Novel Boot Camp – Workshop #2: First Page Critique


Welcome to week two of Novel Boot Camp! Week one was a wild ride and a fantastic success. Thanks so much to everyone who participated, shared the posts, made donations, and helped out your fellow writers on Twitter and in the Facebook group. Novel Boot Camp would be nothing without you!

This post was originally going to contain the results for workshop #1 (I can hear you all laughing at my optimism), but participation was higher than I expected. There were 115 novel openings posted (that’s about 23,000 words!) and over 1,000 guesses!

So, needless to say, I have not had time to calculate the winners. It may take until after Novel Boot Camp for the results to be posted. Thanks for your patience!

Because participation was higher than expected, this week’s workshop will not have a winner that requires judging (or else I might go insane). I know this isn’t quite as much fun, but take solace in knowing that the more openings you critique, the higher your chance of winning!

How to Critique Other Writers

Before we launch into the rules of the critique, I want to give a brief mini-lecture on how to be a good novel critiquer. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Don’t be mean, hostile, aggressive, or cruel. There’s no reason to put people down or embarrass them for their mistakes. Be kind in pointing out issues. Remember that this may be the internet, but the people posting are real writers with real feelings.

Be honest. Don’t say you like something just because you like the writer or because you want to be supportive. You can be encouraging and still tell the truth.

Reciprocate! Don’t ask for critiques with no intention of providing a critique of your own. This isn’t fair to the writers who take time out to help you.

Be approachable. This isn’t the time or place to use fancy literary terms or to act uppity or pretentious. The goal is to help the other writer, not sound smarter or more accomplished.

Admit what you don’t know. Avoid giving advice or making recommendations when you aren’t sure whether something is right or wrong. If you aren’t sure, say so. Wrong advice can often we worse than no advice.

Focus on Feelings. How you feel about an opening, character, word choice, sentence structure, etc. is very valuable to the writer. A statement like, “I didn’t feel sucked in, and the main character seemed a bit mean.” is often more constructive than a statement like, “I wouldn’t start my novel at this point, and the main character shouldn’t smack the dog.”

The Value of Critiquing

When writers email me asking how to improve their writing, I always tell them to start critiquing! Nothing is as useful at opening up a writer’s eyes to issues and mistakes in their own manuscript as seeing those same issues in someone else’s work.

Make sure to read some other writer’s critiques as well. This can teach you to recognize issues you didn’t even know existed.

Workshop #2: First Page Critique

July 7 – 13

How to Submit Your Novel Opening

*Please read all of the rules before posting.*

Writers will be posting their own submissions this week. You do not need to email me or fill out a form. You may post under your real name or anonymously, but keep in mind that you cannot win if you do not have a username that I can use to identify and contact you.

Your submission should be posted in the comments section below and should include nothing but your genre and the first 250 words. Do not begin or end your post (or reply to your own post) with any additional information. The goal is to get unbiased, authentic critiques.

Example post:

GENRE: YA Science Fiction

She looked at me with fear in her eyes and a laser-gun in her hands….. (stop at 250 words).

Each writer may post up to two openings. Please only post two if you are truly working on two novels at once. Don’t dig into the bowels of your hard drive just to come up with a second opening. In other words, don’t waste your fellow Boot Campers’ time with an opening you’re not serious about.

A note about the submission length: I increased the length from 200 words to 250 words due to a number of complaints about the word count restriction. Only allowing 200 words was an attempt at keeping the contest more manageable. I am allowing Novel Boot Campers to post up to 250 words this week under the condition that posts not exceed that length. Last week a bunch of you tried to pull the wool over my eyes and submitted 300, 400, and even 600 words. Last week I hacked off the extra words, but this week I will not be doing that. If you post more than 250 words, I will delete your submission without explanation.

What to Do After Receiving a Critique

You are welcome to reply to critiques on your work to thank the critiquer or to seek clarification.

Please do not post updated versions of your novel opening. This will prevent any individual writer from dominating the workshop. Asking for subsequent critiques is also asking a lot from your fellow writers who already took time to help you out.

Absolutely do not, under any circumstances, reply to a critique in an aggressive, insulting, or demeaning manor. It’s okay to disagree, but please do so respectfully.

I want this to be a positive and empowering experience for the Novel Boot Campers! If I feel that someone is disrupting that experience, I reserve the right to remove their posts and/or ban them as necessary.

How to Leave a Critique

Please post your critiques as a reply to the novel opening, not as a general reply in the comments section.

Please do not post one sentence critiques, such as, “I liked it.” Why did you like it? Be specific.

Do not mention your writing “status.” For example, do not mention that you’re a published author, an editor, a bestseller, an award-winner, etc. I do not have time to validate these statements and do not want writers being misled into believing they are being given professional advice.

Prize – Free 1,000 Word Critique!

Due to the volume of participants, it is unlikely that I will be able to select a winner based entirely on merit. Unless there is one critiquer who really stands out from the rest, the winner will be selected randomly.

That said, I will check through the posts of the random winner to ensure that they participated to the best of their ability. This means that the winner must have made a minimum of 5 critiques, all of which must be 3 sentences or longer in length.

My Participation

I will be offering critiques as I am willing and able. I’m editing novels 50 hours per week (not including the time spent on Novel Boot Camp) so it is unlikely that I will be able to offer critiques for most writers.  😦

Please do not take it personally! The ones I comment on will be more or less random.

And who knows? Novel Boot Camp will be over someday and maybe I’ll have time then to offer some critiques.

Connect with Other Novel Boot Camp Participants

Need a writing friend? Got a question? Need a shoulder to cry on? We’re there for you!

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 10.41.51 AM 93-facebookgroup

I will be answering writing and editing questions on our Twitter hashtag as time allows. Due to the insane volume of emails I’m receiving, I cannot provide free advice or assistance via email. Thank you!

What is Novel Boot Camp?

Novel Boot Camp is a free online novel writing course focused on identifying and correcting problems in your novel. Learn more about Novel Boot Camp and find past (and future) posts here.

1,062 thoughts on “Novel Boot Camp – Workshop #2: First Page Critique

  1. Helen Cole says:

    YA – Thriller, Romance

    The moon and stars were hidden beneath the stormy clouds. Twenty year old Jessie knew it was a bad idea to walk home alone, especially when she didn’t know her way around a neighborhood that was new to her. She had known that when she left the library, but she didn’t want to make her mom drive over to pick her up, when she could just walk a few blocks.
    She and her mother had just moved to Los Angeles, and had only been there for about two months. The neighborhood in which she now lived was lined with small, square one level homes of various pastel colors. She remembered the musty smell when they had pulled in on her first day there. She had imagined this neighborhood 40 years ago, with children giggling as they ran barefoot through the streets. They were now littered with broken fences and tattered screen doors.
    As she stepped forward, crunching a piece of garbage beneath her white sneakers, she swore she felt someone lingering. She cast a glance behind her and found nothing but a barren street lined with a few empty, rusted cars. She tried to think about other things. She thought about what her brother used to tell her when she was little, “Jessie, it’s only scary if you let it be.” She missed him so much. They’d been the closest of friends and he had always been there for her when she needed him.
    She heard footsteps behind her, and

    • Erica says:

      Hi Helen

      Intriguing opening for your book. I like that you have painted the surroundings and neighbourhood and contrasted the old and new. It’s got promise, but a few things caught my eye.
      In the second and third sentences, you’ve got knew, know, new and known. I don’t have anything against ‘knowing’ something, or something being new (!), but what is it and how did she know? It can be a bit too abstract. It’s not until the end of the next paragraph that you say there are broken fences and tattered screen doors. I like this, as it gave me a feel for the area, but you could say that they are broken wire fences/picket fences, bring in some colour or the street lights – you get the idea.
      You’ve used ‘she’ a lot, which is quite a lot of telling, but you’ve got a great set-up in which to show us a bit more. I thought it might work well starting with the first two sentences of the third paragraph first. Just switch some of it around a little.
      I like it though and I definitely want to know about the footsteps – what a cliff-hanger to end on!
      Hope this helps a little.

      • Helen Cole says:

        Wow. I never noticed what you pointed out about new, knew and know, but it really is overwhelming. I originally had her recalling that the librarian had told her it wasn’t safe to walk home alone from the library, but I felt like it was boring. I will try to rephrase it and cut down the “she” repeats as well. I have a lot written on this story if you’re interested in what happens next. Just a heads up, it’s still definitely a work in progress.

        Thank you so much for all your feedback! I will look for your submission, so I can give you feedback too.

  2. Korey L. Ward says:

    I just wanted to take a moment to thank you all for taking the time out of your day to read my story! Your critique’s were awesome and def. lit the fire under my butt. Now back to writing!

  3. Chester Hendrix says:

    SET UP: A Roman Legionnaire and a British WW I soldier have found themselves in 1804 Napoleonic France with a French Lieutenant – Bayard Legard. They’ve been traveling hard for days to get to St. Omer in preparation to find Bayard’s wife in Calais – the fear is she may have been a victim of the time travel event. Upon arrival in St. Omer, they decide to go to a local park and discuss their situation. Entering the park, Bayard encounters an older veteran missing an arm selling apples at the entrance…

    Walking up to him, Bayard purchased three. “Merci, mon Captain,” offered the old grognard. “A blessing on your house, sir.”

    Bayard noted the single chevron on the empty sleeve. He looked the man in the eye and saw a pride there that belied the weariness in his voice. The man appeared to be in his mid-fifties. ‘An impressive age for a wounded veteran,’ thought Bayard. “May I inquire where you lost your arm?”

    The pride in his eyes steeled his frame as he subconsciously stood to attention. “I had the honor of being in the ranks with the First Consul until Marengo.”

    “Your wife and children live here in St. Omer?” asked Bayard.

    “Our children are all grown. My wife and I live here with our youngest son. He has a small farm outside of town.” He smiled, adding, “With a perfect apple tree in the garden. Thank you, sir.”

    Bayard returned the smile, and handed the veteran a five franc piece. As he placed it in the older man’s only hand, he gripped the calloused fingers and held on. “It is I who thank you, private, for your service. Please accept this token from a fellow serviceman who is currently separated from his sweetheart and take your good wife into town for an evening’s meal. She waited for you and raised your children. The wives must be thanked properly once in a while for supporting us. Men such as we understand these things. Agreed?”

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