Friday, December 26, 2008

Writing Contest: In the beginning...

The Book Bench blog at The New Yorker tipped me off to the first paragraph contest launched by literary agent Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown Ltd. Entries to the contest were first paragraphs from novels in progress. The six finalists were announced here, and the winner chosen here.

Scanning through the many submissions I noticed a common thread: the overuse of adjectives. Maybe this comes about because we are all told to "paint a picture with words." But, good writing seems to build up this picture in an unobtrusive way--the reader comes to know the characters and the setting, almost without realizing it. In less good writing the brush strokes leave a trail across the image that can be seen a few steps away.

Based on the submissions Bransford defined three broad categories of common openings which I'll summarize alliteratively:

1. Surprsing Sentence followed by pedestrian prose
2. Delebriate Description followed by shocking statement
3. Purposefull Protagonist ignores wicked weather and propels plot

My main lesson from this contest: good writing (like good anything) is hard.

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