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Category Archives: Subjectivity

The Subjectivity of First Lines

Image by cellar_door_films

In April last year I blogged about setting tone and the first line. As part of our workshop month, I want to take a look at what makes a good first line.

I’m not an expert. I don’t give writing advice. I make suggestions. And something I always suggest to death when critiquing it, is the first line of a manuscript.

I want to share with you guys the best piece of advice I read about writing first lines. I can’t remember who gave it or where I read it, but it stuck with me enough that I share it whenever I can.

If your first line can be the first line of any story, think about rewriting it.

I think at the end of the day, first lines are as subjective as an entire novel. But there will always be opinions, and opinions will always be subjective. That’s why they’re called opinions.

I’m going to take a popular example and give you my opinion on it. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

First line: When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.

It’s a fantastic book, I devoured it, but that first line could just as well be me on a winter’s morning. Or you. There’s nothing special about it. And that’s what I want. Special. I didn’t stop me from reading and loving the novel. It just didn’t make me think ‘Now here’s something I’m looking forward to reading’. It’s the kind of thing I read and then forget as the rest of the story pulls me in.

I went to the room I put all my books in and began pulling out novels and reading their first lines. I had a surprisingly difficult time finding lines that agreed with the abovementioned advice, or jumped out at me as special. Here’s a few of what I loved, with reasons why I like/love them so much:

In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three. – Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones.

This. This right here is what I’m talking about. You wouldn’t ever be able to put this first sentence with any other novel. Ever. It stands out. It makes me wonder. I want to know what seven-league boots are and what kind of misfortune it is to be born the first of three.

It has been sixty-four years since the president and the Consortium identified love as a disease, and forty-three since the scientists perfected the cure. – Delirium, Lauren Oliver.

Another great example for the same reason as above. This first line wouldn’t be able to start any other novel than this one.

Only when the tip of the knife started to shave against the white of his eye like a scalpel about to pierce a boil, did I realise that I was the one holding it. – Hunting Lila, Sarah Alderson.

I love the imagery here. It also does a fantastic job at making me wonder just what the heck is going on here.

There are many perks to living for twenty-one centuries, and foremost among them is bearing witness to the rare birth of genius.  – Hounded, Kevin Hearne.

I don’t know why I like this line so much, but it works. It’s that subjective thing again.

Our story opens where countless stories have ended in the last twenty-six years: with an idiot – in this case, my brother Shaun – deciding it would be a good idea to go out and poke a zombie with a stick to see what would happen. – Feed, Mira Grant.

I’ve had this book on my tbr for months now. The first line made me laugh out loud. Guess what? I’m moving it up and will be reading it soon. First line, job well done.

In doing a bit of research for this post, I read that some of the best opening lines are usually short and snappy. For some, yeah I guess that works. If you look at my examples above, I like my lines with personality, and often that requires more than a short sentence. When I look at Feed’s first line, I already get a proper sense of who the main character is. From that alone I’m excited to meet her.

If you’re interested in reading a few more first lines, here’s a post with links to quite a few of them: Links to First Line Posts by Susan Berger

Keep in mind that the kind of books I read are probably different from the kind some of you read. I look at some of the lines other people quote and think ‘I don’t see it’. I know there are a few of you that will look at the lines I quoted and think the exact same thing. That’s okay.

I’ll say it again. First lines are as subjective as entire novels are.

If you’re not entirely happy with your first line, if you feel it needs something different, think about that piece of advice I mentioned at the start of this post. Rewrite if you think it’s necessary.

Need an extra opinion? Please drop your lines into the comment section and either myself of one of the other ladies will comment. Other commenters are welcome to chime in as well.

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Posted by on February 13, 2013 in First Lines, Subjectivity, Writing

 

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Why THE SUBJECT of your blog post IS SO VERY IMPORTANT

I’m throwing another opinion post your way. Because I can. https://i1.wp.com/mediaserver.pulse2.com/uploads/2011/10/greader-logo.jpg

When I get home after work, I make myself something to drink, and sit down to do/check my social media things for the night. It’s part of how I unwind, de-stress, and also get ready for the writing things I’ll do a little later.

My Google Reader is part of this ritual, and an extremely busy place. I follow an insane amount of blogs for various reasons, each of them providing me with something different.  Most of them have to do with the writing/publishing world, and a few others are for fun and inspiration.

Which brings me to the subject of subjects. My reader is full of awesome post. On good days I might have well over 75 unread posts, but there just isn’t time to read all of them. So I scan the subjects/headings and read the ones that tell me exactly what the post is about, if it’s something I’m interested in.

I’ve got my reader open at the moment. Right now I’ve got a total of 27 unread posts and it’s only 10:30. There’s no way I can read all of them, but I will scan the subjects.

Let me give you a few examples…

In my agents folder there’s a post about word count, I’m definitely going to read it. Another one I’ll definitely be reading is Why you should pitch a single book. Both these posts tell me exactly what I’ll be reading. If the subjects had been something like Words and Numbers and Selling Single Books, I wouldn’t even have opened the posts.

My author folder has 5 unread posts, but there’s nothing I want to read based on the subjects alone. And the thing is, I might have missed something wonderful and informative. If the subject doesn’t convey what the post is about, I’m probably not going to read for the simple reason that I just don’t have the time. You have to make me want to read it. Throwing out fancy, thought-provoking titles don’t always work. If your goal is to get readers and comments, get to the point.

In my writing/publishing folder I just found a post titled Alternative Meanings for Names of Senses. YES! The people at Daily Writing Tips ALWAYS get right to the point with their post subjects, and I appreciate it. I even stopped working on this post to read it. Job well done.

See what I’m getting at? Subjects are important. If you want me to read what you’ve written, make sure your subject tells me exactly what you’re blogging about.

One other thing. If your post shows up in my reader with only the first paragraph or two, and I have to go to your blog to read the rest, I’m not going to read it. Of course there are exceptions, but those are few and far between. Yes, it suck, but so it goes.

Time. It’s all about time.

This is just something to think about the next time you type up a post for you blog. If you don’t mind people maybe skipping what you’ve blogged about, go ahead and title your post whatever you like.

Did this post come across as ranty? I hope not. I just really want the best for you and your blog words.

A question for anybody who read the far: Would any of you be interested in a very basic Google Reader for the Writer tutorial? A few weeks ago I chatted with somebody on twitter and she said she had no idea how to use Google Reader. I can’t even comprehend this. How does she keep track of what’s happening in the blogging world if not for using a reader? I’d be lost and will feel uninformed without mine. So, a tutorial. Yes? No?

 

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It Takes a Village

Back when storytelling first began, it took a community to write a tale. One person started it and told it to another, to groups over a fire. It got passed on to friends and family members, generation after generation. Each time the story met new ears, the telling got smoother. Each person augmented it with their own knowledge, improved it with their own experiences. And now, those timeless stories are the flawless fairytales and legends we know today. The ones that still speak to our hearts, even after all this time.

Today, it seems we’re pulling away from that connection and group mentality. We hide our writing lives from our families, we’re cutting out editors and publishers, and getting critiques is such a blow to the ego. We’re holding so tightly to the idea that somehow, the art of writing will be compromised if we allow others to give their input. We fear being “commercialized.”

When I first started writing, I hoarded it. I chicken-pecked it out on my parent’s computer, which I think ran Windows 97, and saved it on a Floppy Disk so they wouldn’t find it on the hard drive. I was terrified that if they found it, they would think I was silly, writing these unbelievable love stories. They’d point out everything wrong with them and I’d never want to write again. But it didn’t matter. They were just for me and my girlfriend to giggle about in class. Nothing more.

As I became an adult and began to write more in-depth stories, I wanted them to reach more people. But when I started to share them with others, their comments quickly taught me that my reality was not the same as others’ reality. My experiences and views were completely valid, but if I wanted more people than my best friend (who grew up in the same neighborhood I did) to relate, I had to open myself up to understanding other people’s realities and experiences and knowledge. I had to embrace the fact that writing a great story–one that would last through the generations–wasn’t just about me and my own thoughts.

I joked with my critique partners a couple of weeks ago that I would have to put their names on the cover of my novel next to mine, and while I doubt they or my future publisher would feel it necessary, I did mean it. They add more to my story than they will ever know. Every week we get together and tear our stories apart. Yes, willingly. I love nothing more than seeing them as deep into it as I am. I’m filled with such hope for my novel when they have conversations about my characters that don’t even include me, and then tell me how they think it should end. I have an outline but I always take their thoughts into account and, more often than not, I do make changes based on their suggestions. Not because I’m not an artist that values her own work, but because I’m an artist that values her own work…all ego aside.

As our culture becomes more isolated by the decade, I think it’s even more important to have a community for your story. Not just people cheering you one to get it written, but people who believe in your story, people who put pieces of themselves into it. I think that’s what makes stories whole. What creates a writer is the desire to change someone’s mind with our words. Maybe even change the world. How else can we do that if we don’t understand the struggles of the people we’re talking to, or let them have a say?

I won’t lie and say I don’t feel nervous every Wednesday night when I send my work to my critique partners. Who knows where it might lead? But come Saturday morning, after we’ve spent time hashing it out, talking about everything we know to be true, agreeing, disagreeing, laughing, falling in love with each other’s characters, hating each other’s characters, and scaring the poor people that work at Starbucks…that’s when I feel like my story has finally come to life.

Because my story is my baby. And everyone who loves it, and challenges it, and helps it grow, is my village. It takes all of them.

Photo by McKay Savage

 

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Giving and Getting the Most Out of Critiques

Best critique partner ever — Sebastian

There are so many awesome blog posts out there about critiquing, and I encourage you to read all of these posts–you won’t be disappointed. Earlier in the week, Jamie posted about Being Emotionally Prepared for Critiques. I also have a wonderful friend, and fellow YA author, Sarah Ockler, who has written a few posts on critique groups: Evaluating Critique Groups: Six Crucial Questions, and Are you an Ideal Critique Partner?. Brian, from Descent into Slushland, wrote a post How do you Find Critique Partners, and I told him he inspired me to write a post about critiquing, so here goes.

Critiquing — it can be terrifying and exhilarating all at once. I love my partners like they are my own family. I’ve gotten to know them and know about their life, and the friendships I’ve made are everlasting. But no matter how much you love you partner(s) or critique group, it can still be stressful.

When critiquing, there are some things that are helpful, while others simply…aren’t. Writers are full of passion. Yes, you know you are. That passion is crucial to the creative process, but we oftentimes need to keep that passion in check when critiquing for others.

  • Keep it constructive. Sometimes we may not necessarily like a sentence, or maybe a character isn’t working…for YOU. Ask yourself, “Why isn’t this working for me?” Is it simply because you would have written it a different way? Is there a problem with character motivation? Does the wording read awkward? The sentence not tight enough? What kind of image does it bring to mind? Is it the image you think the author is trying to convey? Don’t just tell someone you don’t like something and not tell them why. That isn’t constructive. That is YOU giving a personal opinion.
  • Try to keep the word I out of the critique. Sentences like, “I hate this. I don’t like this character.” Don’t belong in a critique. A critique is serious business. You have to instill and generate a tremendous amount of trust in someone before you can take them seriously. The moment you stop being constructive, the moment the defenses go up.
  • Help diagnose the problem, don’t fix it. It is so easy to want to write someone else’s work for them, because, well, it’s not your work, and we can fix someone else’s work better than we can fix our own. That isn’t your job as a critique partner. If you think the author could say something better (and it isn’t working for you…don’t offer suggestions to something that is working for you), write something like, “Maybe you could try something like this…” Give a suggestion, and then tell them why you’re giving them the suggestion. Sometimes editors and critique partners are good at diagnosing an issue, but we may not have the best solution for fixing it.
  • Ask yourself, “Does this really need to be fixed, or is this just not how I would write it?” This is big. Sometimes we want to rewrite words/sentences/paragraphs/pages when they don’t necessarily need to be rewritten. Everyone has a different writing style–if we didn’t, then no one would read because reading would be boring if everything was similar. It can be easy to try and rewrite things because you think you could write it better. Again, not your job as a critique partner. Just because you would write something one way doesn’t mean it needs to be rewritten at all.
  • Take all feedback into consideration. Not all feedback will be useful. You’re the writer, it’s your story. Sometimes we read something from our critique partner(s) that we disagree with–and that’s normal. You have to have confidence in your work to know what feedback to use and what not to use. BUT, consider all feedback. Even if you’re not going to use it, think about it. Sometimes a comment can spark a thought that leads to an epiphany with your work. Maybe you never would have had the epiphany if you wouldn’t have read the feedback.
  • When two or more. Some people have one critique partner, some have more. Personally (notice I said personally, this isn’t what everyone does, but I’ll tell you why I feel it’s important), I have three (sometimes more–I’m fortunate to have some amazing ladies who read my work) people who read my work for me. Here’s why–when two or more people identify that something isn’t working for them, chances are, you need to go back over that particular thing and rework it. This ties in to taking in all feedback–if one person says something isn’t working for them, but the other two don’t have a problem with it, I still consider it, but I’m not as focused on it as I would be if two or more have a problem with it.
  • Keep a schedule. This is crucial to the success of your work and the relationship with your critique partner(s). Hold one another accountable. If you say you’re going to submit so many pages by a certain date, then make sure you do that. Next, make sure you both agree on when you’ll have them back to the other. Make a schedule that works best for everyone, and keep it.
  • Goals. It’s important to find someone who has the same goals as you. How can you expect someone you’re working with to take your writing serious if they don’t take their own writing serious? If you find someone who is also actively trying to seek publication, and you are actively seeking publication, you can do wonders for each other. You can motivate, encourage, and help the other prepare.
  • Be happy for each other. This is a touchy subject, and I know none of us do this intentionally, but keep that green monster in check. Chances are, you and your critique partner(s) will be at different stages in your writing. One may be further ahead than the other (in terms of being ready to query, not skill level or anything). Encourage them, be happy for them. Querying is a nightmare. There are rejections, second guesses, and lots of emotions to deal with. This is your biggest dream for crying out loud. Be supportive of one another. Offer a shoulder or an ear. Don’t bask in someone else’s misery because you aren’t ready to query yet. Be genuine. It makes a difference.
  • If you have an issue with a critique partner(s), talk it out. Don’t let something fester. If someone says something that hurt your feelings, tell them. They probably didn’t do it intentionally. You have to open up to one another in order for the relationship to be effective. It is a relationship. A big one. Just like any other relationship, you have to put some work into maintaining it. You’ll only grow closer when you do this.

Loki — Sleeping and critiquing

There are a million other things one could write about critiquing, finding critique groups, and being an effective critiquer, but I’ll stop here. What are some things you look for in a critique partner?

 

Let me tell you why you’re a winner

I’m leaving my ‘Things I’ve learned’ post for last, this one will need a lot of though. Instead…

Get ready, ladies and gentlemen, I’m about to throw another opinion at you. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last couple of months, so bear with me while I put my thoughts to words.

Writer/Agent Contests.

First let me state that I am a major fan of contest. I’ve placed in some, didn’t make it past the first round of others, but over all I’ve had a good response and experience from those I’ve entered.  Over the last two weeks my twitter feed has been full of writers sharing their contest success stories and I make a point of read each story, because I know how hard it is to put your work out there for others to judge. These writers have done exactly that and were rewarded for it, and I couldn’t be happier for any of them.

But… There is one thing that makes my eye twitch a little, and leads to at least one or two cringes, and that would be putting the words ‘contest’ and ‘subjectivity’ in the same sentence/paragraph/post/tweet. Whatever

Contest, to me, implies that there will be winners and there will be losers.

Subjectivity says that though I might not necessarily like your idea, will be somebody else that absolutely loves it. What works for one person might not work for somebody else.

There are no losers with subjectivity and you shouldn’t think like that and never be made to feel that way!

Some writers take it very personally when they ‘lose’ an agent-judged contest, and it makes me wonder if they have so little faith in their work that feel personally affronted by the rejection.

It also makes me wonder why some of them have to belittle and harshly criticize the entries that did make it through to the next round/the agent’s inbox.  Somewhere near the beginning of the year I found a blog post in my reader by a writer who hadn’t received a request from an acquisitions editor after participating in a blog contest.

This writer was sorely disappointed with the entries that had received requests and wondered what the acquisitions editor was thinking when she requested those manuscripts. The writer then went on to question the quality of the requested entries in such a decretory tone that I was ashamed for her.

It saddens me when some writers publicly degrade what others put their hearts and souls into. And yes, I’ve seen it more times than I would like to admit.  As supportive as the writing community is, it can be just as damaging if you don’t have a thick skin and the right kind of support system in place.

Subjectivity and contest aside. Let me tell you why you are a writing winner:

  1. You are a creator/an artist
  2. You are a writer
  3. You started writing a novel even though it isn’t finished yet
  4. You finished your first novel, your third, your sixth
  5. You had the guts to send that novel to a critique partner/beta reader
  6. You received feedback and DID something about it
  7. You are a winner because you wrote that query letter/synopsis
  8. You are a winner because you received your very first rejection
  9. And while you’re querying, you started writing a new novel
  10. But most important, you are a winner because YOU DIDN’T GIVE UP

There will always be contest, and agents are all about subjectivity. No, I don’t like when the two are used in the same vicinity, but there’s also nothing I can do about it except say: It’s what you do with both, and handle what they hand out, that will make the difference. On extremely good days I do believe that good karma will give you a helping hand in the right direction.

Once again I started writing about one thing and ended up with something different, but that’s part of the fun. I get to blame it on my writer brain. There you go. You get a little bit of everything. It’s a good thing I decided not to blog about the how awesome contests are, the post would be ridiculously long.

Go on with your winner self and enter ‘contests’ with an open mind and an open heart. You might be surprised at what comes from it.