The stench of rotting food and diesel fuel hung over the dock like it had been there forever. Even inside the small warehouse, the foulness overpowered everything. That was until the man in the light gray coveralls opened the door of the shipping container.
Suddenly death was all Jonathan Quinn could smell.
Unflinching, he scanned the interior of the container. With the exception of a bloated body crumpled against the wall to the right, it was empty.
“Shut the door,” Quinn said.
“But Mr. Albina wanted you to see what was–”
“I’ve seen it. Shut the door.”
That’s the first 100 words – actually 96 – of my next novel THE DECEIVED. I’ve posted it here because Rob Browne and I have been involved with a fun project over at Backspace concerning the first 100 words of a manuscript.
Many of you are probably familiar with Backspace, but for those who aren’t it’s a great resource for both the aspiring author and the published. Headed up by the wonderful Karen Dionne, it has articles and columns and workshops and a fantastic discussion board where members can share their experiences and their writing. From the website:
Backspace is predicated on the idea of writers helping writers, which we accomplish by means of discussion forums, an online guest speaker program in which agents, acquisitions editors, and best-selling authors regularly conduct question and answer sessions with the group, advice and how-to articles from publishing experts on this website, as well as our real-world conferences and events.
Wish I’d known about the site earlier, though I’m not sure it was around when I was still hunting for that first sale. Still, what a great resource.
Anyway, I was talking about the project Rob and I are doing over there. We’ve had a section in the discussion area where we answer questions the other members have about writing and publishing. Recently we’ve added a sub discussion group called the FIRST 100. There, like I did above, members post the first 100 words of their novels for feedback. Rob or I will chime in on each one, as do some others members, which is great.
I love seeing the diversity of talent out there.
Some of the entries are great the way they are, some just need a little tweak to reach that goal of grabbing the reader right away.
Because that’s what the first 100 words of a novel are all about. Grabbing the reader. I think this is true no matter which genre you write. Readers pick up books off the shelves (after, no doubt, being wow’d by a cover the author has no control over), then they most often flip to the first page and begin reading. If the author doesn’t grab them in that first paragraph, 99% of the time the book goes back on the shelf. The other 1% of the time the reader is related to the author.
One of the biggest issues Rob and I are seeing is people trying to cram too much information into those first 100 words. Explaining who’s who, what’s what. But the reader doesn’t need to know all that right up front. There’s a certain amount of time they will grant the author to just carry them along without giving away the farm. Again, I think that’s a genre neutral rule. The cool thing is, once we point this out, almost universally the response is positive.
Another interesting issue that’s created a bit of a debate is the use of present tense. Out of the 50+ submissions we’ve reviewed so far, somewhere between 5 to 10 of them were writing in present tense. I’m not a big fan of using present tense, though am not completely opposed to it. Some of the best books I’ve read in the past couple of years have been present tense (the Bangkok books by John Burdett, and The Archivist Story by Travis Holland). Rob can chime in with his opinion, but to suffice it to say his is a little stronger than mine.
I think what surprised me the most about the use of the present tense is that so many were using it. I think if a story needs to be told that way then fine, but I find it curious that people who are still unpublished would still choose to use it, and here’s why…Unless I’m missing something, so few books are published this way. And because publishers aren’t as interested in these kind of books, my sense is agents won’t be either. So the question I’ve posed to many of theses writers is why hinder your chances of making your first sale by writing in a method many publishing professionals will dismiss after the first sentence? Again, if they felt strongly that this is the only way their story could be written, so be it. But they need to know going in that that uphill climb just turned into Mt. Everest with limited supplies.
So I’m curious…what do you think about using present tense by someone trying to sell their first novel? Maybe I’m wrong. Also feel free to pass along any other hints on the first 100 words you might have. I’ll post them over at our discussion group and credit you. Trust me, it will be appreciated!