Tag Archives: Bethany Barton

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.