Judge’s critiques as promised

November 1, 2007 | Karin's Blog | 11 comments

Thank goodness there are other people more organized then me! Below are my judge’s comments.

I’m seeing an interesting phenomenon. There were a few first lines that did nothing for me, but the addition of a great second line saved them. On a couple of occasions, the second line took me to a new place, and I found this exciting. The reverse is also true: there were a couple of first lines I thought were stellar, but the addition of the second line dragged them down.

Sherry Fernando hefted her suitcase and marched toward the latched wooden gate she’d exited some four years earlier, never to look back.
And she hadn’t – only asleep had vivid images of her past returned to haunt her.

Reason: Tortured construction in the second line, “only asleep had vivid images of her past”, confuses and slows down the reader. Also, you cram a lot of information into the first line: “latched wooden gate” and “some four years earlier” and “never to look back”. She actually did look back, or at least came back.

You have a nice idea here, so tighten it up. You can keep the latched wooden gate and the fact she’d left four years earlier – maybe toss the “never to look back”. Something has to go! And rework the next sentence – keeping it simple and clear. “The vivid images of her past haunted her sleep”, for instance, is clear and easy to understand.

NAKED images of ‘The Cyclist’ flashed through his head, and his body responded accordingly.
His groin swelled slightly, as it always did when he imagined her.

Three things conspired to make me feel this story might be more trouble than I would like to take on. First, starting with the capital letters, NAKED, bothered me. I asked myself if the author was emulating the beginning of chapters in books. One thing I wasn’t doing was thinking about the story. Second, I don’t recognize the reference to “The Cyclist”. Is it a movie? This was confusing, because then I was wondering if it was a male cyclist or a female cyclist.
The third thing that bothered me was “His groin swelled slightly”. First, I flashed on groin injuries in athletes (already thinking about cyclists), even though the intent was certainly clear. The intent was clear, but my mind wandered anyway. I was unable to assimilate what I was reading.
And this is what bothers me about this reasonably well-written entry: the writer is either trying too hard, lacking focus, or both. You want to grab the reader with simple language and not throw obstacles in her path.

I know something about trying too hard. And I’ve lost focus plenty of times. When I start a book, I end up writing many beginnings. As I go forward with the story I relax and the real story comes through. Once I find my rhythm, I often go back and rewrite the beginning, and it just flows. Also – try for simpler sentences and instead of “groin”, use the correct term. If you want to keep “The Cyclist”, maybe have him remember what specifically he saw in it that got him so hot. As it is now, “The Cyclist” probably means nothing to a lot of people.

Julie closed her eyes tight begging the images to cease. It had been almost six years to the day since she had endured the mind numbing torture.

Grammatical errors: “Julie closed her eyes tight (comma) begging the images to cease.” The lack of the comma, in conjunction with omitting the hyphen in “mind-numbing torture”, makes me wonder if this writer has a firm grasp of grammar. The first sentence, paragraph, and page should convey to the editor that this person knows her stuff. Sometimes you can break the rules and use vernacular, but only if you know the rules in the first place.

Nobody is a perfect grammarian. A lot of these things are easy to fix, and a good thing to do is read it aloud. If you read “Julie closed her eyes tight, begging the images to cease,” I’ll bet you would naturally pause between “tight” and “begging”. When in doubt, read it aloud, and if you find yourself pausing, there should be a comma in there. Also, as you read, notice how other people do it. The best teacher is a really good author doing her thing on the page.

Her eyes were full of amusement, then it hit all at once and he breathed her name on a soft moan “Gabby”. That was enough to send his erection into a nosedive.

“On a soft moan “Gabby” is confusing, grammatically incorrect, and doesn’t track. I would write this much more simply. Remember, you want to make it easy for the reader to follow this.
One thing I always try to do when I get too complicated: I break it down into simple declarative sentences. “Her eyes were amused” or “Her eyes showed her amusement” “She looked amused”. Write down several versions, and pick the simplest, most direct way to get your point across. To untangle the second sentence, you could try: “Gabby”. He breathed her name on a soft moan. Move things around, and read it aloud. Remember that you are trying to get your point across, and do it in the clearest way possible.

For Jersey girl Mel, finding a town called Yeehaw Junction right off the Florida Turnpike, hit her harder than her near death encounter on the road to Nowheresville. Back home in Jersey most everyone faced death by motor vehicle hourly, so the pits had to be that Yeehaw place.

My first impression: too much information. In two sentences we have Jersey girl Mel, Yeehaw Junction, the Florida Turnpike, Nowheresville, and “that Yeehaw place”. “That Yeehaw place” really confused me. I think there’s a lack of focus here. “Near death” should have a hyphen.
I’d take out at least two of the capitalized places – your choice. Try to focus in on what you really want to say. “That Yeehaw place” was a bridge too far for most people to follow. I think you have the start of a colorful novel, but don’t step on your own lines! Remember, you have time to let the story unfold. Decide what is most important, and read it as if you don’t know anything about the characters or the places. Learn to be your own best editor.

“This is your fault,” a male voice thundered.
Bella Nez’s heart lodged in her throat as her gaze met a foreboding stare.

There is nothing overtly wrong with the writing, but landing a book deal is getting harder and harder, and some of the writing devices of the past are falling by the wayside. There’s just so much competition out there. Most times, “said” is better than “thundered”. Or using no attribution at all. “This is your fault,” a male voice said. Or “This is your fault,” she heard a male voice say. Or even, “This is your fault”. In itself, “thundered” is okay, but when combined with “Bella Nez’s heart lodged in her throat”, it looks like a pattern is developing, and I think an editor might toss this out as unoriginal.

The fix for this is easy, and you can do it in five minutes. Just clean it up a little and watch the words that sound overly-familiar. Words and phrases you’ve read many times before become cliches. Read your favorite writers (the best ones) and pay attention to their dialogue. It’s great to use colorful words like “thunder” and “lodged in her throat”, but go a little further with it and don’t let them be the default choice. For instance, it’s hard to picture a heart lodging in a throat, but you could try “fear”.

Well, I don’t know about y’all but I learned a few things from this judge!

Thank you, Round Three Judge. I really appriciate your time and effort.

Write on, chicas





  1. Calliope

    Thanks for those comments Karin and Editor/Judge (I’d love to know who you are, but thanks anyway – especially for putting mine through ). You all make it sound so simple and it’s just so obvious when you explain it. And ‘declarative sentences’ – now I know the name for what I’ve been trying to do, so I’ll look it up and make sure I do it in future.

    thanks again

  2. Margaret

    I’m still in the hunt, but really appreciate reading the judge, and Karin’s crits, of the first few lines. It really opened my eyes as to how important EVERY word is.
    Write on!

  3. Jennifer Faye

    Thanks so much Karin and the judge. First, Karin thank you for taking the time to put on this wonderful contest. And to the judge for telling me that I tried too hard and instead of going with my own voice, I tried to impress and instead kinda fell on my face. I guess what I’ve learned most is to start trusting my internal narrator.

    Good luck to the remaining contestants!!!

  4. Karin

    Jenn, one of the most difficult things for me as a writer is not to second guess myself.
    I sold my fist book with the mind set, “Screw the rules, I’m writing this book my way.” It just flowed. I find when I get stuck in my writing it’s because I’m thinking about it too much.

  5. Heather W

    Karin, I’ve been finding the crits on the cut lines fascinating. I know it’s more work for you and the judges, so I can understand why you don’t plan to continue it… but any chance you’ll change your mind? 🙂


  6. Karin

    um, no, Heather. 😉 unless my judges want to do the critiques.

  7. Tina C

    Hi Karin and your judge

    Thank you for taking the time to give me feedback on my 2 lines. It is appreciated heaps – and not something you receive often – so even though I didn’t make the next round, your comments have been extremely valuable to me.

    Thanks again for this opportunity Karin, and to your judge – thank you for your time.

    Good luck to everyone still in there with a chance. Can’t wait to read them all each Monday.

    Bye 4 now

  8. Sandie

    Thanks Karin and your Judge It is so good to get feedback and my writing and ideas on how to improve it.

  9. Heather W

    Thought I might be asking too much, but if you don’t ask, you don’t get, right? 🙂 The feedback already given has been great and I’ve learned from it, so thanks so much!


  10. Sharon Cullen

    I think the real nuggets in this contest has been the critiques by Karin and the mysterious judge. I’m still in (at least for this morning), but I’m learning more than I’ve ever learned in any other contest.

    Thanks Karin and Round 2 judge.


  11. H Maree Davis

    It’s always good to be able to read crits of other people’s work. You don’t have the same objectivity problems as with your own.

    The comments about hyphens showed up the importance of having someone from the country where the publisher you’re aiming at is read through your work.

    Thanks not only to the judge but to the contestants who were willing to have their work criticised in public.

    H! 🙂

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  • 2013 (2)
  • 2012 (7)
  • 2011 (10)
  • 2010 (41)
  • 2009 (156)
  • 2008 (165)
  • 2007 (160)
  • 2006 (149)
  • 2005 (26)