About My Openings Critiques

In today’s Journal

* About My Openings Critiques
* Writing Better Fiction
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

About My Openings Critiques

As a few brave writers have learned, I respect serious writers far too much to pull a punch that needs to be thrown. That said, I do try to wrap the critique in kid gloves as much as I can.

I’m always appreciative when a writer takes my sometimes seemingly harsh critique as I intended. The lessons I provide on openings—which are only enhanced by the fact that they’re delivered on your own work—will probably cut months or years off your learning curve.

Seared feelings mend with time, but the lessons that remain can be invaluable.

As I’ve said many times before on different topics, I only wish I’d had an accomplished professional fiction writer to mentor me like that when I started writing fiction.

But, you might say, I’ve often called Dean Wesley Smith my “unintentional mentor.” You’re right. I learned a great deal from him.

But as many of you have, I often paid $300 a pop to learn those lessons. And most of what I learned was already available within me. I just hadn’t found it yet.

Like many of you, I didn’t trust that I actually knew anything. Yet also like you, I’ve been absorbing Story in various forms my whole life.

The biggest three things I learned from Dean were all free:

  • Writing Into the Dark (from his posts and my curiosity and determination to see for myself whether it would actually work),
  • Heinlein’s Rules (again, from his posts and with reinforcement from one $75 lecture), and
  • Belief in Myself (yet again, from his posts and the eventual realization that my opinion was only one opinion. That I shouldn’t “pre-judge” my work for the reader.)

Among the more valuable PAID lessons I learned from him were

  • two things from the $300 Depth workshop: the value of in-depth descriptions to pull the reader into the setting and the story, and the value of Taking Your Time, and
  • one thing from the $300 Writing Science Fiction workshop: Focus Down.

Of course, like Dean did before me, through long practice, I made those concepts my own.

Today, I teach all of those things and more, enhanced by my experience with them, in my openings critiques. And I teach them for only $15.

Unless you’re Stephen King, we’ve all been where you are right now with your writing. For that matter, Stephen King was once there too.

As I told a writer recently, there was even a time when little Billy Shakespeare or little Ernie Hemingway didn’t know they could form a capital A by using two longer lines and a shorter one. 🙂

Most stories (short stories, novellas or novels) open with around 300 to 800 or 1000 words. But some stories can open with as few as a hundred or two or as many as 1200 or 1500 words. Or more.

It all depends on the story, and 99% of it is up to the characters.

The only real thing that’s up to the writer is how it all goes on the page. Not so much the sequence of events—those usually unfold however they want and you only have to trust the characters—but how the story is presented on the page.

As I also told that writer, my current novel (they all write differently) started “in the action,” which is something mine seldom do. (But yes, there was still an opening complete with description, etc.)

Still, it’s always a good idea in your opening to get the reader invested in the POV character before launching into the sequence of events.

But in my current novel the blasted character was not forthcoming. He wouldn’t tell me his name, or even whether “he” was a male or a female. Even his narrative conveyed that he might’ve been either.

I finally found out his name and gender yesterday morning when I started writing Chapter 4. Cripes. So for this one, I’ll hope the action of the first three chapters is enough to get readers to Chapter 4, where they will finally find out who’s doing all that. 🙂

Wonderfully exciting, isn’t it? This writing thing we’ve chosen to do?

Any general questions or comments are always welcome, folks. I’m very seldom a moving target. And after I’ve done a paid critique for you, specific questions about that critique or your story (as far as I’ve read) are welcome too.

Writing Better Fiction

If you’re more the stubborn, self-taught type (like me) you can also learn how to write effective openings and a great deal more by reading Writing Better Fiction. It really is the only book on writing fiction you’ll ever need.

Specifically to learn openings, you’ll want to read Chapters 4 through 8:

  • Writing the Opening
  • Writing the Hook
  • Cliffhangers
  • Writing Setting
  • Writing the Scene

They’re all interwoven, specifically designed to lead you from knowing little or nothing to knowing everything you need to know.

There are also chapters on

  • Character-Driven Fiction (and it’s all character-driven)
  • Determining Your Role in the Story
  • Story Starters and Story Ideas
  • Writing the Ending
  • Writing Into the Dark
  • and one titled It’s All Up to You.

There are also 8 or 9 appendices that cover everything from a grammar refresher to writing exercises to POV to branding and how to continue learning craft.

So if you’ve already got it, read it. And if you don’t hae a copy yet, get one today.

Or spend a dollar more and get a one-on-one critique of your own actual opening.

Either way, you won’t regret it.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

You Like It Darker Available Now! This should enable you to see the Stephen King newsletter online. You can get a collection of a dozen of King’s short stories for a little over a dollar per story. Don’t miss out. (Yeah, I’m a shill for King. [grin])

Writing for the Anthology Workshop Students are not paying to write for an anthology. They’re paying for classes to learn how to write for an antholody.

The Numbers

The Journal……………………………… 1000

Writing of Blackwell Ops 25: Rafe Andersen

Day 1…… 3243 words. To date…… 3243
Day 2…… 1354 words. To date…… 4597
Day 3…… 2899 words. To date…… 7496

Fiction for May…………………….….… 17230
Fiction for 2024…………………………. 321015
Fiction since October 1………………… 624073
Nonfiction for May……………………… 20090
Nonfiction for 2024…………………… 174430
2024 consumable words……………… 495445

2024 Novels to Date……………………… 8
2024 Novellas to Date…………………… 0
2024 Short Stories to Date……………… 1
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)……………… 90
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)…………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)……… 239
Short story collections…………………… 29

Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer. On this blog I teach Writing Into the Dark and adherence to Heinlein’s Rules. Unreasoning fear and the myths of writing are lies, and they will slow your progress as a writer or stop you cold. I will never teach the myths on this blog.

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4 thoughts on “About My Openings Critiques”

  1. Doubt Harvey’s words at your own risk. I sent him 300 words of my latest work’s first chapter. (I’m 15 thousand in and holding at the present time.) I said in another comment it was the best 15 bucks I’ve ever spent. I should have sent the entire thousand words of that opening chapter. No big deal, right? What’s 15 dollars these days? (Now he’ll probably raise his rate.) (grin)

    Having learned from the comments on those measly 300 words, I knew I needed more. I bit the bullet and sent him a completed work of fiction. Yet again, it was money well spent. I’m in the process of “tidying up”, so to speak, that work. Most, if not all of Harvey’s comments/edits were spot-on. Some, embarrassingly so. No big deal, though. I have a thick skin – most of the time. I can be a tad hidebound, too, but Harvey got me through that, kicking and screaming all the way. (Me, not him.)

    Unsolicited plug: I picked up a copy of Writing Better Fiction to help cement what I don’t know.

    • Wow, Peter, thanks for taking the time to write such a ringing endorsement. No telling how many writers’ lives you might have just changed. I appreciate it.

  2. I’ll echo Peter’s praise of Harvey’s feedback on the opening I sent. Harvey’s feedback is brief, to the point, and very helpful!

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Harvey: thank you for all you do!

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