[PLEASE READ FIRST POST] Post the First Three Sentences of your Novel

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Bing Z

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Okay. Let's try this. First two lines from the novel I'm working on Tell me if I've got a good hook.

"It was the hour of the wolf, when spirits stole down silent halls. Too early to rise, and too late to rest, this was the time when lost souls wandered."
I agree the writing is atmospheric. But unless the story is about the wolf and spirits, the opening lines are not telling me anything story-wise. I will read on a bit for the good writing, but if I can't grasp what the story is about in the next few paragraphs, I'm gone.
 

DigitalScript

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Let's give this a try! I'm no stranger to criticism so please tell me what you think.

The novel is a hard Sci-fi cross between space opera, cyberpunk, and political thriller. It follows three characters, and this one is the first.

"God damn that felt good.

Dax sucked back the cigarette and quivered as the smoke coalesced in his lungs. The nicotine craving only intensified since he crossed the yellow tape two hours ago, now inches from his back."
 

Thecla

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Let's give this a try! I'm no stranger to criticism so please tell me what you think.

The novel is a hard Sci-fi cross between space opera, cyberpunk, and political thriller. It follows three characters, and this one is the first.

"God damn that felt good. [The inverted commas at the beginning threw me. If this a thought, you might consider italicising.]

Dax [Couldn't help it: I thought of the Star Trek character,] sucked back the cigarette and quivered as the smoke coalesced in his lungs. The nicotine craving [had] only intensified since he crossed the yellow tape two hours ago, now inches from his back. [dangling modifier, I think. The two hours are not now inches from his back.]"
This isn't for me, I'm afraid. We have someone smoking, presumably by a crime scene. Whilst this ought to be intriguing, it isn't, as presented at least. Not much atmosphere. Not much scene setting. Not much character. Maybe start a bit sooner, with Dax crossing the tape and seeing whatever it is he sees beyond it, whilst the nicotine craving starts to build.

Mind you, I'm but one reader. See what others say.
 
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DigitalScript

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“Poor bastard travels halfway across the galaxy only to end up slaughtered like a pig,” said the detective inspector.

The DI and a sergeant stood on a mudflat by the north bank of the Thames, waiting for the murder squad to turn up.

The corpse lay on its back, eight eyes gazing incuriously out of a chalky face upon a grey morning sky.

—This is a revision of an opening I posted some time ago.
I think, based on others' feedback, this is just me but I got jarred at 'detective inspector'. To me, these nouns in apposition paused my mind: they looked redundant. Though I know they technically are not synonyms, they were close enough to break the flow. This compounded when the next sentence began with 'DI,' which is better by comparison but once more broke the flow when I wondered: "who is this guy? Does he/she/it have a name? Why is some unnamed guy in the opening words?"

I do like the cross-galaxy to Thames mudflats bit, though. That is kinda dope. But I do not like 'murder squad'. This sounded childish. I like the idea that 'murder squad' conveys, but not using these collocated words. Maybe: 'hitmen,' 'assassins,' or just a different adjective like, 'death squad'. But, this may just be me :)

Third sentence is fine, I think. I like the comparison of normality with near-absurd again, a corpse, with eight eye, chalky face staring up at the same grey sky. It's like an axiom, some kind of natural law that - alien or human - we like to die staring up at the sky wondering 'what the hell went wrong?'

That's good.
 
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Helix

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I do like the cross-galaxy to Thames mudflats bit, though. That is kinda dope. But I do not like 'murder squad'. This sounded childish. I like the idea that 'murder squad' conveys, but not using these collocated words. Maybe: 'hitmen,' 'assassins,' or just a different adjective like, 'death squad'. But, this may just be me :)

I think the murder squad here might be solving murders not committing them.
 

Tocotin

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Let's give this a try! I'm no stranger to criticism so please tell me what you think.

The novel is a hard Sci-fi cross between space opera, cyberpunk, and political thriller. It follows three characters, and this one is the first.

"God damn that felt good.

Dax sucked back the cigarette and quivered as the smoke coalesced in his lungs. The nicotine craving only intensified since he crossed the yellow tape two hours ago, now inches from his back."
This is a personal preference, but I'm not a fan of one-sentence paragraphs, and especially not at the beginning of the story – especially if they try to convey voice rather than offer information. I think that "God damn that felt good" might actually work better as the second sentence here.

I understand that Dax might really, really need a smoke after whatever he has just encountered behind the yellow tape, but all three sentences are about that one cigarette. I'd read on to see what is going on, because the writing is solid, but I hope for something more interesting to start happening soon.

:troll
 
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DigitalScript

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This is a personal preference, but I'm not a fan of one-sentence paragraphs, and especially not at the beginning of the story – especially if they try to convey voice rather than offer information. I think that "God damn that felt good" might actually work better as the second sentence here.

I understand that Dax might really, really need a smoke after whatever he has just encountered behind the yellow tape, but all three sentences are about that one cigarette. I'd read on to see what is going on, because the writing is solid, but I hope for something more interesting to start happening soon.

:troll
Hm. That's great food for thought. Thanks for this.
 
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neandermagnon

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Okay. Let's try this. First two lines from the novel I'm working on Tell me if I've got a good hook.

"It was the hour of the wolf, when spirits stole down silent halls. Too early to rise, and too late to rest, this was the time when lost souls wandered."

There's not enough context yet for me to fully understand what's going on here - I'm inclined to think I'd be more hooked with a little more context. That said, I like these lines and I am intrigued enough to want to read that missing 3rd sentence. So depending on what's coming next, I could well be hooked. For example, if the MC's a lost soul, that would hook me. Other potential scenarios may hook me.

You could try merging them into one sentence to avoid repetition: "it was the hour of" "this was the time when". I don't mind the repetition of spirits stole/lost souls wandered. If you did this it'd give you the option to include a story detail or two - especially if it indicates that there's a character - which could help make it more "hooky".
 

Silenia

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Hm. That's great food for thought. Thanks for this.
Concur with Tocotin: I too would read on a bit (it's solid writing with just enough info and hints regarding immediate setting and character to not feel completely lost) but would need something a little more attention-grabbing within preferably a few sentences (at most a couple paragraphs, and in that case said paragraphs had better be short) before I'd likely lose interest. Especially if I start reading it expecting hard sci-fi: so far, it reads more as something in the suspense/mystery/detective corner.
 

neandermagnon

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God damn that felt good.

Dax sucked back the cigarette and quivered as the smoke coalesced in his lungs. The nicotine craving only intensified since he crossed the yellow tape two hours ago, now inches from his back.

This isn't really working for me as an opening. Probably because I'm a non-smoker and all you've got here is someone smoking. Also "coalesced" - unless the story's about the character developing a smoking related illness, IMO that's not a good word choice as it makes me think of the tar build-up in smokers' lungs. If whatever's behind the yellow tape has stressed out your protagonist (and it's not just him having been deprived of a cigarette due to smoking at work not being allowed any more or something) then, for me at least, you'll need to find a different way to show that. Right now it's making me think of Nicorette adverts.

The lines themselves aren't bad, and I think they'd work as characterisation a little further along, just as an opening it's not working for me.

Of course, this is just my personal opinion. Other people may feel differently.
 
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DigitalScript

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Concur with Tocotin: I too would read on a bit (it's solid writing with just enough info and hints regarding immediate setting and character to not feel completely lost) but would need something a little more attention-grabbing within preferably a few sentences (at most a couple paragraphs, and in that case said paragraphs had better be short) before I'd likely lose interest.
I can tell you two sentences later, the sci-fi enters in full. This is my hope with the intro as is.
Especially if I start reading it expecting hard sci-fi: so far, it reads more as something in the suspense/mystery/detective corner.
So, I don't mind all of those genre assumptions since the character's story tip-toes between sci-fi and suspense/mystery/detective, ala cyberpunk. It's a little in between on a few without explicitly bathing in any one (except sci-fi in general).

This isn't really working for me as an opening. Probably because I'm a non-smoker and all you've got here is someone smoking.
I also don't smoke. Well, I did for a few months about fifteen years ago but then stopped when my first craving hit. But I hear you.
Also "coalesced" - unless the story's about the character developing a smoking related illness, IMO that's not a good word choice as it makes me think of the tar build-up in smokers' lungs. If whatever's behind the yellow tape has stressed out your protagonist (and it's not just him having been deprived of a cigarette due to smoking at work not being allowed any more or something) then, for me at least, you'll need to find a different way to show that. Right now it's making me think of Nicorette adverts.
It's all of these things. Smoking (and being deprived of cigarettes soon thereafter) are part of his character :)
The lines themselves aren't bad, and I think they'd work as characterisation a little further along, just as an opening it's not working for me.

Of course, this is just my personal opinion. Other people may feel differently.
I'll consider this. Thanks :)
 

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"God damn that felt good.

Dax sucked back the cigarette and quivered as the smoke coalesced in his lungs. The nicotine craving only intensified since he crossed the yellow tape two hours ago, now inches from his back."
I'm not a fan of starting with unattributed dialogue. I've got no clue who's talking or what they're talking about, so when I finally figure out what's going on, I have to mentally rewind and put the first sentence back in context, which boots me out of the flow of the story.

The description of the cigarette smoke is nice on its own, but the heavy focus on smoking isn't a hook for me. I can see it working as part of his overall characterization, but not all three of the opening lines. I probably would not read on. Your writing on a line-level is solid, but I'm in agreement this isn't quite the right spot to start. Even just five minutes earlier (He's staring at the body or whatever and all he can think about is how much he wants a smoke) would be useful.
 
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dickson

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Oh! My mind didn't even go that way. Hm. In that case I think I like it... yeah. It's good. I rescind my comments there :)
Helix is correct. “Murder squad“ is UK police terminology. Likewise, Detective Inspector is an official rank, and DI a standard abbreviation, also used verbally on occasion.
 

Unimportant

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Let's give this a try! I'm no stranger to criticism so please tell me what you think.

The novel is a hard Sci-fi cross between space opera, cyberpunk, and political thriller. It follows three characters, and this one is the first.

"God damn that felt good.

Dax sucked back the cigarette and quivered as the smoke coalesced in his lungs. The nicotine craving only intensified since he crossed the yellow tape two hours ago, now inches from his back."
For me, three sentences read as if they're in reverse order. First he's enjoying the smoke. Next he's smoking the cig. After that he's getting the craving for a cig.

In the first sentence there should be a comma after 'damn'. In the second sentence perhaps add 'on' since you don't actually suck back the cig, you suck back the smoke it releases (unless you want the cig to end up in your trachea). The third sentence I think needs a past imperfect verb tense, and also a bit of restructuring since as the clauses currently sit the 'now inches' is referring to 'two hours ago'.

So, my suggestion:
The nicotine craving had intensified over the two hours since he crossed the yellow tape, which now hung inches from his back. Dax sucked back on the cigarette and quivered as the smoke coalesced in his lungs. God damn, that felt good.
 
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DigitalScript

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I'm not a fan of starting with unattributed dialogue. I've got no clue who's talking or what they're talking about, so when I finally figure out what's going on, I have to mentally rewind and put the first sentence back in context, which boots me out of the flow of the story.
I hate it when I have to do that, so I know what you mean. Good to know.
The description of the cigarette smoke is nice on its own, but the heavy focus on smoking isn't a hook for me. I can see it working as part of his overall characterization, but not all three of the opening lines. I probably would not read on. Your writing on a line-level is solid, but I'm in agreement this isn't quite the right spot to start. Even just five minutes earlier (He's staring at the body or whatever and all he can think about is how much he wants a smoke) would be useful.
Hmm. Okay.
For me, three sentences read as if they're in reverse order. First he's enjoying the smoke. Next he's smoking the cig. After that he's getting the craving for a cig.

In the first sentence there should be a comma after 'damn'. In the second sentence perhaps add 'on' since you don't actually suck back the cig, you suck back the smoke it releases (unless you want the cig to end up in your trachea). The third sentence I think needs a past imperfect verb tense, and also a bit of restructuring since as the clauses currently sit the 'now inches' is referring to 'two hours ago'.

So, my suggestion:
The nicotine craving had intensified over the two hours since he crossed the yellow tape, which now hung inches from his back. Dax sucked back on the cigarette and quivered as the smoke coalesced in his lungs. God damn, that felt good.
Hmm. Alright. I like how you repositioned 'over the two hours'. I like that better. I have much to contemplate.

Thank you both for this! Much appreciated :)
 

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“Poor bastard travels halfway across the galaxy only to end up slaughtered like a pig,” said the detective inspector.

The DI and a sergeant stood on a mudflat by the north bank of the Thames, waiting for the murder squad to turn up.

The corpse lay on its back, eight eyes gazing incuriously out of a chalky face upon a grey morning sky.

—This is a revision of an opening I posted some time ago.
This is my genre and I like it. However, I wondered how it would be if you switched the order so the third sentence was the opener:

The corpse lay on its back, eight eyes gazing incuriously out of a chalky face upon a grey morning sky.

“Poor bastard travels halfway across the galaxy only to end up slaughtered like a pig,” said the detective inspector.
 
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BRG2003

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Let's give this a try! I'm no stranger to criticism so please tell me what you think.

The novel is a hard Sci-fi cross between space opera, cyberpunk, and political thriller. It follows three characters, and this one is the first.

"God damn that felt good.

Dax sucked back the cigarette and quivered as the smoke coalesced in his lungs. The nicotine craving only intensified since he crossed the yellow tape two hours ago, now inches from his back."
I have two things to say:

First is, I agree with what has been said previously about how it seems like the phrases are out of order. They read a little off.
Second is that, even reorganized, I don't find them very compelling as an opening. The detail about the yellow tape offers a hint, but aside from that, they don't tell me anything that I find interesting. They don't say anything interesting about the setting or the character (aside from the fact that he's a smoker, and if we don't know why he smokes then it doesn't really explain much about this person) nor are they atmospheric or shocking that I would want to read on. Just my opinion.
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Okay, here's my first three lines of my magic college web serial, I hope they make you want to keep reading:

It's raining teeth again, thanks pollution! I ran through the streets with my guitar in its case and over my head, the little white pearls bouncing off it and falling to the ground. Every now and then, I would see a monster mouse appear, grab a tooth in each of its mouths and then scurry away.
 

Lakey

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Okay, here's my first three lines of my magic college web serial, I hope they make you want to keep reading:

It's raining teeth again, thanks pollution! I ran through the streets with my guitar in its case and over my head, the little white pearls bouncing off it and falling to the ground. Every now and then, I would see a monster mouse appear, grab a tooth in each of its mouths and then scurry away.

This is a lot of fun! Definitely a couple of double-takes while reading this, in a fun and entertaining way. "Each of its mouths" is a nice touch.

A couple small things. Your first sentence is a comma splice and generally incorrectly punctuated. Try something like "It's raining teeth again--thanks, pollution!" You also have a tense change in there -- "It's raining teeth" but "I ran through the streets." You can also trim some words here and there, for instance:
-- "my guitar in its case and over my head" --> "my guitar case shielding my head" or something like that; it will be presumed that there is a guitar inside the case.
-- "I would see a monster mouse appear" etc. --> "a monster mouse appeared" etc.
-- "and then scurry" --> "then scurry"
-- "each of its mouths" --> "each mouth"
You get the idea, I suspect. Look over all your writing for places where you can trim out unneeded words, and you're on your way!

:e2coffee:
 

Nether

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It's raining teeth again, thanks pollution! I ran through the streets with my guitar in its case and over my head, the little white pearls bouncing off it and falling to the ground. Every now and then, I would see a monster mouse appear, grab a tooth in each of its mouths and then scurry away.

The concept is interesting, but I feel the prose could be improved. Lakey suggested exactly the thing I was going say about the the first sentence, as well as commenting on that tense shift.

Actually, most of what Lakey said is some variation of what I was going to say, so... there's not much for me to say on that front (without going into too-specific suggestions)

However, I question the logistics of running through the street with falling teeth. Even if your MC doesn't want to seek shelter (and falling teeth would probably be painful), I wonder how well somebody could run when you have lots and lots of small objects littering the ground. I imagine it would be like trying to run on gumballs, except gumballs can break under your shoes, teeth should be more durable. I guess it depends on how many teeth are falling at a time. I'm assuming it's comparable to rain, which would likely stack them up pretty quickly.

Beyond that, it's an interesting set-up with a neat visual (that reminds me how underwhelming the scene in American Horror Story: Roanoke when a few small number of teeth fell there... and, come to think of it, I don't remember that part of the story ever being explained in AHS -- it might have just been a cool throwaway moment). It doesn't really establish the MC, but it conveys a sense of setting and tone -- particularly in how unalarmed and dismissive the MC is of the event, suggesting (in a comical way) that this is nothing special within their world.
 
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neandermagnon

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Okay, here's my first three lines of my magic college web serial, I hope they make you want to keep reading:

It's raining teeth again, thanks pollution! I ran through the streets with my guitar in its case and over my head, the little white pearls bouncing off it and falling to the ground. Every now and then, I would see a monster mouse appear, grab a tooth in each of its mouths and then scurry away.

This is intriguing, but without knowing more about your story's world, I'm finding it hard to know what to make of it. I'm not keen on "thanks pollution" because that makes me think of real world ecology and teeth don't make sense in that context. But it's a magical book, so raining teeth presumably has some magical explanation. I think I'd take in the information better if my brain didn't feel conflicted between magical worlds and real life ecology. That said, I think I would read on to see if it starts to make more sense. There is a definite intrigue to it and I kind of would like to know wtf is going on with it raining teeth. And the monster mice with two mouths.

Disclaimer: I'm tired and my brain doesn't appear to be firing on all cylinders.
 
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I might as well try this. I'm new and looking to get some feelings hurt.

Like many stories before and dozens from now, this story started in the flames. With the world at its knees. With my world in the balance.
 

neandermagnon

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I might as well try this. I'm new and looking to get some feelings hurt.

Like many stories before and dozens from now, this story started in the flames. With the world at its knees. With my world in the balance.

This reads like you're telling me about the story, rather than telling me the story. As for the words themselves - I like the character's voice, especially sentence 2 and 3. I kind of want you to show me this, rather than tell me. Show me the flames, the world at its knees and your main character's world in the balance. But in spite of that, your character's voice is intriguing me enough to want to know more. If what follows lives up to the promise (i.e. actually starting in flames with the world at its knees and the MC's world actually in the balance) I think I'd keep reading. I'm kind of torn between "I like the voice" and "I think it would be better to start with the story rather than telling me about the story".
 

Thecla

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I might as well try this. I'm new and looking to get some feelings hurt.

Like many stories before and dozens from now, this story started in the flames. With the world at its knees. With my world in the balance.
I like the Once upon a time feel of the first sentence and would read on because of it (declaration of interest: one of my novels opens in a similar way). Sentence fragments 2 and 3 don't do much for me. They do provoke questions, but I'm not sure they're the right questions. But I would read on, for style rather more than story.
 

Nether

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Like many stories before and dozens from now, this story started in the flames. With the world at its knees. With my world in the balance.

While I feel like it's an eye-catching way to begin a story (albeit not the strongest way to start a story), I think the "dozens from now" undercuts the scale. The rest has an epic feel, but "dozens from now" makes it feel smaller.

Granted, whatever comes right after that is going to be make-or-break.
 

Elizabeth George's book Write Away