This is topic Why the problem with the 1st 13 isn't that it's too short in forum Open Discussions About Writing at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by wbriggs (Member # 2267) on :
My opinions, inspired by a comment in F&F:

If something's confusing in the 1st 13 lines, it isn't because we needed to see the rest; it's because it was already confusing and we needed to know it now. I speak not as an editor (which I'm not) but as a reader. I don't want to feel confused about what the author's saying, even if I find out later what he meant.

Same for hooks: I want it now. If you can't tell me up front why I should read this, I'm likely not to. Tell me!

Sometimes I'll come across text like this:

As if, Michelle thought. Dad was always such an optimist. Sure you'll adjust, kiddies! She looked around. No mall. Nothing but trees. She would never like it out here in the sticks.
I think: As if what? A few sentences later I find out. But I don't want to have to put up a marker on something that confuses me, feel confused while I keep reading, and then say, oh, that's what the author meant. I want the explanation as soon as it's needed. As in
Michelle was never going to like it out here in the sticks, no matter what Dad said. He was always such an optimist. Sure you'll adjust, kiddies! She looked around. No mall. Nothing but trees. As if!

Much better. Pay me my 2 cents now.

[This message has been edited by wbriggs (edited November 30, 2005).]

Posted by Crotalus@work (Member # 2959) on :
hands over pennies.

Will is right on. Don't confuse me needlessly.

There is, however, a such thing as slipping info into the story a little at a time in order to avoid an info dump. Especially in sci-fi. It allows you to reveal the world and situation gradually. Good if done correctly.

That said, don't withhold info as a means of trying to create suspense. It just doesn't work. Tell me up front and let the suspense be a result of me wondering what is going to happen next, not a result of me wondering what is going on. That's not suspense, that's confusion.

Posted by Elan (Member # 2442) on :
I'm with you on this one. The F&F exposes errors in mechanics and style. Is the piece full of adverbily adverbery? Dos the riter no how two spel? Grammar, matters it not? Is the MC stuck in a nightmare dream of cliche, and waking up in a sweat? With no memories and no clothes? Or does the MC stare pensively at dirt on the carpet, pondering the dirt, noting the color of each thread, each adjacent soiled area until we nod off in boredom?

You can tell a lot in the first 13. Giving us more of the same doesn't help. Once the writer can churn out a well-written 13 line set, THEN it's worth it to give them a critique for a larger piece.


Posted by sojoyful (Member # 2997) on :
A frequent protest is that 13 lines is too quick to reveal the plot, but that's just it. The hook is not the same thing as the plot. It's related to the plot, it will lead us to the plot, it will make us interested in the plot. But the entire plot definitely does not need to go in the first 13...just a taste.

Like those cheese samplers at the grocery store, that entice you so much you'll buy the whole product.

Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
If you've formatted your MS according to the usual conventions of the publishing game, and printed it out, thirteen lines should be what happens to be on the first page. I always figured that was where the rule came from.

...besides, posting a hundred thousand words of novel would take up a lot of computer space...and if a hundred people did it, it would take up even more...

Posted by djvdakota (Member # 2002) on :
Well put, sojoyful!

Love the cheese metaphor.

Posted by sojoyful (Member # 2997) on :
Thanks, djvdakota. I was thinking about the cheese metaphor some more, and here's what I came up with.

No hook: you never know the cheese exists at all.

No hook, but the author claims it's coming: a stranger comes up to you and tells you that in the store somewhere there's some really good cheese that you should go buy.

Bad hook: you're allowed to look at, smell and discuss the cheese, but never actually taste it.

Initially good hook that falls slack: you get to taste the cheese, but then they won't tell you what it's called or where in the store you can find it.

Good hook: you get to taste the cheese, even have a second one if you want, and they tell you what it's called and where to find it.

Great hook: on top of all that, they give you a coupon.

[This message has been edited by sojoyful (edited November 30, 2005).]

Posted by mikemunsil (Member # 2109) on :
Phishing Hook: And then they ask you for your credit card and social security card numbers!
Posted by lehollis (Member # 2883) on :
I like the cheese metaphore. That about sums it up. Of course, it also got me thinking about a story that starts with someone sampling some cheese outside a store....

Anyway, I feel the first 13 are just right. I think I believe in them because they challenge me. If it were easy, it probably woulnd't be right. It probably wouldn't help.

Posted by hoptoad (Member # 2145) on :
Agree in the most part, but add that the hook doesn't have to be a big, fat, nasty, obvious, patently formulaic hook.

To borrow from Haley Joel Osment: I see hooks everywhere, walking around like they don't even know they're hooks.

In fact, I am starting to hate hooks. In so many stories they are so obvious and boring. I wonder why the writer thinks I have the attention span of a deranged gnat. Granted, the hook is intended more for the editor than the reader, and who knows? Maybe editors DO have the attention span of a small, biting, two-winged fly.

I don't agree that all readers 'want it now!'
It sounds like the complaint of the 'gimme gimme gimme' sugar-fix generation. The 'fast-food, delivered in under thirty minutes or its free' squad. And responding with the capitulatory: 'Let's shovel in the fat, sugar and salt and shut the kids up.'

What about 'slow food'. Classic recipes? You remember! Osso Bucco. Meals that take two hours simmering to get right. Sure, we can live on microwave mac and cheese if we want -- but hey! Is it living? We'll turn into the rag-butted, wombat-necked, splay-footed, morbidly-obese, 'its not what I eat just that I don't exercise enough' brigade.

Just my 2¢.....

[This message has been edited by hoptoad (edited November 30, 2005).]

Posted by Isaiah13 (Member # 2283) on :
In fact, I am starting to hate hooks. In so many stories they are so obvious and boring.

I would tend to agree, but I guess that's the difference between a good hook and a bad one. A good one will read like it belongs where it is. A bad one just jumps off the page and says, "Look at me!"

Posted by KatFeete (Member # 2161) on :
A good hook:

Gives the reader some idea what the story's going to be like.

Makes the reader curious enough to read the rest of the story.

A bad hook:

Bears no relation to the rest of the story, or does not give a clear idea what the story's about.

Confuses the reader.

There is a very thin line between "curiousity" and "confusion" that everyone must learn to walk for themselves, and which varies from reader to reader (for example, wbriggs, I liked your first presentation of Michelle much better. *grin*)

There's also the problem of length. In a short story, hell yes, you'd better have done something interesting in the first thirteen lines. In a novel - in my experience, at least - while it's still important to hook, readers are more likely to put up with a little confusion or a slow start. You've got a whole book to explain it to them, after all.

Posted by rcorporon (Member # 2879) on :
Having posted a WIP there not too long ago (I think the "promise of a hook" cheese bit was aimed at me ) I must say that I'lve lost my taste for F&F.

I think that the first 13 may be important for a flash or short story, but for a novel, they are too little. When I read a novel, I give it 40 or 50 pages before I totally give up. If I only read the first page of some books, I would have missed out on some great ones (ever read the start of Grapes of Wrath?).

For me, I think that a service like "Critters" is vastly superior to F&F, no offence intended of course!


Posted by yanos (Member # 1831) on :
First 13 of a short story we're looking for a hook. First 13 of a novel we're looking at the quality of the writing. I think that pretty much sums it up as I'm not keen on cheese.
Posted by Elan (Member # 2442) on :
I've lost my taste for F&F.
I think that the first 13 may be important for a flash or short story, but for a novel, they are too little...I think that a service like "Critters" is vastly superior to F&F, no offence intended of course

F&F is not intended to be a comprehensive critique service. It serves a different purpose all together than . F&F is a place for Hatrack writers to post a notice saying, "I have a piece, I need a full crit," or for new writers to get a sampling of what a critique looks and feels like.

Here on Hatrack, the best way to go about getting full crits on longer pieces is to join a Hatrack group. There is a forum to post your interest. I belong to a group and we collectively critique one section of writing once a week. Some of our members write short stories, there are a few of us in the group submitting novel chapters. Different groups work it different ways.

While is a great way to connect with people willing to do critiques, I suspect it lacks the more casual "get to know you" atmosphere a small crit group can offer. When you only have 5-6 people in a group, people get to know your style from seeing your stuff several weeks in a row, and can point out patterns in your style that a single-time critiquer would miss.

If you aren't getting what you need out of F&F, I suggest you try to round up a few someones to join you in a small critique group.

[This message has been edited by Elan (edited November 30, 2005).]

Posted by sojoyful (Member # 2997) on :
I think the "promise of a hook" cheese bit was aimed at me

Not at all! I sincerely apologize if it came across that way.

No, it's just something that I seem to see a lot. And *I* was even slightly guilty of it in my last F&F posting!


Just my 2¢.....

Wouldn't it be great if there were a smilie that did all three of those at once?

[This message has been edited by sojoyful (edited November 30, 2005).]

Posted by Spaceman (Member # 9240) on :
Who stole my cheese?
Posted by rcorporon (Member # 2879) on :
sojoyful, I was kidding around .

How do you guys "quote" like that?

Posted by sojoyful (Member # 2997) on :
Before the quoted text, you put brackets [ ] with the word quote in them. After the text, you do the same thing, except there's a forward slash / before the word quote.

[This message has been edited by sojoyful (edited December 01, 2005).]

Posted by Elan (Member # 2442) on :
click on the "UBB Code is ON" link, which displays on the left hand side of the box where you type in your reply message.

Posted by wbriggs (Member # 2267) on :
F&F is for short stories. For novels, see Hatrack groups.
Posted by franc li (Member # 3850) on :
"As if" isn't referring to something else. It's indicating that you are in the mind of a contemporary adolescent girl.

And, er, what's this about novels? No wonder all my attempts to write a first 13 for my novel have been so painful.

[This message has been edited by franc li (edited December 01, 2005).]

Posted by franc li (Member # 3850) on :
I don't agree that first 13 is not for novels. It says repeatedly all over the place that 13 lines is the limit. And I keep thinking of Treason and what a great hook that has. Of course, I never finished the book. Got bogged down in the deadly "journey through a fantastical realm". I think part of the problem might have been that the character was alone, and I was very interested in what had been happening in the castle, and he was moving away from that.
Posted by eclectic skeptic (Member # 3046) on :

F&F is for short stories. For novels, see Hatrack groups.

Is this correct? I hadn't heard that. I was under the assumption that it could be a fragment of anything just as long as the length was given so that those giving a crit would know, and those who wanted to contribute feedback could decide if they wanted to reply to novel fragments or short story fragments.

Posted by TruHero (Member # 1766) on :
That is correct! F&F is for anything you would like feedback on. You just need a willing participant to read whatever it is that you have written, be it short story, poetry, novella, novelette or novel. It could be the first 13 of your 10th chapter for that matter. You just need to tell everyone that before asking. Now finding someone to read and critique an entire novel for you is another matter...
Posted by arriki (Member # 3079) on :

I’ve been looking at the 1st 13 lines posts. Being curious,I went out and bought the latest copies of F&SF and ASIMOV’s (ANALOG was sold out). I’ve been going through them looking at the 1st 13 lines of the lottery winners (I know that is not how they do it, but it FEELS like it is sometimes) from a few months ago when they were choosing mss for the Jan. 2006 magazines.

A lot of stories opened without a scene, just setup of setting or situation. It seemed as if the ideas that are hanging about in the 1st 13 are not borne out so much in the actual choices.

Maybe two issues is too few to make such judgements, but I’m curious about the real world choices. Has anybody else seen this?


Posted by Beth (Member # 2192) on :
IMO, it isn't so much what goes in the first 13 as how well it's done. You can do an opening that's all scenery if you do it well enough; but it's a lot easier to make a character doing something interesting than it is to make setup interesting.

Did the beginnings you sampled make you believe the author had an interesting story to tell? Did you want to continue reading? Were you convinced that the author had sufficient skill to sustain your interest and the story for the subsequent pages?

Posted by luapc (Member # 2878) on :
I think some of what you are saying arriki, is due to the fact that a lot of stories in F&SF and Asimov's are from estblished writers in some sense. They've gained recognition through repeated submissions or have some publication history. Even if they haven't followed the ideals of The First 13, then the Editor had more reason to consider the story for publication.

From what I've read, editors are more likely to consider stories in their entirety if you have some recognition with them, so the First 13 isn't as important for established writers. I've read that if an editor has read your story in it's entirety, even if they reject it, that they will remember your name and will be more likely to consider future submissions more thoroughly and give the author some latitude as to the opening.

As unfair as it may be, established writers don't have to follow the same rules as writers trying to break in, so they don't have to grab the slush readers and editor's attention as much.

Beth said it really well. Nothing sells a story as well as the story itself. If a writer can get the slush reader at one of these mags, who read thousands of stories, to read all the way through, and at the end think 'WOW', the story will sell, no matter whether you are established or not. The rules for the First 13, while not a hard and fast rule, is a good basic principle to start with for someone without recognition.


Posted by KatFeete (Member # 2161) on :
I'd put the ball for the difference in a totally different court. It's not that published writers are being judged by a different standard than we are: it's that "judge" is a pretty confusing thing when it comes to the first thirteen.

First off, there's the problem of peeves. We've all got 'em, and the more beginning writing one reads, the more irritating those peeves get, until we've honed our rants down to a fine point. And then, well, it seems a shame to waste perfectly good rant....

Second, there's the uncertainty factor. We wish, when reading, to offer helpful commentary. We don't want to just say "Good work!" or "This sucks!" But it's not always easy to tell what's wrong with a story, even when you know something is... and so we fall back on the aforementioned peeves, or on nuggets of writing wisdom we've heard. "Not enough action." "Don't start with the weather." "Too many long sentences." When we're looking only at the first thirteen lines of a story, the uncertainty factor gets multiplied, because we all know we can't diagnose a story's problem from thirteen lines. We can say "I would keep reading" or "I wouldn't", but when it comes to reasons we all tend to stick with truisms because we're not, in our hearts, sure.

And finally, there's the middle ground. Every time I skim F&F, I see a few stories that I would never keep reading and a very few that I most certainly would. The rest? Probably, if I had time, or was in that kind of mood, and they didn't hit one of my turn-off switches (I can't stand most vampire stories, for example), and they didn't let me down within a few paragraphs, and the cat didn't suddenly want feeding... these are not turn-offs, but they're not superb hooks either. And there's nothing wrong with that. They fall into TNH's Slushkiller categories seven and up, where only further reading will give me, the reader, any idea whether this is a good or bad story.

It might be nice to attach a really superb hook to these stories, but I can't even begin to say what that hook would be without a better sense of the story. Hooks are not entities unto themselves, but rather a part and parcel of a larger thing. Diagnosing them from thirteen lines, in all but the most extreme cases, is like diagnosing a sick patient by examining his finger.

I'd argue then that the problem with the first thirteen isn't that they're too short, but that they're too short for what's frequently done with them. We can pinpoint extreme problems or applaud excellent efforts, but for the vast, muddling middle, all we can say is "Not bad so far - I'd have to see more to say." We cannot write an entire critique, as I sometimes see done in F&F. For an entire critique, we need the entire story.

[This message has been edited by KatFeete (edited December 21, 2005).]

[This message has been edited by KatFeete (edited December 21, 2005).]

Posted by wbriggs (Member # 2267) on :
I'll have to check out recent issues from a perspective of seeing how to do first 13. I'll say what I'm hearing here bears out OSC's comment: first paragraph free (relative to POV); tell the reader what he needs to know before going further. Which might be background; or it might be scene; or maybe something else.
Posted by wbriggs (Member # 2267) on :
I felt frustrated at response to my last first 13, on a novel. I still wish I'd gotten readers . . . but the criticism I kept getting seemed off the mark. Me: "The reason I'm not explaining X is that I don't care about X -- it's scenery! MC doesn't know what it is anyway!" But I took it to OSC's class, and he made me believe the criticism in one line: "It's cruel to tell people about an argument and not tell them what it is, even if it's irrelevant to the story. Tell them." So I came to believe it, and found once again that the problem with the first 13 isn't that it's too short, even if it's mine.
Posted by Elan (Member # 2442) on :
Will, I don't remember your last request for a read, but if you are still looking for a reader, I'm up for it. I like your stuff. You can send it to
Posted by Aalanya (Member # 3263) on :
wbriggs - make your request for someone to read the whole thing a little bit more explicit next time. If I've got the post correctly you said you "would welcome comments on the first 13 or on the whole thing" (I believe). To me that's sort of an either-way-works-for-me comment. Be more assertive Not that it's a guarantee, but I'm more likely to offer if somebody is asking more specifically.
Posted by wbriggs (Member # 2267) on :
Yeah, I see your point. I'm so eager not to be pushy I go too far the other direction!

I'll take you up on it, Elan, when I do the rewrite! Thanks.

[This message has been edited by wbriggs (edited March 18, 2006).]

Posted by Survivor (Member # 213) on :
I remember the story. One of these days I'm going to read more of it, I really am. Right now I'm just so busy with non-writing related things.

To "nuance" (Beelzebub, what a useful word ) Card's statement a little, you can mention an argument and just tell us what it signifies rather than showing us the whole thing.

"Mom and Granny were arguing in the front seat, as always, Mom was accusing Grans of some arcane sin and Grans was pleading her innocence. He didn't even know what the putative crime was this time, and he sure didn't care who was right. They always did this. Besides, there was a strange cloud in the east."

There, told everything about the argument that actually matters, but didn't mention a word of it and didn't make you want a word of it.

But once you begin quoting the arguments, then people start trying to figure out who's right and who's wrong. Cut off their access to the speakers and tell them the argument doesn't matter, and they'll wonder what your game is. That's no good. A narrator can be unreliable, but the audience has to believe in the author without hesitation.

Posted by Silver3 (Member # 2174) on :
Ditto on what Survivor said about summarizing the argument. And on what he said about reading: I was game, but my current crit schedule is already running late as it is. I also intend to read one of those days.
Posted by hoptoad (Member # 2145) on :
Posted by Sara Genge (Member # 3468) on :
Must there always be a hook? I think that makes for cheesy little stories. They sell well, but do we need each and every story to sell well? I like variety, and the thirteen line rule imposes a kind of "correct uniformity" which can get boring.
Also, a story can have major logical and even semanthical flaws that don't show up in the first thirteen. All you learn from those thirteen lines is that someone knows something about flashy writting and can probably write an essay. If the plot sucks you can't tell.
Maybe commenting on the first 30 lines would help. At least we could tell where the story was going.
Posted by arriki (Member # 3079) on :
Well, since it's "our" stories and not a problem of copyright infringement on some published work, could we have a separate topic for the first 30 lines?

It might be interesting to compare the first 13 to the first 30. We, the critiquers, would be looking at the lines in different ways. With the 13, would it entice someone to read further? With the 30, is the story off to a good start?

[This message has been edited by arriki (edited August 07, 2006).]

Posted by authorsjourney (Member # 3569) on :
For those who point to stories with uninteresting 1-13, ask yourselves this: if your story DOES start with 13 lines that draw the reader in, is it likely to be worse than if it took longer?

Back when I hung out more frequently at fictionpress (supress shudder), I frequently came across authors arguing with readers. Authors must learn an important lesson: they are always wrong. The reader is always right.

OSC talked about this (in Characters and Viewpoint I believe). The reader is having an experience, and how can what she experiences be wrong? If she is confused, the writing must be clarified. If she is bored to tears, the writer needs to make it more interesting.

Granted, you can't please everyone, but if more than one reader has a problem with something, you'd better fix it.

[This message has been edited by authorsjourney (edited August 07, 2006).]

Posted by Christine (Member # 1646) on :
I define "hook" more loosely than some others around here but yet, I believe EVERY SHORT STORY needs to have a hook in the first few lines.

All a hook needs to do in those first 13 lines is convince me to read the 14th line. It can do this by being written so beautifully that I just flow through to the next paragraph without even noticing I'd done can do this by giving me a character in pain that I can sympathize can do this by giving me an argument or other conflict I find can WOW me with some interestin thing I've never seen can grip me with a tease of what isto come (this works best, IMHO, in first person).

There would be no difference between the first 13 lines and the first 30 lines for me. If you haven't hoooked me in 13, you are unlikely to do so in 30 because, whether they're included in the F&F post or not, I won't read them!

Moreover, in F&F I'm not looking for a hook. I'm looking for a sign that the author has reached a certain level of competence.

Posted by Sara Genge (Member # 3468) on :
Ok, if that's your definition of "hook" we're talking about the same thing. I also need a story to move me, but I've critiqued too many stories with great 13s that left me tepid (sorry, direct translation, can't think of anything better now) when I read the rest, and stories with slow 13 that kept getting better and better and better as I read.

All a hook needs to do in those first 13 lines is convince me to read the 14th line. It can do this by being written so beautifully that I just flow through to the next paragraph without even noticing I'd done can do this by giving me a character in pain that I can sympathize with...


Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
Back again, hunh? I think I've said elsewhere, but not (I think) in this particular thread, that I can't recall ever reading something based on how well the First Thirteen pulled me in. It was always some other factor.

But I'm the consumer. To pull in the editor, maybe the First Thirteen is necessary---certainly I try to come up with something compelling at the beginning.

Posted by pantros (Member # 3237) on :
First 13 only applies to Editors and it only applies to short pieces. Novels are never sold on the first 13 (though they can lose a sale on the first 13)

When is the last time any consumer has ever purchased a single short story?

They don't. They purchase anthologies either as books or magazines. If they bought the book/magazine, the author has already made their money.

Once a consumer buys the anthology, they are going to read every story they can vaguely stomach the first page of. A saavy writer understands that they still want people to read their stories in the hopes they will remember their name and at least purchase other stuff with their name in it. At best, a writer hopes that readers write in, complimenting the author so they have an easier sell with the next story.

Sidenote: There may be places online to purchase short stories, I don't know of any. It sounds like lame PoD/Vanity stuff. But, it may exist.


Posted by authorsjourney (Member # 3569) on :
To me, a lot of this seems like a moot point. Okay, so you don't have to be incredibly gripping in only 13 lines. You can get away with a slow opening. A novel isn't sold solely on the first 13. But why *wouldn't* you try to draw the reader in with the first sentence, and then grab them even more with each sentence after that?

So you don't have to write spectacularly well to be published. That doesn't mean you shouldn't still strive to be excellent in every way you can. Working hard at great thirteens will help you a lot. Ignoring them will hurt you a lot, and frankly, it's lazy writing.

Posted by Silver3 (Member # 2174) on :
Yes and no. Past a certain point, going for a hook results in needless melodrama and/or artificial tension in the hope you'll grip the reader. I've seen this a lot, even in published works, and I thoroughly hate it.

But otherwise, yeah, you want to interest the reader. I dislike the term "hook" because it implies it's irresistible, that it seizes you by the throat and doesn't let go. No 13 lines have ever convinced me I had to read the rest or be forever unfulfilled.

Posted by Grimslade (Member # 3173) on :
13 or 30 lines, a lot of your writing sins will be layed bare. 13 lines is a good marker.

Why have useless prose? 13 lines is enough to set a scene, introduce a viewpoint and describe some characters. Why bother with the 13 if the next 10 are where stuff gets interesting? Dump the dross and get with the good stuff. You need enough on that first manuscript page to get a reader to turn it. A slush reader has piles of first pages to read, why not make your story capture their jaded interest. Novel or Short Story, the writing should be tight and help bring the story to life. The first 13 is a good place to start.


Posted by Louiseoneal (Member # 3494) on :
Don't feel bad, lehollis, the post about the guy waking up with no clothes and no clue where he is got me thinking I should write a story about that, even if it is a cliche of some kind. Maybe I should put the guy in a grocery store, confused, naked, and looking for cheese!
Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
13 or 30 lines, a lot of your writing sins will be layed bare.

Oh, yeah, thirteen lines are more than enough to reveal all of my literary faults and problems, too.

Posted by tchernabyelo (Member # 2651) on :
"Must there always be a hook? I think that makes for cheesy little stories. They sell well, but do we need each and every story to sell well? I like variety, and the thirteen line rule imposes a kind of "correct uniformity" which can get boring."

In general, this site is used by writers who are trying to get published/established.

In trying to get published, you need to make a slushpile reader get through your story, pass it to the next level, get THAT reader to finish your story, and pass it along up the chain, however many steps there happen to be. For this, a hook (and I do mean in your general sense, rather than a teaser) is surely vital.

Once you have become an established writer, a recognised name for both editors and readers, you don't need a hook; your name is the hook. This is why a lot of published material does not appear to have a 13-line hook, and that's why every few weeks there's a discussion on this site about it. Someone always says "but so-and-so doesn't have a hook in such-and-such"; so-and-so is invariably a best-selling author. They have a two-word hook - "Steven King" or "John Grisham" or "Robert Jordan".


Posted by Aust Alien (Member # 3493) on :
Or a three word hook: Orson Scott Card.

Okay I'm a suck. But I did recently read an early OSC novel (Treason) which a probably wouldn't have touched except for I knew he was a good writer.

Of course once you win a few awards you have an even better hook.

For the rest of us, though it's the hard way.

Posted by Survivor (Member # 213) on :
For me, all you need to do in the first thirteen is avoid looking like you don't know what you're doing. The problem isn't that the first 13 is too short, the problem is that most novice writers have real difficulty writing 13 lines that don't reveal fundamental gaps in their grasp of the basics of narrative writing.

The problem is that 13 lines with no glaring mistakes is a lot to ask from a new writer.

That's why I don't demand that you give me a perfect 13 before I'll read. I know that you're workshopping because you want to improve your story. If you think that I can tell you anything helpful, it means that there are techniques, tips, even tricks that I might be able to tell you. I'm perfectly willing to read for fun when I'm pretty sure that there won't be a lot for me to say other than "this is perfect". But I'm not demanding that you be perfect before I'll read when the point is how I can help you be better.

But if your first thirteen reveals that you don't have a basic grasp of written English or the art of narrative, or if it's a story I'm going to hate reading, I'll give it a pass. You don't need the feedback I'd give you on that story, and I don't want to give it to you.

Posted by trousercuit (Member # 3235) on :
Maybe I should put the guy in a grocery store, confused, naked, and looking for cheese!

I think this might hit way too close to home for some of us.

Posted by hoptoad (Member # 2145) on :

For me, all you need to do in the first thirteen is avoid looking like you don't know what you're doing.


With reference to earlier comment I made, I see it was incomplete: I was referring particularly to clumsy hooks that prove to have little bearing on the rest of the story.

[This message has been edited by hoptoad (edited March 26, 2007).]

Posted by trousercuit (Member # 3235) on :
It's the night of the LIVING THREAD! Run!

With reference to earlier comment I made, I see it was incomplete: I was referring particularly to clumsy hooks that prove to have little bearing on the rest of the story.

Now that would be a good forum contest. I feel a thread coming on...

Posted by RMatthewWare (Member # 4831) on :
Everything that can be said has been said


Posted by Pyre Dynasty (Member # 1947) on :
Which makes it an exellent candidate for the bump.
Posted by jongoff (Member # 5206) on :
I concur with the sentiments about the thirteen lines not because they are inadequate (they aren't), but because the critique is so seldom relevant. In the thirteen lines I posted I got feedback that said basically there wasn't enough story, I don't feel anything for the character, etc.

It simply isn't possible to do that in thirteen lines. A character evolves and we come to know them through the course of the story. The other reason, and I'm sorry if I'm a little direct here, is that a number of people offer advice on what editors are looking for. That would be great if in fact the advice was relevant, but it isn't.

When submitting the 13 lines those who volunteer to critique should focus on those thirteen lines: Is there a hook? Does it pique your interest? Does it make you want to read more? Is it clearly written, etc.

I understand the importance for the first thirteen lines to have a spark, but the critiques are, in my opinion not very helpful and the problem lies in the audience.
We as writers owe it to the reader to invite them into the story. We don't smile, shake hands, and introduce ourselves ten minutes after we meet someone, we do it at the beginning. We should be doing the same with our stories.

But they who critique ought to critique the first 13 for what they are and should be. An introduction and invitation to read more; not for what they aren't.

[This message has been edited by jongoff (edited March 27, 2007).]

Posted by RMatthewWare (Member # 4831) on :
I think some people just don't know how to critique (you may put me in that group). At least, maybe some don't know how to crit the first 13 very well. There is a section on Hatrack that tells people how to crit. I think maybe people should refresh themselves on what needs to be in the first 13, because I don't think everyone has a realistic expectation. Yes, you need to hook, yes, you need to get your grammar and spelling right. But what else?

I think that when you post your first 13 you should also ask for those who are interested in critting the whole thing (or if a novel, the first chapter). Then you are essentially saying, "here's the intro, is this interesting enough to keep reading?" That's how editors work. If the first bit is good, they'll keep reading. If not, then it's trash. Or sent back in your self-addressed stamped envelope. Whatever.


Posted by Elan (Member # 2442) on :
There should probably be a section entitled "How to Accept a Critique." Most of the complaints I've seen of critiques being invalid are silly.

A critique is one person's point of view. End of story. If you think the person has a valid opinion, then listen to it. If not, ignore it. If several people point out the same issue, then it would do to take note of it.

A critique is a chance to peer into one reader's mind. If they are telling you they aren't hooking into your story, and why, that's useful information.

The problem NEVER lies with the audience. If you think it's the audience at fault, you are lost. An opinion about writing is never wrong... because opinions about writing are not true/false things. I like it; I don't like it... one is not right and the other wrong. Opinions are barometers, not statements of fact. If the opinion is based on a false conclusion, you can only blame the writer for that. It is the writer, after all, who completely controls the words on the page. As a writer, you can assess where a particular reader veered off course and make a decision on whether you need to clarify, edit, expound, develop. And that is the gift in critique, a chance to see where a reader veers off course so that you can make a course correction.

Posted by wbriggs (Member # 2267) on :
There's a topic somewhat close to that: Arguing with critiques

Posted by Zero (Member # 3619) on :
Aust Alien,

I know exactly what you mean. I eventually read Treason, which is (I think) a rewrite of "A Planet Called Treason." And I read it under the high recommendation of a friend and the fact that it was written by OSC. I did finish it, and can honestly say there is no other book like it.

I wanted to drop it several times and found the situation of our main character distasteful, creepy, and just plain weird. The entire book is amazingly clever and brilliantly creative, however, despite its artistic value, it is nothing short of a severe acid trip and don't think it would be a breakthrough success for any up and coming author.

Posted by jongoff (Member # 5206) on :

Your observation about the audience never being wrong ONLY applies to a passive audience. In other words readers who haven't taken upon themselves the responsibility of providing helpful feedback. When a person takes on that role they have a responsiblity to provide feedback that is relevant and useful to what is posted.

Useful feedback on the thirteen lines would include telling the author how effective it is as a hook, whether the writing is clear, etc.

Feedback that is less than helpful are comments about the character being underdeveloped, or there not being enough information about this or that aspect of the world (this is exceptional because if the opening scene begins describing a world, it should obviously have some detail).

The thirteen lines excercise is to help us develop as writers that can hook a reader, and from a professional point, an editor's interest. It is impossible to really develop the characters, the world, or the plot in thirteen lines. We can only provide a snapshot, but that snapshot should be well framed, interesting, and in focus.

So if we take up the mantle of critic we should be aware of the responsibility to provide good observations, and where possible suggestions on how to improve.

Now having said all that it's important to point out that sometimes it is possible to tell a lot in 13 lines. I'm reminded of a story in an anthology of the world's shortest stories. The entire tale was told in remarkably few lines. I don't recall the author's name, but the story, in it's entirity was rather brief. If you'll indulge me I'll present it here:

A Short Story for Mindreaders:

It was a dark and stormy night... you know the rest.

The End.

Thanks to everyone for your indulgence in my prattle.

[This message has been edited by jongoff (edited March 30, 2007).]

[This message has been edited by jongoff (edited March 30, 2007).]

Posted by jongoff (Member # 5206) on :
In adendum to my previous post I tried to find the author of the short story I mentioned. I came across the following by our own gracious host, at least it's attributed to him:

The baby’s blood type? Human, mostly.
- Orson Scott Card

If you'd like to see more check out the website:

It's a web site of stories six words or less in length.


Posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (Member # 59) on :
There should probably be a section entitled "How to Accept a Critique."

This topic is intended to help with that.


Posted by kings_falcon (Member # 3261) on :

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