Hook Your Readers at Hello: Part 5

Hello, all!

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.


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.


517NY5N54ZL._AA160_100th Day Worries by Margery Cuyler

 Jessica was a worrier.

She worried about everything.


9780689711732Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad
Day by Judith Viorst

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.



FC9780689832130Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin

Farmer Brown has a problem

His cows like to type

All day long he hears

Click, clack, moo.

Click, clack, moo.

Click, clack, moo.


9780448466934Just Jake: Dog Eat Dog by Jake Marcionette

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.



FC9781595146915War of the World Records by Matthew Ward

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.


FC9780385743914I Text Dead People
by Rose Cooper

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.


FC9780544336674Anastasia Again! by Lois Lowry

“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.”



FC9780547237602The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

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.




9781423113393The Lost Hero
 by Rick Riordan

Even before he got electrocuted, Jason was having a rotten day.




FC9780545691116What Waits in the Woods by Kieran Scott

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 PolskyFC9780807578803

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.


FC9780689866241Dead Girls Don’t Write Letters
by Gail Giles

Things had been getting a little better until I got a letter from my dead sister. That more or less ruined by day.




FC9780763662622Feed by M.T. Anderson (ya)

We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.




FC9781402278006The Truth About Us by Janet Gurtler

I have fifteen minutes to get home. It’s a twenty-five minute walk. I’m so dead.




 Unknown-1Don’t Stay Up Late by R.L. Stine

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.



Unknown-2Everything That Makes You by Moriah McStay

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.



Unknown-9The Wrong Side of Right by Jenn Marie Thorne

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.




FC9780062323286Liars, Inc. by Paula Stokes

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.


FC9780545651264Backlash by Sara Darer Littman



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.

Hook Your Readers at Hello: Part 4

Confession and Denial

They say confession is good for the soul. Turns out it’s also a good way to begin a book. And it’s not bad to begin with its polar opposite–a huge denial. Take a look at how these characters bared their souls to the reader right from the start and had me hooked.

Suggested writing exercise: Write a confession or denial from your character’s point of view. See if it would make a great beginning.

FC9780152024888I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More by Karen Beaumont 

One day my mama caught me paintin’ pictures on the floor and the ceiling and the walls and the curtains and the door, and I heard my mama holler like I never did before …


9780763655990This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

This hat is not mine.

I just stole it.


FC9780545477116The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

Not every thirteen-year-old girl is accused of murder, brought to trial, and found guilty. But I was just such a girl, and my story is worth relating even if it did happen years ago. Be warned, however, this is no Story of a Bad Boy, no What Katy Did. If strong ideas and action offend you, read no more.

FC9780802723932A Whole Lot of Lucky by Danette Haworth

 I didn’t do it.

I am innocent.

I know convicts say that when they’re guilty, but I’m telling you the truth. At 3:05 today, I didn’t mean to push Amanda on her bike so hard that she sailed off the curb and fell splat on the road in the pickup line after school. Thank God Mrs. McCrory had just paid the garage to tune up her Honda. That van stops on a dime now (and hardly even came close to hitting Amanda).

FC9781442467774-1Poached by Stuart Gibbs

I would never have been accused of stealing the koala if Vance Jessup hadn’t made me drop a human arm in the shark tank.


FC9780525426523Dangerous Deception by Peg Kehret

I only intended to help two children who were hungry and had no money for food. That’s an admirable goal for a sixth-grade girl, isn’t it? You can’t get in trouble for doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. Right?

Wrong! I may have had noble intentions, but I still ended up causing a car crash, being abducted by a thug, and smuggling a scared cat on a city bus by sticking him inside my T-shirt, a maneuver I do not recommend unless you’re wearing a steel undershirt.

FC9780595269525Crosses by Shelly Stoehr

“We cut ourselves regularly. Not by accident, we do it purposely—and regularly—because physical pain is comforting, and because now it has become a habit. Like the drugs. These are, in fact, the two main things Katie and I have in common. They are how we met.” This was my diary entry on November fourth, 1985.

FC9781250060006Shattering Glass by Gale Giles

Simon Glass was easy to hate. I never knew exactly why, there was so much to pick from. I guess, really we each hated him for a different reason, but we didn’t realize it until the day we killed him.


Absolutely, Positively Not by David LarochelleFC9780439591096

Everybody has at least one ugly secret, and mine is as ugly as they come. I square dance. With my mother.


FC9780375842498Confessions of a Serial Kisser by Wendelin Van Draanen

 My name is Evangeline Bianca Logan, and I am a serial kisser.



Ripple by Mandy Hubbard


The first boy I ever loved, Steven Goode, was really into cars. He received a junky ’72 Chevelle for his sixteenth birthday and spent six months rebuilding it. Everyone in school knew about it because Steven worked on it during shop class, and half the guys at Cedar Cove helped him, wrenching and sanding and polishing until every piece was as good as new.

After it was complete, Steven cruised up and down the streets near the boardwalk, one arm hanging out the window, that adorable lopsided grin never leaving his face.

Then I killed him. I drowned him in the ocean just a few hundred yards from my own sweet-sixteen party.

FC9781416913184Two-Way Street by Lauren Barnholdt

 Day One, 8:07 a.m.

I’m a traitor to my generation. Seriously. All we hear about these days is being strong women and standing up for ourselves, and now look what I’ve done. I should totally be one of those true life stories in Seventeen. “I Built My Life Around a Boy! And Now I Regret It!”

FC9780763663322Getting Over Garrett Delaney by Abby McDonald

You have to understand: I’ve been madly, hopelessly, tragically in love with Garrett Delaney for two years now—ever since the fateful day when I looked up from my list of the Top Ten Couples of All Time and saw him sauntering into the local coffeehouse.

FC9780142420928Chime by Franny Billingsly

I’ve confessed to everything and I’d like to be hanged.



FC9781423152880Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

I am a coward.

I wanted to be heroic and I pretended I was. I have always been good at pretending. I spent the first twelve years of my life playing at the Battle of Stirling Bridge with my five big brothers–and even though I am a girl, they let me be William Wallace, who is supposed to one of our ancestors, because I did the most rousing battle speeches. God, I tried hard last week. My God, I tried. But now I know I am a coward…

Confession of my own: I never thought to start a book with a confession until I started this post. Halfway through, I took a break, and changed the beginning of a picture book I’d been revising for months to a quasi confession. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before.

Next up: Start your story by stating a problem.


Hook Your Readers at Hello: Part 3

In Part Three of my series about bang-up beginnings, these authors have all found ways of using other media to start off strong. Take a look these great books. And if you have any to add, the comments section awaits.








Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School by Mark Teague



Citing a long list of behavioral problems, Snort City resident Gertrude R. LaRue yesterday enrolled her dog, Ike, in the Igor Brotweiler Canine Academy.










The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate


chest beat: repeated slapping of the chest with one or both hands in order to generate a loud sound (sometimes used by gorillas as a threat display to intimidate an opponent)

domain: territory

the Grunt: snorting, piglike noise made by gorilla parents to express annoyance










From Dramarama by E. Lockhart (ya)

Transcript of a microcassette recording:

Demi: Is it on?

Sadye: That red light is supposed to glow.

Demi: It is glowing.

Sadye: No, it’s not.

Demi: Yes, it is. You can’t see because of the angle.

Sadye: Stop it and check.

(thump thumpy thump, click click)

Demi: Ha-HA! Let the record show that I was right.










Tears of a Tiger by Sharon M. Draper


Nov. 8—Rober Washington, age 17, captain of the Hazlewood High School basketball team …










Hollywood Hustle (Son of the Mob, Book 2) by Gordon Korman


An old Mazda Protegé tools along the cable of highway into the brilliant sunrise. With rapid-fire blur of broken lines on the asphalt, the weight of New York–childhood, family, smog–recedes into history. Every fiber of this scene, every pixel, screams, “Freedom!”










Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick by Joe Schreiber

Explain how your experiences as a teenager significantly differ from those of your friends. Include comparisons. (University of Puget Sound)










The Boy Book: A Study of Habits and Behaviors by E. Lockhart

The Care and Ownership of Boobs

(a subject important to our study of the male humanoid animal because the boobs, if deployed properly, are like giant boy magnets attached to your chest.

Or smallish boy magnets. Or medium.

Depending on your endowment.

But boy magnets. That is the point.

They are magnets, we say. Magnets!)


Hook Your Reader at Hello: Part 2

Continuing my series on beginnings, here’s another way (below) to hook a reader from your first words. All of these books are great. And I love how these authors are able to convey voice, tone, and story with so few words.

Have you written a book that begins with any of these forms? If so, feel free to post about your own work or others in the comments section.










Memoirs of a Goldfish by Devin Scillian, illustrated by Tim Bowers 

Day One

I swam around my bowl

Day Two

I swam around my bowl. Twice.

Day Three

I swam around my bowl.

I thought about taking a nap.

But fish don’t sleep.

So I swam around my bowl.








I Wanna Iguana by Karen Kaufman Orloff, illustrated by David Catrow 

Dear Mom,

I know you don’t think I should have Mikey Gulligan’s baby iguana when he moves, but here’s why I should. If I don’t take it, he goes to Stinky and Stinky’s dog, Lurch, will eat it.

You don’t want that to happen, do you?


Your sensitive son,











Finding Ruby Starling by Karen Rivers

FROM: Ruth Quayle iamruthquayle@gmail.com

TO: Ruby Starling starling_girl@mail.com

Dear Ruby Starling,

I know no one starts off email messages with “dear,” but this is more important then most email messages. It may even be The Most Important Email Message Of Our Time! ALL CAPS IMPORTANT!










Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

 12th Day of September

I am commanded to write an account of my days: I am bit by fleas and plagued by family. That is all there is to say.










Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

    January 1

Dear Leo,

I love beginnings. If I were in charge of calendars, every day would be January 1.










Storky: How I Lost My Nickname and Won the Girl by D.L. Garfinkle

Sunday, August 29


1. Gina confesses she’s madly in love with me.

2. Dad teaches me to drive and buys me a Land Rover.

3. I’m the first freshman ever voted homecoming king.


1. Gina doesn’t totally blow me off.

2. Dad lets me sit in the front seat of his car.

3. I don’t get thrown into a Dumpster.










Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser

Dear Mom,

By the time you read this, I’ll be gone. I just want you to know there’s nothing you could have done to stop this.










Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

August 25, 1991

Dear friend,

I am writing to you because she said you listen and understand and didn’t try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have. Please don’t try to figure out who she is because then you might figure out who I am, and I really don’t want you to do that.










Kill You Last by Todd Strasser

A TEXT SHOWED UP … from Gabriel: Thx 4 inviting me 2 the party. W2 meet again? 121?

That caught me by surprise. I could only assume that the quick kiss I’d given him after the party had smoothed out the earlier rough spots. It was flattering to think that he still liked me, but then I thought about the warnings both Whit and Roman had given me about him. I was thinking about how to answer his text when an e-mail popped up: I like you, Shelby Sloan. If I have to kill you, I’ll kill you last.










This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith 

From GDL824@yahoo.com

Sent: Thursday, March 7, 2013 10:18 PM

To: EONeill22@hotmail.com

Subject: (no subject)

Hey, we’re running pretty behind here. Any chance you could walk Wilbur for me tonight?

From EONeill22@hotmail.com

Sent: Thursday, March 7, 2013 10:33 PM

To: EONeill22@hotmail.com

Subject: Re: (no subject)

I think you have the wrong e-mail address. But since I’m a dog owner too, and I don’t want poor Wilbur to be stranded, I thought I’d write back and let you know …