Hello. This is the first 13 lines of my erotic romance WIP. Is this a good hook? What do you get out of it? Does it make you want to read more? Make you curious? Really any comments would be helpful. Thank you. JC
“Let him screw me in business and bed. Nice Ella.” “Hey, a girl’s gotta live.” Ella was teasing me. But something picked at the back of my neck and in my stomach. Nervousness? Restlessness? I pushed it aside and reached down to stroke Hank’s black mane as I turned him on the trail. He is drop-dead gorgeous, Abby. Maybe you could….negotiate with him. Seduce him and maybe he will hand over the land to you.” Ella’s seductive voice made me smile. It was the well-practiced tone she used on men. “I can handle him.” I did not sound very convincing, even to myself. I sighed. “You are out of your mind.” Ella threw up her hands dramatically. Shaking my head at her and rolling my eyes I stared at the fence
Two women on horseback talk about a man and real estate commerce.
The narrative distance is close -- enough for me. Narrative distance is the degree of separation between narrator and viewpoint agonist voice and perception. Generally, distance close to an agonist appeals more, anymore, than closeness to a narrator, though by no means an absolute. Whichever persona expresses the strongest attitude, or tone, toward a topic or subject is with which persona readers are most likely to align. This fragment craftily sets up alignment with Abby.
Through use of private thoughts and complication, Abby stands out as the viewpoint agonist. That's artfully done.
Abby has a want clearly expressed of wanting the man's land, though not as strongly as might be ideal for best reader appeal effect. That Abby might have to seduce the man to satisfy that want is also a clear complication implication, as it were, a multidimensional problem that impedes the want satisfaction. Abby clearly and strongly enough expresses the complication problem criteria. The want, though, lacks a clear why Abby wants the land motivation.
Complication is one of the priority prose matters from a start through a middle to an end; that is, want and problem introduction, development, contention effort, and satisfaction. In other words, complication is an agonist's motivation and its satisfaction an outcome.
Congruent to complication, distinguishable though indivisible, is conflict, also known as stakes. What's at stake that is a diametric opposition of forces; that is, for example, life and death, acceptance and rejection, riches and rags, success and failure. Note, "and." Acceptance and rejection is a mainstay conflict for romance genre.
The fragment does imply and express a conflict in part. Ella and Abby's talk is fundamentally about that very criteria. Ella is prone to romantically accept the man on first sight and seen; Abby is reluctant to go that far and inclined toward romantic rejection of him. The stakes in contention, though, are other than romantic; they are property acquisition success and failure.
Those property acquisition stakes could be artfully connected to the romantic stakes, an allusion of the man as the land, as an object to be possessed -- artfully inverting the "masculine gaze" romantic objectification of objects of desire, so to speak.
Real estate Realtors also objectify property the same masculine gaze way. Note masculine, not per se male. However, that connection between the man and land as objects is not as clear as might best be desired for reader accessibility, if intended. That "gaze" aspect set at an inverted juxtaposition would, if more developed, strongly appeal to me and probably the target audiences for romance and erotic prose.
How, though, to clarify and strengthen that objectification connection development, if that's the intent? Setting details and emotional attitude toward them holds a key. How does Abby emotionally perceive the land she looks upon? A bare fence post blandly described as the sum and substance of the land is an emotionally flat "telling detail" motif. If Abby expresses both passion for the land's telling details and describes land motifs of a masculine romantic character, in an economy of words, that could fulfill the allusive nature of the objectification connection between the land and the man.
"Emotional attitude," or tone, one of the three priority features for prose composition, expresses an emotional attitude toward a topic or subject, say, approving and disapproving. Ella does express approval of the man; Abby expresses disapproval, not of the man per se, of the land grab method Ella proposes.
However, the setting's role in that function is underdeveloped. Like that Abby passionately wants the land for some as yet undisclosed reason. Again, why? To develop pasture into a subdivision? For a horse ranch? To dominate a man in a man's world? What for and why does Abby want the land and what's at stake? How can that be introduced in an economy of words that, in turn, supports motivations and stakes through tone?
Motivation, stakes, and tone, put together, cover much of the mischief management that prose of any category best practice accomplishes.
On less large picture matters for consideration.
"'Let him screw me in business and bed. Nice Ella.'"
Dialogue openings without context development, who, when, where, feel disembodied: They come from disembodied voices and personas. Some event, setting, and character development is indicated beforehand so readers have a context anchor with which to align to the new, other than the everyday alpha existence, reality of a narrative's imitated reality. And that dialogue line is also unattributed, even more disembodied than if attributed to a speaker.
Abby's perception of and emotional response to horseback on Hank, and whatever steed Ella might sit, and the setting's telling details hold access to those existents of event, setting, and character development, so readers have an anchor from which to place dialogue.
"But something picked at the back of my neck and in my stomach. Nervousness? Restlessness? I pushed it aside . . ."
"But" and "something" are problematic. "But" doesn't change the meaning in any way; it could as easily be excised without an alteration of the contexture (context's who, when, and where; and texture's what, why, and how).
"Something" is vague. The intent is a sensation. Describe the source of the sensation, what, a tingle, a premonition, an itch, goosebumps, hives, neck hair stands erect? Something specific so that readers feel the tactile or other sensation, and emotionally.
"Nervousness? Restlessness? I pushed it aside . . ." Rhetorical questions best practice imply their answers; they don't leave answers for revelation later. Nor should such a pivotal and premonitionary sensation be instantly dismissed. Some small satisfaction for the preparation (premonition something is awry), suspension and anticipation (what could the premonition mean?), and satisfaction (what it does mean to Abby at the immediate moment) sequence is indicated: incomplete satisfaction or complete at the moment.
". . . and reached down to stroke Hank’s black mane as I turned him on the trail."
First mention and implication that Abby, and likely Ella, ride horses, which also implies setting vaguely, somewhere where horseback riding is generally done. Well, anywhere on solid ground, desert, meadow, woodland, scrub brush, firm wetland, near a trail at least.
The "and" conjunction joins Abby's premonition dismissal decision and three actions with "reached down to stroke Hank’s black mane as I turned him on the trail." Decided dismissal, reached, stroked, and turned. They could be contemporaneous actions; unlikely they are. They are logically sequential.
Best practices is to separate them by, one, separate sentences; two, as a three- or maybe four-item serial list separated by punctuation that implies the actions are sequential, or other punctuation separations that more artfully imply a sequence: dash, colon, or semicolon uses.
"As" is the second conjunction word that falsely fuses the four items into a contemporaneous process. Neither the "and" nor the "as" are necessary and could as easily be excised, for best reader appeal effect, for best reading and comprehension effect, too.
"As" is an idea correlation conjunction, not a time coordination conjunction, though everyday droll conversation uses the conjunction for that time coordination function.
Missing start quote mark? -- ["]He is drop-dead gorgeous, --
Another punctuation glitch and a missing word space? "Maybe you could….[#]negotiate . . ." Four-point ellipsis points mark a grammatically complete sentence and the ellipsis figure of speech -- ellipsis: leaves out, omits, or elides and implies grammatically complete sentence expression.
"Maybe you could" is not a complete sentence nor elliptical. Use of ellipsis points to mark pauses, self-interruptions, broken or hedging speech or thought is a common droll tweet and text message, etc., practice, and a discretionary style option; however, for prose, is generally too vague and confusing to mark an overall paused speech or thought intent.
A dash is indicated, which is the conventional mark for an interruption pause. Standard Publication Format uses an em dash; Standard Manuscript Format uses two or three hyphens either bracketed with word spaces or not. //Maybe you could -- negotiate . . .// is the usual method, though several publications' submission guidelines prefer the three-hyphen SMF dash, because that's easiest searched and replaced for SPF from SMF. They also insist that empty line section breaks be marked with the two-hyphen style. //Maybe you could --- negotiate . . .// Here at Hatrack, the two-hyphen SMF dash is the interruption mark convention. Or the empty line section break mark: -- This is tell that could be more artfully implied -- shown: "Ella's seductive voice made me smile. It was the well-practiced tone she used on men."
"made me smile" is an action Abby cannot possibly sense visually, maybe tactilely, probably proprioceptively, though is a nonvolitional emotional response and, therefore, a nonconscious reaction. A better practice is to do away with "made me smile" and, instead, reflect Abby's emotional reaction to "Ella's seductive voice." Less summary and explanation, more reality imitation, like adjust Ella's previous dialogue lines to show the seductive tenor and excise the tell altogether: diction, in other words.
This, too, is summary and explanation tell: "'I can handle him.' I did not sound very convincing, even to myself. I sighed." The dialogue is the best practice place to show readers Abby is unconvincing, even to herself.
"sighed" is problematic all the time. Another tell, for one, also, another nonvolitional, nonconscious emotional reaction and sensation, one Abby cannot possibly see or feel at the moment.
The term is always emotionally vague, too: sighed from sorrow? From joy? From resignation? From any of a number of emotional causes. Another emotional reaction Abby can be consciously aware of and volitionally commit is indicated. Like, maybe she snaps the reins like a whip at Ella? Or similar though different.
Action tags that attribute dialogue to a speaker are best practice placed before the dialogue. "'You are out of your mind.' Ella threw up her hands dramatically." The dialogue there is on the flat side, too, could carry more of the contexture freight, and emotional expression.
Adverbs like "dramatically" in attributions are problematic, too. Also, the adverb at the end of the sentence syntax misplaces the adverb's modification of its predicate. The predicate itself, another verb, could instead convey the action and emotion. Frankly, also, a dramatically raised hands gesture, like "sighed," could mean most anything emotional or not.
Modifiers' prose function is emotional commentary when verbs, especially, and perhaps nouns, themselves do not carry the freight.
A stronger and clearer, and natural, emotional texture for the dialogue might use an adjective or adjectival phrase to modify "your mind," for example. In any case, the action tag best practice precedes the dialogue line. Like, //Ella threw up her hands dramatically. "You are out of your mind."//
Another artless summary and explanation tell of sensations Abby cannot possibly observe and probably is nonconscious: "Shaking my head at her and rolling my eyes[,] I stared at the fence . . ." Plus, missing comma to separate the dependent, prefatory, present participle clause from the main clause -- marked above between brackets.
Thirteen lines lapses at "fence."
Some motivations, stakes, and tone development, some introductions of what the story is really about, what the main contest is to be -- I might could read on though would pass at this time, part from unnecessary conjunction wordiness, part from confusion about what the story will be really about, part from less artful management of narrative show and tell, though somewhat curious about what Abby's real private and public contests are.
More of my curiosity is aroused, less my emotional alignment with Abby's contests to come. Though only a mite curious, I'd be especially less curious and emotionally charged if the story doesn't develop that curiosity-arousing aspect of an inverted masculine from feminine gaze of personas objectified. If that develops and is central to the story's movement, I'd be hopelessly hooked for sure.
Let me begin by saying I don't like first person narratives. Let me add I don't like starting a story in the middle of a conversation between two people I know nothing about; I have nothing to hang my expectations on. To me the conversation is meaningless and I have no reason to care what it's about.
As far as I can tell from what's written there is nothing at stake, not a good beginning for a short story. I would not read on.
My biggest issue with this opening is the lack of punctuation in important places (there should be a comma between 'Nice' and 'Ella', one of the dialogue tags is missing an opening quotation mark, things like that). I don't know if that's a mark of first draft writing or if it's a lack of formal practice with grammar and punctuation. If the former, I'd recommend a punctuation/grammar-focused edit of the document. If the latter, I'd recommend picking up a college-level guide to grammar and punctuation. My personal preference is a textbook I got when I was taking English in community college: "Common Sense: A Handbook and Guide for Writers" by Lennis Polnac, Lyman Grant, and Tom Cameron. It's decently comprehensive in scope and written in a manner that's easy to understand. The best part is, the edition I'm familiar with is available for as little as a penny plus shipping through third-party sellers on Amazon.
The initial lack of speaker context threw me off in the first sentence. A hint at who is talking would improve the opening line by a great deal. (Even after reading the paragraph multiple times, I have a hard time differentiating who's saying what for the first two lines of dialogue.)
Also, I'd recommend editing the final sentence of the current 13 lines to something more like 'I shook my head at Ella and rolled my eyes as I stared at the fence...' Your initial version involves a mid-sentence change in tense (as indicated by 'Shaking' and 'rolling' followed by 'stared').
Now that I've got the grammar stuff out of the way: As far as the characters go, you've got a decently solid interaction between the two of them overall. There's enough in the opening lines to give me a basic impression of the two women. Ella's character comes off as a bit of the stereotypical seductress on first impression, but that doesn't mean she is--and even if she is, that's not necessarily a bad thing. The protagonist is the character who should have the most depth, and I'm guessing in this instance that the protagonist is the viewpoint character.
Romances are, more than most other genres, wish fulfillment tales. This opening definitely shows an understanding of that concept. Also, specifically because of the wish fulfillment aspect, first person perspective is a good choice for the romance genre. Look no further than Janet Evanovich's extensive series of Stephanie Plum novels and Stephanie Meyer's Twilight novels for proof of that.
While your opening is definitely on the rough side, it seems to me that you've got a solid idea of what you want to write and what the overall needs of your chosen genre are. At this point, it's mostly a matter of practice to improve your prose (and believe me, we've all been there).