Apr 212014

Chuck Wendig, over at TerribleMinds, posted a writing challenge on 4/14/14 called “The First Sentence: Critiquing Opening Lines“. The idea is to post the opening line from a story in progress or already written, and critique those posted by others. Figuring “what the hell”, I added the first line of my “Crow in Winter” story. I was totally unprepared for the result.

I expected the first paragraph to be (nicely) picked apart, and what did I get? A “love letter to your writing style”. I was completely stunned, and just kept re-reading it with a stupid grin on my face. I literally could have cried, and almost did. I have never had that particular kind and amount of praise before, and at first I couldn’t really process it. I was in a state of happy shock for the rest of the day.

Most surprisingly, when I showed all this to Aaron and had him read it, Mr. “I don’t like fantasy fiction” actually thought it was good. So…bonus!


    • This sentence is intriguing, but feels loose for a first line. I am curious as to who are the dead and who is the audience. I’d like to see the first few lines to put it in context. If the goal is to make the reader continue to sentence two then you have a winner, because I want to read the next line in order to suss out the first line.

      • April 18, 2014 at 2:16 PM // Reply

        Thanks, Joanna. I agree about it being loose. When I opened that story back up and looked at the first line, I almost picked a different one, but that curiosity was what I was going for. Here’s the rest of the paragraph:

        The dead sang to an audience of one. Among twisted, sagging trees they drifted, voices raised in an echo of the sorcerous grief that had ended their lives. In the wan light of Luna, pale figures trod the forest city’s suspended streets, their feet falling silently on moss-covered planks and branches. Hollow eye sockets wept blood, darkening the ancient wood beneath them. Black mouths gaped, issuing a single ceaseless note; a scream become song. In their thousands, those voices formed a cantata, singing the tale of their slaughter. Their unburied remains, like cast-off clothing, rotted slowly in the cold gloom.

        • Dear Nerdimusprime,

          This is my love letter to your writing style. Your WIP doesn’t need a first sentence hook with lovely prose like that which you’ve written. I don’t know if this is a typo ” a scream become song.” I reads correctly, but it’s the least fluid bit of an amazing passage. I love the curve and turn of your phrasing; it’s richly textured, and sumptuous to read. I would buy the book based on what you’ve shared. Thank you for that.


          A Fan

          • April 19, 2014 at 7:22 PM //

            Dear joannadacosta,

            I am totally floored and unbelievably flattered. So much so that it took a half-dozen attempts to write this response. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this, but I actually found myself a little choked up.

            Time permitting, I’ve been following along with the thread, and your critiques have all been well-reasoned, constructive, thoughtful, and encouraging, so I was looking forward to your response.

            Being my own worst critic, I was already picking it apart:
            “It’s too wordy.”
            “It’s *overly* descriptive.”
            “You’re not Robert Jordan, you know.”

            The “scream become song” phrase is definitely a bit of a burr. I have a semicolon abuse problem that I’m trying to correct.

            Your response has completely made my week. Thank you SO much!

May 312012

Every time I sit down to write something (usually a between-session post for my Exalted game) I’m convinced that this will be the time when I truly cannot come up with anything worth saying.

I stare at the blank screen for awhile, then slowly and painfully force out the first sentence, like trying to excrete a softball.

I stare at that sentence a bit, then suddenly it’s ninety minutes and 700 words later, and I don’t want to stop for anything. When will I learn to trust the muse?

Sep 212011

I’ve gotten about halfway through Horizon Storm, book 3 of The Saga of Seven Suns. It’s still pretty good, but my observations from the previous blog post still stand.

After putting the book down and turning off the light, I eventually fell asleep at about 2:30am. During the whopping two hours of sleep I got, I dreamed I was still reading the book, except my brain had amplified Anderson’s tendency to use a lot of short sentences. The whole thing was now written at the about the third grade level:

“Jess saw Cesca. He walked over to Cesca. Cesca wanted to touch him. He told her no. He said it would hurt her. Cesca was sad…”

…and on, and on, and ON, for what seemed like hours. I was actually glad to wake up but, since I couldn’t get back to sleep, I spent the next two and a half hours on the couch reading more of the book.

Sep 062011

While using the stationary bike at my in-laws’ beach house this past weekend, I pulled Kevin J. Anderson’s “Hidden Empire” off the shelf to kill time. It’s the first of the seven-book series “Saga of Seven Suns”; an epic space opera about an extremely powerful alien civilization that lives in the cores of gas giants, and attacks Earth’s colonies in retaliation for the accidental destruction of one of their planets.

Aaron had had this series at home, but gave it to his dad when he was done. He saw I was reading it, and warned me that it was merely “ok”, but I liked it enough to keep reading. I finished the first book and started on the second before we left, bringing the whole series back home with me.

The various plots are very similar to those in Peter Hamilton’s three big series, and I really loved all of them (though I liked the “Night’s Dawn” series a bit less than the others due to a couple really dull subplots). However, I’m finding that Anderson’s series is less compelling than any of Hamilton’s, and I can’t quite put my finger on why.

Anderson has created multiple highly-detailed and well thought-out civilizations and cultures, distinctive and consistent characters, and linked his subplots together well (so far).

It just hit me: the tech is lacking.

All of Hamilton’s series had fascinating examples of imagined future technology, and he described them in such detail that I wanted them to be real; I wanted neural nanonics, Affinity, Gaia motes, field functions, and to be a Multiple (and still do). He also described many scenes involving technology in a techno-thriller style, slowing down an event that happened in a mere second or two and describing each step in the chain.

By contrast, Anderson’s tech is pretty pedestrian. The inner workings of the Klikiss Torch, early in the first book, is fairly interesting, but so far there’s nothing that’s made me say, “That’s so cool!”.

I’ll probably keep reading the series, because the story is interesting and there’ve been some good plot twists, but if I were to grade the first book I’d have to give it a B.

Apr 292011

Now I just need to follow it.

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

— Ira Glass (via nefffy)

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