Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The First Five Hundred Words

Good afternoon, fellow bloggies. Today I wanted to share a wonderful experience I had on June 18th and not the heart dropping news my stepdad might be dying, which by the way, thank God, the angels, and the universe, he isn’t. He’s suffering from a kidney infection and a blood clot the doctors found in his leg, but they prepared us for the absolute worse. Why do they have to do that is beyond me.

Back to my wonderful experience on Saturday, June 18th. Florida Writer’s held a one of their monthly meetings at Barnes and Nobles in Carrollwood, Florida. They have one every third Saturday of the month. This month’s featured speaker was Lorin Oberweger, a professional book editor. You can find her @: She’s pricey, but worth every penny of it.

I know several weeks ago I had asked a few fellow writers to critique chapter one to Secondhand Shoes. In my opinion, it’s long and wordy. It takes about three pages or more to get a sense of what’s going on. But it’s been my belief if a book couldn’t grab you by the third page it wouldn’t be worth my time and money to pick it up and read. OUCH! YIKES! To me because agents, publishers, and acquisition editors want to see it sooner. Time is money, you know.

Lorin explained it needs to be in the first five hundred words. BE-OTCH slap me!

If you’ve read the first chapter I’ve posted at , you’ll find, like I did, and she did, it doesn’t tell you much IN FIVE HUNDRED words what the story is going to be about. It describes the wedding dress mostly. (Also, I apologize to anyone who suffered through any agony reading it).

When my first five hundred words were read to the audience they suffered greatly. No one in the audience realized my main character has a gift of psychic/mediumship and sees ghosts. No one knew her dead Gram existed. No one understood why Lila let her mother talk her into marrying a JERK.

So my friends, below are the pearls of wisdom, Lorin bestowed on us at the meeting and I now share them with you.

Effective Opening Scenes

  • Does your opening prompt the reader to ask questions?
  • Does it give the reader a sense of the book’s genre?
  • Does it employ specific, concrete imagery?
  • Does your opening unfold in specific time and place, which is CLEAR to the reader?
  • Does it contain some kind of subtle emotional mystery, a sense of things being a bit “off” in the world of the story or the life of a protagonist?
  • Does it demonstrate – in observable terms – something critical about your protagonist’s (or other significant player’s) character?
  • Does it employ lively, specific language and a clear sense of the novel’s voice and tone?
  • Does it offer some kind of intriguing example of “cognitive dissonance” – a sense of opposing ideas being thrust together to create a kind of psychological tension?
  • Does the reader get a strong sense of your protagonist’s GOAL for the scene?
  • Long and short of it: does it make the reader want to KEEP TURNING PAGES to find out what’s next?

Happy blogging, reading and writing!


PS I’ve reposted my new chapter one. It’s much shorter and tighter now. It gets to the point of the story.


  1. These are great thoughts to keep in mind as you write. I would say that most of them should be considered no matter what part of the book you're writing.

    Building Castles on the Beach

  2. Great advice here! Thank you for sharing. And so glad your step dad is doing okay!

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

  3. Geez, I don't think mine have any of that...oops...

  4. @ Brent: I have to agree with you. Every page needs to be a turner.

    @Sarah: Thank you for your postive energy last week.

    @Beth: It's okay. We learn best by trial and error. When I bought Twilight, I was at an airport. And if I wasn't going to be on a plane for three hours, I would've set it down b/c it was as boring as shit the first half-way through(I never would've read the entire series). After, it became a page turner for me about 100 pages in and I fell in love with it.

  5. @Wills: I thought so. It helped me.

  6. To sum up:
    To sum up:
    A clear goal
    Does something exciting happen too? [=

  7. Great list, Shell, and even better point. While I do think a little too much weight is put on openings (to the point that folks will often cram action into it for the sake of action, as opposed to moving the story forward), I think there's definitely a need to put your best foot forward.


  8. Wow, that's great stuff and I don't know what I would answer to all of that because I have a prologue that is basically a fantasy dream that doesn't have anything to do with my plot, but it establishes my main character as having imaginative dreams about love. The prologue is fantasy, but my book is romantic woman's fiction.
    Great post Shelly!

  9. great questions to ask for the opening pages :)

  10. @ EJ: When one of the audience members asked her about action, she stated starting a scene with like a building blowing up is so stereotypical**frown**. They want something not neccessarilty action but more thought provoking.

    @Eve: Was also told they frown on prologues. They don't waste their time on those anymore.

    @Lynda: Thank you.

  11. Phew ! That is quite a list ! But very informative , thanks for sharing !


Let me know what you think.