Monday, November 12, 2012

Workshop 10

Today, let's get readers hooked from the very first sentence. If you do, you are off to a great start and hopefully a great first chapter.

We are going to focus on the first and second sentence and how you can draw readers in while introducing two major items about your book:

1. Your MC
2. The main conflict.

How? Is it really possible to do this in only TWO sentences? YES!

Example:

My name is Snow, like the white powder that falls during winter, though I don't know what my mom was thinking because it was ninety degrees the day I was born. I turned twelve the year I married a man I hated and thirteen when my first baby was born.

This sentence tells us a lot. It shows us a little about Snow's personality, it hints toward a shortened childhood and could possibly point to a different time era.

I also can definitely see the conflict. Can you?

You only have a few minutes to make a good, first impression. Make sure you wow your reader enough they'll actually turn the page to see what happens.

Your assignment is to write down about ten possible opening sentences (two). Now look at each group of sentences and ask yourself these questions:

1. Have to hinted to any conflict?
2. Did you introduce your MC?
3. Why did you pick this particular place in your manuscript to start the story?
4. How do they relate to the rest of your manuscript?
5. Which ones are a better hook?
6. Why are these two sentences interesting?

If you need to, write them on index cards and compare them side-by-side. Pick your favorites.

Now, we'll play a little game. Post your two favorite choices in the comments below and I'll as others to vote on their favorite.

At the end of the week, there will be two secret judges picking their favorite first sentences. The winner gets a FABULOUS present! (from an agent.......)




photo from Free Digital Photos

116 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Yes!!!!
      And I hope you remain patient while I wait on the info for the nonfiction.

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    2. Thanks. I will! Thanks for everything!

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  2. Please tell me this will be expanded to a first chapter. First chapters are my weakest point.

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    1. I asked that same thing! :) Answer was yes. thank goodness.

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    2. Yes, next is first scenes, followed bt first chapter:)

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  4. I've gone through every story I've written or started writing (that's 9 btw, not including sequels), about half start with scenery and the other half ... don't.

    My typical scene starting (Prologue of Anubis' Handmaiden):
    Blackness filled the room, an inkiness which could only be fashioned by many tons of stone. The smell of incense and embalming fluid hung in the dead air like a water-heavy log in the river.

    My not so typical non-scene starting (Chapter One of Aelfah):
    Aly fought back a yawn as she made her way out of the university library. A glance at her watch, its green glow obnoxious in the dark, revealed it to be nearly midnight.

    What's more, I apparently prefer the scene openings (based on a 5:4 ratio). Guess I like making things difficult for myself. :-/

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    1. I like #1. I don't think setting the scene is necessarily bad in the first sentence or two...as long as it is interesting and relevant. I'd say smelling embalming fluid in an opening scene perks my interest. ;)

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    2. I'm for #1. I'm curious to see what's going on, where the 2nd seems more like a simple happening.

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    3. I like #1 as well. I like the mood you set with it. With the 2nd, I didn't get a sense of much besides a girl leaving the library really late; there was no hook for me.

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    4. Yeah, I prefer #1 over #2. ^_^
      But then, Aelfah is an older story that's in need of some major rewriting. I think even the first sentences reflect that.

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    5. I agree with #1 as well. Number 2 you need more of the person in the story, not just her actions.

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  5. Because I decided to focus on non-fiction for this workshop, my opening scenes are a little different.

    Here is the original opening two sentences:
    When I began my journey out of the ashes of pity into the beauty of purpose, I had no formal direction. At the age of sixteen, I had an unplanned abortion that left me unable to cope with realities of life.

    Now here is the 2nd sentence with the 3rd sentence to create my opening scene:
    At the age of sixteen, I had an unplanned abortion that left me unable to cope with realities of life. I quickly found myself drowning in a quagmire of drugs and unprotected sex. I no longer cared about myself, those close to me, or even God. I shut down and turned off.

    Which do you think is better? 1st or 2nd set. I want to give the opening a lot of hook.

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    1. Debra, I like the 1st opening, It flows better. The second one reads much more detached and when you add all the info about drugs and what not, it leaves me thinking that I already know the story. In the 1st opening I get a sense of what the story might be about, but I'm still curious to find out how it goes.

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    2. Thanks Cristina. I thought so too. I guess I was having one of those doubtful moments.

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    3. I also agree with Cristina...#1. :)

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    4. I agree with number one. You're setting the mood and an expectation of her out look by adding in the extra sentence at the start.

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  6. A great exercise. I usually start with more scene setting than plot, but after comparing possibilities (on note cards :) ), here's my new beginning:

    Boot crouched behind the dumpster waiting for the shadows to stretch across the street. He couldn't risk anyone seeing him, not here; they'd mark him as a Dropp, a dirty-rotten poor person, and Dropps weren't worth the skin they grew in.

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    1. Oops... I'm supposed to do write two, so here's my original:

      Boot crouched behind the dumpster. The hum of cars echoed from two blocks away, but here it was silent, the warehouses deserted.

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    2. Oh, yes...definitely #1.

      Love his name--Boot.
      Love that I've learned he's a Dropp. Sounds intriguing!

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    3. definitely #1, there's an immediate sense of danger and just enough of info to leave me wanting to know more about Boot and what will happen to him if he gets marked as a Dropp.

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    4. #1! The Dropp detail clinched it for me.

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  7. how fun!

    here's mine:

    1) Cora's arms ached in protest as she dug the shovel into the dirt, one last time. A child's grave was small enough for her to do it on her own, and the physical exertion had helped her forget, even if just for a little while about the recent deaths.

    2) Cora leaned back, her head still above the hole, and wiped the dirt off her face. She took off her gloves, opening and closing her stiff hands, and stared at the child-sized grave.



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    1. i like the first one..i can practically feel the physical exertion needed for Cora to dig the grave.

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    2. 1st one's got my vote. Leaves me wanting to know more.

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    3. Yes, I agree with the others...#1, please.

      I'm feeling that one, for sure! ;)

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    4. I'm going to be difficult ;)
      I like the eerie feeling of #2 more, but find some of it a bit confusing (her head sticking up) or vague (the stretching fingers) - maybe the excertion from #1 would work better there.

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    5. I love #1. Like it's been said above, I feel like I'm living with her. And I want to know more.

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    6. I'm going to be difficult too. I like the premise here but you do have a couple of grammatical errors which make them both a bit confusing (mostly misplaced commas).

      I'd go with number two, although it's a tad confusing where she is in relation to the hole. Is she in it? I think so since you say her head is above the hole (you could change 'hole' to grave with wonderful effect if you wanted). But then I didn't understand if she's standing in it why she'd look 'down'. Would she simply look at? Or maybe ...merge the two for a new 'third' option? Take the first sentence from #2 and the second sentence from #1. Just a thought.

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  8. Here are my first two sentences:
    1. I hear the crack of the bat as it connects to the softball. Someone is shouting. I glance up and see the ball hurtling toward me in slow motion. I don't feel it hit.

    2. I climb to the uppermost top of the bleachers to eat my lunch. Same thing I do every day unless it’s raining then I go under the bleachers to eat and watch the rain drip in between the seats above me.

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    1. I like #1. I feel like I'm right there...apart of the action. :)

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    2. I feel unsettled when I'm put right in the middle of action and I have no idea who the character is. I don't even know if it's male or female. So #1 doesn't work for me. #2 is at least grounding me in the world a little.

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    3. I like #1 as well. Neither really introduce character much, but I find the action more interesting in #1. I didn't mind the lack of character. It's only 2 sentences after all, and there is a limit to how much you can pack in two sentences

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    4. Maybe it's being thrown into the action, but #1 feels a little like bulletpoints.

      #2 grabs me a little better.

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    5. I like number two as well. Tells us a little bit about her... going under the bleachers when it rains projects the image of a loner/lonely person quite well.

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  9. I really should refrain from doing anything early in the morning. Seriously. Here we go, from a short WIP:

    1) I ran, exhausted, trying to breathe in the heat and humidity, weaving around humans, paws trying to find purchase on the hot asphalt. The bad men were on the hunt.

    2)The heat and humidity added to my exhausted state as I weaved around humans, paws scrabbling for purchase on the hot asphalt, lungs burning from exertion as I tried to avoid capture. The bad men wanted more experiments, the DNA flowing through my body a gold mine of secrets.

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    1. The first sentence in #1 got me a little tongue-tied, but I still liked your first version better. It had more description and I felt I was in the scene along with the MC--which is a wolf?

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    2. Oops, I'm sorry. I meant I liked #2 better.

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    3. TY Natasha :) Not a wolf, but a rottweiler :) Sort of a prequel to my next WIP.

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    4. I like #1 better. I felt in the moment with the MC.

      #2 , though it had more info on why he was running, felt more detached, there's some passive voice that takes away from the immediacy of danger.

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    5. I agree with Cristina. I like the tone of #1. There is an immediacy and more of an animal feel to the words.

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  10. Ok, here's mine:

    #1: Ava studied the wiry branch of the cypress tree in her nail-bitten fingers and then rolled it between her index and thumb. This one was the perfect size and shape for the job—long, skinny, and not too stiff—the lacerations needed to match perfectly.

    #2: Ava plucked the leaves off the branch of the cypress tree and ran her calloused hand over the smooth surface of the soon-to-be switch. If this worked, she’d finally look like all the other survivors--no one would stare anymore, or call her pretty, or say she should leave the swamp.

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    1. #2, smoother and more of a draw.

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    2. I definately like #2. It's a little haunting.

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    3. Thanks for the feedback, everyone! #1 is currently the first two lines of my ms. #2 is the new one I wrote for this exercise. Based on the comments, I'm definitely changing to #2. Thanks to Ink for this workshop! My ms is already better b/c of it! ;)

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    4. I agree, I wanted to read more right away. Not something that usually happens for me in that short of time. :)

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    5. Oh yeah, definitely number 2. :-)

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  11. This was so hard! I had the devil of a time narrowing it to 2. Okay. Here we go.

    1) Stephanie sipped her steamy latte lightly, careful not to spill it on the new yellow shirt her dad had just spent the better part of an hour yelling about its appropriateness. She knew she should have ordered water, but caffeine was the only way she had of getting through the day now that her mother was dead.

    2) Stephanie sat on the blue embroidered booth of Marcella's diner, tapping her foot furiously, her eyes glued to her phone and the glass door. She knew this fear of catastrophe stemmed from her Mother's death in June, but it couldn't stop the slice of panic edging into her brain every single time someone was late.

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    1. I like #2, more of a feel for Stephanie.

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    2. # 2 for sure. Agree with T.J. it gives us a better feel for the MC

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    3. I think they're both good, but I tend to #2 too.

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    4. I also like two. I am one for lightening up the adjectives though. But I do like two better. :)

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    5. I like number two as well, but do watch impossible simultaneous actions, i.e. her eyes glued to her phone AND the glass door, it's got to be one or the other I think.

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    6. Thank you all so much for the kind words. Wow. I liked #1... but the vote looks pretty unanimous for #2. This was so much fun!

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  12. It's a great thing to practice. It's something I look at more carefully when working on the polished draft.

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  13. This is especially hard for me because My first chapter has been through several rounds of critiques, and I've received three requests for partials based on my first page alone, so I'd rather not change it to something more goal-oriented. My first few sentences set up the scene where the MC first "meets" a family who will be very important to her as the novel progresses. Enough jabbering, here are my first four sentences (I know; I can't even obey the two sentence rule of this excersise):

    In front of the café Amanda visited often, a plump woman in blue jeans fiddled on a cracked violin. Her dark hair danced and jerked with the movements of her playing. A boy, no older than fifteen, sat behind her beating a drum, and a man whose face had been baked in the sun provided harmony with his accordion. In his yellow and crimson tunic, he was the only one who wore the traditional garb of his people.

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    1. I like it. I can see why you're getting requests. :)

      If it's not broke, don't fix it! ;)

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  14. This was a great exercise and something I'd been struggling with for a while. As was said, first impressions matter, and I've been trying to balance two opposing aspects of my protagonist's personality (her serious, even somber introspective side and her lighthearted manner that she often uses as a coping mechanism) in that beginning. That said, here's my two best attempts so far. I'd love to hear what you all think.

    1. I had only stepped off the train the day before, driven home from boarding school by the encroaching epidemic, and already there was a death in town, like Death had followed me home. I could picture him on the train too, stowing his scythe under the seats, pouring through newspaper after newspaper all the long ride from Athens

    2. So, the old bat was dead at last--not that I didn't appreciate what she'd done for our cause--but she was a little batty. A shiver ran right through me at my next thought; I had only stepped off the train a day before, driven home from boarding school by the encroaching epidemic, and here there was a death in town already, like Death had followed me home.

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    1. I like #1 better. Sets a darker mood for me.

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    2. Hands down #2. "so the old bat was dead" it starts off with a slight cynical reverence that I'm already in love with, and if you add the newspaper (and in my mind, a cup of coffee ^_^ ) as a third sentence I'm fully hooked. Love love it!

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    3. I think your organization is better in the second one. Maybe just fine tune the flow a little. I was thrown by stepping off the train and then you say she was driven home. I know what you meant but in reading it it seems as if you're saying she came home on the train and was drove home in a car. Might change up the words for fluidity.

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    4. This was a hard one for me. ;)

      I like the voice and the "old bat was dead" comment from #2, but I also REALLY liked the visual of Death on the train in #1. I tend to lean more toward the dark side, so I probably would pick #1. However, if your ms is more lighthearted than haunting, I would go with #1.

      Yeah, I don't think I helped at all. ha ha

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    5. I was put off by the "old bat" comment. It makes your character sound callous and cold-hearted. It could be that he's a warm and loving person and the old woman was cruel, but since we don't know anything about the characters, we can only make assumptions at this point. I really like #1 because it sets the tone and conflict nicely.

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    6. I like number one better, it's a more confident voice and a plays a bit that there might be slightly macabre elements of the story. I think what you should take away is they are both good, so which one reflects the elements in the story better: the 'old bat' one or the death on the train one?

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  15. For better or for worse here I go! :)

    #1
    “Don’t go, Emma.” Luke wrapped his arms around my waist and pulled me close.
    “I go to practice every day.” I pushed lightly against his chest. He hated that I ran cross-country and was away from him for two hours every day.

    #2
    Luke’s broad frame filled the doorway, blocking the way to my car. I was already late for cross country practice and really didn’t have the energy to rehash his need for me to quit for the millionth time, but the expression on his face made it clear we were in for another fight.

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    1. #2 Starting with dialogue always throws me, since I don't know anything about the characters or setting yet. It's nice to get a taste of the story before it starts - I think :)

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    2. I'd go with #2.

      I could see the dialog in #1 following the sentences in #2.

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    3. Yes, the second one is better.

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    4. Two. The first is telling is via their dialog that he's trying to control her/is needy, and the second show us via their actions he's trying to control her/is needy and shows us she's not putting up with it.

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  16. Not sure if we can drop in two but this is my other WIP. I seem to have trouble introducing the character by name. :)

    #1
    The brochure at the recruiting office offered a way to pay off my school loans and finish my degree. I didn’t realize it came with a one way ticket to hell, but now that seemed to be exactly where I was.

    2#
    When I got into medical school at eighteen, I thought I held my future in my hands. What I held in my hand was gigantic school loans that I hoped the Navy would help me pay off—I didn’t realize the price I’d pay for it.

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    1. I'd say #1. It leaves me more curious.

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    2. I like #1. It's snappier and has more voice.

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    3. Yes, #1 is good! Makes me want to read further.

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    4. I like #1. Number two involved suspending my disbelief a little that someone who was smart enough to get into medical school at eighteen a) wouldn't realize something of the extent of their debts coming out of school and b) would be a bit of a child prodigy and eminently hirable.

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  17. I know it's not really two sentences, but I'm wondering if it works anyway. I'm thinking of cutting the first bit, and leaving the second paragraph as the beginning. What do you think?

    Invasion. Genocide. Hatred. The war was one sided from the beginning. It was our pathetic government’s ignorance that caused it. Those fools.

    The day the war began was a day I will never forget. All week there had been protests around the country about allowing illegal immigrants to live on the mainland while they were being processed. I was never one to really care for politics, so I tuned most of it out and remained uninvolved. It didn’t affect me, but I didn’t realize it soon would.

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    1. #2 draws me in more. #1 is too direct for me.

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    2. I like the second one better but still think it could be sharper. I am not in love with the first sentence. It almost seems like want you would read the back of a book. But I think it is the one I would work on.

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  18. These are two different versions of opening lines for the book I've been using in a lot of contests but haven't actively begun querying yet. In my heart, I still prefer the first version, since it comes from the literary tradition I grew up with, grounding the reader in the character and his/her world before jumping into action.

    1. Jakob DeJonghe had once a heart full of love and joy for the world, but now he was angry and bitter, and put up an iron wall all around his heart to prevent anyone from reaching him and getting too close to him.

    2. Jakob DeJonghe looked away from a German soldier as he and his mother Luisa headed home from the Waterlooplein market.

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    1. This is tough, because with just the lines I'd pick number two. But knowing a little more about the tone of your story and the overall feel of it, number one is likely to be more reflective of your writing style.

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  19. I prefer #2. Both introduces the main character, but the second one grounds him in the setting while also setting up conflict.

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  20. I for #2. The 1st is telling me how Jakob is, but not why or what his coming. The 2nd gives me a better feel for the conflict and what's going on.

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  21. Okay, here are my two. They're both three sentences, although #1 has a run-on one I'm pretty sure. 8-)

    #1 Ilia stood at the convent’s mullioned library window and watched as the deepening shadows distorted the brown and grey plants in the garden into fantastical shapes. As they elongated and twisted grotesquely in the in the winter dusk Ilia found comfort in the knowledge they were just shrubs, their pattern already determined, either they would revive come spring, or be replaced. Someone could use magic to intervene, she supposed, but changing the course of nature had a high price, much higher than even Sister Petra’s heirloom beans were worth.

    #2 With the light from the sole unshuttered window in the library fading away, the writing in the grimoire had become indecipherable. Ilia sat back in her chair and rubbed the crick in her neck with her half frozen fingers. She'd let hours slide by and now it was that in-between time that came in winter, late afternoon, too early to head to dinner and not late enough to light the one, short, fat three hour candle she was allowed at night for personal use.

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    1. #2! *hehehe* yep, #1's got quite the mighty sentence there. Plus, I found the description in the 1st sentence tough to work through - I had to concentrate to get it all, and I hate starting books thinking that hard ;)
      But #2 gives me a better impression of your MC and how she's feeling.

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    2. I agree with Dreker. There are a lot of ideas packed into three long sentences. #2 feels more intimate, which I like. But #1 mentions magic. And magic in a covenant already has my interest. Good luck in your MS! *^_^*

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    3. That's what I get for using my phone! Haha. I meant convent, not covenant.

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  22. 1) I wanted to hear “it’s a girl!” for Christmas.
    A sweet baby girl that I would wrap in my arms, snuggle her close, and sing to her dreamy little lullabies. She’d be a beautiful spring-time baby, born just in time for Easter.

    2) I envisioned my little girl wearing a dress with pink stripes over soft white linen. I could envision her chubby blused cheeks, eyes as blue as mine, my husband’s dimples, and full lips. She would be the perfect complement to our three-year old son.

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    1. I like number one better. The second was too much of a list.

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    2. I prefer #1. It makes me feel like the baby's gender is still up in the air, and it's a grand wish she is praying for. #2 feels more like she already knows she's having a girl, and is just musing about what the baby will look like. Sounds good. ^_^ I'd love to know what happens next.

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  23. My two first lines with context:

    Line 1: What is it about a dying girl that calls to you, no matter who you are?

    Dara wet his lips. He stood motionless, head cocked, watching the snowflakes tumble and swirl outside his apartment window, following the flicker of their pale shadows with narrowed eyes.

    Line 2: One phone call, and you're undone.

    Dara wet his lips. He stood motionless, head cocked, watching the snowflakes tumble and swirl outside his apartment window, following the flicker of their pale shadows with narrowed eyes.

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  24. My two first lines with context:

    Line 1: What is it about a dying girl that calls to you, no matter who you are?

    Dara wet his lips. He stood motionless, head cocked, watching the snowflakes tumble and swirl outside his apartment window, following the flicker of their pale shadows with narrowed eyes.

    Line 2: One phone call, and you're undone.

    Dara wet his lips. He stood motionless, head cocked, watching the snowflakes tumble and swirl outside his apartment window, following the flicker of their pale shadows with narrowed eyes.

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  25. Oh! This looks like fun. I'm sorry I missed it. I've had a crazy week and just had the chance to check in.

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