I have been following Miss Snark’s First Victim blog, and currently she has up for feedback the first 250 words of 38 unpublished works. I love reading these, and have left feedback on a couple I especially liked. What particularly strikes me with these exercises/contests is just how important those first few paragraphs are. My sister, an avid reader and recreational writer, associates it with Bernoulli’s principle.
Bernoulli’s principle: The combined forces which generate lift in aircraft. In a literary application, we essentially rely on those first words to generate enough forward motion in our story to get it off the ground. We need to give the reader confidence that we will deliver them safely to a destination without a crash and burn.
She is a staunch reader of the first paragraph in books that catch her interest. If it is convoluted, cliché, not utterly easy to follow, or sounds pretentious then it has taken a nosedive and she puts it back on the shelf. “I’m willing to commit time to the journey, and if that first paragraph gives me confidence that I’m in good hands, I’ll read on,” she told me.
Based on that principle, I have rewritten my opening paragraph countless times.
As a side issue on this topic of opening paragraphs and offering critique on them: when I read the feedback provided by others, I am amazed at the authority with which it given. The writing qualifications of the reviewers, on so many of these blogs, spread across the entire spectrum of writers. From unpublished novelists (like me) on over to those with numerous credentials and published works. Yet very often, the feedback is consistently good; in view of it, I can return to the excerpt I just read and see exactly what needs tweaking. I’ve learned how to improve my own writing by means of it. I think it must be no small task, developing that critical eye. I'm still honing mine. When I read someone’s work, I am far more inclined to see what I like in it. Perhaps that’s just my nature.
Very soon, I will be swapping manuscripts with a fellow novelist who is at approximately the same stage I’m at. I’m a little nervous—okay, a lot nervous! I know I will find plenty to like about her work, but will I be up for the challenge of offering helpful critique? We’ve agreed to have a list—an agenda of sorts—as to what we specifically want; I hope that saves me. I wonder how many of those other bloggers out there are in the same boat.