Thursday, May 3, 2012

Friday Feedback, New (new, new) beginnings

One of the best pieces of advice I can give new writers is, don't waste too much time on the beginning. When you set out to write a novel, don't keep fixing up the opening scene, spinning your wheels to make it pretty. Get it down, move on, and go back to it when you are done with the whole story. Because, most of the time, it's not until you've seen the middle and end, that the true beginning will reveal itself to you.

It may be a mere paragraph later, or a whole chapter later, or maybe you haven't written it at all. Maybe the first sentence stays, and you gut the opening from there.

there are frogs of relevance in Frankie Sky...

     As some of you may know, I just (finally! *tosses confetti*) sold my next YA novel, Frankie Sky.

Prior to the sale, no opening of any of my manuscripts changed more than the opening of that one, Frankie Sky.

There were definite reasons for these changes, for starters, the original version I set out to tell morphed completely as I wrote. The protagonist, Francesca "Beans" Schnell, started out much younger in the original draft, and the story spanned a much longer time. The central focus was her relationship with the boy she meets, Frankie Sky.

Here's one of the original opening's from 2010:" target="_blank">
The first time I see Frankie Schyler, he’s diving into the deep end of the Lawrenceville Country Club pool. All around the pool, clear as day, are big white signs with black letters that say, “NO DIVING,” but, then, he can’t know about those.

     As I made my way into the story, I knew I wanted Francesca to start a little older, and for the book to span a shorter time. It became more a story about Francesca and her best friend Lisette (not to mention a love triange) and, so the opening morphed to here:

It’s not even noon in not even July, yet already the sun bakes down hot and steady making the air in front of me waffle like an oily mirage. I hate summer, and it only makes it worse that I’m here at the Lawrenceville Country Club pool without Lisette because, since school ended, she’s never around.
I sit up and adjust my bikini top, trying to stretch it across the spots it barely covers. It’s snug only because it’s old – one of Lisette’s hand-me-downs – and not for better reasons. Lisette had lent me it last spring for a school carwash, and I grabbed what I could this morning. It’s not like I have a fresh supply of bathing suits.
Fast forward. The book sold (*makes another squeaky happy noise*) and my new editor commented that she wanted to see Francesca's relationship with Lisette sooner - though not necessarily in the opening. In the version that sold, we don't see Lisette until the third chapter, although Francesca referenced her in the first paragraph.
Based on that feedback, and a few other editorial requests, I started to play with this new opening, which is where I am now:
It’s not even noon in not even July, yet already the sun bakes down hot and steady making the air in front of me waffle like an oily mirage. I hate summer to begin with, and it’s looking more and more like I’m going to spend this one being a third wheel.
Lisette walks ahead of me with Bradley, her blonde pony tail bobbing happily, the stray, static strands of her hair lit gold by sunshine that spills down through the fresh green canopy of leaves.
Bradley holds tight to her hand, ducks to avoid the low-hanging branches. Prickles of sweat appear between his shoulder blades, dark gray dots through the pale blue cotton of his t-shirt that mesmerize me.
So, what do you think? Does one of these openings hook you more than another? What makes an opening work for you? Do you have a favorite opening line?
You know the rules for Friday Feedback (and, if you don't CLICK HERE). Let's use the most recent (last posted) opening of mine: does it hook you? If so, why? If not, why not? Tell me in the comments and, if you want, post a brief excerpt from something you're working on. It can be a poem, a short story, a novel, and I (and maybe some of my readers) will give the same feedback back to you.
p.s. If you're in Mr. Wyzlic's class, please let me know! Look forward to chatting with you guys on Tuesday!
Happy Friday.
- gae


  1. what works for me? I look to immediately be transported: either into the story, the character's skin, or by the writing. The rare book that does all three has me at hello. And I've NEVER publicly done this, but here's the opening of my novel. the one I haven't picked up in 3 years. getting space/perspective. at this point, I forget what it's even about. if it ever was about anything. but I am curious to know if it hits any of the three "must-have's" I stated above. Congrats again on selling Frankie, Gae. You know. biggest fan, and all...

    "The rain has suddenly shut off, like a faucet , and Shermie can see paths of blue winding through the thick field of clouds. She stops what she’s doing for a moment to watch the cloud shapes morph, from angel wings to puffer fish, to a snake rolling over itself to swallow its own tail. They change as quickly as her thoughts: by the time each shape has exited over the Ramapo mountains it has evolved into something else entirely, and her mind has floated along with it. She wonders if God, who she sometimes believes has created everything, has human weaknesses, like an impulsive child, or a kid with an overactive imagination. Recently Gabriel, who is nine, told her a story about a place called Applesauce Island, where the shape of the land changed every time the waves splashed on the shore. She had been enchanted, and begged him to tell her what made him think of the idea, but he had just shrugged and said that he just “thought of it out of the air.”
    She knows that there must be some divine component to creative thought, without some inspirational spark, nothing could be dreamed into being, but she wonders what happens to the unmanifest, where all the things that have yet to be or have already been, are located. It’s not a surprising thought, given that her father-in-law, who was almost God-like in the eyes of Shermie and her whole family, passed away two months ago.

  2. by the way, I am in love with your first version of Frankie's opening......because I already know the whole (original story and am in love with it)....but I also find that the third version works.......I think it's the "third wheel" line that hooked me......we can all relate to that, right?

  3. Lori, how can I answer this when your very writing leaves me breathless? Let's see... Transported by the writing: check. Transported into the character's skin: check. Into the story? Well, by virtue of the prior two yesses, check. Or about to be. I've seen this character's mindset. I feel her aching in every word. I know this is not YA, so the reading audience should know. I believe in contemp (literary) adult, the reader will often give more time. I don't know what this story is or will be, but I still can't wait to see.

  4. It's funny. I don't miss the first version of the opening at all. Maybe because I know how much the book has changed since then, and love all the new places it has gone. It's essence is the same (and I can't remember whether you ever read beyond the very first version) but it's a much deeper, stronger telling.

  5. I believe I need the latest version. do I need to play the biggest fan card?

  6. and thank you re: my writing ;) and if it makes you feel any better, I don't know what the story is or will be either.....

  7. I'm trying to remember what I said on a Friday Feedback post when you had some of this up there before, as I don't want to contradict myself (but I'm kind of too lazy to look). So I'll just go with what Sunday morning me thinks of this.

    What works? The first line. "It's not even noon in not even July." YES. The repetition tells me that this almost sarcastic view on life is not an accident. I already like the narrator in 8 words. Then you bust into a wonderful simile, and I'm sold.

    What hooks me, though, is the way you hint at the emotional reaction of our narrator to some aspect of the plot in your most recent draft. She's not happy being a third wheel, yet she's memorized by the droplets of sweat on the shirt of her friend's boyfriend. There's clearly something deeper there (or at least the desire for something deeper).

    As for opening lines, I just love anything that's different. "Once upon a time. . ." might work to get an idea going, but it's probably a terrible opening line (though, in some instances, it can add that fairy tale feeling that may help the story). I like things that hit the ground running. Opening dialogue is a favorite of mine.

    That said, my favorite opening line is not dialogue, but is the opening to UGLIES by Scott Westerfeld: "The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit." A lot of people hate this line. I love it. It opens the story up to tons of interpretation, and also reveals a lot about the narrator. A lot of information in 10 words. Much like yours tells me a lot in the first 8.

  8. Brian, glad my first line is hooking you - and, I guess, glad I carried it over from the second version!

    I have mixed feelings about that Westerfield line. It's not inviting or appealing, but it sure does evoke a specific (icky) color and feeling. :)

  9. Here it is Gae...I am opening myself up! This is John or "johnlit360"...

    The dingbat rides his bike up and down the tilted street wearing an old leather aviator hat. Up and down…up and down.
    He lives up the street from us with his dingbat parents. Well, that’s what my dad calls them. The old man always wears a greasy baseball cap with a constant scowl hiding behind large glasses. The old lady has short gray hair and also has a constant scowl. Man, they must be miserable all the time. They sure do make the street miserable.
    They sit on old school chairs in a screened in side porch and stare down the street at us.
    Their kid is tall with a buzzed haircut. He mumbles all the time, even when he’s riding his bike. He also has a scowl with a blank look in his eyes. It’s the mumble, the blank scare, and the bad words his says that scares me.

    Mom is on the phone, so I tell her that I am going to ride my bike down to my grandma’s house. Last night I went and saw E.T at the movie theatre uptown at the Orpheum. After the credits started rolling across the screen, I sat in awe. I wish I could ride my bike like Elliott in E.T., riding fast down the street and then lifting off into the air and riding above people, cars, and trees. That would be awesome, except for the landing. If only I could do that down at our cemetery games.

  10. John, I know I responded to this dingbat post, but where is it?! Did you ever read a response of mine?