Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

3rd S-o-A SUFPC Update #1

Yeah, so, wow.

We've already blown well past 1,000 entries, and... I am unfazed! Bring it! Bravado!

Please do continue to spread the word about the contest, because after all: the only thing more fun than winning a contest is winning a contest that has very strong competition. And then bragging about it.

A few updates and requests from your contest organizer:

- E-mail subscribers: you must must must must must enter in the official contest thread. Please do not e-mail me your entries! If you need help leaving a comment, please consult this post.

- Please please check and double-check your paragraph before posting. If you spot an error after posting: please do not re-post. I go through the entries sequentially and the repeated deja vu repeated deja vu from reading the same entry only slightly different makes my head spin. But fortunately:

- I'm not worrying about typos. A certain winning entry had a typo last year and that turned out just fine.

- Several people have noted that quite a few of the entries are not actually paragraphs and are instead strings of dialogue, poetry, multiple paragraphs, and other non-paragraph concoctions. All I can say is: welcome to my world.

- I'm on Twitter! You can find me at @nathanbransford. I will be posting assorted updates as I'm reading the entries. Also probably complaining about the crazy rain we're having in SF. Because that's what Twitter is for.

Thanks again to everyone who entered! I can't wait to read the paragraphs. And read and read and read and read......






156 comments:

Margaret Yang said...

I think I just heard Miss Snark laughing.

terryd said...

Best success, contenders! Some fantastic paragraphs are coming in.

Hope the power stays on in your bunker, Nathan.

Jo said...

I think you must be just a little bit insane.And perhaps masochistic. But awfully nice.

annerallen said...

The rain is pretty fierce. But welcome. We sure do need it.

Joanne Sher said...

Thank you. WOW. What an undertaking (and what a nice guy to do it!)

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Nathan,

Fantastic contest - as always, and some of the entries are amazingly good.

Just wondering, are you drinking yet or saving it all up for the last night?

Good luck.

Rachel said...

You're not reading these comments, are you? I can't imagine how you'd have the time.

But, just in case, thank you for being so generous to us. This was fun to enter.

Good luck reading! And remembering what you like!

Yamile said...

I'll certainly enter, one entry among hundreds andhundreds night have a chance. :-)

Natalie Whipple said...

Oh, the typo. I'm still cringing over that, even if it didn't matter in the end.

I can't wait to see the finalists this year! Serious bragging rights indeed.

Alessa Ellefson said...

I'm glad you're having so much fun. I was wondering how you would react to the overwhelming response to your contest :)

Ganbatte!

Katie said...

This is literally incredible! So fun that so many peeps are entering and you are brave enough to keep it open. hilarious!

I'm curious. Is this normal for you? How many entries were in your other two contests?

Is this the biggest one ever??

Nathan Bransford said...

katie-

The last contest had 1300+ entries, but it looks like this one is going to top that.

ChristaCarol said...

You, my good sir, are a reading fiend. Not sure how you do it...but then again, I'm a mom of two youngun's and go to school, so maybe I AM sure how you do it but am still put to shame.

friend and follower said...

Once again, o sage Nathan, you send me on a spiritual journey of the parts of speech. This lesson (a deep one):the paragraph.

Ash. Elizabeth said...

I think you're going to break some sort of comment record in the blogging world from the contest! I've never seen so many entries on a blog before. . .blows my mind!

Tammy said...

Although I think you're a raving lunatic for doing this, I so heart you! :) Oh, yeah, I did enter, by the way! lol

Katie said...

Maybe blogger will break due to comment overload. *giggles

Sara J. Henry said...

Bet you didn't know you had to define paragraph.

T. Anne said...

I'm glad you're unfazed! I've already stumbled across several exceptional entries. You have an amazingly talented readership.

Mira said...

Nathan - it's totally fun to see how much fun you're having. :)

Thanks for doing this - it's very generous and fun for everyone. :)

Maya / מיה said...

If an author posts an entry, spots a typo, reposts and then DELETES the previous posting, the author doesn't give you deja vu, right?

Hypothetically speaking.

Those four "deleted posts" before my entry are from my evil twin.

(On behalf of the evil twin, sorry!)

Thanks for running this contest! Nothing helps me critically examine my writing like the three seconds after I click "submit." :)

Kate said...

Heard that! It's raining CATS AND DOGS up here in Sonoma. Fall is officially here! Pass the Prozac.

Haha....just kidding.

the Lola Letters said...

Yay! This is so much fun! I have only read the first HUNDRED or so entries thus far and my head is already swimming. I guess you've built up some serious stamina over the years, eh?

Love it.

Anonymous said...

First paragraphs that are in the first person aren't going to get penalized as being dialogue, right?

Haha, and I guess I shouldn't be posting here. Like you don't already have enough comments to read ;)

Reesha said...

Hahaha. I love your attitude Nathan.

Dara said...

I'm amazed you can read all of those without your eyes falling out :P

Nathan Bransford said...

maya-

Yes, if you're able to delete them before reposting it's okay. But ones left as anon can't be deleted by the author so I opted for a blanket rule to avoid confusion.

Erasmus said...

Querido Nathan,

Good luck finding the needle on Haystack Planet! Ay, ay, ay!

Josin L. McQuein said...

Admit it, Nathan. You got a new intern and this is a hazing ritual to see how long the poor guy can last before running out of the room with his hair on fire. :-P

Other Lisa said...

I would totally be cowering in that bunker by now.

Some great entries though!

Jacque said...

I enjoyed reading the paragraphs too. Well, some of them. I am no Nathan. But I thought most of them were good (or at least better than mine which may not be saying much). So my question is, are they typical for the slush pile or are NB readers just the cream of the crop?

Thanks for hosting the contest. It's been fun. :)

Hobert said...

Nathan has a USB port built into the base of his skull. San Fran is always so technologically cutting edge.

Good luck!

Becca Cooper said...

Hehe. I had to deal with SNOW this morning.

Terry said...

Super contest, so much fun!

You are a great guy to do this.

Bane of Anubis said...

I put the over/under at 1500, yesterday, but I'm thinking I should have set it closer to 2k :)

The Rejectionist said...

We are happy to help with the slush. Er, inbox. You, sir, are a SOLDIER OF AWESOME.

Charlie said...

I'm laughing at Josin's comment.

It's probably true.

Susan Quinn said...

Is there a pool going on how many entries you'll get?

I'm guessing 2x on last year, so 2728!

Anita Saxena said...

It's raining here in Alabama too!
Thank you so much for hosting this oh so fun event. I've really enjoyed reading the entries. Granted, I don't think I'll get to read ALL OF THEM. I'll leave that to you. =)

Aimee States said...

But I like my non-paragraph concoction! Mostly.

Marsha Sigman said...

My head started hurting after reading the first 200...then when I refreshed there had been an additional 200 that had posted in the time it took me to read them.

Scary.

Ello said...

Dude - you are amazing. INsane, but amazing.

I wish you luck reading. I posted in at 1176. Hopefully you won't be hating life so much that you hate everything that comes after 500.

Good luck!

Christa said...

Natha, I had to laugh at the "welcome to my world" comment. I also noticed the rather broad range of paragraph definitions and chalked it up to a perfect example of what you and other agents complain about.

I have no idea how on earth you can pick one winner...based on a paragraph! I found several that I felt tied after reading only a few pages of comments. And you have to choose from over a thousand...my head is swimming just thinking about it.

I've also realized I could never be an agent. I don't think I could say 'no' when I should.

DG said...

Thanks Nathan for such an interesting post and contest. Win, place or show, I've learned so much from reading all the comments. Really interesting to see what people are passionate about.

I wonder how many times entrants have gone back to re-read their own comment (paragraph entry). I'm way too embarrassed to tell you how many times I've done it.

Charlotte said...

You are one brave Nathan!

Marilyn Peake said...

Your enthusiasm is contagious, Nathan! You’re wonderful for running this contest with so much enthusiasm!

I found this contest inspiring. Kept waking up all last night with the idea that I needed to write the beginning to a short story about Africa. The words to the first paragraph kept coming into my head. I kept thinking that I needed to get up, see the words on the computer, edit; but I kept drifting off to sleep, worried that I’d forget the story. Woke up this morning, pounded out a new flash fiction piece set in Africa that I may expand into a longer piece. Thanks for running such an inspiring contest!

For anyone who wants to read the first paragraph to my Africa story (Nathan’s eyes probably glazed over the minute I said the words "first paragraph"):

The sun is angry now. It punctures the sky: bloodred bullet hole through pale skin. Droplets spatter upon mountains. In the heavens, there is a blind eye.

Lydia Sharp said...

I already have a few favorites picked out from this one. One of my faves from the last one ended up as a finalist, but didn't win. I'm curious to see how my choices rank this time around.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

You're really something else, you know that?

Marilyn Peake said...

DG –

I did that, too. LOL. Didn't realize others might be doing the same thing. It was driving me nuts. I kept thinking: I gotta write another first paragraph, and another. But then told myself we could only enter once anyway and I had already done that, so I settled on writing a few paragraphs in a story about a woman and child fleeing a militia in Africa.

kdorsey26@gmail.com said...

I keep looking at mine, too, DG! And all I can think is: If I HAD to create a dialogue paragraph concoction, did it have to be an awkard dialogue paragarph concotion? I'm dying to change just one word, but I'll live. :D

NiceKnapsackPansy said...

I have to say there are a couple paragraphs in the contest that I would love to know more about. There's some serious fun floating around this here web page....

K Hoss said...

Just had to add my .02 cents.

Thanks Nathan, this is great. Whether I win or not really doesn't matter, (well, it does), just submitting an entry was fun.

Hope you don't burn out before you get through them all.

(It's been raining here in North Texas for the past 4 days! We may get to see some sunshine by late Thursday. Talk about saturated!)

lora96 said...

I have loved reading the paragraph entries.

And, yeah, I noticed some really LOOOONNNGGGG entries that would not meet my elementary school grammar book definition of a traditional paragraph.

But I woulda tried the same thing if I thought I could get away with it! I don't blame them a bit...I'm a teacher and I can testify with authority that lots of very smart and talented people suck at following directions. :)

Becky who? said...

Why not start a people's choice comment thread?

Mary Danielson said...

Wow, I'm with Susan - this could double last year's total, for sure. You're a total superstar for doing this, Nathan. Thanks!

jjdebenedictis said...

We've already blown well past 1,000 entries, and... I am unfazed!

Just start crying now. We know you want to.

Leigh Lyons said...

Are you kidding? We need the rain! I was so happy to see the Bay Area was going to be hit with a major storm. We've been needing it.

Cheryl said...

Nathan,

How does one prepare themselves for so much scrolling? I had to give up by post 582. Now I fear the scroll control on my mouse and my index finger will never be the same again. :)

Nathan Bransford said...

cheryl-

No doubt!!

Rain = love

Rain + wind = soggy

But we need it.

Nathan Bransford said...

Oops, that was meant for Leigh!

Cheryl said...

For one bright shining moment, I felt the love. And now.... not so much. :(



LOL

Anonymous said...

soggy paragraphing

Alexis Fleming said...

Nathan, thanks for hosting this contest.

You want to borrow my glasses? lol Because I think you're going to need some help before you get through all the entries. Totally awesome! My hat's off to you.

Mira said...

Marilyn, I love that paragraph.

This is fun. I looked at my old stuff and didn't like any of it. So, I wrote something new - still working on it.

And I'm weird, but I love the rain. Nice and cozy. But I do have a car - that definitely helps. I don't envy those on public transport. If you need a ride anywhere, Nathan, give me a shout out. Really. I'll only pitch you 15-20 times. It's not fair to do more than that if you're trapped in a car.

One last comment - where are all these people in the regular threads? I really wish some of the lurkers would post more regularly.

Amber Tidd Murphy said...

Is flattery allowed? If so, um, you have really pretty eyes, Nathan! If not, your eyes are just a'ight. :)

Lucinda said...

Nathan,

While at work today, I started thinking about this contest and thought maybe we had to officially join something, like the google blog thingie to be officially entered.

I don't have one yet, but would be williing if it is required to enter. This is the only blog I lurk around.

I have spent hours reading the paragraphs. They are amazing in many ways, both directions.

Your job is no easy task.

Scott said...

Looking through the entries, I found a few I really liked. I also found it highly unnecessary to read every word of every one. Most barely got as far as a full sentence. I bet any agent worth his weight in stickies can breeze through 1k in less than hour. Eh, Nathan?

Not that I'm trying to belittle the effort, which is still fun and gracious to a fault. ;^)

Anonymous said...

Scott, I find it interesting that many books, both best-selling and literary, don't have great beginnings. Many books start out just so-so and build.

DebraLSchubert said...

Man, talk about fierce competition!!! Thanks for doing this, Nathan. It's fun reading the entries. (Even the "strings of dialogue, poetry, multiple paragraphs, and other non-paragraph concoctions!")

Kat Sheridan said...

Great contest, Nathan. You certainly are a glutton for punishment (which is kinda endearing). I've already found a couple of entries that are intriguing, well-written, KNOW WHAT A PARAGRAH IS, etc. But I'm with Scott. A lot, I never made it past the first sentence. A writing group I'm in is already playing "are we as good as an agent", making guesses on which ones final. Others, we just want to gather up, offer help, and teach them that before you can break the rules, you need to learn to FOLLOW THE RULES!!! LOL!

You needed better rules. We did something similar to this in the wrting group, with a stipulation that the paragraph be no more than 99 words. Really forces you to focus and choose your best words.

Good luck to all the entrants!

Arik Durfee said...

Sarah W said...

"How do I feel about my
mother?"

Just had to say that I loved this one. Such a great first sentence! Nice, Sarah.

Linguista said...

I've been reading the paragraphs, and to my untrained eye, there are quite a few good ones. I wouldn't want to be in your shoes! There's a lot of talent out there. Agents have it hard!

Scott said...

Anon @ 3:39 PM:

I agree. My comment wasn't so much about which paragraphs blew my socks off, nor was it meant to be overly critical in terms of the quality I'm seeing, but this is a contest and even a novice like me can tell where the bar is being set and which fall below it and which push it higher.

What I really like about this contest and why I'm very grateful to Nathan for hosting it is how much one can learn about the craft by sampling hundreds of short entries by different authors. So few are alike, but each finds its level in this very special context.

I'm convinced MBA programs should make everyone act as an agent for a significant portion of the curriculum. It's like using another part of the brain––the kind that gets you published.

Scott said...

Oh, and well said, Kat Sheridan. :^)

ryan field said...

Wow. I read through a few and liked them. So many are neat and tight. But they all look good, and the effort that people put into this really shows.

Anonymous said...

Kat and Scott, many recently published books don't have great opening paragraphs. It's the book as a whole that rocks. How did those books get published? Obviously, more than the first sentence or paragraph was taken into account. A literary agency that allows the first 20 pages to be included with authors' queries recently got a 6-figure deal for a debut author. Wonder if it was the first sentence, paragraph, or later in the first 20 pages that caught their interest? Nathan's contest also rocks, but Scott's observation brings up some interesting points.

Mary Danielson said...

Kat, I love the idea of playing "are we as good as the agent." I may gather up my other writer friends and do the same. There are so many great paragraphs, so it will be intriguing to see which ones rise to the top.

Marilyn Peake said...

I announced Nathan’s contest in one of my awesome writers’ groups tonight. With so many entries, I hope that’s OK, but Nathan did say, "We've already blown well past 1,000 entries, and... I am unfazed! Bring it! Bravado!" Just tryin’ to do my part to make this one of the biggest, baddest, most kick-ass contests ever ... although I think it already reached that point a long time ago. :)

A Paperback Writer said...

Have we not now created almost an entire BOOK made up entirely of first paragraphs?
All we need now is a catchy title and a publisher.... After all, we HAVE the agent.

Seriously, Nathan, you're not REALLY going to read more than about 200 of the entries now, are you?

Elaine 'still writing' Smith said...

I read every entry up to about the first six hundred ... then my brain turned to mush.

Speaking of weather, which I guess you were in passing... I shouldn't, on 13th October, have been able to do playground duty in a short sleeved tee-shirt. That's just globally warming!

J.J. Bennett said...

Nathan, at first I thought you were crazy for this undertaking. Then I see all you have coming and and believe it can be very entertaining...in oh so many ways.

Michelle said...

You, sir, are either made of awesome or crazy.

Maybe both. :)

Missy said...

I've been playing "be an agent" too. But that's just because that's what I'm going to school to become and I wanted to dip my toes into the waters a bit.

I only read the first 200, but I have to say that I now understand that my (hopefully) future job will be more difficult than I once imagined. I liked so many of them!

Good luck to everyone who entered, and much, much luck to Nathan. It took me a few hours to read what I did, I can only imagine how long it will take you to read over 1400!

Dawn Anon said...

Well, thank you so much for hosting this contest!

I followed a link from the Murder by 4 blog. What a great day to discover your blog!

kathy said...

Lots of intriguing beginnings. It's interesting. I scanned through about 200 of the entries both at the beginning and end of the thread. Two or three jumped off the page, and I would love to read the rest of the story.

Victoria said...

HOLY DUCKSHIT! 1500 + entries!!!It won't go unsaid, but let me add my voice to the chorus of people thanking you and admiring you Nathan. What a Herculean task you've taken on.

What I have noticed are a lot of really excellent opening paragraphs. I mean... a lot of them are intimidatingly good. Many were good enough they had me wanting to read more... and at least one added an eerie overlay to my dreams last night.

Some quality work to wade through. I'm betting seeing what you come up with as finalists will be interesting and educational both.

Vic K

Sage said...

Someone mentioned having a post for us to comment on the entries, which I think would be awesome. However, I think it would boil down to the first 200 getting lots of comments, and the rest not getting very many. I read a lot of people saying "I only got through the first 200 comments before I had to stop."

thoughtful1 said...

Wow. I have had my eyes opened and I am awed by you and what you do. Thank you soooo much for this contest. It was with a sort of abandon that I posted a first paragraph. Well, I agree with whoever wrote, you're probably not reading these comments, how could you be? But I want to let you know how much fun this is. These paragraphs are incredible. I lost track of the ones I want to read more about. (grammar?) I have applied all my best skills to my critical reading but in the end it tends to be a gut thing. My eyes are starting to bleed. Thanks again.

Arik Durfee said...

Nathan, I'm hoping when you announce the finalists that you'll talk about the criteria you used. Like a lot of others here, I've been reading a bunch of these, and I have no idea how I'd narrow it down. I'm curious if, as an agent, you develop a subconscious (or conscious, I guess) criteria for judging writing--specific things that say to you, "This is good writing. I should represent this."

In other words, could you please reduce good writing down to a simple mathematical formula that I can then follow and thereby become rich and succesful as an author?

Linguista said...

You know, reading the first paragraphs has got me to thinking about the importance of the first paragraph and great first paragraphs/pages. When you buy a book without a reccomendation from a friend, you usually read the first page or so. That should mean a lot to a writer, you have to catch a reader on that very first page. I've been re-reading the classics lately.
Tolstoy's "Happy families are all alike." Dickens " It was the best of times" Catcher in the Rye's "... and all that David Copperfield kind of crap" and To Kill a Mockingbird "When he was nearly 13, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken..."

I don't think I had realised how much you could do with your opening lines... Back to the drawing board!

Lea McKee said...

this was an amazing idea, but i can't imagine ever putting myself through what you are going through, i feel for you Nathan!

I noticed a few people stated that their paragraphs were YA, i didn't see whether we were supposed to include that in the rules so i didn't, but i am proud to say i am a YA writing for YA. :)

Good luck Nathan, my heart goes out to you!

Amanda said...

I am going to echo all the other posters and just say -- wow! There is some awesome talent out there!

Literary Cowgirl said...

Some of these paragraphs have gripped me in a way that I will not be able to forget. So much can be said with so few words.

The paragraph that stuck with me the most (even 15+ years after first reading it) is the final one in "All Quiet on the Western Front". I knew it by heart after my first reading of the book.

Any chance of a last paragraphs contest, if you're eyes haven't melted into their sockets from this one?

Thanks for giving a venue to showcase all of this amazing talent.

Poisonguy said...

Hey dude, what were you, you know…like, I mean, man, you are totally and I mean totally…. Dude!

Andrew said...

I don't normally go in for the hand slapping, high-fiving, overt kind of congratulations (I am English - a nod is all you need) but, hey, anyone who undertakes a project this massive and this informative, well, thanks and good luck!

Couple of points that's actually 1 point, but from 2 angles.

Firstly, anon 3:39 is right. The first paragraph is probably the least fifth or sixth reason why a book is sold in a bookshop. Front runners will be:

- Hype
- Recommendation
- Knowledge of genre (kinda hype but generated by the buyer themselves)
- Title
- Back Cover Blurb
- Cover Art

It takes all these things to get the book in someones hands first.

Having said that an agent see's the book in all its naked glory (As does a publisher, with a little Agent hype swirled into the mix) without all the marketting ploys; you have a query letter then the MS is on its own. So while I am still a little skeptical as to the real importance of the first paragraph, I understand that this is waaaaay more important to an agent that any consumer.

But by the same token, a simple straightforward paragraph comp does run similar risks. For example,

....you get a first para that seems a little like hackneyed romance. It's written well enough but you feel it's old hat. You leave it. What you don't realise is that it's actually about 2 dragons falling in love in 1948 in the aftermath of the second world war after the Alliance forces have just prohibitted mating between nazi and aliied dragons....now without the backcover blurb, genre, book title, etc etc all that info gets missed; what at first seems an good but unimaginative beginning takes on a whole new context.

I'm not complaining....after all I entered within 2 nanoseconds (for the record my novel is NOT about the burgeoning love of a German dragon and a British dragon in the face of a unjust, but necessary global ruling) I'm just saying that while there's a first paragraph to catch the eye, there's also many other factors involved.

Anonymous said...

Isn't this contest just training us to first paragraphitis? Doesn't that do more harm to us as writers than good?

All publishable stories have publishable first paragraphs (from adequate to memorable), but it ain't so the other way around.

anotheranon said...

I agree with anon 3:39 too, but I always want to see what Nathan will pick and put them up against the ones I would have chosen.

It's fun to see what other people are writing, and there are those paragraphs that just smack you upside the head in that good way.

(I tend to go for the serious ones a little more, not the talky, chummy ones. There's hardly anyone in life that is really chummy, but in books it seems like MC always are, unaturally so.)

Yay Nathan!!!

Gina said...

Nathan -

just read your twitter that you´ve read 400 and the most common opening is dead body/ blood.

I´ve read 600 so far and have noticed that people running/ fleeing is also very popular.

And what´s with all the stuff set in Belgium???!!!


Word ver: curses!!! I´m not kidding.

Kat Sheridan said...

Andrew, (and others, here's my take on the importance of that first paragraph. Andrew, you mention stuff like dust jackets, and back cover blurbs, and hype, etc. All that stuff has to do with a *bookseller or customer* buying the work. Long before that, you have to convince an agent to take you on, and that person has to convince a publisher to do the same.

My take is that what we're seeing here is the same as a slushpile for an agent/editor. They'll have your query letter, so they'll know the premise of the story (because you studied the agent and know they want a one or two paragraph description of the MS as part of the query letter--another outstanding reason to know what the heck a paragraph looks like).

OK, so they made it through the query letter (imagine each of these entries ALSO has a query letter, so now you've doubled the amount to be read), so then the agent/editor turns to the actual MS. Honestly, if you can't hook them in three lines, are they really, truly going to wade through until page 20 (or however many pages you sent) before they find something that hooks them?

An agent or editor has a million things to do in a day besides reading the slushpile. Even the assistant assigned to reading the slushpile has other duties. I think that if you can't hook them (hook being the operative word) in the first paragraph,they'll never see the unfolding of that soaring prose that occurs on page 20. If your work really doesn't take off until page 20 (or the 5th paragraph, etc.) cut out everything before that.

JJ said...

Thank you so much for doing this! You are almost better than chocolate!

Scott said...

Again, to the anons who expressed concerns about the first paragraph not comprehensively representing the entire work: I agree. It's more the language, the sentence structure, and spark of voice that I'm responding to. Of course, if you can also whet the appetite with an interesting bit of narrative, that's even better.

In other words, your first paragraph may not indicate what's to come in terms of story, and that story may be very strong. But what I found so interesting was how, in this specific vacuum of entries, it didn't take long to discern which stood out.

I wouldn't despair if yours (or mine) isn't picked, of course. Chances are single paragraph novels won't be all the rage anytime soon. :^)

Jason said...

I think Arik Dufree asks a great question...what are the criteria for selecting finalists? I'd bet Nathan has a simple formula, but I'd like to hear what it is too.

For me, a good first paragraph would do BOTH of the following:

1.) Tell me something about the novel as a whole. I'd want to know a lot of about the storyline after reading the first paragraph.

2.) Leave me wanting more.

Good writing is just a given and so I don't include it in the criteria.

A paragraph can be well written, but if I have no idea what's going on, you've probably lost me. But if I know what's going on AND I care about it, that would take the paragraph to a whole new level in my mind.

Eden Glenn said...

Nathan, thanks for the peek into your world. I've read through quite a few of the contest entry posts. The one liners, short paragraphs, prose and (sigh) short stories.

Your world is a funny, scary, exciting place.

OMG It's like herding cats in your world! Does anyone follow directions?

Then I saw the big picture. Panning for gold. If you swirl the sluice through the water just right. . . the nuggets will appear. Then, you just have to pick them up, one by one.

Brilliant contest!

Jason said...

Scott, I just read you latest entry...I think we're on the same page.

pjblair said...

Nathan,
How about if you have allow people to comment on a shortlist of say, 20, once you whittle the submissions down?

anotheranon (again) said...

I'm amused by the paragraphs that start with such flair, such detail and atmosphere that you think, wow, this is beautiful. Then you get to the end and you still don't know who the main character is (man, woman, boy, girl, dog?), what the setting is, or what in the bloody hell is happening.

I used to write "beautiful" like that. One day I realized it made no sense. Then I stopped. If only I had Nathan's First Paragraph contest back then, I'd have saved myself a world of hurt. Yay for progress! And THAT is what is great about this contest. Forget winning or losing, you get to pay attention and LEARN something!

Mira said...

You know, I haven't even posted mine yet, but I do wish people wouldn't post critiques here.

There is a contest going on.

I would wish people would save the critiques for after the judging.

anotheranon said...

Mira -- (was your comment directed at me? i don't know) But my opinion was just an overall observation, not a critique of any one entry. You have to admit that the big bonus of reading lots of first paragraphs is that you are able to break some of them down into what you do or don't like. Then, you can use that as a barometer to retool your own paragraph or way of writing. Of course people should enter whatever type of first paragraph they want. I look forward to your entry.

Brad said...

I just want to say how much i have enjoyed reading everyone's stories.

I never thought that people could be so varied and so brilliant.

Passionate too! Makes me want to be a writer.
Agent blogs don't usually do that to me.

Susan Quinn said...

Nathan,

I do hope when you post your finalists (and of course the winner) that you will give some insight as to what your thinking was when you read them. I agree with several of the comments below about the difference between drawing in agents, and attracting readers.

Because I like classifying things, I've seen three types of opening paragraphs (not in the entries, but in the books that I like to read):

1) The Slow open - where we are setting mood, world building or otherwise placing the reader in the context of the story, but no overt mention of the real plot.
2) The BAM! open - where we're thrown into the plot conflict immediately - dead body on the floor, turmoil raging all around, etc.
3) The Existential open - where we are told, often in the protaganists voice, the essential theme of the story, or perhaps the conflict. My favorite one of these comes from Haddix's Shadow Children series: "Sometimes he whispered his real name in the dark, in the middle of the night."

Last year's winner, the delightful Ms. Whipple and Relax, I'm a Ninja , seems like an Existential open.

So, I'm wondering if agents (or let's just say YOU) have a preference for (or against) a type of open?

Brad said...

I know everyone says that reading the slush pile is sooo crazy bad.

But i secretly really would love to be a slush pile reader.

Love it
Love it
Love it

like in a Indiana Jones kinda way.

Mira said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul Neuhardt said...

Nathan,

I know the odds are against me for a win, and for two good reasons which both earn you my thanks.

First, there are so many entries that the numbers are against me. Lucky for me, I get to see so many other writer's work that I am learning a great deal as I read.

Second, it is clear that there are many paragraphs better than mine. Again, lucky me gets to learn from those paragraphs to make mine even better.

Thanks not only for the contest but for the educational opportunity. It's going to make me a better writer.

Mira said...

Let me take something out there...

otheranon - well, it was alittle directed toward you, since I have a chatty MC (always, that's my voice) and plan to post that paragraph - well, when I've finished it.

So, I had a moment of "gasp", oh no, now Nathan won't like my paragraph because it's chatty.

But it's not just you - I think it's almost irresitible to start commenting, and I know that Nathan can make up his own mind, but - you know, there is a contest going on. Can't we just wait until Friday for critique?

Maybe I'm wrong about that, but that's how I feel....

Anonymous said...

Hate to be such a naysayer, but this strikes me as a rather pointless exercise.

So long as the para numero uno isn't terrible (and few that I have sampled here are) then who cares how stupendous it is? I can't recall being blown away by any first paras of any great books I've read. All it needs to be is good, simple as that.

Saying that this one particular one is "The Best" out of 2000 or so entries is completely, I dunno, I hate to say, but well, wrong. No such thing exists. Some may be objectively poor, others maybe better than others, others may stand out, but to say one or some few are "the best" is just pointless and silly.

Its just one person's opinion anyway, which seems to hint at the real purpose, which is to drive traffic to this blog and elevate this one's ego to a pedestal whilst basking in all the superlative gushing nonsense about how "insanely awesome" etc this one person is.

Because he can read and has an opinion?

sex scenes at starbucks said...

We should have a pool on how many entries there'll be.

I'm going for 2500.

Let's say about 100 words per.

Nathan gets to read two sizeble books worth of entries! It's doable, if you're SuperAgent!! :)

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:39 --

But he IS insanely awesome! Ha!

I've been repped by an agent that wouldn't even answer my own emails, about my own ms that she was supposedly trying to sell. What other agent out there pays attention to his own clients AND does fun stuff like this for others that he doesn't rep?

And I still think people are missing the point. Your odds of winning are 1900 to 1. The point is you get to read a bunch of paragraphs, pick your favorites, enter one if you want, and have fun.

Scott said...

Anon at 7:39, you make some interesting points. I suppose in the end, just like in publishing, all things being equal (and we need to get them that way to start) decisions are made with more than a little subjectivity. But a well-written opening paragraph––one with something special––can still be singled out. Several to review will no doubt lift us in the same way a few good tunes on the radio do.

I disagree about being unable to learn something. I learn a great deal by another's written expressions by comparing them to mine, i.e. Would I have chosen this word, or arranged this sentence in this way. These little editorial decisions go through my mind at rapid speed. What I like, I like. What Nathan likes, he likes. How close our lists are will teach me something, as well. You can always learn something. Always.

Jason, I hear ya.

AR Travis said...

I'm trying not to read these at work. I'm trying not to read these at work. I'm trying not to read these at work...aw darnnit...

Josh said...

Very confused. I've posted a paragraph in the contest comments twice now (and looked to confirm it was there), and each time I've gone back to check, my entry is nowhere to be found. Is it being deleted for some reason? Or is there some technical error on my end?

Ink said...

Anon 7:39,

It is a contest. For fun. And even, occasionally, enjoyment. And maybe people can learn something from seeing all those first paragraphs. I'm pretty sure Nathan (and the rest of us) know this is subjective and that the choices do not actually determine some sort of universal talent ranking handed down from on high.

You know, just fun. People enter, have a good time, someone wins a free book and critique, everyone chats about what they liked and why and then they go home and mull over what they might have learned and how they might apply it to their own writing.

Just my take.

Bryan Russell

Nathan Bransford said...

Lots of interesting discussion here! I'm withholding most of my thoughts as the contest is still going on, but let me just say that the purpose of this contest is certainly not to elevate the first paragraph, nor should it be taken as a sign that I ever make a decision about a manuscript off of just one paragraph. There are plenty of great books that have decidedly ho-hum first paragraphs and that doesn't make those books less great.

So yes - it's a first paragraph contest, but let's not treat first paragraphs as more important than they really are.

Mira said...

Lol.

Well, since Nathan just opened the discussion for critique, otheranon, I think you can totally ignore me.

Never mind. :)

s.w. vaughn said...

"Dear God," the literary agent mumbled, "it's a good thing they can't see my face while I'm typing this."

Ha! 1700 entries - is that the best you can do? Bring it, ya bunch of writers!

He shut his eyes tight. When he opened them again, none of the eleventy billion first paragraphs had managed to vanish into the ether.

What had he gotten himself into?

Eat your heart out, Miss Snark. I must be breaking some kind of record here. Boo-yah! Is there an award for this?

At least he'd never announced a deadline for determining a winner. He published today's blog post, shut the computer down and went to see if there was anything left to drink. All that night, a single thought taunted him from the dark corners of his mind.

Eenie meanie miney moe . . .

[Nathan, you are a brave man. Best of luck to you here. :-)]

Nathan Bransford said...

anon@4:39-

There have been millions of books published over the years and people still compile "top 100" lists. Is that pointless too?

Relax, have some fun, enjoy the contest. It's not like I'm killing puppies or something. It's just a contest, and whoever said contests aren't subjective? Did the Booker judges have a formula that I don't know about?

Nathan Bransford said...

Oops, that should have said anon@7:39

Mary Danielson said...

Josh - I remembered seeing one by you in the comments this morning, so I checked again and it's there! (Somewhere on the the 1400-1600 page.) When you submitted them, did you then click over in the comments to the newest ones? If not, just the first 200 show up.

Anonymous said...

I don't disagree with all aspects of the exercise, Nathan, certainly.

I guess I have always seen the western psyche's penchant for "ranking" everything as illogical whether it be top 10 books of all time, or the sexiest man in America, or the greatest rock song of all time, etc etc etc. It has always struck me as pointless. There are "greats", yes, but no singular "greatest" across all realms since the individual things can only be judged within their own context, not across decades, or in this case, across 2000 different works.

Its a western phenomenon, and more so an American one. It has to do with a cultural emphasis on the individual,competitiveness, and a need for a sense of hierarchy to make things more comfortably ordered in our simple finite minds. The American psyche just can't tolerate there not being a singular greatest anything.

There is certainly no problem with competitiveness except where we impose competition where there is none. Such an imposition is when the level of subjectivity is so great that the outcome becomes so individualized that its arbitrary, hence - pointless.

Ink said...

It's not pointless... you win free stuff!

I'm totally for free stuff. I mean, you should see my bank acount. I'm all about the free.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

Not sure I follow. Contests and sports are universal. Is it just Americans who figure out who the winner is? Does everyone else in the world just call it a tie?

Ink said...

Though, for what it's worth, I do sort of agree that western culture is a little obsessed with winning and ranking... I just don't see it applying much to a fun contest which everyone knows is subjective.

Whatever finalists Nathan picks, everyone else will have their own favourites, their own list to champion. People will agree and disagree. That's part of the fun! Writing is subjective, and that's what makes the discussion interesting. If there were simply some formula, some objective measurement, then we would calculate and go "Oh, okay." And that would be it.

Just, um, more of my thoughts. Take 'em for what they're worth. I know, I know, the exchange rate is down, I'm sorry.

Anonymous said...

Nathan, Reread: "There is certainly no problem with competitiveness except where we impose competition where there is none."

I'm not speaking of football games here obviously.

Football game = competition with stringent objective criteria with an irrefutable (99.99% of time) outcome = no problemo

"sexiest man in America" = a competition based on total subjective criteria with a completely arbitrary outcome = pointless competition where there is none.

This first para thing falls in between, but 90% closer to the "sexiest man" side of the spectrum

Ink said...

Anon,

I struggle with that breakdown. I think this contest is very specific. He's offering a prize many of these people would love to have - Nathan's insight about their work. They're willing to compete for it. Nathan's willing to decide on a winner. Yes, his opinion is subjective, but an educated subjective. And that subjectiveness is clearly defined in the contest rules and all contestants are aware of it.

He's not universally determining the quality rankings for all people. And many of the people who enter or read will find something very useful from the experience.

Plus it's fun, which is a worthwhile end in its own right.

So I struggle with the whole pointless thing. 1800 writers have thought it worthwhile to participate. I think that says something.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

If you think sports don't involve subjectivity I would like to point you Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals between the Sacramento Kings and the Los Angeles Lakers where the officials were watching a completely different game than the rest of the world.

Or any soccer game.

Just about every type of contest and sport is a mix of objectivity and subjectivity.

Nathan Bransford said...

Oh - and I do understand what you're saying and agree there's a spectrum, I just think sports are much more than 0.1% subjective, and this contest is more than 0.1% objective.

Anonymous said...

Nathan, once again, reread what I wrote, because I actually I this comp. is 90% totally subjective, not 0.1% objective.

(You are likely suffering from reading overload, which increases subjectivity ironically.)

And my football number is accurate as well. If you have 100 football games, the outcome of 99+ will not be disputed.

Nathan Bransford said...

I meant to change that to 10%, but I'm multitasking, and yeah, overload!

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

Oh, and as for football, this is the last I'll say about it but the outcome is in doubt a lot more than .1% of the time. That would mean that only one out of one thousand football games are disputed by a bad call, and it happens far more regularly than that. Just ask Ed Hochuli. Not to mention all of the in-game calls that don't necessarily directly decide to the final outcome but are momentum killers and otherwise change the course of the game.

There's a reason that complaining about the refs is a national pastime.

Anonymous said...

We're splitting hairs here a bit, who knows what the exact number is, but looking at ALL football games played, its 1 out of 1000, maybe 2, 3, or even 5, but still less than 1%.

In totality, that makes the likelihood of any given game overwhelming objective, not subjective.

Maggie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maggie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nathan Bransford said...

Nothing has been deleted. Please enter in the contest thread. Only the first 200 comments will appear when you click on the contest post, you may need to click "newest" to view your entry.

Nathan Bransford said...

Maggie, your post is here.

Maggie said...

Thanks, and sorry for my mistake, Nathan. Duh.

Anonymous said...

Anon 946 -

You're trying to win this debate and I bet you think you have, although that win is subjective. Continue by all means to try and win something that is not possible to win - but again, by all means, go for it. I like a good vigorous debate.

jenniferwilke said...

Edwin flew toward the sun, his heart racing, his yell echoing against the shale cliffs of Mirror Lake. Starlings took wing. Maybe this time he would fly forever. His thrill of fear was the price of freedom, but at the rope's highest arc, the Earth made him let go. He plunged into drenching darkness. The only sound was the pounding of a heart. His arms and legs churned the deepening water until he was released and began to ascend. His lungs demanded life. He raced back toward the world that held its breath waiting for him.

Anonymous said...

Jenniferwilkie -

I think you need to enter your paragraph on the other thread; Nathan might not catch this here.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon is correct.

Susan Quinn said...

Ink -
I love your attitude! Just one more thing to like about our neighbors to the North . . . they know just how serious to take things . . .

Ink said...

Humour is far more warming than seriousness. I mean, what happened to October? It got hit on the head and woke up as November. Very discouraging. Blunt force trauma is no fun.

Mira said...

Yeah, you're right, Ink. I'm feeling tense myself - which I usually don't during Nathan's contests. Usually, I just get into the fun, and root people on, and am not that invested in the results.......

I'm not sure why this feels more....weighty. Maybe it's just that it's been awhile since Nathan had a contest...or maybe I decided the stakes were high - like all the other people who won this got published or are his clients, etc., etc.

Well, this isn't the only way to be published. It's not do or die here. :)

So, thanks for the reminder - :)

florkincaid said...

"If you spot an error after posting: please do not re-post. I go through the entries sequentially and the repeated deja vu repeated deja vu from reading the same entry only slightly different makes my head spin."

Sorry, Nathan! I was probably one of those people. I didn't realize you'd already begun reading the entries when I deleted and reposted.

The numbers daunt me. You are braver than I.

Carolyn B said...

Thank you for doing this! I've been trying to drop in and read a few throughout the day. Makes me humble (or insecure?) to see how much competition there is out there.

Matera the Mad said...

lolz
Minez iz a reel parrygraf.

wendy said...

Oh, and I meant to say thanks for organising this, Nathan, and for making it so much fun.

And, also, some really whizz bang paragraphs have been entered. Competition is feisty.

France or bust said...

Vote for Maya.

Related Posts with Thumbnails