Welcome to today’s brave Anonymous Author with the first page entitled The New One.
THE NEW ONE
“I’m new,” the vampire said.
Of course, at the time I didn’t know she was a vampire. I didn’t even know vampires existed.
So. She’d come in off the street. My last patient of the day had just left, followed out the door by Dorinda, my receptionist. I planned to do paperwork for a while. I was standing at Dorinda’s desk flipping through messages when I looked up to see a woman silently watching me. I jumped involuntarily as she spoke.
“Dr. Gilder, I presume?”
“Yes. I’m Carrie Gilder.
“I need to talk to you.”
“Office hours are over for today. You should call the office in the morning and make an appointment.” I started around the desk. “Now, if you don’t mind—”
“Please. It’s important. I won’t be able to come back in the morning.”
I looked at her, appraising. She was striking. Tall, well dressed, elegant. She radiated power and confidence. I felt drawn in by her eyes, somehow. Maybe that’s why, almost against my better judgment, I relented, as if I had no choice. “Step into my office.”
I watched as she glanced around the room. What a contrast, I thought. My office is warm and comfortable, with its quaint country decor and fresh flowers gracing the credenza along one wall. And she’s so sleek and, what? Cold comes to mind. She bent to smell the late summer flowers, touching a petal with one long finger.
She sat in the comfortable overstuffed chair opposite mine. I was making notes. Young woman. Attractive. Blonde hair, dark eyes, almost black.
“You’re very lovely, Dr. Gilder.”
“Thank you?” I said, frowning. Not something I usually hear from my patients.
“Okay,” I said with a shrug. “First, why don’t you tell me who you are?”
The young woman leaned forward in the chair and extended her hand, which I found surprisingly cold. “I am Pica. Pica Sharp.” She then settled back in the chair.
I looked at her curiously. “Do you mind if I ask how old you are?”
“I was 27,” she replied.
“Was.” Odd way to say it, I thought, making a note.
“So, Pica, why are you here?”
“It’s a long story.”
“Well, you’ve got fifty minutes.”
She frowned. “Yes. I understand. Cut to the chase, then.”
OK, let’s get to work. Upfront disclaimer: I’m not well-versed in vampire fiction. Please chime in if you’re more familiar with the genre. Suggestions are in blood red, naturally.
First, the title. While the line– “I’m new,” the vampire said.–piqued my interest, the title did not. The New One sounds vague and colorless—it gives no hint about genre, plot, character, conflict, or theme. Perhaps its significance becomes clear in the book but it doesn’t make a strong first impression on the reader.
A title must grab attention in a few short words, offering a tantalizing taste of what’s inside the book. A vivid cover may prop up a nondescript title. But in today’s competitive publishing world, authors need to make the strongest first impression possible, using every tool at their disposal. Search for keywords that relate to your plot: blood, vampire, undead, immortality, seduction, etc. Check out synonyms to trigger more ideas. Vampire fans, please add your suggestions to the list.
Anon, you quickly and clearly set up the situation: A psychiatrist or psychologist is alone in her office after hours when a vampire enters, seeking treatment. Carrie Lister’s normal world tilts.
The undercurrent of disturbance isn’t overly dramatic—no dead bodies, weapons, or explosions. Yet the reader gets the sense that Carrie’s life will undergo major changes because of her new patient. That is more than adequate to kick off an intriguing tale.
Now to the details:
“I’m new,” the vampire said.
Of course, at the time I didn’t know she was a vampire. I didn’t even know vampires existed. A short, neat summary w/o wasting time on backstory. Well done.
However, upon re-reading, I wondered about that first line. It’s not clear when Pica actually says this. Kicking off a story with an attention-grabbing first line is important but if that bit of dialogue doesn’t actually occur, it feels like a bit of a cheat. A few paragraphs below, I’ve inserted the line in a different place.
Pica is a great vampire name. I’m guessing, Anon, that you also meant to refer to the disorder–pica–of eating things that are not normally considered food, like…uh…blood.
While you establish the setting and situation clearly, modifiers like “silently” and “involuntarily” are unnecessary. Adjectives and adverbs dilute the power of strong nouns and verbs. I also rearranged the order a bit for clarity.
So. My last patient of the day had just left, followed out the door by Dorinda, my receptionist. I planned to do paperwork for a while. I and was flipping through messages at Dorinda’s desk flipping through messages when I looked up to see a woman silently watching me. I jumped. I hadn’t heard her enter. I jumped involuntarily as she spoke. She’d come in off the street.
“I need to talk to you. I’m new.” [Inserting the “new” line here may eliminate the feeling of a cheat.]>
Watch out for the proper sequence of action and reaction. In the original, it sounds as if Carrie looks up to see Pica yet it’s Pica’s voice that startles Carrie. However, Pica is “silently” watching. Choose either sight or sound as the trigger: 1) Carrie looks up and sees Pica, then jumps, followed by Pica speaking (which is how I rewrote it); or 2) Pica says, “I’m new,” causing Carrie to jump, then she sees the unexpected visitor.
“Office hours are over for today. You should call the office in the morning and make an appointment.” I started moved around the desk to escort her out. “Now, if you don’t mind—”
You follow with a nice subtle reminder that she’s a vampire: ”I won’t be able to come back in the morning.”
Chop unnecessary verbiage. Watch out for words like “was” that often indicate passages that could be rewritten in a stronger way. Cut modifiers like “almost.” Below are several ideas to tighten up the prose:
I appraised her: looked at her, appraising. She was striking, tall, well dressed, elegant.
Given two choices of how to express a thought, cut the weak and always go with the strongest: Maybe that’s why, almost against my better judgment, I relented, as if I had no choice. “Step into my office.” Suggest you delete almost against my better judgment because the latter phrase I relented, as if I had no choice does a much better job of illustrating the irresistible pull the vampire has over Carrie. It also hints at her personality (more on that in a minute).
I watched as She glanced around the room. What a contrast, I thought,. My to my warm, comfortable office is warm and comfortable, with its quaint country decor and fresh flowers gracing the credenza along one wall. You don’t need I watched as or the separate declaration My office is warm and comfortable… Instead, incorporate the description into Carrie’s ongoing thoughts.
And She’s so sleek and, what? Cold came to mind. She bent to smell the late summer flowers, touching a petal with one long finger. The petal fluttered to the floor. Italicize cold to emphasize. I also added a small detail about the petal dropping to underscore Pica’s sinister quality.
She sat in the comfortable overstuffed chair opposite mine. I made was making notes: Young woman. Attractive. Blonde hair, dark eyes, almost black.
“You’re very lovely, Dr. Gilder.”
I frowned. “Thank you?” I said, frowning. Not something I usually hear from my patients usually say. I shrugged. “Okay, ” I said with a shrug. “First, why don’t you tell me who you are?”
“Thank you” followed by a question mark makes Carrie sound uncertain, as if she’s not sure how to react. If you intend to show she lacks confidence, that works. But it struck me as odd because a psychologist has likely heard strange statements from new patients and would already have practiced responses.
The young woman leaned forward in the chair and extended her hand. , which I found It felt surprisingly cold in the warm evening. “I am Pica. Pica Sharp.” She then settled back in the chair.
Strong sensory details, especially touch, add to the mood. The reader not only sees Pica but feels her. Her cold handshake serves as more than simple description—it underscores the vampire theme and unsettling discomfort that Carrie experiences.
Choose a strong verb instead of modifying a weak one. I studied her. looked at her curiously. “Do you mind if I ask how old you are?”
She replied, “I was 27.” she replied. For more impact, place the punchline at the end of the sentence.
“Was?” Odd. I made way to say it, I thought, making a note. Nice hint of vampire immortality.
The style is minimalist and understated but maybe too understated. First person POV gives an opportunity to showcase a captivating, distinctive voice. However, Carrie’s tone sounds bland and clinically detached. I suggest you exploit the first person voice to give more hints of her personality under the professional demeanor.
Read Jim Bell’s VOICE. His terrific examples show how a character’s background colors her attitude and reactions in ways that don’t slow the story’s action.
Below are some thoughts that might trigger ideas to add depth to Carrie’s attitude.
Is she inexperienced and a little unsure? Is she a sincere healer who believes she can help patients? Or a burnout case putting in her time? Is she a seasoned old hand who’s heard it all? All, that is, except for a patient who’s a vampire.
Why does she make an exception to see an after-hours patient? Is she bored with her life and this piques her interest? Does she need the money? Maybe she has nothing to go home to. Kids are grown and moved out. Or she dreads going home to her mate because he’ll be drunk again.
Why does she succumb to the vampire’s will? What in her character makes her vulnerable to Pica’s allure?
Obviously, Carrie’s full background and experience shouldn’t appear in the first page but her voice must hint at why she is unique and why the reader should turn the page. Carrie must be interesting enough that we’re compelled to follow her journey, the same as she is compelled to listen to this mysterious patient outside normal working hours.
Anonymous Author, you did a good job of orienting the reader to your story world. You present the situation, set the scene, introduce two major characters, hint at the conflict, and raise questions. If you fully exploit the first person POV to amp up Carrie’s voice, you’ll be on your way.
Your turn, TKZers. What suggestions can you offer our brave Anonymous Author?
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