Nathan Bransford, Author

Monday, January 31, 2011

SUFPC Word Cloud!!

I have read all 1500+ entries! I think I pulled a paragraph muscle in the process, but I have decided on the finalists. All shall be revealed tomorrow.

In the meantime, a contest tradition, the Stupendously Ultimate Word Cloud courtesy of the good folks at Wordle!!

And before I announce the finalists, now's your chance to single out some of your favorites. For those of you who braved the multitudes of paragraphs, which ones were your favorites and why?


Phil said...

Nathan: did you read through every paragraph, or did you develop the ability to decide 'no' after reading the first sentence if it was uninteresting enough and jump immediately to the next? Just curious!

Mike Koch - Protect The Risen said...

Hey Phil, that is a great question. I for one, since the contest did not hinge on my opinion, did just that.

Sierra McConnell said...

I honestly couldn't pick favorites out of so many without printing them out and going through a similar process to what you've done.

However, the ones I liked, I think, were the ones who weren't trying to be something they weren't. I liked the ones that were simple and to the point. The ones that stood out as they were, and that didn't have the brushings of "HEY LOOK AT ME". They were beautiful, they were there, and they made me want to read them.

The Lemonade Stand said...

congrats on finishing all those entries! That is some massive dedication you have. I am still in the hundreds and I have NO idea how you can pick. Thanks for the contest and early congrats to the finalists.

aspiring_x said...

I wonder why "eyes" seems to show up in every wordle...

Martin Rose said...

I definitely couldn't read through each and every paragraph. You feel it when something grabs you and makes you want to keep reading. Though I haven't read them all, I've gone through several hundred and some that stood out for me written by:
Tchann, Ria, Ken Lindsey, JoshH, Michelle Mason, Summer Leigh.
I prefer the subtle, the quiet, prose that takes its time to set up a complex story.

I'm curious to know if as many people will take the time to read these entries as took the time to enter the contest -- it would reveal much about the nature of our passions.

Red Boot Pearl said...

I'm still reading but my fav's so far are by S. Kyle Davis and Raven Blackmane...

I got kind of sick of all the blood, guts, killing etc.

After reading so many 'shocking' things they tended to blend.

Hillsy said...

I've got nothing but praise and admiration for anyone who can go through 1500+ paragraphs and even begin to catagorise them.

I Couldn't. My concentration span is about 1400 queries too short.

I'd be like an alcoholic who had to judge a "nicest beer bottle label contest" before being allowed a drink. After the first hour you'd be like "Nothing is going to beat that!" just to stop the torment.

Word Verification - amessup: honestly I'm not kidding

Caroline said...

I only found time to read a few hundred, but I decided that, for me, a first paragraph is like a pickup line. I don't want someone to leap out of the bushes. I don't want someone to say something that sounds canned, insincerely florid, or unoriginal. It's fun when they have a good sense of humor. But, mostly, I like someone who can just sit down and converse in mellow, intelligent, welcoming fashion.

That's true for any genre -- fantasy, sci fi, horror. I like a slightly human intro before trying to get to know the world better.

Stephanie McGee said...

I sadly did not get to read through any of the entries. Life got too insane. But I'll be interested to see the finalists.

Mr. D said...

Anyone who can read 1500 disconnected paragraphs, let alone make a discriminating judgment on each one, definitely qualifies to agent!

Jordan McCollum said...

I'm with Hillsy. I was really impressed with so many of the early entries I almost didn't bother entering. But then, hey, I only lost out on the three seconds it took to cut and past my paragraph.

I find it really interesting that "man" is so much bigger than "woman" (it took some searching even to find "woman"). Even "mother" was bigger than woman. (Enter Freud.)

Marlene Nash-McKay said...

Nathan: congratulations on getting through all of them and still being able to think straight let alone write coherent sentences of your own. You are the better person.

kiki said...

Thanks for reading all 1500+. It's so great that you would do something like that when you don't have to.

Durango Writer said...

I read through at least two-thirds. Like Mike Koch, I relied on the first sentence to hook me (or not). The entries that appealed most to me were brief. They used few words to say so much. They grabbed me in my gut and twisted it.
Amy Saia
Wry Wryter
Bethany Brengan

My favorite was Samantha. "Starts with scissors." The act of removing all sharp and dangerous objects says so much more than if the writer described what was wrong with the boy.

As a side note: thanks to the writers who submitted true first paragraphs instead of gobs of text running together.

Leah Petersen said...

I read scattered pages throughout, maybe 10 so far. After a while, I did start skipping if the first sentence didn't grab me.

And I skipped completely those that were clearly more than one para.

I didn't compile a list of those I liked best. Wish I had now...

Anonymous said...

Ohhhh, Thank you for the Word Cloud. I was so hoping you wouldn't forget that. It is one of my favorite parts of your contests.

Kevin said...

I'm going to preface my comment by saying that I am not a YA fan, which seems to validate the adage of "knowing your market and targeting the right agent." I'm sure there are a lot of entries that would pass muster, just not for me.

Otherwise, two entries jumped out at me. One I found again, the other I couldn't so I'll offer my apologies here for not giving due credit.

First: Carrie Keyes
A conflicted San Diego woman who is frying bacon in wine-stained pajamas and contemplating premature deaths of jaguars in American zoos can hardly be expected to react well when the phone rings for the first time in days with disturbing news.

Unusual and interesting. I am no expert, but Carrie, if you are reading this, snip a few adjectives and you will have a killer paragraph..and cut the "for the first time in days."
Again, just one person's opinion.

The other one I couldn't find this morning so I can't quote verbatim. But someone had commented on it earlier. Something about a mother who arranges a search party- herself and a bottle of whiskey.
MARVELOUS imagery and one that shows a command of the language. Well done.

Lastly, I want to thank you, Nathan, for this exercise. I got more out of this than a shelf full of how-to books.
I developed my own version of "I can name that tune" by reading through these entries.
I can only add, sir, that I have a new and healthy understanding of what it takes to snag an agent.

Two. Wow. Nothing against all who entered. This is a subjective business. I offer congratulations to all who dared, and encouragement for your future endeavors.

S. Kyle Davis said...

Thanks, Red Boot Pearl! Glad you liked it.

Jordan, could it be that there were more female than male MCs? I didn't read them all, and can't remember from what I did read, but it seems possible. If so, then "woman" would be featured less than "man" anyway.

All in all, there were a quite a few very strong starts. I think the variety of intro approaches was as large as the variety of tastes in openings we're seeing in these comments. Some like quiet openings, some like gripping, voice-filled ones. Overall, the concensus so far, though, is that people don't like overly-obvious "attention getters." If I started the book with "BANANA!" in all caps, but the rest of the scene/book had absolutely nothing to do with bananas, this reads as a stunt.

Be attention-grabbing without looking like you're attention-grabbing.


Sean said...

Wow, that's amazing, Nathan. You probably didn't even have time to watch any of that "Kourtney & Kim Take New York" marathon over the weekend on E!. Maybe you should do this more often... ;)

There were a lot of really great entries and I knew mine was doomed from the start, but thank you for the education!

Henri said...

Thanks for offering these contests as often as you do. I will be interested to see what you come up with, especially after having read several dozen of the entries.

Chuck H. said...

I can't honestly say I "read" all 1500+ entries, but I did skim them and, though I can't honestly say I found any favorites, there were many, many well written paragraphs. Some things I noticed were:

A. Lots of people were dead and still talking.

B. Lots of people were waking up in strange places (something I used to do when I was in service, single and still drinking).

C. An unusually large number of people who identified themselves with full (three part) names.

I could go on, but I'm late for my medication.

WV: gongslyo - a new Chuck Barris game show?

Liz Heinecke said...

Like, I don't know. I'm, like, so surprised the most-used word was "like." It's, like, insane.

John Jack said...

Like one just back time eyes, most prevalent words for this year's word cloud, and last year's.

Like was used a lot for similes, adjective usage, though also verb, noun, preposition, adverb, and conjunction usage. Eyes are expressive and easily the most noticeable and frequent nonverbal communication medium.
Just, frequent both adverb and adjective usage.
OneMost frequently adjective usage, also noun usage.
Back, no standout usage of noun, adverb, adjective, or verb usage.
Time, same same, no standout usage of noun, verb, or adjective usage.

Like one time back, just eyes replying.

Yat-Yee said...

Caroline: "I don't want someone to leap out of a bush." Love it!

I couldn't get through all the entries, and I wasn't even trying to analyze anything. I was simply going with a like/don't like lens.

Nathan, it must feel good to know that your agent muscles are still in shape.

Caroline said...

@Liz - Twas a simile-rich competition this year.

Matthew Rush said...

I did not read any of them, I hate to have to admit. Only because I didn't have time. Hell, I barely had time to write and submit my own, which is probably why it stank so badly.

Anonymous said...

I didn't have any favourites- they all just blended together for me. Anyone who can read so many has the amazing, brilliant, hard to find talent that is perfect for... being an agent! Good luck in your pefect job! (Seriously though- 1500 entries... that is quite a lot...)

Stephanie Garber said...

I don't know how many entries I read... I'm sure it wasn't that many, but the one that stood out to me the most was near the beginning.

I loved Juliana Brandt's paragraph about the poisoned soup!

Anonymous said...

There was a really good entry from someone whose name I have forgotton- but I remember their paragraph. It was about a boy and his invisible friend and I find it really suprising that I still remember it.

Becca said...

I would brave the first paragraphs, but I have a headache, and I'm babysitting, so I'll have to pass for now. Those two combined made me re-write "paragraphs" about seven times.

I'm just lucky I got my entry in. The snowstorm knocked out the power before I got my entry in, and it was out for most of the day, I had almost missed the deadline.

Liz Heinecke said...

Curiosity got the best of me. I used like, like one time. One once. And when I looked back, back, like once.

Anonymous said...

I read through most of them, but did start skimming if the voice didn't catch me right away.

I favored the short, direct, conversational entries that had a dash of wit.
Three towards the end of the competition (January 27th @ 9:00a.m.);
Bart Kelly, "Mar-ga-ret!..."
Amanda, "I blame everything on being short."
Georgina, "On my seventeenth birthday, I got drunk..."

Thanks, Nathan! Kara R.

Rondi Olson said...

In bed with kidney stones for most of last week, and slightly goofed out on pain medication, I was able to make it through all of the entries. There were so many good ones I decided I had to make it scientific. For me the SUFP had to have voice, hook, and show-not-tell. Most paragraphs told, that eliminated hundreds. Many had a strong,engaging voice. There were lots of great hooks. Only a handful had all three. One that stood out was Richard Mabry's. I loved it before I read who wrote it, saw it was him and wasn't surprised. Code Blue was great. FYI using my criteria I had to eliminate myself. My hook is evident in the first page but not the first paragraph. I guess there is a reason why some of us (like Richard) are published and some of us (like me) aren't. Back to the grindstone...

WinterOne said...

I read about fifty - getting through 1500 is absolutely amazing. I can't remember any that specifically stand out, but I definitely enjoy the simplistic paragraphs the best. Also, I really don't like first person, haha.

Rebecca Stroud said...

Ditto on the "poisoned soup" paragraph. There was also one about rednecks in Wisconsin (I think that was the state) which I liked a lot. Many were way too long to be considered a "first paragraph" so those I totally skipped over.

And, big surprise, I liked mine...:-)

Magdalena Munro said...

Hey Everyone.....Let's show our gratitude to Nathan for being so awesome by committing to purchase Jacob Wonderbar! Do it! Today!

While there is no way in hell I'll win (or even be a 1000th runner up), it is still such great fun to participate in these contests. These little events connect us to one another in a way that FB can't touch.

Remilda Graystone said...

I read as many of them as I could, but not in order. I can't name all the ones that stood out to me, but there were a lot that I thought were really good. Short and sweet did it for me.

You're superman, Nathan. I mean, reading that many paragraphs? Wow.

C Scott Morris said...

I am in awe.
I only made it through a few screens worth before giving up.
If I ever run into you in real life, I owe you a beer.

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

my eyes glossed over after about 50 entries. It didn't help that i was sleepy, but you get the idea.

I see "Like" is the number one word again this year. I'm proud to say i did not contribute to it (this time), or any of the other top 4-5 words.

Kaitlyne said...

I read a few hundred, but I read them on separate pages so I can't find the ones that really stood out again, though I can say there were three or four I'd really liked and read aloud to my boyfriend. Last year I actually pulled my favorites into a separate file, but I don't think any of them ended up being finalists and I was lazy this year. ;)

I also admit to skimming, though. I don't think it was generally being bored so much as seeing repetitive imagery or mediocre writing. It amazes me how the good ones just pop when you read that way, though.

JohnO said...

I forgot you were going to do a word cloud! I should have entered 600 paragraphs with the word "moist" in it just to skew the results. Ah well, something to shoot for next year, right?

shelldolb said...

I like many did not get the time to read them all. I also skimmed through several of them. I knew from the first line if this was a story that I would be interested in.

There were serveral that caught my attention and made me want on read on. I think this was a great contest and thank you for the opportunity to enter my own.

Rebecca T. said...

I too am amazed that you got through them all so fast. I read quite a few and wish I had noted the ones that I liked, because I'll never have time to go back through.

The ones that made me laugh were big for me. Also realized that I cringe when there are excessive adjectives. Something I've struggled with.

But a lot of really good stuff in there!

Also, love the wordle cloud. It's such an addictive site!

Kelli said...

I read several, but not nearly enough. I can't imagine trying to sort them out, too many different genres, lengths, ideas. Kudos to you for being able to handle that!

Sarah said...

I'd also like to chime in and say thank you! This is a massive undertaking and I really appreciate the time you put into it.

ddelano said...

Back when there were a measly 500 or so entries I planned to make a list of my favorites - but between my day job and my kids I just couldn't make it through all the entries!
I did note down on my initial list that I liked Lauren, Rebecca Hamilton, ann, kate, lillian rivera and Alysia. It is a very skewed list, because I only read the earlier entries - the rest I skimmed when I could.

I too like the openers that didn't sound like they were trying too hard. Lots of great writing out there - thanks Nathan, this has been a lot of fun!

Jason Black said...

You should have a follow-up contest to see who can write the best paragraph using ALL of the words in the word-cloud exactly once...

Tammy said...

Kudo's to Nathan. Thanks for the contest. To the entrants, my hats off...
I managed to read all the paragraphs. Wow. Lots of different genres in the mix. 11 stood out for me. I did write the authors name but not the reason why I liked the paragraph, curious to see if I've picked any of the finalist...

Leah Petersen said...

I hit a few more random pages and, wow, I really can't pick a favorite. Maybe I didn't hit on the magic one.

I don't think I could be "accurate," though. There were some that were probably beautiful or whatever. But all of my favorites were short, sharp, and either witty or somehow unexpected. I'm far too slanted toward my favorite genres.

abc said...

My favorites were ones that had a unique or interesting voices or characters or that folded me into the place and story. I like it when beginnings feel like beginnings rather than being startled or dropped into something so as to be hooked. I think you can hook and still bring your reader in without trying to startle and bang and jab.

(I'm writing on an empty stomach so I fear I'm not making much sense. Oh well).

Here is my long list of favorites:
MBee (hole in the sky!)
Martin Rose
Vinyl & Mono (made me laugh)
Shannon (I want to know what she did to ruin that woman's life)
Eric Laing
Steve Axelrod
February Grace (succinct, but voice is strong)
Jen P

So many were good!

Eleni Alexandraki said...

Wow, you got through 1500+? I only got through about 50! That's amazing! Thank you for holding this contest for the 4th year, even though you don't have to do it! You definitely have what it takes to be a literary agent.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I read most of the entries (probably up to around a thousand or so), and only one sticks out to me. Most people dealt with death, which became redundant after a while. I really believe that this person nailed the hook. I loved Rebecca's paragraph about the city of Surya being devoured by the ground. Even though it's in passive voice and I generally tend to dislike passive voice usage, this opening really grabbed me. It was short and sweet. I am actually a bit envious of this hook.

Personally, I started with dialogue which made it very difficult to submit into a paragraph contest. I think there's something to be said for opening with dialogue versus a full paragraph of text, but now I see from Rebecca's entry how effective a short paragraph of text can be.

As always, thanks for the learning experience Nathan. This contest is great.

Alexandra LC

D.G. Hudson said...

Reading all those paragraphs is a test in endurance. I wasn't able to read them all, and like some contests, the early birds (submissions) are the ones that are read by most.

I liked several of the paragraphs, but most seemed to be trying too hard to blast you with that hook, or splash you with the blood, etc. (perhaps a side effect of all the paranormal/thriller books out now?)

My preference is a good hook that doesn't slap you in the face, and a little info before you drop me in the action.

Anonymous said...

I really liked Kiersten's entry. It's really only one of the few that truly stood out. The first sentence to do with the burning hair kept me wanting to read more. Why is the girl burning her hair?

Just my thoughts. It said so much with so little.

Lucinda Bilya said...

Thank you, Nathan for hosting this contest.

Taking the time to read every paragraph is quite a chore, even with skimming over the “obviously too long for one paragraphs” and the adjective, adverb, saturated ones.

I started a list early on of the ones I wanted to continue reading.

Early this morning, I finished reading/skimming the last 400 entries that I didn’t complete last week. Then, I reviewed my list so I could narrow it down even more just so your Paragraph Muscle doesn’t cramp up with spasms.

Of all the ones I read, Juliana Brandt’s poisoned soup pulled me inside Henry’s mind even though this is not the type of reading I enjoy the most. This paragraph is simple and doesn’t go overboard, but just enough to make me want to know the outcome along with some back-story.

Helen S’s paragraph has a hint of ominous doom only a whisper away. I want to know what it was that's coming Miles Vincent’s direction. I am not too sure about the crickets being gone, however. This confuses me as to the time of day here.

Each time I read through the entries, I stopped when I read my entry. Although I am guilty of including more than the first hard-return paragraph, it always makes me want to read more. This has been one of my favorite books to edit and rewrite. (not just putting in a plug here, either, I think I am in love with the characters)

Leatherdykeuk submitted one that I really liked. His MC Eric Chambers made me feel his tired-of-all-this yawn. He got me to care already about the MC, not just the things he has to deal with. It is not burdened with too much description, either.

C Scott Morris – A drunk poet tripping over dead bodies in the middle of the night. I sense a character with a reason to drink, yet keeps a sense of humor about himself. I would like to read more about this character and the troubles he gets into.

Amy’s first sentence caught my interest about space, the final wasteland. I wonder what the pilot needed more, love?

Kim’s paragraph instills fear and curiosity in the same breath, but I tripped over the details and strange way of saying the little girl was five years old. Details slow the plot down, and if I have to read a sentence more than twice, it trips.

There are more that I enjoyed reading, but if I listed them all and what I thought about them, one of three possibilities would happen:
1. Eyes will roll back and cease reading.
2. Eyes will roll back and cease reading.
3. Eyes will roll back and cease reading.

Thanks again, Nathan. This exercise helps us see beyond writing and beyond even what an agent must endure. It has also helped us to understand the different tastes of agents. If I submitted my YA novel to an agent who is interested in romance, they wouldn’t read past my first hard-return mark.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Interesting that "like" is the most dominant word in that cloud. I'm guessing most of the entries included some sort of simile! "Eyes" and "time" also seem to be expected results. I didn't read through all the entries, but I saw a few that jumped out at me. I'm excited to see the finalists!

Elena Solodow said...

I have a comprehensive list of my "turn-offs" after reading all 1,515 here:

Biggest trends noted:

People waking up
People waking up tied to a chair or in other harrowing situations
"My father/mother/uncle always told me"
Leaving husbands/wives
Describing sunlight/wind (or rain, which I've mentioned)
Ghosts, ghosts, ghosts
People moving and arriving at their new house
First day back at school
People being called "crazy"
The main character has just murdered someone
Dreams (recurring or otherwise)
Pregnancy tests

abc said...

Forgot to note that I also quite liked Austin L. Church's "Peter Frampton ruined my life" paragraph.

And, Nathan, I vote you announce the finalists as Ron Swanson. And talk a lot about meat. Or Leslie Knope, which would also be cool.

Mira said...

Ooop Word Clouds. They are like, very fun. :)

I'm so impressed that you not only read them all, but made considered choices, Nathan. You are talented.

I skimmed through them - my favorites tend to be the ones with strong voice and wit that grab me quickly. That's only because that's the type of book I like to read. If I liked other types of books, I'm sure that other paragraphs would have been my favs.

And I really didn't see a single paragraph I didn't like!

Very much looking forward to the results. Good luck everyone!

D.G. Hudson said...

Suggestion to Nathan: next year (if you're doing this in 2012), perhaps offering a second prize to those who select the winners (such as a first page critique, talk to Nathan,etc.) would inspire more of us to read all the entries, even if we didn't post a paragraph. A little incentive of lesser value.

Just an idea. I'm one of those who needs a reason other than my own edification to read that many entries.

Good Luck to those in the running for the big prize!

Bonnie said...

I didn't read all entries, but Jen Barton's stuck in my head. I wonder what will happen to the plumpest baby.

Jenny said...

Still working my way through them, but I wanted to take a peek at what everyone else was thinking. (Ah, peer pressure.)

Way to go, Nathan! Can't wait to vote!

Rebecca said...

I am totally blushing, Alexandra LC. Thank you!

For my part, I did read many of the entries, though I never got around to making a list. I was the most drawn to the paragraphs that created an interesting atmosphere and demonstrated a confident, unique voice. I'm pleased to say there were a lot of them!

Deniselle said...

I have read maybe a couple of hundred. I was going to pin down my ten favorites or something, but it might prove impossible...

Some that stuck with me:
William and the rats in the cell. I loved the idea of some being evil, some being good, and the fact that the protagonist was so focused on them. I mean, it's rats. It's very mundane, but there's some nice POV of the protagonist in noticing them.

Patrick O'Donnell - I loved this whole passage, especially the phrase "the magical miracle of a normal day". There's something very intriguing about this; it describes mundane everyday activities, but they obviously aren't normal or taken for granted by the protagonists. I'd definitely read more.

Rick Fry and Hallucinating the Kid - I love the fact that it begins with him being declared insane, then he shows us his inner world and states that he prefers it to reality if it's not real. It felt original and true.

Mister Fweem - this begins with Amundsen and how the narrator feels he lied aobut something. It might feel random, but I loved it. It says a lot about the character and the way he relates to the world.

karenmkrueger: the memory of the mother telling the child a story on the porch. This was such a beautiful description, subtle yet poetic in some way. The feel I got from reading fairy tales as a child. beautiful.

Stacey - standing behind a door and wondering what will await on the other side. I liked how this was very subtle and gave very little away. It could go any way, and it was clearly withholding suspense, but it didn't feel like "I am keeping the readers in suspense", it felt like "character stopping at a door wondering what happens next". Very real.

Cynthia Armes and alcoholic Lucille's husband. There was something very touching about this. The addiction is clearly ruining the marriage, but the husband still loves his wife and wants to help her out, even if it is by enabling her. I loved his tenderness about her and his desperation.

Reesha said...

My favorite is from Jessica Oliveros. It presented the hook and the intrigue right away without giving away what the story is actually about. I wanted to read more based on the character, not just the plot.

Peggy said...

I enjoyed the chance to participate. I really do not care if I "win" or not. It gave e a chance to jump start my muse.

Thank you very much for that.

Deniselle said...

ninidee's discussion of how it is to have faith. It rang true, and I liked the tone of the paragraph a lot.

Phil and the kettle that began to sing. I liked that the sound was described as "thin and desperate". It's a nice little personification that tells us how the character may be feeling.

Cyndy Aleo's man who doesn't know who he is was intriguing. Whether he's changed personalities or just experiencing morning amnesia, it's a nice moment and I'd read on to find out what the problem is.

Kathryn Packer Roberts. For some reason, I got a strong sense that I want to know more about the narrator and Maidy. Is she sick, physically or mentally? Is she confined for some other reason? Who is Maidy and what is their relationship? I was so drawn in.

Eden and the drinking mothe'rs search party. It's been mentioned a few times, so I'm wondering if it's gonna place. The first sentence is really interesting, because "I was six and nowhere to be found" kinda switches POV right then and there. I loved that surprise.

Jessie Oliveros and the moment of standing on the bridge, wanting to go down. I loved how the character was built up there in little details, and the story alluded to but in a subtle way.

Helen S - here I particularly liked the last sentence: "But the prairie wind, something as constant as crickets on a warm night, was silent, gone." Beautiful and doing a lot with few words. The feel of the paragraph is peaceful and the character is not pushed in your face, but rather built up with the nature observations. This comes close to the Finnish narratives I've read.

Erik Smetana and the name Oliver. I like the description of how the name tastes - it's quite original and gives a view of the character in a strangely subtle way. Intriguing.

Lisa Michelle Castignetti - Blake is repulsive and awful but I'd like to know more about his relationship with the narrator and the narrator's mother. I think the moment is described with enough detail to make me care, but not so much you'd give it all away.

J Burk said...

I read the ones from the first day posted, but not the rest. I can't really say any one jumped out at me.

I will admit that it made me work for a couple of hours this weekend to change my opening paragraph since I'm going to the DFW Writer's Conf this month and hope to show my MS to a few agents.

Good luck, Nathan and thanks for the motivation.

Lucy said...

The mom who turns into a hamster when her kids get sick is my favorite. Loved the last sentence, probably because it's too true.

Aimee Bea said...

I liked the one about the poisoned soup too. But I was only able to read the first 300 or so.

Anonymous said...

I think, given the rate of reading burnout amongst us non(and-never-were-or-will-be)agents, that looking at 200 comments (or one column via blogger) at a time a day would yield more fresh-eyed views, as it seems many of the comments here admit they quit reading (understandably) after the first group.There is no way I can pick and comment from 1515 at one time. Anyone who can: wow!
(I also noticed, on the new "judges" of American Idol, that they picked everyone at first and then had to get more discriminating because it is HARD WORK being able to assess talent, let alone SO MUCH talent!

Heather said...

Super contest, and wow! 1500! I couldn't even get through all of these responses, much less the entries!

Carrie Keyes said...

Commentor Kevin, I am reading and you are absolutely right about my opening. Thank you for reaching out and offering your support and suggestions. Nathan, thank you for this opportunity! It's so fun to read these...

Deb said...

I came, I saw, I read all the entries. A lot of them were excellent. 27 of the entries stood out enough for me to make note of. I cut that number to my 15 favorites:

Samuel D. Gray
Henri "It sounded like a cannon shot..."
February Grace
Richard Mabry
Laura "Everyone lies on the first question..."
Sarah "The second married man..."
Lori "It was all fun and games..."
Ashley R. Graham
Miss Tammy
Margie "I'm pretty sure my mom..."
Jami Gold
Austin L. Church
Tess Black
Ant "All this business..."

So those are my favorites. Great job to everyone who entered!

Helen S said...

I read about 200 hundred in the middle (the middle always gets shorted). I was drawn to the short ones, Like Mimi's -- "Nicki's new daughter-in-law was a harlot." And Grazia R. Svokos one about kicking the laundry basket down the stairs. And Lauren's first kiss tasting like Bubble Yum. The short ones gave us voice and situation in one punch. Great stuff.

J. T. Shea said...


I'm still slowly reading through the 1,500, but haven't even got as far as my own bizarre offering yet. BTW I've just posted my REAL first paragraph in Shadow's first paragraph thread in the Forums. No kidding! I felt surprisingly nervous doing so, even after all the hundreds of paragraphs I've posted here and elsewhere in the Forums.

Matthew, the cheap hotel room where your narrator is held prisoner may stink, but your paragraph most certainly does not!

And, following S. Kyle Davis' advice, bananas are oblong yellow fruits, usually curved, except in the European Union, where they must be straight. A cousin of mine works as a banana straightener in Brussels. Seriously! It's a highly skilled profession!

Suzie F. said...

I read through them of all too. I connected to the paragraphs I felt had a strong voice or drew me in with a bit of humor or something unexpected.

Here are some of my favorites:

Ted Cross
kaylafina (this made me LOL)
Red Boot Pearl
Lois Hudson

Great work!

Ostriches Look Funny said...

Ah!! Someone liked mine!! I feel like a winner! Yay me!

As far as the rest of the contest goes, I think people need to retire all names that start or end with an "x" or a "z". Don't ask me why. We all have things that annoy us. Also? I'm sick of the undead in all it's forms.

Bethany Brengan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bethany Brengan said...

I only made it 200 paragraphs in. Then I realized how many words 1500+ paragraphs is.

I enjoyed several of the paragraphs already mentioned here.

To name a few:
Vinyl and Mono (for nailing the long paragraph and making me laugh)
Juliana Brandt (a lot of killers and would-be killers in our submissions, but this one interested me)
wry wryter (a nice, slow, well-thought-out beginning--and a good voice)

Carol Riggs said...

I've read the first 600. I could tell by the first sentence if I would like them. Some of them I liked the writing style of, but they didn't feel like first paragraphs--too much into the middle of a scene, too abrupt of action before I knew if I cared about the characters. A lot of entries sounded distant, and/or took place after something had already happened; I wanted to SEE something happen, not be told about it after the fact.

I wish the entries had numbers, so it would be easier to look up people's favorites, and so it would be easier to let people know which ones are MY faves.

I made note of all the ones I liked best in the first 600 (about 40) and am really curious as to whether the winner/s will be one of them. I particularly liked:

adamo: Cha-chunk.
Allison: I like to burn things.
Monica Shaughnessy: A voice, scratchy and high like a fork on a chalkboard... [short, but great!]
Shelby House: I stand in the gritty bathroom…
Dan: Ensign Dorothy Paddock tugged at the base of her uniform top…
Emily White: Too many people in the world walked around trying to be different…
Empress Awesome: When a phoenix is reborn…
David Raffetto: Never trust people with silent letters in their name.
Alan Jones: Mama and Pa f---d up. [real f-word used, but I liked the voice and the last line]
barbara galvin: Mama never ate a Citizen child.
Jan Priddy: My mother catches me squeezing a zit…
Margo Gremmler: When she’s not squealing in my ear…
ddelano: I have not always been Chinese.
Sara Catterall: One Saturday, Archie was finishing breakfast…
jongibbs: 12-yr-old Doris Fairview (deceased)…

To me, these all had great voice and immediate interest.

Good job EVERYONE, and kudos for being brave and entering! Woo!

Bethany Brengan said...

Oh, and Sheel's opening tickled me. I would keep reading that book.

Bethany Brengan said...

And there's something simple and wonderful about JJ's paragraph: "Telephone poles zipped by like lights on a carnival ride. Shanna bit her lip, afraid to speak. Never upset the person behind the wheel was what they taught in Drivers Ed class."

Carol J. Garvin said...

My eyes have glazed over and I haven't made it through half of the entries. I don't know how you did it but I'm in awe. :)

My two favourites so far:
Doug Marshall's It's not fair.
[dave]'s I watch Chloe almost every minute...

A few others I like:
Juliana Brandt's The soup was poisioned...
Heidi Sinnett's his mother’s personal journal files...
Eden's I was six and nowhere to be found.
Sommer Leigh's Finding the body had been an accident.
Jessie Oliveros' When my aunt Meg warned me about the drop-off...
Monica Shaughnessy's A voice, scratchy and high...
Deb's Starting your day with a gun to the head really sucks.
Richard Mabry's The body sprawled in the entryway...
Linda Clare's Mud is what I remember most.

Looking forward to seeing what your picks are.

Martin Rose said...

What I find most astonishing is the wide variety of paragraphs people liked. Interesting!

Anonymous said...

I loved "There was a hole in the sky."

Marilyn Peake said...

I had hoped to have more time to read the contest entries, but I only found time after 12:30 AM this morning. I only managed to read the first two pages of entries. I chose my favorites based on the writing itself, even when it was in genres I don’t normally enjoy. Here are my favorites from the first two pages of entries:

richfigel’s – The description is good, provides a glimpse into a potentially interesting story.

LizzieFriend – Great use of language. Humorous, but clearly shows the main character and her uncomfortable predicament.

Martin Rose – Powerful use of language, tightly written sentences.

Ted – Powerful use of language, tightly written sentences.

David Raffetto – Intriguing first-person point of view.

Ian Tuttle – Good visual and auditory description, suggests an interesting world in which the story takes place.

Ed Miracle – Fantastic use of language and images, hints at a potentially unique and interesting story.

Lynne Sears Williams – Nice use of language, reminds me of John Steinbeck’s writing style.

Jkinkade – Nice use of language, introduces an intriguing character and setting. I love this phrase: "on the water's edge of guilt and remorse".

linda said...

Wow, everyone has really diverse tastes. A few of the entries on my shortlist of 15 (I read all the entries; my own didn't cut it XD) have been mentioned so far, but my favorite is Melody's ("Ivolet...").

I thought going through the entries would be a torturous (albeit educational) experience, but while I was right about educational, I found it not as painful as expected. I loved finding those paragraphs that made me laugh or captured my imagination. I bet that same thrill is why agents are willing to go through slush piles.

Elena's list of trends is awesome - spot-on and comprehensive. The ones that stuck out to me most while I was reading: waking up, dead people, blood/violence, self-introductions, and pregnancy tests.

Thanks for the great contest, Nathan!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the contest Nathan, I read about 700 random entries and there were around 20 which I would have kept reading but I didn't make a list at the time.
The four main reasons I excluded possible reads are -
1. Technically correct but story had no soul type thing.
2. Author intrusion openings which always feel like a random stranger on the bus just started talking to me about something I've shown no interest in so I did the equivalent of swap seats to eavesdrop on more interesting looking people *grin
3. Para's lacking white space also put me off. I think four sentences or so should be enough to hook initial interest.
4. Those which didn't seem to have anything happening (no action about to take place at all.)

Just my personal take.

Evalyn7 said...

I read through all entries -- for work, for me -- even though it was taken out of my writing time. It is a great way to learn what pops off the page. And the comments on what others found worked for them or didn't (abc, Caroline, Alexandra LC, Deniselle and Carol RIggs) are great too. Thank you.

I did what Mike Koch and Phil spoke about and decided on first sentences whether to read on.

I liked Kitty who's character Tori wrestles with the Angle of Death; Mary Ann Fraser's where starting fresh was getting stale. Samuel D Grey made me laugh: I hate field trips. JJ's telephone poles were great. I liked Carolyn Arnold's direct directions; A Foster's description of how to tell a farmer's wife; Jan's first night after her husband left was funny; Robin Martin's open made me want to know more about Sam; Kim's voice in 'The day the king sold the world and his son in it' was wonderful' and I would read more of Jen McQuiston's character arriving in Africa. Kelly made me want to know what was up with the Congressman's daughter and Lucinda Gunnin's opening of planning for the apocalypse without birth control made me laugh. The two situations described by Lisa Smith and Bob Eisele had me wanting to read more as did Helene Dunbar's box of stolen souls.

It is a steep learning curve -- figuring out how to begin a piece. Your contest makes it very clear how hard it is to make sure that what you write is what you want your reader to understand.

The word cloud tool is just so cool!

Back to work! I hope get it right next time!

vnrieker said...

Thanks for taking the time, Nathan! This contest has been fun. I loved how we could see everyone's entries, and (in a later blog) see what draws people into a story. This has been great!

Charli Mac said...

I only got through the first 200, sorry 201-end...But in that 200 I found so many I really loved and wanted more of. So much talent out there and I was honored to have had the privilege to read these. They are in no particular order.

Loved the tone of loss:

Taryn Simpson said...
In a matter of seconds, I witnessed the deaths of my parents and oldest brother. It was then that I realized that my lonely childhood had come to a reverberating halt. This moment in time would forever be seared into my psyche, destined to become part of the psychological baggage that I would carry upon my shoulders for the rest of my life. My innocence was gone and there wasn’t time to mourn.

I need to read the rest of this now:

Deb Levy said...
I don’t have a number. Yet still they ask. The curious, the skeptical, the ones who know all they need to know. They eye my wrist, searching for that telltale proof. “Where’s your number?” But I never went to a concentration camp. I am a survivor without a number.

I snorted out loud on this one:

Travis Erwin said...
Grace McEwen was eight the first time she stood outside a closed door and listened to her mother squeal and sigh with pleasure. Thirty-one years later, she found the sounds just as awkward. Maybe more so, now that she fully understood the source of her mom’s vocal gratification.

Drop Dead Fred was my fave movie. Love this:

Doug Marshall said...
It's not fair. They can't punish me for bringing an imaginary friend to school. First of all, Billy is not imaginary. Second, I didn't bring him; he came by himself. And third, I didn't start the fire

Jackie Buxton said...

I want to add to the respect and gratitude, Nathan - great competition and huge undertaking, thank you! I haven't managed to read many, I'm afraid, (and apologies to those at the end as I couldn't read past comment 600 because my pc was refusing to turn the page) but of those I read, I highlighted:
Cait with the intrigue of that wait on the platform; KT with 'Seven' and the intrigue in what, exactly, could be so terrible in a name and Helen with the intrigue of the 'gentleman' and his wonderings about the MC's request for death. So, yes, for me, it was all about intrigue because that's what makes me read on - even when the writing doesn't immediately stand out as my kind of thing (I mean that generally, not specifically to my selections here).
It's interesting seeing so many paragraphs altogether in one place. It does make you realise that different genres really are, well, different and shows why it's so crucial to do your research before submitting. An agent covering fantasy really is most unlikely to be interested in your lit fit, for example, if this is anything to go by.
Great comp, thank you! Slightly embarrassed to have entered now, though, wonder if I've failed my own criteria...!

Ted Cross said...

Suzie F. and Marilyn Peake made my day with the mentions! My book doesn't begin with any huge emotional hook, so I didn't expect to be considered by anyone really. Now even though I won't get picked by Nathan I can still be happy! Thanks!

Deb said...

Carol, thanks for the mention. Now I can take, "Hang my head in first paragraph shame," completely off the to-do list :)

Anna said...

I want to give a shout out to Gina Mosley Lamm, JasonF, Kelli, Ria, Kathleen Basi, Helen S, Alli Sinclair, Aerin, Susan Bearman, Simon Hay Soul Healer, Andrea, Sam Koch, and Tommy. Your paragraphs rocked my socks! keep fighting the good fight!

Heath said...

They're all terrific, but I gotta go with Ben. That's some good stuff.

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