So Nita Act One

Writing is hard.

Now that my whine is out of the way, I really thought when I sent the severely rewritten Act One to Krissie and Bob that I was done. I knew it was kind of slow, but you know, it’s Act One, so there’s some set-up there . . . .

Nope, it’s slow. I have analyzed this sucker, charted it, looked at conflict boxes, I’m ready to scream. And the horrible thing is, I can hear the wrongness of my rationalization even as I make it: But I need that information.

Readers don’t need information, they need story. Must tattoo that on the inside of my eyelids.

Here’s the first part of Act One:

Part 1:
1. Nita in car vs Button (intro Nita),
2. Nick in Bar vs Vinnie (into Nick),
3. Nita in Bar vs Nick and Vinnie (first meet),
4. Nita vs. Rab, finds scupper,
5. Nick vs. Belia on phone,
6. Nita vs. Nick (scupper),
7. Nick vs. Nita (passes out in his arms).

It’s a romance novel. It starts when Nita meets Nick, which is Scene 3. Every scene that N&N aren’t together is going to slow this down. Act Two and Three they’re together most of the time, but Act One, there are big stretches where they’re not. That’s not good in a romance novel.

But it’s also Nita’s book. It’s about her evolution, her arc, so I think the first scene, where she’s trying to deal with a lot of things, may be necessary, possibly with more cuts (argh, now I have to break down the scene into beats). Nick’s first scene, the second scene in the book . . . maybe not. But there’s so much information in there, who Nick is, the impact of scupper, smiting Binky . . .

Readers don’t need information, they need story.

Story doesn’t happen in that scene until Nick torches the teddy bear. He can’t do that in front of Nita. (Expletive here.)

The last two scenes are all action, Nita and Nick together. Leave them alone. Shorten the bar stuff, especially Nick’s scene, Nick’s talk with Belia, Nita making the toddy with Rab. My brains are bleeding out my ears.

Then Part 2 is Nita vs Button (talking about Nick and the shooting), Nick vs Jeo (talking about Nita and Jeo as heir), Nita’s home invasion (all action; she thinks Nick sent the guy). Cut the whole thing? It solidifies Nita’s relationship with Button, an important subplot. It’s really about Button . . .

Part 3 is the breakfast scene, which goes on too long but at least it’s N&N. Then the Mayor warns Nick and the captain warns Nita, so symmetry about authority figures trying to block relationship, plus they’re short scenes (cut the one with the captain).

Part 4 is the black hole. Nita talks to Button, Nick talks to Vinnie, Nick goes to the Historical Society, Nita asks a lot of people questions . . .

Part 5 is the two bombshells, Nita at the Motel and Nick in Hell, intro Max. They’re apart, but it’s story and it moves. Leave that alone.

Part 6 is dealing with Forcas and the act climax with Richiel, N&N together the whole time, definitely a romance novel. Leave that alone.

But those two parts only resonate because of what’s been set-up before. Okay it’s Act One, there’s gonna be set-up, damn it–

Readers don’t need set-up, they need story.


Okay, fine, I’ve got to go back in Act One and do beat analyses.

I’d say “Screw it” and go on to Act Two, but I got a good look ta Act Two last night, and it’s worse.

Writing is hard.


I put the first scene up again here (it’s on the Works in Progress page above, but you have to do a deep dive to get to it so just hit that link below):

The Devil in Nita Dodd, Scene 1, 2021

If you have time, tell me the places where you skim.

85 thoughts on “So Nita Act One

  1. I feel like I have an intuitive understanding of what you mean by story, but when I try to dig into it, I end up confused. So, if you take out all the information, you’re not going to have a story either, right? So the problem is information that’s not … what? Moving?

    1. Think about when you sit down to read. You open a book, and the first page pretty much says, “This is a book about X who is in this trouble/conflict” and the idea is that X is so interesting and whatever present trouble/conflict she’s in is so entertaining that you keep reading. Somewhere in those first pages is a promise: this will be a book about X doing this: solving a murder, falling in love with Y, saving the universe, whatever. From then on, that promise sets reader expectation, the reason she keeps reading. She wants to see that happen. She’s open to how that happens, she wants to be surprised, but that’s the story she wants: a mystery, a romance, an epic, whatever.

      Everything that gets in the way of that is going to slow things down. The worst is when an author stops the story and just tells the reader what’s going on (unless it’s omniscient PoV, but this isn’t), and I don’t do that, but I do have a lot of people TALKING to each other instead of doing things that show what’s going on. I’m good at the talking bits, but eventually, the reader is going to want to see what’s going on, not have a character tell her about it.

      Example: The first scene is Nita vs. Button, trying to negotiate their new partnership. They’re arguing politely (conflict!) so that’s good, but they’re still sitting in a car talking. Nita tries to get out three times, so there’s action there, and it escalates, but still . . . talking.

      Then later Button drops Nita off at home, realizes there’s somebody in the house and goes in with Nita. Button shoots the guy inside who’s trying to kill Nita, and Nita takes her gun and shoots the guy again (he’s dead) to cover for Button so the evidence of the shooting will be on her hand. Neither of them says, “We’re partners now,” or discusses what it means that Button saves Nita’s life or that Nita saves Button’s career, the reader knows that from the action.

      The problem is, without the first scene to set that up (AAAAAAAAAAAAArgh, set-up), the later scene has no resonance. The fact that they argue in the first scene makes the scene in which they automatically step up for each other a revelation: they’re going to be okay together.

      So you need set-up, but you need to keep things moving. Which is hard. She whined.

      1. Maybe a simpler explanation is:

        You know when you’re reading and you start to skim? You’re looking for the story.

          1. Action isn’t always story. When I watch “action” movies…I always skim the chase scenes. They are too long and too stupid for me. I hate them. There is no new way to do one that interests me. The last one I watched was Italian Job. Plus after the first time I see an action movie, I fast forward through fight scenes. I started to pay attention to when I fast forward. Because then sometimes the movie is then 30 minutes.

          2. There are good action scenes. There’s a great one in Venom when Eddie realizes he’s been infected with a violent parasite. The Bad Guy sent a team of hit men to take Eddie out, and the parasite finds out, so Eddie’s trying to negotiate with the bad guys while his body does things he can’t control. Action as pay-off for foreshadowing and character. Most of the rest off the action scenes in that movie are completely skippable, but that one is key.

            It’s here:


          3. Venom is probably one of the movies where I don’t fast forward because there is much humor and story. But chase scenes still get to me (although, again in Venom, well done).


      2. Much food for thought. I think I’m beginning to understand, the example helps a lot. Thank you.

      3. To begin with I love every word out of your mouth. I don’t think you can write bad dialogue. I got so much information in your new est draft. But I feel I didn’t know who Nina was. Why would she drunk dial a partner she didn’t know and let her drive her to a crime scene? I didn’t feel like getting to the crime scene was the most important part. Although I felt from what you said about this draft it should be.
        I thought that Nita’s prime directive was protect her town.
        Maybe the problem is that Nina is drunk and that’s not really need it at all. It makes for some cute and clever observations but there’s no real sense of the Nita we’re going to meet. From your writing about the writing I get the sense that you have read this so many times that you’re getting confused.
        Please don’t throw this story away. I love it so much.

        1. Maybe I’ll just throw the first scene away. It appears to suck (g).
          Thanks for the encouragement!

  2. Did Bob and/or Krissy tell you it’s slow? Is there any chance you are (gasp) over-analyzing this? Course, I’m the type to mutter “good enuff” and seal it off, my standards are much lower than yours!

    Hang in there! Eagerly awaiting this story!

    1. Me? Overthink something? Nah.
      Krissie thinks it might be slow, but she’s read it before, so she’s not sure.

  3. I’d never be able to write the book. But, I’m really good at reading them.

    I’ve also become a more discering reader since hanging out here. Rest assured, your effort is not wasted.

  4. Last night I read an article in the Guardian about Douglas Adams and his writers notes and manuscripts. It was headlined that Adams found writing torturous sometimes. It was an interesting article, but I found it weird that they kept harping on the idea of Adams not always enjoying the process of writing as something huge and revelatory – it just sounded like every writer I have ever heard.

    1. “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” Douglas Adams

      I remember reading a foreword of his in Hitchhikers about taking lots of baths and the publishers finally turning up and just taking what he had written, though he does seem to have written most of his books, while locked in a room by a well meaning person or publisher depending how far past his deadline he was

    1. I didn’t actually skim at any point, but I can tell you the two places where I suddenly perked up in interest:

      When Nita gets upset about it being Jimmy who’s dead, and then when Nita tells Button…well, the speech starting with “Detective Button, something very wrong is happening on my island”

      But the reason for the second one is because it resonates with a lot of Nita’s style of speaking in the early part of the scene, so I felt like it was resolving a mini-mystery about who Nita is and why she talks like that.

      I have this feeling like most of the stuff here isn’t really cuttible, but it could be postponed to make this scene tighter. Nita and Jason’s history doesn’t feel actually important to the question of whether Nita is going to investigate, nor how people tend to react to Button. But probably important overall.

    2. I enjoyed it and didn’t skim! But there were two things I noticed. One was the comment about Vinny deserving to die because of the neon alone, which I didn’t really get why the neon was so bad (but that could just be me). The other was something I would characterize as closer to run-on sentences than to infodump. In other words I didn’t trip over the info you were revealing, but rather the way you were cramming all this info into a few very long sentences. So I was wondering if it would make a difference if you broke these up into shorter sentences? If you want, I can go back and tell you exactly which sentences.

    3. This sentence made me skim – the names of the places all ran together and felt like a setting info dump. ““We are across the street from Hell Bar, a once great dive bar in the old part of Deville, the main town on Demon Island, home of the world-semi-famous Devil’s Playground Amusement Park and many other tourist traps with equally stupid names. Welcome to the island.””

      It also didn’t answer the question Button asked until the next paragraph.

      “Nita blinked at the menace beneath the fluff. “Iron Butterfly. Steel Magnolia. Unobtainium Button.” Button didn’t look amused.” Skimmed this. When she started to ramble about donuts, also skimmed, but I believe I remember payoff on that. Is Nita a rambler normally, or just bc of the alcohol?

      I guess I see this scene as integral, and all of getting there, seeing the body, in the bar, all of that seems like scene one to me. Scene two would be like a new location, I guess (I know that’s not really how it works), but this just feels like the start of scene one. Tighten it, maybe, but keep it?

      Skimmed the socks, and the bits about Jason and Nita’s relationship, too. Nita seems like she has a lot of internal dialog here, too.

  5. I don’t read for story, I read for character. Not saying story isn’t important – it is – but if I don’t find the characters appealing, the best written story is a DNF. On the other hand, if I enjoy the character, and their interactions with other characters makes me smile, I will read a rambling, no-point-to-it story all the way to the end and enjoy every minute of it. I prefer if it has both character and story, but, for me, character is most important. Which is my roundabout way of saying, without the interactions between Nita and Button, and between Nick and his team, I won’t care what happens to them.

    You say set-up like it’s a dirty word, but set-up is vital to the reader’s enjoyment of the story. Please don’t cut too much.

    1. Yes–I re-read Jenny Crusie novels because I miss the characters–and the banter, of course.

  6. I hate to say this, and I kinda fear for my life, saying it in public, surrounded by your superfans and all, but I did skim. I skimmed a lot. (This is weird for me because I normally do not skim your writing.)

    Even at the beginning, I’m asking, “Why are we starting here? What’s the urgency that gets us starting at this very moment, sitting in the car?” Why not start with the drunk-dialing, or with the hostile interaction with Jason, for instance (which is where I stopped skimming and started getting into it to the degree I’d expect from one of your stories)?

    I’m also confused why there’s so much focus on Button in the first half of the scene; it almost feels like it’s going to be a story about her, told from a Watson-style narrator.

    1. No fear, we do open discussion here. The only thing we bar is personal attacks.

      That’s an excellent question. I think I chose to start here because Nita’s about to go into the bar and start a huge character arc, so this is the calm before the storm. But it may be the wrong place.

      1. I can’t speak for why other people are expressing concern about giving you feedback, but I didn’t think you’d been whining lately! Here’s what I was noting as I was commenting:
        a) I’m hyper-sensitive myself, so it’s hard not to project that onto other people even though I’ve noted (and admired) your equanimity on that front; I know intellectually that constructive feedback is vital, but it’s hard to get my emotions to be on the same page as my brain here;
        b) there’s some role conflict here as I move tenuously from passive fan (Yay! Jennifer Crusie! Everything she writes is my favorite!) to reader/responder (Eek! Something is wrong with me or the world is upside down because this isn’t my favorite!–even though I know that I’m seeing this at an earlier point in the revision process than I do when reading your published novels), which I’m dealing with in part by apologizing because I can’t help feeling like It’s Not You, It’s Me;
        c) even if you’re good with critique, you’re not the only one reading these comments since this is a fan community as well, and I don’t want to yuck on anyone else’s yum;
        d) I had just finished responding to a slew of really disappointing student papers, and it can be hard for me to tell when I might be carrying a negative attitude around with me.

        1. People usually drink after I critique them. I have no business being sensitive.

          But even more than that, I asked for feedback, especially for the parts where people began to skim. Be pretty thick of me to be insulted because they answered my question.

          But yeah, I know other writers are very sensitive, understandably so, which is why they don’t ask for feedback. it’s also why it’s a good idea to wait twenty-four hours before responding to feedback, to get past the protective instincts to look at comments clearly.

          But this is all good. Really. Makes me think.

  7. I have to say I see where JennQ and CarolC are coming from. I miss the earlier versions of your story which had scenes that fell before this one. I understand your desire to start further along in the action but I think the story may have lost some charm and some flow that way. This ties into my earlier comment about some of your sentences being akin to run-on sentences in that they are trying to cram too much into a single sentence. So the sentences aren’t actually run-on and the info isn’t actually info dump but the scene as a whole feels like it’s trying too hard sometimes. I’m wondering if you could inject a little more breathing room into the scene, by breaking up some sentences, and/or by adding back in a scene and/or something else? I like JennQ’s thought about starting with the call for help?

    Having said that, I’m not an editor or a professional fiction writer like so many others here so I’m totally willing to be convinced that I’m wrong! Also, please forgive me if I’ve said anything offensive; I know you guys have very decided opinions about what’s permissible to say when a writer asks for thoughts, and I’m still learning what those permissible things are!

    Still dying to read Nita though! Just sorry it’s such a struggle for you…

    1. No, no, the only thing we don’t allow here is personal attacks. Opinions are welcome.
      There was never a scene that came before this one, it always started outside the bar. The very first version is up there in the Works in Progress menu, and it’s significantly different, but it’s still Nita before she goes into the bar.

      1. It’s been so long since I read Nita that I’m probably getting it confused. I thought there was a scene when Button picked Nita up at home, before the bar, but maybe it was when Button dropped Nita off at home, after the bar.

        1. Yep. The whole home invasion thing.
          The first draft of this was terrible (it’s on the WiP page) but it was at the crime scene.

      2. Well, we also don’t tell you how to change the story when we critique. At least, that’s what I’ve learned in my years here. We say, X didn’t work for me, not if you want to tighten it up you can cut these words and change these 3 words to this 1. You’re the writer and it’s your story to write. I probably could have said that better, but I think you’ll understand what I am trying to say.

  8. I’m a reader not a writer.

    These are the scenes I highlighted when reading because they took me out of the story.

    “We are across the street from Hell Bar, a once great dive bar in the old part of Deville, the main town on Demon Island, home of the world semi-famous Devil’s Playgournd Amusement Park and many other tourist traps with equally stupid names.”

    The sentence starts in passive voice so slows the dialogue down. You have already pointed across the street so I don’t think “we are across the street from” needs to be part of the dialogue anyway. I’m also getting a lot of information in one go and don’t know why, but because you have put it in speech marks I have slowed down as a reader to pay attention. If you were just giving me this information as setting I would probably read that sentence a lot faster (if that makes sense).

    “As for the Devil in the bar, when the park opens in May ever asshat tourist in green-make-up will swear he’s a demon, so that’s pretty much business as usual around here.”

    Wait, what? Nita and Button are talking about being drunk at a crime scene and Nita starts to ramble on (as somebody drunk will do) about her birthday and her mother (as she tries to explain why she is drunk) but then the above scene is planted in the middle of that dialogue. I feel it interrupts the flow of the discussion between Nita and Button about poodle pants and being drunk.

    I hope this next point is not crossing any line with you, because as I stated I’m a reader not a writer. As a reader, I would probably have a better understanding about why Nita is sitting outside the pub late at night if she tells Button at the start about receiving a text message from inside the bar rather than later in the discussion. Also, if Nita has Button on speed dial, this suggests they may have already met so why is she welcoming her to the island?

    The dialogue in the car between Nita, Button and Jason worked for me. I have no problem with the story starting outside the bar with a body on the pavement and Nita being drunk. I love these characters, so please don’t give up on them.

    1. The only crossing the line in critique is personal attack and rewriting somebody else’s work; pinpointing weaknesses is GOOD.

      Have I been fragile lately that everybody is worried about this?

      I just gave Bob some feedback on his Shane story that probably made him think horrible things about me, but we suck it up. After all, I asked for feedback.

      1. I don’t think it’s that you, specifically, have been particularly fragile–I think it’s just that at this point we are *all* feeling pretty fragile and sensitive, and we’re very aware of it and trying to be careful of each other. It’s been a hard year.

        1. Oh, very good point.
          I appreciate the kindness, I just don’t want people to hesitate pointing out weaknesses. But increased kindness in a time of great stress is a good point.

        2. Like some other people, I preferred some of the earlier versions you said were too long. I liked her brother, for example and everything that went with it. I miss him. It feels like when you condensed you lost some charm. That being said, but have now read every draft you’ve put out, I think, which means I’ve read it maybe over 20 times and I can’t come to it fresh anymore. Maybe liking the earlier drafts better is just remembering the freshness of the time.

          I do have a question: how necessary is the stuff with her ex Jason? This is hard to tell because we haven’t read the rest of the book and don’t know how necessary he is. I’ve never liked the bits about Jason as much as the rest. I know he is the reason Nita has a new partner and I know there is tension at work due to it, but is all this necessary? I can imagine some plots where it would be (eg Jason is a big bad guy). Anyway, it seems that bringing him into it and explaining all of that background is what slows things down for me. I don’t want an answer BTW, but it is just a stray wondering when I should be working.

  9. With the caveat that I’ve already read this a couple times so I kind of know where it’s going … I pretty much skimmed to here:

    “Nita opened the door and put one foot out into the cold.”

    All the preceding did feel somewhat static. Plus, if I had not read it before I would only be sure who my protagonist is because Nita gets some internal monologue. Button has more authority/control and it takes a little too long to find out why Nita is impaired or to see why that’s of interest.

    The *necessary* information (including why Nita is there at all and why Button brought her) could be salted into the later dialogue, but – since you asked! – I felt like the *essential* information is:

    Somebody’s been shot; Nita has responded even though she’s off-duty and impaired;
    Nita finds out the corpse is Jimmy and goes to DefCon 2.

    Nita’s history with Jason: I don’t remember that being essential, but it’s been a while since I read the drafts. 🙂 Don’t remember if his hostility to her contributes to the central mystery, or if it’s just part and parcel of the police department trying to sideline Nita. I mean, it’s a small/closed environment; any single people who aren’t completely repulsed by each other have probably dated each other.

    I don’t recall anybody actually seeing those Bad Ass socks so maybe we don’t hear about them unless someone does. The poodle pajamas get another reference later if I recall correctly. And all the fun business names, Button would already have taken note of. Maybe those could get dropped in like Easter eggs later on, rather than as part of Nita garrulously impaired. Because they *are* fun but don’t get us to “OMG it’s Jimmy, WTF happened, and who is this spooky bombshell, and if bullets went through him why isn’t he dead/if she drank scupper why isn’t she [whatever it does to normal humans, can’t remember].”

    1. “Salted” is the perfect word for this! I hope you don’t mind if I borrow it to use elsewhere?

      Thank goodness with computer composition we can just move info-data to a second file, streamline the action-data, and then re-salt the action file.

    2. Jason blocking Nita and going on about already knowing who did it (and they’re dead) felt significant to me. His history with Nita not so much.

  10. I skimmed the bar description except for mention of the Body. Totally skimmed the SUV and Jonathan (is that even his name, can’t remember) and the whole description of why she is sick. I perked up at “You’re missing the point. Somebody is scaring somebody in Hell Bar. I’m against that. I must fix that,” which feels like a great illumination of Nita’s character and motivations. Maybe you could have Nita open the act with Button’s line: “Drunk. At a crime scene. In poodle pajamas. Not to mention, investigating the Devil,” and then segue into the apology about drunk dialing, “must fix that” and arguments?

    And I got thrown out of story by the repetition of “one foot out of the car” – it’s not reading to me as funny or indecisive, just as repetitive – maybe because of how spaced out they are.

    Re-writing sucks.

  11. This feels snappier to me than the last time I read it.

    The first sentence slows me down every time though. You’ve just given us the date and time so we don’t need to have the time repeated in the first sentence and later on you tell us it’s her birthday so maybe that can go too? Whatever you do, I think that first sentence doesn’t need quite so much crammed in.

    I agree with a couple of others about “We are across the street from Hell Bar, a once great dive bar in the old part of Deville, the main town on Demon Island, home of the world semi-famous Devil’s Playgournd Amusement Park and many other tourist traps with equally stupid names.” and the socks being things I skimmed.

    This might be completely off base but do we need Jason in this scene? Could we get the information we need from Frank? Most of the Jason dialogue feels like backstory to me. But that could just be me.

    Also every time I have read this I feel bad that she drinks all this coffee that she hates. It won’t actually sober her up. Only time will do that so why not just bring her a big bottle of water and stall until she seems slightly more sober.

    Hope I haven’t overstepped any lines.

    1. There aren’t any lines. It’s a critique.

      I have obviously been whining too much on here. You’re all doing fine.

      1. I think we’re all just paranoid about offending. This is a lovely environment, and none of us want to ruin that!

    2. A small disagreement:

      I almost never read the time/place headers so I think it is necessary in the beginning paragraph.

  12. I haven’t read the rewrite or the comments yet, before I do, I was thinking about skimming and scenes without the romance characters, and I’m thinking about Sophie and Phin. I don’t skim for the romance there, and it is a romance, right?

    I like Phin and his friends and family and council. I might sometimes skim Sophie’s sister and Clea, but I’d never miss Liz, or Davy and Phin, or Rachel. I like that we meet the characters and have a sense of who they are before they meet each other.

    In other books, I skim for romance, but I think the story here is so great, and is so much about the characters, that the book would be all surface without it…

    1. You know, the last time I re-read Temptation, I skimmed the Clea/Amy conversation, too, even though it was in Sophie’s PoV. Must think about that.

    2. Way back when you were making a team book with Nita and the Devil as co-leaders. I think that makes for a longer book if they are all to be interesting. I learn so much about craft from you which is interesting even though I actually loathe writing myself. I’m a great reader though and what you have taught makes it more fun for me to be a reader

      Nonetheless, some of my favorite books are nearly 1000 pages long. Maybe you are being too ruthless in keeping to your normal length goals? It is the snappy conversation that I love in your books and the interesting relationships The more the better. It all feels a little too condensed to me now. But again, I’ve read this first scene so many times I may not be a good judge anymore.

  13. By my count, Button tries to get Nita to leave 6 times before Frank turns up. There are brilliant lines in Nita’s response each of those 6 times and I’d hate to lose them, but I think I started skimming after the 3rd or 4th time. That might be because I’ve read every draft you’ve posted of the scene, but 6 strikes me as a lot.

    But I’ve got a wider question… How does Nita being drunk at this point add to the story? It seems a complicated way to get her and Button to the crime scene, plus you say it’s out of character for her. The scene feels more like Button’s, just because Button’s focused.

    I’ve got the same kind of question about the scupper: it seems to me to be a complicated way to get Nick to realize Nita isn’t totally human, plus it kind of cuts into my liking of her. That pulled me out of the story.

    1. I skimmed until I could figure out why Nita was drunk at the crime scene, because I was trying to understand why she would be drunk at work. I think it’s meant to show how dedicated Nita is to her work and to the island (which I understand by the time we get to the “something very wrong is happening on my island” piece), but at first it made it hard for me to get a handle on her character because we get the impaired version of her speech and thought processes first, without knowing her regular self as the baseline.

      To Philby’s point below, the reason Button got pulled into this also didn’t connect for me, because Nita was clearly too drunk to drive so I didn’t understand how she got to the crime scene and thought she must have called her new partner for a ride.

      I hope that’s helpful! I’m really looking forward to reading the whole story…

    2. Button says, “Wait” three times, so it’s more that Nita tries to get out of the car three times, but then there’s a fourth when she does get out, so yep, that’s too much.

      Interesting about it seeming to be Button’s scene, somebody else here (SORRY don’t remember who) said the same thing.

      I definitely wanted her drunk, but now I don’t remember why. It’s the reason she dials Button by mistake, it’s the reason she has another drink in the bar and why that drink hits her so hard beyond the scupperness of it, but other than that . . . her mother calling, maybe? I need to look at that again.

      1. I also thought Button was the most intriguing character in the scene.

        She’s like an iceberg as she clearly still has much to reveal as a character. I could be seeing her this way simply because Nita is in hot-mess mode.

      2. Any chance Nita could just be heavily medicated instead of drunk? The drunk thing has been something you’ve been fighting readers with the whole time because it can lower a person’s opinion of Nita – drunk at work – so you have an uphill battle for the reader to bond or care about Nita. Heavily medicated could still lead to the poor choice of having a drink and her drinking the scupper.

        1. Could she just be sick?

          In a fit of inconsistency I’ve never liked the initial drunkenness but I do like the scupper scenes. Go figure

  14. I think I might have read this a few too many times. I’m skimming most of the conversation, up to the point Nita is talking about the wrong things that are happening on her island.

    I’m annoyed by Button stopping Nita from getting out of the car so many times.

    I have a mental hiccup when Nita is describing how she misdialled Button, it doesn’t make sense, texts and phone numbers are in different places in the phone, if you’re trying to phone a text number, you’re using contact information directly, not last dialled phone numbers.

    Frank and Jason feel like they’re misdirection away from the central problem.

    Also, if Nita is in the front seat with a hoodie, and Jason gets in the back, how does he know she’s wearing his sweatshirt?

  15. Note: I have not read any of the previous versions.
    I come away from this confused about what the Devil (as a being rather than a tourist thing) has to do with anything (something about the text message, but it maybe gets lost in all the themed names?), and thinking maybe too much attention was paid to Nita’s clothing (poodles, socks, jacket).

  16. It’s not so much that I’m skimming as I’m wondering. The more I read the opening, the more I understand your issues with it. We know things about Nita because we’ve read ahead but looking at it with first-time-reader eyes, it feels boggy or something.

    The pivot point in the scene is when Nita tells herself that no one should be afraid on her island thereby deciding to fix the problem even if it kills her. If this were a cozy, it would be okay to have that point further down in the scene because people in cozies need to get to the point where they have to Do Something because they are civilians and don’t know what they are doing and at first are reacting out of fear but since Nita’s job is Doing Something she needs to hit that earlier and harder I think.

    Question: Would it be stronger if the reason Nita was so fired up to get to the crime scene was because her anonymous caller/texter told her that it was Jimmy who was killed and something like she knows why or she’s the only one who can put the pieces together because she was the only one who saw that there was wrongness on the island? As a cop she’s going to be used to not getting every case so unless she has a reason for being there that’s personal right out of the gate it just seems like she’s butting in and that has 80s cop movie vibes and no one wants that anymore. I just watched an 80s cop movie. It was awful. I think you have to connect Nita’s mental list of the weird things that have been happening on the island that no one else has noticed to Jimmy’s death sooner and stronger.

    Nita and Button can have the conversation starting with

    “Detective Dodd, what are we doing?” You’re drunk, poodle pj’s, not our crime scene and so on.

    And then Nita going into how there have been weird things happening on the island and her caller linked Jimmy’s death to those weird things. The bit about the doughnuts could go here since we all know that’s A Clue. Also, since she feels guilty about having yelled at him that humanizes her a bit. Having Nita be the only one who’s noticed the wrongness establishes her to both Button and the reader as a good cop who notices things and wants to right wrongs. So many people have commented that Nita’s being drunk bothered them and I’m wondering if the real reason for that has less to go with alcohol consumption (she’s an adult and not driving et cetera) and more to do with her seeming out of control of herself. Highlighting her competence might lessen the impact of her being drunk and in a place she clearly shouldn’t be.

    Maybe for calling Button, Nita was trying to call a specific person and transposed numbers? Like maybe she was trying to call Frank or the ME or someone who could confirm/deny Jimmy’s death and she got Button instead? Throwing that out there since it’s snagged people.

    You could also put in something about how there are no guns on the island in the conversation with Button.

    I think there’s a lot in the confrontation with Jason that can go. He and Button would have met, she was at the station that day and he probably would have been there (unless you wanted a red herring and Jason was off island and just came back for the night shift. But you did not ask for plot bunnies).

    Does any of that make sense. I may have driven completely off the road. I was also trying to avoid re-writing you.

    1. LOL, thank you for avoiding the rewriting.
      Yes, it all makes sense. I’m just cogitating over here.
      I’m also doing the same thing to Bob’s WiP on Shane, so I’m both giving and receiving the Massive Rewrite Needed message.

    2. I think part of why this feels like Button’s scene is because there’s quite a bit of info about Button, though less than in the earlier versions. If you cut Jason out, that’d cut some of that. You could move it to a later scene.

  17. I’m doing revisions on my current book before sending it out to my editor. Writing is hard.

    No time to reread and comment, so I’ll just whine with you. Always helpful, that’s me.

  18. I don’t skim your writing… ever.

    However, I had to re-read this section a few times to understand the timeline, and I’m still a little confused:

    “I had a tea toddy because I was sick from a bad doughnut this afternoon and then my mother called and said I had to have dinner with her tonight because it’s my birthday, so I had another . . .”

    Nita is in her pj’s, drunk but functional enough to answer the phone so I’m assuming she hasn’t been to bed yet, and she’s having dinner with her mother “tonight”? Did it happen 6 hours ago, or is it happening in 17 hours? I generally don’t register that one day has ended until after I go to sleep, no matter what time of night that occurs.

    1. The tonight thing: It’s 1AM on Tuesday, she’s having dinner Tuesday night. But yeah, that’s confusing.

  19. Haven’t read the Nita book yet so no specific comments on that, but a couple of broader thoughts to cheer you on:

    1 = As you describe this process, I’m reminded of the advice that goes something like “If you’ve got a problem in Act 3, it’s probably really about Act 1”–something I’ve found true in my own writing. And if also true for other writers, this time you’re spending on this redo, however challenging, is likely well spent.

    2 = Somewhere you mentioned that sometimes you find your scene ratio high on the talking side and perhaps not as balanced with action as you’d like. As others have said, your affinity for banter draws a lot of readers to your style so many actually like that.

    But since you mentioned it as your own observation of something that may be bogging down this Nita book for you, I got to wondering if that was really more tied to your first draft writing process and just a necessary step. You’ve said before that your characters come to you in an auditory way, so it would seem natural to me that you’d capture that gift first and then go back to flesh out the rest.

    Which is a long way to say that although you may be still thrashing this out, that you still got the juice flowing initially with all the talk scenes even if you reduce them now to get on the track to balance:)

  20. I don’t skim your work until the re-reading several times stage. I skip the David/Cynthie plot in Bet Me now, because I don’t like either of them, and I want to get back to the food and the people. But I’ve re-read the book so much I have fav scenes I want to get to.

    I think part of the issue is that we grow as people and as writers. The book that would have been fine to write at 40 won’t do now. You’ve grown enough–and I think are still growing–that this book has to be better somehow, new and yet still clearly your work, with the strong characters and banter, plus of course the romance that we all love.

    When my editor sends back anything I sulk for a day or two, but invariably the piece is better for more work on it. Thanks for doing the hard work.

  21. I have every confidence you can make this work!

    FWIW, I flinched at the sixth paragraph, which feels like too much info for my tired brain to absorb…and then got the same sensation in the eighth paragraph….and then started skimming, looking for action.

  22. I skimmed the beginning paragraph here we are across the street thing and then again from the point Jason gets in the car until he gets out and Button talks again. Jason offered nothing there that I wanted to read as to me it felt like he was interrupting the connection I was watching form with Button and Nita which is what the scene felt like to that point. I skipped through her excuses on why she came. The body being her friend seems much more important and urgent but that info doesn’t come early enough for me. When Nita discovers the body is her friend is when I really sat up and started reading slower.

  23. Late in commenting, I know. I’ve been reading mostly Harlan Coben kind of books lately so my 2 cents: I love that first sentence. Then they get together at the body, giving up pertinent information as they move from place to place. I love your snazzy dialogue, but maybe as they do stuff. Too much sitting in the car explaining.

  24. Question: who is Button to Nita and why is she so important to her so early in their relationship? They just started working together, right? They seem like very good friends for folks who just started working together. Or did I miss something from an earlier piece I haven’t read?

    I liked the back and forth between the two women but did get a bit confused about who was talking when at points.

    And also, this bit literally was the only part I skimmed.

    “For the record, I didn’t tell him to leave. He left on his own when I wouldn’t agree to bear his children. Which–”

    “I don’t care,” Button said. “I care about the shooter . . .”

    Jason was an extraneous character at this point so this quick aside took me out of the story.

    I’m very much looking forward to reading this.

  25. I found these whilst hunting for something else in an Amelia Peabody file:

    I trust the Reader has not skipped over the preceding paragraphs. The aim of literature is to improve the understanding, not to provide idle entertainment.

    In composing, as a general rule, run your pen through every
    other word you have written; you have no idea what vigor
    it will give to your style.

    1. But understanding is communicated through idle entertainment; literature should be compelling not didactic.

  26. For me, the very beginning of this scene isn’t slow so much as soft-serve. I miss the details from earlier versions that piqued my interest in Nita, that established her as being odd: that she was perennially, abnormally cold, and the rumor that she could determine guilt (and this might explain why Button wants to be her partner so much) by shaking hands. The stuff that’s left–the poodle pajamas (which I love), the socks, mother issues that drive her to drink (wry), drinking toddies, misdialing Button–are all good and reasonable but don’t really rise much past quirky. And I will say that the socks threw me off a little–too self-congratulatory?

    Once Jason enters the car though the scene sparks. I see snark, Nita’s intellect, her fierceness to protect her inhabitants, and I’m happily hooked.

  27. I find the current revision a definite improvement on past versions. I think Mort hasn’t been written out all the way yet — otherwise, why is the birthday still mentioned?

    It’s an education for me to think about what could be taken away rather than what could be added. Nope, didn’t skim a thing.

    So, I’ve decided that you need to clarify what is normal-strange and what is suddenly-strange. This is how I see it: all the relationships (Nita-Button, Nita-Jason, Nita-Frank) are normal-normal. They’re how I (the reader) enter the romance story.

    Normal-Strange is like world building. What’s not normal-normal about the world and people of this story?
    Examples of Normal-Strange = Demon Island, Nita (Is Sake correct? Did Nita’s special traits show up in the first scene? If so, I’d keep them there.)
    It helps me that in this first scene Button is more normal than Nita is. Also, it’s important that Nita is weird in a world where people are acting like they’re normal-normal while they live on weird Demon Island. That provides an itchy point that I (the reader) am not really comfortable with, but I’m aligning myself with Nita despite it.

    Suddenly-Strange includes all the things that are not normal and have started to happen on Demon Island. I would emphasize these big time in the first scene. They are wrong and only Nita recognizes how wrong.
    Examples of Suddenly-Strange = poisoned doughnut, a gun on the island, a shooting, several strangers showing up out of season, i.e., the drive by shooter and a guy calling himself the Devil

    Side Note
    I have trouble with Nita’s complete acceptance with Vinnie’s presumed death. I’d rather something else awakened her feelings for the guy who actually died. Also, it seemed as if Vinnie’s body was left untouched on the sidewalk while everyone else checked on other aspects of the murder.

    I agree with most of the comments that have been posted. Just adding my 2 cents’ worth.

    1. I actually miss Mort. It was that personal connection that got Nita there. However, the wanting to help someone shows a lot about Nita.

  28. Hi Jenny, I am a reader, I know you are not asking for what I LIKE, but I see scenes, somebody didn’t care for one description of the street and bar. I immediately “saw” a dark street, light shining from a sleazy bar a lamppost shining on a body. I also love the bad ass socks they are a Jenny voice to me giving me a little chuckle. Please don’t take them out. However I Have Read them and enjoyed them, so, if they have to go, too bad. Like everyone else I an anxious for you to finish the book, good luck.

  29. Your best opening, in my opinion (I’ve read your all).
    This line slays me each time: ‘Nita shrugged. “So we got an early asshat.” ‘

  30. For me, it felt like too many names–people and places–for an opening scene. It prevented me from entering the story. And I always want to enter your stories–your voice is unique and riveting. All that information made it feel like I was getting a crash course on the island, the cast, etc. but what I didn’t get is Nita. Who is she, what does she want, why am I rooting for her? I think what I wanted to know is why, if she never drinks, did she get drunk tonight? What was she doing when she got the call to action?

  31. Ugh. This always feels like I’m being rude. Apologies in advance.

    The first sentence feels like a “dark and stormy night” sentence. Too many details I don’t yet care about and not enough about Nita to make me care about her.
    Same with the “We are across the street from Hell Bar, a once great dive…” It felt like info dump and didn’t answer Button’s question.
    And I wanted to skim the whole history with Jason parts. I wanted to get back to the story, which, for me, is why is Nita drunk, in poodle pajamas (love that detail), and horning in on another detective’s murder investigation.

    I felt like I was being showered in details with no time to assimilate any of it until Nita discovered Jimmy was murdered. Then the scene had focus.
    To me, the scene lacked the charm of some of your earlier versions. I understand why you dropped Mort, but that version had a stronger reason for Nita to come to a crime scene drunk and in pajamas – her brother asked her to come and she didn’t expect to leave the car. And her interactions with Mort showed us much more of Nita’s character.

    Wow. I thought you had cut too much from this scene, not too little, but trying to explain to you why I didn’t like it as much as
    earlier versions made me realize you are right – too much set-up, not enough Nita. You really are amazing. And I still can’t wait to read this book.

  32. I’ve left comments throughout the comments. While, I didn’t skim a thing and I’ve read nearly every version, I can agree with the folks about the sentence with all the business names being skimmable.

    I miss Mort, may he rest in peace.

    I also hate coffee and would not have drunk it no matter how drunk I am. Nasty, vile stuff. 🤢

    Would meds work instead of a hot toddy?

    It does seem like Nita tries to get out of the car too often, despite the 3 peat.

    The one place I did get pulled out of the story was…

    “Button frowned at her, looking like a disapproving dandelion. “I talked to some of the guys at the station this afternoon. I got the impression that things might be a little dicey for you there.”

    Nita remembered the new captain scowling at her that morning. “Not so much.” “

    I couldn’t parse how “Not so much” was a response to Button’s sentence, “I got the impression…” To me it seemed like Nita was saying things weren’t that bad at the station but that conflicts with Nita memory of the captain scowling.

    Anyway, good luck! I hope this means it may be published soon. 🤞🏻

  33. They have just arrived at a crime scene. This is police banter before getting out of the car, which then will constitute the action. I like the banter. There is a lot going on in the banter-being drunk, being unwanted at crime scene, old office flame, new partner. Then there’s the whole setting foreshadowing-this isn’t anywhere normal.

    Nita’s “I need to fix my town” thing kinda has always bothered me-I remember you said it is her motivation. Nita is a police officer who has been following a series of what might be coincidences but she thinks not-why is keeping the peace, solving crimes and sending them up the river not sufficient motivation as a cop? To me it is obvious and does not require any words to convey especially between cops.

    There have to be police reasons she can’t wait until tomorrow-maybe witnesses are slightly less unreliable at the scene because they are too stunned or haven’t had time to make the lie, or just because that’s the way Nita rolls (she is a seasoned cop.

    Nita is an impulsive (in a competent way) apparent trainwreck of a character. Why not let her act that way from the beginning and provide the commentary as she does so? You could have them get out of the car right away and then you will have action sooner with the banter on the fly. So this is not her case (yet) and her ex is threatening her by pulling rank (I think), she’s going the fuck in and will deal with the consequences later.

    It’s not like most people have never gone to work drunk or hungover. Button should not be so worried about the drunk thing-she comes from a cop family and that, at least in fiction, is part of the milieu. And coffee doesn’t actually make you sober, though the stong emotions and adrenaline from pulling up at any crime scene with one cup of coffee in hand should be enough to render her functionally sober and able to do her job. Drunk does not always mean unable to perform some portion of some job adequately.

    So she’s in pjs-it’s late at night. When this is published, more of us will have had that experience and not always at night.

    Since she can walk, talk and do her job, you can get them out of car sooner and do as much of banter/info share during the action in the dialogue between police partners.

    The perfect can be the enemy of the good. The first scene has to be good enough to get to next. I don’t think I have ever stopped reading a book that early in.

    What I just read will get me to rest of book should that happen-and I hope it does.

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