Category Archives: Books

The Evolution of a First Page + Giveaway

The First Last Day by Dorian CirroneTomorrow (June 7) my middle-grade novel The First Last Day will be officially released. So this seems like a good a time to finally write a new blog post and do a giveaway. (See the end of this post to find out how to enter.)

I’ve talked a lot about how much revision went into this novel. But I don’t think I’ve adequately expressed just how much it changed. I thought I’d give readers a behind-the-scenes look.

Here are just some of the many incarnations of my first page.*

*For more on ways to begin a story, see my earlier posts on great first lines from several of my favorite authors.

THE FIRST FIRST PAGE

Below in blue is the earliest version of my novel’s beginning. With this prologue, I broke what some believe to be a cardinal rule of fiction. I started the story when my character woke up in the morning. (Eek!) At the time, I thought it was necessary to tell the reader about the Groundhog Day trope up front. Turns out, it wasn’t.

The clock seemed to have a mind of its own, ringing promptly at seven a.m. – even though Haleigh hadn’t set it to go off at all.

She should have been used to it by now, the ringing, the repetition, the day ahead with Kevin in which he would think it was their last before summer’s end. But Haleigh knew better; they would have many more August days together.

As she reached across the bed and banged the top of the clock, she recalled her first last day, all those weeks ago. But why, Haleigh wondered, was she the only one who remembered?

Why didn’t anyone else realize that time was standing still?

THE SECOND FIRST PAGE

In this next version, I got rid of the waking up part and started at the beach. It was still in third person at this point, and the language was still a bit stilted. Looking back, I don’t think the semicolons were necessary either. Also, I later had Haleigh going into seventh grade instead of eighth.

The last week of August was always the same at Beach Side Heights.

Still, Haleigh longed to remember every detail. She gazed across the boardwalk and took a mental snapshot. As usual, sunbathers lined the shore like mannequins, soaking up the remaining rays of summer; children sculpted sandcastles, hoping they’d last long enough to show parents before the tide came in; and all across the Atlantic, the blue-green ocean came to an abrupt halt when it met the azure sky.

As she captured every scene with an imaginary click, click, click, Haleigh wished this particular summer would never end, that the beginning of eighth grade was months away rather than mere days.

Satisfied the images were fixed in her mind, she turned toward Kevin and groaned. “Can you believe it’s almost over?”

Kevin slurped the last of his lemon ice and then tossed the cup into the garbage can at the edge of the boardwalk. “Yeah, I’m gonna miss those.” He wiped his upper lip with the back of his hand.

“Those?” Haleigh cried in disbelief. “We’ve got less than two days left and all you can say is that you’ll miss some syrupy slush?”

A grin spread slowly across Kevin’s face.

 THE THIRD FIRST PAGE

I got a bit of interest from one editor on the above version. But because her revision request was vague, I never revised that version. Instead, I let it sit for a while and then went back to a prologue. I also changed the novel to first person, which helped me a lot in finding Haleigh’s true voice. I also added Kevin’s cow suit.

English, Period 3

Seventh Grade

September 6

What I Learned This Summer

By Haleigh Adams

1. When you wear a cow suit on the boardwalk, you can learn a lot about people.

2. If you had enough time and paint, you could probably create an infinite number of shades of blue.

3. Most people pronounce van Gogh like van Go, but in Holland they say it as if they’re coughing up phlegm.

4. Some of the best science fiction movies ever made were in black and white.

5. All good things come to an end.

6. Some bad things come to an end, too. Like braces. And stomachaches. And sadness.

7. Oh, and one more thing: if you ever happen to find a mysterious set of paints in your backpack, be careful. Be very careful.

THE FOURTH FIRST PAGE

The version above went through a few revisions before I finally tossed it. I can’t remember why. I still kind of like it. But for some reason, I went back to several first person beginnings with no prologue until my agent suggested I write another prologue. I wrote this one below, which goes back to revealing some of the plot and hinting at the mystery. The novel sold with this version. But it isn’t the one that appears in the book.

Dear Ms. McLaughlin,

First, I want to apologize for turning in this “What I Did Over My Summer Vacation” assignment late. But as you can see, it’s rather lengthy.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have written this much. Last year, in sixth grade, I turned in half a page—about how I went swimming, drew pictures, and ate pizza all summer.

Come to think about it, I wrote the same thing the year before. That’s because nothing unusual ever happened to me.

Until this past summer.

It all started the night before we were supposed to leave the New Jersey Shore. I was cleaning out my backpack and found a strange yellow box with the words, Magic Paints, written on the front. How did it get there? I had no idea.

Still, I used the paints.

I know what you’re thinking: they weren’t mine, and I shouldn’t have even opened the box. And I certainly shouldn’t have shut my eyes and made a wish afterwards.

But what would you do if you found magic paints? Would you use them?

What would you wish for?

I wished that I could have a do-over of my last day at the shore with Kevin Damico.

Honestly, I didn’t think it would really happen. But I got my wish—and more.

After that, well, you’re just going to have to read my story: “A True and Accurate Account of My Summer Vacation.” It starts on my first last day of summer.

                                                                                          Sincerely,

                                                                                          Haleigh Adams

P.S. See if you can solve the mystery of who slipped the paints in my backpack before I did.

THE LAST FIRST PAGE

Below is the final beginning of The First Last Day. When I still had the prologue, this was the chapter that followed. Once my editor acquired the novel, she suggested I get rid of the prologue. She said to trust the reader to let the story unfold by just telling it from the day Haleigh finds the magic paints. She was so right!

I also like this version better because the first line is a metaphor for the whole novel. Like the Eiffel Tower, Haleigh “grows” a great deal during her endless summer. If you compare the earlier versions to this one, you can see how the voice changed when I switched to first person and how Kevin’s character became more rounded during revisions.

I once read that the Eiffel Tower can grow more than six inches in summer because heat makes iron expand.

When I said that to Kevin, he stopped on the boardwalk and turned to me wide-eyed, like I’d just revealed the secret plot to the next Star Wars movie. “Do you know what that means?” he asked. “If people were made of iron, you’d be five feet three—and I’d be five feet ten.”

I straightened my back and stretched my neck. “In a really hot summer, maybe even taller.” As I let myself imagine that I wasn’t always the shortest twelve-year-old in the room, Kevin took his notebook out of his backpack and jotted something down. “What are you writing?” I asked.

“An idea for a movie: a kid who becomes a giant every summer but shrinks back to normal size when it’s over.”

“Interesting. But who would you get to play the giant kid?”

As families strolled past us with dripping frozen custard cones and funnel cakes, Kevin thought for a minute. “I have a friend who’s really tall. Maybe he—”

A ping sounded from Kevin’s cell phone, and he stopped to read the text. “It’s my mom. She and Dad just drove in from Montclair to take me home tomorrow.”

Please,” I begged. “Don’t say that word.”

“Which one? I said sixteen of them.”

Tomorrow. I’m trying to forget this is our last day at the shore.”

So that’s the story of how I got to my last first page. If you want to read more about Haleigh’s adventures, the book is available wherever books are sold.

If you want a chance to win a signed copy, a bookmark, and this nifty pen below that looks like a paintbrush, please share this post on Facebook or Twitter and tell me about it in the comments section. Even if you don’t care about winning, feel free to share :)

IMG_0458

 

 

You have until next Sunday, June 12, at midnight to tell me where you posted the link. I’ll pick a winner at random and announce it on Tuesday, June 14. (Continental U.S. only, please.)

Thanks for reading!


Hook Your Readers at Hello: Parts 7-10

In honor of NANOWRIMO, I’m finally finishing up this series on writing great beginnings. Whether you need some inspiration for your novel’s first lines when the alarm clock rings on November 1 or you’re looking to revise the beginning of your picture book or novel, here are four more techniques for starting strong, along with examples and writing exercises to get you going.

Feel free to share your favorite first lines (from your own book or someone else’s) below. Also, if you share this on FB or Twitter and let me know in the comments section before midnight Wednesday, November 4, I’ll throw your name in a hat to possibly win a $25 gift certificate to BN.com. The winner will be announced Thursday November 5.

No. 7 START WITH A FIRST, LAST, BEST, WORST OR OTHER SIGNIFICANT LIFE EVENT

Writing exercise: Ask yourself these questions about your character:

  1. Will she be experiencing a particular life event for the first time during your story?
  2. Will your character be doing something for the last time that she will never be able to do again, e.g., play a sport, dance, be with a particular person, etc.
  3. During the story, will your character experience the worst thing (or what she thinks is the worst thing) that might ever happen to her for the rest of her life?
  4. Will your character be experiencing some significant one-time-only life event such as a high school graduation, sweet sixteen party, bar mitzvah, or break-up with a first love?

If you’ve discovered a first, last, worst, or other significant event that your character will experience in the book, think about how you can make it a bang-up beginning? Take a look at how the following writers did it:

FC9780803737792This Monster Cannot Wait by Bethany Barton

Vacation is only a week away, and Stewart’s parents are taking him camping for the very first time.

It’s going to be so much fun. I absolutely cannot wait!!!

FC9781479538096Zeke Meeks vs. the Pain-in-the-Neck Pets by D.L. Green

It was Monday, the worst day of the week. It was morning, the worst time of day. It was raining, the worst kind of weather. I was in class, the worst place to be. I was so unhappy.

 FC9781423105169Schooled by Gordon Korman

I was thirteen the first time I saw a police officer up close. He was arresting me for driving without a license. At the time, I didn’t even know what a license was. I wasn’t too clear on what being arrested meant either.

 

FC9780385733984Going Bovine by Libba Bray

The best day of my life happened when I was five and almost died at Disney World.

I’m sixteen now, so you can imagine that’s left me with quite a few days of major suckage.

FC9781442413344Where Things Come Back by Corey Whaley

I was seventeen years old when I saw my first dead body. It wasn’t my cousin Oslo’s. It was a woman who looked to have been around fifty or at least in her late forties…

 

FC9780756939182Son of the Mob by Gordon Korman

The worst night of my life? My first—and last—date with Angela O’Bannon.

 

FC9780802734310Fracture by Megan Miranda

The first time I died, I didn’t see God.

No light at the end of the tunnel. No haloed angels. No dead grandparents.

To be fair, I probably wasn’t a solid shoo-in for heaven. But, honestly, I kind of assumed I’d make the cut.

FC9780142412022An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

The morning after noted child prodigy Colin Singleton graduated from high school and got dumped for the nineteenth time by a girl named Katherine, he took a bath.

FC9781423184621Far From You by Tess Sharpe

It doesn’t start here.

You’d think it would: two terrified girls in the middle of nowhere, cowering together, eyes bulging at the gun in his hand.

But it doesn’t start here.

It starts the first time I almost die.

FC9780062322371Kissing in America by Margo Rabb

According to my mother, my first kiss happened on a Saturday in July. The weather: steamy, blacktop-melting, jungle-gym-scorching New York City sunshine. The setting: the 49th Street playground in Queens, good on the sand quotient, low on the rats. The kisser: Hector Driggs, cute but a little bit smelly, like wet blankets and aged cheese. The event: one sopping, clammy-lipped, deranged, lunging kiss, directly on my lips.

I bit him.

I was three.

 

No. 8 START WITH A PORTRAIT (PHYSICAL, BEHAVIORAL, OR PSYCHOLOGICAL) OF A CHARACTER

Writing exercise: Make lists of your main character’s unique physical, behavioral, or psychological features. Would starting with a description of any of those characteristics tell your particular audience something so intriguing that they’d have to read on to find out how these features will play into your story? Take a look at these character portraits in popular books to see how they made readers want to turn the page.

Suggested twist on this exercise: Make a list of traits your character doesn’t display, even though readers might expect her to. See You Have Seven Messages by Stewart Lewis or You and Me and Him by Kris Dinnison (below) for great examples of that technique.

FC9780544456099Princess in Training by Tammi Sauer

Viola Louise Hassenfeffer was not an ordinary princess.

She spent her time karate-chopping, diving into the moat, and skateboarding up and down the drawbridge.

 FC9780142408551Wet Dog by Elise Broach

He was a good old dog and a hot old dog, as he lay in the noonday sun. And he dozed and he drowsed in the beating-down sun, with his long pink tongue hanging out.

FC9780439287197Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andereae, illus. by Guy Parker Rees

Gerald was a tall giraffe/whose neck was long and slim./But his knees were awfully crooked/and his legs were rather thin./He was very good at standing still/and munching shoots off trees./But when he tried to run around,/he buckled at the knees.

 FC9781936261192Being Frank by Donna W. Earnhardt, illustrated by Andrea Castellani

 Frank was always frank. “Honesty is the best policy,” he said.

 

 FC9780439425193Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee

I have been accused of being anal retentive, an over-achiever, and a compulsive perfectionist, like those are bad things.

 

FC9780316807227Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli

They say Maniac Magee was born in a dump. They say his stomach was a cereal box and his heart a sofa spring

They say he kept an eight-inch cockroach on a leash and that rats stood guard over him while he slept.

They say if you knew he was coming and you sprinkled salt on the ground and he ran over it, within two or three blocks he would be as slow as everybody else.

FC9780385740296You Have Seven Messages by Stewart Lewis

I may be fourteen, but I read the New York Times. I don’t wear hair clips or paint my cell phone with nail polish, and I’m not boy crazy. I don’t have a subscription to Twist or Bop or Flop or whatever they call those glossy magazines full of posters of shiny-haired, full-lipped hunks.

FC9780142424179The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Later in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.

FC9780062134516Mirrored by Alex Flinn

I was a strange child. Strange looking, for certain, with buckteeth, red hair (and matching invisible eyelashes), a hooked nose, and barely the hint of a chin. My classmates at Coral Ridge Elementary teased me about these defects as if it was their God-given right. Maybe it was. After all, if I wanted to fit in, wouldn’t I just act more normal?

FC9780544301122You and Me and Him by Kris Dinnison

Let’s get one thing straight from the very beginning: I am not one of those shrinking-violet fat girls. I don’t sit alone in my bedroom playing Billie Holiday albums while drowning my sorrows in a carton of ice cream. Okay, once—maybe twice—a year, but not every weekend. I have friends, a great job in a vintage record store, and even some minor social status. But I am an overweight teenage girl going to an American high school. It doesn’t take a clairvoyant to figure out there are going to be some issues.

 

No. 9 START WITH FORESHADOWING

Writing exercise: Choose an important event or plot turn in your story. Make a list of ways you can foreshadow that event without giving the plot away. Could one of them make a good beginning?

FC9781416961109Mostly Monsterly by Tammi Sauer

On the outside Bernadette was mostly monsterly. She lurched. She growled. She caused mayhem of all kinds. But underneath the fangs and fur, Bernadette had a deep … dark … secret.

 


51pf9xrxDRL._AA160_Wooby and Peep: A Story of Unlikely Friendship by Cynthea Liu, illustrated by Mary Peterson

Wooby loved his goldfish, Wendy, and his humble home. He lived on a quiet little street where the neighbors minded their own business.

Until one day …


61t+t7ptmgL._SY452_BO1,204,203,200_Where the Wild Things Are
by Maurice Sendak

The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind

and another

his mother called him “WILD THING!”

and Max said “I’LL EAT YOU UP!”

so he was sent to bed without eating anything.

UnknownChu’s Day at the Beach by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Adam Rex

When Chu sneezed, big things happened.

 

FC9781619633742All the Answers by Kate Messner

The pencil didn’t look magic.

It looked the opposite of magic.

 


FC9781632204257Honey Girl
by Lisa Freeman

My sickest secret is about Dad. I stole his ashes and filled his internment box with sand, ground-up puka shells, and a mashed-up plastic necklace from a vintage shop in the Hawaiian Village. I gave it to my mom with the fake remains after she came back from the mainland with Uncle Mike. The freakiest part of the whole thing is that she sleeps with the box next to her bed. She thinks that someday her ashes and Dad’s will be buried together. Sorry about that. I loved my dad more than any other person on the planet. I just didn’t think about what the long-term karma would be.


FC9780385740562Paper Covers Rock
by Jenny Hubbard

When my dad gave me this journal two years ago and said “Fill it with your impressions,” I imagine he had a more idyllic portrait of boarding school life in mind.

 

41b5PL-CEbL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

Ruby said I’d never drown—not in deep ocean, not by shipwreck, not even by falling drunk into someone’s bottomless backyard pool.

 


FC9780399256936Rebel Belle
by Rachel Hawkins

Looking back, none of this would have happened if I’d brought lip gloss the night of the Homecoming Dance.

 

 

No. 10 START WITH A HINT OF A MYSTERY

Writing exercise: Think of a big question that will be raised in your story that will create suspense in your reader. See if you can bring up that question in your first few lines without giving too much away. Or, begin your story by relating a startling event and make the reader keep turning pages to find out both the cause and eventual effects of that event.

FC9781416989387Dinosaurs Love Underpants by Claire Freedman, illustrated by Ben Cort (pb)

Dinosaurs were all wiped out/A long way back in history/No one knows quite how or why/Now this book solves the mystery …

 

FC9780375841958Who Pushed Humpty Dumpty? And Other Notorious Nursery Tale Mysteries By David Levinthal, illustrated by John Nickel

There are eight million stories in the forest. This is one of them.

It was a typical Sunday morning for the Bear family. They had gone out for a walk while their porridge was cooling.

I was working the robbery detail out of the Pinecone Division. My name’s Binky I’m a cop

The call came in at 12:15 p.m. It was Mrs. Bear, and she was upset. I knew I’d better get out there right away.


FC9781416954217Found
by Margaret Peterson Haddix

It wasn’t there. Then it was.

Later, that was how Angela DuPre would describe the airplane—over and over, to one investigator after another—until she would never speak of it again.


FC9781442408388Jasper Dash and the Flame-Pits of Delaware
by M.T. Anderson

When Lily Gefelty got out of bed on the morning of the big game, she looked out the window to see what kind of day it was going to be. She discovered that it was the kind of day when a million beetles crawl out of the ground and swarm the streets, forecasting evil.

FC9780375859557Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Imagine this:

You’re in your favorite bookstore, scanning the shelves. You get to the section where a favorite author’s books reside, and there, nestled in comfortably between the incredibly familiar spines, sits a red notebook.

What do you do?

The choice, I think, is obvious:

You take down the red notebook and open it.

                  And then do whatever it tells you.

 FC9781423143512Ditched: A Love Story by Robin Mellom

 I don’t know how I ended up on the side of Hollister Road, lying in this ditch.

This moment, last night, the details—all fuzzy. A reluctant glance down and I see I’m covered in scratches and bruises. The bruise on my shin appears to be in the shape of a French fry. French fries cause bruises? And I have at least five stains on my royal blue iridescent dress—two black, one greenish-bluish, and the remaining are various shades of yellow. What are these? Mustard? Curry?

Wait. I don’t even want to know.

FC9781606840238Blood on My Hands by Todd Strasser

In the dark woods behind the baseball dugout, I’m kneeling next to Katherine’s body, my heart racing, my breaths shallow and fast, my emotions reeling crazily at the sight on the ground before me. Katherine is lying on her side, curled up, as if she was cowering from whoever attacked her. Her body is still warm, but there’s no pulse.

 


Hook Your Readers at Hello: Part 6

START WITH A QUIRKY STATEMENT OF FACT OR OPINION

It’s been a while since I began this series, but I haven’t forgotten about it. In this post I’ll talk about a type of beginning I used in my middle-grade novel, The First Last Day (May 2016, S&S/Aladdin).

While working on that novel, I tossed out several first lines and pages before finding the one that will actually appear in print. In my first draft, I began in the middle of the story, or if you prefer Latin, in media res. Unfortunately, that didn’t work—in English or Latin. It gave away the whole plot.

Next, I started in the middle of the action again, but without giving away the story. That didn’t work either.

In the third version, I began with a list that hinted at the main plot element. That sort of worked, but not quite.

In the fourth, I started with a letter/prologue that gave away the whole shebang. And even though the novel sold, my editor nixed that beginning faster than you can say letter/prologue. She had me start with the first chapter, which happened to be a cool fact that I found when I was researching quotations for a possible title.

But even before that, I’d been intrigued with books that started with odd facts or assertions. Aside from being a fun and different way to start a book, beginning with this type of statement can also tell us so much about the narrator and the story.

9780786809219For example, one of my all-time favorite first lines is from Born to Rock by Gordon Korman:


The thing about a cavity search is this: it has nothing to do with the dentist.

Not only does the narrator tell us volumes in this one sentence, he also tells it in a voice I want to continue listening to. Just from these sixteen words, I can tell this guy:

  1. Is funny
  2. Is literate because he knows how to use a colon
  3. Is probably a troublemaker
  4. Has probably undergone a cavity search

The whole thing makes me wonder what he did that caused the cavity search. So, of course, I want to read on.

Here’s a list of several other beginnings with fun facts or assertions that made me want to keep reading, followed by a suggested writing exercise.

 

61KCmh4Q4hL._AA160_When a Dragon Moves In by Jodi Moore, illustrated by Howard McWilliam

If you build a perfect sandcastle, a dragon will move in.

 

 

 

 

9780763650704I Dare You Not to Yawn by Helene Boudreau, illustrated by Serge Bloch

Yawns are sneaky.

They can creep up on you when you least expect them.

 

 

 

9780803737174

When Dads Don’t Grow Up by Marjorie Blain Parker, illustrated by R.W. Alley

You can tell which ones they are. They know that milk tastes better through a straw, that bubble wrap is for popping, and they always throw rocks if there’s water around.

 

 

9780525464846Island of the Aunts by Eva Ibbotson

Kidnapping children is never a good idea; all the same, sometimes it has to be done.

 

 

 

 

9780316002578Every Soul A Star by Wendy Mass

In Iceland, fairies live inside of rocks. Seriously. They have houses in there and schools and amusement parks and everything.

 

 

 

9780142405079The Teacher’s Funeral by Richard Peck

 If your teacher has to die, August isn’t a bad time for it.

 

 

 

 

 

9780544340695The Center of Everything by Linda Urban

 In the beginning, there was the donut.

At first, the donut was without form—a shape-less blob of dough, fried in fat of one sort or another. The Ancient Greeks ate them. The Mayans. Even the Vikings enjoyed a platter of puffy dough blobs between pillages.

 

 

 

9780316058490Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass

 My sweat smells like peanut butter

 

 

 

 

9780375850875Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

There’s this totally false map of the human tongue. It’s supposed to show where we taste different things, like salty on the side of the tongue, sweet in the front, bitter in the back. Some guy drew it a hundred years ago, and people have been forcing kids to memorize it ever since.

 

 

 

9781442446953Five, Six, Seven, Nate! by Tim Federle

In musicals, characters break into song when their emotions get to be too big.

Whereas in life, of course, I break into song when my emotions get to be too big. Without getting paid for it, I mean.

 

 

9780545468039Loot by Jude Watson

No thief likes a full moon. Like mushrooms and owls, they do their best work in the dark.

 

 

 

9780142410370Matilda by Roald Dahl

It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.

 

 

 

 

81HByqWgT3LZeke Meeks vs His Big Phony Cousin by D.L. Green

There should be a law against homework. After a hard day of goofing off in school, I shouldn’t have to do more hard work. And I try very hard not to. But trying very hard to avoid work is hard work.

 

 

 

 

51kMPcgdliL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Little Dead Riding Hood by Amie Borst and Bethanie Borst

You know things are going suck when you’re the new kid. But when you’re the new kid and a vampire … well, then it totally bites.

 

 

 

 

61w+2qL1dGL._SX339_BO1,204,203,200_The Tapper Twins Go to War (with each other) by Geoff Rodkey

Wars are terrible things. I know this because I’ve read about a lot of them on Wikipedia.

And because I was just in one. It was me against my brother, Reese.

 

 

 

41It6WDxVGL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Something, Maybe by Elizabeth Scott

Everyone’s seen my mother naked.

 

 

 

 

 

51jM-uxIVbL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Gotta Get Some Bish Bash Bosh by M.E. Allen

 If you’re planning on going out with a girl, take my advice: don’t start over the summer holidays. Do it in term time, when there’s loads of other distractions. Over the summer holiday, keeping a girl happy on a day-to-day basis can really drain you.

 

 

 

51dIK5xkl6L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

Godless by Pete Hautman

Getting punched hard in the face is a singular experience. I highly recommend it to anyone who is a little too cocky, obnoxious, or insensitive.

 

 

 

 


9780316324779My Best of Everything
by Sarah Tomp

The ingredients for moonshine are ordinary, innocent.

Corn, sugar, yeast. Heat and time.

 

 

 

 

51nhlCLwR-L._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_Killer Instinct by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The majority of children who are kidnapped and killed are dead within three hours of the abduction. Thanks to my roommate, the walking encyclopedia of probabilities and statistics, I knew the exact numbers.

 

 

41lgc0DksAL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

The funny thing about almost-dying is that afterward everyone expects you to jump on the happy train and take time to chase butterflies through grassy fields or see rainbows in puddles of oil on the highway.

 

 

 

 

51Xoq4bjfAL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_What Remains by Helene Dunbar

No one ever calls in the middle of the night to tell you that you’ve won the lottery.

 

 

 

 

 

41ZDMT9ekBL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The Breakup Bible by Melissa Kantor

In nineteenth-century novels, characters die of heartbreak. Literally. A girl gets dumped, and she’s so grief-stricken she suffers a “brain fever,” or goes wandering out on the moors, and the next thing you know, the whole town is hovering by her bedside while a servant gallops on a desperate midnight ride to fetch the doctor.

 

 

Suggested exercise: Google one of the main topics of your story. I started by googling “summer” because I was looking for quotes from songs, poems, or sayings that I might use as a title. Instead, I found a fun fact about summer that I knew my narrator would love. The statement even ended up working as a metaphor for the whole novel.

 

If you have any favorite beginnings that start with a quirky fact or assertion of some sort, please feel free to share in the comments section.

 


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.

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.

 

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.

 

51B3ewuwafL._AA160_

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.

Me.

 

 


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

Now

Lara

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.