1. LemonadeLover
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    LemonadeLover Member

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    Conflicting critique, what to do?

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by LemonadeLover, May 17, 2016.

    Not sure whether this is the right forum for this question but anyway.
    As some as you might know I've decided to start my novel with the weather and (as you can predict), I've received a huge amount of conflicting critiques.
    About 60% of people who read my first paragraph love it. The rest immediately quote the general writing rule of never using the weather as an opening.
    Now I'm not sure what to do because I happen to quite like my opening and every time I try to rewrite it or change it up, I keep going back to it because I think it works.
    So now I'm not sure what to do. I've been told by all the people who don't like it that if I keep it I'll never get published, it's clique, terrible etc. and obviously I don't want that. Because I really, really want to have a novel worth publishing at some point.
    However, the other critics say the opposite so what do you guys think? It's not like an overwhelming majority love/hate it so I can't just ignore one view point in favour of the other.

    If any of you guys want to check out the chapter/first paragraph it's here:
    http://www.writingforums.org/threads/a-flock-of-ravens-chapter-one-recieved-really-conflicted-critiques-so-need-help.146116/
     
    Last edited: May 17, 2016
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  2. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    As a general rule, I would avoid starting a novel with the weather unless it is both dramatic and important to the plot. So, for example, if your story is about some folks who chase and study tornadoes and you want to start your novel with them in their van rushing down a country road as a massive funnel closes in from the left with driving rain and flying debris reducing visibility to almost nothing and - shit! What the hell was that bouncing off the roof of the van?! Well, yeah, that's fine. I think it can also be okay to mention weather as an aside to help set the mood or pace the scene.

    The first five or ten pages of your novel are very often the only part an agent will see before (s)he decides to ask for the full ms. You simply can't afford to be at less than your best for it.

    Now, all that being said, it is your novel. Critique is important, but remember that unless you're getting it from a professional editor or agent, it's just another opinion. You need to have a strong enough sense of your work to know, instinctively, which opinions to follow. It isn't always easy. And you don't always get it right the first time (I made numerous changes to my ms that I resisted at first).

    Good luck.
     
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  3. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    I have faith, that you are creative enough, to find a better way of starting your novel. One in which an agent won't immediately throw it in the garbage.
     
  4. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    The thing with your work is it's ultimately your work. You do what it is you want to do with it. But there is definitely a large risk in starting with weather. So, is it worth it?
    Found a great quote about this;
    "The writing world is full of rules and taboos and it’s easy to take them too literally. Beginning a story with weather isn’t the problem. Neither is looking in a mirror, describing a character, waking up or getting dressed. The problem is failing to be interesting, failing to show us characters, failing to convey a state of unease or instability and failing to cast a spell over the reader."-Roz Morris.
     
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  5. LemonadeLover
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    LemonadeLover Member

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    I think the reason why I'm struggling is because the weather is actually pretty important for the first few chapters and I'm not getting an overwhelming sense of liking or disliking it. Just over half the people who've read it say they like it or that the first paragraph really drew them in, and the other half say it's a massive no and to get rid of it immediately because it goes against writing rules. It's pretty confusing.
     
  6. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Keep in mind, the purpose of getting critique is not to put your writing up for a vote. Abraham Lincoln once put a proposal before his cabinet for consideration; the vote was 9 in favor and 1 nay. The nay vote was Lincoln's and the proposal was defeated. He'd put the proposal out there, not to take the vote, but to hear the arguments supporting it. When he wasn't convinced, he decided against it. It's the same with your writing. You seek critique not to be told what to include and what to exclude, but to hear the arguments being made to help guide your decision. You've heard the arguments. Now, what do YOU think?

    Keep in mind that "writing rules" are only "rules" until someone decides that breaking them makes the work better.
     
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  7. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    It's your story, write what you want to, art, blah blah but... it's one paragraph. If half of the people who've read it actively dislike your first paragraph, do you really think that's a good enough start?

    If your goal is just to write a story, then do whatever you like. It doesn't matter if people read past the opening, or if they enjoy it. If your goal is to be read, then don't keep something that turns half of your readers off.

    You can never please everybody but your opening sentences, and HALF of readers? Kill it with fire. Now.
     
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  8. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Have you finished your novel yet?

    If not, I'd just put this critique about the weather in the back of your mind and keep going. Trust me. It's SO easy to change a beginning if it needs to be changed once you've finished. People who just see a snippet for critique will stop there. They'll start finding all sorts of things to point out about it, and some of what they point out may be worth taking on board. However, don't start re-writing your beginning till you've reached 'the end.' You yourself might find you want to start a different way.
     
  9. Lorena
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    Lorena Active Member

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    I'm sorry to say, but the 60% or so of people who claim to 'love' your first paragraph either don't know what the hell they're talking about, or they're simply stroking your ego for whatever reason.

    Pick any critically acclaimed novel from your bookshelf. Read the first sentence. Now read yours. Do any of the great novelist's start off with "snow was falling?"

    Lastly, only pay attention to critiques by members who have at least developed their writing abilities to a basic, competent level...and if you're a beginner, always adhere to the general writing rules. no buts or ifs.
     
  10. Adam Jump
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    Adam Jump Member

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    Personally, I'd say if your first chapter dwells on the weather and finds it central to constructing the early narrative, then stick with your heart. That being said, I'd find a way of avoiding it directly in my won writing. I often find the weather is a lazy metaphor when used in most cases. Sounds rather prescriptive but I sometimes imagine what I would use as a metaphor to describe ominous black clouds or autumn leaves - see what you come up with :)

    You'll probably find when people say: "Don't start with the weather", they believe you want to impress (or not put off a publisher) as opposed to write a good novel. Don't confuse the two things.
     
    Last edited: May 17, 2016
  11. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Personally, I don't make this type of statement until/unless I've actually read the work in question.

    @LemonadeLover - if you'd like, you can PM me the first few pages and I'll be happy to tell you what I think, with the understanding that it's just one man's opinion.
     
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  12. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    The link's in her OP.
     
  13. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    If 60% of readers love your work, that's not a bad percentage. Nobody will ever achieve 100% love. I also question how many of the 40% who claimed not to like it were simply knee-jerking at the reference to weather. "Thou shalt never start with weather." "Thou shalt never start with a journey." "Thou shalt never start with a prologue." "Thou shalt always start with two characters talking." Yadda yadda yadda

    I have had a look at that particular work in question (for the second time) and I have no real problem with the opener. He devotes exactly 2 sentences to 'weather,' and includes in one of those sentences a very important piece of information. Furthermore, the odd weather impacts strongly on the plot and certainly influences the atmosphere of the story.

    People who decide to write to formula, and never do what someone tells them not to do are going to churn out ...formula. It may sell to formula readers, but that might not be what this writer wants to do. And I would certainly not want to find my opening sentence on the opening page of some other book! :)
     
    Last edited: May 17, 2016
  14. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I'd argue that starting with a description of weather is a formula to be avoided!

    I wouldn't be happy with an opening that 60% of people hated. I'd never expect 100% love, but I want a LOT more than 40% approval for my very first paragraph.
     
  15. Lorena
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    Lorena Active Member

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    I have seen the extract, but I'm not supplying a critique in this thread for obvious reasons...

    I will, however, comment on the first sentence, as the OP seems to have concerns about it. "Snow was falling, as it always was." This would put off most people from reading further. Tells us nothing, other than that this piece is set in the land of eternal snow, which sounds environmentally unrealistic.

    That being said, a writer CAN use weather as an intro. But unfortunately, only a handful can do it well enough as an opening sentence. See Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep:

    "It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. "
     
    Last edited: May 17, 2016
  16. Adam Jump
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    Adam Jump Member

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    Having read the extract, I agree with some in that the first line adds nothing for me. Why not ensconce it into the second, infinitely more interesting line...more like:

    "Unlike the type usually found on postcards or in picture books; the snowfall was something out of a nightmare."
     
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  17. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I'm with Jannert and Ed on this. Weigh the arguments, does anyone make any valid points in favor of ditching the weather opening? What are your valid reasons for keeping it? And you don't have to make the decision till your finished.

    I've read it and I feel it could be shifted - I'd maybe bring up the smothering of the man and make that your opening. Then bring in the weather and bathroom break. This probably doesn't help you as I'm throwing in my two cents. But it's not that I'm against a weather opening - I've read many and to me it's not a must-not. I just feel that having read your piece- the mc watching a man being smothered - might make for a more interesting opening. Really set the tone that this place is dangerous and it's not the weather that can just kill you.
     
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  18. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Ah, so it is. Sorry about that.

    Now that I've read it, I agree with @peachalulu - I don't think it's a great opening. And my sense is that the essential conflicts here are not about the weather, but weather may be an exacerbating factor. In which case, I would begin with a central conflict or problem and then fold in the weather as part of setting the scene, particularly if, as you suggested earlier, it is an ongoing theme in the work.
     
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  19. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    I read your first paragraph, I realize I've seen it another thread actually, and I think maybe tie the character's feelings to to the description more explicitly? Talk about what makes the weather more than the weather and it might feel more interesting and clever than when people are accusing you of the stereotypical bad weather setting the scene metaphor thing.
     
  20. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Hi @EdFromNY, nice to see you around. :)


    [Sorry for a bit of redundancy that follows. Sorry for the broken up quotes, stupid forum code.:mad:]

    I don't agree the, 'it's your story, write what you want' sentiment applies to any and every criticism of our writing. Yes it applies sometimes, when a critic is telling you to change your story to the one they would write, for example. But sometimes there's an underlying reason for the advice. If we are trying to improve our writing, I don't see how you do that if you disregard advice with a hand wave.

    The key here is, why is opening with the weather frowned upon? A blanket rule tells you very little. Why do you hear over and over: show don't tell, don't use adverbs, don't use present participles (-ing words), do use said, don't write a prologue, don't open with the weather, don't use flashbacks, don't use forms of to be—the list gets longer day by day. :nosleep: It's because these are common characteristics often done poorly in beginning writers' work.

    These aren't arbitrary rules, nor are they absolute rules. They are things new writers overuse, or haven't learned how to manage, or they rely on them because the writer lacks skill.

    One can often read a few paragraphs and recognize, that's a good writer, or, that's a new writer with a lot to learn. I can best explain it with an analogy.

    Something I've learned from years of nursing, you can look at a patient and know they're in trouble. Some people call that intuition. I don't. It's learned, we don't have to go through the list of things we are noticing, our brain does that instantly. But that list exists and if you want to teach a new nurse how to recognize when a patient is in trouble, you start by identifying all those cues your brain is processing outside your consciousness: breathing, sweating, skin color, restlessness, and a number of other things I won't bore anyone with.

    Think of these writing admonitions, not as absolute rules, but rather as identifiers of less skilled writing. And not because you should never do them, or every time you see them the writing is poor, but because they tease out what it is a person is observing when they recognize good and bad writing. We can't learn to be better writers if we can't identify what is wrong.

    Of course some excellent books start with the weather. But why does a new writer opening with the weather reveal a lack of skill? What is it about the weather that is the problem? If you know the why, you can look at your opening and see if it is problematic or not.

    Never begin your story with weather – a writing taboo examined
    The blog author notes, it's interesting (because the author made it extraordinary), it's about people (because the readers care more about people than things), and it draws you in (because Liz Jensen’s piece is assured, phrased with pizzaz, visualised with an eye for the interesting. It persuades you to lie back and be charmed).

    What about when it is uninteresting weather? It's easy for a new writing to write weather in a boring way.

    Writing About the Weather in Fiction

    The rain lashing down on rooftops might work in the middle of the story when the reader is already invested in the scene. But at the beginning, it hints at less than exciting writing.

    I recommend the reading rest of the article because it is about why weather belongs in your novel as much as any key piece of the setting. But the question here is, what made publishers and editors get bored with novels opening with the weather? For new writers "it's easy to resort to clichés". And publishers have read those clichés a million times.

    If your weather opening is particularly strong, it should be fine even if a publisher or two doesn't read past the first paragraph. But take a good look at that opening. Is it a strong opening? Be prepared to kill your darlings.

    "Snow was falling, as it always was. Unlike the type usually found on postcards or in picture books; it was something out of a nightmare. Nick tossed and turned. Great, heavy flakes were pounding against the tin walls of the barracks as the howling winds rattled its fragile frame- as though there were angry demons outside trying to force their way in."
    I don't think the first two sentences are strong. The last sentence is. I've also taken 'to be' verbs out and we know the demons would be outside. I might also change 'fragile' to 'creaking', an adjective that conjures up rusted metal.

    "Great, heavy flakes were pounded against the tin walls of the barracks. as the Howling winds rattled its fragile creaking frame- as though there were like angry demons outside trying to force their way in. Nick tossed and turned."
    Can you see how that is stronger? It's not necessarily the weather that is the problem. It's the strength of the opening.
     
    Last edited: May 17, 2016
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  21. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    I posted a quote from that very article up above. Great minds dear.:supergrin::supergrin:
     
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  22. HelloImRex
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    HelloImRex Contributing Member

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    If you were to follow every rule having to do with plot you would end up with a boring story like all the rest. You need to break some of the rules and do so with an intent that strengthens the story. Personally, I don't like your first paragraph, but not because it starts with weather. I don't like it because all of the comparisons and similes are very cliche. "Something out of a nightmare", "Howling winds", "Angry demons trying to force their way in", I think those kinds of descriptions are boring and that's what would discourage me from reading on. In fact, the only interesting in the paragraph after those comparisons are taken out is the weather. In my opinion establishing an engaging voice is a more important goal for an opening than what content is put forth.
     
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  23. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    It was 60 approval and 40 disapprove.
     
  24. Kikijoy
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    I only read the first paragraph and hopefully I will find time to read the rest of your work :) Anyways, here is my advice: Leave this part of the novel, put it away for a while and come back to it. The thing about writing is, you have to write for you before you write because you want to be published. With that being said, I can understand that everyone wants to get published even if they don't care about making money/being famous/ all of that. It can be hard to figure out if you should use the advice that people offer and change your story, because sometimes people do suggest changes that are harsh (not that they aren't constructive, but because they can change the substance of your writing).

    On one hand, I have taken a lot of advice and have changed a lot of my writing with the help of that advice. I have learned and become a much better writer because of it. In another instance, I wrote this poem a few years back and I absolutely love it. I had worked hard on it and perfected it and found out that my college didn't like it and wasn't going to publish it (and I was on the committee to accept/reject it so I knew what they all really thought) So it was so disappointing until I learned that I was published in a national literary book (with authors who have phDs and several books published).

    The point is--critics are suppose to help. When they stop helping, then it might be a good time to forget that section and come back to it with a fresh mind :) and always, stay true to who you are !
     
  25. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    This ^

    My opening which I didn't actually write until I was halfway through the book has been changed a dozen times since then.
     
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