Over the past year or so I've entered a few online contests and without fail, they want a query, and the first 250. Sometimes you get lucky and they want the first 500 or the first five pages. But most of the time, it's the first 250.
That amounts to about the first half page of your book. Your mission, should you chose to accept it, is to catch the judge's eye with those first 250 words.
And you know what it's taught me? That not all my words are necessary. I can leave out a few "thats"--or most of them. The 250 exercise has also taught me that I need to get the voice of my character and an immediate sample of the plot in the first 250 words. I was just reading over the first page of my new WIP and wondering if it would make the cut for a contest. And I don't think so.
BUT--Don't start cutting or changing those first few words until you're done with your book and in the editing stages. But I do think it's important to remember when you enter this process how important that first page really is. Sometimes--whether you're trying to get an agent, a book deal, or a reader in the bookstore, it's all you got. You've got to hook them with those first 250.
I'm going to be entering a kissing scene next week in Cupid's kissing scene competition. This one is for 350 words and there are several honorable mention categories. Do you know how hard it is to whittle a kissing scene down to 350 words and include everything--a sense of your characters, their relationship, the actual kiss--in it? Try it. Take a kissing scene from your own work and try to condense it down to 350 words. And remember that's it being taken out of context, so the readers have no idea of your backstory when they're reading it. It's a great little exercise.
I'm really looking forward to the movie, Warm Bodies, that opens tomorrow. And then I heard it was a book so I downloaded a sample to see if I wanted to read it. And is the first paragraph:
I am dead, but it's not so bad. I've learned to live with it. I'm sorry I can't properly introduce myself, but I don't have a name anymore. Hardly any of us do. We lose them like car keys, forget the like anniversaries. Mine might have started with an "R," but that's all I have now. It's funny because back when I was alive, I was always forgetting other people's names. My friend "M" says the irony of being a zombie is that everything is funny, but you can't laugh because your lips have rotted off. ---Warm Bodies, by Issac Marion
I think it's an awesome opener and from my vast experience in these contests, this book would've gotten past the gatekeepers aka bouncers, and made it to the agent round and most definitely would've left the contest with a request or more.
I have imaginary conversations with my dad.
Some people call it blogging. But seeing as he abandoned us when I was still incubating, it’s the one way I have to tell him about my day, my thoughts, my life. I imagine that he stumbles across my blog, Simon Says, and realizes that this Simon—this short but witty sixteen-year-old—is the son he left without a trace.--Son of a (Hired) Gun by RG Senechal--that's me ;)
Feel free to leave your first paragraph and have a great day! It's my birthday and I'm heading off to tea with my mom, sisters, and daughters. And then my oldest daughter is taking me to see Gangster Squad. Ryan Gosling and high tea--can't miss :)