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Monday, March 14, 2011

First Lines Critiques: Day 1!

Critiquing Song of the Day: "I Walk the Line" by Johnny Cash

It's here, you guys! Last week, we put out a call for you all to submit the first few lines of your WIPs, and we have quite a few brave followers. So brave, in fact, that we're able to spread out the critiques throughout this week--woo hoo!

Here's the deal: we're posting 3-4 submissions each day, and in the comments section, please provide constructive feedback (click here if you want to know exactly what NOT to do!).

Here are some questions to ask yourself when critiquing:

1. Does the opening shock you?
2. Does the opening pull you in and make you want to read more?
3. Is the voice apparent?
4. Do you have an idea of the pending conflict?
5. Do you get a sense of the setting?

Include any other kind of feedback that may be helpful. Remember, we're all here to help. Without further ado, here's the first 4 submissions:

Title: Generation Z
Genre: N/A
Author's Name: Jamie Manning
First Three Lines: I want to brand the cow’s hide so bad it hurts. I want to push the glowing red “G” into the heifer’s large black-and-white rump and hear it sizzle and watch it smoke and hear the cow yell in protest. I want to see my Dad smile and be proud of me for once.

Title: Safe
Genre: YA Fantasy
Author's Name: Glenna
First Three Lines: Life began at the Source, and life will return to it in time. That is the truth that none can dispute. That is the law that birthed all others.

Title: No System At All
Genre: YA
Author's Name: Erinn
First Three Lines: There was a rumor floating about the suburbs of Princeton, New Jersey that the McCaffrey brothers destroyed lives. If you were a douche of unspeakable proportions they paid you a visit. The McCaffrey brothers’ punishments were so swift and fitting the douches either changes their ways, moved, or went to jail. It wasn’t just a rumor.

Title: Alive
Genre: YA Sci-Fi
Author's Name: TN
First Three Lines: The alcohol was always cold. Henry swabbed my arm, raising goosebumps with each swipe. My teeth chattered.


J.L. Campbell said...


Your questions are quite helpful in helping me figure out what to look for. Here's my take on the postings.

Title: Generation Z

The opening is an attention-grabber and based on the third sentence, I know this is a kid with issues. The whole branding thing tells me that the setting is a farm or some such location. The voice makes me want to root for the narrator and yes, I think there’s a hint that his/her conflict will involve the parent.

Title: Safe

The opening has the feel of a book with an omniscient narrator and the wording makes me thing Sci-Fi. However, I’m not getting much of a sense of what the books is all about, except that it might deal with live and death – survival issues.

Title: No System At All

The opening lines of this novel say a lot, but the last line tells me that the reader is going to see for himself what the brothers are all about. The setting is shown up front and right away I get the sense that the book is about the good vs the not-so-good. The title hints at a society with little or no order.

Title: Alive

The opening lines are pretty clear in that I guess someone was about to get a shot. Of course, the ‘always’ told me that the procedure is somewhat regular, which made me wonder why. I also got the sense that apart from being cold, the narrator might be feeling a bit fearful. Not sure what the story is about, but if there are regular treatments, then there might be health concerns. Of course, could be that I’m way off base too. :) Still, the title makes me think about survival, etc.

Sophia Richardson said...

Generation Z: My initial thought was shock (in a good way) at the first line then when I got to the glowing G I remembered reading this first paragraph on another contest/critique blog, so there's also memorable imagery. I enjoyed the voice and we're quickly introduced to the main character and presumably the major conflict of trying, and failing, to please the dad, which is a relateable problem. The farm setting is inherent in the action which is how setting should be done-- no cardboard backdrops here!

Safe: I feel a bit rudderless without any indication of character or setting. I assume the Source is going to be an important part of the plot but I want to know whose story this is. I get the omniscient narrator/big picture feel of an epic fantasy but YA usually has more focus on the protagonist's role in and feeling toward the world so I wish I knew the protagonist's feelings about the Source. If the narrator is the protagonist we're dealing with a very mature (and hands-off) voice for YA.

No System at All: I love the line 'douche of unspeakable proportions' but the repetition of 'douches' so close lessened the effect. I'm intrigued by the brothers but wonder whether the narrator is another character who knows them or if after this 'big picture' opening we will drop into one or all of their heads. It feels a bit Virgin Suicides, a story about siblings told from without.

Alive: There's a good element of mystery/danger here, at the mention of the alcohol my first thought was a wound being treated but now I'm thinking it's prep for some kind of injection or test. I want to know what the alcohol's for and why the narrator is so familiar with it. The alcohol=injection link makes my head go toward Sci-Fi so that's a good way of showing genre without diving right into the science.
- Sophia.

Tracey Neithercott said...

Thanks for doing this, guys!

Generation Z
I love the very first line. I can imagine the setting, and I really like the voice. I'd definitely read on.

I feel kind of distant from this one. I can't tell who the narrator is or what's going on. The first line's interesting, but since I can't connect to a character or anything I'm not sure I'd read on.

No System At All
I loved the voice here and I immediately have a feel for the type of story I'm in for. I especially love this line: If you were a douche of unspeakable proportions... The line after that took away from the Best Line Ever, and I agree with Sophia that changing the words "the douche" to something else would help. Still, I'd read on, hoping the rest of the book was as funny.

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

All of these are pretty good first lines! And they're brave for posting them.

Generation Z Definitely a shock of a line. Drops you right into the scene. Except on first read I wasn't sure if they wanted it so bad it hurt them or if they wanted the cow to hurt. It's not that it's really confusing, just made me stumble a bit in reading.

Safe I think I see where the author is going, and it sets the tone. But it does feel a bit general. I'm not really sure where the story is going to go, which is okay, but it would help to at least be able to have an image planted of immediate action. Such a general first line creates a bit of a disconnect for me.

No System At All Great voice, but I'd probably make the second line the first line, substituting the Maccaffrey brothers for they. It just feels a bit stronger.

Alive That was gripping. I had no idea what was going on except that someone was getting swiped with alcohol--a vivid image--and they had felt it before. The use of always makes it seem as if it happens a lot. Great hook.

Amie Kaufman said...

I've been looking forward to this! I'm posting my comments without reading any of the others--I figure fresh eyes are best.

Generation Z: LOVE that first line. I actually got a shiver when I read it, because branding, augh, OW! So I immediately thought 'why on earth would you want that', and kept reading. I have the setting, I assume there's going to be conflict with the parent. Definitely works for me.

Safe: I initially thought this was SF, not Fantasy, though I see how it can be that. It's a quiet start, but I don't mind that at all. I don't have a sense yet of what the book's going to be about though, so I think you'd want to follow with that quite quickly.

No System At All: I like what feels like a twist to me. I initialy assume the McCaffrey brothers are the bad guys--that those who have their lives destroyed don't deserve it. But wait! They do! Ha! I have a sense of the voice that'll tell this story straight away, and I like the last sentence: 'It wasn't just a rumour.' I'd like to know how the narrator knows! Only suggestion would be to avoid using the word 'douche' twice.

Alive: I really like this. It's a very crisp image, and the feeling of something cold on my arm is something I can imagine straight away, so it takes me there. I want to know why it's 'always' cold. Has this happened before? Why? What, exactly, is happening?

Alicia Gregoire said...

This was such a great idea! Thanks for doing this, ladies!

Generation Z: This is a great opening that really pull me in for more. Not being a person who deals with cattle outside of burger or steak form, I'm wondering if this need to brand the cow happens with all cattle ranchers. The final sentence really got my attention too and gave me a hint of what this story is about.

Safe: I like the first sentence because it sounds very zen-ish. However, I'm not sure where the story is going to go. It's a little too vague for me, but if I had seen this in the store and the cover and back copy intrigued me enough, I'd probably flip forward before I made my final decision.

NSAA: The opening has a slight Dickensian (is that a word?) feel to it, which I know from reading various drafts doesn't follow through the whole book. I like how the brothers are set up to be larger than life. I agree with others about the repetition of 'douche.'

Alive: This was straight and to the point. The detail about the alcohol always being cold is so true and one I think everyone can relate too. I'd have to read more just to know what the shot is about.

Racquel Henry said...

Generation Z: The first thing I thought was Ouch! LOL. I think you do a pretty good job of hooking the reader. There's a sense of setting (a farm of some sort)and the voice is apparent. I do feel that there is both internal conflict (the narrator wanting to please the father) and external conflict (possibly tension between the narrator and the father) here.

Safe: There's definitely a sense of mystery here. However, because your sentences are a bit broad, there is no indication as to character or setting. I do think voice is established here and because of the tone I do think that there is potential conflict (for me anyway.)

No System at All: I was drawn in right away. I want to know more about the McCaffery brothers! I think your voice is established and we have a good idea about the characters. I also agree about the the word "douche."

Alive: I love that first line. It really hooks the reader. We don't really get a sense of setting, but we do get a sense of character(which is okay with me, I'd rather here about the characters than the setting--that's just my preferance.)There is definitely a possible conflict here. I would continue reading because I'd like to know why the characters are using the alcohol.