I write stuff for kids...and muse on writing, children's books, and the publishing industry in general

Saturday, April 2, 2011

My A-Z of Writing Tips: Beginnings (The First 250 Words)

The beginning of your manuscript is so important, all I can say is:


Enough said, I think.

But seriously, it pays to place a lot of importance on how you write the first page of your book. Obviously, the rest of the manuscript has to hold up as well. But...if you don't capture the agent's/editor's attention right at the start, the rest of the manuscript may not even get read. Read Mary Kole's awesome post on Beginnings if you're not convinced!

Consider your opening scene. Is it gripping? Compelling? Does something happen? Do the first 250 words give a good idea of the voice of your main character? Of your writing voice?

Here's a useful exercise for you:
  1. open a new word document
  2. copy the first 250 words (no more, no less) of your manuscript into the new document and save
  3. let the passage sit unopened for a few days, a week (or longer) if possible
  4. open the document and read the passage in complete isolation from the rest of your manuscript. Pretend you're reading it for the first time in a bookstore while you wonder if you can justify another charge to the credit card and if this is the book you'll charge
  5. does the passage grab your interest? Be honest. Be objective. Would you turn the page?
  6. consider the contents of your opening passage. Is your MC mentioned? Do we hear the MC's voice? Does something happen or are we just reading about the MC thinking, reading, sitting on the toilet, looking out a window, or any other passive (and possibly boring) action? Is the scene set-up so long that the reader still won't know what is happening by the end of the first page?
  7. now for the big question - have you opened with a cliche? There are some great websites out there on first chapter and opening scene cliches (too many to mention). Google them and have a good read. Unfortunately, many agents will assume that if your opening scene/page is cliche-ridden (for want of a better phrase), the rest of your manuscript may be built on cliches as well. Why give them a reason to reject your work before they even turn to the manuscript's second page?
  8. once you're completely happy with your opening page, give it to your critique partner(s) to read as well
  9. listen to their comments. Apply
  10. do a happy dance, then repeat steps 1-10 all over again!
I can't wait to read your first 250 words. Will I want to keep on reading???

How about you: how important is the beginning of your manuscript for you?


Cheree said...

Ooh, I hate the first 250 words with a passion. I've just wrote the beginning of my story (about 3 times now). I can never seem to find an interesting place to start... hope it's a good one I've got now (I'm not going to look at it until I finish writing it).

mooderino said...

Beginnings, so painful. I rewrite mine over and over. The first line, the hook, the tone, the voice. There's always something that needs improving. And then there's the ending...

great post.

Madeleine said...

Good post Rach,
I love writing the opening scenes, though sometimes after I've written a few chapters I see the opening as backstory and cut it out so, that I can start the story in 'medias res' as they say! :O)

Talei said...

I love writing the beginnings of a book - its just the rewrites and editing that takes time. ;-)

Great post!

K.C. Woolf said...

Great post, again!

'Grab the reader's attention and do not let go' - both are equally important.

Carole Anne Carr said...

I submitted the first 100 words by mistake, thought it was just a local fun thing and turned out I'd sent it to an agent, and had a terrific response, so yes, a vital thing to do.

Bish Denham said...

There has to be a good beginning for there to be a good ending.

Paula Martin said...

Very sound advice, Rach. Look forward to more of your A-Z tips. Best of luck with the Challenge!

Clara Gillow Clark said...

Love your list, Rach. And the happy dance at the end! Great post!

Kari Marie said...

Beginnings are important! I love your tip.

Liz P said...

Great post. I think I'm going to try this exercise. My beginning is getting better but could use some more attention. Thanks for the tips!

Jules said...

Great advice, Rach. Think I'll skip ahead to the happy dance part :)
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Zan Marie said...

Great post, Rach! Since my first 250 have been rewritten to death in March, they might hold up. Diaper stench, anyone? LOL! That new first line has been working so far.

Jeanne said...

First 250 words? This is where we can all legally become hookers. Hook that reader, toss out your cliches and make me have to read that book right now, right then. Great post!

Meika said...

I just wrote about this over on my blog, only without all the helpful hints! Great post. Thanks!

Vicki Tremper said...

Great advice, Rach, thanks! I really struggle with beginnings, so I'm going to try this next time.

Name: Luana Krause said...

I don't have trouble with beginnings or endings. It's all the stuff in the middle. LOL

Carol Riggs said...

Great post, Rach! I'm really going to do this with a novel I have--take the first 250 words and REALLY look at them in terms of interest. I think I may need to amp up the beginning. And thanks for the link to Mary Kole's article--really good stuff!

Happy weekend. :)

Nikki said...

Great B post! I'm tweaking my first 300 words all of the time.
Raising Marshmallows

Myne Whitman said...

I rewrote my first page several times before I was happy with it.

baygirl32 said...

the first 250 words definately get your attention, its the ends that are hard

Carrie said...

Great tips and thanks for the link :)

Giggle, Laugh, Cry said...

Just stopped by from the A-Z Challenge!!

Arlee Bird said...

Beginnings are crucial--often make or break. This writing series is going to be very helpful, Rachael.

Contrary to my usual practice of subscribing to comments, to save time during challenge I will not be doing so during April. If you want to respond to my comment , please email me directly from your email notification for the comment.

Tossing It Out
Twitter hashtag: #atozchallenge

Jingle said...

awesome B post..

bless you,
have a beautiful and beesy beginning...

Anonymous said...

Awesome post! I try not to think too hard about the first 250 when I write them or else they turn out awkward and forced. When I revise, it's a different story.

Anonymous said...

I hope you'll keep reading ;)

Great tips

Alleged Author said...

I usually love my first two hundred fifty words, but I HATE the fact that I suffer from muddle in the middle.:(

Nas Dean said...

Thanks for the great post!

Pearson Report said...

A piece I am working on was critiqued by Carol Berg and I was totally rocked when she said I had grabbed her interest within the first page - best 15 minute blue pencil session of my life.

Although I've had my blog spot since 05 I've only this year put it to use - what I've discovered is there are amazingly talented and helpful individuals on the same quest as I am - to write.

Fame and notoriety aside I just love writing.

I found your site though "The Golden Eagle" & the A-Z Challenge.

Very helpful and interesting site you have - I'll be back.


Crystal said...

Wow, you are so right - beginnings are SO important; it's the bait on your hook! Thanks for the tips, too! I'll be referring back to this post the next time I'm revising something, that's for sure.


Adeeva Afsheen said...

Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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