BookEnds is having a contest this week here for the first 100 words in women's fiction. I debated whether or not to enter. Firstly, while my new book is well beyond 100 words, it's not even a running start at a novel yet. Secondly, because of that, the beginning may change another 25 times before I decide it's good enough. I tend to rewrite those first two or three pages over and over seeking the perfect way to draw the reader (and, let's face it, agent) in. Thirdly, my first 100 words (not a word more) gave a very incomplete picture of where the story is going. You have to have 123 words to get that. So I did what may have been a mistake.
I took out information I really wanted in in order to gain a better overall view in those few words of where the story is headed. I'm not sure yet it I think that is a sell-out. Should the manuscript an author submits really adequately paint a picture in 100 words or less?
I can see why an agent would tune out if the first 100 words are cumbersome and obviously poor writing, but what if the writing is good and interesting.... don't you get more than 100 words to frame your story?
Most of the submissions to this contest, as well as the other contests that BookEnds has done recently, do this well. Somehow, in the first 100 words there is a tiny story. At the end, I know who the protagonist is, and somewhat of what their dilemma is.
Mine doesn't do this. I thought that I was doing great by getting to the first HUGE problem in the story by the middle of the second page. A great big POW! I-didn't-see-that-coming kind of moment that entirely needs the first full page to set the stage for the POW.
The set-up is this trifecta of breakfast woes: the sausage and gravy biscuits that are causing a heartattack; the milk on the cereal that causes a severe allergic reaction; then the boring but safe bagel that leads to an ambulance trip followed by a helicopter trip followed by a diagnosis that changes their lives.
But 100 words barely covered the sausage gravy thing, and that itself didn't seem enough. So I clipped, chipped, rearranged, and in the end got 123 words into 99, and I feel like I lost a little something in the process.
I don't really think I'll win, so maybe the point is moot. But in not winning I'll wonder if it's because it's not what I would actually submit or if it's just not good enough to begin with.
For what it's worth, here is the "real" beginning, what I would have posted had I been allowed a few extra lines:
I’m no killer, but if I was, my family would say my MO is death by breakfast. During Travis’s mid-life physical, his doctor informed him my daily eggs and sausage gravy on biscuits was drivin’ him to an early grave. He handed me the lab results, claiming Travis’s LDL numbers were higher than a crackhead. I said if a crackhead had my sausage gravy he’d give up the crack and rather die of plugged arteries. He didn’t laugh. We switched to eggs and toast.
When Logan was young enough to run around bare-tushed, he developed hives and a propensity for up-chucking. His pediatrician pointed to the milk we poured on his Cocoa Crispies each morning. Who the Sam Hill is allergic to milk, I asked. We switched to PopTarts and apple juice anyway.
But bagels and orange juice were the ones that finally done us in. ‘Course, they were white bagels, not those whole wheat ones with all those grains in them, and they were slathered in butter and honey. And the orange juice was really Sunny D, which I know is mostly water and corn syrup, but it’s got all that vitamin c in it so it must be some kind of healthy. Besides, it was all I could get Ashley to cram down before trying to catch the bus each morning. She got her late genes from Travis.
So there it is. Now time to go do my real writing.