The Magical Words crew (Faith Hunter, David B. Coe, and Misty Massey) held two sessions of Live Action Slush at ConCarolinas this year. These sessions had people sitting in the floor, standing squashed together in the corners, and people spilling out into the hallway. And this was during one of the sessions by George R.R. Martin. How awesome is that?
The way it worked was attendees submitted the first page of their work in progress (WIP) and a reader read it aloud to the crowd. When the Magical Words crew heard something that would probably cause an agent to stop reading, they raised their hands. When all three hands were up, the reader stopped. In the first session, only one made it all the way to the end of the page.
The following are the comments for the pieces the MW crew discussed. They were, of course, meant for the particular piece, but the information is good for just about any work!
- Need to connection to character
- Tense problems
- Inner thought/outer thought transition problems
- It is a vague pronoun. Don’t start there.
- Too long first line – quick line is better
- Transition problem
- Point of view problem
- Good immediacy of voice
- Goal in first page is to connect
- Make sure you start in the right place
- Telling too much, nothing is happening
- Needs immediacy
- Use contractions unless they don’t work for character
- Careful with erudition
- Short sentences help increase immediacy.
- Too much telling not enough reaction to situation
- Heard, felt, saw – replace with something else
- Don’t mess with the body at the crime scene
- Make sure you have your facts right.
- Magic and tarot cards are intriguing.
- Point of view shifts
- Steampunk doesn’t have to be in England – that’s good.
- Do your homework
- Differences in names is good.
- Something needs to happen – what is the story going to be about?
- Need to have conflict on the first page. First 200-300 words
- Too many different creatures – be more clear and specific
- Too many adverbs
- Avoid adverbs of manner
- Show not tell
- Write according to today’s market
- Be careful about said book-isms – use said not hissed, glared (or say she said, hissing the words)
- Editors are looking for reasons to say no to get the pile to go down
- Be careful about misplaced modifiers
- Too many names at once
- Order of words must make intent clear
- Need immediacy – think like character
- No tourniquets – otherwise you have to amputate. Instead stuff something in it and apply pressure.
- Too little happening early on – not starting in the right place
- Need conflict in the first paragraph
- Start where things begin to go wrong.
- Too much dialogue
- Too many endearments
- Not enough action
- We need he said, she said
- Need action while the dialog is taking place
- Too slow unless it’s in the moment.
- People rarely use names – even less so for endearments
- Prologues are out of fashions – editors don’t like them
- Only use a prologue if it is something essential to the story
- Leave the reader to guess – part of bait and hook – give it in bits and pieces.
- Info dump broken up into dialogue
- Layer info like lasagna
- Make your character do what you’re saying they’ll do
- Needs emotion
Whew! To sum it up, the things that almost everyone needed to work on include point of view, getting the action going right away, do the research necessary, and hook the reader in.