Wednesday, August 24, 2011

First Sentences Final Critiques

Thank you to the talented ladies who offered up their sentences and to everyone who took part in helping with the critiques in the comments section. Now it's the critique sisters' turn. Here we go:

Sentence #1
Author: Joy N. Hensley 
First sentence: Maybe if I was wearing something that said "My dad just died and all I got was this lousy T-shirt," people would know to let me bypass all the lines and just go on my merry way. 
Karlene: Sentence 1. Joy, I love the attitude and feel it in the character. But, I agree maybe a bit too long. I like what you're doing here. What if... Maybe life would be different if I was wearing "My dad just died and all I got was this lousy T-shirt," across my chest.  
Heather: Joy,  your character sounds fun, sad, and a bit snarky, which I love. Immediately I get a good sense of her. However, she also sounds like she's in a really selfish place. If that's what you were going for great, but it didn't make me feel sympathetic to her like I wanted to. Don't worry though, I think it's an easy fix and you have a great start. Perhaps you could show her frustration, maybe even tears (that would make me very sympathetic), let us see the lines, the area, and feel her frustration then come in with this sentence.
Linda: It's tough to critique this sentence because I have a strong feeling that the next few sentences are going to provide context to the voice that we don't have here. From the intro the writer gave us, I'm guessing the protag is angry, rather than sarcastic, but either way you can't tell from this one sentence, and the word 'merry' particularly seems harsh, given the circumstances. If I'm right, and anger is our way into a strong protagonist dealing with a very difficult situation the best way she can, then I'm interested in her, and I think the sentence is effective. If she's being sarcastic and self-centered, that's a different story. I'd definitely read the next couple of paragraphs to find out.

                                                                     Sentence #2 
Author: Grechen  
First sentence: I shift uneasily on the old wooden bench, waiting for the sunrise to give me back a sense of color. Karlene: Sentence 2. Gretchen I love this. I'm hooked. 
Heather: I love it too! This is a great first sentence. It could be tightened up just a touch better by dropping the adverb 'uneasily'. To read: "I shift on the uneven slats of the old wooden bench, waiting for the sunrise to give me back a sense of color." This uses the environment (the bench) to show her unease. Make us feel the unease instead of telling us about it.
Linda: Strong sentence. I have a clear picture of the speaker having spent the night on a bench, probably outdoors. I'm aware of the speaker's emotional discomfort. The sensibility that puts getting back a sense of color top of mind in this situation is one that I'm interested in reading about. Nice job!  If you want to make it clear in this first sentence that the speaker is outdoors, you could add another sensory detail, like a cold breeze, or grass beneath her feet ,or the scent of the air, etc. One cautionary note: first person present tense is seriously hard to pull off in a novel-length story. It can grind down the reader's interest quickly if the writing's not topnotch throughout, because it is so limiting. Hunger Games aside, it's not for the feint of heart if you're not an experienced writer.

                                                                     Sentence #3

Author: Dora Dee 
First sentence: (in italics)Why were her mother and sister doing laundry today of all days, the last day of St. Rocco's Feast? Sunday mornings were always loud and noisy at her house. She hadn't heard Grazia's high-pitched voice insistently asked her mother's opinion on what to where to church while desperately rummaging through their meager downstairs closet and her brothers were fighting over the bathroom like they usually did. 
Karlene: Sentence 3. Dora, I love everything "after" the first sentence (fixing the grammar). 
Remember, the first line should leave a question, not necessarily be a question. What if the first sentence said something like ... Julia couldn't believe her mother and sister were doing laundry, today of all days. Thank you ladies for your examples. They were great! I'm looking forward to reading your books!
Heather: This concept sounds really interesting and I think you have some great characters here. I'd move the first sentence to the end of the first paragraph. Show us instead of tell us, then have your character come in with that thought. I agree with Karlene's fix. Then you could follow up with showing us the commotion of Sunday morning, the boys fighting over the bathroom, and Grazia asking her mother's opinion (be careful here though. If she doesn't hear it then you can't tell us it happened if we're in her point of view.) You have a great start! 
Linda: The strength in this first sentence is in the implication that things are not being done as usual in the household, and if you can expand on the reason that that is significant, you will strengthen the sentence a lot (does it raise serious suspicions in the protag because of something she knows? would her mother never do such a thing without a dire reason? etc). I'd leave St. Rocco's Feast out of the first sentence altogether. You can add that in somewhere in the next few sentences to emphasize the significance of the change in household routine. Italy in the 1950s is interesting. Given a good story, I'd definitely read about that.


  1. Your responses made me wish I had submitted a sentence for critiquing! But your critiques have given me some food for thought about my WIP.

  2. Lin, hopefully we can catch you with our next month's critiques!

  3. Thank you Lin! We will do this again! Oh... Heather said that.

    Thank you Heather for rounding this up. Fantastic! I love both your and Linda's comments.

    And LM, thank you for the nice comment. More to come.

  4. Hey, I wanna play. When will you do this again?

  5. Great feedback, ladies!

  6. This is great ladies. I learned a lot reading your critiques. Very helpful. :)

  7. Thank-you Karlene, Heather, Linda, and all the others from last Wednesday so much for the critiques, it's given me a lot to think about while going on with my writing.

  8. Okay, I ADORE this blog. Wonderful! I will be checking back for sure.


  9. Em-Musing, we'll be doing it again next month! Look for the post to call for entries on Monday in September.

    LB, thank you!

    Grechen, you're very welcome! I hope they helped. :) Keep writing, you have a very interesting story there!

    Dawn, aw, you're so sweet. :)

  10. Thank you ladies for your great critiques. It's very much appreciated. I've been so busy at work and I apologize it's taken me this long to thank you. I'm amazed at how much great feedback you've given me and I will definitely put it to good use. First I want to finish the whole manuscript before tackling the beginning again but it's nice to know the interest is there. What's held me back is the thought that who wants to read about an Italian nine-year old and why am I wasting my time? Then when I get nervous such as when I submit ANYTHING for ANYONE to read I get so rattled I start changing everything to the point that my knowledge of the English language goes out the window and I make sure to mangle perfectly good English sentences. Oy Vey!

    Joy and Gretchen I enjoyed your first sentences too and I hope we get to read your books soon.

    Thanks again