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See if the above poster hooked you:

Every time someone doesn't read the first part of this post, Rick Santorum eats a kitten and your post may be frowned upon.

Idea stolen from Critique Circle.

The writer will post no more than the first 500-1000 words of their work (unless you desperately need to finish a sentence, I guess). If it's a script, the first four pages should suffice, since 1000 words is about four pages in most books.

The reader is pretending to be an editor going through the slush pile, and will stop reading the excerpt if they lose interest. The reader will post to say if they stopped reading, why/ why not, and offer suggestions. The critique doesn't have to be detailed, but please at least offer some advice.

Every time someone doesn't follow the second part, Rick Santorum eats five kittens and your post has a 90% chance of being ignored.

FRIENDLY REMINDER: As the title of the thread implies, if someone posted an excerpt before you, please critique it before posting your own. If you skip someone, you lose the right to whine if someone skips over you. People that have been skipped, feel free to post a polite reminder if you're getting concerned. Reading 1000 words and leaving a few comments shouldn't take too long. And look at it this way: if you critique it yourself, you don't risk waiting forever for someone else to do it for you (this thread takes occasional naps) and you don't have to hope the critiquer doesn't have an excerpt of their own to post right after.

A SHORT NOTE: By hook we mean the first thing the reader sees of the story, not necessarily some sort of inciting incident. Your beginning can be slow and steady, but it still counts as the hook because readers can still be interested by something that moves slowly as long as something is there that gives the reader a reason to keep going. So if you have a prologue that meets or surpasses the word limit, don't stick your first chapter underneath it.

DISCLAIMER: This isn't a hardcore critique thread, so don't try to milk a detailed critique for your first chapter. That's why we have the word limits. Just think of this as a preliminary screening process for serious problems so you can get started on making your first impressions sparkly and awesome.

edited 20th Aug '12 7:46:48 PM by SnowyFoxes

 101 Noir Grimoir, Mon, 5th Dec '11 3:05:09 PM from San Diego, CA
Rabid Fujoshi
@cityofmist

Thanks for the advice. Everyone needs editting/beta-readers, even myself. I'm incorporating some of the edits (though not all of them, since a few of the phrases you changed, such as 'impress upon him' I know to be both a period-appropriate phrase and used correctly). Also, Roan calls Jack 'Jack' because he sure as hell isn't going to call him something respectful like master, lord or sir (I had a scene where Jack is trolling Roan by insisting he call him 'master', or if not that than 'my lord' and Roan categorically refuses. Maybe I should put it back in?), and he's too lazy to call him Grimmcroft (last name), Durgemoor (one of his titles is Count of Durgemoor) or Jackdaw. It's pretty much the same as how calling someone 'buddy' who isn't your buddy can be an insult. Does that make sense or do you still think it should be changed?

@Riotous Rascal

Yes, it's an Ishmael-thing (I happen to love writing Ishmael-style). Although Roan gets a lot more action than the typical Ishmael, I think. Jack is sort of a Non-Action Guy. (His illness doesn't really kick-in hard until the story moves to the city with it's soot problem, but when we do, Jack is really going to have a tough time of it). He's more of a Sherlockian Squishy Wizard, whereas Roan does most of the heavy-lifting in terms of chasing people down and wrestling them, since he's basically a Body Snatching Lich with a bit of vampire overtones thrown in, so he's stronger than normal, doesn't get tired, doesn't have to eat or sleep and can fix his corpse pretty easily provided the damage isn't too extensive. I sort of have a soft spot for Roan. He's totally Tsundere by the end of this thing (in a Bromance way).

edited 5th Dec '11 3:06:20 PM by NoirGrimoir

SPATULA, Supporters of Page Altering To Urgently Lead to Amelioration (supports not going through TRS for tweaks and minor improvements.)
Obsidian Proboscidean
@ fanty: It's pretty short, but I think I'm hooked. I think it's because you didn't give away too much (like you didn't say why they were fleeing Illaitta, or why the person was in the streets after curfew). I also liked the way you described the scenery without it clumping into one paragraph. You did change tenses at the end, and that was a little jarring, though.

My text is in this post:

earlier in the thread
I'm an elephant. Rurr.
 103 cityofmist, Mon, 5th Dec '11 10:04:45 PM from Meanwhile City
turning and turning
Regarding the name thing, I mentioned it because it would have been out of place in an actual Jane-Austen-era piece of writing, but given the fantasy elements there are obviously quite a few differences. If it's appropriate in your setting there's no reason to change it, I just thought I'd ask because there might have been.
Scepticism and doubt lead to study and investigation, and investigation is the beginning of wisdom.
- Clarence Darrow
 104 fanty, Tue, 6th Dec '11 1:57:28 AM from ANGRYTOWN
Woefully Ineloquent
Also, in the last paragraph you slip into present tense a few times, while the rest is written in past.
Can anyone point these out to me? I'm having huge trouble finding these myself. Tenses always confused me.
Individual liberation is an illusion.
 105 Noir Grimoir, Tue, 6th Dec '11 2:04:40 AM from San Diego, CA
Rabid Fujoshi
I think cityofmist is referring to the last paragraph, but I took that as thoughts (which should either have 'I thought" somewhere in there, or be italicized to indicate as such.) Thoughts are okay in present tense so long as you're consistent.

edited 6th Dec '11 2:05:10 AM by NoirGrimoir

SPATULA, Supporters of Page Altering To Urgently Lead to Amelioration (supports not going through TRS for tweaks and minor improvements.)
 106 fanty, Tue, 6th Dec '11 2:15:12 AM from ANGRYTOWN
Woefully Ineloquent
I remember reading some article which said that you shouldn't italicize thoughts when you're writing in first person because EVERYTHING is your protagonist's thoughts. The problem there is when I convert a sentence from "Salbia is where Salbians should be" into "Salbia was where Salbians should have been" (I may be launching into tense-confusion once again), it kinda sounds like the place doesn't exist anymore and everyone's dead now.

Maybe I should just convert the whole thing into present tense and be done with it, but I remember reading this one article (maybe I read too many of those) that said that present tense feels pretentious to the reader and makes them feel distanced from the protagonist. I've never felt that way towards stuff written in present tense, but I'm paranoid that that's how most readers would feel.

edited 6th Dec '11 2:16:25 AM by fanty

Individual liberation is an illusion.
 107 Noir Grimoir, Tue, 6th Dec '11 3:27:17 AM from San Diego, CA
Rabid Fujoshi
There's no reason why you can't italicize thoughts if you want to, it's a common convention, though it might be starting to fall out of favor. But like I said, there's another way.

Do it like this: Salbia is where Salbians should be, she thought.

You write it pretty much exactly like dialogue, capitalizations and everything, just instead of 'said' you put 'thought' or 'mused' or whatever, and ditch the quotation marks. Tamora Pierce uses this method.

Also, I happen to think first-person present tense is awesome (I've written in it often) though it's really tricky. An example of a work that uses it is Sunshine by Robin McKinley. Third person present tends to be pretty off-putting to most (but by no means all) people. There's no reason you shouldn't use it if you really wanted to, though. I find it works better for short stories rather than novels.

edited 6th Dec '11 3:30:35 AM by NoirGrimoir

SPATULA, Supporters of Page Altering To Urgently Lead to Amelioration (supports not going through TRS for tweaks and minor improvements.)
 108 burnpsy, Sun, 11th Dec '11 6:22:39 PM from Ontario, Canada Relationship Status: Abstaining
The Eternal Fool
So, I've been writing a story for quite a while now, and it seems that the only things giving me trouble at present are the title and how to handle the first scene.

So I wrote two "first scenes" and need help deciding which one makes a better hook.

[1][2]

Of course, most of the stuff in both end up popping up somewhere in the story regardless. I just have no idea what to do with the first scene to get the story's foot in the door.
 109 nrjxll, Sun, 11th Dec '11 6:24:15 PM Relationship Status: Not war
For my part, I hate reading first-person present tense, but I make no claims as to there being an "objective" reason for this - I simply don't like reading it.

 110 chihuahua 0, Sun, 11th Dec '11 7:07:47 PM from Standoff, USA Relationship Status: I'm in love with my car
Writer's Welcome Wagon
By the way, can you elaborate which medium your story is intended for?

 111 burnpsy, Sun, 11th Dec '11 7:19:11 PM from Ontario, Canada Relationship Status: Abstaining
The Eternal Fool
[up]Directed at me?
 112 chihuahua 0, Sun, 11th Dec '11 7:23:11 PM from Standoff, USA Relationship Status: I'm in love with my car
Writer's Welcome Wagon
Yes.

Is it a game? What program?

edited 11th Dec '11 7:23:24 PM by chihuahua0

 113 burnpsy, Sun, 11th Dec '11 7:28:28 PM from Ontario, Canada Relationship Status: Abstaining
The Eternal Fool
A Visual Novel / Video Game-type thing. Think something like Hyperdimension Neptunia, BlazBlue or Disgaea.

Define "program".

edited 11th Dec '11 7:28:40 PM by burnpsy

 114 chihuahua 0, Sun, 11th Dec '11 7:31:17 PM from Standoff, USA Relationship Status: I'm in love with my car
Writer's Welcome Wagon
As in what application you're going to use to program the visual novel. Something like Ren'Py?

I'm just curious.

 115 burnpsy, Sun, 11th Dec '11 7:37:47 PM from Ontario, Canada Relationship Status: Abstaining
The Eternal Fool
Well, I've decided to use Unity for the gameplay elements, but I haven't quite decided how I'll be handling the visual novel elements. I could be crafty and trick Unity into doing it (Unity does not normally support 2D outside of interface stuff), or I could theoretically use a different program for that and have them share information through a text file or something.

In any event, I'm going to figure all of it out as soon as the story is 100% complete, so I can focus on actually making it.

edited 11th Dec '11 7:38:00 PM by burnpsy

 116 fanty, Mon, 12th Dec '11 1:43:19 AM from ANGRYTOWN
Woefully Ineloquent
@burnpsy: Quite frankly, I didn't find any of those two openings particularly interesting. "A" had a decent beginning, but that "story" felt like an infodump and you lost me two sentences in. "B" was so confusing that I really have no idea what I've just read.
Individual liberation is an illusion.
 117 burnpsy, Mon, 12th Dec '11 2:18:03 AM from Ontario, Canada Relationship Status: Abstaining
The Eternal Fool
[up]Understood.

Another one from scratch it is.

edited 12th Dec '11 2:18:26 AM by burnpsy

 118 burnpsy, Tue, 13th Dec '11 12:57:08 AM from Ontario, Canada Relationship Status: Abstaining
The Eternal Fool
OK, sorry for the double-post, but quite frankly nobody would notice if I just edited.

After the response you can see above, I tried a few more out on several people, and ended up with this edited version of the first one that replaces the infodump with a flashback:

[1]

The problem with it before was that the infodump ruined it, right? This should theoretically alleviate the issue.
Seeking for Light
Black Elephant: Hooked, I think. I haven't played Sims in years, and even then, it was pretty casual (it was my sister's game), so it's a little out of my league, but it seemed interesting. A few of the phrasings were odd, such as "retrieved his eyeballs from the side of the room"; I really wasn't sure how literally I was supposed to take that. But I think the characters are interesting, and there seems to be something underlying everything that's happening.

burnpsy: The links took me to "Unknown Paste ID" pages, so I can't comment. Sorry.


The following is the intro to my NaNovel, Whispers of Darkness. It's only had a quick edit, so it's a bit rough, but I would appreciate thoughts/critiques/opinions.

Nothing that morning indicated that that was the day my life would be turned upside-down. As I crawled out of my blankets into the crisp fall morning, I remember thinking that it was going to be a good day: Lady Anna had told me the day before that today would be mending day. I liked mending; while it was somewhat fussy work, it was a whole lot less tiring than many of my normal chores, such as the washing and the hoeing. I just hoped Sarah and Ruth wouldn’t complain too much. Lady Anna usually gave them the easier tasks around the house, so they were used to having free time and hated the days when we would have to work at a task all day. And Sarah would probably want to go and meet her beau—rumor was that he would be asking for her hand soon.

So, all in all, it appeared to be shaping up to be a normal day. During the morning, I sat and sewed quietly while the girls chattered about the latest fashions from the city and interjected the occasional complaint about the seemingly never-ending pile of mending. It was as I was scrubbing the dishes from the midday meal that the hubbub began.

Not wanting to get behind on my work, I finished the dishes and returned to the mending. Lady Anna and the girls had gone out to see what was going on; I knew I would later be regaled with the tale of what happened regardless of my interest level. There was no need for me to go out. But I had just rethreaded a needle when Ruth came sailing into the cottage to fetch her cloak (which she’d left behind in her excitement) and me.

“Wynelle! Mother says you are to come see this too—there’s a party bearing the royal banner coming up the road! Why do you think it’s coming here? Do you think the prince or the king is coming? Oh! They’re going to be arriving any moment now; do come on!” And she seized my arm and began to bodily drag me out of the room.

As we emerged into the village square, it appeared that the entire town had turned out. Even the men and boys had come in from the fields. Ruth pulled me over to where her parents and siblings were standing—Lord William and the boys had come in from the fields, like everyone else. Abandoning my perusal of the excited villagers, I turned to look in the same direction as all of them.

Three men were riding into town on horses, with a loaded donkey trailing them. The first man was draped in the robes of a royal scribe, the second was garbed in the jerkin of the royal guards, and the third man was swathed in a black cloak. He even had the hood pulled up, shadowing his face.

“I wonder why that man is travelling with the servants of the king?” Sarah asked.

“I don’t know. He doesn’t look very nice to me.” Ruth, having not yet released my arm, pulled on it as she craned to see over the generally taller-than-her people in the crowd.

As the men arrived at the edge of the square and pulled to a halt, a hush fell over the crowd.

The scribe looked over the crowd before reaching into his saddlebag and fumbling around for a moment before he emerged with a scroll clasped in his hand. Unfurling it, he cleared his throat, looked over the crowd one more time—almost like he was searching for something or evaluating us—and then began to read:

“Hear ye the edict of the king, His Majesty Edmund the seventh: This edict has been issued in order to comply with the foresight which has come to the soothsayer Wymund of Penwick. Here are his words:

“As evil whispers through the stones
Close of life draws ever nigh
The time is now for Renewal lore.
The right son of the displaced Master
Must gain his own from she who dances.
Fate of years bears heavy
Purity of purpose must reign once more.
From the town at end of downs
Ever in the looming shadow
Must be chosen she who goes
To aid him on this mission grave.
If this shall fail, then world shall end.”

A murmur ran through the crowd, growing steadily louder as people identified parts of the meaning of the prophecy. The scribe held up his hand for silence, and waited for it to be granted before continuing.

“The man you see before you”—the scribe glanced at the man in black—“is the son spoken of. You, villagers of Hyllthwaite, are charged with choosing the woman who will accompany him to The Museum on this vital task. You are also to equip him and his companion with whatever they need which has not already been provided.

“If you do not act of your own accord, my men will act in your place. If this should come to pass, you shall experience my displeasure.

“Thus sayeth the king.”

The scribe re-rolled the scroll. “You have the rest of the day to reach a decision. The two will leave on the morrow.”

edited 17th Jan '12 10:59:40 PM by Nocturna

^ I found over-writing a problem, to be honest. It all felt very forced and fake. I didn't feel like a character was telling me these things, it felt like the author was. And that's a problem if you're going first person on it. I think the opening could be a lot hookier were the character to paint a clear picture of exactly where she was, what she was doing, what the world around her was like, how the general population responded. Put this way: I presume you can remember where you were when you heard about 9/11, and I presume also (I'm a presumptuous bastard) that you wouldn't start that story with how crisp the fall morning was. Lead with what matters.

Putting myself in the line of fire, here's how mine opens:

Things that happened to my friends during my time at university:

Alcoholism Diagnosis (2)

Attempted Suicide (1)

Depression Diagnosis (1)

Fights (5)

Near-Fatal Overdoses (1)

Nights in Police Custody (1)

Stabbings (1)

Included in there are my own experiences. If you think they don't belong on a list of things that happened to my friends, then you can scratch one alcoholism and two fights from the list. I'm not saying this for sympathy, I'm saying this for context. We were young (mostly), white (mostly) and middle-class (again, mostly). Our lives were free of major conflict or crisis, so we created our own out of sheer boredom. We did this in the hopes that surviving them would make us hardened and interesting. We failed. Instead of becoming hard, we became brittle and breakable. We were only interesting when we were breaking or everything around us was. My most interesting time came in the summer, a few years after university. It was her time, really, but she can't tell her story and I'm the only one who can. By the end, I was the only one who cared enough to, or cared enough at all. The only way I know how to tell her story is to tell my own. It crossed paths with hers a fair bit, although less than it should have. My hope is that you might get to know her in the moments where it does. It is comforting to think that after I'm gone, someone might remember her, and comfort is hard to come by these days.

It all began with Michael. Michael didn't go for little crises - he got married young to a girl he barely knew. We had all assumed he was trying for a divorce, which was ambitious of him, going for a crisis that required another's consent. We taunted and tormented him about his decision in order to plant seeds of resentment that might later grow into a magnificent garden of hatred towards her. As far as we were concerned, we were helping him out by doing this. I ran out of jokes about a month into the taunting. My wit was one of the few things people liked about me, so I stopped in order to protect it. When I stopped I also took Michael's side. This put me in the crisis of being under fire from my friends as a traitor, and also allowed me to preserve my ammunition. Inevitably, as the only friend who stood by him, I was his best man. When the wedding came I got very drunk and let loose with everything I had saved up, blasting this holy institution to hell in front of everyone who wanted only to wish them both a life of happiness. I don't remember what I said, but I do remember that it was the cause for one of the fights, during which I was soundly beaten, and had a great deal of fun picking at the scabs for about a month. I also remember that it made Michael break all contact with me, as if breaking my nose wasn't enough. I didn't hear from him again until about four years later.

I was sitting on the battered green sofa in my flat and half-heartedly looking online for work when the phone rang.

"George?" came the heavy voice

"Yes" I told it "who is this?"

"Mike" it replied.

I began casting about my memory for a Mike, having not had a friend of that name for four years.

"Taylor" he added, "you were best man at my wedding."

"Oh!" I laughed, "forgiven me, have you? Took you long enough."

"It wasn't easy to get your number. How about you do me a favour and we call it even?"

"Sure. You still living in the same place?"

He told me that he was, and I agreed to head over the next morning.

The same place was a bungalow on the edge of a council estate littered with dog-ends, beer cans and fliers for house parties and racist groups. I had got on some clean clothes, shaved, even had nothing to drink or to smoke that morning. This was me making an effort. I knocked on the door, and waited. It opened, but I had been looking up, since Michael had always been taller than me. I heard a throat clearing, and lowered my head to see Michael. He was in a wheelchair. I was struck dumb. He rolled backwards, through a wide door-frame and into a small but neat living room. I followed him.

Inside the room, I couldn't help staring at him. Here he was. When I had known him before he had been strong, proud. The cause for pride was gone. Here was nothing to be proud of. But still, he was proud. He might not have taken up any space in that little room, but his pride filled it. I heard it jeer at me from the walls, call me names, laugh at my failures, say I was not really a man. I wonder how it talked to him. I bet it screamed until its throat bled.

He broke the silence, and his words seemed as tied to the floor as the rest of him.

edited 17th Jan '12 11:46:23 PM by RPGenius

 
 121 fanty, Wed, 18th Jan '12 6:38:24 AM from ANGRYTOWN
Woefully Ineloquent
@Nocturna: In the first three sentences, you repeated the word "day" enough times for me to get distracted by the repetition. You could use to reword them a bit. Or maybe not, because I found those first few paragraphs a bit boring, anyway. It's all mending and mending and then mending some more. If I were you, I'd start the story either right before the moment where Ruth "came sailing into the cottage" or where they "emerged into the village square". Or maybe it's the wrong scene to start the story altogether, because my mind started wandering once I got to that part and I just lost interest.

@RP Genius: My interest kind of dissipated midway through that first big paragraph. I just didn't find the narrator-character's voice to be particularly interesting, and I didn't find the things he was talking about to be particularly interesting. Skimming ahead, there seems to be some talk about some story. Maybe you should just start with him starting to tell the story he wants to tell instead of going with that boring lead in. But your next paragraph seems to be all explaining context. Once somebody's already hooked, they will sit around and bear with you as you explain context, but those explanations themselves will definitely not hook anyone, or, at least, they didn't hook me.

edited 18th Jan '12 9:21:55 AM by fanty

Individual liberation is an illusion.
Seeking for Light
RP Genius: It was "meh", at least for me. I suspect that a lot of that had to do with the fact that's it clearly not the sort of story I would read on my own. I found it a little confusing how it talks about "a friend" and then "a girl" and then there's Michael and his wife has seemingly disappeared and you hadn't mentioned his pride before (it seems like it should have come up when you were talking about the marriage). I realize that you're trying to be a little mysterious, but my mind was working a mile a minute to try to figure out how the friend and the girl fit in with Michael—and was the wife the girl?—and it rather distracted me from the actual story.

 123 rumetzen, Wed, 18th Jan '12 11:13:20 AM from Austin, Texas
The best there is
First three pages of my script are here.
Stupid, you could say these masculine thoughts are homosexual
'Cause they blow heads like that dead clothes designer
 124 Midnight Rambler, Sat, 21st Jan '12 3:59:44 PM from Germania Inferior
Pony for nothing, and your mares for free
@ RP Genius: Yeah, I'm hooked. As in, I'm now very curious as to what happened to Michael to put him in a wheelchair, what the favour is he wants George to do him, and who the hell the mysterious lady from the first paragraph is. I also like the tone of the work - snarky, but not too snarky, with the occasional "positive" line ('It is comforting to think...') thrown in for good balance.

Now, as for criticism and suggested changes:

  • The unconventional opening is interesting, but up until '...saying this for context', it reads more like Real Life, out-of-universe information. This may confuse readers.
  • The punctuation in the dialogue is a bit off (too few commas). Yes, I know I'm a nitpick, but this sort of thing really drags me out of the story.
  • Even more nitpicky, but I'd replace the 'racist groups' with the name of a specific group, like the English Defence League or the BNP or what have you (assuming your story is set in Britain). 'Fliers for house parties and the BNP' sounds just that little bit more lively, less sterile, than 'fliers for house parties and racist groups'.
  • Also, and this is my biggest point of criticism, your merry gang of friends' tormenting of Michael over his relationship comes across as a lot more disturbing than you probably intend (although I don't know your exact intentions, of course). Creating your own crises and drama is one thing; anyone who is in secondary school or university and has no real crises to worry about does it to some degree, and given enough Wangst, even the suicide attempts aren't that much out of the ordinary. Creating drama by trying to destroy a friend's relationship (especially a relationship that's serious enough for him to be considering marriage), and then calling another friend a "traitor" when he sticks up for him, is another. Only really cruel people, who deliberately toy with other people's lives for their own amusement, would do such a thing.
Any sufficiently advanced technology was either invented or predicted by Nikola Tesla.
 125 Midnight Rambler, Sat, 21st Jan '12 4:11:01 PM from Germania Inferior
Pony for nothing, and your mares for free
@ Rumetzen: Nah, I'm not hooked. The setting doesn't spark my interest, and these first few panels of story are so similar to any Cold Open in any action-themed comic that they don't really stand out.

On a side note, I cringed at Mitchell's use of 'darn' in page three, panel three. I cringe at the word 'darn' anywhere, but in this case in particular, it's just silly, because everyone else is swearing like sailors. I understand that he's being sarcastically mild and friendly here, but in that case, just let him say 'Oh, that's a shame' - it conveys that "calm before the storm" effect much more effectively.
Any sufficiently advanced technology was either invented or predicted by Nikola Tesla.
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