I know you've heard it a million (billion?) times: Your first 100 words are everything.
No, they aren't, but they're a crucial part of the whole.
Think about it. When a reader picks up your book on the shelf, the first thing they read is the back, right? Before they pick up a sample digitally, your synopsis is what they read. Once they're past that hurdle, they'll flip the book over, open the front flap, and read a couple of paragraphs. Or, in the case of a digital book, they'll download the sample, open it, and read the first couple of paragraphs.
If they enjoy it, they'll buy. Look at caviar. People like it, they pay a LOT for it.
So, your first 100 words are important, yes, because they're what will get you the sale.
I guess you could say they're one third of your most important elements. Yeah, the other two are your synopsis and last 1k words (I'll go into the last 1k sometime soon).
So how do you beef up those first few paragraphs to make them something readers are dying to get more of?
Move the reader. Give them a wow moment.
Engage the five senses, and use powerful words.
Let's try a little exercise. In this, I'll try to set the tone, hint at the genre, give a great example of my writing style, set the POV, and give a bit of a setting.
My eyes opened to find total darkness.
All my limbs began to tingle, and my breath came in ragged gasps. There was no light for my pupils to adjust to.
Not one tiny speck of illumination.
Those nightmares I had when I was younger were in my face; all too suddenly a grim reality.
I tried to sit up, to get away from the oppressive inkiness, but my head hit something that felt like wood.
Automatically, my hand moved to touch the spot, and I scraped my knuckles across the timber, making them itch with a thousand splinters.
Okay, now we'll have to edit this to read a little more powerfully. Ready?
My eyelids lifted, and darkness assaulted me. Oppressive, thick, suffocating. Even after a moment of lying still, not one speck of illumination could be harvested to penetrate my pupils and assist my sight.
Nightmares I'd had slammed into me full force, and I tried to rise. Something wooden smacked my head, forcing me to remain supine. My hand moved to comfort my battered forehead, only to end up itching with a thousand splinters as my knuckles scraped the timber.
I shook, wondering what I'd done to deserve my mother's punishment again, aware of the tears that were ruining my mascara.
Notice I got more description and feeling into the second pass. If I went over it again, it would probably remain pretty close to what I have here.
Things you know or can safely assume:
- This is a young person in a dark place (some kind of box?), with at least a piece of wood that's so close she can't sit up.
- She's lying on her back.
- This isn't the first time she's been there.
- She's afraid of creatures from nightmares or total darkness.
- First person, past tense.
- There is zero light to be had, which conveys the person is buried somehow, and it leaves the reader wondering.
- This is a punishment for misbehavior - But what?
- She's old enough to wear makeup.
- She's crying
- Probably a contemporary thriller or horror story.
From the first attempt to the second, I condensed passages, used better (stronger) words, and gave you more lead-in.
Read them again and see if you can pick up on the things I changed while conveying the same tale.
Flow wasn't sacrificed, and the sentences are more varied in the second part.
Would you want to read more?
That's the idea. You must convey to the reader many things, but it has to sound natural and leave them wanting to turn the page for more.
So, your first 100 words aren't everything, but they're crucial.
Try this exercise on your own, then go here and copy/paste your text to see if your word count hits the mark.
Post your results below! I'd love to see what you come up with.
Well, that's all for today, folks! Until next time, WRITE ON!