Tag Archives: Melissa Kantor

Hook Your Readers at Hello: Part 6


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.





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.





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 Reader At Hello

The new year has gotten off to a slow start for me, but I’m finally back with a series of blog posts on how to hook your reader from those first few lines.

I’ve read all kinds of “rules” about first lines, first paragraphs, and first pages. And, not surprisingly, many contradict each other.

We hear a lot about how not to start your stories: no waking up in the morning, no dreams or nightmares, no looking in the mirror, no weather, no “My name is …”, no dialogue, etc. Sometimes these can work but not very often. (See Alvin Ho below. Identifying himself by name works because it tells us his ethnicity, which is important to both the list and the story. Would it work if his name were Alvin Smith? Probably not. Same with Phineas L. MacGuire, another unusual name for a kid.)

We also hear a lot of advice about starting in scene. Yet, I recently read somewhere that when writing in first person it’s best to start with narrative to get a feel for the main character’s voice. Seems like good advice. But, of course, it depends on the narrative.

Another common suggestion is to start with a big hook. This sometimes gets misinterpreted. A hook doesn’t have to be a death, a gunshot, a car accident, etc. Beginning this way can sometimes result in a lessening of tension as the chapter goes on, much like a balloon releasing air. In addition, since we haven’t been introduced to the main character yet, the emotion often doesn’t come across because we haven’t had a chance to develop empathy. Again, there are exceptions.

The two best pieces of advice I’ve heard about beginnings are this: let your readers know they are in capable hands and create enough interest that will make readers want to read on. So how do we do this?

A while ago, I did a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators workshop on starting strong. I spent several months in the bookstore and online looking at first lines. After a while, I noticed the beginnings that drew me in fell into specific categories. Since then I’ve become addicted to examining and analyzing first lines.

So, for the next several posts, I’ll talk about different techniques that PB, MG, and YA authors used to hook me right from the start. The first is one of my favorites: starting with a list. The list can be funny, sarcastic, informative, etc. But no matter what, it must draw the reader into the story. Also, notice in the examples below that whether there are three items or ten items, the humor, tension, or emotion escalates as the list goes on, and the final entry gives a bit of a punch and/or clue that lets you know what type of story you’re in for.

If you’ve written a book that starts with a list or know of any others that use the technique, feel free to add it in the comments section. In the meantime, here are twelve examples I love:







Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin

March 20
Mom says there are three things I should always remember:
1. The earth gives us everything we need.
2. When we dig tunnels, we help take care of the earth.
3. Never bother Daddy when he’s eating the newspaper.



Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look

The first thing you should know about me is that my name is Alvin Ho.

I am afraid of many things.
Substitute teachers.








 Phineas L. MacGuire Gets Cooking by Frances O’Roark Dowell

My name is Phineas L. MacGuire. A few people call me Phineas, but most people call me Mac. Yesterday, when I was riding the bus to school, I came up with a bunch of cool things the L in my name could stand for. My list included:

1. Lithosphere (the outmost shell of a rocky planet)

2. Lunar Eclipse

3. Light-Year

4. Labrador Whisperer

Unfortunately, the L in my name does not stand for any of those things. It stands for Listerman, which was, like, my mom’s great-aunt Tulip’s last name or something. My mom is very big on family traditions, but even she’s not allowed to call me Listerman.








The Graham Cracker Plot by Shelley Tougas

Dear Judge Henry,

I will tell you three things right now.

Number one: I’m almost twelve years old. I do not want to go to prison, even it it’s a prison for kids.

Number two: Nobody calls me Aurora Dawn Bauer, not even my grandma, and she’s the most legal person I know. Everyone calls me Daisy.

Number three: Your face looks like squirrels flopped their tails where your eyebrows should be. I can’t tell if your eyes ever laugh, but you were all business when you told me to write this, and–



Rules by Cynthia Lord


Chew with your mouth closed

Say “thank you” when someone gives you a present (even if you don’t like it).

If someone says “hi,” you say “hi” back.

When you want to get out of answering something distract the questioner with another question.

Not everything worth keeping has to be useful.

If the bathroom door is closed, knock (especially if Catherine has a friend over)!

Sometimes people laugh when they like you. But sometimes they laugh to hurt you.

No toys in the fish tank.









Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper


I’m surrounded by thousands of words. Maybe millions.

Cathedral. Mayonnaise. Pomegranate.

Mississippi. Neapolitan. Hippopotamus.

Silky. Terrifying. Iridescent.

Tickle. Sneeze. Wish. Worry.



The Hero’s Guide to Being an Outlaw by Christopher Healy, Illus. by Todd Harris


Outlaws have too many feathers in their hats.

Outlaws are allergic to seafood.

Outlaws never forget to floss.

Oh, and outlaws are people who are hunted down because they are accused of terrible crimes.



If I Have a Wicked Stepmother, Where’s My Prince by Melissa Kantor

Cinderella                               Me

dead mother                        dead mother

wicked stepmother            wicked stepmother

evils stepsisters (2)            evil stepsisters (2)

friendless                              friendless



Deadly Cool by Gemma Halliday

There are three things you never want to find in your boyfriend’s locker: a sweaty jockstrap, a D minus on last week’s history test, and an empty condom wrapper.



Cracked Up To Be by Courtney Summers

Imagine four years
Four years, two suicides, one death, two rapes, two pregnancies (one abortion), three overdoses, countless drunken antics, pantsings, spilled food, theft, fights, broken limbs, turf wars—every day, a turf war—six months until graduation and no one gets a medal when they get out. But everything you do here counts.



Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

It’s the first morning of high school. I have seven new notebooks, a skirt I hate, and a stomachache.



Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Here is everything I know about France: Madeline and Amélie and Moulin Rouge. The Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, although I have no idea what the function of either actually is. Napoleon, Marie Antoinette, and a lot of kings named Louis. I’m not sure what they did either, but I think it has something to do with the French Revolution, which has something to do with Bastille Day. The art museum is called the Louvre and it’s shaped like a pyramid and the Mona Lisa lives there along with that statue of the woman missing her arms. And there are cafés or bistros or whatever they call them on every street corner. And mimes. The food is supposed to be good, and the people drink a lot of wine and smoke a lot of cigarettes.