Sunday, September 23, 2012

The First 150 Words

The first 150 words of a manuscript are crucial. They should set the tone for the whole, almost like a novel in miniature. I plan to consider every First 150 in the GUTGAA Small Press Pitch Contest as a piece of flash fiction—flash fiction that’s missing an ending. So what should be expected from flash fiction?

Because of the shortness, flash fiction has to be very alive. Strong and active verbs are a great way to do this. As I read each GUTGAA entry, I’ll be asking myself if the piece conveys emotion, if it makes me feel something. Does it set a mood? If the piece is mostly descriptive, does that description invoke atmosphere?

Does each piece include conflict? It doesn’t need to be the main conflict of the novel, but is there something to indicate everything is not sunshine and flowers. Conflict is what runs the show and pushes a good novel forward.

The characters should have personality and be fully-fleshed. They should use sharp, real-sounding dialogue and stand out as individuals. Flat characters make for boring stories.

And finally, because of the limits on words, each and every word has to count. There shouldn’t be any waste words that could be cut, such as unneeded tags (said/asked). I’ll be watching for useless filtering, using words like ‘heard, saw, looked, thought, realized’ and others. Not only does filtering waste words, but it distances the reader from the action.

Whether you’re entering a contest or trying to entice an agent, it pays to take a long hard look at your first 150 words. Separate those beginning paragraphs out from the rest of the first chapter. Consider your opening as a work of flash fiction. Does it provoke interest? The opening words have to be workhorses. They are the sample that first meets the eye, and you need them to do their job. 

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