First Page Critique – Dinner with a Celebrity

 

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

Welcome to another Brave Author who submitted a first page for review. Please enjoy reading it then we’ll discuss.

 

Dinner with a Celebrity

My knees nearly buckled at the sound of the doorbell. Glancing through the window, I saw them waiting on the porch. Fortunately, they were five minutes late. I wished it could have been ten. Accepting that I couldn’t just leave them standing out there, I headed for the door. Even before the door was fully open, a guy hauling a camera brushed past me, mumbling to himself. Another hoisting a microphone boom like a javelin, followed right behind. Without another word they busied themselves setting up.

“Yes. Come right in,” I said, in a tone that may have sounded snarky but was mostly nerves. Without asking, the camera guy moved a chair nearer the window. Would it have killed him to ask? “Can I give you a hand?”

“Just need to get the soft light,” he said. Taking a few steps back he nudged my end table aside and spread out a tri-pod. “This gives the most flattering camera angle.” He was probably responding to my furrowed brow. “Carol will be here in a few minutes.”

“I see,” I had no idea what he meant.

“We have to get everything set up before she arrives. Heaven help us if we don’t capture the Grand Entrance.” He punctuated the statement with an exaggerated eye roll. Grand entrance? I was struck with dread that I might be spending a long evening with a diva.

The very last thing I needed in my life right now was a woman, no matter how innocent the circumstances. I rushed back to the kitchen to check on dinner. What had I been thinking?

The truth is, I hadn’t. Why had I done it? Here’s why? The most pathetic reason on earth—because my friends were doing it.

Honest, I’m old enough to know better. Cold beer may have also been a factor.

That was at least four months ago and I had completely forgotten about it—until yesterday. It all came rushing back to me.

Right there in the bar, we all applied to a reality TV show called “Dinner with a Celebrity”. The show’s premise is simple. A regular person, like me, prepares a dinner. A celebrity, like Carol, comes over to help eat it. There’s a little more to it than that, but not really. I went along only because there was zero chance any of us would be selected. Yesterday, they phoned to tell me I had won and to give me the name of my celebrity.

~~~

First of all, congratulations to the Brave Author for starting this scene with action, conflict, and tension.

GENERAL OVERVIEW: Brave Author doesn’t specify a genre but the light tone and the situation may indicate Romantic Comedy. TKZers, what do you think?

A camera crew barges through the front door of the protagonist’s home and hurriedly sets up equipment in preparation for a vain celebrity diva who’s about to arrive.

Right away, readers share the character’s discomfort. No one likes strangers to intrude in their home, even for a benign reason like a TV reality show. The description of a boom as a javelin is not only accurate but funny.

The backstory set up is handled quickly with a deft, humorous touch, showing the character’s personality and self-doubt:

Why had I done it? Here’s why.? The most pathetic reason on earth—because my friends were doing it. 

Honest, I’m old enough to know better. Cold beer may have also been a factor. 

Haven’t we all done dumb things because of peer pressure, aided and abetted by alcohol? That makes the character relatable and likable, if a bit goofy.

However, backstory can be further condensed and punched up. See the example shown later.

SPECIFIC SUGGESTIONS:

Name: When writing in first-person POV, the sooner a name is established, the more easily the reader can slide into the story world.

Since the person pushing through the door is mumbling, you might as well use that opportunity to have him say, “Sorry we’re late. You’re Mr./Ms. Doe, right?”

“Yes, but call me John/Jane.”

Gender: I’m unclear if the character is male or female. “The very last thing I needed in my life right now was a woman, no matter how innocent the circumstances.” That implies male but today it could go either way.

Like a name, immediate establishment of gender removes any nagging questions in the reader’s mind.

Maybe I’m being sexist but, to me, the overall tone sounded like a woman trying to write like a man. Would it have killed him to ask? and I rushed back to the kitchen… felt more like the attitude and action of a woman.

The first line could be stronger. “My knees nearly buckled” is not only a cliché but “nearly” weakens it even more.  Also, such an intense reaction to a ringing doorbell seems over the top.

Two lines struck me as better possibilities for the opening sentence:

The very last thing I needed in my life right now was a woman, no matter how innocent the circumstances.

 

Or

 

Honest, I’m old enough to know better. Cold beer may have also been a factor. 

 

Exaggeration establishes a humorous tone but it felt overdone. I already mentioned knees nearly buckling because of the doorbell. Another example: I was struck with dread that I might be spending a long evening with a divaDread is a potent emotion, too strong for the minor inconvenience the character is experiencing.

Secondary characters:

Good job of showing the camera guy as the long-suffering worker who must put up with  spoiled, entitled celebrities.

Excellent depiction of Carol’s personality. She hasn’t even appeared on the scene but the reader already knows she a vain PITA (pain in the a$$). If the genre is rom-com, you’ve set up a hate-at-first-sight introduction which immediately promises conflict between the principal characters. Well done. 

Tone: the overall feel of the writing is inconsistent. At times, it sounds tentative and uncertain yet other times overstated (e.g. dread).  If you’re establishing the character’s personality as an insecure, neurotic, Woody Allen-type, that may be appropriate.

However, if you want a stronger, more positive tone, I suggest you delete some modifiers and sharpen weak sentences.

Here’s a possible revision that assumes the protagonist is male. Also, a little rearrangement for punchier impact:

The very last thing I needed in my life right now was a woman, no matter how innocent the circumstances.

My knees nearly buckled at the sound of the doorbell. Glancing through the window, I saw them crew waiting on the porch. Fortunately, they were five minutes late. Ten would have been better. I wished it could have been ten. Accepting that I couldn’t just leave them standing out there, As much as I wanted to leave them standing there, I headed for the door. Even before it the door was fully open, a guy hauling a camera brushed past me, mumbling, to himself. “Sorry we’re late. You’re Mr. Doe, right?”

“Yes, but call me John.”

Another crew member, hoisting a microphone boom like a javelin, followed right behind the camera man. Without another word, they busied themselves setting up.

Yes. Come right in,” I said., in a  My tone that may have sounded snarky but was mostly nerves. Without asking, t The camera guy moved a chair nearer the window. Would it have killed him to ask permission? It was my house, not a sound set. “Can I give you a hand?”

“Just need to get the soft light,” he said. Taking a few steps back he nudged my end table aside and spread out a tri-pod. “This gives the most flattering camera angle.” He was probably responding to my furrowed brow. “Carol will be here in a few minutes.”

“I see.” I frowned, having no idea what he meant.

“We have to get everything set up before she arrives. Heaven help us if we don’t capture the Grand Entrance.” He punctuated the statement with an exaggerated eye roll. Grand entrance? I was struck with dread that Oh, great. I didn’t look forward to a long evening with a diva.

I hustled to the kitchen to check on dinner in the oven. The very last thing I needed in my life right now was a woman, no matter how innocent the circumstances. I rushed back to the kitchen to check on dinner. What had I been thinking?

The truth is, I hadn’t. Why had I done it? Here’s why? The most pathetic reason on earth—because my friends were doing it.

Honest, I’m old enough to know better. Cold beer may have also been a factor.

That was at least four months ago and I had completely forgotten about it—until yesterday. It all came rushing back to me. 

Four months ago, right there in the bar, we all applied to a reality TV show called “Dinner with a Celebrity”. The show’s premise is simple. A regular person [guy], like me, prepares a dinner. A celebrity, like Carol, comes over to help eat it. There’s a little more to it than that, but not really. I went along only because there was zero chance any of us would be selected.

I’d completely forgotten until yesterday when the producer phoned to tell me I had won. My celebrity was Carol XYZ, the hottest dancing sensation to light up TikTok this month. [or whatever Carol’s claim to fame is].

~~~

The writing is clear, competent, and easy to read. The premise is contemporary, intriguing, and funny. Tweaks are small and easily accomplished. This page contains the ingredients for a tasty dinner and shows plenty of promise as an entertaining rom-com. 

Brave Author, thanks for submitting.

~~~

TKZers: Would you turn the page? Do you have suggestions for the Brave Author?

~~~

Looking for a new series to read during long winter nights? Try Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with Passion. The first book, Instrument of the Devil, is FREE. 

Amazon             Other online booksellers

This entry was posted in #amwriting, #writers, #writerslife, first page critique, First page critiques, First person, Writing by Debbie Burke. Bookmark the permalink.

About Debbie Burke

Debbie writes Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with Passion. The first book in the series, Instrument of the Devil, won the Kindle Scout contest and the Zebulon Award. Additional books in the series are Stalking Midas, Eyes in the Sky, Dead Man's Bluff, Crowded Hearts, and Flight to Forever. Debbie's articles have won journalism awards in international publications. She is a founding member of Authors of the Flathead and helps to plan the annual Flathead River Writers Conference in Kalispell, Montana. Her greatest joy is mentoring young writers. http://www.debbieburkewriter.com

19 thoughts on “First Page Critique – Dinner with a Celebrity

  1. The author should study the fundamentals of dialogue, attributions, action beats, when to use a new paragraph, when not to explain how something is said (which should be almost never). For example, we don’t need to be told the tone of “Come right in.” It’s clear from the context. Could add more for the snark to be clear. “Gee, come right on in.”

    The line “Can I give you a hand?” should start a new paragraph.

    And so on. Dialogue skill is the quickest way to improve a manuscript. If I were to recommend a craft book it would have to be mine. This is no time for false modesty.

  2. Great critique, Debbie.

    Brave Author, you do a good job of setting up interest and conflict. I would turn the page. Study JSB’s and Debbie’s recommendations and instruction, and you will be on your way to a good beginning.

  3. Great critique, Debbie. I would caution the writer about speaking directly to the reader.

    Rather than: Why had I done it? Here’s why? The most pathetic reason on earth—because my friends were doing it.
    Try: How’d I let [friend] talk me into doing this?

    Conveys the same message in fewer words and stays within 1st POV.

    Yes, I would turn the page. Great job, Brave Writer!

  4. I liked this one. After reading that beginning I would want to see what the synopsis is. It’s very curious.

    I totoally agree with your suggestions, but also the sentence transition is a little shaky. Can’t help but feel we’re going over some road bumps.

  5. Very insightful critique, Debbie.

    Bravo, Brave author! Your opening page grabbed me, and I would definitely read on. Loved the tone. I’m also assuming this is a romantic comedy. Take Debbie, Jim and Sue’s points to heart–those will tighten your narrative and dialogue and make the opening (and the rest of your novel) even more engaging. I would definitely read on!

  6. Thanks, Brave Author, for this very interesting first page. The idea of dinner with a celebrity is intriguing, and the issues surrounding it can be very funny. Debbie’s and JSB’s suggestions would make this piece much better.

    The most glaring issue I noticed was the gender of the POV character. From the tone, I immediately assumed it was a woman. Debbie’s suggestion to get the gender established at the outset is critical.

    Good luck on your writing!

    • Kay, I’m glad you also keyed in on the gender. If the Brave Author is indeed a woman writing from a man’s POV, male beta readers can offer good insights.

  7. It’s a romance, probably of the Harlequin/Silhouette variety. The premise of the ordinary guy and celebrity odd couple, so far, is to too thin for a standalone, much longer, mainstream romance.

    So, from a romance POV, the hero shouldn’t be doing things like buckling his knees about some celebrity in his home. Romance heroes are manly men who only show real vulnerability to the heroine later in the story, once it’s established that he is, indeed, a very successful manly man, preferably a billionaire manly man. And, yeah, the writer needs to get better at writing guy viewpoint.

    From a situational perspective, the cameras, lights, and audio would have been set up already. The illusion of a guy with one camera filming everything is rarely true, and a small home and smaller kitchen/dining area would make that kind of filming pretty dang hard. Also, funny. Trying to even hold a conversation and eating with camera people tripping over each other and bumping into things would be ridiculous and something the couple could laugh and bond about.

    But the craft isn’t bad for a first effort, and the premise is a good “cute meet” for the genre.

    • Good points, Marilynn. I esp. like your suggestion about the crew falling all over each other in a small house. Lots of comedic possibilities there.

  8. Great critique, Debbie, and the comments are spot-on.

    Good job, BA. I like the “snarky” tone, but would advise you to take JSB’s advice and not “tell” your readers it’s snarky. Show it. I have to learn that lesson over and over.

    I don’t usually read “romance” without some kind of suspense, espionage, or a few bodies thrown in but this first page piqued my curiosity. I hope there’s some suspense and fear tossed into the mix…I’d definitely read more to find out. Celebrities can always be stalked and murdered . . . 🙂

    The title didn’t grab me, though. I don’t know how to describe what it evoked in me, which is probably why I don’t care for it. Perhaps down the road, the title could be changed to something a bit more “grabby”. But maybe that’s just me. And I also was looking for who this protag is. I felt kind of “lost in space” without knowing name and gender.

    All in all, a great start. BA, don’t be a stranger to these TKZ halls. There’s a passel of learnin’ to be had here.

    • Thanks, Deb. Love crime twist–“Celebrities can always be stalked and murdered . . .” And the hapless “regular guy” could become the main suspect.

      See what happens when a bunch of crime writers get together!

  9. I enjoyed this opening but noticed the wordiness and that we don’t know the protagonist’s name/gender.

    I’m getting a rom-com vibe too. My favorite line made me chuckle: “The most pathetic reason on earth—because my friends were doing it.” I see from reading the comments that it’s not everyone’s favorite line, but the same humor could be carried out with a tighter point of view.

    With a few tweaks like Debbie suggests, I think this would be a stronger opening, and I’d for sure turn the page.

Comments are closed.