Saturday, September 12, 2015

Beginnings by Darlene Beck Jacobson

Since I somehow missed the memo about September endings, I thought I'd be contrary and do beginnings.  As writers, we are often told to begin stories with a hook. A question.  Something that teases the reader and makes her want to  read on. I've often thought about what constitutes a page-turner beginning to a story.
Let's look at the first sentences of some award winning books to see.

In Harper Lee's TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, she begins with this: "When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow."   We readers immediately want to know HOW. So we read on.

CHAINS by Laurie Halse Anderson begins with: "The best time to talk to ghosts is just before the sun comes up."  WHO is talking and WHY is this person telling us about communicating with ghosts?

Katherine Applegate's soon to be released book CRENSHAW has - what I think - one of the best first lines ever. "I noticed several weird things about the surfboarding cat." Oh my.  Don't you wish you'd written that?

In my own MG historical WHEELS OF CHANGE (Creston Books), I wanted to fix the time and place from the first sentence. "Henry's hammer hits iron - pig, pa-ping."  WHO is Henry?  WHERE are we and why is he hitting iron?

In all of these examples the first sentence works because it makes us want to read on and learn more.

Stay away from cliches, we are also told, or an editor will go no further than page one.  Yet Madeleine L'Engle's Newbery classic A WRINKLE IN TIME begins with the queen of all clicles: "It was a dark and stormy night." Why does it work?  Because we've all experienced such a night where fear is unleashed and nightmares take over.  We read on to see if our own fears and nightmares are revealed on the page.

First lines can be powerful things.

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