Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday Fricassee

Wow! The response to our first 25 Words critique round have WAY exceeded my expectations. Talk about ENERGY!

The crits are still coming in, too. Which makes your "refresh finger" a bit tired, yes? *wink*

And here's a cool application of the exercise:

Tami Moore (a MSFV regular and part of my "online support system") tweeted the following this morning:

Going back through the entries on @AuthoressAnon's contest. Did people agree with me? Disagree? Why? *learning, learning*

Neat thought, yes? Not only figuring out what works for your own writing, but seeing whether your well-honed reader's eyes are lining up with what others are saying--or not. It's not about "saying what everyone else is saying," to be sure. But it's a good idea to take your own pulse. Giving valuable feedback isn't possible if you don't read a lot or understand what good writing actually IS.

There is a huge subjective factor, naturally. But there are also "writing basics" that need to hold up under scrutiny. And, as critters, we need to know what those are.


Share your feedback in today's comment box, if you will. Were you stoked by the responses? Discouraged? (And hey. Don't let that initial discouragement get you down. Search for the truth among words that sting.) Are you pressing forward? Had any "eureka" moments? Share!

Oh, and one more thing. Many of you have thanked me in various places, many of which were in your submissions. I was unable to respond personally to most of those, due to sheer volume of emails. So please allow me to respond en masse:

You're welcome! It was truly my pleasure. This is such a delightful community; you all make the time invested well worth it.


  1. i loved the contest : ) the positive feedback on my first sentence was really encouraging and I enjoyed reading a lot of the others.

    Thanks again for this great contest!

  2. This is the first time I've done anything at all that is semi-public, related to my writing. I thoroughly enjoyed the crits on my entry--they were very much in line with my own evaluation, and that was a very valuable lesson.

    As I told some friends, while I'm not convinced one needs to totally hook readers in the first 25 words (there were a lot of "almost hooked" crits, from me and many others), waiting until 750 words into a prologue, or the last sentence in Chapter 1, is definitely not even remotely in the ballpark.

    Thank you so much for the energy and effort you put into this, and for the insights I've gained. They're invaluable!

  3. Awesome contest. I was really surprised by just how much I felt like I "got" out of reading only 25 words.

    The feedback on my own writing was valuable, too, but I felt like I got even more by going through and trying to offer constructive feedback on others. Verbalizing what I liked and what didn't work for me made me go back and examine my own writing with the same critical lens.

    Thank you for the opportunity (and the link! *meep!*)


  4. This was fascinating. Some entries genuinely hooked me; others I would have kept reading to see what happened; and a very few so turned me off I likely wouldn't have read much more. With the permission of both Authoress and my agent, I entered the beginning of my under-contract novel, which will be out in February 2011. I learned people weren't hooked by the first 25 words - which is fine, as they set the stage for the new few sentences, which apparently do. Which I'm pointing out so that other people who got the "not hooked" crit don't take it as crushing condemnation. Not hooking readers in the first 25 words doesn't mean your work won't sell - although I'm in firm agreement with Steve that for most genres, it had better happen soon thereafter. Thanks much to everyone who took the time to comment and submit, and for Authoress for taking doing all this! Authoress, you rock!

  5. Every time I participate in one of your contests, I come away with valuable, spot on feedback that shows what works and what doesn't....Could a writer ask for anything more?? I think not.

    And discouraged....No way! I'm actually encouraged to become better and better...All thanks to this great community...*Big Smile*

    Definitely learned from this contest that I prefer, short succinct sentences so I'm breaking my big long sentence up right now.

  6. I don't do this stuff often enough, so it was good to see what people thought of my character. I knew most either loved her or hated her within 25 words--I was surprised by the amount of partial hooks there were, though. Makes me think I'd better try really hard with my current re-write!
    Thanks Authoress--this was fun!

  7. I liked the comments I received, and it didn't bother me that the first 25 words didn't 'work'.

    After I saw all of the excellent first lines from everyone else, I knew that my first line relies too much on the rest of the first page to hook a reader. <- Problem, but fixable. :)

    It was interesting to see all the other comments before or after mine. I mainly wanted to see if my opinion lined up with everyone else, or if I was way out in left field. :) I think there was one story I commented on where I totally got the wrong mental image of the scene, and I didn't get it until I saw the comment after mine. There was one where I just didn't understand what hooked everyone else.

    Anyway... my click/scroll-fingers hurt and my eyes are bleary, but I thought this was a lot of fun. :D

  8. I was thrilled to be able to participate- thank you for accepting my pb entry! I was quite encouraged by the positive comments, feedback and responses that I received on just 25 words...looks like I found out which of my pieces I should work on submitting next! Now, to find an agent who will represent the picture book genre...not an easy task.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you - I'm completely and totally stoked!

  9. This was a great idea.
    I personally found the crits offered very helpful. I'm reworking my first paragraph into something that I think is much better.
    Thanks. :)

  10. It was really fun, educational, and so helpful. I suspected I opened in the wrong place, but I needed feedback, and I got it. What used to be the opening scene is now in the middle of chapter 1. Yay! So happy....

    Thanks everyone. Again, thank you Authoress.

  11. This was a wonderful experience. While I enjoyed the feedback I got for my work, I also found it incredibly helpful to read others' work. I tried to comment on as many as I could.

    Thanks for hosting this awesome contest and for all of you who were brave enough to post.

  12. This was great. Thanks for doing this. I've been iterating on mine for so long that I had no idea how it worked. Posting the beginning it on my own blog was one idea, but an anonymous forum like this provides better unbiased feedback, IMO. Thanks!

  13. I've lost count of the number of times I've reworked the beginning of my first chapter, trying to set the tone and draw in the reader. From the comments I received it appears I've finally done it! Talk about a boost to my spirits!

    I also loved reading all the other submissions. I found it educational (and sometimes surprising and bewildering) to read about what would cause a reader to dismiss a book in the first 25 words. But I suspect most people would read beyond that point if the whole book was in their hands.

    Thank you for hosting such a great opportunity. Now I can FINALLY leave that first chapter alone and concentrate on that dratted word count.

  14. I learned what I wanted to know. Maybe it'll stick in my head when I write.

  15. I thought the feedback was fantastic. It's even more helpful to read other people's lines and see what works and what doesn't.

    I am amazed at the fickleness of some people though. I saw several comments that were, "I don't like this character's name, so I'm not hooked." That's proof that no matter what you do, you can't please everyone!

  16. I thought this was fascinating and fun - maybe for different reasons than a lot of the other participants, though. My novel starts out in the voice of Ari, a 20-year-old woman who has Down Syndrome - so the first 25 words are weird and confusing. Several commenters - quite reasonably - suggested I should fix the grammar and reconsider genre, as the voice sounded so young. The reason this is so valuable to me is that those comments helped me understand what Ari herself goes through in her life(not that she's real, but she feels real sometimes!) It must be hard and frustrating to be misunderstood and perceived as younger when you aren't. After this exercise, I have more insight into her character. Not sure if all this makes sense, but wanted to share.

  17. I don't get to do the contests often so this was fun for me. As for the comments, I was pleased by the reaction to my post. I was worried the opening wouldn't be hooky enough even though I've been told otherwise. =)
    The comments on the other posts didn't sway me for or against, but some had me scratching my head as to why certain lines were liked/disliked.
    Unfortunately I didn't have time to comment on all of them, but I read 3/4 of them.

  18. Reading these entries was fascinating, and it was wonderful to be involved as well. Very encouraging, and everyone was so tactful and kind in their comments. It was also a lot of fun for me to look at the titles and the first 25 words - some of the titles, I didn't like, but I did like the first 25 words. Maybe I've learned a lesson, don't just a book by its title? Good to know, I'll certainly be a lot less hasty when choosing books now.

  19. This crit fest was really tough for me, to be honest! I think it was harder than a 250-word Secret Agent. I got mixed reviews on my first sentence. Some loved it, some were pretty blunt about saying they wouldn't keep reading. I had to actually debrief myself by posting about it on my blog because I felt so snarky while I was reading through the (negative) comments! Usually I feel like I take critique well, but in this case it was harder. I guess because I don't usually judge a book on the first 25 words. They are very important (and you could tell the people who totally nailed their first sentences!), but the only things that would stop me from reading after 25 words are gross grammatical mistakes or just a personal disinterest in the subject. I must say, though, after debriefing myself I was able to look at the experience positively. And I did learn a lot. Not only from what people said about my entry, but from reading other entries, commenting on them, and reading the comments. So, thank you, Authoress, and everyone!

    And Authoress, I know you've already said "You're welcome" -- but thank you for being selfless. Doing all this anonymously is going WAY above and beyond. Thanks for taking up your valuable time (doing something totally mundane like cutting and pasting) to enrich our writing lives. It's awesome of you!


  20. This was the first contest for me and I was thrilled by the feedback, as I have never shared my work with anyone asides from my husband. And the energy from all the commenters was really great. I only commented on a couple dozen, but I learned so much just by going through them.

    Thanks for this contest, and I look forward to more in the future!

  21. This was my first ever contest and was genuinely surprised at how fun and helpful it was.

    I wasn't sure, going in, if anyone could really get hooked in only 25 words, but there were several that sucked me in immediately. Good job!

    As for my own bit, I was happy to hook some, but thrilled to hear where it was flawed. I need to forget everything I know about the characters and the plot and read it with fresh eyes to make sure the reader will have the experience I want them to have.

    Thanks to everyone!

  22. I do appreciate all the feedback, though of course it wasn't "WOW, this is the best thing EVER" that I really wanted, I myself, wasn't loving my first 25 words and this really just confirmed it! Thank you!

  23. It was great getting the feedback, but I wonder if it was too limited to be useful. I can't remember ever discarding a book base on the first line; I'll give it a paragraph at least.

    But it's still useful to find out how that first line hits people.

    Thanks for hosting this!

  24. Thank you for a fun and educational exercise. It is great to get feedback so quickly on one's writing.

    I learned from this experience, although the comments were not what I would have liked to see. But, I am not discouraged. Sites like yours help me to make my novel the best it can be.

    Thank you for hosting this.

  25. I love the challenge. Being a part of I am forced to sharpen my words. The responses I got were encouraging.

    Thanks for taking the time to invest in us.

  26. It was interesting and fun. One author's response worried me, though. Roughly, he/she said that the first 25 words conveyed a character all wrong.

    But it was just 25 words! Had it been the first 250 the character could've come through fine.

    I sometimes wonder...are we putting far too much emphasis on the slivers of a beginning?

    I read on another blog (was it Rachelle's?) that sometimes the rest of a manuscript is severely lacking in comparison to beginning pages. And she wondered if it had to do with so many online activities focused on openers.

    Food for thought. I enjoyed flash-critting. So long as everyone learns and grows, it's all good.

  27. I'm kicking myself for lack of entry. The feedback on twenty-five words proved more powerful than critiques of 25 pages. While most individuals don't read the first page of a book, editors and agents do. Capturing their attention is critical.

    If you choose to do this contest again, I'll be there. *fingers crossed*

    Authoress, thank you for your endless support of writers and authors that seek to hone their craft.

    Commentors, thank you for taking time from your lives to offer others valuable insights. We can't satisfy all of the readers all of the time, but the more we refine our stories the better the odds of succeeding.

    What a powerful group!

  28. I took two words out of my first 25 in order to make the cut and end at a period. What I found was most people mostly liked my sentences but were a little confused. I know if I'd kept those two words in, it would have helped with the confusion over tense and purpose. It's amazing the difference 6 little letters can make!

  29. It's really hard to know much in 25 words, but it was an interesting learning experience critiquing and reading critiques, because it really forced people to focus.

    Realistically, a good first 25 words may not be stellar by themselves, because they may set you up for the next sentence.

  30. This was great! It certainly helped my confidence level to know readers were hooked. And, I found out that the title, which I love, is not working for readers. Very good to know. And while I may like the title, if readers might pass my book by because of it...then it needs to change. :)

    The reason for my title is that I hope to write a series with titles related to Frank Sinatra songs (my protag loves Sinatra, knew Sinatra in his pre-vampire days). But, if no one gets the title, then I should stick with the Seeing Red part.

    Thanks to all the readers who commented, and thank you Authoress for the opportunity!

  31. I was struck by the unity, unusual in reviews. The people who liked the concept and the people who didn't both agreed that the sentence was confusing as written and needed polishing.

    More useful than the average workshop!

  32. the critique was great and accurate and appreciated.

  33. I enjoyed this and really wish I hadn't been on vacay so I could comment more (I actually have more comments ready to post that I did on the way but without net access -- still posting, but I'm not sure if people will get a chance to read them).

    I'm torn between the idea that 25 words was so easy to crit and the idea that 50 would have been more akin to what I'd read at a bookstore.

  34. I got an absolute ton out of it. The opening I shared was the opening I was thinking of changing "to". And now I'm convinced I need to get there, with some help from the comments I've received.

    Many thanks!

  35. Selestial - I agree that it seems that 50 words would have been markedly more useful. Few of us drop books at the 25-word point, and some powerful openings require a bit of lead-up. And with 50 words, I doubt that critiquers would have felt quite as compelled to pick apart, er, over-analyze the entries as some did.

  36. I enjoyed this one a lot. I think 25 words is the perfect amount, forces you to really focus on that first sentence and make it work. Learned some were at least interested by my first 25, but also that the first sentence needed some work. Also learned most people were hooked by the title (3 words)/genre alone. Very encouraging!

  37. 50 is much better. Take all comers but split it up into different times. That means everyone gets a go without having to panic. I emailed you with an ideea btw, but it came back. Is faceless gmail okay?