|Just a bunch o' writers putting it out there...|
... and, HERE WE GO! Summer 2014 of Teachers Write Friday Feedback is on!
Good! Are we ready?
If you haven't read THE RULES, STOP HERE!
(Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200).
Please read the RULES and abide by them! There are a LOT of you (Yay!!) and I don't yet know how many of you are going to BE BRAVE and participate here (hopefully many!), so there could be a lot of excerpts. Please keep them brief so we can get to them all!
As a reminder, I am travelling today en route to EIGHT COUSINS BOOKS in Falmouth MA (please stop by after 3 pm if you are nearby -- or tell nearby friends -- and say hi!). I will also be at BUNCH OF GRAPES in Martha's Vineyard on Saturday! (same -- same!), so you may hear from me very little before late night tonight, but you are in incredibly capable hands with my dear and talented writer friend Amy Fellner Dominy, author of OyMG, AUDITION & SUBTRACTION and the forthcoming YA, A MATTER OF HEART (Delacorte 2015) (Double yay!!!!)
Speaking of which, here's an awesome little book surprise for you all: This is the first I'm ever doing of one of these. I get to do Amy's A MATTER OF HEART COVER REVEAL!!!!
|Ah, isn't it lovely?!?! Congrats, Amy!!!|
|my lovely friend, Amy.|
I’m thrilled to help kick off the beginning of Friday Feedback with a discussion of—what else—beginnings!
If you’re just beginning a story, you know it’s both exciting and terrifying. You can’t wait to bring your idea to life…but where do you start? And how?
There are so many elements to introduce at the start of a story:
•Your voice and style
•Mood and atmosphere
All of these elements are vital to hooking a reader, but I’m going to suggest there’s something even more important to introduce on your very first page. Something that will make your beginning stand out:
At its most basic level, stories are about people with problems. As readers we’re hooked when we start wondering, “What’s will happen? What will they do? How will this turn out?”
Study the opening paragraphs of your favorite books and see if you don’t discover a problem. For instance, in the first Harry Potter, by the end of page one we know the Dursley’s have a dark secret and it’s their greatest fear that it will be uncovered. In The Hunger Games, we know by the end of the first paragraph that fear is working through the family. That “This is the day of the reaping.”
To write a great beginning, start with a great problem.
This isn’t always easy. OK, so it’s never easy. But here’s something to try that usually works for me:
Start your book at a moment of change.
This is sometimes called The Inciting Incident. Think of it this way: Your character’s life is chugging along as usual and then something happens to change everything. A problem is introduced. Or maybe an opportunity? There’s a death. A visit. A tornado. An accident. A murder. A trip. A new job. Someone new moves to town. Something is uncovered…discovered.
Whatever it is that happens, life can not go on as it did before. That’s the moment of change. And it can be a heck of a great place to start your story.
“Where’s Papa going with that ax?” Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
“Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood.” The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan
“Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret. We’re moving today. I’m so scared, God.” Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret by Judy Blume
What is that moment in your story?
Write it down.
If you can’t write it down, if you’re not sure what it is or if there really isn’t one, then you may not have enough conflict in your book. Give your character a problem—the bigger the better—and show us why now. What’s just happened? What’s just changed?
If you’ve got it written down, then ask yourself this:
Can I start my book when everything changes? If not, how close can I come?
Of course, there will be exceptions. Maybe you have a character that is so unique, you first have to introduce us to that person and their daily life. That’s okay. You’ll hook us with voice and character, like Sherman Alexie did for me in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which begins with the line: “I was born with water on the brain.” (Which is actually a problem.)
If you’re writing fantasy, paranormal or sci fi, you probably have to set up the world and the type of people who live in it. Even so, you can hint at the problem through the details you show.
For example, in The Program by Suzanne Young (a world where teen suicide is epidemic), the first paragraph is just a description of a girl sitting in her school classroom. But, the windows are sealed shut—in case anyone gets the urge to jump. Immediately, I know that something is wrong in this world and I’m hooked.
What is the detail in your story that will keep us reading? Can you sneak it in to the first page…the first paragraphs?
With all of that said, the best way to know if an opening grabs a reader, is to go to the source and ask. And since it's Friday Feedback, that's exactly what we'll do today. Below is the beginning of A MATTER OF HEART. I invite you to be brave and post your beginning in the comments.
And, remember the rules: What works? What doesn't, if something doesn't? And mostly, since it's a beginning, does it hook you?
I can’t breathe.
There’s no time.
All around the pool, coaches yell and pace along the edge of the pool as if that’ll make us swim faster. Parents shout out names I can’t hear. In the water, it’s a different kind of sound. The whoosh and thrum of the surface breaking over my cap. The churn of arms and the fizz of an exhale. The chant of pull, pull that I repeat in time with the Bmm Bmm of my heart.
Mostly, I just hear the scream of my burning lungs.
I don’t listen.
In the last leg of a hundred free, there’s no time for breathing. Not if you want to win.
Twenty-five yards left. That’s it. Almost in reach. Everything I want is almost within reach.
- Amy & gae