Friday, July 26, 2019

First lines/killer lines mark up -FINISHED (+some add'l revisions)

Here are the Killer First Line offerings.

I'll be marking them up throughout the day. Markup is done.


You're free to disagree with my assessments.

You may suggest changes to the offerings but the normal respectful tone of the comments on this blog will be enforced.

The people who posted their work here are incredibly brave.
(I can hear the panicked wheezing from here from a lot of them.)


Please do not email your entries just to show me what you wrote. 
I will not critique them and you will annoy me. 

UPDATES (what were you doing at 4:00 this morning??)
are Green

I really loved this insight from Stacy:

In an opening, I don't want to read a scene of a character brushing her teeth unless there's a burglar behind the bathroom door. 


Ok, here we go:


AJ Blythe said...

Erin Cooper read the petition and each word threw her a little more off balance. It would take more than a tyre weight to centre her again. The cloying scent of grease and stale beer flowed around her and scraped over her taste buds. Choking on the heavy air she turned and pushed her way out the doors of the Outback Hotel.

Nope. You've got your main character reading something. That's very passive. Not a gripper. Drop a wrench on her head.



Sharyn Ekbergh said...

Our mother wasn’t the kind you went looking for if she was missing. First because she’d be mad as heck if you found her and she didn’t want to be found and second because she always showed up in a day or two anyway.

So I wasn’t too alarmed that Sunday when I realized we kids were alone.



Yup. You instantly want to know WHY, and you're eager to learn more. That's what you want.

Kitty said...

Otis Pike would never know how much he helped Doris Pratt by dropping dead at The World Famous Bader’s CafĂ©. In fact, by a strange turn of events, just about the whole town of Dunder Mills was helped by his death, thanks to Doris who set things in motion, although “The Boys” would bicker over the who part for a long time.

Nope. This isn't bad, but the first sentence is too long to pack a wallop.

Consider this revision: Otis Pike did Doris Pratt a favor by dropping dead at The World Famous Bader's Cafe.

20 words in the original. 16 in the revision. That doesn't seem like much till you realize four words is 20% of that sentence.

Now, the whole art of revision is you don't stop at one.

Let's revise the revision:

Otis Pike did Doris Pratt everyone a favor by dropping when he dropped dead at The World Famous Bader's Cafe.

This doesn't change the word count much but it punches up the sentence. Always look for ways you can give the sentences more oomph. Changing -ing form verbs to -ed form is usually a good start.



UPDATE
Now, after reading the comments, we can revise once again to REALLY get it going:

 
Otis Pike did Doris Pratt everyone the whole town a favor by dropping when he dropped dead at The World Famous Bader's Cafe. 

Now, eagle-eyed readers will notice that the -ing form is back. Yes, I changed my mind.
Why? I still think -ing form verbs aren't as punchy as  -ed, but it's always always always the right choice to use what's best for the specific sentence. I thing dropping dead here works better. Of course, check back later, revising is also code for dithering.



Gail said...
"Get that stone out of his hoof, will you?” I said. We were nearly there, and out of water. Only three more miles, but still a big highway tunnel to get over. Not really a tunnel, I guess, but what else would you call an arched concrete barrier put over a highway to keep the rabble out? Map says it’s the old PA turnpike extension, I-476. I don’t care. Carbon fiber fencing is nearly impenetrable, and even without barbed wire, horses can’t climb.

Nope. There's no sense of tension in getting a stone out of a hoof. I've carried around a hoof pick or ten myself back in my cowgirl days.  I'm a little more intrigued by the last clause horses can't climb, but it's still not enough here. My guess is you're starting too early in the story. Where does something happen? That's the start of the story.



julie.weathers said...
My hair was pinned up neatly off my neck as might befit a woman bound for execution. I wasn't, of course. Bankers can't kill me. They can only steal my property, though for a woman of the land, that would be as good as death.

Yup. The only change I'd make is deleting of course because it undercuts the tension here.  You don't need to tell your reader everything. Let us find out as we read.




nightsmusic said...
Duncan stood over the body of his wife, full with their unborn child, covered in blood from the attack. Dead. So very dead. He’d watched the life in her steal away, slowly, horrible in its relentless path, knowing there was naught to be done to save her. The attack had been too swift and vicious. The blood groove on his claymore dripped as relentlessly as her death.

 nope. This is all exposition. The wife and child are dead. That's all we get here. No sense of why or what's coming next. 


UPDATE:
Knowing now that Duncan did not kill his wife, let's do some revising:


Duncan stood over found the body of his wife, full with their unborn child, covered in blood from the attack. Dead. So very dead. He’d watched the life in her steal away, slowly, horrible in its relentless path, knowing there was naught to be done to save her. The attack had been too swift and vicious. The blood groove on his claymore dripped as relentlessly as her death. 

If we take out the part about him watching her bleed to death, it underscores that he's not the  man who killed her. 

I purposely left out anything like "the blood dripped like his growing thirst for vengeance" even though I was itching to put it in cause it would be over-wrought.


Just Jan said...
The calendar proclaimed it Good Friday, but there was nothing good about that day. The weather was typical for Ivy Lake--unsure if it should rain or snow, it did neither. Instead, dingy clouds swirled over the treetops, sending thin offshoots to settle in the nooks and crannies of the lawn. I sat at my cherry writing desk staring at my phone. When it roused me again with its insistent ringing, I decided against answering. It had done enough for one day.

Nope. This is classic passive opening (weather, phone, reading, writing.) Nothing is happening. The WRITING is fine here, but the story isn't engaging yet.


french sojourn said...
“All rise, for the honorable Judge Silvers,” the Bailiff said, watching George and the plaintiff rise.

Judge Silvers sat down and nodded for them to sit.

“Morning gentlemen, rough night?” she looked at the two men, and kind of focused on George and his grease stained coveralls. Her eyes moved to the gallery and paused. “I see we have a few guests in the courtroom.

Nope, but with some revision, we can  improve it a bit
Consider:
“All rise, for the honorable Judge Silvers,” the Bailiff said, watching George and the plaintiff rise.

Judge Silvers sat down and nodded for them to sit.


“Morning gentlemen, rough night?” Judge Silvers said, looked at the two men, looking at the plaintiff but  and kind of focused on George and his grease stained coveralls. She looked toward the gallery and paused. “I see we have a few guests in the courtroom.
This still isn't the most gripping opening but it avoids moving the characters on stage. A good opening has the characters already on stage doing whatever dastardly things their World Domination plan requires of them. 



Dena Pawling said...

Father never gave her a name. "You're nothing but a smudge," he'd said, with extra emphasis on the word smudge. “A smudge does not have a name.”

He'd flashed the thought at her with so much force, she staggered back as if he'd slapped her.

That was the day, several years ago, when she'd asked to go to school.

not bad, but can be better.
Consider this revision:


Father never gave her a name. "You're nothing but a smudge," Father said, with extra emphasis on the word smudge. “A smudge does not have a name.”

UPDATE:
Reading the comments, the smudge is the main character.
So, let's convey that here. Right now, it's not clear at all.


Her father never gave her a name. "You're nothing but a smudge," he'd said, with extra emphasis on the word smudge. “A smudge does not have a name.”

He'd flashed the thought at her with so much force, she staggered back as if he'd slapped her.

That was the day, several years ago, when she'd asked to go to school.

Now, knowing that this is middle grade fantasy, let's do something bold here and change the point of view:

Her My father never gave her me a name. "You're nothing but a smudge," he'd said, with extra emphasis on the word smudge. “A smudge does not have a name.”

He'd flashed the thought at me with so much force, I staggered back as if he'd slapped me.

That was the day, several years ago, when she'd asked to go to school.


 That last sentence just doesn't sit right. I'm not sure why.

When that happens, I try something else, even if I don't think it's right. Sometimes enough not-quite-rights lead me to the sentence that is right. 

That's revision in a nutshell: trying, changing, trying again.
You can see why 17 revisions is just the start.

Cogs said...
Sarah Babbage’s last words would not be whispered, gasped, shrieked, or muttered. They wouldn’t be a plea. Or a prayer. A curse. Or a question. In fact, they wouldn’t be spoken at all. They would be typed. Frantically. On the bloodstained keyboard of her iMac Pro. And if Sarah had known she would write her last words on a computer, just like the hundreds of thousands of lines of code she had programmed in her life, she might have been amused. But, at the moment, last words were the last thing on her mind. She was running late and she needed to be home.

nope. Nothing happening here but foreshadowing. Because you're writing about something in the future you can't even change to present tense to give it more pizazz: 

 Sarah Babbage’s last words would were not be whispered, gasped, shrieked, or muttered.


Unknown said...
She remembered.

It couldn’t be possible. It shouldn’t be possible.

The hair-thin dividing line between genuine memories and created ones gets fuzzy after a while, especially when you’re young. All the gaping blind spots in a four-year-old’s memory gradually get filled in by a overly-helpful brain unable to tolerate ignorance or ambiguity.

But, possible or not—helpful or not—Rhia remembered everything.

Nope. But some judicious pruning will help.
She remembered.

It couldn’t be possible. It shouldn’t be possible.

The hair-thin dividing line between genuine memories and created ones gets fuzzy after a while, especially when you’re young. All the gaping blind spots in a four-year-old’s memory gradually get filled in by a overly-helpful brain unable to tolerate ignorance or ambiguity.

But, possible or not—helpful or not—Rhia remembered everything.

Line implies divide. Blind spots don't need to be modified by gaping.
Always look for ways to say things with less.

Best writing advice ever: “I’m not going to say anymore than I have to, if that”--Chili Palmer


KariV said...

The ash around him reeked of judgement and shame. Ronan scooped another pile of what, until recently, had been his father’s workshop onto a borrowed shovel and, scoop by scoop, moved that pile to cart that would ferry the remains of their livelihood to the compost heap.


The first line is pretty good. Then it's a bit of a splat. Shovelling and scooping isn't all that engaging.
Some judicious pruning will help too.
This is the pruning you only see on the 17th revision.

The ash around him reeked of judgement and shame. Ronan used a borrowed shovel scooped to scoop another pile of what, until recently, had been his father’s workshop onto a borrowed shovel and, scoop by scoop, moved that pile to the cart that would ferry the remains of their livelihood to the compost heap.
 Without all the markup:
The ash reeked of judgement and shame. Ronan used a borrowed shovel to scoop another pile of what had been his father’s workshop into the cart that would ferry the remains of their livelihood to the compost heap. 
I subscribe to the less is more theory of writing.
It's entirely possible to be a great writer and NOT subscribe.

Just because someone is an agent or an editor (or a beta reader, or a person who bought your book!) does not make them an oracle. Give yourself time to thoughtfully consider suggested changes and revisions before discarding. I get a hefty number of emails starting out "six weeks ago you were an idiot. Now you seem to have regained your senses."



Carolynnwith2Ns said...
It was Tuesday. I had to be out by Friday.

For six months I’d been drifting on the mercy of a generous New Yorker who let me borrow her apartment in the city for free. She was doing a favor for a friend. I wasn’t the friend, my husband’s lawyer was.


Good but a little paring is in order:
It was Tuesday. I had to be out by Friday.

The tension is in the second sentence so let's start with it.
The perfection of this lies in the fact that not only is there tension here, there's tension in the last clause (my husband’s lawyer was.) as well. 

This is very good writing, and good story-telling.


Lisa Bodenheim said...

“The world’s our oyster?” The barista poured a white foamy fern on the espresso. “Ha! Not for us. Here you go. I’ll let the boss know you’re here.”

Addison McDonel accepted her macchiato, grateful for the warmth against chilled fingers.

Quietly, she skirted other waiting customers. What she really wanted to do was give the barista a good shake, tell him, 'Wake up! Frame the quote out of context.'

nope.
Starting with a saying is a misstep.
Pouring coffee, drinking coffee, using coffee to warm up are all to passive to engage our interest.
Compounding this is I don't understand the last line.

Look farther into the chapter to find a better starting point.


Tamlyn said...

Marietta Pereira was watching her friends argue outside a tiny cafe in inner city Bourneham when unfamiliar magic twined around her. Nausea churned her stomach; the tempting aroma of coffee and cake smelt, for a moment, like garbage.

"Marietta? What's the matter?" Sarah turned immediately.

Fi rolled her eyes. "She's fine. She's distracting us."

Marietta ignored them. It had definitely been magic. It skittered across her skin, and the taste of honey lingered in her mouth.

 Nope. Watching anyone is low energy.
Some revising here will help:

Marietta Pereira was watching her friends argue outside a tiny cafe in inner city Bourneham when unfamiliar magic twined around her. Nausea churned her stomach; the tempting aroma of coffee and cake smelt, for a moment, like garbage.

"Marietta? What's the matter?" Sarah turned immediately.

Fi rolled her eyes. "She's fine. She's distracting us."

Marietta ignored them. It had definitely been magic. It skittered across her skin, and the taste of honey lingered in her mouth.
 Starting with dialogue is usually a good choice.
Starting where your reader does NOT know what's happening is usually a very good choice. You need enough info so we're not totally lost, but not so much we aren't eager to find out what's going on.



NLiu said...

There was a time when I wanted to disappear into a black hole. I guess plenty of people feel like that. For most people, it doesn't happen. Not literally, anyway. But for me - well, it was different.


Nope. Look farther into the paragraph for something happening. If you don't want to do that, consider this revision: 

There was a time when I'd wanted to disappear into a black hole. I guess plenty of people feel like that. For most people that's a metaphor it that doesn't happen. Not literally, anyway. But for me - well, it was different.
Again, say only what you have to, if that.

Melissa said...
Sol Chapa was born with a different first name, but being the first son after four daughters lent itself to the nickname Solo Veno—Spanish for he came alone. The moniker, granted by his grandfather, stuck. Despite his mother’s protests, his first name was quickly forgotten as Sol proved a far more fitting attribution to the boy who preferred a mile between him and civilization.
Nope.
Starting with why someone has a name is not engaging. It comes without context. There's no real bit of humor to leaven it. This does not make us wonder what happens next.

That last sentence though has some potential. Consider
Sol was a boy who preferred a mile between him and civilization.
Now we have something interesting to gnaw on!

I find a lot of really good sentences are buried in paragraphs. What that says to me is you can write a killer first sentence; you just can't recognize it when you do. I find that utterly hilarious of course since it's so counter intuitive.

Kelly said...

Henry could see the lit-up neon Flashbacks marquee halfway down the block. Even in daylight the sign flashed bright enough that anyone could notice it, not that many people did. Especially not people on this street, smack dab in the middle of New York City. Most of the people here had someplace important to be. They checked their phones while they walked, swinging brief cases and wearing dark suits, even though it was the first week of June. Henry dodged out of their way. He had someplace important to be, too. If there weren’t so many people, he might have run. Instead, Henry picked up his pace to a brisk walk. For every person he dodged without bumping into them, he gave himself ten points. If he accidentally hit them, minus ten. By the time Henry got to the entrance of Flashbacks he was up to 170 points and had only gotten three angry watch its – a new personal best!

Nope. This is set up to the main action. Get us to the good stuff. START with the good stuff. This isn't bad writing, it's just not good story telling.


Ellen said...

Penny walked through the propped-open front door and paused, picking at her sweat-damp shirt. “I think your next door neighbor is a racist,” she said.

Leora tried to turn her attention from the empty living room to the words her twenty-six-year-old daughter had just said, but her brain refused to focus. This happened a lot lately. Since her husband died eight months ago, her cerebrum had a tendency to short circuit.

You have a good line, you just didn't start with it: “I think your next door neighbor is a racist,” she said. 

Let's do some renovating here:

“I think your next door neighbor is a racist,” Penny said to her mom. Penny walked through the propped-open front door and paused, picking at her sweat-damp shirt. “

Leora tried to turn her attention from the empty living room to the words her twenty-six-year-old daughter had just said, but her brain refused to focus. This happened a lot lately. Since her husband died eight months ago, her cerebrum had a tendency to short circuit.

Explaining why things are the way they are can bog down a narrative. 
Explain only what you need to. Leora isn't as acute as she was; do we need to know why right this very minute?

Explaining why things are the way they are is for documentaries and science classes.
Being lured into a story to find out what's going on, that's what we're doing here.

Sure you need some exposition, but where to put it in the novel is the artistry of story telling. When you read books, keep your writers' journal at hand and list the books that know how to deftly lay in expositions and explanation.



KDJames said...
The first time she saw him he was shirtless and wearing a kilt. The second time, he was wearing a custom-tailored suit and destroying her grandfather on the witness stand. She didn't much like him either time.

It did nothing to change her opinion when the third time she saw him she was on her knees in the grass, wrestling an 80-pound black lab, while he stood there with worn jeans snug across narrow hips and a short-sleeved polo clinging to the muscles of his arms and chest, lips curved in a half-smile.

She was irritated with him before he even spoke.



Nope. This isn't bad writing at all. But, it's like snapshots. That first sentence is too static to entice me. He's a handsome beast, got it.

That last sentence though, that's the keeper. It leaves you wondering why she's annoyed with him. Starting with that and revising the first two paragraphs is an option. Since we don't know what follows we cant know it it would be a better fit.


That's the end of the first revision.
I'll probably slink back around later tonight for a re-read to see what I missed. 

Update: And I did!


55 comments:

french sojourn said...


Thank you, I will take out the katana, and let it dance. I was scene building, but love the editing. Just what I needed.

Thanks again, Hank.

Terri Lynn Coop said...

FrenchSojourn - or swap up the POV. Does one of the guys have a blistering hangover or an poorly dressed split lip? Filter the bailiff's drone or the judge's hahaderpderp joke through his pain and misery.

Jennifer Mugrage said...

Well, I am more gripped by most of these than Janet is.

In AJ Blythe's, I'm wondering what the content is that's throwing Erin off balance.

In Gail's, I'm wondering why a highway has been blocked off to "keep the rabble out." Sounds post-apocalyptic, which I love.

In nightsmusic's, the last line in the paragraph has me confused about whether it was actually Duncan who killed his wife. I assume that he got his claymore bloody defending her, but there's a shadow of doubt. Could be because I've read too many flash fiction contests on this blog that involve a gruesome twist after one paragraph.

In Just Jan's, I agree it might be a little slow, but I don't mind some scene setting at the beginning of a book and I'm wondering what damage the telephone has already done that day.

I'm speaking as a reader, not as an agent, who is obviously tougher. Still, be encouraged, folks!

Just Jan said...

Janet, thank you for the opportunity to engage...or, rather, not engage, as you pointed out!! Back to the drawing board, grateful for the feedback. And thanks for the positivity, Jennifer Mugrage!

Craig F said...

The Regent of World 9 knew the rules of the League. She did not need her Apostate to remind her of the Prime. She considered the loss of three worlds to be a reason to breech that Rule. In minutes she would advance her idea.

Lennon Faris said...

What a great exercise. I gritted my teeth and was posting mine this morning, and then it cut off. But I love these bc you learn so much, even if it's not your own.

Also, I agree with Jennifer that I thought several of the 'nope's' seemed quite interesting. But I did think all the pruning was effective.

Way to be brave, fellow Reef-dwellers! And thank you, Janet!

Joseph S. said...

Some great writing represented. It's exciting to see so many talented people in one place.

Janet Reid's critiques are truly insightful. Time to check out my beginning with them in mind.

Kitty said...

Thanks for your professional input, Janet. This is a great post.

Unknown said...

Thanks so much, Janet, for taking the time to do this. The panicked wheezing you heard was likely mine, but I appreciate the pruning.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

Such a great, hands-on post! Thank you, Janet, for taking the time to do this. And thanks to all the brave ones who submitted their work. :)

LynnRodz said...

So sad I didn't look at your post early in the day as I usually do. Still, this is a great learning experience. Thank you for doing this, Janet, and I hope you'll do it again.

The one that really stood out to me was Sharyn Ekbergh's, but good job everyone, it takes a lot to put yourself out there.

Katja said...

Oh I almost embarrassed myself here (but just deleted my previous comment...). I was confused because Janet said starting with a saying is a misstep but has revised Dena Pawling's opening so that it starts with speech marks.

I didn't realise that Lisa Bodenheim's "dialogue" is an English/American saying - I confused saying with direct speech. Phew, I'm so glad I got it right cause my new WIP DOES start with direct speech in a confessional booth.

(I was late to the party so I missed this opportunity, grrr. But, agreed, Lennon, it's good to learn from the other people's work!)

KariV said...

Thanks so much for doing this, Janet! What a helpful exercise. Agent feedback on the critical first sentence and paragraph is so valuable. Definitely appreciate the opportunity and agree with your assessment of my paragraph.

I purchased a life-long subscription to the Less is More Theory of Writing and would wear my member badge with pride, except we don't have member badges because, oh yeah, less is more.

Select and delete is the best part of editing and I'm looking forward to it - if I ever finish drafting the manuscript in the first place.

nightsmusic said...

Thank you, La Sharque! I'm still playing with how I want this to open so I appreciate the critique.

And Jennifer Mugrage Thank you, but further reading lets the reader know that Duncan did not kill his wife but avenged her. I have some more playing to do with this, but I'm glad it raised a question. It was supposed to :)

And everyone was very brave! What a reef we have.

Brenda said...

Dang it. Take one day off the reef and you miss the best post ever. In case it’s not too late here’s my entry. (Note that I won’t pout if I’ve missed out.)

The boy died on the fifty yard line.

Kelly said...

I never thought getting bitten by a shark would be so much fun! Janet, I hope you do this again. What a great learning opportunity. Thank you.

John Davis Frain said...

Pure gold for you lucky few. Okay, brave few too, but bravery is part of the price of admission into this industry and you're among friends here.

And I'm being short-sighted. This is pure gold for all of us.

Bet we can all agree on this: it's so much easier to see what to revise in someone else's work than in our own. Wish it wasn't so, but that Chili Palmer dude is a tough act to follow.

Stacy said...

I'm into crime fiction, so take this with a grain of salt. Or maybe a little gunpowder.

As a reader, I like an inciting incident. I like a situation that I know is going to change the protagonist's life--and probably not for the better. I think it's okay to write "passive" openings if something life-changing happens while the protagonist is drinking coffee, or reading, staring out a window, or what have you. Maybe your protagonist is staring out her bedroom window and sees a shadowy figure in the dark. That moment her life changes, because at that moment she discovers werewolves are real. But the opening itself is not overly dramatic.

In an opening, I don't want to read a scene of a character brushing her teeth unless there's a burglar behind the bathroom door.

K. White said...

Thank you, Janet. I hope you do this again & I'm faster next time.

I enjoyed reading all the submissions. Like several other commenters, I was intrigued by several & was surprised they were 'nopes'. I would have kept reading. Truly shows how subjective publishing is.

Fearless Reider said...

Dang, I was trapped in a colonoscopy waiting room and missed all the fun, but I’m grateful for everyone who waded into the shark-churned surf. I learned something, as always.

John Davis Frain said...

Fearless, if your expectations are that you're always going to have more fun in life than a colonoscopy waiting room, I'm afraid you're setting yourself up for continual disappointment. It's the journey, my friend.

(Okay, that was way funnier in my head. Maybe sarcasm doesn't translate to screen so well.)

Timothy Lowe said...

Single most useful post ever, even if I slept in and missed the fun. If you want some really dynamic examples of awesome openings, check out Hiaassen's Bad Monkey, Skinny Dip, and Razor Girl.

Fearless Reider said...

Fair enough, John Davis Frain. At least I wasn’t on the receiving end of the colonoscopy, and I picked up some compelling character ideas. I will forever be in awe of the recovery room nurse who didn’t even flinch when flatulence bombs were going off all around her. It would take an event of seismic proportions to throw her off her game.

nightsmusic said...

Fearless Reider my daughter moved from Neuro/Trauma to Endoscopy because she no longer had to constantly wait on the family members who treated her like a glorified waitress. She enjoys endoscopy very much but will admit, they don't notice the flatulence bombs going off everywhere until they don't hear them. That's when it's time to worry. :)

John Davis Frain said...

Fearless, thank you for forgiving my lame attempt at humor. I enjoyed your use of language and was trying to pay it forward, but I probably bombed like the explosives in your waiting room.

If it had been the first line of my story, it woulda earned a "Nope. This is an amazing combination of bad writing and bad storytelling. Unlike math, two negatives don't ever equal a positive in writing."

Which is why I'm getting back to editing. Again.

Richelle Elberg said...

I love this whole post and comments! So helpful to see Janet's edits. Really annoyed I missed the fun. FWIW, here's my opening paragraph:

Three days is a long time to be dead under the intense New Mexico sun. The coyotes are stacked like firewood. If they were wood, I’d wager there’s a good half cord there. New Englanders know these things.

Jenn Griffin said...

I missed the cutoff by a few minutes. Bummer. I will admit that the prompt alone had me assessing my opening more critically, which I followed up with pruning. If only I could keep this mindset throughout the entire editing process.

MackAttack said...

I loved this post! Unfortunately logged in this morning just half an hour too late... I did have a few suggestions for the brave writers:

(I tried doing strikethroughs, but apparently the comments can't, so I just wrote the lines as I would revise them if it were me.)

Kitty:
In fact, just about the whole town of Dunder Mills ended up benefitting from his death. [Here, I'd break this line up and include something specific that Doris did that caused the unlikely events to follow, something that makes the reader go, "how could ____ cause that?" I made up a hypothetical one] Doris was sure she'd kicked off this whole mess by [answering that phone call], but The Boys would bicker for years over who deserved the credit.

Dena Pauling: "You're nothing but a smudge," Father said, lingering on the foul word. "A smudge does not have a name."

I absolutely LOVE your opening and I'm super curious about your book! I think the edit I came up with helps keep the tension moving through that first paragraph, giving context and characterization to the emphasis Father puts on the word. And taking out one of the instances of "smudge" there helps even out the rhythm a bit.

nightsmusic: The blood groove on his claymore dripped as relentlessly as her death.

I like what you're trying to do with this comparison, but it needs work. Right now, the simile is saying that her death and the blood are both dripping when I think what you're looking for is more along the lines that her death and the flow of blood are both relentless... in that dead things never stop being dead, but even then the comparison isn't super clear. "Inevitable" or "draining" might be better concepts to shoot for, like "Blood drained through the groove on his claymore as relentlessly as the life drained from her body."

Unknown: "gradually get filled in by (copy edit: a to an) an overly-helpful brain"

Timothy Lowe said...

Richelle: Just my two cents. Loved your opening, but I would definitely omit "intense" in the first sentence. The implication is more stifling than the adjective.

J.A. Haigh said...

Awesome post, thanks Janet and all who put their work forward!! So informative!

Michael Seese said...

"The people who posted their work here are incredibly brave"

John DF said it best. There is no place for cowardice in the author-verse.

Totally bummed I didn't get mine entered. But on the bright side, it forced me to perfect the first 6 sentences of my current WIP. 6 down. 9,994 to go.

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...

Impressive first paragraphs!

I love, love, love this post. It was like a crash (flash?) course in writing and revising.

KDJames said...

HA, this was good news/bad news for me. "Snapshots" is what I was going for, so I'm glad to hear that worked since concise is not my forte. Not so great to hear that's a bad way to start. *sigh* This is a romance, BTW, if that makes a difference. (Yes, he's a handsome beast, but the point is she's not impressed by that.) Ah, well . . . EDIT, EDIT, EDIT.

I agree with those who said some of these were already compelling as written. I was surprised by a few of the nopes. But yeah, I can see how the suggested changes improved on the original.

VERY valuable feedback, all of this. What a great opportunity to learn.

Thank you, Janet.

Rio said...

Super valuable post! Thank you so much for doing this, Ms. Reid. And thank you to everyone who had guts enough to offer up first lines. It's so fun getting a preview of what you all are writing.

C. Dan Castro said...

Thanks for doing this, Janet. Although I couldn’t participate (unavailable early East Coast time), reading your feedback on other folks’ first lines was very informative. Now to go back to some WIPs’ first lines and reconsider...

Richelle Elberg said...

Thanks Timothy! And you're right of course. :)

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Wow. This was a great learning experience. I had read through before Janet's critiques went up, trying to guess which ones would be yups.

So it's a bad idea to start with a quote? Got it. Thank you Janet for the critique. I do hope you'll do this again and others will have a chance to get their first sentences in for your sharkly lashing.

NLiu said...

Sitting here shivering on my rodent wheel. Now I need to completely revise my opening. Because the next thing my MC does is dye her hair, and while she needs to do that plot-wise, it might Not Be Thrilling Enough. But the chase scene after that... Hmmmmmm.

I learned so much from this post.

Thanks so much for taking the time to do this, Janet.

julie.weathers said...

Miss Janet Thanks so much for doing this. Oddly enough, this is one of the few mornings I staggered to the computer to check out the reef before hauling my carcass off to babysit.

Agree about Sharyn. I read that this morning and was immediately drawn in.

There were several others that intrigued me.

Just posting took so much courage. I salute you all and thank Janet so much for taking her time to do this. For what it's worth, her comment on mine, was not what I expected.

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

Guess I better try to finish the book!
Whew!

Debra Giuffrida said...

Dang, wish I hadn’t taken that early morning swim. These were awesome. Enjoyed every single post and appreciated your spot on edits! Wow. What a schooling. Thank you. Please do this again. Soon.

Beth Carpenter said...

Loved this exercise. Thanks to all you brave souls and to Janet. And I have to say, "I was trapped in a colonoscopy waiting room and missed all the fun," would be an excellent first line. Now off to revise...

Dena Pawling said...


My alarm goes off at 5am on weekdays but this morning I woke up at 4:30 and decided to just get up. This allowed me to post at 7:44 [4:44 here in CA]. Comments were closed at 8:13 [5:13 here]. I would NOT have made it if I'd slept til my usual 5am. And I got a “not bad but can be better” along with a suggestion! Best reward for early rising I've ever received. Thank you!

MackAttack – thanks for the kind words! My story is MG 35k urban fantasy with two MC. Alien girl [smudge] runs away from home to Earth hoping to go to school. She joins forces with human boy shuffling among foster placements hoping to find a home. [I need a better elevator pitch.] I love the idea behind your “lingering on the foul word” because it takes out the third “smudge” and especially because it shows us her attitude toward the moniker. I don't know if “lingering” and “foul” work with the rest of the story, but the IDEA is wonderful and I'll definitely be figuring out how to use it. THANK YOU! We all know the term “final revision” actually means “about half-way through the revision process” but I'll be looking for another set of beta readers for “final revision” in early 2020. If you're interested, please send me email. denapawling at gmail.

Sharyn's is awesome. Is that MG?

Selerial said...

I’m sad to have missed it, but I’ll join the echo chamber in saying thank-you, Janet! I’ll be coming back here when it’s time to revise. :D

Aphra Pell said...

Thanks to Janet and all those who posted - really educational. I was somewhere in the bowels of an airport and so missed the window, so like many others, I hope we can do it again sometime.

Dena's was the one that really popped for me - loved it.

April said...

Like the others, I'm bummed I missed this! But it was still very educational.

I'm surprised most of them ended up being "nope" (I would have guessed better odds from this group), but I totally agree with Janet's assessment of each. Made me realize how I could make my opening better.

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

Hi Dena,
Yes, mine is MG.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

This was the coolest thing ever. Thanks, your Majesty and all those who submitted themselves to being chowed down on by the shark. This was so instructive. Fantastic post.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

So glad I checked in early. Fantastic post and ecstatic that I got a place in line. Thanks so much for the kind words. My confidence needed it.
I loved many of the other entries and absolutely would want to 'reid' more.

Melissa said...

I posted before work and then promptly forgot about it. Thanks, Janet, for all your feedback.

nightsmusic said...

I'm back to say thank you again, Janet! I see what you're saying now. And although you made this comment:

I purposely left out anything like "the blood dripped like his growing thirst for vengeance" even though I was itching to put it in cause it would be over-wrought.

it would actually fit the story. While it might seem over-wrought, he's mortally wounded here and makes a pact with the ancient Celtic gods. They'll keep him alive long enough to exact his revenge. They don't tell him though the catch is, he'll live forever, carrying out their own bloodthirsty commands. Time travel romance. What can I say? ;)

Thank you, thank you again.

Tamlyn said...

Thank you :)

AJ Blythe said...

Late to the feedback (youngest Barbarian had a nasty bout of gastro).

Thank you so much, Janet, for this. Your feedback, as usual, is awesome. I think I know what to do now *fingers crossed*. But mulling on your feedback and my opening this morning the penny dropped. And right on the heels of that my first scene "clicked" which I'm hoping means it's finally on the right track. Guess I'll find out.

Thanks for the kind words, Jennifer.

Well done to all who had a go (and a special applause to those who nailed it the first time).

Stacy said...

Thanks, Janet!

PAH said...

Hope you do something like this again. I always miss the boat with these quick real-time critiques! :D