Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Our First Secret Agent Contest of 2013!

It feels like it's been forever!  For the sake of those who may be joining us for the first time (hello!), here's the skinny:
  • Critiques are left in the comment box beneath each entry.
  • Please USE A SCREEN NAME when you leave your critique.  You don't have to have a Blogger account or any other account.  I've made this simple; I promise.  All you have to do is to choose the "NAME/URL" option, and then type in a name for yourself.  No "anonymous", please. I may be anonymous, but at least I call myself "Authoress".  *smile*
  • Honesty and kindness mixed together.  Always.
  • All entrants are requested to critique a minimum of 5 other entries.  This is a give-and-take community; not just "take".
  • ALL blog readers are warmly invited to leave critique.  Is this your first time critiquing?  Try 1 or 2 and see how it feels! We all need to sharpen our critiquing skills at some point.
  • Participants: Please don't comment on the comments. It almost always comes off as justification.  And if you have to justify or explain your writing, then your writing obviously isn't doing the job it's supposed to be doing.  Savvy?
  • The Secret Agent will show up any time between now and Sunday.  Keep a lookout!
  • If you ever seen anything REALLY SNARKY (as in, charater-bashing or foul language), please email me.
  • Please DO NOT email me about negative comments. These are NOT the same as snark. It's important to know the difference, and it's important to realize that pointing out the negative is part of critiquing.  It's how we grow.
Leave your general questions and comments below.  And have a blast!


  1. Hi Authoress,

    Thank you for hosting such a great opportunity! I'm not participating but hopefully I'll post here one day...

    A silly question -- and apologies if I have been stupidly oblivious to guidelines posted somewhere on the page. Do you have to be an entrant to comment? Some of these excerpts grabbed me (in a good way ;) ) and I'd love to offer feedback about why they worked.

  2. Hi, bgbc! No question is silly. And no, you don't have to be an entrant to comment -- your feedback will be warmly welcomed!

  3. Hello Authoress! Are we allowed to reply with a brief "thank you" at some point? I'm an entrant (which I still can't believe) and I'd love to at least tell people I appreciated their comments.

    Also, I wondered if entrants are allowed to comment on other entries? It feels strange not to be able to give back.

    Thank you for holding this contest!

  4. Hi, Mandy! I'm glad you mentioned it -- I should have included in the post that entrants are requested to critique a minimum of 5 other entries. I'm going to add that!

    And honestly? Most people don't return to posts they've already commented on. So if you post thank you later, most, if not all, of the folks who commented won't see it. Of course, you can post it, anyway, if you want to. :)

  5. I wish I was ready for this. Sadly, I am not. I might try my hand at some critiques for the first time, but mostly I just wanted to say I adore your use of the word "Savvy" and I really want this phrase to make it into everyday vernacular.

  6. Can you please remove the ridiculous "prove you are not a bot" feature? I am not a bot - my husband might disagree - but I can hardly make heads or tails of most of the challenges. As such, my comments don't get entered. I mean really! Unless I can pass the test to post this one....oh good, it is an easy one...

  7. I'm sorry, but the word ver needs to stay. I took it off for a few months (because I KNOW what a pain it is), and I was literally indundated with spam. INDUNDATED. I finally put it back because I couldn't stand the spam anymore.

  8. I preface my comment by saying I love this blog and benefit from it. I would like to just throw out there - for discussion - that there could be some tweaks. Maybe they are good or bad but they could all be made better from input. I, for one, would like to see a brief THUMBNAIL synopsis at the beginning of each entry. (In fact, I want a query letter but I would be willing to live with the thumbnail). I think this is important because many books do not in fact begin with the main chracter or even the main conflict. Sometimes, there is a set-up and this is totally lost without the above (synopsis or query). I throw it out there and invite all other regular readers and followers to reply with their own thoughts. Nothing is ever so good that it can't benefit from a tweak here or there - (and my mom says I'm smart so there)

  9. mom also said handsome

  10. I agree with Happy Dolphin. A brief thumbnail would be helpful.

  11. I disagree. I think a first page needs to be able to hook someone without an explanation. Even if it doesn't feature the main character or the main conflict, whatever character and conflict it presents needs to be gripping enough that people will read on.

  12. I would like to chime in again. To make my case. When we pick up a book in a store we turn to the back flap and read what it is about. Even now, with new e-ways of reading books we first get a sense of what the book is about.
    Then, if we like that, we turn to a first page (assuming we don't know the author). If we like that, we read on. The idea that we grab books or short stories or even magazine articles without having some context of where we are going is to me ....laughable and disingenuous. Yes, a book has to grab you from page one, but that page one may not tell you what the book is about. That's my concern. And it is the same in movies, so all you people can just hang on. What was the first scene in TITANIC? anything to do with Jack and Rose? nope. Anyway, you get my point

  13. Okay, chiming in here. :) Happy Dolphin, you may be both smart and handsome, but the BEST thing is your adorable screen name. So.

    Anyway, I agree with Bron's comment. Here's the thing: EXCELLENT WRITING STANDS ON ITS OWN. And that's what the SA contests are about -- the whole concept is, and always has been, ARE YOU HOOKED. Not "hooked by the premise" or "hooked by the logline", but hooked by the writing itself.

    Truth is, if you crack open a book -- any book, any genre -- without having read the jacket flap, the writing will absolutely draw you in if it's good.

    And that's what we're trying to accomplish here. Many times, when we read an opening page without knowing the story, and if we feel lost or confused, it's not because we didn't read a blurb first -- it's because THE AUTHOR DIDN'T GROUND US WELL ENOUGH.

    This was one of the biggest problems with our most recent Baker's Dozen slush. Jodi and I HAD LOGLINES TO READ, but there were still so many first pages that were just...muddled. Or confusing. Or rambling. They did not draw us in because they weren't written well enough.

    I hear what you're saying -- I really do. And I always love feedback (and appreciate when folks take the time to share it). But I feel really strongly about this.

    For almost 5 years now, the Secret Agent contests have been all about the WRITING.

    (As for the opening scene of the Titanic? It's a lush, beautiful scene, and it draws you in because it's GOOD, not because you know ahead of time what the story is about. This is true for any well-scripted movie, same as it's true for any well-written book.)

  14. Well all I wanted was to bring the point up and it was brought up and shot down. All the reasons listed were good ones and why chnage what works.

    I am suitably chagrined. I will now swim to the corner of my tank and no amount of colored balls or hoops will entice me away - (until I get bored). :) (Mother said I did not do humility well)

  15. I can see Happy Dolphin's point as well as Authoress'.

    Perhaps people need to be told to comment on the WRITING, not the fact that there doesn't seem to be anything sci-fi happening yet (as one commenter said of my entry). After all, these are only the first 250 words of the story. We all need to look past the genre and comment on the writing itself. Did we get hooked by the voice? What can the writer do to improve voice, setting, descriptions, word choices, etc.? Those are the types of things we should be commenting on!!

  16. Shannon -- Excellent point! I may have to blog about this topic very soon.

    Dolphin -- Don't be chagrined. I like when people share ideas. Also sea creatures.

  17. Shannon -- Excellent point! I may have to blog about this topic very soon.

    Dolphin -- Don't be chagrined. I like when people share ideas. Also sea creatures.