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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Three-Hundred Thursday #1

Did any of you catch Gennifer Albin's live forum event at WriteOnCon where she critiqued the first 100 words of 10 lucky people's manuscripts? You know the comment I saw the most? "I wish I could have mine critiqued by a professional."

Well, I consider myself somewhere in between. :D I've been free-lancing for a while and now also do contract editing for the independent press Dessert Breeze Publishing. Plus, everyone knows that other eyes seeing your work is good for a writer. Seeing it through fresh eyes is invaluable.

So, introducing Three-Hundred Thursday, in which I and the readers critique (respectfully!) the first three hundred words of a writer's manuscript. (Do you want to participate? I'll post how you can get in on the fun at the end of the post.) Without further adieu, the first victim ... er, participant, Shauna Gonzalez.

"That's it then." Trish patted Yedi, her prized Arabian, on the neck. She (confusing pronoun use. She could refer to the Yedi or Trish.) sat erect, her back straight (redundant) and yet relaxed.
The sun inched higher above the eastern mountains. She had no idea that what dawned as a typical bright and cheery day in Southeastern Idaho would change by nightfall. (This is tricky for POV. If she doesn't know, then how is the character thinking about it now?) May was always a beautiful month, one she looked forward to for more than the new greenery about her. The bursting of spring in all its glory gave her hope each year on her birthday. Today, May 17 seventeenth (I always suggest spelling out numbers 1-100 -- or further -- if they're simple), somehow felt different. During Trish's youth, her birthday marked the semi-regular (It seems like it would be difficult to mark her birthday by visits that didn't happen every year.) visits from Grammy, and her stories. Stories of travel and wild adventures, stories Grammy promised, "criss-cross her heart and never hope to die, (I always said it "hope to die")" were true.
The valley lay below Trish. From here she could see saw (Or even better, is there a way to word it without using "saw"? When firmly inside a character's POV, there isn't a need to alert the reader that the character "saw", "heard", "felt", etc. something. The character can simply experience it.) tractors crawling like ants in the fields below. A vehicle sped down a country road leaving a trail of dust in its wake in the early morning light. (Like here.)
That's the third time I've tried to pass the bar. I guess I'll never prosecute a case in a court of law. It's a pity, really. All I've ever wanted to do was be a successful attorney. Now I guess I never will be. I sat right here on my twentieth birthday and vowed I'd get there. Ten years later, I'm still not there. Maybe Grammy was right. (What is Grammy right about?) She usually was.
Trish withdrew her grandmother's trinket (Be specific about what it is and how it can be under her shirt.) from under her shirt. It dangled on the long chain she (Confusing pronoun use. Does this refer to Trish or Grammy?) wore around her neck. Sunlight shimmered on the intricate scrollwork so delicately woven around the inner crystal. The inner scrolls affixed (Affixed doesn't seem like quite the right word here; it almost makes the wording awkward. I needed to read through the sentence twice to put it together.) to the outer casing in such a way to allow the inner scrolls to turn one way while the outer scrolls the other. (Consider simplifying the description. To heavy on description is more likely to confuse a reader than to help. They may have to read a few times to visualize; never interrupt the flow of the narration.) She fondled the talisman lovingly, keeping it from spinning.

These first words do a great job of grounding the reader in the scene. Important things to remember about the first few paragraphs -- unfair as it may be, this is where your reader decides if they will keep reading or put it down. If these paragraphs grab them, they will read on. If not, your book gets put down.
Some things Gennifer Albin touched on in her "class" at WriteOnCon:
* Tension! This doesn't always mean action or make or break stakes, but something that pushes the reader onward, some kind of conflict.
* Make each word count. Keep important things -- stuff that grounds the reader, but not too much exposition. Be flowery in your first drafts, get out what you want to be said. When you revise cut, cut, cut. Keep what is important, toss what isn't.
*Make your descriptions pack punch. Keep them informative but concise.

Help out and comment below. Please remember to keep your comments respectful and consider the author and his/her willingness to participate. (Psst. Thank you, Victim #1!)

Shauna Gonzalez's first novel DARK DAYS OF PROMISE will be released by Desert Breeze Publishing on September 21, 2012.

Are you interested? Use the Contact Me page to send your first three-hundred words or your query letter for critique. Be brave!


  1. Nice critique overall, I think. I like the comment about using "saw" and POV. That's something I'll take a look at in my own writing. I always say "cross your heart and hope to die," too, but I wouldn't be thrown off by the difference. I think it works well to characterize the grandmother.

  2. I have nothing to add to Ranee's terrific critique. Tough as Kevlar and thorough, as always. Way to go, Shauna for being the first public victim!

  3. Good critique. There are several suggestions that have me going back to my manuscript and reworking it. You are doing a great thing. Thank you for taking the time to help us aspiring authors.

  4. Thank you all for dropping by!


About Me!

I've been writing since I was old enough to grasp a crayon--my grandma even has an early copy of a "book" I made her. I have a bachelor's degree in history from the University of Wyoming and will (hopefully) soon be starting a graduate program in English. When I'm not breaking up impromptu UFC fights in the living room or losing miserably to my boys at Uno, I'm ... well, writing or editing, of course! I'm married to my best friend, and we have three rambunctious but simply amazing little boys.


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