My First 500 Words

I posted the first 500 words of Basement of the Universe as I submitted them to Nathan Bransford’s contest in this entry. Happily, I’ve received some comments there, critiquing my piece. Thank you, critiquers. 🙂 I also submitted my piece to two other people who offered to do critiques in Nathan’s comments.

JJ DeBenedictis has critiqued mine on her blog. Here’s what she has to say:

434. Basement of the Universe – The nifty mystery of people simply disappearing is your story’s hook, and I do like how you dramatize Peter forcing himself to accept the truth he doesn’t want to acknowledge; you get us into his emotions well. In fact, given that you dramatize it well in the second scene, I think the first scene should be deleted–you’re just “telling” what you’re about to “show”. I did think the piece could be improved by getting the fact that there have been other disappearances into the narrative sooner. Also, the piece is slightly overwritten in places; for example, you don’t need to say “he repeated” when it’s clear to the reader that Peter just repeated himself. Perhaps try to streamline the prose so that you have nothing except what’s absolutely necessary?

Chro hasn’t done mine yet – as soon as it’s posted, I’ll add that here, too, provided Chro doesn’t mind.

What have I learned from all of this?

To start with, let me add a simpering explanation and whinge. I found out about the contest less than 12 hours before it was scheduled to end. Considering the last eight hours of that time was when I normally sleep, that really only gave me four hours. Discount the time needed for getting dinner, eating, and, um, I don’t know what else (was that American Idol night?), I really only had an hour or two to work with my existing first couple of pages.

And I immediately disliked what I had for the opening. So I ditched it. I’ll probably add at least portions of it back in somewhere else, perhaps in flashbacks. But that gave me one or two hours to edit the first 500 words. And that gave me no time to let it sit and let me change my mind later before I entered it.

And I can now see a whole bunch of stuff that I’d rather change about the first 500 words that I entered. As in, the entire first paragraph would be deleted in its entirety. Gone. The rest, I would get rid of the repetitive stuff and work in more ways to show his emotions, specifically about how he feels about his now-missing wife. Perhaps find a way to work in more nuances of the world they’re in – this is not contemporary Earth, after all, and I don’t think there’s anything to even hint at that.

The bottom line is that this contest, reading through other entries, reading through many of the excellent comments, some by Nathan himself, others by other readers of his blog, and reading through the critiques of my entry, has taught me a lot about how to compose the first five hundred words.

The next question is, is it enough for me to improve my first 500 words to land me an agent and publisher? Ah, time will tell. 🙂

If you haven’t already read through Nathan Bransford’s blog and the contest entries, do. It’s quite educational. And I’m also including the comments in there. While you’re at it, there are several conversations about all of this over at the Absolute Write forums, too, and are also worth checking out and reading.

The First 500 Words – Finalist List is Up.

If you haven’t checked it out already, read through the six finalist entries in Nathan Bransford’s The Surprisingly Essential First 500 Words contest and vote on your favourite.

While you’re doing that, read Nathan and Holly’s comments – they can be quite educational, especially if you want to learn how to improve your own first 500 words. Because, let’s be honest, many, if not most, agents and publishers, won’t bother reading past your first 500 words if they don’t immediately grab their attention. And I don’t mean that in a searing-flesh kind of way. 🙂

Basement of the Universe, the first 500 words

Nathan Bransford, an agent for Curtis Brown Ltd., is insanely running a contest for writers. Submit your first 500 words and he’ll… Well, his blog entry doesn’t exactly spell out whether he’ll critique each one or what, but the finalists win some pretty nifty – for writers – prizes, including a query critique, partial critique, and so on.

When I last checked, he had 649 comments, mostly entries. I feel sorry for the guy. 🙂

Because I’m insane, I entered.

And, because my first 500 words are now showing up on the Internet, I figured I might as well put those same first 500 words here, too. So you can read them. And hopefully not weep, but rather enjoy them. I hope…

Feel free to comment. Tell me what you like, tell me what you don’t, tell me what does or does not work for you.


Basement of the Universe (science fiction) by L. M. Ashton

She was gone. He stared at the empty kitchen where Tracy had stood not a minute before.  Alarms on and unbreached, doors and windows still locked, and no sign of how she might have left.

Peter’s heart sank as he wondered with panic what had happened to her.

Just five minutes ago, they were drinking their morning coffee in the bright kitchen, Tracy still in her nightgown.


He yelled back at her. “What do you want to do in the evening? Game for some black market stuff?” His coat pocket yielded nothing but an old candy wrapper. He muttered under his breath, cursed those elusive keys, then checked the pockets in the pants he wore yesterday. “Not here, either. Hey, Trace, what do you want to do?” he repeated, a little bit louder. He glanced over the crowded dresser top with Trace’s arsenal of beauty products. No keys.

“Tracy?” He reached into the pockets of the pants he wore, and found his keys in the right pocket. “Ah, here all the time.” He walked back into the kitchen.

“Tracy? Where are you?” Nothing. “Tracy, this is no time for painting.” He walked into her studio, a tiny room crammed with her painting paraphernalia and easel. The huge windows had been an incentive, at least for Tracy, for them to get the apartment. Not for the view – it looked over the soot-stained city walls on the bare, pock-marked terrain outside – but Tracy had been adamant that the lighting was absolutely perfect for her work.

“Tracy?” He felt uneasy. The apartment was so small that there was no way she couldn’t hear him or he’d miss her. He went quickly through the bedroom, the kitchen, living room, and bathroom again. No Tracy.

He checked the doors. Still bolted on the inside. The windows were closed as well, not that she’d jump from a second-story apartment on to the crowded streets, but where else could she have gone? He felt his mind race around like a cat gone crazy trying to unravel a ball of string. No, no, she couldn’t have disappeared like the others. He couldn’t believe it.

He raced back into the kitchen, half-hoping that perhaps she was playing a joke on him and would spring out from some hidey-hole that he’d missed. But no, even her coffee mug was gone.

He checked the bedroom again, thinking she could be lying unconscious behind the bed. At this point, he would have taken even that rather than Tracy just disappearing. His heart hammered away like a race-horse galloping towards the winning post and his brain felt as if it was trying to claw its way through thick sticky mush. The world crawled to a black standstill while his thoughts went round and round, shying away from the one possibility that remained.

His mind finally capitulated. There was no explanation but the one he didn’t want to think about. His heart sank.

She was gone. Disappeared. Just like the others.

Arts Festival in India

I recently learned about an arts festival taking place in India from the 2nd – 10th February 2008 called the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival. It’s been taking place since 1999 and is named after the area in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) where it’s taking place.

Sadly, I can’t find any current festival information on their site, although prior years are there. Luckily, there is info at the Caferati blog, although that seems mainly limited to the contests – flash fiction, for example, although there are others including poetry, photography, and more. There’s also an open book pitch, complete with talent scouts from publishing houses and a few agents.

Sadly, the URLs that lead to where a person would actually submit their entry are still not there, and information is rather scant. Hopefully that will be corrected soon.

Check it out!