The Writers' Group had a great post Monday titled Be Bold that really inspired me. In short form (although I encourage you to read the original post), the writer was having a hard time deciding if she should write the ending she *wanted* to write for her story, or play it safe and tone things down. She was inspired by hearing a short story by another author at a reading that was "bold and elegant and brilliant and stunning, quiet and touching, but most of all bold", and in her own story wound up writing the ending she'd had in mind all along.
I admit, put that way, the story doesn't sound that incredible. But when I read that post, something clicked. I often find myself toning things down, trying not to get too carried away, while I'm working on this revised plot. And sometimes I need it- I have a strong tendency toward melodrama- but sometimes I should just write the story that I want to write. If I'm not excited about the plot I'm coming up with, how can I expect a reader to be excited about it? I need to remember to be confident. To be bold. To be myself.
Wow. That is a very unique concept, writing from the point of view of a harpy! I was fascinated. You have a very good writing style, and I didn't notice anything on the first reading to distract me from my focus on finding out, first, what the narrator was, and after I found that out, if she got away safely.
I have a hard time believing a harpy can be likeable enough to be a main character- and she does sneer at the people she's stealing from, and has threatened them- but I would definitely read on to find out. I'm sorry, I don't have much to say about this one because your writing is excellent, and the way you introduce the harpy is interesting and makes us care about what happens to her. I'm just very startled at the concept, and while I would read on there would be a little bit of distance there, because I know what harpies are generally thought to be like, and it would be hard to identify with that sort of character. Usually as a reader I like to put myself in the main character's shoes- here that would be hard, is what I'm trying to say. But it's very well executed!
Overall, I definitely liked this. You raised interesting story questions- what happened to his eye? What exactly was the girl crying about? I really liked the last paragraph- well, from "He knew the suffering.." to the end. It pulled the two of them together very cleverly.
There are a few small things that don't work well: "Suddenly, without warning, his gaze slipped to a spot behind him"- it's not really believable that his own gaze would slip without his having directed it. You could replace this with "He noticed a young woman, a few seats up..." or something. Also, "His curiosity turned him from his ill thoughts for the first time in many days" is very awkward, and makes the character sound very passive.
At this point, I would definitely read on because of the story questions you raised, but I think you could make it even more enticing by adding a few interesting details about what, exactly, Fernao (pardon the lack of tilde, Blogger doesn't seem able to do that) is going to be facing when he goes home. You throw out a lot of enticing hints, so that we know whatever happened to his eye is a reminder of "what he'd done to his family", but I think you could pick a few choice details that will show us why going back is hard for him, and why we should care that it's going to be hard for him. Does that make sense? I'm not saying you need to reveal your entire plot in the first page, but let us get to know Fernao a little more deeply than you are curently.
I got a comment asking for a critique, but the author wasn't sure if I was still accepting requests because the first page contest was officially over. While I'm watching the contest eagerly to see who wins, the reason I offered critiques is because all the people who aren't in the final 6 won't get any feedback from Nathan. That's still true, even if the contest is over. Everyone who posted a first page is going to go back to work on their projects, and if anyone still wants a critique, I'm definitely still willing to give them.
I'm so glad someone else asked for a critique- I don't have a lot of time to do these, so I had talked myself out of just going through the comment thread on Nathan's blog and doing them wholesale, but if someone *asks* for a critique, well, then I feel obligated! And I like doing them, so this is a good thing.
17. David Wisehart, Red Wedding - I love the opening description of the storm. I would definitely keep reading this one- the humorous tone is very nice. Zoey seems a little nutty, but that's part of what makes it interesting. One thing I did notice- while I love the opening description, some of your similes are distracting. I think coming up with non-cliche similes is definitely one of your talents, but you should use it a little more sparingly. There were at least three in the first page- the storm in the beginning, then Zoey's underwear, and then the "skull cracking under an avalanche of boulders". That last one came out of left field, and really pulled me away from the story. I also might try to work in a little more of what Zoey's attitude toward Peter is; I couldn't tell if she was really in love with him or if the book was going to head in the opposite direction and she would find out she didn't want to marry him after all. But then again, I should have learned my lesson from Nathan's post about first pages (see my last post). I think that principle can apply to more than just action; this is a novel, you have an intriguing first page, and you don't have to show me how all the characters feel about all the others all at once.
18. Jordan, The Incredible Blanco Brothers - Jordan says she's been getting conflicted advice on her opening. Well, I haven't seen any of it, so I'm pretty unbiased. You'll have to let me know where I fall on the scale of responses.
I really liked this. The writing really pulled me in. No distracting tics or overwriting or anything, just solid, descriptive writing. It's in a very passive voice, and I bet you're getting some responses harping about that, but I thought it served as a very good introduction to a complex character. I liked his motives for dying his hair, I liked his father's reaction, I was interested in the home life he must have. I did get a little confused was when you switched from the backstory to the present - "The ridicule, however, continues to come." I thought the "one of them would say" was a little weak- who are "they"? Just the kids at school? This seems like it's build-up to the reveal of Ansel's full name, but I think that could be tightened up a little. Also, the "you see" was distracting- I got pulled back out of Ansel's head, and a narrator came between us. Maybe that's going to be part of the book's style, but if not, I think that could come out without weakening the sentence. You've made me like the main character, I can see what some of the conflict is going to be, and I want to know what happens next. I don't have any idea where the book is going to go from here- but I'd keep reading to find out.
As always, let me know what you think. If you've read Jordan's or David's work and agree or disagree, I'd be interested to know.
Nathan Bransford has a really good post up about what makes a good opening. His point is that writers get caught up in the goal of getting an agent's attention, and confused "pulling them into the world of the book" with shocking them.
Perhaps the most common shortcoming I'm seeing in some of the entries is that they try too hard to be surprising or shocking or pulling one over the reader.
I've been guilty of that in some of my critiques here- telling the author they should move the action closer to the beginning, or complaining that there's not enough action. I think that's because at some point, everything in this business is subjective, and we've been bombarded with conflicting advice. Start with action! Start with drama! We read 500 queries a day and you need to have something that makes us *notice* yours!
And Nathan's right- shock value might make them notice it, but that doesn't mean it's good. I think the most important thing in a first page is to make the reader care about the main character. That's why they're going to keep reading. Whether you do that through action or a slower opening is up to you.
The second most important thing is to show some conflict. It doesn't have to be physical, or shocking- but it needs to be meaningful to the main character and help with the most important thing, making us care about them. Ray Rhamey is very fond of pointing out that there's no story without conflict. And he's right.
Now, to take my own advice. I'm starting over this time around (having just completed my first-ever manuscript and realized that it needed a major overhaul). This is another place I've gotten conflicting advice- do you think it's important to get the first page perfect before moving on? Or should I not worry about it until I'm finished?
There are good arguments for both methods. I used the latter when writing said manuscript, on the principle that a whole novel that needed reworking was better than having a great first page and nothing else. But now that I've tried the second method and wound up with something fairly unusable (although it's because of plot, or the lack thereof), I'm awfully tempted to try the first.
Labels: first page