Sunday, January 19, 2014

Beginnings - January Theme - Kristin Levine


(This is pretty much directly from my school visit presentation.  The kids always get a kick out of hearing about how even "real" writers come up with some really bad opening lines.)

I had a lot of trouble with the first paragraph of my first book, The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had.  This is how it originally started:

I ain’t gonna tell you this story.  No sir.  No way.  I got a million better things to do than think about that dumb old stuck-up girl and all the trouble she caused.  Least that’s what I tell myself: everything was just fine in Moundville, ‘til Emma Walker came to town.   

Now I liked this opening, but there were a couple of problems with it.  It is obvious that Dit, the narrator, is lying because, uhhh, you're holding the book in your hands.  My original plan was to make Dit an "unreliable narrator," but truthfully, I had that idea on page 1 and forgot about it for the rest of the book.

Second, my editor, the dear and amazing Stacey Barney, called and said she thought this opening seemed too harsh.  The whole book was about the friendship between Dit and Emma, and he's calling her dumb and stuck-up in the very first paragraph.  "Okay," I said, "I got it.  We need a kinder, gentler opening." 

Now I'm going to show you what I came up with.  But I have to admit it is really, really bad.  I call it "the sappy" opening.  And please, feel free to laugh:

All I’ve left of her is this dang ribbon.  Pitiful sight I must be, 13 year-old-boy, moping about on the top of this mound, winding a girl’s hair ribbon between my fingers over and over again.  I didn’t used to be this way – not before Emma came to town

Stacey called me up again. “What happened?” she asked.
"Was it too sappy?" I asked.
"Way too sappy!" said Stacey.
"But you wanted different!" I protested.
"That was different, alright," she said.  "Not good different, but different!"
"I don't know what to do," I wailed.
Stacey said, "I wanted different words, but the tone to remain the same."

I didn’t know what that meant, but I thought about for a while, and this is what I came up with.  This is the beginning of my first book:

I’ve been wrong before.  Oh heck, if I’m being real honest, I’ve been wrong a lot.  But I ain’t never been so wrong as I was about Emma Walker.  When she first came to town, I thought she was the worst piece of bad luck I’d had since falling in the outhouse on my birthday.  I tell you things were fine in Moundville before Emma got here, least I thought they were.  Guess the truth is, you’ll never know how wrong I was ‘til I’m done telling and explaining – so I’d better just get on with the story.   

Beginnings are never easy, but usually worth the work...

6 comments:

  1. I love this look into how you write, Kristin! And all three of your openings were good, but the last was just right.

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  2. Thanks for this post, Kristin. Great personal insight to the writing process and beginning again.

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  3. I really enjoyed seeing the changes and how you went about them. One of the most popular workshops at our annual SCBWI conference is always the First Pages which are read anonymously and critiqued by 2 editors.

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  4. What a great thing to share with young writers, or with anyone. Love it.

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  5. So much fun to see how your beginning evolved!

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