Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bouts of Empathy

I'm really feeling it this time -- the constraint of the 250 word excerpt.

Roped in by my own rule.

Mine is Post 26 (for the insatiably curious among you). I've appreciated the feedback and have read through the comments more than once. It's intensely interesting to read the impressions of readers dropped smack-dab into the middle of my story. It's humbling to see a poor word choice or awkward phrase jump out like a naked belly dancer at a Quaker meeting. And it's hard to keep my mouth shut when people say things like, "Why isn't anyone trying to revive Camille?"

Ah, I want to say, but in the next paragraph Kate is going to take her pulse. If only you could keep reading...

And...Everyone is stunned; no one understands, really, what just happened. Kate isn't sure she understands it herself. If only I could explain what, exactly, went on, and why everyone's reacting this way right now. I mean, they all hate Camille, anyway...

You have similar reactions to your own work posted here. I mean...don't you?

Mine is an incomplete WIP -- first draft, unedited, destined for major hacking and slashing. For all I know, the entire scene may end up evaporating. At the very least, it will be overhauled and given a fresh coat of paint. And these words of wisdom from fellow writers will be thrown into the pot.

They're incredibly valuable. Despite the angst of "oh, if only you could read just a bit more..."

So thank you all for your critique. I don't like the word "revolted" either. And I'm glad "supine" got at least one vote! I don't believe in dumbing down for younger readers.

What about you? Are you frustrated that your tension didn't quite come across? Have the critiques helped you to hone in on anything concrete? Or are you longing to share another paragraph or two?

And those who are feeling successful with the tension: What made your excerpt successful? How did you achieve the tension?

If only we could sit around on large, overstuffed chairs, sipping deep mugs of coffee and nibbling on gourmet finger foods. This discussion would surely be the apex of our week!


  1. Yes! That's exactly it! People post, "Where's the reaction? What happened? Why didn't he do this?"

    And I'm tearing my hair out going, "It's in the next paragraph! If only Authoress weren't so cruel!!!"

    At least I know you're suffering with us this time.

    It makes the pain bearable.

    *sneaks off to read 26 ahead of schedule*

  2. oh my, that would be one uplifting coffee session! dont tease us like that, authoress ;)

    as for how i got the tension: well, that's kind of like asking "so what is your novel about?" a question always received by blank stares and mumblings of "um...well...there's a girl, and she-- um, it's complicated." i really can't pinpoint one particular thing that i did to make the scene tense (mine is #6). i think one of the things that helps is brevity; details can slow anything down, and to get tenseness it's better to be sparse on the descriptions of surroundings/clothing/facial expressions and focus more on dialogue or emotions. but it's different for everyone. i'm sure someone had more success focusing on descrip of facial expressions/surroundings than they would have on dialogue or emotions.

  3. Why don't you have an entire chapter contest?

    This would be very helpful for writers -- with just 250 words there are a lot of misdirected comments posted because the readers are only looking at a few paragraphs of the work.

    With an entire chapter, comments will be better-educated. And if a reader didn't finish the entire chapter they can post about why.


  4. Oh, Authoress, could you please arrange for a bunch of overstuffed couches and large mugs of fragrant coffee? Ah, to be in the divine embrace of our fellow masochists, face to face, hacking and slashing and splattering blood all over the walls....

    With a certain amount of smug satisfaction, I have to admit I was tickled to see you hoist by your own petard this time. (Sorry.) Every single thing I've posted in the past has fallen short of the mark -- but, actually, even the most scathing comments have been tremendously helpful, if disastrous for my fingernails and ego. (The “emotion” adventure was particularly gut-wrenching, partially because of the “If you knew this, though…” phenomenon.) This time, so far at least, all the comments have been positive. (Now watch someone head over to my submission immediately and post something negative to knock me down a notch. Oh, wait! Only a few know which one it is! MWAHAHAHAHA) Apparently tension I can do. Everything else, on the other hand…. :-\

    What I've discovered about these little 250-word sorties is that they are more helpful than just about any other critiquing experience I', endured. Editing a scene down to 250 words forces me to make more precise word choices, excise ALL the fat, harden my heart against the beloved sound of my own short, to tell the story for the reader instead of to prove what a brilliant writer I am. Every snarky comment, every bit of emotion, every action, every description has to count for far more than the words used to compose it.

    The experience is at once liberating and soul-crushing -- but overall my writing is growing stronger with each scar. If I could just approach the entire novel in 250-word chunks, I could finish the editing and feel good about the end result.

    Thank you for providing this forum for all of us wretches who toil in the darkest depths of the muse’s salt mines. :-)

  5. In mine, a word repetition became glaring obvious, which I had not noticed in all the readings of the entire chapter. Amazing how a short excerpt can bring that out.

    I also want to do the "one more paragraph!" Well, three short paragraphs actually, that would answer the "what about the child?" that came up in mine.

    And saddened that they don't like my new word vised.

  6. This was my first entry, as I just found the blog a few weeks ago and have been lurking ever since.

    Authress: this was so incredibly helpful. I thought the suggestions for mine (#2) were spot-on and helped me look at my work as a whole to see where I was committing the same mistakes elsewhere. It was also really cool to read what other writers are creating and offer what I hope were helpful comments.

    It would be cool to critique longer submissions. But if submissions are too long (more than 500 words), I don't think we'd each get as many comments, since it would take so long to wade through everybody's submissions that not every person would be willing or have the time to comment on (or even read) them all.

    Thanks for all you do; I'll definitely be participating again.

  7. Does the gourmet finger food include chocolate?

    Yep, I feel the pain. It's part of the deal, no problem.

    Anon, if you want whole chapters critiqued, why don't you join a critique group? Quite a few here are members of This would be a huge undertaking for Authoress.

  8. On the crits that I've left here and in the past, I've had to remind myself that this is a mere 250 words of a full novel. I wonder about the things I'm not getting to read.

    In my post (22), many commented that the tension is subtle, which it's supposed to be, but someone wondered about the MC's physical ailments since she's in a hospital heading toward a drug intervention.

    It's in the story, but you can only fit so much in 250 words.

    That being said, I like the 250-word limit because it makes us writers consider the weight of each and every word.

    The 250 limit is golden. Don't change it.

  9. I think the 250 word limit is perfect. If you can't accomplish what you want within those words, there's something wrong and you need to fix it.

    I found this exercise helpful for my sub, too. I was #9. Everyone got the tension. I experimented using quick-slow-quick alliteration, and 7 out of 9 got it. Of the two who didn't, one called it "info dumpy" (?) and the other said I should shorten the sentences in the paragraph I'd intended to be slow. My intention was to give the impression of time slowing down as Henry's heart starts to give up his soul, and I wanted to do this without saying: Time slowed down. Based on the majority of feedback, I'm going to keep it as is.

  10. 250 words is perfect.

    It allows readers and writers alike to see how the work stands alone - like looking at something under a microscope. You'll always see things that you didn't before.

    I've received great feedback! Thanks to everyone!!!

  11. Thank you so much for allowing me to participate even after I messed up and sent it to the wrong address the first time!

    This was wonderfully helpful to me - and the critiques weren't all painful in the least. I'm new to this and finding the comments here very thought provoking and beyond pats on the back or finger raps.

    Thanks to everyone who critiqued #36.

  12. #4 here! What a great experience--thank you.

    Sending only 250 words was quite a challenge, but I don't think you should change the rule. I agree with Karen's comment--we need to be able to hit the mark in 250.

    Thanks to all who commented!


  13. I think every author wants to explain his or her work, but in the end the words have to speak for themselves. After all, once we get published, we can't track down every reader and explain our stories to them.

    I didn't participate this time--I was sidetracked with other projects--but it was still useful to read through all the other entries. Please keep hosting these mini-crit sessions!

  14. Yes, Authoress, 250 words is indeed cruel. *evil grin* This time, mine got snagged on the word choice "glided" combined with the fact that it's a sci-fi (the last sci-fi I posted was similarly misinterpreted.)

    I was going "But it's not THAT kind of sci-fi!" and "If you read the whole chapter you'll see it's not far off in the future and she's merely rolling on a...oh, wait." *smacks forehead* I should've used the word 'roll.' Seems so obvious now, LOL!

    Otherwise, I got some positive feedback on the tension. The 250 word limit really pushes us to tighten up a scene. It's unbelievable how much fat you can trim when you're forced to.

    How did I achieve tension: Well, I'm actually getting some great advice from someone who used to be a 911 operator. And turns out, that job is naturally intense! It's pretty much the tension of the unknown; hearing people in danger, not knowing how badly they're hurt or what exactly their situation is. Rest assured, there is lots more tension in the story. (I had a hard time choosing scenes for this contest.)

    Thanks for these, Authoress. And thanks for leaving feedback this time!

  15. I didn't participate (forgot again, darn it--but given the last few days, I don't know that sitting out was such a bad idea since I didn't have a lot of time or focus ;)) but I have to say, Authoress, the 250 word limit is PERFECT.

    It's a challenge, yes, but it really forces you to look at the words one at a time and see how that small snippet works if it's all the reader sees.

    I wonder if I could edit something in 250 word chunks, based on that reasoning...

    Not sure if I'll be around much in Nov (it's NaNoWriMo and I've given in to writing two novels) but I look forward to more critique sessions in the future. :D


  16. I agree with the 250 being perfect. Even if some comments are off the mark for lack of knowledge, I always get helpful feedback.
    Things to cut that might offend or stop someone from reading further, like the rape scene. I cut a few lines so that it's no longer drawn out. I wouldn't have thought about that had it not been pointed out.
    I enjoy these, and am grateful for all the comments.

  17. just_me, you said "people post...why didn't he do this?"

    That sounded so familiar! I recalled getting just such a comment on my entry last August. So I went back and found:

    "You have good imagery and an interesting tone but I'm not willing to invest time in a character that is being willfully stupid."

    Any guesses on who this came from?


  18. Hmmmm.... I think maybe 500 words would be supwonderbulous. If only because I personally always find myself closer to 3-400 than 250 and hate snipping down all my lovely words. :#[

    That said, I still think that the 250 words is great. It's just enough to give a sampling of your work, and it's quick and painless to read and comment about - especially for people not used to reading some genres.

    And I really LIKE the topic 250 word contests things, because they serve as both a writing exercise and a work sampling. And also opens your eyes about your own work - for example. This week, I wanted to submit something, but I ABSOLUTELY couldn't think of any story that had a particularly tense moment. Now I'm wondering if I SHOULD have more tense moments. Eek.

    **** Thinks about it a little more****

    You could shock bonus us once a year, I guess. Do a submit a first or last chapter contest. I still prefer the mininum 250-500 words, and note there would be a disparity problem with childrens' books which can be the same length as a chapter from an adult novel, but a once a year thing would be cool if worked out somehow. :)

  19. I think the 250 word limit is perfect.

    I’m post number 19 and I was very pleased with the crits I received. I aadded this bit to the scene during my second draft. I knew I had to add more tension to the story and from this feedback it appears as though it worked.

  20. This was my first time playing in this sandbox and I found it fun and educational. I was post #5 ... the one with the synesthesia.

    Since I was a clean slate, I didn't really know what to expect but accepted the comments about my MC actually seeing the emotions in his sister's voice as being odd or off-putting or weird because I knew that in the 250 words, it couldn't possibly be explained properly. Synesthesia is a real phenomenon for lots of real people but it's not widely known.

    But the comments also proved that I better make his synesthesia very clear and accessible to the reader.

    I say keep the 250 word limit, too. And thanks, Miss Snark ... this is a fabutastic exercise and blog!