Sunday, January 2, 2011

Characterization in the First Pages


I'm a little gimpy since I had surgery on three fingers last week, so I decided to try something that didn't involve a lot of typing. I've been thinking a lot about how to make my characters special and how to get the reader to fall in love with them quickly. In my infinite wisdom, I've deduced that it has to be done quickly. So, I'm posting part of my first scene in LIVER LET DIE to see if I accomplished that. Here is your introduction to Jordan McAllister, my Clueless Cook. I don't have a real cover yet, so this one will have to do.

Single white female stuck in a dead end job who barely makes the rent on the closet she calls home – looking for tall, dark, handsome rich guy who loves...

Jordan McAllister jumped, slamming her finger on the Delete key when the shrill ring of the phone on her desk jarred her from her daydream.

“Personals,” she answered.

“Ms. McAllister, this is Jackie Frazier. Mr. Egan needs to see you in his office.”

Jordan frowned. She’d been at this job less than three months, and already she was being summoned to the editor’s office. Since the administrative offices were on the second floor, she hadn’t even met the man yet. “When?”

“Now would be good,” Jackie said, inserting a touch of sarcasm and ramping up Jordan’s paranoia another notch.

Hanging up, she leaned back in the chair, trying to guess where she’d screwed up. Other than allowing an ad to run several days past its contract, nothing popped into her mind, but she was still on probation, which meant they didn’t need a reason to fire her.

Jordan glanced around the room at her co-workers, all either chatting with each other or busy at their cubicles. Since the only person who bothered to talk to her was the chubby guy in the mail room who hit on her every chance he got, there was no one to calm her fears.

Why was the editor summoning her to his office?

Yanking her purse from the bottom drawer of the desk, she powdered her face. If she was going to get tossed on her butt, she didn’t want to have a shiny nose. Shoving her purse back in, she locked the drawer. She didn’t know these people well enough to trust them with her lunch, much less her purse.

Jordan smiled. First of all, everyone stayed clear of her, acting like she was a leper after their jobs. And second, there was a grand total of six dollars and fifty-two cents in her wallet. She knew this because when she’d paid for the crunchy chicken sandwich at the deli on the corner an hour ago, she sacrificed adding a latte so she’d have enough money to buy a package of bologna on her way home.

How pathetic was she? Big city, college graduate with dreams of becoming a sports columnist for a famous city newspaper, wasting away in a small time newsroom writing personal ads for desperate people looking to hook up. Even more pathetic was that the one she’d been working on before the phone rang was her own.

She reached in the top drawer and pulled out a Hostess HoHo, thinking this was the drawer that should be under lock and key. God forbid she go through a day without one or two of these suckers. Glancing around to make sure no one was watching, she unwrapped one and popped it into her mouth, closing her eyes as the chocolate immediately elevated her endorphin level. Common sense told her it couldn’t possibly work that fast, but there was something to be said for the placebo effect.

Standing, she blew out a calming breath and shut the drawer. She’d save her last chocolate treat for when she was cleaning out her desk. She walked down the aisle to the other side of the room, feeling twenty pairs of eyes on her. The newsroom was small, and it was a given that everyone knew she was on her way to getting canned. Kinda like at NFL training camp when a player got called to the head coach’s office and was told to bring his playbook.

Still, she kept her head high and tried to convince herself the editor was doing her a favor. Now, she’d be forced to go out and find the job of her dreams.

Who are you kidding?

After Brett dumped her for the cute little weather girl with perky clouds of her own before she’d even had time to find gainful employment after the move to Dallas, Jordan had spent two months searching for this miserable job. Seems the Metroplex had as many wannabe sports reporters as it did cowboys driving pickups. Her only shot at a career that didn’t include flipping burgers had brought her to Ranchero, a small town north of Dallas. The short, squatty, Human Resource Director at The Ranchero Globe had offered her the “opportunity of a lifetime” writing personal ads until “something else opened up”.

After a month on the job, Jordan realized “something else” was never going to open up. This was Ranchero, Texas, population twenty-two thousand, seven hundred and seventy-three – seventy four after she rolled into town with four suitcases and Maggie, her goldfish. Most of her co-workers had worked at the newspaper since high school, some even before. Unless someone got reassigned to the big newsroom in the sky, there would be no job openings anytime soon.

She stopped at the desk in front of the editor’s office and got her first look at Miss Sarcasm herself. “Jordan McAllister. I’m here to see Mr. Egan.”

I'm ready for critiques. Tell me if you get a sense of who my girl is and if you liked her. Then post a short scene introducing us to your hero/heroine. Don't be a chicken. We can all learn something that way.

34 comments:

magolla said...

I LOVE the excerpt, Liz! I totally understand why you got a three-book deal! She's got hidden spunk that she doesn't even know she has! I can't wait until it comes out!

Anita Clenney said...

Hi Liz. I love this! The writing is so funny. I can't wait till it comes out. Glad your surgery went well!

Sylvia Rochester said...

I think we could all slip into Jordan's skin. You nailed her. She a natural--says what we often think, is funny, and at the same time, charming. Like her? I love her.

Liz Lipperman said...

Thanks, Margaret, Anita, and Sylvia. Don't get me wrong. I love compliments as well as the next guy, but this is supposed to be a craft lesson. Where's your excerpts???

Don't make me call out the big dogs to come and get you.

ArkansasCyndi said...

Blogger ate my reply!!! WAAAA

It was smart and insightful and down right intelligent.

Okay..maybe not!

Can't remember all the smart stuff I said however. sigh

I even posted an excerpt from Texas Two Step.

Bad blogger

Liz Lipperman said...

Cyndi, I learned a long time ago to always copy my blogger reply.

Come back and play. You're the only brave soul out there, apparently.

Melanie said...

Ack! I didn't want to stop reading! Can't wait to see the scene with the editor. Fab writing, Liz. You grabbed me from the first sentence. Love this... and am looking forward to more. ; )

ArkansasCyndi said...

Intro to my heroine in Texas Two Step-----

If the burning acid in her stomach was any indication, Olivia Montgomery Gentry was not happy. This was not how she wanted to look when she saw Mitch Landry for the first time in six years. Her stomach pitched and her hands fisted when she got her first view of him in the DFW luggage area. Damn Emily and Wes and their last minute wedding emergencies.

Olivia had been at her gym when her best friend—and this weekend’s bride—Emily called, frantic over a wedding snafu. Someone had to go to the airport and pick up the best man and would Olivia be a dear and run to DFW?

Olivia knocked her head against the wall at the request and begged Emily to send someone else—anyone else—pleading work and appointments and any excuse she could dream up to avoid being alone with Mitch Landry.
She couldn’t face him…not yet. Nothing dissuaded the determined bride, who appealed, cajoled, and blackmailed. As the deal cincher, she sprung the “you’re the maid of honor” guilt trip and Olivia’s resolve had collapsed like a cheap lawn chair.

With no time for a shower, she made do with a quick sponging off, a fresh pair of shorts and a clean T-shirt. Leading this morning’s vigorous kickboxing class had left her long hair in a sweaty mess, which gave her no option but to slick it up into a damp ponytail.

Thanks to Emily’s last minute notice, Olivia raced across town, lucky not to add another speeding ticket to her growing collection. Typically by mid-morning at DFW airport, all the closest parking spots were occupied. Today was no exception and she found herself in the last row of the most distant lot.

Mother Nature decided to ignore the calendar, which clearly indicated the season was spring, and launched summer a little early. The morning temperature vaulted to ninety-three with a forecasted high of ninety-nine by afternoon. By the time Olivia hoofed it across the blistering asphalt parking lot under a bright and vicious scorching sun, her minimal powder and blush melted in the heat. Her clean shirt molded to her body like an entry in a wet t-shirt contest.

ArkansasCyndi said...

If the burning acid in her stomach was any indication, Olivia Montgomery Gentry was not happy. This was not how she wanted to look when she saw Mitch Landry for the first time in six years. Her stomach pitched and her hands fisted when she got her first view of him in the DFW luggage area. Damn Emily and Wes and their last minute wedding emergencies.

Olivia had been at her gym when her best friend—and this weekend’s bride—Emily called, frantic over a wedding snafu. Someone had to go to the airport and pick up the best man and would Olivia be a dear and run to DFW?

Olivia knocked her head against the wall at the request and begged Emily to send someone else—anyone else—pleading work and appointments and any excuse she could dream up to avoid being alone with Mitch Landry.
She couldn’t face him…not yet. Nothing dissuaded the determined bride, who appealed, cajoled, and blackmailed. As the deal cincher, she sprung the “you’re the maid of honor” guilt trip and Olivia’s resolve had collapsed like a cheap lawn chair.

ArkansasCyndi said...

apparently, there is a limit to how much a commenter can post. Got an "over the limit" a couple of times, which may be why Bad Blogger ate my first comment.

Liz Lipperman said...

Thanks, Mel. Where's your excerpt?

Liz Lipperman said...

Cyndi, thank you for being brave. I loved this excerpt. We get a sense of who Olivia is, but there's still a mystery of why she doesn't want to face Mitch. And who doesn't love a girl with no make-up and sweaty underarms having to face what I think is an old love? I'm hooked!

Good job, chica.

Anyone else??

Donnell said...

Liz,this is terrific. I love how you use your dry wit for something that could otherwise be depressing. Not only are your characters great, but your pacing is perfect. I agree, you so deserve that three-book contract, and I hope the wonderful Liz Lipperman will grant me an interview.... How is the hand feeling. That's such a sensitive area!

I'll bite. Here's a couple of lines ....


She still smarted from Assistant Director in Charge, MacAllister Herman’s public rebuke. Two grim-faced men stood behind him staring down at the open laptop on his desk. “Special Agents in Charge, David Chambers and Jared Petrie meet Danielle Morgan. Be nice now. You know who her daddy is.”
Dani didn’t even blink. She’d long gotten used to the notion that she was hired because of the undue influence of California Senator Edward K. Morgan. It might have been true in the beginning. But the pressure he’d applied had nothing to do with her graduating from law school with honors, or working her ass off to earn her promotion. And she was not walking away because she had an unfortunate silver spoon disorder.

Mary Moreno said...

Liz, I can't wait to read the whole book! I felt an immediate empathy for Jordan. You've given her plenty of obstacles to overcome, and she has a wonderful sense of humor that came right through. Love the Hostess Ho Ho fix.

Maybe I'll screw up my courage and post something later...

Cassy Pickard said...

Liz: This is grand fun. I'll pull something shortly and add it to the game. I'm just getting settled in and trying to shift time zones.

I loved your opening scene! I could feel her gut reaction.

Lindsay said...

Jordan is definitely one of those characters we will learn quickly to love. Especially if she keeps eating HoHo's when stressed.

Donnell said...

Liz, one more comment, and then I have to get to work... you say in our post fall in love with them quickly. But is that always true? Perhaps is necessary to relate with them, be compelled by them but not necessarily like them. What do you think, ma'am. Hope this doesn't cause you too much pain to type?

Mary Martinez said...

Great Excerpt. Can't wait until it comes out.

Sorry to hear about your surgery. I hope all is alright!

Liz Lipperman said...

Donnell, you are always making me think!!

Yes, I do believe you don't always have to fall in love with the main character right away. Matter of fact, some of my favorite characters were not always lovable (Scarlet O'Hara!)

Maybe a better way of characterizing your characters would be to make sure they invoked some sort of emotional response from the reader. I thought Scarlett was a spoiled Southern belle and not a very good friend, but she still made me laugh, and I still wanted her to end up with Rhett - a rake if I've ever seen one.

And I loved your entery. We get the sense your girl is an overachiever - that she's had to prove she isn't a token anything just because of her daddy. I can see how it will make it really hard for her to accept any kind of help, especially from a man.

Ooh - conflict!!

Is this WAJ or a new one?

Liz Lipperman said...

Okay, typing with 7 fingers or not, I still need to check. Invoked should have been evoked!

Come back and play with us, Mary, Manhattan Mary, Cassy and Lindsay.

And thanks to everyone who has stroked my ego today!!

Donnell said...

Hi, Liz, Scarlett is perfect. You know what book I read again was REBECCA. I didn't particularly like the second Mrs. Max de Winter, she was rather young and mouse-like compared to the vibrant and charismatic Rebecca, but by the end of the novel....character. character growth. It's essential. Otherwise you just read words.

No, this is a new book I'm working on after I finish my revisions to Walk Away Joe. Looking forward to learning the new title. Sorry to strain your seven fingers further.

Kari Lee Townsend said...

LOVE the opening, Liz! I've read only a partial of this story, and can't WAIT for the book to come out. Your character is a hoot, just like you :-)

Glad your hand surgery went well...rest those fingers! You need them for book two!

Lindsay said...

This is such a fun playground here.

Donna Cummings said...

The excerpt is great fun, Liz. Tell me again when this book is coming out. :)

And I'm glad you're still able to hit the keyboard, even with the boo-boo your fingers have! LOL

magolla said...

Okay, okay, enough with the arm twisting. Here's my except to THE FAST AND THE FAERIEOUS:

“Kyte Webber?”

My hand shot up. Mrs. Dillard looked over her thick, old-fashioned glasses, before glancing down at her clipboard to carefully place a checkmark next to my name.
Day two of the new school year and nothing had changed since last year.

Well, almost nothing.

Oh, I had grown taller over the summer, killed a banshee, was maid of honor at a gnome wedding, and had a new friend named Mike Chase. But school-wise, Lisa Morris was still the queen bee and Bubba McGee was still the bully, and I belonged to a clique of one . . . well, two if you counted Mike.

“Kermit Wilkie?”

I didn’t know why Mrs. Dillard insisted on roll call. All she would have had to do was look over her glasses and check everyone’s name off until she got to the newbies. It wasn’t like she didn’t already know all of the kids in the sixth grade, considering she taught us last year, well, except Bubba.

But no, she had to call roll. It must be a teacher thing.

Edie Ramer said...

Liz, FABULOUS excerpt! The reader wouldn't be able to stop reading here. Jordan's got attitude. :)

I have excerpts on my blog under the SundaySample posts. Here's a short one from SampleSunday #3:

Belle’s head snapped up. Max leaned against the doorway, watching her. Gladness welled up from her stomach to her throat, plugging words from coming out. She’d missed him. After dinner last night, Max disappeared into his office and was still there when she went to sleep in his bed.

For four years, she’d slept with him and now she was sleeping by herself. She didn’t like it. Not at all.

Where was Sorcha? She wanted her cat body back.

Liz Lipperman said...

Donnell, you made me want to go back and reread REBECCA. You're so right about character growth. I can't tell you how many contest entries I've judged where I have to say I didn't like the heroine. Maybe I should be a bit more tolerant.

You go, girl, on the new story. Is this your cozy?

Liz Lipperman said...

If you haven't already figured it out, Margaret writes Middle Grade...and Gnomes!

Love this excerpt, Margaret. It brings out all my empathy vibes for your loner heroine.

Thanks for playing.

Liz Lipperman said...

Ha! Edie, do you think we should tell everyone Belle is a cat in a woman's body?????

What fun. For anyone interested, you can find this book on Amazon. It's called CATTITUDE by Edie Ramer. I can't wait to find the time to read it.

Mary Marvella said...

Now you'll be all better! Interesting comments and excerpts, ladies.

Tiffinie Helmer said...

Liz, this is too much fun. Loved your character and can't wait to read the book to see what happens in the editor's office. I hope the editor is hot. :)

Loved everyone else's posts too. Here is mine. This is on my current wip, HUNTED, set in Alaska.

“Well, hell. I’ve had sex with everyone here.” Tern Maisky’s gaze swept the airplane hanger. Four of her former beaus stood next to the Cessna on tundra tires, chatting it up, and outfitted like they were headed on the same Geocaching trek she was.

“Except you refused to put out for me when I wanted to experiment in college.” Nadia Hanson, best friend extraordinaire, came to a stop next to her, giving a slow whistle at the impressive line-up of testosterone. “Damn, girl. Remind me again why you let these guys go.”

All eyes turned their direction. They stood in a row like a reception line from hell.

Tern tightened her hold on the strap of her backpack. She had no problem meeting each of the men’s stares, except Gage Fallon’s. The bastard had walked out on her without a word six months ago. Not even an email or lousy text message to explain the hard dumping he’d given her. “I should tuck tail and run right now,” Tern said.

“And let these guys prove that they’re better at Geocacheing than you? You’re the one who introduced them to it,” Nadia pointed out, knowing it would put her back up.

Sure enough, Tern straightened her shoulders and sauntered forward with a walk that was part take-no-prisoners and part promise-to-rock-your-world.

Liz Lipperman said...

Mary, thanks for checking this out. I wish you would play!

Liz Lipperman said...

Tiffanie, here are the next few lines:

Jackie Frazier looked up from a stack of papers, her eyes scanning Jordan before her lips curved in a half-smile. “He’s waiting.”

With dark curly hair that looked like it had a mind of its own and small, beady eyes, Egan’s secretary could have easily passed for the Gilda Radner’s alter ego, Roseanne Roseannadanna.

Jordan took a deep breath, then pushed through the door to where Dwayne Egan sat behind a large desk piled high with newspapers and file folders. Expecting to see a tall distinguished businessman, she was surprised to find the forty-ish editor short with a receding hairline, looking more like Joe Pesci than the Michael Douglas she’d imagined.

Make that Joe Pesci with huge ears!

She stifled a giggle as she took a closer look. With his bushy eyebrows, dark mustache and big ears, Dwayne Egan could be Mr. Potato Head’s brother, minus the black top hat. She tried to concentrate on something other than his ears, but it was a losing battle. She wondered if he could hear the whispers of disgruntled employees from across the room.


Sorry about the expectation, Tiff!

Your excerpt definitely made me want to read more to see how your girl would handle four exes all on one trip. And even a hint of girl on girl action??

Good job.

Lindsay said...

I can't wait to read all the fulls now that I've had a taste of the beginnings.