100 Words to Engage Your Reader

2015-02-06 22.14.14 (4)“You have a hundred words to engage your reader,” the workshop speaker tells us at a recent writers’ conference. She also said, “If it doesn’t matter cut it.” I took another look at my current wip (working title ANIMAL). The first section below is what I had written. The second is where I cut it to get to the action in the first hundred words.

         The circle of light illuminated the pavement just in front of her running feet as Bree approached an especially dark stretch of the road. She was out of her own well-lit neighborhood, but this road saw little traffic and had a nice slow incline that increased the degree of difficulty just enough for her liking.

          The streetlights were spaced equidistant from each other except for this particular section which Bree figured was because there weren’t any houses nearby. Instead, the land had been left to woods and water, a dense bit of forest in its natural state. It wasn’t particularly threatening beyond the fact that it was just especially dark. But she was familiar enough with the road having run it many times in both daylight and nighttime, not to be concerned.

          Up ahead, perhaps a half a mile away, the streetlights began again. She’d kept up a nice easy rhythm, checking her phone every now and again to make sure she was maintaining her pace. Her playlist filtered through her earbuds. She had another mile to go before she turned back. Four miles was good for a weekday, she reminded herself.

          No matter how tired she was, she made time for her jogging routine five days out of seven at a minimum. It was as necessary to her as air and if she didn’t get her workout in, she felt sluggish and disappointed with herself. She not only needed the discipline of a workout, she enjoyed it. She could let the stress and problems and little annoyances of life fade away so it was just her and her music. Her muscles cooperating with the demand she put on them, her heartbeat increasing, her lungs functioning the way they were supposed to. She loved knowing that her body rose to the challenge before it.

          The darkness became almost all-encompassing except for the haloed streetlight she could see in the distance. There was cloud cover so no stars shown. There was no moon. Not even a sliver. She focused on the circle of light ahead of her, the soles of her running shoes hitting the pavement, her stomach sucked in, her arms pumping.

          It was a cool October North Carolina night with a hint of moisture in the air. She wore one of her long-sleeved tees and loose shorts. She’d pulled her hair back in a low ponytail.

          She sensed the rush of an approach a split second before out of nowhere something knocked her to the ground. (417 words)

      Her head hit the pavement as she crashed down on her right side. At first Bree was too stunned to do anything. She didn’t understand what was happening or who or what was attacking her. She felt a pressure on her chest and a growling like that of a wild animal. But she couldn’t see anything. Whatever it was, she thought wildly, wanted to kill her. She could smell its breath and its teeth snapping as it snarled. Sharp nails embedded in her skin through her clothes. She was going to be mauled to death by this—this thing, if she didn’t do something. (521 words)

Are you ready to put my book down now?

Below is where I cut the scene to 100 words to snag reader’s interest:

         Her flashlight illuminated the pavement just in front of her running feet as Bree approached an especially dark stretch of the road. She was more than a mile out of her own well-lit neighborhood, but this road saw little traffic and had a nice slow incline.  

          Cloud cover blocked the stars. There was no moon. She focused on the circle of light ahead of her, the soles of her running shoes hitting the pavement, her stomach sucked in, her arms pumping.

          She sensed the rush of an approach a split second before out of nowhere something knocked her to the ground. (104)

         Her head hit the pavement as she crashed down on her right side. At first Bree was too stunned to do anything. She didn’t understand what was happening or who or what was attacking her. She felt a pressure on her chest and a growling like that of a wild animal. But she couldn’t see anything. Whatever it was, she thought wildly, it wanted to kill her. She could smell its breath and hear its teeth snapping as it snarled. Sharp nails embedded in her skin through her clothes. She was going to be mauled to death by this—this thing, if she didn’t do something. (208)

Comments welcome! Keep track of future posts via Twitter @barbmeyers

5 Comments:

  1. This kind of cutting is tough to do…but what a stunning difference!

  2. Reblogged this on Whispers in the air and commented:
    This cutting of the fodder can be difficult but necessary to move the story along. Barb’s before and after example shows how that tough editing can make a big difference.

  3. Thanks for the reblog and comment, Darlene. That workshop really opened my eyes about openings.

  4. Great post! Cutting is painful but so necessary.

  5. Thanks for the comments. I read this to my writers’ group. Some of them liked the more wordy version. But then when they heard the “cut” version, they liked that, too! I’m a “cut to the chase” kind of writer. A little flavor goes a long way with me. 🙂

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