I’ve been remiss in continuing this series of how to begin your story, so here is Part 5. I hope something below will spark a new beginning or maybe even a new story idea for you.
No. 5 START BY STATING A PROBLEM
I ended up revising the first few lines of a picture book recently after realizing I’d been noodling around instead of getting right to the point: the main character’s problem.
No good book is about a perfect character in a perfect world–unless that character is about to be thrust into trouble. Some characters find that trouble on the first page. Below are twenty books (picture books, middle-grade and young adult) in which the problem is evident from the first few lines.
Suggested exercise: Pretend your main character is on TV, talking to Dr. Phil. What complaint does your MC have? See if something from that complaint could work itself into your first few lines.
Jessica was a worrier.
She worried about everything.
I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
The Pigeon Needs a Bath by Mo Willems
Hi! I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the Pigeon is filthy. So, I could use your help because: The Pigeon Needs a Bath.
Farmer Brown has a problem
His cows like to type
All day long he hears
Click, clack, moo.
Click, clack, moo.
Click, clack, moo.
Like lots of kids, I take the bus to and from school every day. And, like most kids, I hate the bus. For me, it’s a lose-lose proposition. Why? Because at Kinney Elementary, there are two different kinds of bus drivers, and they’re both awful.
It was unclear how the human thigh bone came to be sticking out of the seventeenth turret on the World’s Largest Sandcastle. It was, however, looking more and more likely that its builder would be disqualified.
There’s no such thing as ghosts.
Ghosts don’t exist.
Annabel Craven tried to convince herself that there was no reason to be freaked. But then the wrought-iron gate slammed shut behind her with a loud clunk and she knew she wasn’t crazy.
She definitely had a reason.
“The suburbs,” said Anastasia. “We’re moving to the suburbs? I can’t believe it. I can’t believe you would actually do such a thing to me. As soon as I finish this chocolate pudding, I’m going to jump out the window.”
Of all the kids in the seventh grade at Camillo Junior High, there was one kid that Mrs. Baker hated with heat whiter than the sun.
Even before he got electrocuted, Jason was having a rotten day.
There’s no question things could have gone differently out there in those woods. One zipper more tightly zipped, one foot more carefully placed on a rotted plank, and I might not be here today. I might be roaming free instead of sitting locked up in this hole, sucking my every meal through a straw, staring at a padded wall.
This is How I Find Her by Sara Polsky
On the fourth day of junior year, sometime between the second bell marking the start of chemistry class and the time I got home from school, my mother tried to kill herself.
Things had been getting a little better until I got a letter from my dead sister. That more or less ruined by day.
We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.
I have fifteen minutes to get home. It’s a twenty-five minute walk. I’m so dead.
My name is Lisa Brooks and I’m a twisted psycho. I wasn’t always a total nutcase. Before the accident, I thought I was doing pretty okay.
It was cold–too cold for the zoo. Still, the Doyles were here, looking at the cheetahs and deciding what to do next.
Ryan wanted popcorn.
Fiona wanted the pandas.
The moment my horrible yearbook photo first appeared on millions of televisions, sending jaws dropping, phones ringing, and joggers tumbling off their treadmills across America, I was in the middle of my AP US History final.
I don’t make to-do lists, but if I did, today’s would have gone something like this: 1. get drunk, 2. get laid, 3. go surfing (not necessarily in that order). Noticeably absent from the list: get arrested. And yet here I am, spending my eighteenth birthday with my back against the wall of the Colonel’s hunting cabin, two FBI agents prowling the dark with their guns drawn, both trying to get me to confess to the murder of my friend Preston DeWitt.
The words on the screen don’t make sense. They can’t.
He says: You’re an awful person.
He says: You’re a terrible friend.
He says: I know you’ve been checking out dresses for the homecoming dance.
He says: What makes you think I’d ever ask you out?
He says: I’d never be caught dead at the school dance with a loser like you.
He doesn’t say it in a private message. He posts it publicly, on my Facebook wall, where everyone can see. Twenty-five people have already liked what he wrote. Even people I thought were my friends. Why would anyone like something that mean?
If you know of a great book that opens up with a problem, let us all know in the comments section.