A blog about the amazing things teenagers do, about writing for teens, books for teens, and occasional forays into my world and the world of publishing.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

On Beginings...

For those of you not in the writing/editing/publishing business I'll let you in on a secret...(but maybe you already know) beginnings are everything. You have to have a great ending to back it up, but without a great beginning, you're sunk.

Why are beginnings so important? Two words--first impressions, and when you're querying (the excruciating process every author has to go to get published) a first impression is often all you get. Most agents and editors want a query and a few sample pages. (And no, you don't get to chose your favorite passage or the most compelling part of your book, you have to give them your first pages.)

It makes sense, when you're book browsing you look at the copy on the jacket flap, and then maybe read the first few pages to see if you're interested before you buy the book.

Since I've been at this whole writing thing I have re-written my beginnings over and over. I've tried starting my stories in several different places to get to that one line, or scene, or moment that begins the journey and will suck the reader in. In fact, the file for my current work-in-progress was called "Alternate Beginning" for a long time. Because of my struggles I have become VERY interested in how other people begin their work.

There are the classics:

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."--A TALE OF TWO CITIES

"Once there were four children who's names were Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy."--THE LION THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE.

Both pretty simple, but immediately recognizable.

There are the ones that suck you in:

"I'd never given much thought to how I would die--though I'd had reason enough in the last few months, but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this. --TWILIGHT. (Okay, so this is kind of a cheat, a preface from a more exciting part of the story, but still...)

The ones that reveal none of the excitement buried within the pages:

When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.--THE HUNGER GAMES

And the ones that are so off the wall that you just have to keep going:

First the colors.
Then the humans. That's usually how I see things. Or at least how I try. HERE IS A SMALL FACT. You are going to die.--THE BOOK THIEF

Recently I got the chance to read the first two chapters of a book that's coming next month, TELL ME A SECRET by debut author, Holly Cupala. These chapters sucked me in, intrigued me, and in short did all of the things that first pages should.

Here's her opening line:

It's tough living in the shadow of a dead girl.

When I read Holly's first two chapters it hit me that this is what it takes to get published, milling through all the extraneous words and coming up with a great story, told in a great way, with a lot of heart. I'm also waiting (impatiently) for June 22nd when I can read the whole thing. Check out Holly's blog to read more.

So here is the opening two paragraphs of my work-in-progress THE TIGER'S EYE:

The clock says 6:35, even though it’s really 6:25. If everything was normal, the alarm would go off in five minutes. I’d hit the snooze button, pull the covers around my shoulders, and go back to sleep until Mom came in and forced me to get up. I used to stay in bed until the last possible minute and then dash around getting ready for school—looking for my shoes or a clean t-shirt, finally grabbing a granola bar and running out the door to the sound of Trip laying on the horn of his black Chevy pick-up.

Nothing is normal, and no one makes me go to school.

I'm interested in your impressions of my beginning. (I'll post the whole first chapter soon.) And I want to know, what beginnings do you like? Or what beginnings would make you put the book back without reading it?


  1. Great post Jen, If you have it handy, what was the opening line for Harry Potter?

  2. I really love the line "But when your boyfriend dies..." Very captivating! I like the paragraph that leads up to it, although I think it would flow better if you kept the lines in that paragraph in past tense after "I'd hit the snooze button". For example, "I would stay in bed" instead of, "I used to". I hope that makes sense.
    I am excited to read your book after you gave me a brief overview, so hurry and finish so I can!

  3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone--Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.

  4. Stacy, it is finished. I'll send you a copy if you don't mind reading it off the screen.

  5. send it on over. I'm sure you know my email.

  6. Kiki told me I had to come on over and read your first chapter and I'm glad I did. Very impressive! Lots of questions are left hanging and I have a real feel for the main character. Wow! Good luck.

    The beginning is probably the part of the ms I revise the most. Where to start the story? How to grab the reader? But it is a puzzle I enjoy.

    I just finished reading HEX HALL and the beginning really drew me right in. A great read.