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First Page: Unnamed Contemporary

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***

Jody was not surprised the evening her husband failed to come home from work. Nor was she surprised the next night or the next or the even night after that.

At the start of the second week with his presence at neither meal nor bedtime, Jody took herself down to First Trust Bank on Crestmont Street. There she learned that the inner voice telling her not to bother with the police had been right. In the moment when the blameless clerk flushed deeply and fixed a stare firmly at the bank’s computer screen, refusing eye contact in answering questions of the state of the marital bank accounts, Jody knew that her husband had not been not the victim of foul play. He, and her money, were well and truly gone. The sputtering hope that he would not join the list of men who had let her down died with the knowledge that he was most assuredly alive.

That night as she poured the last of a bottle of inexpensive red wine into a old canning jar, Jody cried. Not for her husband, for she would have been far more shocked if he’d actually stuck around, but for herself. She wept for the little girl who tried to be good and quiet so that her father would stay, for the teenager who said “yes” when she really wanted to say “no” and found that yes didn’t keep lonliness at bay, for the college sophomore who squinted at the board rather than wear the glasses she needed but refused on her mother’s man-catching advice (she’d had to drop the higher level math courses as a result), and for the woman who sat alone in bed with an empty bottle on the table beside her. She wondered how so much trying, so much effort to be just right, to be deserving, could have brought her back to being alone. Again. Still.

“What did I do?” she cried, eyes flashing heavenward, “Is it so awful to love me?” She swore bitterly, invoking an angel of the childhood faith in which she’d long since stopped believing.

***

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139 Comments

  1. Ann Somerville
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 04:32:08

    First para, good. Second para, still holding attention. By the third para, I wanted the author to stop telling me and start showing me. All but the last para is an info dump, and sorry, the last para is horrible.

    This is a whole life’s history in four paragraphs, and that’s so not the way to tell a story and keep people engaged.

    So either drop this or expand it. If it’s a prologue, well…I still think you need some dialogue and action to make it perk up. But it’s more like a synopsis than story telling.

  2. Crys
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 04:45:39

    I agree with the above, that there was a lot of telling and not showing, but I thought the writing overall was certainly better than competent. I would have liked a different rhythm overall to the word flow; for example more short sentences in the midst of all the long ones (provocative short sentences, too — think bullet shots, BAM BAM).

    I also didn’t understand what not taking her mother’s matchmaking advice had to do with not being able to take a higher level math class. ???

    AND, I didn’t find it terribly believable that this woman didn’t call the police. Even if my husband was a rat bastid of the highest order, I’d have called the police instead of wait a week and then go check the accounts.

    BUT DON’T STOP WRITING.

    You’re good, and it was interesting.

  3. Val Kovalin
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 04:52:49

    This is only 351 words, but you have a good situation: Jody’s husband has left her penniless. She needs to save herself. You can develop a solid conflict like this over a novel.

    However, this isn’t yet a gripping first page. It’s more a sketch of an interesting problem. You need to climb into Jody’s head and write us an actual scene filled with sensory detail and emotion. Right now, this reads like a summary. Plus, for the first page, Jody needs more to her personality to grab us: she’s too much a victim right now. Keep the self-pity (understandable) but give her flashes of anger as well or even black humor (the kind you get when you’re in shock).

    Go back to the bank and put yourself in Jody’s mind. Trim away the excessive adverbs (flushed deeply, fixed a stare firmly) because they’re already implied. Give us a few vivid details of what the bank looked like: fake palm trees in the lobby? A teller snapping her gum? A balding security guard with a Colt .45 on his hip?

    Does Jody have a sick feeling in her stomach? Has she dressed in her Sunday best so as not to look too pathetic? Does she have a hole in the toe of her nylons that she’s self-conscious about? Keep climbing into the scene as you picture these details. Does she break down crying or swearing and tell the clerk her problem? Does the clerk give her weird and inappropriate advice?

    When she goes home, what does she do when she’s thinking about the people in the past who have let her down? Right now it’s a little too much info-dump without action to balance it – though I like your detail about her drinking the cheap wine out of the old canning jar! What else? Does she fish out the classifieds from where it’s lining the birdcage? Does she call her mother and then receive a self-righteous lecture about “THAT man”?

    Just think it through like scenes in a movie, and build it up more. You’ve got a great premise!

  4. Karen Ranney
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 05:21:11

    I cannot tell a lie; I would slam the book shut after the first page and count myself lucky to have dodged a bullet.

    I’m not going to touch on technique, but I will tell you what I feel about the heroine. Buck up, honey. Bad things happen. Get a life. Get a backbone.

    What’s missing is a reason to care about her. Pathos won’t do it. You need to connect me – the reader – to her, the heroine before I can care about what happens to her. I need to nod and say, yep, done that, felt that way.

    If I can’t connect with the heroine, then I don’t give a flying fig what happens to her, and she comes across as whiny and self-pitying.

  5. lynne Connolly
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 06:07:42

    Too much telling, not enough showing.
    Also, if she wasn’t surprised when he didn’t come home, why not? Why didn’t she then high-tail it to the bank before he did? If she suspected him, why stay with him in the first place?
    Jody comes across in this piece as a doormat. If he was that much of a fink, she should have dropped him long before, after she’d visited the bank and made sure of her finances. I know what it’s like to have a husband you can’t trust, and believe me, unless you are terminally stupid, you make sure you have your money locked up and safe before you make your move, and as soon as you realise he is no good. If you can’t trust him in or out of bed, you need to take care of yourself.
    So I wouldn’t be interested in someone who knew her husband was no good, but still kept the joint account and waited for him for days.
    It’s a fairly easy fix. Just have the husband do this to her out of the blue. She never suspected, she never assumed, she didn’t know he was a rat bastard until he made his move. Then you have some nice trauma to deal with.
    And plunge the reader into the story. I’d start with the scene at the bank, where the teller is informing her that the money has gone. She’s worried about her husband, went to the police to report him missing, and only at the bank does she realise what he’s done. Her first thought might be that he’d been kidnapped, the money forcibly extracted, then her mind clicks into gear and she puts it all together.
    Now that book I’d give a chance to, but the doormat of a heroine doesn’t get more than a chapter from me.
    But – the voice is good, and I’d like to see a rewrite with an actual scene.

  6. Sparky
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 06:24:53

    As others have said it’s a lot of tell not a lot of show. At least it’s a plausible tell since it’s reasonable for her to reflect on her previous bad luck.

    Even worse, in this case, because the tell is about her ruinious relations with men I keep bringing to mind either a psychiatrist’s office or some pub somewhere with an extremely bored landlord trying to move along to drunken lady who will not shut up. Or worst – some teenager’s net blog where she wails at length about how awful life is.

    It’s an interesting premise and I can see it developing well – but starting with a huge WHINING info dump really puts me off (of course that’s personal taste more than anything, but if the angst is already flowing off the first page in a great gushing river then I’m going to dread turning that first page).

  7. Anion
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 07:10:06

    See, I agree it’s tell vs. show, but I actually really like the voice here. I was intrigued by her not being surprised, I wondered why she waited so long, I liked some of the discriptive stuff (“cheap wine out of an old canning jar” is fantastic, IMO.) For me the voice kept me reading.

    But. The very next paragraph ought to be a knock at the door and a mysterious stranger or something, because the “Why am I so hard to love boo hoo hoo” is annoying and melodramatic. And while I get what you mean, “invoking an angel” is awkward and, again, melodramatic. And who invokes angels? And how? (As opposed to “God, help me,” I mean. “Angel Gabriel, help me?” Do angels get involved in this sort of thing? I know saints do. She might invoke St. Claire or someone like that. But an angel?)

    I can deal with the tell as an opening, personally, because I thought it was done with a nice, light touch. But once we move to sitting at the table getting drunk and crying, you lose me. It’s boring.

    (None of this means the others are wrong. You shouldn’t start with tell. It would be much better to start with the scene at the bank, show us the clerk blushing, how us the MC feeling resigned, show us she stumbles out onto the street in a daze and is nearly run over by Lance Lancington, the dashing pipe magnate, or something. I just thought the writing was good enough here to forgive a little more tell, and I liked the MC up until she started whining aloud about how nobody loves her.)

    Good luck!

  8. theo
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 07:15:19

    I think the premise could be very good, but I have to agree with most that’s already been said.

    Adding to those comments though…

    Your first two or three sentence paragraph has two blatant passive mistakes in it. Was. Please. You can rewrite those sentences to make them pop without losing the idea you’re going for.

    Jody was not surprised the evening her husband failed to come home from work. Nor was she surprised the next night or the next or the even night after that.

    Better:

    It didn’t surprise Jody the evening her husband failed to come home from work. She felt no surprise the next night, or the one after that either.

    Granted, ‘felt’ tends to get used a lot too, but that’s just a more active way of imparting the same idea. And from there, I would take it right into the bank, perhaps her thinking about how nothing surprised her where men were concerned while the teller explained that her bank account was empty. And show that conversation. Don’t tell me what happened.

    I did like the image of the old canning jar except for one thing. When I learned the husband ran off with all Jody’s money, the first thought that came to me was: Oh! Rich woman, con man. Then I get the image of the old canning jar and wonder just how much money the accounts held to steal. Wouldn’t be much if she can’t afford real glasses. Unless she’s punishing herself for being stupid about the guy, in which case, I want to know that.

    Last thing; the last line says she ‘invoked’ an angel. Is this paranormal? I understand this is the first page, but I need more on the first page that really grabs me for me to bother turning the page to find out what the sub-genre is.

    Rework the page. The voice is good. The idea can be presented in a way to really knock the reader down with a desire to keep reading. Right now, it’s not there yet. But it could be, with a little honest editing.

    Best of luck.

  9. Moira
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 07:31:41

    I think you have talent and your words flow in a way I admire. I definitely think you should keep working at it.

    I really liked the first two paragraphs, just as they are. They make me wonder what kind of life the couple had that the husband could be gone for a few days without leaving word and the main character wouldn’t notice nor care. And it hints at a potential mystery as to whether the husband did just hike off or was the victim of foul play.

    Then the third paragraph brings it to a screeching halt. The main character changes from someone who seems to go with the flow and is cynical about it to someone who is needy and angsty about it. Two very different people, and the second person is one about whom I have no interest in reading. The protagonist definitely has a reason to feel burned and distrustful for the introduction of the hero without feeling no one can love her.

  10. Lori
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 08:01:41

    Well I would have kept reading. I’m the audience you’re targeting with this because I like these kinds of stories.

    Because it says Unnamed Contemporary and not paranormal, I’m assuming the angel of the childhood faith of whom she stopped believing, is not going to show up. If he is (and he might) then that line just reads awkwardly. If he isn’t, dump the paragraph. And that was the only clunker I saw.

    I actually disagree with those who are giving the ‘show not tell’ advice here. And those who don’t like the milquetoast heroine. This is the kind of first page where it’s completely implied that the heroine will grow and change in the story (as well as finally find a decent man) and the telling also worked because well, to me, the telling worked. A whole book can’t be sustained that way but here and now, that works.

    (Also want to add that to me it seems obvious from the beginning where the author is taking this. From the very first paragraph. I mean, this is solid in every way.)

    I’d lay down the cash to keep reading so I hope that opportunity comes. Good luck author!

  11. Shiloh Walker
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 08:17:57

    I like the voice, not too convinced though that she would have waited so long to go to the police, though.

    I’m not so much seeing the heroine as a whiner-yeah, she’s having some lousy luck, but my assumption is that the woman is going to make her life change, so I don’t have any issues with her.

    I do think it’s needs to be tightened up and I think we need a little less info thrown at us right off the bat, but I’d definitely want to read more. :)

    edited….

  12. Tracey
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 08:18:39

    I have a few questions and comments about Jody.

    1) It’s not impossible to clean out a joint account, but if Jody’s husband had tried, in person, to remove all of the money from the account in one fell swoop (as he seems to have here), the teller on duty would have been required by law to contact Jody the instant J.H. tried to do so. No money would be given out until the bank had confirmation that Jody knew what J.H. was doing and that he had her permission to do so. Depending on the bank and the state, Jody might even have to come down in person to give confirmation in writing.

    Even if J.H. had been careful and had taken out regular sums of money over a period of time, the withdrawals would have shown up on the bank statements that were sent to Jody’s house. Plus the bank would have contacted Jody and J.H. both by phone and by letter if the funds in the account were getting below a certain level.

    There are a lot more safeguards in place these days. The scenario you’re envisioning could have happened in the 1950s when the husband was presumed to be the financial head of the family (Stephen King used this scenario and assumption in Dolores Claiborne, for example), but this novel is a contemporary. I would suggest that you contact a few banks–and your local office of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. They can tell you what people can and can’t do with joint accounts and large withdrawals.

    2. Why is she pouring wine into a canning jar? I could see Jody drinking from a glass or from the bottle. But why a canning jar?

    3. “Loneliness.” With an E.

    4. Jody is an unsympathetic heroine. She whines, she doesn’t stand up for herself (saying yes when she wants to say no) and she gets herself into situations where she’s pretending to be something that she’s not to get someone to love the pretend her (such as hiding her nearsightedness and skill at math to get a man). Then, when the pretense wears off, people leave because the person they were in love with wasn’t real.

    I know I’m supposed to feel sorry for her, but I don’t. Most of her problems seem to be of her own making, and she isn’t doing anything to change that. In fact, she isn’t really doing anything but feel sorry for herself.

    It’s a matter of personal taste, of course, but I would close the book right here.

  13. Courtney Milan
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 08:31:33

    I thought it was a decent setup, although I rather thought that the setup with the infodump (which I agree should change) was not going to lead to “Oh, angel, have pity on poor me! Nobody can love me!” and instead something more like, “So Jody burned all her aprons and went down to the local community college and registered for differential equations and calculus-based physics.”

    Active is way better than passive. If she’s having this whole realization that being a passive wife didn’t get her anything except this pathetic poverty, if she stays passive I want to conk her over the head. Active, active, active. And let us know she’s going to become active soon, because even if she gets active *later* I might get frustrated and put the book down before you get to that point.

    And honestly, if the story goes something like this–“Oh, woe is me, I tried to be the perfect wife and lo and behold nobody can love me,” and the story is about her staying the perfect wife and finding the man who loves her anyway because he is just that good, I want to slam the book shut and toss it against a wall. Because when I read this page, what I really want, what I really, REALLY want, is for this girl to figure out that she needs to love herself first, and she can’t do that if she’s trying to fit into someone else’s box.

    It’s good that I want something for our heroine. It’s bad if I think that her method of getting what she needs is foolishly unlikely to succeed.

  14. Shannon Stacey
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 08:32:13

    On a side note, was is not always passive. Sometimes it’s just was—a necessary “invisible” word like said—and performing linguistic gymnastics to avoid it can be worse for the writing. While I’d recommend the author change the first was not to wasn’t, I think the original paragraph flows more naturally for the reader than the suggested ‘fixed’ one.

    And if you’re in deep POV, felt is even more distancing than was.

  15. Marsha
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 08:35:07

    Oh, goodness, thank you all so much. I’m the writer/perpetrator of this little piece and I nearly choked on my coffee when I received notice it would be posted today. Your thoughts have been helpful in ways that I never could have predicted since it’s the first thing I have ever written that wasn’t a letter to an aging relative. I have expanded and changed this bit since submitting and am gratified that so much of what I’ve learned here has been addressed and also humbled that there is still a great deal to be done. Many, many thanks.

    And, Lori? You nailed it in one. Thanks. I’ll work hard to make sure that you and I aren’t the only interested parties!

    This was written during one highly boring meeting and edited and revised during another two. I really think there’s something here and appreciate everyone’s thoughts. I just hope I don’t have to attend more meetings for me to find out the rest of what happens to Jody. She’s been through enough already.

  16. Courtney Milan
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 08:39:17

    Oh, and just a note, I totally disagree with theo. The use of “was” is not inherently passive.

    Passive is something like this:

    The milk was spilled.

    Well, who spilled the milk? It’s usually better to say, “The cat spilled the milk.”

    But, “Jody was not surprised” is superior to “It didn’t surprise Jody.” You know who’s acting–Jody. Writing it as “Jody was not surprised” puts the emphasis in the clause on the two things that matter–Jody, your character, and her action, her lack of surprise. Writing it as “It didn’t surprise Jody” buries “surprise,” the strong verb, in the middle of your clause. The emphasis is on “it”–a word that in this context is completely blank. And it makes “it” the actor of the sentence, so that Jody is no longer acting. In other words, this rewrite does the exact opposite of what you’re supposed to accomplish by eradicating passive voice.

    It is okay to use the word “was.” “Was” is not inherently passive. And sometimes, if you are writing a sentence where the other words are sufficiently strong, words like “was” and “had” are precisely the words you should use, so that your words can get out of the way of the rest of the sentence.

  17. Leah
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 08:40:48

    I like it. I’m curious. I wasn’t as sensitive to the info dump as others, but I think they’re right when they ask you to go into more detail about the bank, etc. I don’t think she’s all that whiny–she’s been drinking, maybe she is a little whiny normally, and if you can’t catastrophize about your husband leaving you, when can you? All the same, when she “weeps for” etc., the list gets a little clunky, flow-wise. If you trim the detail, it will have more impact, I think.

    As far as the bank goes, my FIL was able to divert money away from my MIL. And you’ve set up the heroine as passive and desperate, so she might be able to allow her husband to have all the finances in his name–all he has to do it tell her some crap story to justify it, since it seems she’ll accept poor treatment. And my MIL, even though she caught her husband in a bad position once, and didn’t trust him, still was not savvy or aggressive enough to take financial steps in the 2 yrs before they divorced. When they were divorcing, she was more likely to give into him than to fight on any particular issue. The thing is, though, she was in her late 60’s, and your heroine is younger. Has she been abused?

    The thing is, though, and this is IMHO, she has to start growing a backbone before the hero shows up. He can’t give it to her, and if she doesn’t, she’ll just continue to be a jerk magnet.

    Also, I don’t necesarily buy that she’d let all that time go by without contacting the police. What about her ATM cards? Credit cards? Did they stop working? And just because the bank accounts are messed up doesn’t mean he isn’t dead. There are plenty of scenarios in which he could do that sort of thing under duress. If I were a cop, and saw her take this course of action, I’d suspect something and search her computer for Google searches on “how to murder someone and get away with it” (like all those geniuses on Dateline).

    I like it,though, and I like the “husband betrayal” storyline (trope?). I’d buy it.

  18. theo
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 08:51:31

    Courtney, I might agree with you that ‘was’ isn’t necessarily inherently passive however, using those first two sentences to start your story…boring! Reminds me of a hundred other set-ups. If she wants to use those sentences, then use them later, start the scene with a conversation between the teller and Jody. That would pull the reader into the action. Those two first sentences are off-putting. If she thinks it while she’s waiting for info from the teller or as she’s leaving the bank, great. But the placement has a lot to do with passivity in a sentence and though you disagree, and that’s certainly fine, in this case, that’s no way to start a story. At least not in anything I’ve ever learned.

    If you don’t hook your reader in the first paragraph, it’s likely that you’ll lose a lot who, had they continued on, might have loved your story eventually.

    Bore them with the first paragraph, you’ll lose them every time.

    But hey! We all have our own opinions and the way we’ve learned or been taught. That’s just mine.

  19. Amie
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 08:58:35

    I like Val’s suggestions for fleshing it out–because I think it’s the little details that Val mentioned that can make your character stand out. You have talent and your voice has a nice evocative quality. So even though it’s telling rather than showing, it works for me, and I would keep reading. What my coffee-deprived brain is trying to say is, not all stories have to start out with a bang. Sometimes quiet is okay.

    This is the kind of first page where it's completely implied that the heroine will grow and change in the story

    Word!

  20. Shannon Stacey
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 09:15:52

    A while back passive sentences became the hot topic around Romanceland and what seems to have come out of that was “Kill Was”. Not always the right thing to do.

    Original sentence:

    Nor was she surprised the next night or the next or the even night after that.

    This is an example of the invisible was not the passive was.

    Suggested fix:

    She felt no surprise the next night, or the one after that either.

    Outside of dialogue, felt is always a telling word. In this sentence, the author is telling the reader what Jody felt, putting distance between them in the second sentence of the book.

    Was is an issue when it does what felt is doing in that second sentence—telling what’s happening to the character rather than seeing it through the character:

    The top stair creaked and she was overwhelmed with terror.

    The top stair creaked and terror overwhelmed her.

    (Still not pretty because that terror should be broken down into sensory reactions, but it’s just an example and I’m still sucking down caffeine.)

  21. vanessa jaye
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 09:24:17

    I really like this one. I was intrigued from the begining. The only thing I would advise is that the next paragraphs following the ones posted not continue with the whoa-is-me stuff, but show her moving on, or making plans to move on etc. Make her get angry or decide it’s time to make herself happy. You’ll have the reader cheering her on. It’s the placement of the last 2 lines/last paragraph in particular that’s offputting. It’s too melodramatic follow the rundown in the 3rd paragraph, and as someone else said an almost complete aboutface of the pragmatic protagonist you introduced in the first sentences.

    Nice job.

  22. TracyS
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 10:51:11

    I’m commenting purely as a reader. Most of the “writer” stuff mentioned above I didn’t even notice :o)

    As a reader, I’d keep reading. I want to know what the deal is with Jody and what kind of jerk she married that none of this surprised her. Why did she wait a week to go to the bank? How is she going to grow and change into a heroine that gets her man?

    The only thing that made me pause was the angel thing. Seemed awkward.

  23. Ann Bruce
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 11:07:36

    Is it too mean of me to want to smack Jody and say, “Suck it up, princess”? Blaming the victim is not correct, but in this case, I think she brought the situation on herself.

    The writing didn’t wow me, but it didn’t make me want to suggest the writer brush up on rudimentary English or pick up a copy of Strunk’s reference book.

  24. Jessica
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 11:29:11

    If you’re still reading — Keep Writing. I buy and read these angsty heroine books all the time. This is not to say that sometimes I don’t throw books against the wall when the heroine becomes TSTL, but I really like this first page.

    I think para three is a little long (or the sentences are), but I’d read on. The show, not tell advice, gets overplayed in my book and you end up with a crap load of books where stuff is happening and you don’t know why or improbable scenes where the heroine is looking at the mirror to show how she looks or is looking at her marriage certificate to show how long she’s been married.

    I really like this. If you’re finished, submit, submit, submit.

  25. Karen Templeton
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 11:37:07

    Apropos of both the comments here regarding readers’ problems with the heroine’s lack of backbone on the FIRST PAGE OF THE STORY and my own comments about exactly this sort of reaction on the contemp romance thread yesterday, I have to wonder…why are readers so unwilling to give a character a chance to grow? Isn’t watching her journey part of the fun? Sure, showing the character pissed or sarcastic or otherwise stronger at the outset is a good way to go…but that’s not THIS character.

    See, it’s exactly these sorts of comments — along with, sorry, all the insistence that every book MUST start with an action scene — that further devolve the genre into tighter and tighter strictures about what constitutes romance. Or even fiction. If we’re not willing to read about all kinds of characters — including some who have some real baggage at the start of the story — then we’re only chipping away at the variety we all insist we want.

    All told, I don’t have a problem with this first page, because it IS the first page and I personally don’t need everything spelled out in the first 300 words. For me, it’s enough that the author’s started the book at the Moment of Change and that her/the character’s voice is strong enough to pull me into her plight. Could she start the scene at the bank? Sure. But as this stands, it’s not horrible by any means (I’ve read “horrible.” This doesn’t even come close.).

    Now, if the inciting incident doesn’t put the fire under the heroine’s butt shortly thereafter, then we have a problem. I would expect — hope — that once she drags her face out of that canning jar she’s ready to DO something instead of wallow. But personally I love the idea of the doormat getting her act together and getting the guy…on her own terms. Maybe she DID bring the situation on herself…why can’t that be part of her growth arc?

    Now, interestingly — going back to my down-and-out single mother waitress I mentioned yesterday — when I first introduced her, it is in a scene in the diner, and it’s typical crappy day, and she’s trying to wait tables and help her kid with his homework, and her back aches, blahblahblah, and I’d originally had her thinking, I hate my life. But that didn’t sit right with me, so I changed it to, Whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Why? Because the original thought didn’t fit the character, who’s NOT a doormat.

    And yet, reading about the heroine here…didn’t bother me at all. So be true to your character, I say, and you’ll be fine.

  26. Mike Briggs
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 11:52:37

    I kind of wonder about this whole first-page exercise a bit. Because my wife is an author, and many of our friends are authors, I’ve read quite a number of pre-publication manuscripts. This is better than many of them, including some that have garnered a fair bit of praise from readers. The writer’s voice is steady, her pacing is good, and the grammar is sure-footed. The descriptions are a bit thin, and the character is a little whiny.

    Frankly, I’m invested in the character and interested to see what happens next. Not bad for one page! In the early drafts it’s common for authors to have angsty, whiny characters — they’re still getting a handle on the character themselves. Yes, it’s a problem, but an easy one to fix. Allowing the character to vent a little helps the author understand the character better.

    So, the question is, where do you go from here? You can try to polish this page, or this scene over and over. I suggest that you press forward and complete the book. You’ve got a solid (if slightly flawed) beginning, but a good character and an interesting situation developing. Go ahead and write to the end, then come back to the beginning. You’ll know the character better, and you can decide just how much whiny you want to make her, and you’ll be ready to flesh out the skeletal details with richer description. After that, publish it!

  27. Courtney Milan
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 12:34:26

    I agree with everyone that’s saying the writing is pretty good. Honestly, I think that a lot of times people give advice that leads to overwriting rather than good writing. The writing in this first page is not obtrusive and doesn’t get in the way of the story. There’s no point in overwriting to the point where it does.

    And personally, I don’t know why details of the bank would matter so much. In fact, I kind of like the sort of emotional fog that lack of detail conveys at this point. Why would she pay any mind to the security guard, when she’s so numb that she can’t even get herself to get out to the bank for a week? Details I think are also overdone. As a reader, I care about the emotion and the journey. I don’t care about some random security guard. And for those of you who spend paragraphs adding that detail in–I want you to know that I skim those paragraphs when I read.

    If you want to add more detail in, layer the detail through the emotion. That is, let the scene and the setting tell more of the emotional journey. But never include detail for detail’s sake. That’s boring.

    And I agree with Karen about starting with action. You should start the story at the point of conflict. But that doesn’t mean starting at a point of *action*. I think your first two sentences introduce great story questions, and if you personally like them, I don’t see why you can’t keep them. I would definitely keep reading if I read those two pages.

    I also agree with Karen that you don’t have to write a character who is perfect from the start. But I do think that the execution matters tremendously. You have to make the reader see the potential for growth right away.

    One suggestion to keep your heroine the way she is, but make her more accessible to a wider range of readers, is to consider perhaps layering her emotions.

    Instead of having her think, “Is it so awful to love me?” you can have her insist, doggedly, that she isn’t so awful that she can’t be loved–but if you word it in the right way, the reader will know that the insistence covers up a deep-seated insecurity, that deep down, she fears that it *is* awful to love her. Same baggage, but expressed in a way that gives the character layers. That way, readers who come from different perspectives will find a lot to relate to. People who hate doormats will think, “yes, she’s not gonna take this lying down.” People who like angsty heroines will recognize that the heroine has a lot of room for emotional growth. And I think that most people react that way–they have both the defensive reaction (No way, I’m not horrible!) and the deep-seated insecurity (oh no, maybe I am!) and so the layering would ring true for just about everyone.

    There are other ways to deal with this, but I think that you can write your heroine the way you want–emotionally complex, with lots of room for growth–without triggering the standard “doormat” issues that some people reflexively bring up.

  28. Libby
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 12:39:45

    Hi Marsha,

    I’m with Ann Bruce on this one. I understand Jody’s sadness, but for her to not call the police, or show even a bit of animosity toward the jerk gives me very little hope for the rest of the book. In real life I don’t enjoy spending time with people who victimize themselves when the going gets tough, and the same goes for 400 pages of a book I’ve just spent $7 to read. I could probably take one page of this before I daydreamed of marching over there and treating Jody to a Tough Chicks Movie Marathon (hell, I’d even settle for the Lifetime Movie Network for a weekend because if anyone knows how to overcome the odds, it’s the women on Lifetime). And of course my opinions here are based on personal preference, and won’t apply to everyone :)

    If you’re going to go with the husband betrayal line–and this is one that I think has been done a God’s plenty IMO–you’ve got to set Jody apart from the rest of the jilted wives. If she doesn’t care enough about her own life to take care of basic needs like her personal finances, identity, and credit, that tells me she’s nowhere near ready to love somebody else. Because then she wouldn’t be love; she would be back to the enabling behavior all over again. I, too, hope this is a scene that takes place in the distant past because healing from this type of betrayal takes a very long time.

    Your writing is good, you just need to breathe more life into it. Some excellent advice has been given above so I won’t bore you with more, but definitely check out Between the Lines by Jessica Page Morrell :)

    Best wishes to you, and here’s to more boring meetings!

  29. Robin
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 12:44:08

    Apropos of both the comments here regarding readers' problems with the heroine's lack of backbone on the FIRST PAGE OF THE STORY and my own comments about exactly this sort of reaction on the contemp romance thread yesterday, I have to wonder…why are readers so unwilling to give a character a chance to grow? Isn't watching her journey part of the fun? Sure, showing the character pissed or sarcastic or otherwise stronger at the outset is a good way to go…but that's not THIS character.

    See, it's exactly these sorts of comments -‘ along with, sorry, all the insistence that every book MUST start with an action scene -‘ that further devolve the genre into tighter and tighter strictures about what constitutes romance. Or even fiction. If we're not willing to read about all kinds of characters -‘ including some who have some real baggage at the start of the story -‘ then we're only chipping away at the variety we all insist we want.

    I tend to think that people are harder on these pages because they’ve been posted to invite comments. So everyone is reading at the highest level of scrutiny rather than just reading as we do when we actually have a whole book in front of us. I don’t know about other readers, but I can’t remember the last time I put a book down because I didn’t get hooked by the first page. IMO it’s easier to take an offering like this to task because readers haven’t *selected* it and also see our task as critique rather than simple reading.

    That said, there IS a fine line between offering suggestions to strengthen the page and appearing intolerant of certain elements that may play out in unexpected or perfectly acceptable ways (to said reader) in the course of an entire novel. And I don’t know how people can really gauge that difference in commenting on these pages, because we don’t have the entirety of the book to make that judgment. I guess that’s where you hope the writer can discern helpful feedback v. unhelpful feedback in terms of his or her own vision. Which is where you hope the writer HAS a strong sense of vision and a good balance between creative conviction and openness to good advice. And none of us have control over any of that, lol, so I think that means that there will always be a certain artificiality to this exercise as it compares to reading an entire book.

    But still, as you say, perhaps it’s good for all of us to be reminded of the way criticism can carry beyond its immediate object as we throw out our initial reactions. And hopefully it will be helpful to a writer to know that readers dislike the first glimpse of her heroine because that’s the reaction she’s going for. Or maybe she thinks she’s painted a sympathetic portrait and she needs to go back and re-trace the trajectory of her heroine’s development. Maybe she needs to do nothing because she has taken every step with her heroine deliberately and in a way that conforms with her vision.

    In some ways both author and reader are similarly disadvantaged by the one page, but isn’t the reality that editors and agents will be reading far less than the entire book, as well?

  30. Karen Templeton
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 12:56:13

    In some ways both author and reader are similarly disadvantaged by the one page, but isn't the reality that editors and agents will be reading far less than the entire book, as well?

    Yes, but if the voice engages and the premise is intriguing, a decent editor or agent would certainly judge the book by more than ONE page. That doesn’t mean that individual agents or editors wouldn’t still pass, or ask for revisions after reading more of the book. And certainly the first page is important — you’ve got to hook the reader. The thing is, I think, with some polishing, that’s going on just fine here (and I hate everything, LOL!).

    At least, it’s hooking about half of us, it seems. Not a bad average, actually. ;-)

  31. Robin
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 12:57:16

    Instead of having her think, “Is it so awful to love me?” you can have her insist, doggedly, that she isn't so awful that she can't be loved-but if you word it in the right way, the reader will know that the insistence covers up a deep-seated insecurity, that deep down, she fears that it *is* awful to love her.

    I actually liked the way that was phrased because IMO there was tension around where the burden of emotion was. On one level it seemed as if she was thinking that it was *awful for someone to love her*, on another it seemed that she felt *she was too awful* to be loved, and on still another it suggested to me the awfulness of the husband.

    I understand Jody's sadness, but for her to not call the police, or show even a bit of animosity toward the jerk gives me very little hope for the rest of the book.

    Okay, but it’s been less than one day. Can’t she get over her self-pity and call the cops tomorrow? Have you ever read Jennifer Crusie’s Getting Rid of Bradley? If we’re applying the same doormat standard to the first pages of a book, I think Lucy would be crowned Queen of that particular kingdom. Now, if Jody spent the next five chapters crying into her pillow, it’s be over for me. But frankly I think that the initial bout of self-pity is quite realistic, and so I’m willing to give her some slack there and *hopefully* watch her get to the point where she can’t believe she actually cried over that loser. Or finds out he was robbed and kidnapped, or whatever is in store for her (and perhaps the cop-hero she calls the next day, lol).

    My biggest pet peeve, frankly, was the term “marital bank accounts,” which I wanted to change to “joint bank accounts.” ;)

  32. Janine
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 12:58:46

    Couple minor typos (my bolding used to indicate where the error is, not that you need to emphasize these words):

    or the even night after that.

    Should be:

    or even the night after that.

    and

    inexpensive red wine into a old canning jar

    should be

    inexpensive red wine into an old canning jar

    Otherwise I agree with Mr. Briggs that the writing is pretty smooth and it’s better to go forward. I have a friend who is a painter as well as a writer who uses the term “overworking” for working on a painting, or on a piece of writing too long. It can make a page flow less well than it used to. This flows very nicely, so my advice is not to overwork it.

  33. Emmy
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 13:05:15

    This was actually a well written age, for once, rather than something my 7-year-old could have written.

    Having said that…no, I wouldn’t read it. I have angst allergies. Anyone who would wait 3-4 days to find out where their husband is, then get drunk and wail “why me?” in the Two Buck Chuck just isn’t a character I can empathize with. Fuck that. Get a knife and go find the guy and make this a murder mystery.

    re: the rest…a lot of people do give out their own opinions as to the style they want to see, but I agree that some of the best selling stories start out a little slow. Heck, one of my fave books EVAH, Karin Lowachee’s Warchild, started out with 30 pages in third person. Good God, that’s annoying. I don’t need action on the first page, just something to hook me. The writing is wonderful, and if it were any other subject, I’d be very interested.

  34. MS Jones
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 13:12:02

    I agree that the writing's good, but there's too much information on the first page that makes the heroine sound like an idiot, particularly the backstory in the third paragraph that establishes her doormat credentials.

    Author Hilari Bell has some good advice on what to include in the first five pages, and about sprinkling backstory around in later chapters.

    This story is hard to judge without knowing where it's headed. If the blurb was:

    Jody Doormatti's husband is gone and so is all her money. When the police find his body in the swamp and the money in her toilet tank, she ends the pity party, dyes her hair red, and gets some spandex and a spine. Sparks fly as her new kickass self rubs handsome detective/poet Jack Sonnet the wrong way. He's Canadian, but that doesn't mean he's going to play the sap for her. Jack realizes she's an innocent dupe of money-launderers when the ‘Ndrangheta starts shooting at them. Now they're a couplet on the run with trust issues. Will his tongue in her cheek be enough to overcome the handcuffs incident?

    – then the reader might read on as the worm turns.

    Personally, I never judge a book by the first page (or the cover, or the author’s name – now the title, that’s another matter entirely) but I think Hilari Bell is right when she says

    very few agents or editors will even read beyond the first page, first five pages tops, if your opening doesn’t grab their attention.

  35. Libby
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 13:17:38

    Robin, Courtney, Mike, and Karen have raised some excellent points. It’s so hard to judge how the rest of the book will play out because we don’t have a query letter, synopsis, or even a genre for this book. Not only that, but personal preferences vary so much on this board. I said above that I don’t particularly enjoy this type of storyline, but for somebody who does, they have probably struck gold. The thing is, I have no sense of where this book is going, and IMO there is only so much that can be said about a first page.

    I think it’s pretty much a given Jody is going to grow tremendously over the course of the book. I personally love reading the ups and downs that go along with life-changing events, and the sweet success of a happy ending. And I really like what Karen said about the character arc. But I’ll go back to what I said above: we only have one page to form an opinion from, and we have to speculate on the rest (as I clearly did in my post above LOL). This probably isn’t the most ideal platform to gain critiques because the fact is, more information is required.

    (Now this is where I get ranty. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!) I don’t think it helps a writer to have a fellow writer or critique partner tell them a particular aspect of the story is “horrible.” What ever happened to respecting your fellow writer? Yet this is something I see almost every Saturday as I read through these comments and I get so discouraged when I read some of these. I understand that as writers, we have to develop a thick skin…but those who are helping in the beginning stages should at least try to be more supportive. Getting panned by reviewers and readers is a given, but in all the critiques I’ve had of my work, I’ve never received callous feedback from fellow writers (Minotaur, anyone?).

    My opinion the First Page Saturdays is that I don’t think this is the best place for receiving critiques. Critique Circle, Litopia, or Absolute Write would be more beneficial because entire chapters can be posted, and you can also find a group of people to work with who will work with you for the course of the novel. That said, I do enjoy reading these, but I have to wonder at how helpful they are to the writers who submit.

  36. Ann Bruce
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 13:38:22

    I don't think it helps a writer to have a fellow writer or critique partner tell them a particular aspect of the story is “horrible.” What ever happened to respecting your fellow writer?

    Are you suggesting we become the mutual admiration society?

  37. Jaimek
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 13:41:52

    I agree with Mike Briggs on this – yeah, she is whiny, but I would write to the end and then come back. Even though she is crying in her soup at the moment I, as a reader, would still forge ahead and read. There is the promise of something more here.

  38. Ann Bruce
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 13:47:30

    I don't know about other readers, but I can't remember the last time I put a book down because I didn't get hooked by the first page.

    I’m treating these as excerpts and if an excerpt doesn’t hook me, then I’m not buying. These days I’m very choosy about my reading material. If a book takes too long to get to the action, my attention will wander. Maybe I’m a product of my generation (or maybe of my comic book reading habit), but I want things to happen NOW. Once you get me hooked, you can take one or two chapters to fill in the back story or, better yet, weave the information throughout the remainder of the story.

  39. Jill Sorenson
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 13:50:03

    I also agree with Karen that you don't have to write a character who is perfect from the start. But I do think that the execution matters tremendously. You have to make the reader see the potential for growth right away.

    Yes! No need to start with an action sequence, but how about a point of change? Her husband has been gone for days, and it hasn’t occurred to her that she has a right to be angry? With her “doormat credentials,” I have a hard time believing she’s on the road to becoming a more confident person.

    Like others have said, the writing is fine and the set-up is interesting. You’ve elicited strong reactions here, and that’s always a good thing. You can’t make everyone happy, but you can bore everyone, and you certainly haven’t done that. : )

    Best of luck to you.

  40. Libby
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 13:53:13

    Are you suggesting we become the mutual admiration society?

    You’re joking, right?

  41. Ann Bruce
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 13:54:30

    Have you ever read Jennifer Crusie's Getting Rid of Bradley?

    The beginning drove me nuts, but I gritted my teeth and kept reading because I knew Crusie would make it up to me. The author here is an unknown to me, so unless a review pops up revealing Jody becomes a strong, self-confident woman who tracks down her husband and ensures he’ll only be singing soprano for the rest of his life, I’ll pass.

    (Actually, even with the review, I might still pass because she gave him several days to cover his tracks!)

  42. Courtney Milan
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 13:56:08

    I don't think it helps a writer to have a fellow writer or critique partner tell them a particular aspect of the story is “horrible.” What ever happened to respecting your fellow writer?

    Are you suggesting we become the mutual admiration society?

    Isn’t that a bit of an excluded middle? As someone who has been guilty of overcritiquing for people I really do like and care about, I can say that it doesn’t help anyone–not you, not the person you’re critiquing for, and especially not the people who have to be around you–for you to go over board trying to make someone see how much a particular part of their book sucks.

  43. Ann Bruce
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 14:04:57

    You're joking, right?

    I’ll reply to this remark after I calm down. I’m learning to not touch the keyboard when ticked off.

  44. theo
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 14:07:42

    And if that particular part of the book is the first thing to make or break a sale, or an agent loving it enough to rep it, what kind of a disservice are you doing the author by glossing over it?

    I have to agree with Ann. Or is this not supposed to be an opportunity to critique but just to have the first page read?

  45. Ann Bruce
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 14:08:55

    As someone who has been guilty of overcritiquing for people I really do like and care about, I can say that it doesn't help anyone-not you, not the person you're critiquing for, and especially not the people who have to be around you-for you to go over board trying to make someone see how much a particular part of their book sucks.

    Yes, bad Ann. Must not be honest. Must spin negative opinions.

  46. Moth
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 14:08:56

    All the “nors” and “fors” were way too formal and they put me off. Especially in the first two sentences when you’ve got two nors right on top of each other.

    I would also recommend another proof read of this. You misspelled “loneliness” at the end and many of your sentences were awkward, overlong and hard to understand. Like this one:

    “In the moment when the blameless clerk flushed deeply and fixed a stare firmly at the bank's computer screen, refusing eye contact in answering questions of the state of the marital bank accounts, Jody knew that her husband had not been not the victim of foul play

    .”

    Also, oy with the infodump! We don’t need all this info on the first page. I am positive that if this is all stuff we need to understand the book there are more graceful ways to work it into the manuscript than to dump it all on us on the first page in one big chunk.

    Also, for me, Jody as written, is a classic textbook case of “being a Doormat” and I don’t want to spend a whole book with someone like that. I wouldn’t spend a second page with her, actually, after the “Nobody loves me!” Boohoo. I mean, hell, build a bridge and get over it. Jeez.

    And, author, I’m not sure how I feel critiquing a page without a novel behind it. I was under the impression that First Pages were supposed to be from manuscripts that were done and polished and ready for submission, not first pages taken from snippets and bits of unfinished dabblings. Am I wrong? I’m not being critical here, I just want to know if these are more informal than I thought.

  47. Moth
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 14:13:02

    “Jody Doormatti's husband is gone and so is all her money. When the police find his body in the swamp and the money in her toilet tank, she ends the pity party, dyes her hair red, and gets some spandex and a spine. Sparks fly as her new kickass self rubs handsome detective/poet Jack Sonnet the wrong way. He's Canadian, but that doesn't mean he's going to play the sap for her. Jack realizes she's an innocent dupe of money-launderers when the ‘Ndrangheta starts shooting at them. Now they're a couplet on the run with trust issues. Will his tongue in her cheek be enough to overcome the handcuffs incident?”

    MS Jones, I loved this! Particularly the tongue in her cheek part. Brilliant. When could we get a first page for this?

  48. Courtney Milan
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 14:14:22

    Theo, I guess I just don’t understand why “be respectful” has gotten translated into “gloss over everything that’s problematic.”

    It’s fine to say, “X doesn’t work for me and I wouldn’t read on.” It’s fine to say, “I would not be happy if X.”

    But there’s certainly a line you cross when you say, “This is boring and it will never sell,” and “Your heroine is a doormat and I consign this book, and all your future efforts, to the fire.”

    How hard is it to say, “X doesn’t work for me” instead of “X is boring and you have to change it”? Maybe the distinction doesn’t seem like a lot to you, but I think that all Libby meant was, “Geez, try to express your opinion in a fashion that is polite and respects the author’s autonomy.” She wasn’t saying not to express it, just to try and express it in a way that the author is most likely to listen to without getting defensive.

    Edited to add: You know, you can be both reasonably polite and honest at the same time. The only reason I’m harping on this is because I do have a tendency to overbitch myself, and I’ve seen that it’s just not a good thing for anyone. I’m working on it, and I don’t think it’s a good idea for people to think that it’s okay to score points off of people because it’s somehow more “honest” than expressing the SAME SENTIMENT in a polite, respectful fashion.

  49. theo
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 14:18:02

    What good is “this doesn’t work for me” if there’s no accompanying explanation as to why it doesn’t? If my paragraph is boring, I damned well want to know why so I can re-work it. To simply say it doesn’t work for you tells me that it’s just you and there might be a dozen others it would work for. If it’s boring you, then I’d know it would most likely bore everyone.

    So, where does the truth stop and the glossing over so as to ‘not hurt anyone’s feelings’ begin?

  50. Courtney Milan
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 14:26:43

    Who says you can’t accompany this with explanation? It’s just recognizing the difference between saying, “This is boring,” and, “this section is boring me.”

    I mean, football bores me, but that doesn’t make football boring.

    Because the truth is, the first two sentences that you, theo, found “boring,” I found engaging and captivating. And so did some other people. So yes, it is in fact the case that it was something that just you found boring, and that dozens of other people felt it worked.

    And that is why you phrase it as an opinion rather than a fact, because it is an opinion, rather than a fact. And you respect the author enough to give her the decision as to whose opinion she will listen to.

    Because you know, being respectful to others is about recognizing that what you think is obvious . . . might not be the best choice for that author to make.

  51. theo
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 14:31:50

    I think I need to step out of this now, because it’s obvious, Courtney, that I must have done something to you in another life that has caused you to decide that I am the one bad guy here.

    I applaud you, author, for having the nerve to put this out here for comments and criticism. I do have to admit I too thought this forum was for finished work. Perhaps, had we known it was a very small portion of a thought in progress and not something polished and ready to sub, you’d have gotten different comments.

    Once again, I said at the start, I like the premise and with a little honest editing, regardless of the direction it’s moving, I think it’s got a shot.

  52. Janine
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 14:38:58

    My opinion the First Page Saturdays is that I don't think this is the best place for receiving critiques.

    Perhaps not, but keep in mind that industry professionals read this blog and an editor has been known to ask to see more of a manuscript based on a post here.

  53. Maya Reynolds
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 14:47:41

    Reading this, I was reminded of my own writing process.

    I write by the seat of my pants. Usually I have an idea, but that’s it. I don’t have an outline or a character history when I sit down to write.

    This means that I generally produce an entire chapter of backstory right at the beginning. I don’t worry about it because it gets me into the story and into the characters. Once I’ve gotten the backstory out of my system, I lop it off, put it aside in a computer file and start on the first moment of action. I then use that backstory to fill in throughout the book with one line or two at a time, not a large info dump.

    Marsha, ignoring the comments about the type of heroine Jody is, if you want to SELL this book, you need to start with something more than a first page of backstory.

    I liked the first part of this line as an explanation for why she delayed leaving the house: “The sputtering hope that he would not join the list of men who had let her down.” That’s all the backstory you need at the start. I’d suggest cutting the rest out.

    I was a social worker for years, and I’ve seen women become so overwhelmed that they lacked the energy to deal with what was staring them in the face. I liked the wine in the canning jar touch because I could imagine one of my clients having failed to do the dishes for a week and being reduced to drinking out of a canning jar as a result.

    It’s already been suggested that you start out at the bank itself.

    Which brings me to the questions I wanted to ask:

    Doesn’t she have an ATM card? Why go through the embarrassment of the bank teller?

    The teller blushing implies she lives in a small town. Most banks are not familiar enough with their all customers to put husband and wife together and to realize what had happened.

    The setting makes a difference as to what might happen. In my small town, I promise you the bank would have called me, church members would have called each other, and a contingent of my neighbors would show up on my door “just to make sure she’s all right.”

    How is it that Jody went an entire week with no one calling to find out what was going on? Does she not have a job, did her husband not have a job?

    This first page raised enough questions that I would have read further.

    Keep writing and good luck.

  54. Val Kovalin
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 14:52:35

    I want to clarify. It goes without saying that you NEVER include detail for detail’s sake (i.e., for no reason). Get real, Courtney. You keep detail to a few vivid touches that you place with precision to make the story come alive like a movie that you, the reader, can suddenly see in your head.

    The bank is the scene that a lot of us have pinpointed as the crucial turning point when Jody realizes she’s in deep trouble. To me it reads as not quite in focus right now. I was greatly intrigued by Jody’s predicament but I couldn’t quite see the scene. It’s colorless and feels like a wasted opportunity to explore her personality and reactions. I wanted to feel her shaking hands and upset stomach as her situation sunk in on her, and I wanted to see what quirky, jumbled impressions penetrated her nervous state. I especially wanted to hear her dialogue with the teller.

    Marsha, if you’re still reading, I ask for a bit of sensory/emotional detail in the bank scene because I sense real opportunity here. Think what you can do with it! Sure, we can kick the security guard to the curb: he was just a random example. But Jody’s actual bank experience brought to life can bring us readers deeper into her head and connect us to her story.

    On the other hand, Karen has a real point with this:

    See, it's exactly these sorts of comments -‘ along with, sorry, all the insistence that every book MUST start with an action scene -‘ that further devolve the genre into tighter and tighter strictures about what constitutes romance. Or even fiction. If we're not willing to read about all kinds of characters -‘ including some who have some real baggage at the start of the story -‘ then we're only chipping away at the variety we all insist we want.

    And Robin has a good point with this:

    I tend to think that people are harder on these pages because they've been posted to invite comments. So everyone is reading at the highest level of scrutiny rather than just reading as we do when we actually have a whole book in front of us.

    Meaning, take my comments, Marsha, as just one type of preference. If there is something helpful here for you, go for it. If not, well, there are a lot of other people commenting here who enjoy stories that start as yours does with more narrative than scene, so keep on with that. Best of luck to you!

  55. Julia Sullivan
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 14:54:13

    I find the level of diction a little bit at odds with the subject matter. The “nor” and “neither” and “most assuredly” are all very 19th-century, and yet you’re writing about a very 21st-century dilemma.

    That was the thing that bothered me. I don’t care so much if Jody’s a big ol’ mess the night after she definitely established that her husband had left her and stolen all the money, but I don’t really want to read about it in pseudo-Dickensian language.

    Simple is better when you’re writing contemporary.

  56. Robin
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 15:31:02

    Now, see, I love it when people know how to use “nor” and “neither” correctly and actually do it, lol. I think it only sounds old fashioned to us because so few people actually use the correct constructions in casual discourse anymore.

  57. Ginger
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 15:57:30

    I love the first paragraph. I assumed that Jody had some secrets or issues of her own, the kind that would either a) make her think it was normal to be ditched for a week at a time with no notice by those close to her (maybe parents or ex boyfriends took off for days without notice on a regular basis) or b) she has a reason for not going to the police (maybe a bad relationship with the local law officer, or something more baroque like a secret identity or ???).

    I loved the canning jar, because I’ve been broke and had no dishes, and that’s exactly what I’d end up drinking out of – though more likely to be a reused peanut butter jar than an actual canning jar, honestly.

    I got that she wasn’t crying as much for her husband as she was for the hope that she’d lost. I thought that the catalog of problems related to relationships maybe sounds a little angsty now but could be popped to a really humorous place with a few changes: if Jody has a humorous take on this litany of failure even as she cries about it, that makes a really conflicted and interesting character for me.

    I wasn’t totally sold on all the paragraphs, but I was very intrigued by the character’s personality and would have kept reading for at least a few more pages. If she has a plan or a strong reaction to her situation, I’d start to feel very engaged.

    Maybe a part of her secretly always worried about her husband clearing out their joint accounts and she has another account somewhere? I’m not suggesting the story has to go there, just saying that it sparked lots of questions in my mind along those lines, which I think is a good thing in a story.

  58. Ann Somerville
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 16:02:31

    I don't think it helps a writer to have a fellow writer or critique partner tell them a particular aspect of the story is “horrible.” What ever happened to respecting your fellow writer?

    Okay, this is where I get ranty. Twice I’ve been personally attacked over critiques I’ve posted here – pretty viciously too. My comments have been referred to as ‘vitriol’, ‘harsh’, and classless’ by writers we’ve been invited to help, and to whom I’ve given help. What ever happened to respecting your fellow writers, indeed?

    Attacking the tone or words used in honest, objective critique is just a way of denying the message. To some writers, there is no way you can say ‘this isn’t working’ without them taking it as a slap in the face. I’ve tried being diplomatic, I’ve tried being blunt, I’ve tried everything in between, with people I comment on and beta for, and still too many turn around and say ‘you hurt my widdle feelings’.

    And to them, I say, get out of the writing business, girl – your skin’s too fucking thin.

    Critiques are about the *writing* – since I have no idea here who the author is unless they (IMO) unwisely reveal their identities. If I say a sentence or paragraph is horrible, I’m reacting as a reader to a particular bit of writing. I am not making a value judgement about the author, the entire story or their entire oeuvre. I am saying this particular snippet goes beyond awkward, and needs to be taken out and shot. Sometimes authors needs to be told it that bluntly because we fall in love with our prose and need that jolt to be shown how other people see it. I need it, and most decent writers will admit to it.

    I’m fucking fed up with authors whining about mean reviewers, mean critiquers, mean fellow authors. I’m not in this business to hurt other writers. I *want* more good writing, and have invested a considerable amount of my own time over the last few years helping and promoting other writers and good writing. The last thing I want is to stop a good writer writing.

    The last thing I want is whiny crybabies crying ‘foul’ every time someone tries to help them, because that means they continue with their own self-delusion AND it puts other writers off helping newcomers. Every single beta I know has stories about writers they’ve tried to help, turning around and ripping into them over butthurt egos. Too many of them have said, nope, not helping people anymore who aren’t close and trusted friends. And that’s one less person who can offer a hand to a new writer and help her acquire the skills she absolutely needs to succeed.

    Knock it off. And grow up. If you post here, you’re assumed to be an adult. So learn to deal with writing criticism in an adult fashion.

  59. Leah
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 16:04:44

    Just to interject here, but my first page, All I Ever Wanted was the first one posted on Query Saturday, back in April (I sent it in really late to avoid being the first–ulp!). I was so thriled that anyone even bothered to read and comment on it. Most of my comments were both encouraging and critical. There were a couple that gave me that “stab to the heart” feeling, but as this feature continues, I have become more aware of what individuals are drawn to, and I don’t think my book would ever appeal to these commenters, which is fine. I learned the term “info dump” from you guys, and why it is so bad–and believe me, the info dump stretched far into page two. I was able to fix that. Gennita Low did some rearranging, which helped me see how much better it could be. At no point did I think that anyone was being mean. A few people on here are blunt, but that’s fine, too. I think they want to be honest. In my case, I figured, hey, they’ve been published, so they know what it takes. I can learn from them. So IMHO, this is a very helpful feature, and one I look forward to every weekend.

  60. Anony Mous
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 17:02:28

    I would agree with those who suggest that there is a more constructive way to ~deconstruct~ a page and show how you think it could be made better without ripping the head off anyone brave enough to submit a page for review.

    Words like ‘horrible’, ‘sucks’ and ‘boring’ are really useless on their own. Making rude, thoughtless, or malicious comments is not helpful to anyone. We can all be adults without being vicious. Adults should be able to object to being unnecessarily abused or slandered without fear of being called a ‘whiny crybaby’. Submitting work for a critique should not be interpreted as an open invitation to verbally batter, slash, or discourage anyone for daring to write.

    Poisoned pens, indeed.

  61. veinglory
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 17:36:29

    It is the responsibility of the author to decide which advice to heed, consider or ignore. I think that by critiquing the critique the message is in fact confused and diluted and those whose style is more blunt, myself included, opt to simply not participate.

  62. Anion
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 17:39:12

    I have to ditto Ann here. If you can’t handle criticism this is NOT the business for you.

    Do you think editors or agents don’t make arbitrary judgements? Do you think editors/agents will hesitate to say “this sucks” or “this is boring” or “the heroine is a dull dumbass?”

    Ah, you say. But they’re not saying that to our faces.

    Ah, I say. So why not head on over to Amazon and see if every reader review you find there is constructive and deep and reasoned. Are they always respectful? Are they always careful to be polite? Or are there some that just say “this sucks” or “this is boring” or “the heroine is a dull dumbass”? Yes, there are. And you know what? That’s just fine, because they have a right to their opinion, no matter what it is, and they have a right to express that opinion in whatever form they choose.

    I say what I think. Because I feel I owe it to the writer to be as honest as I possibly can. I owe it to those brave enough to put their work up here, to tell them straight out what reaction they’ve elicited in me and what my opinion is. Do I try to be nice? Hell, no. I try not to be personal. There’s a difference there, and if you don’t know what that difference is you’re not ready to make writing anything more than a hobby.

    Because agents and editors and readers don’t give a shit about being nice to you. If your work sucks, they will either reject it arbitrarily (agents and editors) or give you bad reviews/spread the word that your work stinks (readers).

    I see so many newbie writers complaining about not getting any feedback on rejections. What’s wrong with my work? Why won’t they just tell me why they’re rejecting me? I need feedback!

    So they post here. And they get feedback. They get exactly what Agent X or Editor Y is thinking when they slip that form rejection in the envelope or copy & paste it into an email:

    This sucks
    This is boring
    This heroine is a dull dumbass
    Jesus, why are you submitting work when you don’t even know the basics of writing?
    Ugh, this is so cliche
    Who talks like that?
    etc. etc. etc.

    The fact is, when you submit work here, when you submit it to an agent or editor. when it’s published and out in the world, you are asking for feedback. And you cannot control what sort of feedback is given or in what tone it’s given. So the idea that everyone here should treat those who’ve posted with kid gloves–which basically boils down to, don’t actually point out what’s wrong with it, just smile and say it’s great (which amounts to passing the buck and wasting everyone’s time), they’ll just get rejections, and then spend months wondering why they keep being rejected when everyone thinks their work is so great, and eventually become one of those disgruntled failures who haunts writing forums complaining about how nobody wants to give talented new writers a chance.

    As long as I’m not responding to the pieces submitted here with “Hey, writer, you’re an idiot and you should pack it in,” as long as I’m not being personal, I’m doing exactly what the submitter asked me to do. I’m giving them the unvarnished response of an industry professional. And I refuse to start playing the “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” game.

    Because you know what? Nobody else is going to. And if you think you can turn around to an edtor or an agent or a reader and tell them they’re being mean and they should be more respectful, and not get slapped for it, you are sadly mistaken.

  63. Libby
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 17:44:30

    Ann Sommerville, you are absolutely right, every word of it. I apologize for using your word to illustrate my rant, because it really was uncalled for. You do give good examples for why things don’t work, and I’m sure you have helped many writers with your feedback. I absolutely should have chosen my words more carefully above, and I really did not want to attack you personally. By trying to explain things more I’m pretty sure I’m just going to make things worse, so instead I will just say that I am very sorry.

    Ann Bruce, I did not mean that people have to gloss over anything or sugarcoat. Having a critique full of red type and lots of comments is far more helpful than somebody hating it and saying it’s good just to avoid hurting your feelings. Just give the writer something to work on so they can improve, instead of just saying it sucks. That’s, in a nutshell, what I wanted (and failed) to suggest. I’m a little taken aback that you thought I was suggesting the mutual admiration society, because that is not what I had in mind in the least bit. But you are welcome to ask that if you wish, especially on a board where so many opinions and personalities come into play. I chose my words poorly when I asked you if you were joking and I’m sorry.

  64. Anion
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 18:02:45

    So the idea that everyone here should treat those who've posted with kid gloves-which basically boils down to, don't actually point out what's wrong with it, just smile and say it's great (which amounts to passing the buck and wasting everyone's time),

    And btw, before you decide to attack me for this bit, and say that’s not what you’re saying, you’re just asking for “respectful” critiwue, let me tell you something. It’s a slippery, slippery slope. Because once you start holding back or couching your comments in flowery meaningless cliche, where do you stop?

    First it’s “be respectful.” So everyone tidies themselves up and starts being kinder and gentler. Well, almost everyone, because a few of us leave. The others start second-guessing themselves. “Well, I’m not going to mention that, because then it will seem like an attack” or “because I’ve already said X and Y.”

    So a few people have left. And a few are leaving out some of their thoughts because they might be too harsh.

    And that works for a while, until a couple of people decide that’s too much, even. Why can’t anyone say anything nice? Maybe it should be a rule; you have to say two nice things for every criticism. (Or maybe you can be like some farly useless critique groups/boards online, where you’re not allowed to criticize at all. Only to encourage, to point out the good stuff.)

    But we’re not there yet. We’re at, it’s still mean, let’s be nicer. And at that point a few more people leave, those of us who know that “nice” critique or pointing out only the good is nothing more than a big circle-jerk and actually does no good at all in helping writers who are seriously aiming for publication.

    So the people who know what they’re talking about have mostly left. And in their place come some other newbie writers, perhaps, who are excited about nice critiques.

    So the crits get more shallow. And the writers of the pieces posted get more sensitive.

    So everyone is encouraged to be nicer still. And more people leave.

    Now the only people commenting are innocent newbies, sweethearts that they are (and I love newbie writers; I’m not trying to imply all newbies are stupid. But we all know there’s a difference between newbies who really want to learn, stout-hearted newbies who want to sweat and bleed and work their asses off, and newbies who think everyone should just be nice and say nice things and hug each other because we’re all in this together, and the important thing is expressing ourselves, not dirty things like making money or behaving like professionals). But they don’t know anything about writing, really. They think everything is great! And they’re all so happy everyone likes their work! And everybody does, because there’s none of those mean old pros sitting around being mean and grumpy, so it’s a much happier and more supportive place, and isn’t it just great. And now it’s really just a big circle-jerk. Everyone sits around and jerks each other off, but nothing gets accomplished.

    Personally I’d rather get my feelings hurt for a few hours and really know what I need to work on, instead of being ego-stroked.

  65. Ann Somerville
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 18:18:57

    So the idea that everyone here should treat those who've posted with kid gloves-which basically boils down to, don't actually point out what's wrong with it, just smile and say it's great (which amounts to passing the buck and wasting everyone's time), they'll just get rejections, and then spend months wondering why they keep being rejected when everyone thinks their work is so great, and eventually become one of those disgruntled failures who haunts writing forums complaining about how nobody wants to give talented new writers a chance.

    Anion, I’m afraid there’s nothing left but to offer to marry you, or at least become your waterbearer for a goodly amount of the rest of my life :)

    Libby, gracious apology accepted. Please be assured I was mostly responding to Courtney et al, and other critics who’ve voiced their criticisms in private and public many times before. I only used the quote from your post as it succinctly summarises the attitude of so many.

  66. Ann Somerville
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 18:22:54

    ripping the head off anyone brave enough to submit a page for review.

    Please give an example where this has happened on the first page critiques even once.

    Speaking of bravery…I sign my critiques, even knowing I risk losing readers and alienating other authors because my opinion has to be backed up by leaving myself open to critique (i.e. my writing better follow my own advice). Yet you post anonymously.

    Why? Did your ickle feelings get all hurtified? Was we too means to oo?

    Not so brave, really.

  67. Marsha
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 18:27:15

    Well, this seems to have gone somewhere well outside my first page. Interesting territory, to be sure, but a place in which I am nothing but unqualified to trek.

    Thank you again to all who saw fit to share your thoughts. I learned much from each comment, even (perhaps especially) those with which I didn’t agree. I like to think I have the grace to recognize that this is why some people like certain books and still others read elsewhere and none was a judgment of me personally (duh, I know). None of us could possibly please every reader and I can only imagine how awful books would be if we tried. Following some of the suggestions risks a text that would feel inauthentic to me but as exercises in thinking through the various paths presented I still find them tremendously valuable. Many, many thanks to you all.

    P.S. If you’re sitting at the Cracker Barrel one day and you hear a woman speaking “pseudo Dickensian language” with her kids while while they color their menus, that may well be me. I actually do say things like “nor” and “neither” and “most assuredly” (sometimes I even let loose with a “mayhap”). We may not be spouting the Queen’s around here, but I see no reason to let standards of vocabulary slip. If you see us, stop and say hi – I’ll buy you a sweet tea by way of thanks.

  68. Julia Sullivan
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 18:57:28

    Now, see, I love it when people know how to use “nor” and “neither” correctly and actually do it, lol. I think it only sounds old fashioned to us because so few people actually use the correct constructions in casual discourse anymore.

    Yes, that would be why it sounds old-fashioned–because people don’t do it anymore.

    The archaic turns of phrase in this paragraph alone throw me out of the contemporary setting:

    At the start of the second week with his presence at neither meal nor bedtime, Jody took herself down to First Trust Bank on Crestmont Street. There she learned that the inner voice telling her not to bother with the police had been right. In the moment when the blameless clerk flushed deeply and fixed a stare firmly at the bank's computer screen, refusing eye contact in answering questions of the state of the marital bank accounts, Jody knew that her husband had not been not the victim of foul play. He, and her money, were well and truly gone. The sputtering hope that he would not join the list of men who had let her down died with the knowledge that he was most assuredly alive.

    I think this level of archaism would be out of place in an historical, let alone a contemporary. And I am hyper-conscious of correct usage and very old-fashioned myself.

    But writing like George Meredith or Trollope (I said “Dickensian” above, but Dickens rarely got this highfalutin) just doesn’t fly with a contemporary, in my opinion.

    Marsha wrote, which I missed: If you're sitting at the Cracker Barrel one day and you hear a woman speaking “pseudo Dickensian language” with her kids while while they color their menus, that may well be me. I actually do say things like “nor” and “neither” and “most assuredly” (sometimes I even let loose with a “mayhap”)

    And bully for you. Seriously. But writing like that in a contemporary isn’t going to help you sell it. It’s confusing in this context.

    I don’t write the same way I speak, and I don’t write the same way in every genre and subgenre. My opinion is that this style isn’t a good match with this subgenre. If you disagree, that’s why they have horseraces.

  69. LauraD
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 19:01:01

    Did your ickle feelings get all hurtified? Was we too means to oo?

    Harsh. Classless.

    Although I’m “just” a reader, I have been reading the First Page Saturdays to gain insight on the writer’s experience. However, I think I’ll be skipping Dear Author on Saturdays from here on out. I’ve read a lot of rationalizations today for why it’s ok to be rude/demeaning/generally shitty to fellow human beings. I hope that the writers posting their work are gaining helpful information; I just feel depressed by how meanspirited people can be.

  70. Julia Sullivan
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 19:08:45

    I have been reading the First Page Saturdays to gain insight on the writer's experience…I hope that the writers posting their work are gaining helpful information; I just feel depressed by how meanspirited people can be.

    I have never seen a critique here that is harsher than those I have received in professional contexts. Welcome to “the writer’s experience!”

    Sometimes people are blunt about your work. Sometimes people are harsh about your work. Sometimes people just don’t get your work. Sometimes people who read your work have their own pet peeves that, when they spot one in your work, cause them to flip out and swear like a stevedore on crack. Sometimes people just go off on a tangent and insult you personally. Sometimes people are bizarrely capricious and pick on the oddest things (“Why must blood always be ‘congealed’?”)

    If you can’t deal with getting all kinds of feedback, from the helpful to the toxic, being a writer is the wrong vocation (or avocation) for you. Full stop.

    But if you’re not a writer, and the feature doesn’t work for you as a reader, then I think you’re probably wise to skip it. Not everything is going to work for everyone, after all.

  71. theo
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 19:10:36

    Please keep in mind, LauraD, that no one was Harsh or Classless to the author herself. The critiques were all meant to help the author who can use anything she wishes to or can disregard it all.

    The meanspirited people come in when one gives a critique and another comes along claiming the critique is worded wrong, it in itself is too harsh or hurtful to the author and tempers flair.

    If people would simply critique the piece and keep their opinions of other’s critiques to themselves, what you are claiming is Harsh and Classless wouldn’t happen.

    Unfortunately, some here feel their critique or their way of doing it, being nice and amiable, is the only way to do it which in no way helps the author. However, they don’t hesitate to tell those who are trying to give an honest critique that they have no business being honest about it and should instead be ‘nice’. Nice doesn’t get one published. Hard work and constant learning does. And not always even then.

    If anything, most of the critiques here, even those that seem ‘harsh’ are by far, much less daunting than those I or others I’m sure, have experienced! Read a line by line crit. The ones posted here are nothing!

  72. Robin
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 19:12:22

    Yes, that would be why it sounds old-fashioned-because people don't do it anymore.

    Well, I think they’re often just doing it wrong, lol.

    The phrases you highlighted don’t seem either old-fashioned or Dickensian to me, which just goes to show you how all of us have different sensitivities to language. It’s like how some people can’t stand Judith Ivory’s style and voice, finding it boring or convoluted or too ornate, while others (like me) find her a wonderfully compelling wordsmith.

  73. Robin
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 19:16:27

    Sometimes people are bizarrely capricious and pick on the oddest things (”Why must blood always be ‘congealed'?”)

    OMG mine is “inexorable/inexorably”! ‘He was drawn inexorably toward her silicone-buoyed breasts like a babe to a bottle.’ Ugh, I cringe every time I read that word in a Romance novel (and it is common as a weed, IMO).

  74. Rebecca James
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 19:22:38

    I, too, quite like the use of ‘neither’ and ‘nor’ in this page – and the so-called old fashioned phrases like ‘his presence at neither meal nor bedtime’ – to me it gives the protagonist a definite voice – a kind of restrained, resigned, cynical bitterness.

    Interesting how very differently everyone sees things, innit??!

  75. Anion
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 19:53:28

    Laura, I think if you’re not a writer, critiques can seem very harsh and strange. I can easily see someone unfamiliar with critiques etc. feeling that way. Once I had a friend who was in a play, and I went to his rehearsal to pick him up. I got there early, and popped in just as the director finished giving his notes.

    I was horrified by how harsh so many of them seemed, how rude the director was, how bossy and just plain mean. And I mentioned it to my friend later.

    And he was stunned that I’d thought that. To him, because the director had the experience, and he knew what the director’s intent was and what he was talking about, the notes were helpful, supportive, and necessary.

    I think this is the same thing. The only nastiness I’ve seen is in the “Y’all are mean” tiff that started, which the author of the piece had nothing to do with. And yes, passions rise when subjects like those come up.

    But the crit comments themselves? Perhaps you put yourself in the author’s place and think you’d be devastated if someone said those things about your work. But what if you’d gotten a dozen form rejections and didn’t know why? Would you think the comments might be making valuable points then? Would you be glad you had a chance anonymously to experience such a critique? Would you be grateful that lots of professionals took the time to offer criticism and suggestions to help you?

    How bad or hurtful you feel the criticism is, is in direct opposing proportion to how badly you want to succeed. This is an extremely difficult business to get anywhere in, much less really succeed in. It’s extremely difficult to get your work in front of people who know what they’re talking about, and will give you unvarnished opinions and suggestions for improvement.

    If you want insight to the writer’s experience, you can’t look at the comments as a reader. Writers need critiques; it’s how we learn. A good crit, no matter how much it might sting at the time, is unbelievably valuable. I think a large part of the reason for the success I’ve had (I’m no Nora Roberts but my career is moving along nicely) is because of some very honest, very sharp critiques I got way back in the beginning. They stung, yes. But there was also a sense of “Ohhh! NOW I get it!!” which felt fantastic. And my writing improved immensely from that moment on. If those people hadn’t been honest with me, I’d still be piddling around with my unsold manuscripts, writing lame conflicts and passive sentences.

    Lol, sorry, I’m in a rambling mood tonight.

    Oh, and I too love neither/nor.

  76. theo
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 19:59:32

    Anion,

    If you’re marrying Ann, can I at least be your maid of honor? :-)

    Any crit, whether praise or stinging criticism only helps the author grow in their work. I thank each and every person who took the time to give me an honest critique. I don’t want anyone to be ‘nice’. I want them to be ruthless, because nice isn’t going to get me anywhere and if I can’t take the ruthless, I’m in the wrong business.

  77. Anion
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 20:05:29

    Oh, Ann, I’ve already agreed to marry Seressia, but I’m happy to make it a threesome. :-)

    And we’ll share the water-bearing duties, or at least let me peel your grapes.

  78. Ann Somerville
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 20:23:29

    I have been reading the First Page Saturdays to gain insight on the writer's experience

    And welcome to the writer experience. Critique, commentary and feedback. And slaps in the face from your fellows for trying to help. Oh well.

    I’ve read a lot of rationalizations today for why it’s ok to be rude/demeaning/generally shitty to fellow human beings

    Yeah, coming from ickle authors with their poor widdle sensitivities. Apparently it’s perfectly okay to slam and flame critics and betas, but heaven forfend we upset any real writers.

    I think I'll be skipping Dear Author on Saturdays from here on out.

    Don’t let the door hit ya where the good lord split ya. I’m sure we’ll all mourn the loss of someone who thinks insulting people for offering professional advice is the way to show what a nice person you are.

    These conversations are so predictable. Can we haz bingo card nao?

  79. Ann Somerville
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 20:24:17

    at least let me peel your grapes.

    ::flutters eyelashes winsomely::

  80. Jane
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 20:31:30

    Criticism here can be very tough and it takes a brave person willing to submit to the criticism. I applaud the authors that do so.

    I do hope that critique which is “this sucks” without explanation is useless. But I also think that criticism of the critiquers who do give examples is useless.

    I don’t like to admonish people to watch their tone because I know I have participated in heated discussions and probably wrote things I shouldn’t have. However, on the internet, nuance is hard to catch, so it does make sense to watch our tone to the best of our abilities. Playground monitor, out.

  81. Ann Somerville
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 21:11:39

    Jane, sorry for losing my temper over this. Ir’s just I’ve had more than enough of the fragile flowers this week, since this is literally the second time in seven days I have had to listen to authors bitch at me and others here about the way we offer help on first pages. Since one of them was two-faced enough to thank everyone in public, then turned around in private to offer her flame, I grow very disheartened about this process. Mediocrity with ‘bless my heart’ manners is apparently more valued than excellence with forthrightness.

    The only problem is, even the ‘nice girls’ whine about badly written books. How do they think authors learn how to write?

  82. Ann Bruce
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 21:40:00

    Watched The Departed, had some home-made chicken wings, and came back here to tackle Libby’s remark, but Ann S. and Anion beat me to it and Libby graciously apologized. Thus, there’s nothing left to say except I accept and to admit that I am blunt and my honesty is sometimes best described as brutal.

  83. Ann Bruce
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 21:44:55

    Anion, you ever going to reveal the name that’s slapped on your covers? After today, I want to contribute to your retirement fund.

  84. veinglory
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 22:29:10

    I think the set up for the story is interesting enough that I would like to see it happen in real time from heroine POV. This section feels a little like a voice-over until near the end of the excerpt. That dispassionate approach doesn’t make best use of the emotional potential. It also might help me understand we she seemed so calm and unsurprised — and then seems rather upset all at once? (Denial?)

  85. Libby
    Sep 13, 2008 @ 22:51:31

    Thank you, Ann S. and Ann B., I appreciate that :)

  86. Seressia
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 00:09:52

    Ann wrote:

    Anion, I'm afraid there's nothing left but to offer to marry you, or at least become your waterbearer for a goodly amount of the rest of my life :)

    Anion replied:

    Oh, Ann, I've already agreed to marry Seressia, but I'm happy to make it a threesome. :-)

    Yeah Ann, I call dibsies!

    I didn’t respond earlier because I thought everyone said what I thought, and then it devolved. But IMHO, I have to agree with Julia at #68. This is supposed to be a contemporary, yet the “voice” doesn’t read contemporary. Now if the heroine is named Josephine and never once answered to “Jo” or is the child of college professors, loves old literature, or otherwise comes off as suppressed/repressed and using High English helps her feel in control, that would be one thing. But (assumption alert) for a twenty-something childless woman named Jody who preferred math to English? Not so much.

    The proper diction just added to the melodrama, which made me question the heroine. Who waits eight days to figure out where her husband is, especially if she’d have been shocked if he’d stayed around? Why didn’t she check online banking after day one? If it was her money, why didn’t she have a personal CYA account? I’d still have a separate account even if Anion and I got married tomorrow. (I loves ya, Anion, but I gots to take care of me first)

    As it is, I would want to flip several pages in and start reading at the point that Jody gets angry. For full disclosure, I’ll say that I read single title contemporaries and not Harlequin Presents so I’m used to a different sort of heroine. But I think I would like Jody better if I actually heard from her what she felt and thought rather than having the author tell me.

  87. Moth
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 00:16:51

    Ok, maybe this is my fault for burying it at the end of my last comment but I genuinely want to know. So, I said:

    I'm not sure how I feel critiquing a page without a novel behind it. I was under the impression that First Pages were supposed to be from manuscripts that were done and polished and ready for submission, not first pages taken from snippets and bits of unfinished dabblings. Am I wrong? I'm not being critical here, I just want to know if these pages are more informal than I thought.

    Can anyone tell me? *hopeful face*

  88. The Not-so-deep Thoughts » Beta, Anyone? And a First Page.
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 00:18:45

    […] and I received an e-mail today because someone was less than impressed by my conduct at Dear Author and said I should put myself in the newbie writer’s shoes and to imagine how I would feel to […]

  89. Moth
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 00:20:59

    Oh, and I’ve participated in Query Saturdays and I’ve gotten much worse critiques other places. Yea, I might have felt some of the ones I got were harsh or wrong but you know what? I’ve got a thick skin (even for a newbie- I used to do Theater and I don’t think there’s much a director feels is off limits) and I ignored the one’s I didn’t agree with. If you can’t stand what gets dished out here you have no business being a professional writer.

    And may I just say I think the tangents we go off to on Query Saturdays make for some of the most interesting threads at Dear Author? I really enjoy them. I can’t wait to see what happens when one of my pages goes up. :D

  90. Seressia
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 00:36:32

    As to the nature of critiques themselves.

    I’ve been thinking of submitting a First Page. Not because I’m training to be a sub but because I want to know if my work can stand up to scrutiny. I want to know what the general public thinks about the way I order a story, if I’ve conveyed the images in my head correctly. If I want pats on the head, I can have my family read my stuff.

    Don’t pussyfoot around when I’m asking your opinion on something I’m trying to sell. If it works for you, I want to know it. If it doesn’t, I want to know it. In both cases, I want to know why.

    I personally think First Page Saturday is a great service to writers. People who put their work out for public consumption should expect opinions to vary. Those that have a problem with the right of people to offer their opinions as they see fit should probably reacquaint themselves with the “back” button.

  91. Seressia
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 00:47:37

    Moth,

    There seems to be a definite difference between first pages that have a full book and a couple of edits behind it and first pages with only 30 more pages behind it.

    I would like to think that First Pages are at least part of a standard proposal that is ready to submit, and the author wants to test-drive her idea by readers before submitting to an editor or agent. DA has never specified, to my knowledge. I think we’ve just collectively assumed full book or full proposal lurked behind these first pages.

    Not to pick on Martha, but her admission that this was just freehanded during two meetings would indicate (to me) that this first page does in fact need polish and the responses might have been different if she had a full book and synopsis behind it.

  92. SonomaLass
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 00:54:42

    Not to pick on Martha, but her admission that this was just freehanded during two meetings would indicate (to me) that this first page does in fact need polish and the responses might have been different if she had a full book and synopsis behind it.

    I agree that the response would have been different, but bravo to Martha that her submission was deemed worth posting for feedback. I find first pages to be the hardest thing to write (I’m much better at middles and ends than beginnings), and I’m impressed that Martha has (IMO) a decent hook here for a story that’s mostly still in her head. Needs polishing? Sure it does, but I think it’s a good start.

    Then again, I’m one of those people who uses “nor” and “neither” and “most assuredly” in my everyday speech.

  93. Keishon
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 01:04:32

    The heroine is indeed, whiney and the overall flow of the narrative voice was disruptive because of word use, sentence structure and whatever else. Having said that, the author shows promise. Good luck to you in your writing career.

  94. Mothella
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 01:42:19

    See, Serissia, I’m torn. On the one hand I’d rather not critique anything that hasn’t been polished and refined. And I know my first pages don’t really get where they need to be until they’ve got a book behind them. The proposal is fine too because presumably then the author will have some idea where they’re going with this.

    On the other hand I can see the point in not limiting what gets submitted and keeping this an open forum. Plus, I can see why someone would submit something in the very early stages to see if it’s even worth continuing.

    *shrug* I know for my part I will adjust my expectations if I think there are a lot of pages from incomplete drafts coming up on here. My critiques will change accordingly too. I do think info like that is kind of important when critiquing.

    Personally, my gut is telling me that first pages can change SO much from revision to revision, draft to draft that I don’t really want to invest effort critiquing a project that’s still mostly unwritten and unformed in the author’s mind. Not sure how DA could enforce a rule like that, though.

  95. EC Sheedy
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 01:55:13

    Yes, a little bit on the *showy* side, but I liked it overall. I did think for a second or two that the work was set in days of yore–didn’t expect a contemporary. I would have read on for a few pages more though . . .

    I also think we can cut the writer some slack on the whine factor and assume a character arc in which our emotionally (and financially) drained heroine will put on her big girl panties, or slinky lingerie, and go out and take charge of her life.

    Nasty critique? Honest critique? Can you tell the difference?

  96. Ann Somerville
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 01:59:52

    Can you tell the difference?

    Who are you asking?

    I’m with those who don’t want to critique anything other than a final version of a MS. I certainly don’t want to look at a first draft. I do enough of that kind of work for friends. Betaing a work in progress is a very different process than looking at something before the author sends it out to submission. I’ve always assumed that’s what this first page thing was for and it irritates me when an author says, ‘oh, I’ve now substantially revised it and changed all that stuff’ because it’s a monumental waste of our time. These first page posts should be to help the author find what she and her betas did not. Not to act as the first filter.

  97. Keishon
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 02:08:06

    I also think we can cut the writer some slack on the whine factor and assume a character arc in which our emotionally (and financially) drained heroine will put on her big girl panties, or slinky lingerie, and go out and take charge of her life.

    One can assume that but seeing as this is the first page, my reaction to the heroine would not motivate me past the first chapter. Just sayin from a reader’s perspective. I am an industry nobody. Just a reader who buys books.

    I don’t much care if this is a first draft, second or third. If you ask for feedback, you’re gonna get it. Period.

    *Edited for clarification*

  98. Anion
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 07:22:38

    Yes, I’m a little taken aback that this is a first draft. I’m not cricizing the author, but it does make me feel a little used. As Ann said, I see my job here as catching stuff the writer and her betas/CPs didn’t, or adding final polish. I’m not faulting the writer, but I do prefer not to waste my time on things the writer is going to catch anyway as they move along.

    I do understand the temptation, though. I know a lot of people will wait until a project is finished to send it to their betas or CPs; I always send my first couple of chapters out immediately to see if it’s even a project I should continue with. If they hate it or think it’s cliche or whatever, I’d rather know before I’ve put too much effort into it, so I can fine-tune the characters or change the set-up or whatever. It’s a habit I started when I was a newbie and I still do it.

    But I do think for something like this, the assumption is that we’re looking at the first page of a ready-for-submission work, already polished to the best of the writer’s ability.

  99. theo
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 08:36:59

    […] and I received an e-mail today because someone was less than impressed by my conduct at Dear Author and said I should put myself in the newbie writer's shoes and to imagine how I would feel to […]

    You know, I have a real problem with this whole thing from the standpoint that, weren’t we all ‘newbies’ at one point? I certainly had my stuff torn to pieces then, no less than I do now. If I’d been so sensitive as to not see that it was being done to help me better myself, I’d have quit all together! Honestly, this is just not a vocation that leaves room for sensitivity as far as comments on what you put out there. If you’re not one who can handle criticism, don’t set yourself up to get any, meaning, write if you must, but keep it to yourself because that’s the only way you won’t get any!

    *end of rant*

  100. EC Sheedy
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 09:44:18

    Somehow I missed the fact that this was a first draft. I understood the writer to be *new*, but that she had written and revised this piece a couple of times. I agree totally about not critiquing unrevised work.

    But I did like the voice in this bit, agreed there was too much telling–meant to say that in my first post! Oh, hell, it was late, I was tired.

    Anne, the “Can you tell the difference question” was simply to say that when it comes to critiquing, nasty or honest, goopy or cruel seems to be in the eye of the beholder.

  101. Jane
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 10:10:10

    I’ve never intended that the first page need to come from a ready to submit manuscript. However, I do desire people who send me the pages to send works that are revised and polished. I never ask, of course, but maybe I need to make that clear.

    The fact is that there are editors, authors and readers who read this feature and it behooves the submitters to be cognizant of that and not send in work that is half assed.

    I think it is kind of rude to send in work that is unrevised so to that extent if you are going to use this service, don’t send in work that is unrevised and unpolished. Send in work that you think is the best representation of a work in progress or a completed work. Why waste a chance to catch the attention of an editor or agent? Why waste the time and good will of commenters who make the effort to read your piece and provide a valuable service of offering critique?

    Having said that, since I have not made that clear before, I understand that people might not have known the intent of the page.

  102. Ann Somerville
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 10:17:21

    Jane, I would really love you to make a post inviting those who’ve been critiqued here either on a page or a query, to give their honest opinions about the usefulness of the exercise. I’d like to know if this really is bad for newbies (though why we’re assuming these authors are new, I don’t know, since I was scolded for that assumption by one darling with 23 books under her belt – or so she claimed), if it led to rewrites that work, and most importantly – did anyone get a book deal as a result.

    Any chance of that?

  103. Marsha
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 10:45:32

    Things have come to the point with this discussion that I now feel the need to defend myself. Not from the critique of my work – all of that I value and feel privileged to have had received.

    My defense comes from my growing sense that I personally have become conflated with authors in general who cannot take criticism. I would like to state quite strongly here that I have never once on this thread taken issue with anything that was said in relation to my First Page submission and I have not asked that respondents soften their remarks in an effort to spare my feelings or anything else. Some dismay was expressed on my behalf from third parties and, while having one’s side taken against perceived slights can be pleasant, I would like it stated for the record that such defense was neither solicited nor endorsed.

    As for whether or not I was “rude” or taking unfair advantage of responders to these types of posts, I also take exception. The work in question was not unrevised, not unread by others and not presented as a toss-off. That I continued to work on the idea somehow marks me as undeserving of response baffles me since I did nothing more than take an invitation at face value. Clearly this contretemps reveals that an alternate approach may required to limit submissions solely to those who meet some as-yet-unestablished criteria for professional writertude. My apologies to all who feel conned by my presence here. Rest assured that I have learned much and will not similarly overreach in the future.

    I wasn’t going for a book deal = HEA with my submission. My only goal was to see if I had the mental grit to see a story through to the end in a way that others would find pleasurable and to see if I could write in a way heretofore uncalled for in my life. I am satisfied with the answers received. I may well have an author inside of me – whether she is ever published is, to me, beside the point.

  104. Erastes
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 10:58:34

    This isn’t a preparatory school, or the Navy. Just because we were ripped new ones as Newbies doesn’t mean that we get to do the same to other Newbies as they come along.

    Frankly, from my experiences in doing beta work/editing work for friends and strangers there are ways and ways to critique. It was something I was taught to do at school, and there’s a technique for it. It’s not “the cult of nice” but it does show respect for the writer and the fact that they are a human being, and yes, have feelings – and what’s wrong with that.

    Yes, we all have to develop a thicker skin while in this business, I’m lucky that most of my skin was created by people who knew how to critique hard – oh so hard(!) – but not in a manner that belittled me.

  105. EC Sheedy
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 11:17:25

    Marsha, you do have a writer in you, ignore the slip sideways that this thread has taken, and write on!

  106. MS Jones
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 11:45:42

    …there are ways and ways to critique. It was something I was taught to do at school, and there's a technique for it.

    For some practical advice on How To Do It, check out the sage counsel of the founder and moderator of Critters who’s written it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it and provides a link to a diplomacy checker.

    Marsha, you do have a writer in you, ignore the slip sideways that this thread has taken, and write on!

    Yeah, you go, girl.

  107. Anion
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 12:15:26

    Marsha, just to reassure you, I think most of us here know the criticism of the crits wasn’t coming from you and you weren’t involved. Just to set your mind at ease.

    And as I said in my comment, I wasn’t criticising or blaming you re posting first drafts or whatever. My thoughts were more general and hypothetical.

    Please do continue with the story. I really did like the voice a lot; you have talent and shouldn’t give up. The only thing more depressing than seeing celebrities get million-dollar book deals that you know they’re just going to pay a ghostwriter ten grand to write for them, is seeing talented writers (who are gracious and professional in the face of professional critique, which is always impressive and says a lot about you) give up and deprive us of the hours of pleasure we would have otherwise had.

  108. Keishon
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 12:31:50

    I've never intended that the first page need to come from a ready to submit manuscript. However, I do desire people who send me the pages to send works that are revised and polished

    From the start, I thought that was understood. I just hope that those who bravely submit their work know how to filter out the useful stuff and throw out the rest.

  109. Robin
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 12:39:31

    The only thing more depressing than seeing celebrities get million-dollar book deals that you know they're just going to pay a ghostwriter ten grand to write for them, is seeing talented writers (who are gracious and professional in the face of professional critique, which is always impressive and says a lot about you) give up and deprive us of the hours of pleasure we would have otherwise had.

    And the thing is, there are pages that appear here that I’m sure the authors have likely re-written multiple times (and have said in the comments that are ready for submission) but are still given A LOT of critique. Which IMO makes it difficult to tell just how ready for prime time a page is — because every writer has a different incarnation of polished. Of course I’ve never been one to measure the quality of writing by how much time was spent on it (i.e. not a proponent of the hard work = good writing and due respect school of thought).

    I tend to be a one draft writer, a process which, believe me, horrifies many people. I wrote three fifths of my dissertation in one six week shot (250 pages or so) and was praised for the quality of the writing. Other writers spend forever re-drafting the first pages of a work, while others draft and re-draft whole docs. So while I agree that perhaps sitting down at the computer to see if you can come up with a page for critique may be an imposition on the folks who spend time here reading and commenting, I’m not sure how we can ever really know for sure if the *author* thinks something is ready for submission. We readers will have our opinions, lol, but I also wonder how many writers might get some inspiration from an exercise like this, with a piece of a WIP on which they haven’t spent months, perhaps years, doing the spit and polish routine. In other words, maybe in some cases the encouragement is what creates the incentive to finish a work and submit it for publication.

  110. Seressia
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 12:47:23

    Perhaps those submitting First Pages in the future could stipulate whether it’s:

    a) a new direction they’re trying to take
    b) their first attempt at this writing thing
    c) something they’re planning to submit soon

    I’ve always assumed that these pages were from those just about ready to submit, and my critiques come from that view. I don’t think I would have changed my critique of this particular page as I think my questions are valid. But those stipulations above would help one to know if the author is looking for encouragement, critique, or a combination of both.

  111. veinglory
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 12:48:42

    I think the point is not that the manuscript should have everything but the stamp, but that if you ask a score of strangers to critique, the manuscript should have already received some serious effort and be more likely than not to eventually be finished–or something like that. Again, not in relation tot his example–but in general.

  112. Jane
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 12:53:52

    I have to apologize Marsha for my intemperate tone and comment earlier. For some reason, I got the impression that this was just a first draft. My apologies. I don’t know why I was so cranky this am.

  113. Dolores
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 13:10:40

    I liked this first page very much. I felt instantly sorry for a woman who was not even surprised or angry that her husband had dumped her and stole their money. I would continue reading and would be looking forward to seeing this woman finally come into her own.

    I also like the more formal language. It has become so out of fashion, that it actually came acoss as a fresh voice. I liked the little details, but didn’t like the angel reference. It made her seem too immature.

    Keep writing. And good luck!

  114. Patricia Briggs
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 13:47:00

    Marsha has been professional and gracious, but I feel inspired to take a stab at this for all the rest of us writers who value sharp-eyed editors.

    I was at a SF convention workshop in which Toni Weisskopf (editor of Baen books) and a couple of writers (including me) were critiquing manuscripts. Toni’s comments were that we writers were much harder on the manuscripts that she was — and she was right. I can also tell you that, in general, new writers and writers seeking to be published are also harsher giving critiques/reviews than us old fogies.

    Bottom line is, if you want to be published — you need to learn how to evaluate critiques and what advice to take. And the only way to do that really is trial and error. Remember it’s not you people are pointing the finger at (and this Saturday’s victim . . . er writer seems to be doing that very well) it’s your words. Its not your story they are picking on . . .it’s the words you used to tell it. Changing words is easy. And when the words please you — stop changing them.

    I know of a Hugo-award winning author whose editor and agent wanted him to change the ending of a short story and he stood his ground. And that’s the story he won the Hugo for (and it was later made into a movie). However he’s been a professional since he was 19! and has been writing for decades. And learning to translate criticism is also a journey. I once added twenty pages to a section my editor said was slow — and fixed the problem.

    A second suggestion is to put the piece aside for a month. Read the critiques again — and then read the story and see what you think. Distance really helps a writer evaluate their story.

    Most of the criticism I saw (and I didn’t read it all) seems to be, very properly, directed at the work and not the writer. That means there should be no — “you suck” “you can’t write” comments. As long as that is the case . . . I don’t see why harsh criticism is a problem. Face it, once you are published, you’ll get harsh criticisms. If you learn to deal with it now . . . then you aren’t so apt to make a fool out of yourself in public as several authors recently have. Marsha, obviously, will not have that problem.
    Best,
    Patty Briggs

  115. Jill Myles
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 15:40:33

    I would just like to say that I actually enjoyed the first page quite a bit. I thought Marsha had a very conversational, easy-to-sink-into story, which is all I’m looking for.

    I didn’t get the whole ‘heroine is a doormat’ view. The only time my red flag went up was when she let the husband disappear for 2 weeks without checking on him. I probably would have checked the bank account the next day, just to ease my own concerns.

    I really liked the set-up and didn’t think the writing dragged (though I would have preferred a shorter 3rd paragraph). It actually reminded me a lot of Jude Deveraux’s KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOR where the heroine starts out as being used by her boyfriend, and she moves towards being strong at the end.

    Good luck to Marsha – you’re a far braver soul than I am!

  116. Ann Somerville
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 15:52:04

    Newbies doesn't mean that we get to do the same to other Newbies as they come along.

    I’ve yet to see anyone ripping any newbie on these pages. So far as I’m concerned, and have seen, every single offering has been treated exactly the same (we’re given no background) and with the same concentration on the piece. No one has attacked the author.

    If you feel differently, perhaps you could give examples. I grow extremely tired of sniping about the mean girls that doesn’t back it up with evidence.

  117. Claudia
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 17:06:55

    Glad to see Marsha is hanging in there and is still molding this book into shape.

    I’ll admit upfront I don’t usually love the kind of character driven novel I think this book would be. However, I wouldn’t have cracked the covers cold turkey absent a blog review, web buzz, or a catchy title and/or back blurb that caught my interest in a store. I know aspiring authors sometimes fear others stealing ideas, but I’d love to see a site or blog with extra book info. I’ve discovered a lot of newly published writers this way and have found enjoyable novels of types I normally dislike.

    I’m in the the “too much telling, doormat” camp because I can’t/don’t want to accept Jody would do nothing about the money durung the 2 weeks or before, even though I can accept she’d sit around waiting for confirmation of being dumped. My curiousity was piqued by the marital accounts being emptied of her money, but the curiosity probably wouldn’t overcome my aversion to what I perceive as a weak, passive heroine.

    OTOH, I highlighted the “don’t” earlier because I sometimes love the sweet suffereing that comes from not being able to put down a book with characters I can barely stand.

  118. Lauren Bethany
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 17:49:39

    Wow… check in a day late and I missed a catfight LOL. Personally I think writers need honest feedback given politely. I’d much rather be told the premise didn’t intrigue and the writing was lacking than a general, “Load of crap,” review.

    On to the work.

    I’m going to give a slightly different viewpoint from a lady who has the t-shirt. If a man makes a habit of dissappearing then yes, it completely make sense for the wife to not look for him for a while. Is she a doormat for it? Yes. Live with it for long enough it’s the norm.

    I think having the heroine wait for so long, and react with such a strangely bland dissappointment instead of the wailing and screaming most would expect creates the character in ways actual descriptions of her could never capture.

    In short, the writer IS showing instead of telling. I can easily see a conflict or goal in overcoming her doormat tendancies. It honestly reminds me of Allie in Shiloh Walker’s “Her Wildest Dreams.” She’s bottomed out, realized how sad and sorry her life has become and something happens to spark change.

    Now.. I have to say the pity party goes on too long for me as a reader. Even if she doesn’t know what to do, I want to see herthinking about it. Ask, “Now what?” Let me know there are plans beyond crawling in bed to get drunk.

    I love the voice, I love the setup, and I could easily love the character.

  119. Anion
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 18:09:50

    I've yet to see anyone ripping any newbie on these pages. So far as I'm concerned, and have seen, every single offering has been treated exactly the same (we're given no background) and with the same concentration on the piece. No one has attacked the author.

    If you feel differently, perhaps you could give examples. I grow extremely tired of sniping about the mean girls that doesn't back it up with evidence.

    Yes, ditto that. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a crit here that makes me think, “Wow, that was just mean.”

    I’ve said here the reason I’m pseudonymous is so I can be honest with the crits. And that’s true. But that stems from a bad earlier experience (I had someone I critted follow me around talking sh*t on the internet and sending me threatening emails about the evils of “the Zionists” and all the blood that would be shed–seriously–because they didn’t like something I said about their Golden Words) and that made me incredibly cautious and frankly a little scared, especially as I received another contact from this person a few months back which made me suspect they were still “keeping tabs” on me. It’s not a situation I’ve really spoken about publicly save a passing mention once on my blog, but it did make me uncomfortable and it did cause me to go a bit more underground.

    But I have never said anything here that, had I not had that experience which made me extremely nervous, I wouldn’t be willing to say under my own name. I don’t feel that even in my harshest crits I’ve personally attacked the authors; why would I? I don’t know them. I don’t want to hurt or discourage them.

    Here’s my final word on it (if anyone cares):

    A couple of years ago, a casual friend sent me the first five or six chapters of a book she was working on.

    And it was crap. I mean, really, really terrible. It was all tell. The hero was a total jerk–not a charming jerk, just a jerk, and a controlling stalker to boot. The heroine had no personality at all. The plot hinged on a misunderstanding no human beings would make. Part of the reason the H/h got together was she lived at 78 Wood Lane, and he was renting a cabin at 45 Wood Road, and of course he showed up at her place thinking it was his. Because 78 and 45 are such easily confused numbers. The plot was based in large part on a film that was very popular at the time. If you can think of a cliche, it was in there. The heroine contantly spoke and thought in exclamation points. It was…oh, it was just awful, really. I read it with an incredulous and sinking heart. What on earth should I do with this?

    So I asked her if she had any plans to submit to publishers. She said maybe one day when it was finished, but she really just wrote for fun.

    Which left me with two options. I took the one I felt most appropriate.

    I told her the story was a lot of fun. I told her I liked the heroine’s spunk. I told her of course the story needed some fleshing out, and I recommended a couple of books to her, but that was it.

    What more could I do? Honestly? Because there was no way this was ever going to be publishable, and when she told me she wasn’t considering publication it seemed clear to me, from the way she said it, that she was essentially a hobbyist. Nothing’s wrong with being a hobbyist; I think hobbyists are great.

    But I’m not going to waste my time giving detailed critiques to hobbyists. And I’m not going to waste my time giving detailed critiques to people whose work I think is hopeless. (And no, that doesn’t mean if I don’t comment here I think the first page is crap, I don’t always have time.)

    If I’m commenting at all it’s because I think there’s potential there, and I want to help.

    If I wanted to be mean, I’d tell the writer their stuff is great, and forget it. Let them deal with rejection; maybe one day they’ll figure it out, but it’s not my freaking problem or my esponsibility to help them. If I wanted to be mean I’d deliberately sabotage them by being really nice and telling them everything is great and making suggestions that would make things even worse, while presenting myself as an editor for a NY house or something.

    But I don’t. Honest critiques yield real results. The writer and the work are separate entities. And if just one comment or suggestion I make, if just one honest “You need to work on this” or “Try this” or “I didn’t like this”, makes the writer have that “Ohh! NOW I get it!” moment like I had… Then I’ve just done something important, something that makes me feel great. Something that is the opposite of “mean”.

  120. Ann Somerville
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 18:46:05

    If I'm commenting at all it's because I think there's potential there, and I want to help.

    Ditto. And I still want to help new writers improve because that’s how *I* improved. I owe everything to people who’ve given me advice, betas, comments, feedback. I have no great innate talent, but I am immensely teachable. I want to give that back.

    But like Anion, I’ve suffered for that. I’ve been stalked, harassed, threatened, trashed and cast repeatedly as a villain for offering honest critique. Every time I do a beta or offer crit to someone who’s not a close friend (and even sometimes when they are) I wonder, is this going to blow up in my face again? Because the hit rate is 50% on that. This is why so few people do real crit. You have to have a thick hide and believe in what you’re doing.

    It’s why I am so impatient with people who whine about tone. Girlfriend, I’m doing *you* the favour. Do not whine to me about the wrapping paper.

  121. veinglory
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 20:59:03

  122. Ann Somerville
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 21:34:48

    A sheet of 32 one dollar bills costs about $55 USD

    !!!!

    Seriously, even using money wouldn’t appease some of the little flowers.

  123. Annie P.
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 21:43:32

    I’m trying hard to understand why people think it’s ok to treat new writers like shit, because if you don’t get them used to being harassed and disparaged now, it’ll hurt more when other, less caring assholes do it later.

    Isn’t that the justification all abusers have? I’m only hurting you because I love you and care about you?

  124. Ann Somerville
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 21:51:06

    I'm trying hard to understand why people think it's ok to treat new writers like shit

    PLease give me an example where someone thinks that.

    There’s a difference between giving hard crit to a story, and being mean to the author. Only when the author learns the difference – and too many never do – can you consider them mature as a writer.

    Isn't that the justification all abusers have? I'm only hurting you because I love you and care about you?

    You’ve got me bang to rights. Yeah, absolutely, critting someone’s piece is exactly the same as spousal abuse.

    Puh-lease.

  125. Keishon
    Sep 14, 2008 @ 22:17:07

    I'm trying hard to understand why people think it's ok to treat new writers like shit, because if you don't get them used to being harassed and disparaged now, it'll hurt more when other, less caring assholes do it later

    Nobody has said that.

    Anyway, you just gotta love the Internet. Adios.

  126. EC Sheedy
    Sep 15, 2008 @ 00:27:39

    There has been a hint of “if you can’t take the heat get out of the kitchen” running alongside this thread. I can see why you say that, Annie. But writing–and being published–takes you into a seriously hot kitchen. One I’m not sure all the critiquing in the world, given with all the best intentions, can really prepare you for.

    Someone upthread (sorry, too lazy to go back) said something about an editor saying writers are tougher on other writers than editors are. I believe that. Most times, all an editor has to say is “No” to unwanted or mediocre submissions. She sure isn’t going to critique your work. That “no” says it all. All of the words, criticism, compliments, suggestions, and advice that writers share with other writers, aspiring and otherwise, are just our feeble attempts to help a writer avoid that fugly little word. That’s the *critique* that really hurts.

  127. Moth
    Sep 15, 2008 @ 00:38:04

    Well, we could just keep our critiques simple: Would you read this? Y/N

    Personally, I prefer having my shit torn to shreds and knowing why someone would pass, what’s not working, what’s awkward, etc. I pretty much read all these first pages and most, if not all of the comments that go with them and I don’t think there’s been a single one where I thought they were too harsh or mean or whatever.

    And I don’t know about anyone else but I really do believe that if you can’t handle getting thoroughly, even harshly, critiqued you have no business being a writer. Thick skin, people. Grow some.

    And Marsha, you rock. I really admire how well you’ve handled all the side tangents on this. Keep on truckin.

  128. Lauren Bethany
    Sep 15, 2008 @ 07:32:11

    I'm trying hard to understand why people think it's ok to treat new writers like shit, because if you don't get them used to being harassed and disparaged now, it'll hurt more when other, less caring assholes do it later.

    Isn't that the justification all abusers have? I'm only hurting you because I love you and care about you?

    1) I’ve never seen a crit that directs any “abuse” toward a writer. A crit is a breakdown of the work, not the person. If you can’t keep the two straight, shut up, because you have no idea what you’re talking about.

    2) A crit that give a gerneral, wishy-washy, “I like it/didn’t like it,” isn’t going to help any writer improve the submission. It’s a pat on the head, a, “that’s nice, dear,” which gives no direction for corrections.

    3) Crits are very subjective. Eveybody has his or her own opinion and will crit a different way. The value in a forum such as this one is gathering the opininons seeing what hot-spots are identified.

    4) By submitting here, the writer is asking us to do exactly this; tear her work down sentence by sentence so she can put it back together better.

    If you want a pat on the head and admiration, let your mom read it. This isn’t Kindergarten and we’re not sticking anyone’s masterpiece on the fridge here. I think everyone who submits here knows to put on her big-girl panties before asking for advice, and those who can’t keep a crit and a bash sorted out need to find a pair.

    Am I mistaken or are all of these complaints coming from the peanut gallery? The writers being critted don’t have a problem with what they are reading from us so why should anyone else?

  129. theo
    Sep 15, 2008 @ 08:06:19

    Nope, Lauren. Almost to a one, all the complaints are coming from the peanut gallery. The author herself has been very gracious through it all which, in a public forum like this with people tearing your work apart, is a wonderful thing.

    Too bad the peanut gallery isn’t taking lessons from her.

  130. Shannon Stacey
    Sep 15, 2008 @ 08:31:32

    Wow, there’s a peanut gallery? Is there reserved seating for that, or is it just any commenter who disagrees with you?

  131. theo
    Sep 15, 2008 @ 08:41:50

    Gee, I don’t know, Shannon, what’s YOUR seat number??

    If you want to pat people on the head and tell them, gee, honey, this is cute, go right ahead. Five years from now, when they’re still getting a form rejection and haven’t been asked for the first five or thirty pages or a complete submission, you might just be one of the people they’ll have to thank for it.

    If you want to try to help them be the best they can be (and it’s never a guarantee you’ll get past the query but certainly what every author strives for) then you need to give them an honest crit and that involves pointing out areas for improvement.

    The only people I see here who are having a problem with any of this are the ones who can’t seem to say anything other than, gee, I really like it.

    That doesn’t help anyone.

  132. Shannon Stacey
    Sep 15, 2008 @ 08:54:20

    I sit pretty much where I choose.

    And I don’t pat anybody on the head. I think any writer who’s been following these threads on DA and chooses to submit knows what she’s in for. I don’t regularly participate—other than when a writer’s being misled as to craft issues, for instance—because I have a hard time being blunt about another’s work and choose not to critique rather than blow smoke because that doesn’t help her.

    But the peanut gallery comment irks me because that’s the part of the audience that harasses and heckles the performer, and you’re not the headliners.

  133. theo
    Sep 15, 2008 @ 09:09:22

    I get it, Shannon. You don’t want to be blunt about another’s work, yet you reserve the right to go after those who are.

    If you’re not going to help the author, don’t bash the people who are. Which is exactly what’s happening here.

    So, if you don’t want to help the author, don’t shoot the rest of us and these things won’t disintegrate into a bunch of name-calling diatribes. Because I don’t see anyone bashing the author, nor did I see anyone bashing any commenter who thought everything was wonderful until the peanut gallery started chiming in about how god-awful all of us were for pointing out areas that needed work.

    Sorry, Jane. I’m done.

  134. Shannon Stacey
    Sep 15, 2008 @ 09:20:04

    I actually fall somewhere in the middle as to how critique should be presented. I didn’t go after anything but you guys deciding that any opinions that disagreed with yours were irrelevant to the conversation.

    Why? Because I’ve been a part of conversations and received emails in the last couple of months about how several of you have been running roughshod over the comments here, turning many conversations into hostile battlegrounds rife with insults and sneering. By relegating dissenting opinions to the peanut gallery, you’re pretty stating this is your stage and we’re just nasty little hecklers.

    And since the Theo, Ann and Anion Show is getting old, I’m done, too.

    Sorry, Ja(y)nes.

  135. Shiloh Walker
    Sep 15, 2008 @ 09:29:05

    Wow…this thing has really gone off on a tangent!

    I’m online at a relative’s house now, procrastinating before I head back home-what’s left Ike went through our area and knocked out power. No internet!

    My unsolicited two cents before I force myself to disconnect from the web…

    * Marsha is a very cool chick and I hope when she’s ready, she submits her book, gets a fantastic deal right off the bat and I get to meet her at a convention and have her sign my laptop. She handled some blunt, honest criticism with the kind of grace all authors need to have.

    * Another thing all writers do need to have…that ability to handle honest, and sometimes harsh, criticism. We have to. I once had an editor tell me that a book of mine was the most depressing thing she’d ever read and she just didn’t know what to do with it. Not the funnest thing to hear for any writer. But it comes with being a writer.

    The rest of my post is just rambling on, most in reference to the sideline conversation regarding criticism, honesty and mean girls/nice girls.

    Skimming back over the posts, most of the criticism I saw was fair-some a little harsher than I’d hand out, but a lot of that is because I’ve got a huge heaping of brutal honesty and I’ve learned that tempering it serves me better.

    None of the critcism really struck me as anything attacking the writer.

    (Not picking on ya, Ann B, I swear) Ann B said,

    Is it too mean of me to want to smack Jody and say, “Suck it up, princess”? Blaming the victim is not correct, but in this case, I think she brought the situation on herself.

    The writing didn't wow me, but it didn't make me want to suggest the writer brush up on rudimentary English or pick up a copy of Strunk's reference book.

    Clearly Ann didn’t like the heroine, and yep, I recognize the blunt, brutal honesty. But Ann also clearly said she didn’t really find fault with the writing. She just didn’t like the character.

    That’s subjective and it’s something any writer needs to be aware of-not everybody is going to love every character we create.

    My opinion as a writer on getting criticism is that I want it honest. If you can’t give me an honest opinion, then I’d rather not waste my time. I can’t improve if I don’t see what I need to improve upon.

    There’s a difference between
    your writing sux and your a big stupidhead

    and

    You use too many dialog tags, your character isn’t fully fleshed out, I don’t quite buy the motivation for the hero and this particular plot has more holes than a cheese grater

    Both could be viewed as harsh.

    But the first one is lame and unnecessary.

    The second one, may be seen as harsh, but it’s honest. It addresses specific points that need to be improved upon. A writer has to be able to take that kind of criticism, because if a writer in the business long enough, the writer will probably come up against an editor that has that way of handling critiques.

    And now I’m gonna get…back home to the land of no intrawebs, junk food and whatever I can cook on the grill and warm diet cokes.

  136. theo
    Sep 15, 2008 @ 09:30:21

    You know, Shannon, I think this is quite funny. You and Courtney climbed all over me, pointing out how wrong I was in my comments on the word ‘was’ and yet, you seem to think that I am running roughshod over everyone here?

    Grow up. If you can’t take the fact that people point out things in different ways, don’t comment at all. I made my comments and had no others until you two decided I needed to be made an example of.

    Try taking a little of your own advice and comment to the author, not to anyone else’s remarks.

  137. vanessa jaye
    Sep 15, 2008 @ 09:40:59

    I sit pretty much where I choose

    lol. Shannon, I think I love you. (Save me a seat in your row.)

    As someone who’s commented once or twice here (and not just to ‘pat the author on the head’) I will also agree with Erastes–there are ways, and then there are ways, to crit. It’s not about being nice/ineffectual vs mean/telling-like-it-is. It is about tone. <–yes, this can be counted as another whiney vote for ‘it’s not what you say, but how you say it.’ You don’t have to sugarcoat stuff or blow smoke up peeps butts, but in terms of heat, with a one page submission (no query, title, synopsis, etc) there’s no need to turn on all burners full force, along with the grill, the warming drawer, and the oven as well.

  138. vanessa jaye
    Sep 15, 2008 @ 09:48:58

    ‘K, I tried to edit my comment to add that Shiloh gave some perfect examples of tone re crits.

    There's a difference between
    your writing sux and your a big stupidhead

    and

    You use too many dialog tags, your character isn't fully fleshed out, I don't quite buy the motivation for the hero and this particular plot has more holes than a cheese grater

    Both could be viewed as harsh.

    But the first one is lame and unnecessary.

    The second one, may be seen as harsh, but it's honest. It addresses specific points that need to be improved upon. A writer has to be able to take that kind of criticism,

  139. Jane
    Sep 15, 2008 @ 10:05:47

    I’m going to close the comments. There does not seem to be anything added at this point that would be a constructive critique of the first page.

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