[Critique Game] Post The First Three Sentences of your Short Story

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neandermagnon

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On his back in the street, face up, feet barely touching the pavement, the young man had a permanent look of wide-eyed terror in his clean shaven features. Were it not for the high cheekbones, he would almost seem baby faced. Exposed intestines, visible through the shreds of a football jersey, ruled out the suspected drunk driver who had had kissed a telephone pole moments after adding insult to the poor boy's considerable injury.

If this is a crime or horror (or similar) I'd definitely read on because I want to know what happened to the young man.

Some phrases I struggled with - "kissed a telephone pole" - at first I took this literally, had to read it again to get that you meant he'd crashed the car into a telephone pole and also hit and/or run over the young man, but because his intestines are visible, it wasn't the car that killed him. For me, this line needs to be clearer. However the situation itself makes me want to read on to find what happened. The POV isn't totally clear - is this narrated by an omniscient narrator or a detective/forensic scientist arriving on the crime scene? I kind of want to know that as well. Some info, like the genre/type of story would be evident from the cover/blurb, so in a bookshop I'd know that.

I think that this could use some rephrasing to make it easier to picture on the first read. Starting with "on his back in the street..." without knowing who or what until later in the sentence, isn't so easy to picture. You might want to be more direct and graphic in the third line rather than "adding insult to" - did the car run him over after whatever else happened to him? Also, maybe take more than 3 lines to describe what's going on. The 3 lines thing of the game is quite arbitrary, and I think the permanent look of wide-eyed terror on a corpse is enough of a hook for someone to read on and get to the full details of the boy's demise in line 4 or 5. Having said that, I just realised you didn't say that the boy had actually died. I kind of assumed it. I took the permanence of his expression being rigor mortis. Little details like that need to be very clear.

Hope that makes sense as I'm quite tired... in any case I think the situation you're opening with is a strong thing to open with and would make me read on.
 

Nether

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On his back in the street, face up, feet barely touching the pavement, the young man had a permanent look of wide-eyed terror in his clean shaven features. Were it not for the high cheekbones, he would almost seem baby faced. Exposed intestines, visible through the shreds of a football jersey, ruled out the suspected drunk driver who had had kissed a telephone pole moments after adding insult to the poor boy's considerable injury.

Who's your POV? I assume a detective looking at the scene, but it's a little confusing.

However, I'm assuming this isn't the result of a car crash because an accident victim's face isn't going to be frozen like that most of the time.

idk, it's mostly just confusing.

On his back in the street, face up,

Redundant. If he's on his back, we know he's face-up unless his torso has been split in half where he's able to lie on back and front at the same time.

feet barely touching the pavement,

I'm not sure what this means. If his legs are propped against something else, it might be better to explain that. Otherwise, logically his legs would be on the ground unless rigor mortis magically set in within a second of his death so he was frozen the way he died.

the young man had a permanent look of wide-eyed terror in his clean shaven features.

The fact that it's overly detailed removes any shock value. Kinda ditto for "wide-eyed terror," which is a bit cliche. Not to mention "had a permanent look of" is a little clunky.

I'm still not sure why you had to work in the fact he's clean-shaven. Unless the observer is obsessed with facial hair, it seems like a weird thing to fixate on.

Were it not for the high cheekbones, he would almost seem baby faced.

I feel like this takes me out of the scene because now I'm wondering how the two things really correlate. Plus if you're looking at a face frozen in fear, I'm not how many people are going to look at that and think, "Baby face." It's a little distracting.

Exposed intestines, visible through the shreds of a football jersey, ruled out the suspected drunk driver who had had kissed a telephone pole moments after adding insult to the poor boy's considerable injury.

I didn't follow any of this. Is it suggesting his death wasn't the result of the driver? This is also why I'm assuming it's a detective speaking -- because the detective knows the driver was drunk and doesn't believe the driver was responsible for this... although, if that's the case, how does the driver tie into this? Did they deliver a post mortem wound to the body?

My overall impression is that there are a lot of seemingly conflicting details in the opening three sentences where I'd really have to be hooked by your blurb to read past them. However, if the rest of the prose was like this, I'm not sure how much I'd read. Between the way the detail is handled and the fact I'm having a hard time following what's there, it doesn't look like something I'd enjoy.
 

neandermagnon

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I just realised this is the short story thread not the novels thread so please ignore my comments about cover/blurb. I'm not sure what the convention is with short stories, but presumably the reader would still know the genre/type of story before they start reading? If not, then clarity right at the beginning is even more important.
 

Nether

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I just realised this is the short story thread not the novels thread so please ignore my comments about cover/blurb.

Whoops. Same mistake. And in the absence of a blurb, I'd probably stop early.
 

Pyrephox

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On his back in the street, face up, feet barely touching the pavement, the young man had a permanent look of wide-eyed terror in his clean shaven features. Were it not for the high cheekbones, he would almost seem baby faced. Exposed intestines, visible through the shreds of a football jersey, ruled out the suspected drunk driver who had had kissed a telephone pole moments after adding insult to the poor boy's considerable injury.
For me, the density of the sentences takes out some of the tension that I think you might be going for here; you're conveying a lot of information, but the exposed intestines are buried in the third sentence, and that seems like it'd be one of the first things one would notice, under the circumstances.

Tone is surprisingly light-hearted for what's going on; my assumption becomes that the viewpoint character is an experienced crime scene veteran, one who's been around long enough to develop a sort of casual, gallows humor about the whole thing.

I'd read on, largely because of the last half of the last sentence - the expected cause of death (being in a drunk driving accident) isn't the case, but something weird clearly happened, and I'm intrigued.
 
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dpickett

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Vacaro squats down on the floor of the van, scalpel in his hand. He drops one knee to steady himself and looks at Lillian, lying on the floor in front of him, legs raised and slightly apart.

“Ready?” he asks.

“No,” she says. “Do it anyway.”





Technically four sentences, but I have always been terrible at match. 2 + 2 = ~4.
 

K Dough

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Vacaro squats down on the floor of the van, scalpel in his hand. He drops one knee to steady himself and looks at Lillian, lying on the floor in front of him, legs raised and slightly apart.

“Ready?” he asks.
I'll crit up to here (per guidelines, sorry), though there's not really much to crit on the next sentences anyway, so... Yeah.

I think this is... an interesting opening. I don't read too many short stories, so it might just be that I'm not used to being thrown into the action so suddenly. It feels jarring to me, but at the same time, short stories have a smaller word count to work with... so take that as you will.

Some things could be condensed for brevity. "He drops to one knee to steady himself" can be "Dropping to one knee, he looks at Lillian..."
"Slightly apart" can just be "apart" imo.

The dialogue "Ready?" is good, and seems like a good time for it (that is, it seems to fit the flow you are establishing here).

That's about it. I don't know if I would read on, but it's NOT because of the writing. It's good, but I have to be in particular moods for more gory works and from the opening it seems like it would get visceral soon. I could be wrong, but that's my impression.
 

Janine R

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Vacaro squats down on the floor of the van, scalpel in his hand. He drops one knee to steady himself and looks at Lillian, lying on the floor in front of him, legs raised and slightly apart.

“Ready?” he asks.
I probably wouldn't read on, but mainly because it seems as if it's going to get gory really fast and there are many nights when I can't face gory.

Scalpel suggests Vacaro is about to perform surgery or maybe torture. The situation makes one think the scalpel isn't sterilized and Lillian not anesthetized.
When he looks at lillian I'm not sure what he is seeing. Is she clothed or unclothed? Her legs (not her knees) are raised. Are they sticking straight up in the air? It's an odd posture and difficult to maintain. Her legs are slightly apart. Is there some sort of sexual thing going on?
He asks her if she's ready, so I guess not torture or assault.
 

lorna_w

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Vacaro squats down on the floor of the van, scalpel in his hand. He drops one knee to steady himself and looks at Lillian, lying on the floor in front of him, legs raised and slightly apart.

“Ready?” he asks.

Good writing.

My only quibble is ... she has her legs raised? like from the hips, entirely off the floor, engaging the quads and hip flexors, toes pointed toward the back van door? That's the visual I got from this wording. Lillian will find it difficult to hold that position for long, or steadily, unless she's an Olympic ice dancer or competitive weight-lifter. Or are only her knees raised, in on-the-gynecologist's-table manner? If he's going to cut her genitalia or give her an inner thigh tattoo of his signature, I'd suggest to her that her legs be quite far apart, flopped wide open, so she doesn't unconsciously snap her knees together and create a different mess than the one she has apparently agreed to participating in. If the latter position is what you meant, I'd tweak the wording. If you did mean the leg-raise position, carry on!

People who would read on would read on, for the writing is good, and people who wouldn't wouldn't. I'd read on unless it became torture porn and then I'd stop, for that's not my thing at all. If this is not what you're teasing that it will be (torture porn, an extremely inept abortion which never requires a scalpel IRL, a BDSM blood play scene), you might lose part of your audience who would be interested in the story otherwise.

It's not boring, I'll give you that! Beats the hell out of "I woke up and Mom fixed me breakfast" openings.
 

CMBright

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First three sentences of short story...

Mike thought he’d left that world behind. He’d certainly done his best to forget about it. His left hand touched the shrapnel scar as the world faded away.
 

Janine R

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“You’re joking!” said the genie. “I can’t possibly do that!”
”Why not?” asked the mortal.

Sentences three, beginning a story titled Wishes Three.
It does engage you right away because you start imaging what the request could have been. Immortality, an end to Facebook, a second helping of ice cream...?
The problem with opening with dialogue is that it's very restrictive; it's hard to convey much information about character, setting or conflict.
Here there's very little character info to go on. We don't know if either is the main character. We do know that one seems to have magical powers and the other, mortal, destined to die, is presumably a human being.
I would need to read a little bit further to know if I would read on.
 
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Nether

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“You’re joking!” said the genie. “I can’t possibly do that!”
”Why not?” asked the mortal.

Sentences three, beginning a story titled Wishes Three.

This is definitely one of those openings where I need more than three sentences to form an opinion. (And there's no real issue with that.)

I have no real notes. They're functional sentences, they give us a little bit of information, and I guess there's a bit of an intrigue. Part of me wonders if you're starting a little too late because, I'm guessing, you're going to have to rewind to mention what was asked. But it's probably fine.

First three sentences of short story...

Mike thought he’d left that world behind. He’d certainly done his best to forget about it. His left hand touched the shrapnel scar as the world faded away.

The repetition of "world" is a little confusing. The way it's laid out, I'm almost thinking it's a literal alternate world that the scar lets him move between.

In fact, as soon as you say "as the world faded away" the tone shifts. It goes from feeling like a story about a guy leaving a life behind to... I don't know, sounding fantasy? Unless that's meant to be a segue into a flashback, which would be jarring for other reasons.
 
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dpickett

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Good writing.

My only quibble is ... she has her legs raised? like from the hips, entirely off the floor, engaging the quads and hip flexors, toes pointed toward the back van door? That's the visual I got from this wording. Lillian will find it difficult to hold that position for long, or steadily, unless she's an Olympic ice dancer or competitive weight-lifter. Or are only her knees raised, in on-the-gynecologist's-table manner? If he's going to cut her genitalia or give her an inner thigh tattoo of his signature, I'd suggest to her that her legs be quite far apart, flopped wide open, so she doesn't unconsciously snap her knees together and create a different mess than the one she has apparently agreed to participating in. If the latter position is what you meant, I'd tweak the wording. If you did mean the leg-raise position, carry on!

People who would read on would read on, for the writing is good, and people who wouldn't wouldn't. I'd read on unless it became torture porn and then I'd stop, for that's not my thing at all. If this is not what you're teasing that it will be (torture porn, an extremely inept abortion which never requires a scalpel IRL, a BDSM blood play scene), you might lose part of your audience who would be interested in the story otherwise.

It's not boring, I'll give you that! Beats the hell out of "I woke up and Mom fixed me breakfast" openings.

To put your mind at ease: it isn't torture porn or anything close. Definitely not my thing.
 

writer316

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Light -> dark fantasy / maybe romance; target of ~3000 words. Any comments appreciated. 😊

Dragons are real. I know because Skylark showed me. She came to town with the merchant caravan, riding a hippopotamus.
 

Nether

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Light -> dark fantasy / maybe romance; target of ~3000 words. Any comments appreciated. 😊

Dragons are real. I know because Skylark showed me. She came to town with the merchant caravan, riding a hippopotamus.

The really short, simple sentences give it a bit of a MG feel, which I'm guessing you aren't going for given it's listed as a romance. The hippo (which is an interesting touch) contributes a little to that same feel, given hippos tend to be more aquatic and MG tends to gloss over stuff like that (unless the caravan was traveling by river, which would be a cool element)

However, it's hard to get a real sense for the story from just these three sentences. There aren't any real issues and I imagine it's functional depending on what comes next.
 
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Thecla

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Light -> dark fantasy / maybe romance; target of ~3000 words. Any comments appreciated. 😊

Dragons are real. I know because Skylark showed me. She came to town with the merchant caravan, riding a hippopotamus.
I like it and would read on. The image of someone riding a hippopotamus sets up a particular sort of fantasy in a very economical way. You could, perhaps, link sentences 1 & 2 with a semicolon as they are not unrelated ideas.
 
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writer316

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Gothic fantasy; ~3000 words total (I know because I'm doing a rewrite.)

I thought he loved me. Sangère certainly wanted my heart. Because I felt loved, because he wanted my heart, I was very happy in the castle.
 
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Thecla

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Gothic fantasy; ~3000 words total (I know because I'm doing a rewrite.)

I thought he loved me. Sangère certainly wanted my heart. Because I felt loved, because he wanted my heart, I was very happy in the castle.
These three sentences are rhythmic and well crafted but, as themselves, too simplistic and repetitive for my taste. I'd not want to read 3 k in this vein. However, because I've read some of your other stuff, I trust you enough to know what you're doing. For that reason, I'd read on a bit to see if this settles down and becomes more, well, grown up. [Guessing here, but Bluebeard?]
 

Nether

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Gothic fantasy; ~3000 words total (I know because I'm doing a rewrite.)

I thought he loved me. Sangère certainly wanted my heart. Because I felt loved, because he wanted my heart, I was very happy in the castle.

I feel like there's a pretty obvious twist on the way, involving a guy literally wanting the MC's blood-pumping organ (partly because I see Sangere and think "sangre," Spanish for blood). If that's the twist, you might be signposting it a little too strongly from the get-go. It's not necessarily a problem depending on the handling, but it's a consideration. (And if it's not a twist, it's not so much an issue.)

Beyond that, it feels a bit repetitive. You have "my heart" twice, "loved" twice, and "wanted" twice. (And "because" pops up in the same sentence twice, although it's not as noticeable given the usage.) Between that and the sentence structure, it's a bit of a rough opening.
 
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Janine R

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Gothic fantasy; ~3000 words total (I know because I'm doing a rewrite.)

I thought he loved me. Sangère certainly wanted my heart. Because I felt loved, because he wanted my heart, I was very happy in the castle.
This is written from the point of view of the character looking back on it, so she survived, or at least survived to this point. Thought he loved her, so she has discovered he didn’t. Wanted my heart telegraphs a desire for the physical organ.
It‘s too measured, the repetitions don‘t build or or add rhythm. The character feels distant rather than betrayed or alarmed. There’s a “I was a bit naive but now I can see where I went wrong” tone to it.
 
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CWNitz

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Gothic fantasy; ~3000 words total (I know because I'm doing a rewrite.)

I thought he loved me. Sangère certainly wanted my heart. Because I felt loved, because he wanted my heart, I was very happy in the castle.
I like the setup and the misunderstanding about hearts, which I suspect mean the actual organ in his case.

It does feel a little overwritten though. I don't know if it's intentional. It wouldn't stop me from reading on, I think, at least not at first.
 
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