I’ve been critiquing first paragraphs for the last few days here and today I’ll do the next one in the list, Ginny’s. Before I do that, a few comments and answers to questions.
First the comments:
1) Be aware that I am not actually infallible (at least not yet, though I’m trying to get approved by the relevant authorities ) and so some of my critiques may be wrong.
2) Dissent is good. If some of you disagree with my opinion, I don’t mind at all. Feel free to say so (as many of you do already). In most cases, because of space and time constraints, I can’t continue discussing points where we disagree. I’d like to, but I generally want to keep moving forward.
3) I’m not able to critique material that’s emailed to me. As you can imagine, if I ever started doing that, I’d be unable to do anything else.
Now the questions:
Should you start with the main character’s POV or can it be anyone’s?
Randy sez: It can be anyone’s.
Daan posted a new version of his first paragraph. As several of you noted, it is much better because now we’re experiencing it through the eyes of a character. Waytogo, Daan!
Do you find yourself rereading first paragraphs in books after you’ve read a bit because it doesn’t really click until you get a little more info, or is it just me?
Randy sez: It’s just you, Camille. OK, I’ll admit that sometimes a first sentence is just incomprehensible to me. Then I have to decide whether I want to keep reading or put it back in favor of an author who is willing to be comprehensible in the first paragraph.
Also, Camille, nice job on tweaking the first few paragraphs of the submission that I critiqued last week. I think it reads better now. I also think you have a potential winner here.
Could you comment on when to use Italics for thoughts? I’ve heard conflicting advice.
Randy sez: The trend is to use italics as little as possible. My own personal style is to write a lot of deep interior monologue that is clearly in the voice of the character. And I don’t see any reason to use italics for all that.
My technical question is: the way your blog is set up, do you see comments for older entries as they come in, or do you only look at the comments for the newest entry?
Randy sez: I CAN look at the most recent comments, but when there are a LOT of them, I don’t necessarily read the ones that are responding to posts written long ago. I do try to read every single comment for the most recent post. I have not yet read through all the one-paragraph submissions from last week (there are 83 of them right now, and last week was Xtremely busy). Of course, I read all the spam, and some of is, um, amazing.
By the way, this blog had its first birthday last week! It whizzed past without me noticing or buying a birthday cake or anything like that. So Happy Birthday to the Advanced Fiction Writing Blog, and thanks to all of you who’ve made this place a really fun place for me to hang out. I appreciate all of you!
On to critique Ginny. She posted this first paragraph:
The seven astronauts stood stunned and silent in the command room of the International Space Station, Galaxy Gaia. But it was not the explosion that held them frozen in disbelief. The blinding flash below them, over in a nanosecond, hadn’t even registered. It was the video monitor that held their attention. A split second ago the screen had been filled with the contorted face of the earth’s first great leader, the speakers blasting his strident, triumphant voice. Now they stared at a dark screen, and the shock of his announcement, cut off in mid-sentence, reverberated off the cabin walls. The invisible flash and the blackout had come at once.
Randy sez: You have a terrific scene in the making here. I think we are coming in on it too late to have the emotional impact that you want, though.
Have you ever come across a horrifying accident on the freeway–there’s a burning Volkswagen Bug upside down with its roof crushed in; there are bodies being loaded into an ambulance. And you crawl past it in stop-and-go traffic and think, “Wow, that’s horrible!” And then, because you don’t know these people and because you can’t stop and go back, you just drive on. And every couple of years, you remember it and wonder who those people were and what happened and what their story was.
That’s a little bit of what I’m feeling here. Something incredibly awful has just happened to this planet, and I don’t know the people involved enough to care. And now I don’t want to get emotionally involved with them because I know they don’t end well.
So I would suggest that you start the story a little sooner. Your location is fine. Your characters are fine. Pick one of those astronauts and put us inside her head. Show us her excitement at the forthcoming speech. What are the stakes? What’s she feeling? What does she want to happen? Build it up for five or ten pages. Make a whole scene out of it. Give us time to develop feelings for these characters, their hopes, dreams, loves, hates, their future.
THEN yank the rug out from under them. Show us the screen going blank. Show us our POV character’s confusion. Show us the crew racing to fix the glitch. Show us their horror as they realize that this is not a technical problem–this is the destruction of a planet (I think it is). Show it to us blow by blow and bit by bit and make us feel how awful it is.
When you do that, you’ll have a very fine disaster for your first chapter and you’ll have your reader RUNNING to the checkout stand at the bookstore to take this baby home, because no way is she going to stand in the aisle reading another chapter when she could be enjoying this book at home.
One technical note: I’m not sure what kind of explosion we have here, but it’s unlikely to literally be over in a nanosecond. Light travels only about one foot in a nanosecond. I forget the timescale for nuclear explosions, but I’m pretty sure they are quite a few microseconds. You could look it up. If you do, then don’t put it in the book, because you are telling the reader something the POV character doesn’t know.
I think you have the setup for a very strong story, here. Take advantage of it and give us the full power of it, Ginny! If you want to post another shot at your first paragraph, go right ahead and do that.