms around her in a welcome hug.

“You think? I was trying something new.” Jasmine said resting her head on his shoulder and taking in his smell. Damien has smelt the same for years; he smelled of ginger and sandalwood. it was never an overbearing scent, it would trickle into her senses only when he embraced her. She asked him about it many times, but he swears he does not wear cologne; it bothers his sinus. It is just his natural smell. His smell made her feel as if she was right where she needed to be.

“I do think so. How about we go to Lou’s for lunch, I am starving.” He said

“Lou’s works for me; I’ll drive.” She said.

“Why drive, we could walk; it’s only about three blocks away.” He said “Three blocks my ass, you know on the southside one block equals a whole neighborhood and it’s cold out.” She said heading for the door, causing Damien to laugh.

“Fine, if you want to be such a baby about it, we’ll drive. You act as if you didn’t grow up in Pittsburgh.” He said following her to the door. “Are you sure you can make it to the car, it’s a far walk and very cold out there.”

Giving him a hard shove, making him stumble a couple of steps back. “Shut up and come on.” She said

Lou’s was packed with the lunch crowd, Jasmine was not surprised Lou’s had some of the best food, with reasonable prices. The location was perfect for the lunch or dinner being only walking distance from southside works the newer business developments in the area, but they were able to grab a table by the window the Monongahela River.

She was smiling, Jasmine thought she did not stop smiling since Dr. Banks told her, she could have a child, the news was bubbling up inside her ready to burst out. Why was she waiting?

“I am having a baby.” She said. Causing Damien to sputter on his Pepsi. She had planned on waiting until their food arrived and made some small talk not to hit him with it. “Are you ok?”

“Yes, you took me by surprise,” Damien said. Wiping his mouth. “I didn’t know you were seeing anybody.”

“That is because I am not. It’s not what you think.” She said, “I am not currently pregnant, but I do plan on having a baby within the next year using intrauterine insemination.” Giving Damien a reassuring smile.

“I’m more confused now.” He said, “Tell me everything.”

The Critique

As a first meeting scene that’s also the opening scene, this does a great job of laying out the groundwork for a compelling story with a high conflict. I appreciated that by the end of the scene, we have both a clear idea of who the characters are to one another and of how the conflict could potentially disrupt that in a way to trigger the romance. The opening of this reminds me of a good category romance – it goes right to the central force of the story and stays there.

One other element I also enjoyed was the immediate sense of place. I’m a native of Pennsylvania and visited Pittsburgh often. The details you placed were great markers of the area and allowed me to envision the setting better. Your usage of local detail stood out, and I think it helped make the story feel more full in these opening pages.

There are a few things you can do to make this first scene more engaging. While I was compelled by the conflict and character relationships, I struggled with the technical quality of the writing. There are a number of tense shifts between different present and past tenses that are inconsistent and don’t flow. The dialogue also reads as stiff, in part because we just see he/she said often. It makes it hard to concentrate on the compelling story, and it also obscures the authorial voice. Voice can involve grammar or repetition of specific things, but it should be deliberate or add to the experience. When the technical elements of writing make it hard to stay in the story, it’s hard to fully enjoy the rich conflict or character potential.

Would I keep reading? I would not keep reading this story.

Do you have questions about my feedback or the First-Page Critique program? Your turn to add constructive feedback for the author in the comments section! Or email

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One thought on “First-Page Critique: A Spicy Opening Scene”

  1. Nan De Plume says:

    This first page offers an interesting premise. It is especially refreshing to read the beginning of a romance in which the two leads already know one another. Coworkers to lovers is an often underused- and misused- trope. Kudos for establishing a healthy, flirtatious relationship between colleagues that comes across as sweet, respectful, and caring rather than creepy.

    As for the technical side of the writing, I agree with editor John Jacobson. Perhaps you will find these recommendations useful:
    1) You are off to a good start by writing with nouns and verbs rather than getting carried away with adjectives and adverbs. Try reading your work out loud to catch run-on sentences and grammar issues.
    2) You are correct to use “said” as your sole dialogue tag instead of fancier words that can distract the reader. However, it is not always necessary to use a dialogue tag. When it is clear who is speaking, it is often better to eliminate tags altogether. Here is an example of one of your sentences that could benefit from a removed dialogue tag: “‘You think? I was trying something new.’ Jasmine rested her head on his shoulder and took in his smell.” And if there are only two speakers in the room, as is the case in this scene, they can simply take turns talking. When speakers have distinct voices, tags and exposition are typically only needed to convey character actions and mood.

    I hope you find these suggestions helpful. Good luck with your writing!

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