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.
For 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:
- Is funny
- Is literate because he knows how to use a colon
- Is probably a troublemaker
- 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.
When a Dragon Moves In by Jodi Moore, illustrated by Howard McWilliam
If you build a perfect sandcastle, a dragon will move in.
I 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.
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.
Island of the Aunts by Eva Ibbotson
Kidnapping children is never a good idea; all the same, sometimes it has to be done.
Every 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.
The Teacher’s Funeral by Richard Peck
If your teacher has to die, August isn’t a bad time for it.
The 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.
Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass
My sweat smells like peanut butter
Liar & 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.
Five, 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.
Loot by Jude Watson
No thief likes a full moon. Like mushrooms and owls, they do their best work in the dark.
Matilda 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.
Zeke 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.
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.
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.
Something, Maybe by Elizabeth Scott
Everyone’s seen my mother naked.
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.
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.
My Best of Everything by Sarah Tomp
The ingredients for moonshine are ordinary, innocent.
Corn, sugar, yeast. Heat and time.
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.
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.
What Remains by Helene Dunbar
No one ever calls in the middle of the night to tell you that you’ve won the lottery.
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.