After the Madness Workshop # B-3

Welcome to day two of After the Madness Workshop! Shelley Watters, Erica Chapman, the writers at YAtopia, and myself will critique the first 250 words of  two brave writers’ manuscripts per day for the next seven to eight days. There are four blogs joining in to offer up suggestions. Click on my partners’ sites in my sidebar to view the other critiques.

And next up is …

B-3 Issy B


This morning turned out to be perfect for a run. B’s notes: This first sentence doesn’t hook. If you want to hook your reader, make this first sentence zing. The air was just cool enough that I was not sweating too badly, even though my lungs were killing me by mile three. My sneakers pounded along the familiar paths, kicking up a small cloud of dust. I dodged rocks and ruts in the dirt path and pushed up a steep incline with one last burst of speed. As I neared the top, a flash of blond hit the corner of my eye and I stumbled, whipping my head around to try and find its source. B’s notes: This sentence is written well, but the action seems odd to me. She’s whipping her head around as she’s stumbling? Except for a few little brown birds, the woods were empty with no gold or yellow in sight. Breathlessly shaking off the adrenaline, I slowed to a walk and then dropped my hands to my knees. I had to stop being so jumpy. B’s Notes: Why is she so jumpy? It’s not like the Star Mountains were some back alley in Camden or something B’s notes: I’m not connected to this reference. I’ve never been in Camden and I wouldn’t know if the back alleys are dangerous. Make sure your readers can connect to your comparisons. Nothing ever happens here. B’s notes: Explain ‘nothing’. It could be a lot of things.

Heart rate nearing normal, I straightened up and felt the breath catch in my throat for a completely different reason. I was standing at the top of the hill, looking out over acres of fields on one side and forest on the other. Vale da Castanheira,“valley of the chestnut tree”, my grandparents’ land, was pretty B’s note: What makes it pretty? This is a ho-hum verb. and deserted, the forest still waking up around me. Exhaustion or no, being up here, staring out over the world so early in the morning, was definitely a rush. 

B’s notes: I might start sounding like a broken record. The writing is good here, but I’m not hooked. There’s nothing interesting happening here. Your reader won’t be pulled into your story until something interesting happens. There is a hint of it with the flash of blond she sees, but that’s it. There are many ways to open your novel, not just mid-action, but however way you decide to open it, make sure to make it unique and use stronger verbs. And ask yourself, “Is this where my story truly starts?” Your first 250 words is prime real estate, use it to draw in your readers (agents).

Remember this is subjective and others’ may feel differently. So I’ll now pass it on to the readers to critique. Please leave your comments, and remember the rules of critiquing … be nice, which I’m sure you all will be, but I have to say it … you know.

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6 comments to After the Madness Workshop # B-3

  • “The air was just cool enough that I was not sweating too badly, even though my lungs were killing me by mile three.”

    This sentence threw me. It’s defused, practically evasive–to give a weather/status report. If I were reading for pleasure, (scanning the page before buying the book) I would’ve set it down.

    The rest is pretty but uninteresting. You NEED a point or at least the promise that we’ll get to one soon.

    Buona fortuna.

  • Other than the hint that she’s jumpy, this is a fairly idyllic scene. Even if you’re setting it up that way because there’s going to be a drastic reversal, we need a reason to keep reading–and conflict is one of the most common reasons people read on. Does your story actually start in some pages after this? It’s not uncommon in our crit group to advise people to chop anywhere from the first 2 to 15 pages to find the REAL beginning where things are happening.

  • I second Brenda…I read on an agent blog that you should pick the point in your mc’s life when their life changes. All books have that…well, that should be where you start. That life altering moment, and then the rest of the book should be about what they do and how they over come- or fail. (I didn’t say it, I’m no expert, just passing along what I read)

    So, the point is…I like this, but it shouldn’t be your opening. We want to know the character and get invested before we go for a run with them. :)– Hope this helps

  • The descriptions are good, but at this point, I’m not hooked. I don’t know what to expect or what kind of story this is. Your first paragraphs should set the mood and promise the story you’re trying to tell.

    I’ve seen lots of people who were afraid of giving too much away in the beginning who are purposely evasive in the opening pages. While it’s important to leave questions unanswered so that your reader will want to continue, it’s also important to answer a few questions so your reader doesn’t get frustrated.

    I’m guessing, from the “flash of blond” you mention, that you’re trying to establish some kind of suspense or mystery. That’s when it gets really easy to fall into the fallacy that you can’t reveal anything to the reader. Remember that when people read mysteries, most of the fun is trying to figure out what’s going on before it’s revealed. Give your readers enough hints and tidbits of information so that they can try to figure it out. (Feel free to throw in plenty of red herrings so they don’t figure it out easily.)

  • Hi Everyone!

    Thank you for the comments so far, I really appreciate the feedback. After a twitter session last morning, Brenda was nice enough to look at my next few paragraphs and suggested a mix-up of the paragraphs to get things moving a bit faster:

    I hate running, but that hasn’t stopped me from almostdaily six mile runs and being a part of my school’s track team since ninth grade. I know that it makes absolutely no sense, but it’s either this or give up the chocolate. And I like chocolate better than I hate running.

    My sneakers pounded along the familiar paths, kicking up a small cloud of dust. I dodged rocks and ruts in the dirt path and pushed up a steep incline with one last burst of speed. As I neared the top, a flash of blond hit the corner of my eye and I stumbled and quickly righted myself. I whipped my head around in thedirection of the flash. whipping my head around to try and find its source. Nothing was there. I slowed to a walk and then dropped my hands to my knees. I had to stop being so jumpy. It’s not like the Star Mountains were some back alley in Camden ((we discussed how tied I am to one of the most dangerous cities in the US… thinking of replacing this with Philly, or clarifying)) or something. Nothing ever happens here.

    Heart rate nearing normal, I straightened up and felt the breath catch in my throat for a completely different reason. I was standing atthe top of the hill, looking out over acres of fields on one side and forest onthe other. Vale da Castanheira, “valley of the chestnut tree”, my grandparents’land, was pretty and deserted, the forest still waking up around me. Exhaustion or no, being up here, staring out over the world so early in the morning, was definitely a rush.

    (Thank you soooo much, Brenda, for the advice!)

  • I’d cut your 1st paragraph down to just two sentences:

    “I hate running, but it’s either this or give up chocolate. And I love chocolate more than I hate running.”

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