On writing

A good beginning is only the start

Like most writers, we are too close to our own work to really critique it well. The writing we do usually sounds trite unless we let it sit for six months. When we come back then we usually think, “Okay, this writing isn’t as bad as I thought it was,” or, “This is terrible. How could we write anything so bad?”.

I can’t pick a bad beginning in our own writing, especially not if I have written it. Sherylyn is a little better, but for both of us it takes ages to write something that isn’t bad. One thing we both do agree on is that while we can’t tell our own good or bad beginnings, we do know what works when we read it elsewhere. It’s a pity that what works for one doesn’t always work for the other, but when we both agree on a story that starts well we usually both read the novel and enjoy it.

One on-line forum that I am a (not very active) member of allows writers to post excerpts of their work.

A sidenote here. This is one of the first forums I joined. I was not long out of Critters, and even though I lurked for a couple of weeks, I jumped into the feedback section of this forum way too early. Posters on this forum did not want serious critiques of their story. What they wanted was praise. I gave a fairly detailed critique of a story I read. It was too detailed. What I should have done —and what I notice others do —is praise the story if it has promise and not add any comments if it has none. Occasionally someone adds a couple of high-level suggestions, but that is all. Moral of the story —it is important to understand what the posters want before you add critiques. Not only that, you need to know just how serious you are about getting feedback. If you want real feedback, don’t use a forum like this one.

But back to my tale.

I couldn’t write yesterday. I procrastinated by flicking through the stories on this forum. Some of them were typical high fantasies that began with a prologue told in omnipresent point of view, others began with a long exposition to set the scene. Some wrote in an archaic, “Here there be angels” type of way, others with lots of descriptive three-syllable words. For most of them I skimmed the first two paragraphs and then move onto the next one, because the openings were rather ordinary.

And then … an opening paragraph that made me sit up and read. This was good, really good. Right from the first two words. It opened with a bang, and kept going the same way. This story showed real promise and it packed a lot into that first chapter. Had I been in a bookshop, I would have bought the book right then and there.

It was so good I promptly scanned the rest of the forum for anything else she had written (and I’m fairly sure it was a she, both from her forum name and from the way she wrote). I found chapter two of the same story. Bliss. It was just as good as chapter one. And chapter three. These were strong, beautifully drawn characters with a story that pulled me in, and she hinted at so much back story that I lay awake for two hours last night thinking about it. The back story hadn’t slowed down the main story at all, but the author had hinted at so much, and made me want to know what was going on and what was going to happen.

This girl was good enough to be published.

Sad to say, she stopped at three chapters.

She had two other stories posted. One went to five chapters, the other to three. Both of them were good. The other two were not as good as the first, and all three needed some work but the stories and characters in all three books were compelling.

I admire any writer who has a voice that strong and good, but she had started three great stories and then just stopped.

Now I understand that she may have decided not to go any further with any of the stories. We ourselves find that if a story is not working we often know around the end of chapter three. But I don’t think that was the reason this writer stopped writing, and some of the comments on the earlier posts implied that she had done this before (older posts were archived). I think she’s just not in the habit of going any further.

What a waste.

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