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Before I start, do not forget,
writing's an art, so do not fret
if you should find that I am blind
to your fine flair, and be aware
this opinion — it is but one.
When approaching your opening chapter, I'm searching for specific elements that separate the chaff from the wheat, and each will be addressed under a different header.
Hook — does your opening have something that stops this reader putting down your book?
Beginning with children's song lyrics that have a possible dark meaning was a nice touch. It reminds me of the opening of some crime thrillers that James Patterson or similar authors wrote. You also introduce Miranda and her initial settings really well and with action. However, there wasn't much of a hook in the opening paragraph. The opening hook is that there's somebody on the phone and she might wonder who it is. If show more of her internal thoughts and have her think along the lines of nobody ever calls her at three o'clock in the afternoon, who could it possibly be, then you'll create more of a hook from this. To be honest, as somebody who has worked in many shops over the years, I found the idea that she would answer the phone in the middle of a customer transaction rather implausible. When I'm working on a till, I find it really, really annoying when a customer halts to answer their cell, especially if there's a queue behind them and they're supposed to be paying, so I would NEVER answer my phone in front of a customer in that situation unless I was actually expecting a really, really important call, like from the hospital about the condition of one of my relatives who's had an accident, that kind of stuff. She might, however, sneak away from some stocking up job, hanging out or folding clothes, to answer the phone and then get caught by the boss. That's much more plausible.
Characters — are they well rounded?
Miranda is a very sympathetic character and introduced very smoothly. I like that she's just shy of a crazy "old" cat lady but kept from that by the existence of a friend, Tammy, and her genial relationship with her ex-husband. She's extremely well rounded, with clear, relatable interests outside of the plot, such as soap making and cats. She's an underdog character in terms of social status and work relationships. The loss of her baby is good character development.
It would be better if you showed what Shantel looks like in contrast to Miranda rather than later stating that it's a young person's shop. As it is, there's no indication of what Shantel looks like, though her annoyance is shown really well.
Jack has a distinct voice and is quite likable. Jamison is also a nicely sympathetic character.
Plot — does your first chapter introduce or hint at the main conflict?
Miranda's struggle with her environment is shown well enough and provides the initial drive for the story. However, I felt you could have perhaps hinted a little more at why Miranda doesn't have the skills or qualifications for a better job when she's clearly an intelligent and capable person. Something that particularly bothered me was Miranda's lack of curiosity regarding the lawyer after the initial call. I mean, why is her dead aunt's lawyer calling? The implications are obvious, and I would expect her to show more curiosity and eagerness to find out as soon as possible rather than pushing it to the back of her mind as soon as the call is over. She doesn't even give it a thought until later.
The inheritance makes for a nice end hook, though it is pretty predictable.
Pace — does your story feel like it's going somewhere?
Your natural pacing is good.
Language and voice — does this reader 'feel' the story?
Overall, the chapter read really smoothly. I get the feeling you've edited this a few times through. It has just the right mix of dialogue and actions and is a pleasure to read.
“All scarves are thirty dollars,” I pointed to -> a little note about commas and periods. If the verb in the tag relates to how the speech is spoken, like whisper/shout/hissed/said/mouthed etc, then a comma is used. If the verb in the tag is an action separate to the speech, then it is a different sentence and so a period is used. Why, I don't know. I only "work" here. So, in this example, it would be "thirty dollars." with a period, not a comma.
I thought you would have heard by now. Millie died two months ago.” -> might he use gentler language here? Millie passed two months ago, or something like that
I wasn’t surprised. In fact, it had been so long since I’d even heard her name that I assumed she was already dead. -> This threw me out of the story a bit. If she'd assumed she was dead, why did she wonder how she was doing in the previous paragraph, and if she wasn't surprised, why did she sound surprised when she realized that the lawyer had used the past tense to talk about her aunt?
Look, it’s not just the phone call. You’ve been here a while, and I hoped you’d be a good fit here, but that just doesn’t seem to be the case.” -> try not to overuse "just". Sometimes it's used as a stall word, filler word, that doesn't add much to meaning. The first use here is essential for comprehension, but the second isn't
Though I wasn’t poor, I desperately -> yes, it wasn't a very good simile. What I'm concerned about, though, is the 'I'm not poor' thing here. You've shown her in a minimum wage job. You've shown her in an old car. You've shown her in a crappy sounding apartment. You've used a dodgy simile to describe how eager she is for her payslip. So how can you claim she isn't poor? It sounds contradictory. If she said, "Though I wasn't broke" or "Though I wasn't destitute", then it might work.
rolled my eyes. “The usual. Everyone hates me -> at this point, I'd expect some internal thought about why she isn't telling him she just got fired.
Such an informal greeting could only mean that this was his cell phone -> watch out for "that" because it's a filler word. Try removing "that" from sentences and then reading them aloud to see if they still make sense. If they do, delete it.
We typically like to wait to announce an inheritance -> But Millie passed two months ago. If it's so straightforward and Miranda is the only living relative, why did it take two months to make contact and why hasn't the lawyer already done all the things before contacting her?
Apparently, you’re pretty much the only one left. -> he's a lawyer and, informal chat or not, when dealing with a serious matter like this, I think he'd be more exact in his phrasing. More like, you're the only one left, or, we believe you're the only one left, or, inquiries show that you're the only one left.
Settings — is this reader grounded in 'real' scenes?
The settings are pretty bare-boned but sufficient to ground readers in the scenes. You might immerse them better with a bit of sensory information, such as how the clothes she's folding feel, perhaps Shantel is wearing a particular perfume like kids do (Britney Spears, candy shop type smell, rather than the musky smells of older scents), feeling the cold when she steps outside rather than mentioning it in the car. I mean, she carries her coat (she grabs it, but there's no suggestion she put it on), but then she waits for the heater in the car. That makes her sound kinda dumb. If she shrugged into her coat and then holds it closed as she rushes to her car to get out of the cold, then you'd have stronger settings. The grey clouds bit was good, as was the lavender in the kitchen.
Themes — is this reader blown away by mind-blowing philosophy or originality?
So far there's nothing blowing my socks off, though it's always nice to see a "middle-aged" protagonist rather than the really young, strong, female protagonist we seem to get in so many stories these days. The struggle of an older person in a teen culture dominated world is a theme all of its own.
Conclusion — a summary of how this reader personally felt about your opening.
Generally, it's a good start to your story. I feel that you need to bring in more of a hook earlier and have Miranda more curious about the phone call, but other than that it's all good.
Thank you for sharing your opening chapter. Good luck with your writing.
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