Writing Excuses 4.32: First Paragraphs

Recorded live at Dragons & Fairy Tales in Eagle Mountain, Utah, this episode features the work of several brave souls who submitted their first paragraphs to us for critique.

We are not American Idol — we’re not out to rip these to shreds. We offer constructive criticism, highlight the good we find, and point out where improvements could be employed.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Desert Spear by Peter V. Brett, which Howard loves because of the risks the author took.

Writing Prompt: You’re writing in your journal for the first time in ten years, and the last ten years included the invasion of Earth.

That Thunder You Can Barely Hear: It was really, really loud. And funny.

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34 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 4.32: First Paragraphs”

  1. If you do this again, could I request you let listeners know in advance? I remember seeing on Facebook, right before this episode was recorded, that you might use submitted first paragraphs online and not just what people there would be bringing.

    Unfortunately, I found this out a few hours after it was too late. I haven’t listened to the episode yet, so i don’t know if you managed to get to online-submissions, but it’s such an awesome idea in and of itself that I’d love to see it done again. Preferably when I can manage to send something. 😛

  2. I was chuckling and smiling all the way through this one, remembering my wife and I going down to Eagle Mountain to attend it. It was just awesome seeing the recording process and hanging out! Thank you for the swag, Brandon! (We have one of those cardstock comment cards if you want it back). Thanks for hanging with us too, Brandon!

    It was a blast meeting Dan & Howard and getting the official de-facings of the “Schlock” books! How about a road trip to Idaho for a recording session or signing soon? Hi from Shannon and Mike!

  3. Great podcast–I love hearing examples of writing and your comments on them. Lots of good, practical advice.
    Beginnings can be really tricky, what with creating just the right balance between action and information. Just takes a lot of practice, it seems, though looking at the first page of a bunch of published novels can be a big help too.

  4. That featured line-editing, but regained the first line-editing podcast’s heights of awesomeness.

    I think that getting material from the audience and commenting on it is a great way of illustrating do’s and don’ts. I think that Will’s point is excellent; why not trail similar ideas in the next ‘cast, and have people put first paragraphs (or synopses, etc) in comments on here?

    In fact, why don’t some people just post first paragraphs here?

  5. @Ed here is writing prompt exercise and a first paragraph all rolled into one. Anyone is free to pick it over.

    Writing Prompt: You’re writing in your journal for the first time in ten years, and the last ten years included the invasion of Earth.

    With my body weary from the escape, and my spirit in a state of utter desolation, I sit here in this broken burnt out shell of what remains of my bedroom. The tattered journal lying open on the soot-covered table before me, once a trusted friend, its pages of my joyful rambling thoughts, now is all but a distant stranger. How am I to convey to any future eyes who may stumble upon these words, the reason I had abandoned it for the past ten years. It is because of them, the plague of vile alien beings who descended from the heavens on a mission from hell. Once the only demon mankind feared was the horned devil dwelling deep within the bowls hell. After witnessing firsthand what true demons are capable of, it is my belief we would have faired much better had all the angels fallen and taken up the works of Lucifer.

  6. @Ed: Not necessarily in the next ‘cast (I prefer to have different topics each week; as much as I loved this one, I can see myself getting annoyed if next week was exactly the same thing) but in future ones. I’m just hoping the next time they do this (hopefully there will be a next time, right? Right?) they give a little more forewarning to those of us who might be a few thousand miles away to attend an event, or might miss notices mid-day-of due to school or work.

    @Mike: We at Reading Excuses (and by “we” I mean “me”, since I can’t speak for everyone else there) tend to prefer whole chapter submissions (unless it’s flash fiction or a short story). First paragraphs work for the podcast, due to the time limit and what they can tell us about writing first paragraphs/first lines/hooks/what-have-you, but full chapters would better for the reading group.

  7. @Will — but if people want to pursue the 1st paragraphs, plus critiques and whatnot, Reading Excuses would be a better format, I think. Might want to run a thread dedicated to it, but its intended for submissions and comments. Or if the Reading Excuses group prefers, maybe get another forum set up.

  8. @Mike: Very true. There are other sites, I know, with writing groups that have such things set up. Generally, though, we submit on Mondays with full chapters, which include the first paragraph (assuming it’s the first chapter, of course) and the author can request special attention be given to it. I’m not dismissing the idea, as I think it has possibility (discussion of first paragraphs in general, and helping members craft openings that draw in the reader immediately could be very interesting and fun) but it could also come across as somewhat redundant.

    However, the more I think on it, the more I like the idea…

  9. Mike B.: You’re my hero. That was practically a picture-perfect plug. 😛

    Now all we need is a soundbyte. [radio voice] Reading Excuses dot com! Are YOU on the list? [/radio voice]

    *shrugs* If Reading Excuses were to do a first-paragraphs thing–and I’m not opposed to the idea–I imagine it would be more of a thing for people who didn’t want to commit to a writing group, or who were reluctant to send a full short story/novel/large chunks of a novel out to a group of strangers, or perhaps for people who wanted to try the group out and see if it was for them.

    I’d certainly be open to trying it if enough people were interested. I would just do a dedicated thread for it, I think–no seperate forums or need to join the email list or anything like that. Seems too cumbersome otherwise. (For a dedicated writing group it’s a bit different, I think.)

    Note that you no longer have to be logged in to VIEW the forum, but I’m not sure if you have to be logged in to post.

    Of course, what Reading Excuses couldn’t offer for a first paragraph exercise would be professional input, which I suspect is what attracted some people to submit their paragraphs for this podcast in the first place.

    Unless all the professionals who hang around TWG occasionally wanted to leap in and offer input, of course. Since it’s only first paragraphs it’s not like non-members would be missing out on any context. 😉

  10. Why not just throw first paragraphs as comments on this highly appropriately-named thread, and consider it a separate activity from the chapter-orientated Reading Excuses. Stop worrying and start encouraging. In this case, more is more.

  11. @Ed: Sure, that works too. But I saw people discussing people doing something like that on RE, so I felt obligated to offer my opinion. 🙂

  12. The writing prompt for this ‘cast is win. I usually ignore the prompts and just do my own thing, but I had some (admittedly brief) fun with this one.

  13. Great podcast – always good to hear what people are writing and the whole line editing response to them.

    Nice one!

  14. Regarding Reading Excuses…

    Personally I don’t see a need for another site to post things like first chapters or whatnot. With the small handful of dedicated fans that take the time to post anything here I seriously doubt that we would crash the server or overuse any allotted bandwidth. Besides I only have so much internet time per day and I don’t want to have to login to different sites to do the same thing.

    So thanks, but no thanks.

  15. My apologies to everyone for suggesting that perhaps discussion of first paragraphs might be more comfortably accomplished on a list designed for discussions, that allows threading and so forth. We now return you to your preferred choice of media.

  16. I love your podcast!

    I’d love to hear a podcast on Marketing. I am an aspiring author… never been published. Mostly focusing on getting my novel written and polished. Do I need to be thinking now about marketing myself? Do I need to have a blog or other website? If I submit to agents or publishers will I be more likely to be picked up if I already have a marketing plan?

    Thanks again, you guys… your podcast is funny AND motivational! Keep it up!

  17. No need for apologies Mike, I guess it is nice to have options. Thanks again for doing the transcripts. 😉

  18. I think it’s awesome that they did this and I was able to have my work reamed…no wait…trashed…no wait…critiqued by these awesome three guys. It was weird sitting there and not being able to say a word to them, including correcting their pronunciation and clarifying the fact that her name isn’t “Loving” it was just a useless adjective that someone suggested to me once upon a time. Tried it. It failed.

    Either way, it’s hard having just a paragraph critiqued there and not being able to do anything. I took notes though on my critique. How else do you become a better writer?

  19. I really enjoy these example episodes. I now realize several things that I need to fix regarding the first few paragraphs of my novel-in-progress. Thanks so much, guys! 🙂

  20. I’m thinking of making this writing prompt my NaNo novel . . . with a twist.

    Ten years ago the aliens landed — and they were us.

    Yes, writing from the point of view of one of the aliens who conquered Earth. And hasn’t had much time to write in his/her/its journal since. (By the way, what pronoun do you use for a race with three genders? He, she, and what? Any idea?)

  21. @ Mike Barker – What was all that about? Okay I’m almost 3 years behind the curve, but where else would you submit that stuff for discussion but ReadEx? Baffling. Anyway, seemed to be a lot of chat about submitting stuff on this page, but nobody actually did, sounds a lot like Posting Excuses to me…

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