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Monday, April 26, 2010

The First 250 words

Okay, so I talked last week about your queries.  Today I’m taking just a moment—as I’m in a crunch with MI at the moment (Some edits that I need to get to my agent pronto!)—to talk about those all important first 250 words, which is approximately 1 page of writing. 

As in all things, there are no specific rules, but you need to grab the readers attention.  You don’t want the reader (whomever it may be) to look at the first sentence and go “BORING!  Why would I read more?”

Remember, you want your first sentence to really hook them.  Think about what you did for your query letter. 

Use your first sentence to hook them, then use the rest of the paragraph to reel them in, and use the rest of the first page to anchor them to that book. 

Here’s a few things to consider while you’re writing that all important first line.  (People who’ve read my blog from the beginning will recognize this from another earlier post.)

1. Sentence Style.  Basically what this means is that the sentence must be concise.  This doesn't mean it can't be long, but it needs to make sense.  It definitely needs to be structured correctly so that the reader doesn't feel as if it's a mouthful.
2. It should make the reader ask a question.  Basically this part is your hook.  This doesn't necessarily need to be in the very first sentence, but if not it needs to be in the first paragraph.  Give your reader a reason to keep reading.  Let it be a hint of what's to come and set the tone for the book.  If it's a comedy, open with something funny.  If it's a horror, something scary, etc.
3. It needs to be relevant.  Since this line sets the tone for the rest of the book, don't just add in something that sounds interesting or funny, but has nothing to do with the story.  It'll only cause your readers to stop reading that much faster.  Readers are smart, they'll figure it out.
4. It needs to allow for setup.  You shouldn't toss your readers in the middle of a scene where no one knows what's going on.  It's distracting, chaotic, and of course another reason not to keep going.  People don't like feeling confused.  They want to feel like they've got a good handle on something before they continue.

There are people who say not to start off with dialogue.  Or description, but as in all thing writerly, you have to follow your instinct.  If dialogue fits better.  USE IT!  If it needs to start with description.  Do it!  But make sure it’s EXCITING! 

It’s your hook.  If it doesn’t make the reader go. “Oh my!  I have to keep reading now!”  Then it’s not enough.  Try something else.

What’s just as important as that first line?  The last one.  In this case it would be the last line before you end at 250 words.  Make sure to end on another hook.

If you can make the agent go, okay, I liked the query, but I LOVE this page and I have to know what happens next, then you’re golden! 

So, you have a few days now to make your queries and first 250 shine, so get to it.  I’ll see you back here on the first!