Tip of the Day: Leave a book next to the spot where you keep your laptop. When you go to reach for the computer, with no purpose other than to "cruise the Net," grab the book instead!
One of my favorite bloggers, Jennifer Hubbard, whose blog can be found here: http://writerjenn.livejournal.com/, had a post recently where she talked about endings.
I thought maybe I'd do a three-part blogging series on beginnings, middles and endings, because each has it's challenges, that's for sure.
So today, let's talk about beginnings
I know for some people, me included, beginnings are easy. At least they seem easy. They seem easy because the story is new and the characters are new (unless you're writing a series, I suppose). Let's face it - those first few chapters of a new project are normally pretty fun.
The problem is that as you go, writing along, learning more and more about about where the story is going and who the characters are, often times, the original beginning doesn't work any more. So you go back and fiddle with it, wanting to get it right. Then you go back where you left off, and you keep writing, and more is revealed about the story and the character. And you sense the beginning still isn't right.
Does this sound familiar at all? I've heard some writers wait until the very end and then they go back and completely rewrite the beginning once they have the ending written. I've done that once, with FAR FROM YOU. Every other book, though, the original beginning has pretty much stayed, although I often end up adding things to it as I go along and figure out what elements are important to have in the beginning.
I love writing beginnings, and for the most part, I think I do a fair job. But I've heard some first pages at conferences read out loud and from those sessions, I've gotten a sense that plenty of people struggle with beginnings.
Here are a few things to avoid in the beginning of your novel for kids/teens:
~ Too many details that bog that first chapter down, describing the setting of the story or some other aspect that just isn't that important. Kids don't want to read three pages of what the castle looks like. They want to know WHY the character is IN the castle and WHY he can't seem to get out (if that's what the problem is).
~ Too many characters introduced at once. While Jane Austen may have gotten published doing this, it doesn't work so well in kid lit.
~ Talking to the reader - "I'm going to tell you a story about a little girl names Polly Petunia. Have you ever met a girl with a name like that?" Unless your book is going to be like this the WHOLE way and it's part of the overall voice (like J.D. Salinger's THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, for example), it generally doesn't work well.
So what makes a GREAT beginning? Well, of course, one that hooks the reader and wants to make her keep reading. In Nancy Lamb's book, A WRITER'S GUIDE TO CRAFTING STORIES FOR CHILDREN, she says there are five essentials to keep in mind when creating the opening paragraphs. You may not use all of these devices, but certainly you'll want to use some.
1. Give the reader a sense of what the book is about. What kind of book is this?
2. Uncover a problem. Some books state the problem right away, others just hint at it. You really need to do one or the other. Give your reader a sense of what the conflict might be.
3. Reveal character
4. Pose a question to the reader. When a kid reads the first sentence of CHARLOTTE'S WEB - "Where's Papa going with that ax?" he wants to know, where IS Papa going with the ax?
5. Anchor the story in time and space. But be careful, because you don't want pages and pages of detail surrounding this. We just need to have a sense of where we're at, what time period, etc.
I think writing a good beginning is a little like walking a tightrope. It's a combination of character, conflict and setting, saying just enough about each, but not too much.
So - do you find beginnings easy or difficult? I would love to have you share a first line from a WIP or one of your books.
I'll start. The first line from FAR FROM YOU, my YA novel in verse coming out in January is - We're alone with only the cold and dark to keep us company.
~Lisa, Miss Pinch Me I'm Pubbed