On Writing · Publishing

The first 250

Okay, so if you’ve read my Anatomy of a logline post, you know how I feel about loglines.

Guess what? There’s a second-parter to this story. For the Baker’s Dozen competition, I have to submit a logline and the first 250 words of my novel.

Okay. That’s good, right? I mean, because I can only say so much in one logline, now I have the opportunity to share 250 words! I should be clicking my heels in a leap of joy, right?


I submitted the first 250 words of my novel to the Secret Agent contest, also offered graciously by the great and wonderful Authoress at Miss Snark’s First Victim.

Once again, I was met with some great, positive feedback. And then – a message from the secret agent herself, Michelle Witte. *Hands on head, pulling out hair*

She said:

My general reaction to hearing about a family meeting is usually dread. I don’t know of many families that call meetings because everything is hunky-dory, so to see her blase reaction strikes me as off. Though perhaps she’s just really naïve. 

The thing that really tripped me up, though, was the opening sentence. The phrasing and hyphen use comes across rather awkward. Definitely not good for the first sentence of the manuscript.

What I took (very to heart, indeed) was that my first 250 words were not getting her attention at all. In fact, they were…dreadful. (Folks, there is no tongue in cheek her. Honest.) And, that my first line was ‘definitely not good’.

I’d like to point out that I worked for hours on my first sentence. Here it is:

One week of make-my-brain-hurt studying for things I barely cared about and then I’d be free for the summer.

 My thoughts: This line speaks to the voice of the story and of the character. It says studying is happening. It says the summer is coming…It says the person doesn’t want to be in school. I really like the ‘make my brain hurt’ portion.

Here’s the rest:

I grabbed my iPod and started cleaning my room to the blasting beat of Katy Perry’s California Girls. Procrastination is key during the week of exams. I’d do anything to not face the harsh reality of studying – even clean. I was in mid dance-and-clean mode when my bedroom door swung open. 

“Rachel!” My mother’s face was flushed. “Rachel!” 

I pulled an ear bud out of my ear. “Yeah?”

“I’ve been calling you. Can you come downstairs for a family meeting?” I looked at the digital clock on my bedside table. 9:32 am. “Now?” 

“We’re in the dining room.” She closed the door. A family meeting at 9:30am on a Saturday morning? I wondered what we could possibly have to meet about this early, but the thought was fleeting. I figured my parents just wanted to lay down some ‘once the summer starts’ laws. I threw my iPod on my bed and headed down stairs. Even a family meeting was better than studying, right? 

When I got to the dining room, my dad was sitting at the head of the table, his hands folded casually in front of him. My brother Alex dozed in the chair beside my dad. 

“Want something to drink, Rachel?” My mom asked from the adjoining kitchen. The scent of freshly brewed coffee swam up my nose. 

“Nah, Alex may need some though,” I said. My dad touched Alex’s shoulder.

Comments from other writers included: I shouldn’t mention a musician or song title this early in the story because it could turn off the reader, what would happen next at the meeting, what exactly was the conflict….

Here’s the truth: From my original, first draft manuscript, I got rid of the first chapter. The WHOLE first chapter. And most of the second, in order to get to this point. Then I wrote and re-wrote the first line because the first line is so bloody important. I felt like I’d already chopped off so much of my ‘beginning’ that I just couldn’t chop off anymore. It was painful enough already.


An actual agent read these words. An actual POTENTIAL person who could be my partner is this scary world of YA novels – and she said it wasn’t ready.

I mean, that’s the gist of it. She was honest. She was specific. And she was right.

So I cut more. I changed the first line. And I have a new 250 words.

My new first line is:

The excitement in our dining room was undeniable.

I can’t say I love it. But I can’t say I hate it either. I can say that within the next 225 words, that ‘excitement’ will unravel and conflict will come shooting at the reader like bullets at a dual. Duel? Eff it. You know what I mean.

I’m learning so much!

Maybe it’s not about loving the first line so much as it’s about paying attention to what readers need.

I’m putting my story out there and people – my fellow writers – AGENTS! – are giving me feedback. I must pay attention. I must learn. I must edit. I must not give up.

The most difficult thing for me to overcome at this point is the fact that my ‘instincts’ – the words that my body and mind believe are the words that need to/should be there, maybe aren’t quite right. Yet. That’s really scary to me.

I hope that based on all the feedback I’ve gotten, and all the changes I’ve made, I will move forward in the contest.

I won’t give up no matter what. I still believe in the story I’ve written. In the characters who’ve graced my mind with their personalities and choices.



8 thoughts on “The first 250

  1. Vanessa, your instincts are excellent, no question. But open them up a little. Give them a wider space to play in. Your intuitions and your readers’ needs can compliment each other, peacefully and creatively co-exist, as long as you don’t hold too tightly to either. You’ve written the opening line as it stands now for your readers’ sake, and yet it does not engage me. It doesn’t feel authentic. Is this how a young person would think? – the excitement in this room is undeniable? “Undeniable” conveys no emotion. The word itself is too soft. Your original opening line was far stronger, in my opinion, much more in keeping with the mind and mental speech patterns of a teenager. That said, it does read a bit awkwardly. I think you can smooth it out though, and honour both your commitment to your character(s) and to your readers. Try again.


    1. Miss Penny-Anne,
      boy….such daggers you heave.
      I was told by an agent that my original first line was a ‘stopper’. I liked it too, and thought it did speak in the voice of my teenage character…
      Sigh. i’ll try again.


    2. How’s this:

      I watched my older brother Alex fidgeting with his university acceptance letter. The excitement in our dining room was undeniable. As per Alex’s lucky life, everything was turning out perfectly. He was speechless, for once. In fact, we all found ourselves happily silenced. My parents took a sip of their coffees. Then my mom put her hand on my dad’s shoulder. Suddenly, I felt so far out of the loop I couldn’t even see it.


      1. Oooh! Me like much better! Bu-ut (and I hope this is not another “dagger”) but what would you think of omitting the “excitement in the dining room” line altogether? I’m not crazy about the “as per” in the next line, might need a little rewrite there, but I find I really want to stay with the scene now and see what happens. Besides the “excitement in the dining room” line is far to tell-y and not enough show-y. I don’t think you need it. You’re going to demonstrate the excitement (or the angst) now in dialogue, monologue and description. I’m starting to feel it. No need to state the obvious.
        And sweetie, I’m not trying to make your life difficult. I just know what you’re capable of, and I’ll always urge you to reach for that.


      2. Honey, the world needs more daggers.

        k. i’ll work on it some more. taking more lines out at the beginning means i can add more at the end…means the plot moves forward more…

        i know you’re not trying to make my life difficult – but you know me…every change hurts a little when it comes to my writing!


      3. Not daggers, but um, pokey sticks – to prod you gently, not slay you! ‘Course it hurts a little – you wouldn’t be human if it didn’t hurt. And please remember this is just my opinion only. Consider it, and then take it or leave it, whatever feels right to you. Follow your instincts.
        If you were just beginning your writing career or fragile when it came to critiquing, I wouldn’t speak so directly. But you’re more than strong enough to handle criticism, you know how good your work is, and you know how much I love it and you. So I’m going to give it to you straight every time.


      4. and i always want it this way from you, my dear. always. plus, you’ve the women saints in your corner. i want to be in this corner too!
        i’ll let you know how it goes!!
        love, love, love!!!


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