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The First 250

You hear it all the time. The first 250 words are the most important words in the whole novel. And, to an extent, it’s true. Many readers (and, especially agents) will make a determination about a book in those first 250 words.

I know exactly what you’re thinking, too. “Man, that’s a lot of pressure. Especially for those of use that take our time revving our engines a bit before we head down the boulevard.”

And, I totes agree. For me, this is one area I need work on. As a writer, I notoriously take my time and meander my way into a story. Much of the criticism my novels receive include lines such as “slow start” or “not much happening in the first few chapters.”One clever reviewer even stated something along the lines of—and this is not an exact quote but—the story spanned over 400 years, and it felt like that long to read.

Ouch.

Okay, I get it. Old habits die hard. And, I’m a slow starter. I’ve always felt no need to rush into things, but I know I may take things a tad too far. The same is true for what I like to read. Personally, I don’t like to feel like I’m being rushed into a situation. I like the setting described thoroughly, the characters eased into my mind, and the conflict… well, there’s always time for the conflict, so I hope it’s not mentioned in the first chapter or two. Fine, I’ll admit it, maybe I read too much Melville as a kid.

But in today’s publishing market, writers need to grab that attention within the first 250 and hold it throughout. The writing needs to be clean, polished, active, and interesting. And if done correctly, it’s the thing that will surely grab an agent’s attention and get your pages requested. Talk about a challenge for us lollygaggers!

So, I’m working on it. I write and rewrite and rewrite until each and every one of those 250 words are exactly (and deliberately) where they need to be to make that beginning shine. I work hard to find a balanced mix of active voice, action, and setting description. It doesn’t always happen, but hey, I’m a work in progress. And, I know that when I do it right, I really do it right. So yeah, I’ll keep working on it.

And maybe leave out the lengthy diversions describing the color white.

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