Here's my entry -- the first 25-words from the book I'm currently rewriting:
V-Day, 7 a.m.
The card for Marshall was gone. Totally gone.
I’d searched every conceivable place, even pulled my bed out from against the wall.
So far, I'm getting mixed reviews.
Now usually I feel like I can take critique. I appreciate feedback, even when it's feedback I don't want to hear. I'm pretty thick skinned.
But I'll admit, my internal dialogue while I was reading some of the comments on my first 25 words was disturbing. I was actually getting snarky.
COMMENT: Not really hooked, but it might be a personal preference. I just don't have a reason to care. MY REACTION: What do you mean, you don't care? Were you expecting to care? How can anyone possibly care about a character after 25 words. Are you kidding me?
COMMENT: I probably wouldn't read on. MY REACTION: Ooo-kay. That's not helpful. At. All.
COMMENT: Not much action or conflict going on here, but would read a bit more to see if it picks up. MY REACTION: How much action do you need in 25 words? What do you want her to do -- throw herself out of a building?
Okay, you get the point. My internal reactions were pretty ugly.
Now that I've had a bit of time to think about these critiques AND my reactions, I've come to some conclusions:
(1) A REASON TO CARE: If several people say they don't feel connected to a character, I have two options. I can get all upset and defensive and say, "How can you expect to feel connected to a character in 25 words?" Or I can recognize that this is a valid critique. I need to infuse more of my main character's personality into those first words. I have to. If I don't, I will lose readers. How am I going to do this? At this point, I have no idea, but it's a goal.
(2) NOT HOOKED: I do appreciate constructive feedback more than just an "I don't like it" type of feedback. BUT, I'm realizing I can turn even bare, subjective criticism into useful feedback. Obviously, something's not working as well as it could be here. I can't please everyone, but I can make this better in some way. In other words, it's not there yet. I need to accept that and keep working.
(3) MORE ACTION: I'm still not completely convinced the first sentences NEED action for people to keep reading. I was hooked by other participants' entries that weren't at all action oriented. Still, this is good feedback. Maybe I'm wasting words stating the obvious -- that the card is missing. Maybe I need to tinker with this more to bring out the urgency of her situation.
The lessons I've taken from this exercise?
- Don't underestimate the power of those first 25 words! They might be the only words someone reads when they're skimming your book at a bookstore.
- It's never too early to infuse character.
- If you're going to include action, make it pop so that no one misses it.
Bottom line, taking criticism is hard sometimes. But ultimately, it's a writer's life, so I'd better get used to it.
Did anyone else participate in this critique fest? Any thoughts?
P.S. I wonder if I critiqued any of my friends' pieces without even knowing it. If I did, I hope my comments were helpful!