Monday, March 24, 2008

More Stunning Starts Critiques

Okay, more first paragraphs to critique.

#4 - From Cynthia:

“Get out of bed and take off your clothes.”

It was a command, an order.

Rebecca moved to comply but immediately made herself stop. On the one hand, she was drawn by the deep masculine voice, but on the other, she didn’t jump when others told her. She didn’t follow orders…at least, not anymore.

MACKENZIE: Well, yeah, an order to get naked does catch my attention! The next few lines keep me intrigued—there are nice little teases about the backstory, and I am interested in knowing more. This also has a nice, strong voice to it.

MARY: That’s definitely a high-impact beginning line, though I’ll admit that I paused to wonder what she was doing in bed with her clothes on. I imagine by clothes you meant nightclothes, but it did make me pause and re-read, which interrupted the flow of the beginning. The next line has a great rhythm to it; however “she didn’t jump when others told her” sounds a bit awkward. Some minor fine-tuning will make this beginning work.

NICK: The choice of scene—again in medias res —seems like a good one. Stylistically, I find this one moderately jarring. It seems to expose a bit too much right away—it reads like a summary of the entire situation, something better suited for a blurb than a first paragraph. Like starting paragraphs, blurbs are meant to draw in the reader, but placed in the actual story, it reads as too devicey.

#5 - From Kate:

Evie McAllister pushed open the door into the dining room and sniffed. She could smell burning. Not the comfortable log-fire in the middle of winter burning of pine-cones and green wood with sap bubbling and cracking out of it (although even that would be out of place given that it was a bright hot summer’s morning); no, this was the distinct burning odor of bread that had wedged in the toaster and charred itself to death. Not an issue, one would think, except for the fact no-one else was meant to be in the house.

NICK: This beginning gives us a lot of possibilities. Immediately we are alerted to the potential for some kind of conflict that is atypical to the character’s everyday life—either something is very wrong or there is potential for a humorous mishap, but nevertheless the character is obviously unsettled. Then the last sentence alerts us that the situation is even more unusual than we thought. It made me want to read more. Oh, one mechanical nitpick—please always be sure to double-check your use of hyphens in compounds.

MARY: The first two sentences are great. I was immediately curious, which is what you’re going for. The third line is awkward and required a few reads to get it sorted out, however. You need to be very careful that this doesn’t happen in the beginning of your book, as it could be enough to send the manuscript back into the slush. I’d suggest revising it heavily so that it reads more smoothly. The rest is fine—it’s just that third sentence that needs fixing.

MACKENZIE: The third line is really awkward, and while there are some nice descriptions, if I have to reread a line this early on to figure out what’s being talked about, I’m already not thrilled with the submission. There’s also a grammatical error, which doesn’t impress me.

#6 - From Dawn:

Sometimes I remember that night with vivid clarity. I can see the lights of Sonoma’s street lights flicker over James’ laughing face. The mild Texas winter left us in t-shirts and jeans. He still wore his windbreaker but it provided little protection, even for a member of the Paranormal Protection Agency. But they’re like flashes of memory. His laugh, my sarcastic replies. I can almost remember using magic with something close to joy.

MACKENZIE: The first line is a little cliché, but I like the little pieces of information we immediately get about the characters. They’re already somewhat intriguing. Plus, I do like how it moves from apparently mundane facts to words like ‘paranormal’ and ‘magic’. Interesting enough for me to keep reading.

NICK: Sometimes flashbacks or other recalls of past events can help convey to the reader that this story is something important, something that happened in the characters’ past but still carries weight. In this paragraph, we learn that we’ll be hearing about someone very significant to the narrator and we get a sense of the setting. We also get a few solid hints that this story has paranormal elements. But the way it’s written, those hints are somewhat awkward and seem forced. How would a member of the Paranormal Protection Agency be more protected by a windbreaker than anyone else—what does this have to do with anything? The last sentence is awkward too—after the bit about the Paranormal Protection Agency, it reads like it’s supposed to be a notice for the reader: THIS IS A PARANORMAL. IN CASE YOU MISSED THAT, THERE’S MAGIC IN THIS STORY. Now, obviously these things can be mentioned, but the way they happen in this very first paragraph, it reads as if it has been specifically written for someone who will only read this far. You need to work on making the paragraph more interesting, rather than explaining what the story is about.

MARY: This read as a little too disjointed for me. I understand what you are going for—and I think you almost achieve it—but I found the rhythm of the sentences a bit too harsh and distracting. (Also, as a note, the repetition of “light” in the second sentence is awkward.)


Dave F. said...

"third sentence that needs fixing"
You grew up near the Amish (PA or OH or thereabouts-didn't you?

ECPI Editors said...

Nope! I am, however, Southern to the core. I occasionally amuse my fellow editors with...err, colorful regional sayings.


Dave F. said...

I was told years ago by a Drama Major (I went to CMU for Chemical Eng and knew a few students in the Fine Arts Department) that dropping the verb "to be" was the most insidious Pittsburghism to get rid of in casual speech.

cynthia said...

Thank you so much!

I was so shocked to see my opening lines on your blurb! I’ve been in the publishing world long enough to know that any kind of feedback is rare and highly appreciated.

So, this is really wonderful that you guys do this! Thank you!

Now I just have to gather my courage and submit before that April 1 deadline.


Dawn Montgomery said...

Thanks for the input!!

I appreciate you all taking the time to look at it. Seems like I've got a bit of work left on the intro. :)

Have a great week!