Tag Archives: writing

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.


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?


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.


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 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.


                                                                                          Haleigh Adams

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


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 :)




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: 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 …



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.