This weekend I dropped in at SFCOntario, my first “grown-up” con. It is a small, local con with a decidedly literary slant. I only managed a few sessions, but got more than my money’s worth. And from one session in particular.
SFCOntario Idol is a session where writers submit the first page of a manuscript to be read aloud and the judges (writers, editors and other literary folks) ring in when the page stops working for them. Then the panel discusses what worked and what didn’t. While the reference may date me, it really is a literary version of The Gong Show. Work is submitted anonymously to protect the guilty.
With some hemming and more than a little hawing, I pulled out some pages I wrote from my WiP novel (written before I decided than I really do need to outline) and had a look. They were shite. I hemmed and hawed a little more before I sat down on Wednesday to rewrite so I could submit a page. The results were glorious. 4 pages had become 1. On that page we found out whose story it was, got an idea of the stakes, found a sense of setting and there was conflict. The first lines were a bit cumbersome, but overall I liked the way it hung together.
Friday night I had an epiphany. I could fix those dragging first lines, do it elegantly, establish tone and throw in a bit a foreshadowing. All in 10 words! Damn this writing shit is cool! People are going to fucking love this!
The panel was made up of two publishers (who also edit and write), a writer and a book publicist, some of whom I know from BookReads, Twitter and local lit events. Talented and generous people all.
The presenter started to read … It was my page … This is going to be awesome!
She read my beautiful new first sentence.
Wait, what? Is that how that sounds? Ding! First judge was out.
Holy passive writing in support of that shitty opening, Batman! No dings, but hands were reaching.
Wait, doesn’t that sound like protagonist is waking up? I didn’t mean it that way! Ding! Two down, two to go.
Whew, creeped by with 3 more sentences. Maybe I can survive, my big “grab the reader” moment is coming.
That was more like a sucker punch to the strawberry speedbags. Lazy writing! Ding! Ding!
And I was out.
In proper manuscript format, it would have been the first page, but they only made it through half of what I submitted. Judging from the heat in my cheeks, my face must have been broadcasting shame.
As they spoke, each member of the panel looked right at me. They knew.
But, of course, they didn’t and the discussion was right on point. The things that didn’t work for them didn’t work.
The same scenario played out for a half dozen more submissions before the presenter thanked the panel and those who submitted.
*** Since I seem to have prematurely published, I’ll have to finish up this story in a second post. Please check back.