Friday, February 24, 2012

Friday Fricassee

Well, all I can say is--wow!!

Yesterday's response to the First Line Grabber was astounding.  And while I haven't read the entire deluge of hundreds (thousands?) of comments, the ones I've read were remarkably honest and clear.  And the bipolar nature of some of the responses -- strong YESES and NOS for the same sentence -- are not only amusing, but indicative of the overall subjective nature of this business.

If you haven't critiqued any of the entries yet, there's still time!  I'm not going to close the contest until midnight on Saturday.  Which means, of course, I'll be spending Sunday evening counting YESES.

No worries, though.  Mr. A has expressed an interest in reading the first lines (and voicing his never-subtle opinions, no doubt), and has offered to read and count with me.  Sounds romantic in a geeky, literary sort of way, don't you think?

At any rate, here's what to expect next:

The fifteen winning entries will be announced on Monday, and will at that point be invited to submit their first 3 sentences for round 2.  The fifteen posts will be up on Wednesday morning for critique.  No voting this time, though!  A guest author will be critiquing this round and choosing her favorite 5.

Details next week.

(Isn't this fun?  Or is it me, fighting the winter blahs in any way possible?)

So again, thanks for being wonderful!  And have a great weekend.


  1. Great contest. Its been really interesting to see the comments and to see the differing opinions on what each person thinks works.

  2. Such an interesting contest! You have the best ideas, Authoress. :-)

    I learned so much from this. Seriously. Thanks.

  3. I'm so glad I did this! I appreciate all the feedback and will really take suggestions to heart. Thank you for hosting this contest :)

  4. So fun! I have to say how much I love all the different contests and critiques on this blog (and appreciate the bold souls who put their work out there). While writing advice articles and books can be helpful, there's nothing like seeing concrete examples and how readers react to them. Thanks as always!

  5. This was very fun. Kind of puts us into the tough position of the agent who has to make decisions with very little information.

    The difficulty is that I might have said "No" based upon a standalone sentence, but it's really unlikely that more than 1 or 2 of those sentences would have kept me from reading further. If I'd read a back jacket blurb and went to the trouble of opening the book, I would almost certainly give it more than 1 sentence. But agents have little time and will be making snap decisions so we have to put ourselves into that role, not that of a reader.

    I hope we can do this again - I would have loved to have gotten critiques on my first sentence!

    Thanks for being awesome!

  6. It was very fun. I really enjoyed seeing how other people started their novels. Even if I stock piled 'no's for my own. ;)

    Can't wait to see who made it through.

    And Spring is just around the corner!

  7. That was a lot of fun. I learned so much from all the other comments up there. I'm still reading through them trying to get as much as I can. I say we do this again sometime!

  8. As much as I enjoyed this fun and valuable exercise (and I did!), it made me wonder if we micromanage too much now. Take what is probably the most famous opening line: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." How would that play today? From what I read in the comments of the first-liners, many wouldn't like the vagueness, or that it gives you no idea of what the novel is about or who the MC is and why they should care (some people expect a lot from a first line!)I realize we have sooo much going on now that it takes something special to grab a person and get their attention away from the TV, computer, ipad, and 3 gazillion other books out there clamoring for their attention, but it makes one wonder how this great opening line would play in today's market.

    Okay, done pondering. On to the 3-liners! Woo-hoo!

    (I think the second most famous opening line would be: "It was a dark and stormy night." Snoopy, of course!)

  9. This has been fun, but it also leads me to wonder if we don't obsess too much about our first lines. Lots of these firsts give me a slight pause when seen alone, but I bet the next sentence would clarify a lot of the questions. And few of them turn me off enough that i'd slame the book shut.

    I've been doing some first sentence research and Twilight, for example, begins with- My mother drove to the airport with the windows down.

    Not really that exciting but a lot of people obviously kept reading even though the next two sentences go on to talk about the weather! However, the sentence flow was so good I kept on reading for several paragraphs and I'm not a fan of the series. It was like she kept me reading despite myself and that's something to think about.

  10. DJ brings up an excellent point. Do we expect different things from different genres, even?

    Would the opening of an adult spec fiction be expected to be different than the opening of a MG paranormal romance?

    I understood you were supposed to set up some tension and ground the reader in time/place/scene in the first sentence. But that is not what I saw everyone wanting...which is why it was a valuable exercise.

    I've gotten advice that you should get an editor specific to your genre. I assume these types of reader expections are why.

  11. @DJ I agree about the micromanaging aspect. I held back not to debate with other commenters, because it wasn't appropriate. One sentence isn't always going to show voice and lead the reader the scope of the whole story. It's one line! I tried to base it on whether I would keep reading. If it was cliche but grammatically correct, that's fine. My issue was with sentences that were too wordy or seemed like wrong word choices, bascially what needed more work before presented as a first line. Or if it felt like more of a second line with no context.

    Some of the No answers felt like a personal preference. I suppose if the question is, will you keep reading? and if it's about a subject you don't like, the honest answer is no, I won't read. A lot of subjectivity in the answers.

  12. I agree with what people have been saying about not giving up after one line. If I've already read the back of the book, then I know if it's going to be worth reading at least a couple of pages, so one sentence isn't going to put me off.

    LIke Stephsco says, a lot of my No answers were because of personal preference. I was finding it hard to give a good explanation of why it didn't hook me, apart from "I don't like books written this way" - that's really not a helpful thing to read, I think.

    Maybe the first three sentences would give people the chance to say whether the very beginning is working for us, and let us know more about the story, voice, etc, while still being short.

  13. Good points, all of you! And I must apologize because I didn't include the entire first line (college was a long time ago!) which is actually this:

    "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."

    Now how's that for a wordy yet vague first liner? I tell ya, the next time anyone complains about my paragraph-long sentences, I'm telling them I write like Charlie! But how would that play today, or even in our exercise? I think people would be more likely to go with sbjame's "Twilight" example, as mundane as it is.

    Like some of you mentioned, I tried to read just the line at first, so the comments or even title and genre wouldn't influence me. If I knew I wasn't going to like it no matter what (too violent or gross, for example), I didn't comment, because it would be hard for me to be fair and stick to just the writing part of it. But CourtneyC brought up an interesting point about if we expect certain things in opening lines from certain genres. She mentioned, as an example, an MG Paranormal Romance, which got me thinking, would you need to hit all those categories in the first line alone? And could I do it?

    "Vladamir smiled shyly at me from across the middle school gym floor, his fangs glistening from the disco ball brought in for our spring dance."

    Which answered my own question, that just because you can do it, doesn't mean you should!

  14. I have a question. If we make it to the next round, can we edit our first lines based on the crits?

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  16. Thank you Kim. That was my question. :)