Thursday, January 3, 2019

On Rooftops, Front Porches and Best Ways to Begin a Story


I've just been reading SWEEP: THE STORY OF A GIRL AND HER MONSTER by Jonathan Auxier. 

It begins with this line: “There are all sorts of wonderful things a person might see very early in the morning.” A list of some of those wonderful things follows, and it sets the scene for the story (in London, on a rooftop, a girl and her Sweep.) And yet it also feels ominous somehow. Like you know there are other not-wonderful things hiding in the hours that are not very early in the morning. And you, curious reader, must read on.

And that's the goal, isn't it? To write a beginning that makes the reader want to read on? To engage the imagination, to create some suspense, to place the reader right there on the rooftop (or wherever)?

The same is true with poems. We want our first lines to sing out, “come in! Come in!” Only sometimes it takes us (both as poets and prose writers) a while to get to that gem of a beginning. Sometimes we have to “shave off the front porch” (as some writing person so wisely said).

The thing people forget to tell you is that FIRST YOU MUST BUILD THE FRONT PORCH. That's not waste; that's part of the process. It can take a while for us to discover what we're trying to say, and where the best beginning point is for our readers. (Our beginnings happen must earlier, as we root around, trying to figure our stories out.) We start in the wrong place – too early for the reader – most often. Good news: it's an easy fix! Even if sometimes it hurts to shove those words off into the abyss. Go ahead: shave off that front porch! Enjoy the new view. Your readers will thank you!
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Winner of the 2016 ILA Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award, Irene Latham is an Alabama author of many poetry, fiction and picture books, including Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship (with Charles Waters), which was named a Charlotte Huck Honor book and a Kirkus Best Book of 2018. 

3 comments:

  1. Thank you, Irene for this info on beginnings. Beginning a new year and my first MG, so doing a lot of rooting around right now. Have written PBs for a few years. Excited for new territory. To 2019 and all our beginnings.

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  2. I love that line about the front porch! I will keep it in mind this year! Thanks, Irene!

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  3. I agree--that line about the front porch is killer.

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