Here's some openings from some debut stories I've dredged up.
Can anyone see any common threads? Will post more this week.
THE GODDAMNED TOOTH FAIRY
CALLIE'S GOT HER HANDS in my face. Palms out, she's making square frames. She squints at compositions of my nose and mouth and eyes. I want to say, "Sweetheart, Daddy's trying to look good for his first date since you were born, so could you sit still and pretend you're no trouble at all until I get the lady out of the door?" Callie's sitting on the kitchen table. Since I don't mind when nobody's here, I don't say anything about that either. Iris is winding her purse tight on its long strap and letting it spin out the kinks, over and over, while she looks at Callie's drawings taped on the fridge. Iris has real pretty brown hair, curly, but most of the time it's covering her face which is even prettier. her purse bounces on a...
F&SF, Ocober/November 2000, p.177
THE BALANCE IN THE STORM
The peppermint pinwheels weighted down the check. I reached for one, hesitated, and then withdrew my hand. "You can have them both," Paul said. "I don't like them." I wrinkled my nose. "Neither do I." But I took the candies anyway and slipped them into my jacket pocket, for later. Not to eat, but to balance in my hand---old life, new life. The Borderlands and the mortal world. Paul put his arm around me as we stepped from the restaurant into the autumn night. The faint odor of disinfectant and wet dog still haunted him. "Deidre, you're so funny sometimes," he said. "Why did you take the mints if you don't like them?" "Habit," I said. I brushed the yellow brick of the...
Asimov's, October 1995, p.100.
THE BEASTLY RED LURKER A GOTHIC EXCESS
IT WAS SOME THREE YEARS ago that I first became acquainted with Heywood Mudcatt of Tattermore. We were both attending a dinner party at the home of D____ and fell into conversation concerning heat boils (a subject of which I possess some knowledge accounted for by my years in the Gobi). For half an hour we amused ourselves with an exchange of boil-lore, then the dinner-bell sounded and we took our places at the table. The meal, as I remember, was a splendid spread, radiating outward from the central main dish of wild duck. With much passion, all members of the party embarked upon the consumption of that drool-inspiring banquet. All, that is, save Mudcatt, who merely folded his arms and smiled. His plate sat unfilled, brightly naked and vaguely disturbing.
F&SF, August 1999, p. 67
CHILD OF MINE
Jennifer C. Vanderbes
"MEOW," SHE TELLS ME, commands from the couch, her legs tucked under her pink cotton skirt. I loosen my tie, plead with my eyes. "Now," she says. Surrendering once again, I set my briefcase down, drop to my knees. "Meow," I say, palms planted on the carpet, rolling my tongue into a Spanish purr. "Here kitty, kitty," she calls. Her thin lips tighten and kiss at the air. She past the couch with epileptic frenzy. "Come here, kitty." I smile and arch my back. I crawl rapidly, knees burning from friction, then rub against her leg. "Good kitty," she says, stroking my hair with her bony
F&SF, May 2000, p.101
[This message has been edited by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (edited June 22, 2009).]
All right, let me try to be more specific with what I am noticing in regards to all of these stories having depth.
I recently read a story by someone here at Hatrack, who had been featured in a highly regarded genre publication (If that person would like to comment on any of this, I feel it should be their decision to take that initiative). I enjoyed what I read, though it was not exactly what I had expected it to be. This was partly due to there being very little to identify it as genre fiction up until the very end of the story. What did strike me was how believable the story was from the very beginning. I have spent a lot of time ruminating on this over the last month or so.
So, I suppose I will openly thank that person for unintentionally opening my eyes to this crucial element of storytelling, though it is something that I have seen for a long time but have not given much attention.
I see depth as being a little like math in that one can use many means of coming to the same answer - i.e. think of how many ways are there to add or mutiply to come to the number 20. Here are some of the ways in which I see these author's creating depth from the very beginning:
quote:Iris is winding her purse tight on its long strap and letting it spin out the kinks, over and over, while she looks at Callie's drawings taped on the fridge.
quote:The peppermint pinwheels weighted down the check.
quote:I brushed the yellow brick of the restaurant's facade with my fingers, as if the roughness of the brick could wear away the unbidden memory...
- loaded narration or dialogue
quote:"Sweetheart, Daddy's trying to look good for his first date since you were born, so could you sit still and pretend you're no trouble at all until I get the lady out of the door?"
- unique voice or vocabulary
quote:The meal, as I remember, was a splendid spread, radiating outward from the central main dish of wild duck. With much passion, all members of the party embarked upon the consumption of that drool-inspiring banquet.
quote:We were both attending a dinner party at the home of D____ and fell into conversation concerning heat boils (a subject of which I possess some knowledge accounted for by my years in the Gobi). For half an hour we amused ourselves with an exchange of boil-lore, then the dinner-bell sounded and we took our places at the table.
quote:"You can have them both," Paul said. "I don't like them." I wrinkled my nose. "Neither do I." But I took the candies anyway and slipped them into my jacket pocket, for later. Not to eat, but to balance in my hand---old life, new life.
quote:(a subject of which I possess some knowledge accounted for by my years in the Gobi)
- literary devices This could be just about anything, but especially similes, metaphors, and symbolism.
Now, I see these techniques being used by Hatracker as well, but not usually to the degree that they are occuring in the pro markets. What I have read here is often more straight to the point so to speak with very little beating around the bush. What I'm reading in Analog and Asimov's (I have a hard time finding F&SF) have a lot of extemporary information that give the stories a kind of validation.
[This message has been edited by philocinemas (edited June 21, 2009).]
I notice three things in common with these fragments:
1. There is very little of the speculative element in the openings. If there is something to make me read on looking for SF or fantasy, it's the accompanying blurb or the reputation of the publication.
2. They all define characters first and setting second. This leads me to believe the stories that follow are character-driven.
3. They're all in the first person with the resulting depth of penetration into the thoughts of the MC.
These do make me wonder about the criteria for hooking editors.
philocinemas: Thank you for the very enlightening post! I wouldn't have been able to see all that. I'm not going to add anything to what the previous posters said (they said it all to me).
The only thing I'm going to add here is that the first and second fragment were the most interesting to me, the rest not really. Both 1 and 2 promise conflict I might be interested in, both character driven.
3 and 4 are great to read, they are very vivid but what they promise doesn't interest me. Both strike me as a story from THE TWILIGHT ZONE (which is great, but not the fiction I look for). 3 focuses on "some digestive problem" and 4 on "a man-cat".
However, they are really well written. Really.
Jeff: I'm with you on the wondering.
[This message has been edited by Nicole (edited June 22, 2009).]
The first thing you notice, as has been pointed out, is these are first-person with rich character development. Which makes it seem like they will be primarily character-driven stories. Are character-driven stories easier to sell? I don't know. One of the standard requisites in most publicationsí submittal guidelines is "rich characters".
Beyond that, I noticed the same thing as Nicole. They were well written.
Take this opening, for example: IT WAS SOME THREE YEARS ago that I first became acquainted with Heywood Mudcatt of Tattermore. We were both attending a dinner party at the home of D____ and fell into conversation concerning heat boils (a subject of which I possess some knowledge accounted for by my years in the Gobi).
Post this opening in any writing workshop and somebody will inevitably lambaste it for being overly wordy (not to mention the flashback, starting too early in the story, yadda-yadda-yadda). Which it is, but done in such a way that it imbues the writing with a certain charm and (for me at least), makes it fun to read.
Compare that to something like: Three years ago at a dinner party, I met a man named Heywood Mudcatt. We talked about heat boils. I knew a lot about heat boils because I spent time in the Gobi.
Same information, more concise, but far less pleasant to read.
These examples all have a natural and easy-to-read flow to the writing... an excellent use of vocabulary, sentence structure and grammar. Perhaps because there was very little plot presented in these openings, I tended to notice the writing more. It has been pointed out in these here forums that good quality writing can be an effective hook.
Okay, at least I'm not the only one who didn't like them. I found myself lacking any interest in reading further on any of them. I'm not sure whether to be encouraged or discouraged by these getting past the slush pile.
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I believe I am being misunderstood regarding these openings. I am finding that much of what I ever read in at least two of the big three SF magazines is not particularly enjoyable. I have not read any of the stories from these openings, so I do not know how good of a story any of them is. However, I do believe I see what is making them stand out to the slush readers and editors. That is what I'm addressing, nothing more, nothing less. Please do not take my comments as being an endorsement of the stories.
I believe these magazines, and possibly WOTF, have adopted a stylistic approach to approving stories, and have apparently done so for some time. I would agree with the others who have commented on these being character-driven stories. I also believe there is a second factor, which I am trying to address. Or maybe I'm just going slightly insane from trying to see something that isn't there.
I believe you have hit multiple nails on the head, Philo. I agree with your insights. Personally, I don't find any of these opening particularly hooky but with your analysis, I can see why they are.
Though I didn't find anything particularly compelling about these openings, I disagree with philo's analysis.
There's just not enough there in these openings to tell whether these stories are going to be done well, or even to analyze on why they were published. (With the possible exception of The Beastly Red Lurker; it's an obvious homage so it already gives us a sense of the story.)
IMO, this "first 13 lines" is getting way too much traction on this site. Analyzing the first 13 doesn't help anyone as no reader/editor is only going to look at the first 13 lines. It takes at least a page to get any indication of whether the writer knows what he/she is doing.
By focusing purely on the first 13, I think some of you are losing sight of just writing your story your way. I guarantee you some of you have written something that is absolutely better than these openings; including a first 13 that would make me change my mind about the first 13 and its impact. But it seems as if most on here are missing the forest for the trees.
Just write it the way you want to write it, and maybe we'll have another thread down the line where we can analyze YOUR first 13 to figure out why it was published.
I agree with you rich that the first 13 business isn't nearly as important as many people here on Hatrack have convinced themselves it is. However I think what philo is saying is in addition to that and applies not just to first 13's but to whole stories, and addresses some other hang ups that have developed here. Such as the idea that there must be obvious in-your-face conflict or tension in the early parts of a story, or the idea that using more words than absolutely necessary to say or describe something is a bad thing.
I think it is correct to say that many of the professional markets especially have grown (possibly always were) somewhat more "literary" in bent and are as if not more interested in small nauances, literary devices, unique voice and the like than having an obvious immediate threat/conflict/source of tension.
So basically not only is the idea that the first 13 is crucially important and likely to be the thing that decides whether your story is passed on deeply flawed, many of the notions that are common around here as to what editors supposedly want, both in the begining of a story and the story as a whole, may very well be quite flawed as well
quote:There's just not enough there in these openings to tell whether these stories are going to be done well
For me there is. From the quality of the prose, the clear "voice" and the attention to detail, if I pretend to be an editor, I see enough in these openings to tell the writer is capable of telling a good story. Whether the story is actually good or not, I don't yet know. I'd have to keep reading.
But if the opening had a good idea, yet was awkwardly phrased or lacked focus or was otherwise difficult to read, I probably wouldn't bother. As an editor, I'm not responsible for helping struggling young authors. My job is to sell magazines. I do that with good stories, well written. And if you can't demonstrate you're capable of telling a good story right off the bat, I've got 500 other submittals this month to choose from.
[cliche]You only get one chance to make a first impression.[/cliche]
quote:But if the opening had a good idea, yet was awkwardly phrased or lacked focus or was otherwise difficult to read, I probably wouldn't bother
The thing is though, here on Hatrack you frequently get negative feedback on openings that aren't any of these things. In fact as has been said, chances are if any of us posted the openings in this thread and some of zero's others here as our own unpublished work, they'd be strongly criticised.
quote:I'm not responsible for helping struggling young authors. My job is to sell magazines.
Perhaps. But contrary to popular belief, I think what editors want and what average readers want aren't really that strongly related. I have a feeling philo is at least partially right that many of the "big" magazines are read in large part by aspiring writers or people who more or less randomly subscribed to them anyway. Editors publish what they want to publish.
quote:I do that with good stories, well written.
"good story" is more or less entirely subjective and "well written" is nearly so. The only objective part of "well written" is the basics of the langauge...spelling, grammar etc. The rest is a matter of opinion.
And as we've been discussing it looks like many of the pro editors aren't just looking for "well written." They appear to be drawn to certain literary devices, a certain type of voice and a style with a lot of attention to detail. A level of attention to detail, in fact, that in my experience is often discouraged in this forum, especially in openings.
quote:And if you can't demonstrate you're capable of telling a good story right off the bat, I've got 500 other submittals this month to choose from.
I think editors and slush readers are smart enough to realize that while the first 13 lines of a story (just like the rest of it) are AN indicator of things to come, its not always going to be the sole indicator or an absolute. As you say above, you'd have to read on. I think a lot more reading on happens than a lot of people here think. If your opening is illegible or was obviously done without care, no they probably aren't going to keep reading. But to me the idea that a majority of those 500 submissions are tossed aside after 13 lines is insane.
Thank you, Merlion, you've expounded on my comments greatly. The original question was regarding first-13's and if anyone could see any common threads. I am only addressing why a slush reader would continue reading, because I do not believe these openings would have faired well in our first-13 forums. It is the very small nuances and devices that are hinting at depth that I believe got these past the slush readers. Ultimately, I would imagine these stories continued to make more and more use of the elements I described above. I have found this to be true of the stories I've read in entirety from Asimov's & Analog.
My argument for depth is all about the indirect path. It's about the sidetracked conversations that happen daily, the itch you got on your foot while you were driving, the guy that spilled his drink on himself at the table beside you, etc., etc. This kind of thing is pervasive in real life as well as in literary fiction. It is driven into us to find the most efficient path from A to B, but real life never follows straight paths.
These magazines are printing what I would consider to be literary stories with strong elements of sci-fi or fantasy. I have looked a little at these editors' dossiers and they all appear to lean to the literary side of things - plus they all live in or near New York City.
I believe everyone should write what they want to write. And in no way should anyone write in a way they do not want to write. However, if one's goal is to have a story accepted by these magazines or win a WOTF, then I believe that person should highly consider including some of these devices. This is what I think the editors mean when they suggest prospective writers should read their magazines. Otherwise, submit stories elsewhere.
I'm starting to think that, like Jesus said about the leper, there's no pleasing some people. It may be impossible for me to satisfy anybody at the Big Three magazines with a story of mine---so maybe I should abandon my preoccupation with getting a story published in one of them, and pursue some alternative literary path...
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Don't give up, Robert. This is only a theory of mine. I'm currently experimenting with one of my stories, and I plan to submit it next month. Unfortunately, even if I don't get accepted it doesn't prove anything. But if I do...
Posts: 2003 | Registered: Jul 2008
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I don't think a crappy start, or first 13 lines, is going to cut it. As long as the beginning is competent, even if not striking, and you pair it with a strong work, you're probably in good shape. None of the openings in this series of topics has really knocked my socks off (although I did like the baby crying from the burial ground), but none were bad either. I can only assume the remainder of each story is what got it published.
That said, it can't hurt to have a brilliant opening, but it still has to give way to a good story.
Now I will say, for the sake of accuracy, that there are some markets/editors that have even specifically told me that the very begining is crucial to them and they want to see certain things in it...they want to be "grabbed." The interesting thing is, none of them are pro markets...the two I can remember offhand are Shimmer and Ruthless People's Magazine.
I would also note however that the comments I have recieved from them usually strongly indicate that they nevertheless did read the entirety of the stories in question.
Well, my thesis on the First Thirteen is that I've never bought any novel or story based on how the opening grabbed me, and have reason to believe this is true of others, as well...I question putting so much effort into something that (a) doesn't please me as a writer, (b) doesn't please me (or others) as a reader, and (c) is done only to please a bunch of people in the editorial office.
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quote:So, the First 13 for which I've come to remember this place... ...what of them?
Theyíre critical. If you put your hook on Line 14, youíll turn into a pumpkin!
I think itís taken as a given that every line should be your best line. Why would you put something out where every single line in the whole story wasnít just exactly the way you wanted it?
But there are advantages to having a strong opening. Itís like wearing a suit to a job interview or showering before a date. By itself, its not going to get you where you want to be, but it sure makes things a helluva lot easier. How long is an "opening"? Well, itís probably more than the first line and probably less than the first half of the story. For a short story, the theory is (and it agrees with my experiences), that the average person will have made up their minds about the story and the author after a paragraph or two.
Peopleís attention spans are short and getting shorter. Thereís a lot of words out there. Duotrope lists over 2000 markets for fiction. A strong beginning is a box you can stand on to try and get your head above the rest.
But if your natural tendency is to start slow and build, do it. Youíll write your best story by being true to yourself.
For publishing/legal-type reasons we're limited to posting the first thirteen lines on this site.
So that's what we share most frequently as a group. There is no harm in crafting the "perfect" first thirteen lines of a story. But it's only a tiny fraction of most stories, and I believe it is debatable whether there are specific formulas one can implement within that short of a space to substantially up the odds for success with editors (although it's very interesting to study the published excerpts).
In a broader sense, what you see in the excerpts is introduction of a character, the start or hint of a plot, and a bit of setting. In a short story submitted to a slush pile it's probably best to have all three happening in the first thirteen lines--the more that's happening, the better the chance of snagging a reader's interest. In addition those first words should be clear, concise, and well-written (the real strength of the F&F forum is the polishing aspect in my view, not so much the "I'm hooked" aspect).
quote:Well, my thesis on the First Thirteen is that I've never bought any novel or story based on how the opening grabbed me, and have reason to believe this is true of others, as well...I question putting so much effort into something that (a) doesn't please me as a writer, (b) doesn't please me (or others) as a reader, and (c) is done only to please a bunch of people in the editorial office.
But you are not trying to sell your work to a reader.
You are trying to sell your work to an editor (if writing short stories).
The editor's job is buying the right stories AND SELLING THEM TO THE READERS. THAT "selling" does not usually (particularly) involve the first 13 lines; it involves other forms of marketing, putting out a good and consistent product, etc. Your story WILL need more than a good first 13 to sell the editor, but it is extremely unlikely that it will sell WITHOUT a good first 13. You can "bypass" that first 13 once you are an established writer with a good editorial relationship or a recognised "name". Aliette de Bodard (Silver3 on here) is a lot less likely, after a Campbell award nomination and a bunch of professional sales, to need a good first 13 lines to snag an editor's interest. But the "first 13" is about learning the craft of how to start a story to interest an edtor.
With respect, Robert, perhaps your continual refusal to "please a bunch of people of in the editorial office" (and I know, for another example, you've mentioned before your steadfast refusal to conform to formatting guidelines that you happen to disagree with) is connected to the fact that you haven't sold a story?
[This message has been edited by tchernabyelo (edited June 24, 2009).]
I was aware of the electronic publishing rights and the first 13 connection, makes a lot of sense to me and I think it's what sets this forum apart from others that post their entire stories and ask for critiques.
So, I understand why there won't be and shouldn't be a fragment of the 40 first lines in F&F.
However, Rich asks a very intriguing question.
I have no idea, all I know is since I came here I've seen the issue of the first 13 discussed many times. This is the first time I'm seeing it differently and maybe it's because of the examples of published stories.
I wrote on a similar thread that when I write for the F&F section here I often purposely truncate my beginning to fit the main hook into 13 lines, but when actually drafting the story the hook may land on the eighteenth or twentieth line. 13 lines is a number that Hatrack sticks to for legal publishing reasons. Two members of my face to face writing group are slushpile readers for a Canadian SF/F magazine and one says she reads the whole story if she can, the other says she gives the story about 150 to 200 words before she decides if she will read on-- that's 13-15 lines approximately.
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I believe Philocinemas is seeing what I am, and that is, there is a quirkiness, an individuality about most of these selections. That is, there is nothing 'generic' about the openings, either the subject matter, how it is portrayed, the diction chosen, etc. distinguish them. Most writers would NOT start out with ' "MEOW," she says.' for example. The individual style of the writer is shining through (or in the case, of Beastly Red Lurker, he's telegraphed the diction 'gothic' in the title.) In the F&SF examples, the titles may have also helped ease the slush reader into them. And this makes a certain intuitive sense. From the slush reader's pov, If one reads page after page of generic or confusing openings, THESE stand out.
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The objective of putting the hook in the first 13 lines is to get the slush-pile reader to just turn to the second page and not reject the manuscript, largely unread. (Some don't subscribe to this theory and hope or believe that the slush pile reader will turn the page anyhow: fair enough, but that's the theory that Hatrack is based upon. Also, as someone said, writing prose that constantly entices the reader further into the story ain't no bad idea.)
Furthermore, by only putting 13 lines on-line we get two additional benefits: First, if the entire story were put in F&F then it would be deemed published: no publisher would pay for first publication rights.
Second, while the story would be protected by copyright law from unauthorized copying, in practice it's almost impossible to stop piracy of stuff on the internet as the music industry has discovered: our legal rights under copyright law would be unenforceable. (Online SF mags survive piracy by relying upon netiquette and the ethical behaviour of their readers.)
Thus, by restricting ourselves to the first 13 lines, we learn to seduce slush pile readers, preserve first publication rights, and avoid the difficulty of enforcing our rights under copyright law.
[This message has been edited by TaleSpinner (edited June 24, 2009).]
Putting a story you want feedback on in F&F is not the same thing as publishing. I mean...well, it just isn't. As far as piracy...really? We're worried about people pirating OUR first drafts and other material?
Honestly, just stick with the third paragraph, TaleSpinner, where you say it's "the theory that Hatrack is based on". My own "theory" is that the Hatrack theory is misplaced; prompting many to become too fixated on the first 13.
However, I understand the House rules and the rationalizations even though I disagree with them. I just had to say something in light of the reasons given. I've said my piece, and will say no more about it.
I apologize for trying to make the legal and commercial rights of writers clear and for believing that writers new to the forum should not be misled by opinions masquerading as fact.
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TaleSpinner, thank you for the information.
>>>>>From the slush reader's pov, If one reads page after page of generic or confusing openings, THESE stand out.
So our first 13 can grab the editors attention with voice, and everything philocinemas brilliantly noted, and conflict, and the slippery concept of hook, and also "something I might not agree with", and "something 50% of the hatrackers would take apart in F&F", etc.
Sometimes I feel as an unpublished author who one day would like to published, I try to find calming unity in these threads for it gives me hope that if I do X or Y I might win someday.
There is no unity. No one path, no single approach. It should be exciting but sometimes it makes afraid.
I've read the first 13 argument over and over. I'm not the argumentative type, so I usually stay out of it, but I wanted to mention one of the things I've learned from writing and rewriting my first 13. I've learned that at least every 13 lines of my whole book needs to hook me in some way. The best stories suck me in, over and over. I'm using "hook" here to mean anything that hooks me as a writer.
Harry Potter 3 just happens to be sitting on my computer table. I bet if I turned to any 13 lines there, something would hook me.
*pauses to look in the book* Yep. The page I turned to had action, world building, humor, characterization, misunderstandings and depth. No action on that particular page, though, but of course there doesn't need to be.
Finetuning every 13 lines to make sure they are interesting is a great exercise for a writer. With one caveat: I read once that many breakthrough novels tend to sprawl. They don't fit neatly into normal wordcounts. Getting our stories too tight is just as big a problem is not getting them tight enough. Just my sprawling thoughts on this subject... Melanie
quote:Putting a story you want feedback on in F&F is not the same thing as publishing
To most editors it is. If you look at the submission guidlines of most markets many will even state that they buy First Electronic Rights and aren't interested in anything that has been published before including on websites.
The reasons for not posting more than 13 lines on Hatrack are perfectly sound. People just tend to fixate on it a little too much.
I'd recomend you try Liberty Hall also though. The workshop and challenge forums there are password protected, so you can post entire stories without worry.
quote:The objective of putting the hook in the first 13 lines is to get the slush-pile reader to just turn to the second page and not reject the manuscript, largely unread. (Some don't subscribe to this theory and hope or believe that the slush pile reader will turn the page anyhow: fair enough, but that's the theory that Hatrack is based upon.
I think its not entirely accurate to say that idea is what Hatrack is based upon. Hatrack is a writers workshop, the purpose of which is to help writers make their stories or novels into works that will convey whats in them to their readers. Its not or isn't supposed to be primarily about first 13s. From the front page of the workshop:
quote:First of all, the first page of a manuscript should only have about 13 lines on it, since that first page should begin in the middle of the paper. It is not unusual for an acquiring editor to read only the first page (13 lines) of a submission before deciding whether to reject the submission or keep reading. We submit that 13 lines is enough for a potential reader to determine whether or not they want to read more.
This says its "not unusual" for an editor to make that decision at 13 lines, not that its absolute and automatic, and submits these ideas as an opinion or guidline, something to think about, not the primary focus of the site. Especially given that it also says this:
quote: In Fragments and Feedback, you can post the first 13 lines (manuscript format, 12-point courier font) of your work and ask for people to volunteer to read all of it--which you send to them in email--and give you feedback, or you can just ask for feedback on those 13 lines.
Indicating that getting feedback on the whole story is very much part of what we're here for.
All of that aside, this and zerostone's other threads are less about the "first 13 issue" as far as whether editors make their decisions on it or not. Its about what content in them attracts said editors.
Here are some things which in my experience the "Hatrack Zeitgeist" tends to indicate are more or less necessary for a "good" first 13 (not necessarily all of them at once)and/or things that are considered "bad" for same.
"good" things Conflict Tension (whatever that may actually mean...) Action Up-front speculative element "transparent" straight to the point prose Relatively fast pace
Verbostiy Descriptiveness Slow pace Lack of speculative element Lack of immediate conflict or "tension"
And the issue at question here is this: Many of the openings zerostone has posted lack a lot of things from the "good" column and often contain a good deal from the "bad" column.
Now, this doesn't mean that the ideas commonly put forth here are bad or incorrect. To me it simply indicates what I've said basically since I got here. They aren't absolute. Slow paced stories can sell. Stories without conflict or tension right at the begining can sell. Unique voice, unsual structure, a strong setting and/or strong setting of scenes can sell. People doing things that aren't integral to the plot of the story can sell. Etc etc etc.
quote:My argument for depth is all about the indirect path. It's about the sidetracked conversations that happen daily, the itch you got on your foot while you were driving, the guy that spilled his drink on himself at the table beside you, etc., etc. This kind of thing is pervasive in real life as well as in literary fiction. It is driven into us to find the most efficient path from A to B, but real life never follows straight paths
Exactly. I'd point out particularly that the writing of Stephen King, one of histories best selling others is PACKED with exactly this kind of thing.
quote:I believe Philocinemas is seeing what I am, and that is, there is a quirkiness, an individuality about most of these selections. That is, there is nothing 'generic' about the openings, either the subject matter, how it is portrayed, the diction chosen, etc. distinguish them.
I agree...however I'd also say its not just an issue of "generic." Its also an issue of, shall we say, density. As has been mentioned we're encouraged toward a rather lean style both in terms of prose ("purple prose" is a terrible fear thats instilled in us...don't use to many adjectives, don't spend to long on descreptions etc) and in terms of narrative/plot...we're basically told to weed out anything that isn't directly related to the plot or to major character development. I think thats often a mistake.
My argument has centered around first-13's because that is the question this thread addressed. However, my argument for depth was more about the entire story than just the first 13 lines. Please read the other posts by zerostone to get the full picture of what I'm suggesting. This began because many of the first 13 lines in what has been posted were not particularly "hooky" in the traditional sense. My point has been to suggest they (and most likely the rest of each story) were "hooky" in a different, more literary, way.
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On formatting rules and other rules: Having followed the rules-as-stated for many years, and failing to sell a story by following said rules, I am not now prepared to have a bunch of new rules sprung on me, for the sake of selling a story---especially when some of these rules, new and old, strike me as stupid and pointless and presumptuous to begin with. "Take me as I am or not at all."
I thought the "first thirteen" as we post here was just what fit inside the reply box...I wasn't aware of any legal issues involved...
Two things and then I will keep my mouth shut on this subject (except to let you know about some queries I sent out as I'll mention here in a sec):
Talespinner, if you want to tell me I'm full of s*** about this then just tell me. No need to "apologize" and be disingenuous about it. Seriously, I'm not trying to push anyone's buttons, and I don't take any of this personally. I hope you don't either.
Piracy. Your legal rights may be unenforcable, but that's not a reason NOT to publish something. If it was, we'd never publish anything. (As far as protecting and enforcing your rights, that's a whole 'nother thread.)
Merlion-Emrys: Most submission guidelines don't even mention previous publication in regards to online forums. And let's be clear, we're talking about a forum dedicated to feedback and critique of a story. Out of the 20 mags or so I looked at, only two had clear indications that they did not want previously published, which included blogs or websites. A lot of publications don't automatically reject previously published, but they do ask that you submit where/when as they want to make sure the writer still has the rights to publish the story somewhere else.
As usual, always query first. Which is what I did with a random sampling of mags where it was unclear what "previously published" meant. I'll let you guys know what the editors say.
Oh, and, personally, posting the first 13 seems like a nice and easy way to get people workshopping without cluttering the place up with 5000 word stories. I'm not knocking that at all. Just the-seems to me-undue emphasis put on the first 13 as evidenced by some of the critiques given on the first 13. To me, the first 13 indicates one thing, and one thing only: Do I want to read on?
quote: I don't take any of this personally. I hope you don't either.
I put work into that post. I am annoyed you trashed it without respect. This is the kind of disrespectful behaviour that I imagine drove extrinsic away and makes me consider quitting as well.
The post is correct legally, and as Merlion helpfully pointed out (I was too annoyed to continue), most publishers regard a story posted on a publicly available website (which Hatrack is) as published. It summarises reasonably accurately why Hatrack is the way it is.
Whether one is concerned about copyright, retaining first publication rights or responding to first 13 crits is another matter, and one I was not trying to address.
I apologize for the apologies. If Hatrack is not a place for legal facts, and if my contributions aren't worthy of respect, I'll quit contributing.
I think a lot of times when people hear "legal" their thinking in terms of actually breaking a law. Posting something on the internet expends its First Electronic Rights, which the majority of publications want (excluding those that take reprints in general anyway, of which there aren't terribly many. I don't think any of the pro markets do.)
I wouldn't really be too worried about the whole piracy thing.
But you have to understand, TP, that a lot of us get very, very VERY frustrated by the level of fixation on the first 13 exhibited by some here. Its part of the nature of the site, sure but in some cases its evolved into an almost elitist fixation. Some around here will basically tell you that if you don't know what to supposedly put in your first 13 your never going to get published etc. Writing first 13s is often treated as a whole seperate discipline rather than writting/telling stories being handled holistically, and its frankly a bit tiresome.
It's also not as if you've never unintentionally offended anyone :-) Try to remember that disagreeing doesn't equal disrespect and that if someone believes something is...or isn't...so their usually going to go with that unless presented with concrete proof otherwise. I was surprised as well when I first learned that simply posting a story on the internet is often counted as "publication" and it was only after a bit of consideration that it began to make sense to me.
dee_bonci said, "For publishing/legal-type reasons we're limited to posting the first thirteen lines on this site."
rich said, "Legal reasons? Then how did the "legal reasons" morph into the theory that "most editors...will reject the majority of the submissions based on...the first 13 lines of your story"? And demanded a recount.
I attempted to clarify the publishing and legal reasons why the site works the way it does.
I'm disappointed that my explanation got trashed (and pleased that Nicole at least appreciated it.) Whether one is bothered or not about copyright and first publishing rights is beside the point. If you publish a story in its entirety on a website you should surely understand what rights you may be giving away.
I'm perfectly capable of distinguishing debate from disrespect and regard the thoughtless trashing of a thoughtful post as the latter; nor do I like or need lectures, Merlion.
This has quite disrupted a thread that was becoming interesting and I had come to it to share some further thoughts on 'depth'. But I'm out of energy and time now.
Now this thread sounds more like what I'm accustomed to reading elsewhere on the Internet when I navigate to blog posts and then (God help me) get sucked into reading the comments.
I would just suggest that we stop bouncing off each other and get back to the subject. We're better than this. As people who know how to use prose effectively to convey tone, mood, and emotion, I think we might do well to take a moment to crit our own posts from the viewpoint of the reader prior to sending and thus avoid being overcome by the tyranny of the ancillary. Likewise, as readers, we might remember to accept divergent opinions without feeling the need to express our disagreement.
Aren't we doing this to help each other, after all? If so, I'm not seeing how this thread is now making a contribution.
I used to see the first-13's as a kind of fixation as well, and have had difficulty, at times, justifying their importance with what I have read in the magazines.
That said, other threads of late have shed light onto the fact that it is very difficult to make sense of 13 lines from anywhere else in a short story. The first 13 lines just makes for a more comprehensible read. And it makes better sense, which is kind of the same thing.
I also appreciated TaleSpinner addressing why we limit ourselves to 13 lines. I do believe that when we join this website we agree to abide by the 13-lines rule. OK... What's the problem? Everyone here agreed to it, so just live with it. If people want to go somewhere else and put their entire stories up for the world to see, then that is their prerogative. It sounded to me like TaleSpinner was just trying to be informative as to why the rule here exists. I see the rule as a justifiable precaution. Take if for what it is, there is no reason for anyone to get angry.
Regarding the justification of the fist-13's importance, I believe the first 13 should be representative in style and content of the entire manuscript. It's great to dress up for an interview, but it is also important to respond with appropriate diction and carry oneself with a confident demeanor. A great resume helps, but I have seen many with great resumes who weren't worth the paper on which they were printed. I would hope that someone who is able to outshine all the others would get the job. That's what we need to do as writers - for 13 lines and beyond.
I can be blunt, but I wasn't trying to "trash" your argument, TaleSpinner. Just offering an opinion based on what I thought was 'legal'. I didn't see anything in your post that indicated 'fact' as opposed to 'opinion', especially when you say "no publisher".
However, as far as "previously published", it looks like I am wrong on this one. I've gotten back some replies from the editors, and, as the Scottsman said to Bugs Bunny, "It appears the evidence is weighted against me.
These are from mags where it wasn't clear that they would accept previously printed stories, or what constituted "previously published". There are exceptions, but it appears that caution is the watchword about putting your story on your blog, or, say, the Hatrack site. I think Merlion-Emrys made the distinction earlier regarding password-protected sites for critiques/feedback so that appears to hold true.
Anyway, straight from the horse's mouth (from semi-pro and up):
1) "XXXX purchases first electronic publication rights. That usually means that we want something that hasn't appeared online prior to its appearance in our ezine. However, "rights" issues are legal niceties and nobody here is a lawyer. Please check the rules for the site where your story appeared and determine if you still hold all pertinent legal rights. If that site holds any rights, you need to get a release from them before your story can find publication anywhere else."
2) "Unfortunately, we consider any publicly accessible appearance online to count as publication...So I recommend that authors never post their work in publicly accessible places if they intend to try to sell that work as a new (non-reprint) story later."
3) "I can't speak for other publishers, but I consider any online appearance (public or private) to be the first printing. I do, however, believe that private writers' group forums are the exception to the rule. Based on your description, I wouldn't consider that forum private."
4) "We don't consider something posted in a writer's forum published, as the goal of such sites is to improve one's writing and get feedback."
Hey, hey, one for me!! But it could also be that the editor didn't quite get that I was asking about an open, non-password protected site. So...I haven't heard from the nine others, but it's obvious that it looks like these guys want to be the first, no matter if it's only family members that read your blog or not. If it's different than my assumption above I'll let people know, but my thought now is that you guys are right, and I'm wrong.
And now, I really really really will leave this thread alone. I wonder what other deviltry I can perform on other threads?
I see the first thirteen as the same as a first impression. Bad first impressions are harder to overcome than good ones, but it can happen. Of course if it's a story I want to sell then I want a good first impression.
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My post summarized information that's easily found in the FAQ. I summarized it because too many people don't read it. To dispute the meaning of "published" and the nature of copyright law is to question the competence of people like kdw and OSC who put the site together in the first place; disrespectful.
philocinemas said, "I do believe that when we join this website we agree to abide by the 13-lines rule. OK... What's the problem? Everyone here agreed to it, so just live with it." I agree whole-heartedly. I think it's simply unethical to take advantage of kdw's and OSC's hospitality and try to undermine the basic principles of the site. To question them in order to learn is one thing; when long-term members continually trash the idea of the first 13 they derail discussion into a same-ole, same-ole exchange where nobody gains. I think that if one does not subscribe to the principles of the site, one should go elsewhere.
Why? Because the inability of some to subscribe to the site's basic principles has derailed what was becoming an interesting discussion about depth. It's for discussions like this that might help me grow as a writer that I continue to contribute to Hatrack. If we cannot have them for fear of being derailed or thoughtlessly trashed, there's no point in my staying. It takes time and energy to write posts and if they're not valued, I'd rather spend that time writing and revising.
It's important that at Hatrack we learn to have a constructive discussion (and often, we do). We can't help each other develop the depth philo speaks of if we don't agree on the basic principles that the site relies upon (which IIRC includes not giving peremptory advice like some of the above). I've long felt a need to develop depth and, until now, felt Hatrack could not help. My ideas on this are tentative and I will not share them in a forum that gets subjected to thoughtless trashing because, if my ideas get trashed, I'll lose confidence in them. Nor have I the patience to fight through same-ole complaints about how the first 13 doesn't work: if you're a regular poster and it really doesn't work for you, please go somewhere else.
I'll settle back now and just lurk for a while. If the discussion on depth gets back on track and gets into depth and stays out of basics (how can we help each other develop depth if we don't agree on the value of writing enticing chunks of 13 lines?) I may risk contributing. If not, thanks for all the learning and encouragement I've been fortunate to share at Hatrack.
And for the record, TaleSpinner, I agree with most of what you said.
Everyone should remember that Hatrack was and is a wonderful resource, even to members who do not post their first thirteen.
In my opinion the greatest benefit I can gain from Hatrack is a full, detailed critique of an entire manuscript by a group who reads in my genre. Piddling around with the first thirteen lines of a story or novel is at worst an amusing diversion and at best an exhilarating practice exercise.
As to the samples that Zerostone posted, I like them all. I wish my writing was as good.
Common threads I notice:
Every one of them has good cadence.
Every one of them uses strong nouns and verbs. No adverbs and sparse adjectives.
They are all first person, and the POV character is active in the scene.
In three of the four another character in the scene is larger than life (generally first person is well suited to this). The exception is Paul in "The Balance in the Storm," but I'm guessing this one uses first person for a different reason . . . the POV character is new to the mortal world. That's cool.
In short, all four show outstanding artistry and clever wordsmithing. An editor who prefers these things is not a literary snob; he is a competent professional. A good story with competent writing is worthless, only your mother or spouse would read it. But a good story with outstanding writing will be read.
Probably the primary reason I don't post much in the way of First Thirteens is that I so rarely have any to post. Either my stories aren't in a finished-enough state to warrant posting (and may never be), or I've got a pretty good handle on it and it doesn't seem necessary.
But on the occasions I have, mostly in the distant past now, I got helpful advice...