Learning from the Masters: The First 250 Words


I’m currently revising the first book I ever wrote. After many years of debate, I’ve decided to definitively kill my darling of a prologue and start right away with the main story.

I wrote before about the importance of the first 250 words of your manuscript and I’ll probably write about it again because it was something I didn’t get right away, as a writer. I thought to myself, this book is good–especially the end! But no one will get to the end if they don’t get past the beginning.

So! Revising again. And for help, I’m pulling the first 250 words of both favorite novels and popular novels, even ones I didn’t particularly love. Because you can always learn from the success of others, even if you don’t agree with it.

So on to today’s excerpt…

Say what you will about Twilight–chances are, I’ll agree with you. But Stephanie Meyer definitely got one major thing right: she knows how to write a story that keeps you reading. Which is pretty much an author’s most important job. I read all four Twilight books, and regardless of the number of times I sighed over the poor decision-making skills of some of the characters or rolled my eyes at a particularly cheesy phrase (marble abs)–I never put them down.

You are hooked from page one. Let’s figure out why:

My mother drove me to the airport with the windows rolled down. It was seventy-five degrees in Phoenix, the sky a perfect, cloudless blue. I was wearing my favorite shirt – sleeveless, white eyelet lace; I was wearing it as a farewell gesture. My carry-on item was a parka.

In the Olympic Peninsula of northwest Washington State, a small town named Forks exists under a near-constant cover of clouds. It rains on this inconsequential town more than any other place in the United States of America. It was from this town and its gloomy, omnipresent shade that my mother escaped with me when I was only a few months old. It was in this town that I’d been compelled to spend a month every summer until I was fourteen. That was the year I finally put my foot down; these past three summers, my dad, Charlie, vacationed with me in California for two weeks instead.

It was to Forks that I now exiled myself – an action that I took with great horror. I detested Forks.

I loved Phoenix. I loved the sun and the blistering heat. I loved the vigorous, sprawling city.

“Bella,” my mom said to me – the last of a thousand times – before I got on the plane. “You don’t have to do this.”

My mom looks like me, except with short hair and laugh lines. I felt a spasm of panic as I stared at her wide, childlike eyes. How could I leave my loving, erratic, harebrained mother to fend for herself?

Why does this work?

1. Voice Right away we know the voice in which this story will be told: in a simple, no-frills, straightforward way. This style of writing can be pretty universally appealing, so it’s no wonder so many people were immediately sucked in (pun intended).

2. Conflict We know the protagonist is being sent to live somewhere she doesn’t want to go, so immediately there’s conflict.

3. Tension What is so bad about this town, besides the rain? What’s going to happen to her there? Plus, I don’t care how cliched it is, I love rain in stories. Makes them both scarier and cozier.

That’s really it. I’ll be doing this again soon, so look out for the next one!

Photo by Matias North on Unsplash

9 thoughts on “Learning from the Masters: The First 250 Words

  1. You had me at Forks!!! You really did.
    Stephanie M is a brilliant writer. I felt so qualms about any decision making because I was literally drooling over the ‘marble abs’

    Thanks for the except will be looking forward to reading more.


  2. An interesting way to approach your writing – I can tell if I’m going to really enjoy a book from the first couple of paragraphs but I’m not sure I’d stop reading if the beginning wasn’t riveting, unless of course it was poorly written.


    1. I mean, if I’d already purchased the book, I wouldn’t stop reading that soon, but often people decide whether or not they’re going to buy a book by reading the first couple of paragraphs, in person or on Amazon. That’s how I decide, at least! So many books, so little time!


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