I posted the first 500 words of Basement of the Universe as I submitted them to Nathan Bransford’s contest in this entry. Happily, I’ve received some comments there, critiquing my piece. Thank you, critiquers. 🙂 I also submitted my piece to two other people who offered to do critiques in Nathan’s comments.
JJ DeBenedictis has critiqued mine on her blog. Here’s what she has to say:
434. Basement of the Universe – The nifty mystery of people simply disappearing is your story’s hook, and I do like how you dramatize Peter forcing himself to accept the truth he doesn’t want to acknowledge; you get us into his emotions well. In fact, given that you dramatize it well in the second scene, I think the first scene should be deleted–you’re just “telling” what you’re about to “show”. I did think the piece could be improved by getting the fact that there have been other disappearances into the narrative sooner. Also, the piece is slightly overwritten in places; for example, you don’t need to say “he repeated” when it’s clear to the reader that Peter just repeated himself. Perhaps try to streamline the prose so that you have nothing except what’s absolutely necessary?
Chro hasn’t done mine yet – as soon as it’s posted, I’ll add that here, too, provided Chro doesn’t mind.
What have I learned from all of this?
To start with, let me add a simpering explanation and whinge. I found out about the contest less than 12 hours before it was scheduled to end. Considering the last eight hours of that time was when I normally sleep, that really only gave me four hours. Discount the time needed for getting dinner, eating, and, um, I don’t know what else (was that American Idol night?), I really only had an hour or two to work with my existing first couple of pages.
And I immediately disliked what I had for the opening. So I ditched it. I’ll probably add at least portions of it back in somewhere else, perhaps in flashbacks. But that gave me one or two hours to edit the first 500 words. And that gave me no time to let it sit and let me change my mind later before I entered it.
And I can now see a whole bunch of stuff that I’d rather change about the first 500 words that I entered. As in, the entire first paragraph would be deleted in its entirety. Gone. The rest, I would get rid of the repetitive stuff and work in more ways to show his emotions, specifically about how he feels about his now-missing wife. Perhaps find a way to work in more nuances of the world they’re in – this is not contemporary Earth, after all, and I don’t think there’s anything to even hint at that.
The bottom line is that this contest, reading through other entries, reading through many of the excellent comments, some by Nathan himself, others by other readers of his blog, and reading through the critiques of my entry, has taught me a lot about how to compose the first five hundred words.
The next question is, is it enough for me to improve my first 500 words to land me an agent and publisher? Ah, time will tell. 🙂
If you haven’t already read through Nathan Bransford’s blog and the contest entries, do. It’s quite educational. And I’m also including the comments in there. While you’re at it, there are several conversations about all of this over at the Absolute Write forums, too, and are also worth checking out and reading.