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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Criteria for a good opening

   
Author Topic: Criteria for a good opening
zerostone
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Hi all,


Back in 2006, Christine posted on traits of openings. She had a quote from "His Majesty's Dragon"

quote:
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The deck of the French ship was slippery with blood, heaving in the choppy sea; a stroke might as easily bring down the man making it as the intended target.
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A strong opening has the following traits:

1) CLEAR - We understand what is going on. There are no confusing, vague references to things unexplained.

2) Flows well;

3) CONCISE - The description isn't overdone. I don't need flowery, irrelevant details describing the size of the pool of blood, the color, the viscosity.

4) RELEVANT - Every word counts and contributes to the plot.

5) TENSION - Some sense of interest or urgency comes across. It makes the reader want to know more.

6) Someone/ something to care about or hate.

Christine
Member posted November 05, 2006 11:51

-------------------

Now, I'm interested, with all you smart, well-read people out there.

1) Is there general agreement on these traits? (For example, I can be charmed by the 'voice' of the writer even if there is no explicit tension, It 'makes me want to read more' but it isn't as crude as physically threatening situation or plain curiosity. So 'tension' may not be inclusive of all good openings.

2) Can we come up with some criteria that distinguish these traits?

For example, 2) Flows well.

I find that often the flow is bogged down by too many prepositions, or adjectives, and the flow suffers.


I'm new here, so I'd appreciate any and all thoughts on this.



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Owasm
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The opening should be a vehicle to get the reader into the story. Anything that gets in the way of that is bad. Writing that gets the reader into the story is good. So when Christine talked about
Clear, Concise, Relevant and Tension and you talk about flow, they are all important in getting the reader into the story.

If it's an infodump, unless that infodump is really interesting and germane, it doesn't work.

If it's dialogue, it better be good, because dialogue generally doesn't put the reader into the story as well as description... the reader is still observing, not living the opening.

When you look at all of the first 13 posts here at hatrack, you will see the discussions bringing that out loud and clear.


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Merlion-Emrys
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quote:
Writing that gets the reader into the story is good


The thing is though, what "gets a reader into a story" is entirely different from one reader to the next. For me, for example, its mostly about subject matter. For some people its tension or character immersion.


So really the answer is: Theres no magic bullet. The whole thing is so subjective, your not going to come up with much of a meaningful or useful list of "what makes a good opening."

The OP even mentions that a lot of time the "tension" thing flies out the window if the writers voice is one thats intensely appealing to a particular reader. Theres just to many variables.


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Zero
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First of all, props for the cool name.

That said, my opinion is that we (everyone here) put way too much focus on the first line/page and would be better served making sure the writing as a whole is excellent and the story properly developed and exposed. Rather than just cramming everything into a few breaths of prose that ends up, usually, overbaked.

But I usually get shoes thrown at me.


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Merlion-Emrys
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I agree completely with Zero. I think its mostly just because only 13 lines can be posted here, there is WAY to much emphasis on that. Certainly a begining is important. But as I mention in one of my recent story threads...many stories begin...at the begining. Not in medias res, not with loads of action and tension, but at the START of things.

Some people like one, some people like the other and some like me don't care...I care mostly about what the story is about, the subject matter.


And I agree for the reasons I mention above...which is also the reason I think that technical issues aside, to much emphasis is placed on various things...the fact that stories are subjective and a matter of taste. Theres an audience...and an anti-audience...for most stuff. Thats also why I feel critiques should be within a stories own context.


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InarticulateBabbler
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The first 13 are an example of what follows. If I find stumbling points or vagaries, or anything that gives me pause, I'm likely to find much more of the same as I turn the page.

Each word is a decision. Each decision has a cost. Words can:

1) Resonate with genre or clash with it

2) be active or passive

3) obfuscate or clarify

4) mire or propel you toward the climax

6) immerse you in the story or stand out from it

7) evoke gender, dialect, mood or theme

Openings, in particular, should move forward. Consider the words you've used in your 13, and see which one are static or miring, and which ones put the opening in motion. Are there trees? Are their branches reaching or hanging? Is the door yawning open or a hungry maw? Is your PoV character excited, fearful, worried, on the move or sighing and placid?

That's part of flow.


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Meredith
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I'm no expert on beginnings, especially the first 13. But I have an opinion here. I've just finished reading the first two Temeraire books (His Majesty's Dragon and Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik.) I enjoyed the first. The second, not so much. I doubt that I'll continue on to the third, let alone the fourth, fifth and sixth in the series.

The opening of His Majesty's Dragon, puts you immediately into the action--the end of a sea battle. But it is also the real beginning of the story. This is where Temeraire's egg is captured and everything else follows because of that. So that's where the story starts.

Now, second books tend to suffer from just being second books. As I'm in the middle of one myself, perhaps I shouldn't criticize. Still . . .

The second book, Throne of Jade, tries to do the same thing. Only the battle that starts this book is a political one. It's fairly easy to grasp what's at stake and how the battle will be fought in a physical battle. That's not true of politics. When I was thrown, as a reader, into the middle of a political dispute, I didn't feel like I had a grasp of what was at stake or who was on which side. It didn't help that one of the participants was totally over the top in his position, to the point of stretching credibility. I think that story would have been much better served by backing up a couple of weeks (which is all it would have taken) and letting us learn about the political situation along with the POV character.

For myself, even though I went straight from His Majesty's Dragon to Throne of Jade, I just never was as immersed in the story as I was in the first book. And I think the beginning was a part of the reason.


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Sixbells
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This is an interesting topic because I was not a great fan of the 13 lines when first I came to these boards but now I’m a convert! I’ve thought a lot about it and how it has helped my writing. Here are my 2 cents worth.

Firstly I think of the 13 lines as nothing more than advertising. You can have a jaw dropping advert selling a poor product. Or a great product in a tacky poorly put together advert. Adverts are not the product, they are just messengers. Inside that messenger is a carefully put together set of expectation fulfilment hooks, that if done correctly will entice customers to buy the product. The best examples of good advertising selling bad products are slimming adverts.

This is a perfect example of using hooks to reel the customer in. The expectation of the customer is to lose weight, while eating what they want and not suffering while they lose weight. All adverts start along the lines of “I lost 50 lbs without dieting or feeling hungry”. Or “I just exercised 10 minutes a day and the fat melted off” The ad will then show footage of Amazonian tanned women in swim suits and how this can be you in just 12 weeks!

After the swim suits the fitness instructor will come on showing you a medieval torture device with a heart pulse monitor and 15 preset torture cycles. Somewhere in the middle of the advert in very small letters normally where there are some more Amazonian woman to distract you, will be a statement saying weight loss only occurs if combined with a calorie controlled diet. Of course we are already hooked by then and this text goes over the top of our heads.

We live in a world where this kind of advertising works and trying to get noticed as a writer doesn’t hurt to at least understand the rules of advertising and customer perception.You might add what has slimming go to do with writing? Well just look how many weight loss books are out there! The very fact that their are thousands show that none of them work. Yet there are still new books being published all the time.

If you are unknown and have written a horror book, then there better be some horror on the first page. The expectation from the reader is, “I’ve never heard of this guy, so he’s probably not good.” They’ve never heard of you because either you’re no good, or you’re new, which means you’ve never written before, which means you’re probably no good. Where as Stephen King is a brand and he could get away with have a boring first chapter. In my job I’m always trying to understand customer perception versus the technical requirement. I’m an engineer working in advanced propulsion technologies and part of my job is to benchmark competitors and to understand what the perceived customer view of our products are and what they want in the future. You’d be surprised how some competitors lead the market with inferior products, just because they understand their customer better and the role of expectation.

I had an argument with my wife over the 13 lines; she has a Masters degree in an American literature and is far better read than me. She is not a fan of the 13 lines, her view is writing is art you can’t turn it into an algorithm. You can’t make a grammar template, of what should or shouldn’t be in the first 13. What makes writing art is that it is always evolving; it is an animal that can never be captured or quantified. It does not have an absolute, you can have the longest bridge, the tallest building, but the best book will always be a matter of argument. She feels the best writers are always breaking the rules, going against expectation and type, but never stepping beyond the point where the writing becomes alien, and disjointed. This is her argument and partially I do agree with her. Yet, I’m a fan of the 13 lines, as I said before its a great tool for someone starting out.

I also remember the statement in FAQ of this forum about maintaining your electronic copy write. Its s going to be a very hard to sell work if you have already given it away for free to Booksie or writers café or some other blog sites.
I really like the fact that this site seems to focus on good writing rather than just a forum to published your work. The 13 lines are just that, but if taken in the right way can be very useful. I don’t agree with all the critiques of my 13 lines. Some I strongly take note of, others I just think of as a matter of taste.

I think we live in a world where a lot of people do judge a book buy it’s cover, or at best 13 lines. It’s just the advert, it’s not the product, but hey it doesn’t hurt to have good advertising.

[This message has been edited by Sixbells (edited May 29, 2009).]


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philocinemas
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I find the first 13 very frustrating. This is not to disagree with its importance, but to assert its subjective nature. I have had mixed success with the 13-line challenges. I almost always have crits ranging from amazing to dreadful regarding the same entry. When I have entered actual pieces on which I am working (or have completed) into the short story forum, I often get contradictory advice. Now, I DO appreciate all the advice and crits I can get, but the whole process often leaves me in a tailspin.

I know that established writers have an "in" by sake of their very names, but I see very little out there that drawls me into the story to the extent for which we strive. Therefore it's hard for me to completely buy into the first 13 when I don't see very many examples in actual magazines.

I'm always afraid that saying this will piss-off everybody here at Hatrack, but this is how I feel. Nevertheless, I still strive to make my first 13 as engaging as I can while maitaining the integrity of the story. This "integrity of the story" is hard for me to explain, but suffice it for me to state that the storie I like to write have kind of a life of their own, and there is a need for them to begin at a certain point and have a certain ebb and flow. I hope that my stories will eventually be judged in their entirety and not just by 13 lines.


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Cheyne
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I have found practicing writing to the 13 line target very beneficial. But after putting a story on Hatrack and receiving crits, I find that what was once 13 lines swells to 15-20 lines as I redraft it.
I understand the reasons for only allowing thirteen lines to be published online, but don't buy into having to have your hooks in by the end. I refuse to bore a reader with too long of an exposition, but sometimes some of the people here are a bit anal about it. People act like ANY adverb is a sin, or ANY use of a 'said wordism' a crime. If you like the style/tone of an opening and would read on then do so. I doubt even the people who say that they stop reading a story this soon really do.

That said, I still take any comments in a crit seriously(adverb alert), some just moreso than others.


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Merlion-Emrys
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quote:
If you are unknown and have written a horror book, then there better be some horror on the first page. The expectation from the reader is, “I’ve never heard of this guy, so he’s probably not good.” They’ve never heard of you because either you’re no good, or you’re new, which means you’ve never written before, which means you’re probably no good. Where as Stephen King is a brand and he could get away with have a boring first chapter.


Hmmm. The interesting thing about this is, many of SK's novels (including the older ones before he was a big star) have relatively "slow" openings and in [i]On Writing[/i} he says essentially that in medias res and the idea that the beginings of all books/stories must be fast and action packed isn't always all its cracked up to be.

Also, in Horror especially usually there is no horror on the first page. You create a very normal setting and circumstances, THEN introduce the horror. High fantasy is often similar in that often the characters are going along, la la la la, then something terrible happens or is discovered and the quest begins or whatever.

quote:
Firstly I think of the 13 lines as nothing more than advertising.


Its a lot more than advertising, or a lot less depending on how you want to look at it. Its the begining of your story. That can mean various different things for different types of stories.


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Merlion-Emrys
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quote:
The first 13 are an example of what follows. If I find stumbling points or vagaries, or anything that gives me pause, I'm likely to find much more of the same as I turn the page.


Yeah. Meaning that basically the first 13 is just like the rest of the story, and if you don't like the story, you don't like the story.

All leading back again to the fact that 1) its all a matter of taste and 2) a story is a whole thing.

quote:
Openings, in particular, should move forward. Consider the words you've used in your 13, and see which one are static or miring, and which ones put the opening in motion. Are there trees? Are their branches reaching or hanging? Is the door yawning open or a hungry maw? Is your PoV character excited, fearful, worried, on the move or sighing and placid?


This is completely subjective and a matter of taste and opinion. Not everyone wants or needs fast paced. Not everyone wants or needs immediate tension and conflict. Some people can be just as drawn in by setting, or voice, or various other things.

It just depends what kind of story you want to write. And whether a given person likes any or all of it depends on what kind of story they like, and what kind of story they want to read at that moment.

This is where I start having problems is with imperatives or near imperatives like "should" and the like when applied to completely subjective things and/or applied broadly to all types of stories.

Some times I feel like many people have forgotten that they come in different varieties.


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InarticulateBabbler
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quote:

Yeah. Meaning that basically the first 13 is just like the rest of the story, and if you don't like the story, you don't like the story.

Right. The first 13 are like the rest of the story: The flaws found in the first thirteen, will be present through the entire story. I'll thank you not to redefine my words. If you disagree, fine, but that doesn't mean that you are right. And, as to the "story being the whole thing"--doesn't matter for spit if the editor, slush reader or agent can't get into it by the second or third page.

quote:
This is completely subjective and a matter of taste and opinion. Not everyone wants or needs fast paced. Not everyone wants or needs immediate tension and conflict. Some people can be just as drawn in by setting, or voice, or various other things.

Again, this is your interpreatation of my words. But, you should know, they aren't just my words. I didn't say "fast paced" I said "moving forward". I was also referring to words, not paragraphs. Dave Farland's Daily Kick in the Pants has addressed this issue in a couple of different ways. By using "active" words you get the story moving--whether or not you use those words for milieu or voice or (God forbid) action. And, without conflict there is no story--try and sell one.

quote:
Also, in Horror especially usually there is no horror on the first page.

Though this is not necessarily true, I quoted it to say that the words used in the opening of most horror novels are genre-familiar or are foreshadowing by metaphor. Pay attention to the first three pages, on a word-by-word level. Again, this is from a multi-bestselling author who has studied writing on sub-syllabic levels as well as what affects genre sales and why.

Again, the thirteen lines show how well you account your story. A "hook" is what makes you turn the page, and if the reader is not hooked enough to do so, the rest doesn't matter. If, in 13 lines, you use 13 or more adverbs, I think you'll find it doesn't get past the slush readers/editor. If you withhold key information (info that should obviously be there), it'll suffer the same fate. I find it funny that those who have a hard time achieving what they need to in the first 13--or are still stuck on figuring a way to get "all" of the information into them--are the ones who protest the most. I'm betting those same people take those critiques personally, which they are never supposed to be. Hell, if I didn't think I could actually help, or that anyone had little or no potential, I wouldn't even comment. I certainly have more constructive things to do.

As always, I hope this helps. (At the very least, I hope it helps clarify my evil opinions.)

[This message has been edited by InarticulateBabbler (edited May 30, 2009).]


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BenM
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I'm not convinced the OP was asking about the merits of first 13s so much as what makes a good opening in general. Or have I missed something?

My take on zerostone's original question is that each of those points might justifiably be a factor in all parts of fiction, not just the opening. What I usually look for in an opening is what OSC describes as that 'contract with the reader' which establishes the type of story (MICE quotient) and sets us up for the ending. A fan of a variety of genres, I'm not concerned with the pace of the opening (some notable fiction may take a while to build momentum, if it does at all), but I do want to know what I'm getting in to from the outset.


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TaleSpinner
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I think Christine's list is as good as any we might come up with, except I think the bullets are connected by ORs, not ANDs.

So, for example, I could be attracted by great prose and nothing else. Or an intruiging problem. Or a great character--better, a beautiful one. Or all of the aforementioned.

Yes, it's subjective. The trick is to find an opening that will appeal to a critical mass of different, subjective readers--or rather, an editor who owns content of the magazine they read. I imagine that means "being in touch" or "striking a chord", easy to say, hard to do.

Also, I think it helps to think of any part of the work one is writing as the first 13 of the rest of the story, in order to keep the hooked reader on the line, so to speak. The ideas behind the first 13 are great too for maintaining immersion and engagement.

[This message has been edited by TaleSpinner (edited May 30, 2009).]


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skadder
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Oh, no, not again.
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Robert Nowall
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I'm inclined to think it's important, but maybe not as important as other things.

I'm also inclined to think it might be another one of those boneheaded things editors think up to keep themselves interested in reading on---something that's of no importance to the ultimate consumer of the product. In my entire life, I've never bought anything based on the first thirteen lines.


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Kaz
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De gustibus non discutandum est, is what I say. Ultimately, though, the reader decides what goes and what doesn't. To get my point across... I don't like the opening in the first post at all. It gives me blood, violence, and the beginning of what might well be a historical novel set during Napoleon's reign.

While I am not contrary to violence in stories, I am quite put off by violence as an opening to a story, which, coupled to my general dislike of historical novels, would make me pick up another book.


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Meredith
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Well, you'd be half right and you probably wouldn't like the book. It is set during the Napoleonic Wars, with the premise that both sides had an air force composed of dragons.

I didn't mind the opening, but her writing style was jarring at first. I felt like she was trying too hard to sound like the Horation Hornblower books (which I have also read). But I settled into it and it didn't bother me for the rest of the first book.


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zerostone
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TaleSpinner said,

Yes, it's subjective. The trick is to find an opening that will appeal to a critical mass of different, subjective readers

THANK YOU TaleSpinner. IMO Once one hits that 'critical mass,' one is probably getting close (theoretically) to being publishable.

After consulting with Kathleen, I've decided to type out some openings that do not seem to have 'tension' yet are:

1) published (Analog, Asimov's or F&SF)

2) DO indeed make me (albeit subjectively) 'want to keep reading,' yet do NOT seem to have tension in the sense that Dwight Swain's "Techniques of the Selling Writer" would define it: that is somehow provoking anxiety.


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zerostone
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Once I've got a fair batch of samples, then I'll post 2 or three a day. I'll be curious as to how different openings strike you all as 'making me want to read more.'

Thanks again all for your feedback.


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Starweaver
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I'll be interested in reading the samples you come up with.

I started a discussion on this a few months back, and came to the conclusion that (in this forum especially) it's easy to conflate the needs of the slush readers with the needs of end readers of published fiction. They are different, although of course there is overlap.

It's silly to think an end reader will buy a magazine or book and then slam it down unread if the first 13 lines of each story aren't extremely exciting. End readers want to enjoy the stories they purchase (or read on loan from friends) and are willing to give the benefit of the doubt and try to get into it. They are motivated to read.

Slush readers, on the other hand, are motivated to stop reading at the earliest possible opportunity. They know 99%+ of what's on their desk won't make the cut, and they want to be efficient about it. So a strong, spotless opening is a necessary (though not sufficient) condition for further consideration.

Authors with a proven track record don't need to make quite such a hard sell to the slush readers, so it's possible for them to approach things in ways that would not work for an unpublished aspiring writer.

I've been trying to make my openings as strong as I can, but I don't want to become so obsessive about it that I become untrue to my own voice and the natural pacing of the story.

[This message has been edited by Starweaver (edited June 04, 2009).]


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tchernabyelo
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The lessons you learn about strenghtening your first 13 lines can cary forward and inform every other line in the story. If you write a bad first 13, yo u are very unlikey to have writen a good story, and editors know this. If you have written a good first 13, you still MAY have written a bad story (it may fail on issues that aren't line level: the plot may be incoherent, the pacing may be horrendous, the characterisation might be inonsistent, etc etc etc) BUT the likelihood is far greater that you have at least written an interestiing one, if flawed.
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Zero
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Judging between "Good" and "Bad" thirteens is subjective. Deciding whether or not a story or writer is good based solely on his or her first thirteen is only one step removed from judging a book by its cover art.
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Merlion-Emrys
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When it comes to art and entertainment the very concepts of "good" and "bad" are almost totally subjective and a matter of individual opinion anyway, beyond some very basic technical issues (which themselves even get frequently bypassed for tastes sake.)


Editors and slush readers are no different. In the end, they publish the stuff they like best or feel best fits their publication based almost entirely on pretty much subjective criteria.


Also, many publications DO regularly read the entirety of submissions in general anyway.


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TaleSpinner
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I don't think editors and slush readers are looking for "good" because, as Zero and Merlion say, "good" is subjective.

What they're looking for is "good enough for our magazine" -- good enough to be able to claim their mag is (probably) the best.

And they have a limited amount of time to find stuff to fill the pages. While filtering manuscripts on the basis of the first 13 won't be perfect, I'm sure it's good enough to ensure they find enough stories they think their readers will subjectively regard as "good". If they spent more time reading more of each manuscript they might find a few more "good" ones, but not enough more to justify the extra time. And they'd fall asleep. And why bother, when they can fill the mag by spending time only on the obviously promising stuff?

What they want is something that jumps off the page, every page, every paragraph, every line, every word. If the first 13 doesn't cut it, the rest is likely to fail too.

And yet, no slush reader wants to be the one to turn down the next great story; if they're in doubt, I'm sure they'll turn the page provided that they don't see a show-stopper in the first 13. Therefore, I think perhaps it helps to list the things not to do in the first 13:

- spelling, grammar errors that are clearly not typos
- long or run-on sentences
- wrong genre
- pompous infodump/philosophy
- MC actions narrated in passive voice
- no hook (complete absence of all of the bullets in Christine's list)

The topic was "criteria for a good opening" which I take to mean "criteria for an opening that will tempt the slush reader to read on, or at least sample a few random paras."

While including one or more items from Christine's list in the first 13 might get the slush reader past the first page, I think that meeting just one of the criteria on my list of show-stoppers will almost certainly bring instant rejection.


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zerostone
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Hey Talespinner,

I like those 'show-stoppers.' OSC also mentions confusion on the reader's part as a critical failure of craft.

In my opinion (IMO) The first thirteen is an 'acid-test' of what may mislead, confuse or otherwise turn a reader off. It does not, IMO, really help much in fixing the problems, if one hasn't seen the rest of the manuscript.

Anyone who wants a bit of insight into the editing business whould check out Marion Zimmer Bradley's essay: "Why Did My Story Get Rejected?" at:

http://mzbworks.home.att.net/why.htm


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TaleSpinner
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Great link -- from which I learn it's all about the goshwow factor!
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DWD
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I'm new, so go easy on me, but here are some things that occur to me as I read this topic:

I see some parallels here to my day job as a software architect. First, it strikes me that there is a tradeoff element here. In software, we constantly juggle tradeoffs: If we have to increase performance, we may also increase cost to an unacceptable level. If we have to bolt down security, we may negatively impact performance. It goes on and on.

It strikes me that writing is about tradeoffs as well. If I am focusing on events or milieu, I may ease back on characterization. If it's all about the characters, I may spare the reader details about the world they live in. But at nearly every paragraph I'm evaluating tradeoffs across a lot of variables. Should I use dialogue here or exposition? How much backstory is needed and how do I insert it? Is the pace so fast I've left the reader behind? Is the reader so bored s/he wants to leave ME behind?

Another way of looking at this, I think, is as a measure of appropriateness, which we also deal with in software development. If I'm writing claims management software, it just isn't appropriate to spend months giving users a ton of customization options in the user interface. The user's goal is to process claims, not to tweak the transparency of the toolbars. (Well, at least one would hope that's true...)

Finally, speaking of goals, they may be in conflict, and then what do you do? Getting published is always a goal, but if that means the opening has to have specific characteristics to "wow" the gatekeeper, what if those characteristics are in conflict with your goals in writing the story (i.e. tradeoffs and appropriateness)?

All that's to say that it may not be so easy (or so, well, appropriate) to establish a single set of hard-and-fast rules for an effective opening, and some of you have alluded to this. Some things like failures in basic mechanics would certainly be fairly universal in disqualitfying a story, but on the positive side might unfortunately be fairly transparent. If your morphology, syntax, and vocabulary are appropriate it doesn't necessarily put a check in your plus column.

So it's slippery, I think.

"And thirdly, the code is more what you'd call 'guidelines' than actual rules." -- Captain Barbosa


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jayazman
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That was a great link, zerostone, thanks
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TheHopper
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The beginning is important, sure, but it's just a decoy for the real issue at hand here. Readers want to be entertained, not just in the first part of the story, but through the entire story. If you're entire story is gripping, solid, and entertaining, then that means your beginning is too.

I don't think there has to be those typical guidelines to create an entertaining beginning. What's entertaining varies a lot from reader to reader. At the same time however, If something is entertaining for sure, then I'm sure an editor would see that.


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InarticulateBabbler
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In my newest Writer's Digest, there just so happens to be an article called: Hook Readers With A Strong Beginning, by Les Edgerton.

The opening paragraph is:

quote:
The simple truth is, if your beginning doesn't do its job, the rest of the story most likely won't be read by the agent or editor you submit it to. Your opening is very possibly the most important part of the story you'll write, and you need to get it right if you want your work to see print.

He went on to interview:

Jodie Rhodes (president of the Jodie Rhodes Literary Agency)
Mike Farris (Farris Literary Agency)
Julie Castiglia (Literary Agent)
Janet Reid (Literary Agent)
Bob Silverstein (Literary Agent)
Tony Weisskopf (Publisher, Baen Books)
Jacky Sach (Co-founder, Bookends Literary Agency)
Barbara Collins Rosenberg (Literary Agent)

They all same the same thing (paraphrased): Start in the Action, Conflict or Danger. Some say start in medias res others tell you absolutley not to start off with scenery first, but a character in trouble.

Janet Reid says, and I quote: "Action. Danger. Conflict. Crisis. Consider this from Jeff Somers' The Electric church: "You f***ed up, Mr. Cates." Do we know who Mr. Cates is? No. Do we know what he looks like or where he is? No, but we will. What we know now is that he's in trouble. Of course I want to read on.

[This message has been edited by InarticulateBabbler (edited June 07, 2009).]


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Sixbells
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I think Starweaver summed it up perfectly.

quote:

Slush readers, on the other hand, are motivated to stop reading at the earliest possible opportunity

We’ve all read classic books where we could give examples of slow or maybe even bad first 13 lines. I also fully agree that the first 13 lines do not make a story. However there are some important differences between unknown unpublished writers Vs established ones.

A normal reader even before they read the first line has made a commitment to read the story. They’ve read the summary, perhaps read a review, bought the book and are in the frame of mind that this book will be a good read. Chances are you could write the most terrible 13 lines you could think of and they would still give you a few pages.

A slush reader has the totally contrary mentality. They start off with the frame of mind, this is probably going to be grim. We’ve got 13 lines to change their minds. We are all refugees of the slush pile, looking for our ticket out of it.

An old saying but true, you only have one chance to make a first impression. When you go to an interview you normally dress very smartly, you make a special effort on your appearance. This doesn’t mean when you get the job you will always dress the same way. This principle applies with the 13 lines, when no one knows you, you have to put a 110% effort in making those 13 lines as best as you possibly can.

[This message has been edited by Sixbells (edited June 07, 2009).]


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I submit that the first 13 lines don't have to be entertaining (or whatever other positive adjective you want to replace that with) as long as they promise that the rest of the story will be entertaining.

The challenge is to figure out how to get that promise across to the reader in those 13 lines.


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MrsBrown
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My understanding is that we can submit 13 lines that are NOT the first 13; perhaps a random passage that someone is struggling with, or the start of a new chapter. So long as only a very small percentage of the total work gets posted.

But, lines out of context are very hard for anyone else to evaluate. One could provide a little background, and a statement that the desired crit is for a particular aspect of the writing rather than the hook.

I've seen plenty of requests for help with a technical matter like dialogue or punctuation, or for short action sequences, or other aspects. We can use this forum for our own needs.

I find the first 13 crits to be very helpful in expanding my understanding of the writing craft. My problem is I can't seem to get away from line-editing, in order to see (and comment on) the big picture.


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