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1. Jump-Start Your Next Story with Two Truths and a Lie

Macbook Writing" by Håkan Dahlström Photography (Creative Commons)

The only way to be a writer is to write, right? This is the advice we give at WD, online and in the magazine. If you want to write, you must write. But sometimes getting started is difficult. Perhaps you have a fully-formed character but no idea what to do with him. Maybe your idea is a great plot, but you don’t know who the woman who must live it will be. I would argue that getting started—the actual act of sitting down and beginning something new—is the most difficult part of writing. (Your mileage may vary, of course, but for me, this is the hard part.)

Imagine my excitement this morning when I encountered the following paragraph as I read That Would Make a Good Novel by Lily King on The New York Times:

When I teach fiction I often start a workshop with one of my favorite exercises called Two Truths and a Lie. I tell my students to write the first paragraph of a short story. The first sentence of the paragraph must be true (My sister has brown hair.), the second sentence must be true (Her name is Lisa.), but the third sentence must be a lie (Yesterday she went to prison.). … The lie is the steering wheel, the gearshift and the engine. The lie takes your two true sentences and makes a left turn off road and straight into the woods. It slams the story into fifth gear and guns it.

Although this extremely useful exercise is not at all the point of King’s article, I think it deserves its own post here for those of you who, like me, have trouble with beginnings. So let’s do an exercise! This one is three-pronged:

1. Write the beginning of a story—three full sentences—using the Two Truths and a Lie method. The first two sentences must be true, and the third sentence must be a lie.

2. Carry that story out to at least 500 words. Write more if you’d like. Go wherever your lie takes you. Be ridiculous or be introspective. Whatever suits you.

3. Post your story on your blog, and leave a link here (with a title and your first three sentences to avoid being trapped in our spam filters) so that the rest of us can read it. 

BONUS: Tweet a link to your story, too! Use the hashtag #WD2Truths1Lie so we can all see your efforts.

headshotWDAdrienne Crezo is the managing editor of Writer’s Digest magazine. Follow her on Twitter at @a_crezo.


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2. To Prologue or Not to Prologue?

Ready to startMany middle grade and YA authors debate whether or not to include a prologue when beginning their manuscripts. Prologues are sections of story that precede the first chapter, similar to an introduction, but their sequencing in relationship to the following chapter(s) is not necessarily chronological. Often structured as a flash forward or flash back, a prologue can provide details that justify a character’s motives later on, or offer a quick glimpse at the central action, conflict or climax of the story that lies ahead. (This kind of prologue was used by Stephanie Meyers in Twilight.)

It’s important to know that prologues are not wildly popular with editors – they can feel like a cheat, something the author has chosen to use because he or she can’t figure out how else to incorporate that information, or because their beginning isn’t strong enough.  They can also be viewed as a stalling tactic, a way to write your way in to the story, like a kind of literary ‘throat-clearing.’

Don’t decide definitively to include a prologue until your manuscript is complete… and even then, make sure you are including one for the right reasons. Below are some pros and cons of prologues that may help in choosing whether or not to create one for your story:

Prologue Pros

  • Can provide details that will explain character motives later on
  • May tempt readers to read on by allowing a glimpse of the excitement that lies ahead
  • Provides a place for important backstory without slowing momentum once the story is underway

Prologue Cons

  • Can be viewed as a stalling tactic or sign that you’re unsure how to begin
  • May be overlooked or ignored by readers, who may then miss the key information it contains

(Interested in more information like this? Check out my home study courses in writing picture books, chapter books and middle grade novels and young adult fiction, at JustWriteChildrensBooks.com

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3. Beginnings

What does it take to draw in today’s young reader and persuade them to keep reading?

Last week, in the children’s lit class I’m teaching at Stony Brook Southampton, we looked closely at the beginnings of middle grade and YA novels.  I made a list of important elements for my grad students… but I’d love to hear what else you consider when it comes to starting a story.

Here’s my crib sheet:

The beginning of your story has to accomplish several things. It must:

→ Introduce your setting
→ Introduce your main character/s
→ Establish the tone/rules of the world
→ Hook your reader and compel them to read on

The last point is perhaps the most important. Here, then, are some tips.

Good beginnings…

Start with an event, a problem or a change. Judy Blume says that novels should begin “on the first day that something different happens in your character’s life.” Don’t worry about backstory or exposition – that can reveal itself later.

Fulfill the premise – and promise – of your story. If your book is about a girl who can talk to animals, don’t wait 50 pages before she talks to, or hears from, an animal. Even if she doesn’t realize what’s happening yet, there should she be some hint right away of what your story is really about.

Raise questions. Questions propel the characters into action, and the reader into the next page, wondering what will happen next. What’s going on here? How or why did this happen? Who could have done this?

Avoid clichés. Childrens book authors often start books on the first day of school or the day a character arrives some place new. Although these are natural starting points because they involve a change, they’re also a little too common. Try to be fresh, original. Here are some other common/cliché beginnings to avoid:

→ The weather (“It was a dark and stormy night…”)
→ The hero waking up in the morning and thinking about his/her day
→ A dream or a vision
→ A death
→ Starting with the present, and then going into flashback mode to provide exposition

Establish the rules of the world. If your story is set in a world in any way different from ours, then some hint of how the world works, or the rules operating there, should be in your opening – but remember to show rather than tell. Reveal or demonstrate the rules in action as opposed to describing them through exposition.

Establish the tone, style and pacing of the book. Your opening scene sets the overall mood of your story, whether its dark, funny, contemporary, lyrical, whatever. Whatever the primary tone of your piece is, your initial scene should establish that feeling.

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4. How my first published book began

Now that a tight deadline is behind me, I've had a tiny slice of free time to clean out and sort through books, clothing, and papers I might not have touched in years. And look what I found! The beginnings to my first published book, Circles of Confusion.

Here's the Publisher's Weekly synopsis and review:
An amateur sleuth with an unusual day job debuts in this lively romantic mystery, Henry's first novel. Claire Montrose works for the Oregon Motor Vehicles Division in Portland, checking applications for vanity license plates. Her mundane job is interrupted by a call from her mother, who reports that Claire's great-aunt has died, bequeathing to Claire the contents of her mobile home. Aided by her boyfriend, an obsessively careful insurance adjuster, Claire sorts through Aunt Cady's belongings. Among the piles of old knickknacks, she finds a beautiful small painting of a woman sitting at a table. Aunt Cady had been in Germany during WWII and Claire suspects the artwork might be one of many masterpieces that disappeared in Europe around that time. To have it appraised, she flies to New York, where an expert tells her that the painting is a forgery. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, however, a handsome artist says that the canvas may be an authentic Vermeer. Attempts to steal the painting convince Claire that the artist may be right?but can she trust him? Or should she trust the expert who thought the painting a forgery? Danger follows Claire back to Portland, but she proves clever enough to outwit even the wiliest villain in her offbeat, vital first outing as a sleuth.

When I was writing the book, I needed to describe the possible Vermeer she inherits. It's believed that Vermeer painted in his own home, usually in one room, which is why the light falls the same way from the same window, the same chair appears in painting after painting... So I created my own Vermeer by cutting and pasting bits of other Vermeers. Here it is:

I also brainstormed what would happen in the book, starting with the words "Find Painting" in the center circle:

Now there's a program you can use for free to create mind maps like this, which you can find at bubble.us . I used it to brainstorm next year's book, Finish Her Off. I think I might start start a new one for 2014's book, The Girl I Used to Be.

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5. It's January 1st all over again

Two years ago, February 23, 2011, was the worst day of my life (at least so far). First, I got a bad piece of publishing news. And then I got an even worse piece of publishing news. (I don’t feel comfortable sharing what these were, but I guess the takeaway is that even after publishing more than a dozen books, not everything goes your way. In the second case, I was seriously worried about my career.) I was so freaked out that I just forwarded the second piece of news to my agent instead of calling her.

A few minutes later, the phone rang. I was so sure it was my agent that I didn’t even check Caller ID.

But it wasn’t Instead, it was LK (Lisa) Madigan’s husband with the news that she had died from the pancreatic cancer that had been diagnosed just eight weeks earlier.This all happened in the space of a couple of hours.

As the year wore on, I lost two more friends, Bridget Zinn and Craig Warner.

In 2011, I also had deadlines that I honestly did not know how I would make. I worked so hard that I didn't even remember what I used to do on evenings and weekends. I winced when it was sunny because the sunlight threw into relief just how dirty, dusty, and disorganized things had gotten

I declared February 23, 2012 the start of a new year.

I said I hoped to not go to any more memorial services.  And I didn't.  I did have two people very close to me diagnosed with breast cancer.  A third got very sick for a month and the doctors worried it was cancer - but it wasn't.  (They still aren't quite sure what it was.) where I hope to not go to any memorial services.

I said I would read more for pleasure.  To be honest, I sucked.  I'm trying again, though.  Right now I'm reading The Tenth of December.

I said I would live out the single resolution I made for 2012: “Less and more.” I wanted to go big with my family, my friends, my books, my fitness. I did pretty good!  I wrote tons, I got my orange belt, and lately I've been running as fast as I did ten years ago.

I also wanted to cut out the clutter in my life, chuck all the little things that don’t add anything.  And today I went through all my closets and asked myself if honestly I would wear everything.  I said no to a lot of things.  I should have said no to more, but its a start.

Here’s to a new year!

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6. A Good Day of Drawing


It was a great day in the studio.   My characters for my story are growing.  Can you see how they almost tell their own story?  Look at this little pigs face. Does he like cooking?  What is he making? What is he thinking?

Writers develop their characters with pen in hand. I also have pen in hand, but mine is to draw the characters first… then move on to writing the story. 

There is still so much to do… I have only JUST BEGUN!


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Q: I am always curious what first goes through an author's mind when they begin to write a book.
 A: Pure, unadulterated panic!
 Q: No, I’m serious! I’m just not sure how to go about it. I have character names, as well as the general plot. I’m just always confused as to how to ‘start’ a book.
 A: In two previous posts, I discussed why some writers may begin with great enthusiasm, but lose momentum along the way. They run out of story before they have enough pages to make a book.
But sometimes the problem is getting started. Nothing happens until you put something down on the page. But how?
The cool thing about writing as opposed to, say, building brick walls, is that writing is easy to revise and reshape. Sometimes at first, you can’t really tell where your story begins. My advice: don’t obsess about it. Get something down, and then make your decision in revision. Slash away at the fat at the beginning into you cut into the muscle of the story. That’s the beginning.
For me, books begin with a character, what the character wants, and the obstacles in the way.  For example, in Twilight, Edward and Bella want to be together, but the fact that he is a vampire and wants to kill her from time to time gets in the way. Then other obstacles surface—Jacob, for instance.
In The Demon King, reformed thief Han Alister wants to earn a living for himself and his family without returning to the gang life. What’s in the way? It’s really hard to make a living in Fellsmarch, because of the ongoing wars, he’s been accused of a series of murders, his mother things he’s demon-cursed, and the most powerful wizard family in the Fells is out to get him.
Usually, a book begins with an inciting incident. In The Demon King, Han Alister encounters three young wizards setting fire to his hunting grounds. He takes an amulet from one of them, and that brings a whole load of trouble down on his head.
I think it’s best to begin your story in scene, with characters on the stage, ensnaring us in their story.  The opening of your story should establish voice and point of view, introduce conflict, and make a promise to the reader about the story to come.
It may be helpful to try reading opening scenes in books in your genre. How does the author begin? What does he or she choose to include, right up front?
As I said in my post on plunging vs plotting, you don’t have to have everything figured out in order to begin. Just know that there may be considerable clean-up at the end.

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Progress on the cover for Forts 3 continues to putter forward. It feels pretty good to be woking on these characters again. I took too much time away.

Art has always been therapy for me and this has been a rough year.


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It's official!

The above image is the final cover for the thirds and final book in the Forts series, Endings and Beginnings!

The OFFICIAL WEBSITE is also in the process of being updated to reflect the look of the new book and I'll be adding some goodies on there over the next few weeks!


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It's been a while since I updated over here, so what have I been up to?Working mostly.Was that a boring answer?I guess it was a bit of a boring answer and I guess I should elaborate.The final piece of the FORTS TRILOGY is on schedule and expected sometime before the end of the year (November). If you haven't yet scooped up a copy of the first two, my suggestion is to get on that. If you have no interest in scooping up the first two, prepare yourself for one of my patented knuckle sandwiches. Beyond that, I'm currently illustrating a picture book for Featherweight Press, and I've been slowly piecing together my next project.Check out the trailer below:The first volume of Goats Eat Cans is in the hands of my editor and set for release early next year. You can find more information at the OFFICIAL SITE.Even if you hated FORTS, give this one a try. It's nothing like FORTS.Nothing at all.Seriously.

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That's right, the final piece in the Forts Trilogy arrives on the 14th of next month!If you were planning on reading the series from the beginning and just haven't gotten around to it, there's no time like the present to get started. 

 The links are HERE and the first book in the series is still a measly $0.99 for all the kindle owners out there.

Get on it.

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12. On beginnings in speculative fiction

Reader reactions are so subjective. One person might think there’s not nearly enough worldbuilding in a book (“give me more! MORE!”) and another might say of the exact same book that what worldbuilding there is was way too confusing (“I couldn’t keep all those made-up words straight!”).

So how do you, as the author, balance the needs of such a wide range of readers when you’re working in a complex world that needs development? And how do you balance the need to establish your characters, setting, and plot with the need to spool out information to your reader to intrigue them rather than confuse them?

This is a question that pretty much every author and editor of speculative fiction struggles with, particularly because we, as veterans of the genre, are already more comfortable with a lot of worldbuilding jargon than your average teen reader, particularly teen readers whose preference for fantasy runs more toward the contemporary paranormal variety. There are a number of reasons why I think Twilight was so popular on such a broad scale, but one of the biggest ones was the relatability of the situation. So what if you’ve never had a vampire show up at your high school? It could happen!

Think about all the really big fantasy hits of the last few years in children’s and YA fiction: Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Twilight, Hunger Games. Of these books’ beginnings, only The Hunger Games is all far that outside the everyday experiences of your average young reader, and even The Hunger Games starts with a relatable situation—a coal mining family lives in a desperate situation and must hunt for food; while most kids who would have access to The Hunger Games don’t live under a despotic regime, it’s plausible that it could happen in the real world. Harry Potter and Percy Jackson are ordinary kids going to school, living somewhat normal lives (even if abusive ones, in the case of Harry) before their worlds change with the discovery of magic. Their starting point is relatable.

What this means is that readers of Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and Twilight figure out the world alongside the main character. Information is spooled out as the character needs it, so the reader doesn’t have to absorb everything at once. This is a low bar for entry, not requiring much synthesis of information.

What about Hunger Games? Now it gets a little tougher. Suzanne Collins starts out with a perfectly relatable (if a tiny bit cliche) situation, the main character waking up and seeing her family. We get some exposition on Katniss’s family and the cat who hates her. But it becomes non-cliche by page 2, when we learn about the Reaping. Ah! What’s the Reaping, you ask? We don’t know yet. Now the bar for entry is raised. There is a question, the answer for which you’re going to have to read further to find out. The infodumpage level is low, but there is still some exposition in the next few pages, letting us know that Katniss lives in a place called District 12, nicknamed the Seam, and that her town in enclosed by a fence that is sometimes electrified—and which is supposed to be electrified all the time.

Collins’s approach to spooling out a little information at a time is to explain each new term as she goes, but some readers think that feels unnatural in a first person voice because the narrator would already know these things, so why is she explaining them to the reader? It depends on the story, in my opinion—Collins makes it work because of how she crafted Katniss’s voice. It is a very fine line to walk—I can’t tell you how many submissions I’ve gotten that start out with, “My name is X. I am Y years old. I live in a world that does Z,” an obvious example of how this approach becomes downright clumsy when

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The book is arriving soon. Really soon. Before you know it, I'll be asking you to fork over some of your hard earned cash to read it. 

Until then, here's some free stuff.


   The heat was sweltering. The summer had been particularly rough and dry, and altogether uncomfortable. This was an angry heat, tailor-made for the suffering of those forced to live through it. In the backyard of the Jarvis family, tucked safely beneath the shade of a thick-trunked Oak Tree, sat the house of the family dog, Mr. Button. Built when Button was a pup, the years were noticeably rough on the modest dwelling. The rain had warped its walls and rusted the nails holding them perilously in place. Once a crisp, almost blinding shade of white, the paint had been peeling away for quite some time, exposing the worn and damaged wood beneath in softball sized clumps of pure ugly. The roof was little more than ragged jumble of partially rotted materials, and the likelihood of the structure's collapse grew substantially with every passing day. So pathetic was this shell of a once proud doghouse that Mr. Button had taken to lying outside rather than in. Even he was capable of understanding it was a disaster waiting to happen. 

   Despite the heat and the ever-present fear of being buried beneath a heap of rotted wood, jagged sheet metal and copper colored nail chips, eight year old Tommy Jarvis had been sitting cross-legged inside the funky-smelling piece of construction for hours. His hair was soaked with perspiration, his clothes drenched so thoroughly they could literally be ringed out. The dirt beneath him transformed into a moist, muddy-wet stew of yellow-tinted sweat and soil that smelled as bad as it looked. His throat was dry and his lips cracked to the point that that act of running his tongue across their surface no longer accomplished anything at all. 

   Despite his aching bones, and the fact that his vision had begun to blur, young Tommy had no intentions of leaving. 

   He was determined to remain exactly where he was. He wanted to sit there, and stay there, and keep himself angry, because anger was what he was feeling, and because it was all he wanted to feel. Would it have been possible, Tommy might have sat in that exact spot forever, until his skin peeled away, caught the breeze and fluttered off, until his bones turned to dust and became indiscernible from the ground beneath. 
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The final part of the Forts trilogy is now available in both ebook and print editions. For all the links fit to link check out MY WEBSITE!The Kindle edition can be found by simply clicking the picture above.Let me just say that it feels great to finally have this series wrapped up. Could things have gone smoother? Sure. Would I have preferred to not have the issues with the original publisher of the series? Of course. In the end, I wrote three books.Me. I did that.That's nearly 600,000 words and three years of my life. Despite everything that's happened and the way things played out, it's something to be proud of. I like Forts.It was important to me to write it and even more important that I finished it. It was fun and it was therapy, and I learned a lot about myself and my work from it, and in the end I wouldn't change a word.That's a pretty cool thing.Steven

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15. Very First Words

It often feels as if I live multiple days within the framework of one. I was writing about global health care for hours in the early part of yesterday, before I scrambled to my former middle school for the exhilarating Operation TBD, then went out with video camera and my Sony in hand to collect footage for book trailers now in progress. An hour of email, then to the high school down the road, where I was teaching a mini-course called "Very First Words." At nine-thirty I was sitting in our favorite neighborhood restaurant, chatting with one my favorite waitresses about a law school choice that she is making, her preparing to leave one life to create another.

Beginnings, then, were very much on my mind—each scene from the day let loose and catalyzed. In the class itself we asked ourselves what beginnings do and decided that, among other things, they extend an invitation, issue a caution, or lay down a bridge; they set the tone, establish a voice, and signal rhythms; they provide clues as to what is at stake; they either announce or suggest a world view. Beginnings can be bombastic or brave, ideological or explicit, dashed into place by an opening salvo of dialogue, or hushed unto themselves.

We read the prologue of Frank Conroy's Stop-Time—that streak through the dark world. We read the jiving Mum says of Alexandra Fuller's Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight. We stole within the sensory till of Marie Arana's American Chica and the hushed deep night of Patricia Hampl's The Florist's Daughter, which is not the same, at all, as reading the clinical reportage of Joan Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking or the truly (and I do mean truly) non-cinematic opening lines of Steve Lopez's The Soloist.

Then we talked about how a writer gives a piece momentum, and while fiction wasn't on the agenda last night, I had Patrick Somerville's The Cradle with me, and so I read. For look at what Somerville does here—twining disclosure and unexpired exasperation, pairing a short sentence and a long one to rush the reader in, so that there is no choice but next:

Marissa could not be comforted, and wouldn't have it any other way. The cradle for the coming baby had to be the cradle she'd been rocked in as a child; not only the cradle she'd been rocked in but the cradle that was upstairs in her bedroom when she was fifteen and her mother came home one night from the grocery store, slammed her keys down on the countertop, slammed the brown crinkled bag onto the table, looked down at the floor, looked at Marissa, took the keys, and walked out the door, this time permanently.

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16. Beginning The Beginning: Penny Dolan

I'm a few thousand words into my new "big idea". A simple synopsis for the novel already exists, so I know something about where I'm going. Some people advise that this is the time to go with the flow. Just get that first draft written at a cracking pace! Write, don't think! Scribble out the unconcious text.

That's not how it's working here. I am taking slow careful steps of the opening chapters, finding the dry path across the moor. I am watching for the brief moments when the story itself - not the skeletally lean synopsis - reveals itself. It's when a host of tiny ideas and questions and all that wonderful word stuff comes flashing into my mind. I need to catch each one before it disappears. This very slow writing pace lets the emotional plot as well as the factual plot grow and echo in my head. At least that what's I'm hoping.

I go over each paragraph time and again. I expand lines into paragraphs, paragraphs into scenes. I change telling into showing, build in snatches of dialogue, cut this or that, move ideas around. It is very enjoyable, almost as if I'm placing minute pieces of bright glass into a mosaic, watching the pattern take on beauty and shape. Yes, I have to keep the free and dreamy state, but I have to focus on the miniature details too.

A version of the "Three Pigs" I tell has the first sister building a house of flowers and grass, the second one of twigs and leaves, and the third a house of iron. The first two houses are the most immediately beautiful, even to tell, but I must get that iron into my writing too, or my whole story won't be strong enough to stand.

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17. Beginnings

Revision update: I got some good stuff done on Saturday, but nothing Sunday, and nothing yet today. Uh oh.

I am still working on my beginning, the first eight chapters, which essentially makes up most of act one. Beginnings are very important, from the crucial first sentence, first paragraph and first page that must draw the reader in, through to the first few chapters that must hook a reader enough to make them not want to put the book down.

On Saturday morning, I was re-reading my first page for the umpteenth time, trying to decide if it did for me what first pages in recent bestsellers do for readers. I decided to do an experiment, and I went through my shelves reading the first pages of all the books that I have in my genre. This is invaluable, I believe. These are books that publishers have invested in, and the bestsellers are books readers are enjoying. These books are the standard we all should be writing toward.

Reading those first pages, I could pick out the elements each one had, emotion, character, setting, theme, tone for the book, etc., and how they were shown or told. Some had a sense of foreboding, of things to come, some just made you interested in the character.

For example, in Suzanne Collins’ Gregor the Overlander, we know Gregor is frustrated and bored, but not just that, so frustrated and bored that he “resisted the impulse to let out a primal caveman scream. It was building up in the chest, that long gutteral howl reserved for real emergencies.” That’s great showing. Collins also tells us there’s heat, that Gregor is banging his head on a screen, so probably a screened in window or door, and that it’s the beginning of summer.

With Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief, things are told more, but that’s mainly because the book is written in first-person narrative; you’re not just in the character’s head seeing things from his point of view, he’s telling you the story of his life so far. In this first page, he tells us that he recently learned something about himself and that if we think we might be the same, we should put the book down, because it’s dangerous. He tells us his name and age and that he has been expelled from school.

After reading these and others, I went back to my first page and identified the elements. I could quickly see what I was lacking and figured out how to remedy it.

Beginnings are the first impression for agents and editors and future readers. They’re so important. They set up the rest of the book. And if you don’t believe me, try Richard Castle, the fictional mystery novelist star in ABC’s show Castle, which I LOVE, by the way. Nathan Fillion is great. Anyway, as Castle says: “When I’m writing a story, the beginning is always the hardest, but if you can nail that, the rest of it will just fall into place.” (Watch the Kill the Messenger episode here; the line is around the15-minute mark.)

I don’t know about the rest of the book writing itself, but Castle’s right about beginnings being hardest.

This morning, I was catching up on blog reading and saw that writer Anita Nolan has beginnings on her brain right no

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18. Great first lines

I love the first lines of books — they’re so full of promise, and an intriguing one really gets me hooked. I almost never buy a book in the bookstore that has a dull first line (and a surprising number of books do — the weather, or the day/date, or some relatively boring description of the setting). And I think that as books struggle harder to catch the attention of readers used to movie trailers, TV, and video games (not to mention other books), they get better all the time. (This showed in our “first 3 lines” contest recently… although, of course, following up with a zillion more good lines is part of the trick, too!)

M.T. Anderson still gets my vote for favorite first line, with, “We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.” (FEED.) But there are plenty of great ones out there.

What’s your favorite?

— Joni, who can’t start writing until she has the right first line to follow, like the Yellow Brick Road

Posted in Joni Sensel Tagged: beginnings, first lines

10 Comments on Great first lines, last added: 12/7/2009
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19. Nature of Beginnings

I've chatted a lot about beginnings on my blog. I've done the nuts and bolts of them. Go back to this link and read my five part series on Beginnings.

I had someone put a bee a bonnet this week about taking to time to figure out what kind of learner you are. This website has a good test to help you discover the way you learn. I was actually very surprised by what this test revealed. I am a naturalistic learner. No wonder I spent most of my years in school baffled and wondering why I couldn't figure this out this school thing. I remember only one teacher in all my years of school that ever took me outside. I can remember every moment of that class. Interpersonal learning is at the bottom of my list. Logical is right above that. Most of school was that and I had a hard time connecting.

Throw me into the natural world, and I will see what few see and find what few find. There is not a moment of my life that I don't feel this vast universe: from atoms, to ants, to weather, to planets, to stars and then the galaxies. I feel connections everywhere. I am so curious. The way I learn weaves it way into the way I write. So I thought I'd spend some time explaining how the beginnings in nature feed the beginnings of books for me. I know how plants grow.

They start with some good old plant sex, cross pollination. An idea is not enough to fuel a book. It's got to get mixed up with an equally provocative and compatible idea. So go after the stuff that interests you. Keep at it, and I guarantee some cross pollination is going to happen and that is going to lead to....(no, not a book yet)...a seed! A seed has the blue print to make a plant in it, but a seed is not a plant. A germinated idea is not a book either. An idea has to be watered. Like a plant needs lots of sunlight, needs good soil, needs room to grow, books -- they need time and they needs lots of nutrients: critique, plotting, character studies, etc. This growing a booking is hard work, and you're going to have to tend it or the thing will die.

One thing that really makes me laugh, is when people are stressing over the beginning of a book without writing to the end. It's like having a little tiny sprout and wondering if those leaves are the best ones. I mean those leaves are going to fall off and new stuff is going to take their place. I think if you begin with a true seed of a book idea, and you continue to feed that book through the seasons. Yes, winters will come and then springs again. You will someday have an awesome book.

I'm going to continue next week with more about nature and beginnings. Hope to ya here.

This week's doodle: What if a kid met a dinosaur?

Remember: ©Molly Blaisdell, all rights reserved. If you want to use my cool doodles, ask permission first. It is so wrong to take people's doodles without permission!

So here it is the quote of quotes on beginnings:

There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning. ~ Louis L'Amour

1 Comments on Nature of Beginnings, last added: 1/11/2010
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20. When Chemistry Becomes Biology - Elen Caldecott

Don’t worry, though the title of this post might sound like the denouement of a Mills and Boon, there will be no ripping of bodices here. And no besuited gentlemen writhing in ponds. No. The chemistry I’m thinking about are the little atoms of ideas that strike me regularly. Each of which gets scribbled in my notebook. I’m sure most writers carry one or, failing a proper notebook, a handbag full of bus tickets written all over with a blunt eyeliner (or the male equivalent!).
My notebook (that's it on the right) says things like:

Punkin Chuckers is an annual US pumpkin flinging contest.’

A word is a semi-autonomous virtual machine.’

I like marmalade and clean sheets.’

The owl and the pussycat eyed each other warily.’

The notebook records thoughts, overheard gems and random nonsense. Each of these is a separate, discrete element, set apart from each other like atoms on the Periodic Table. Alone, they do nothing very much; they're no more than a bit of hydrogen, a drop of carbon, a dash of oxygen.

However, given time, something miraculous might happen. I like to think that my notebook is a kind of ancient swamp – the primordial soup – and that the ideas in it might just come together to create a living, breathing story. A narrative abiogenesis. I just have to fill the book up with enough interesting chemistry and, with luck, the biology will follow.

So, since submitting my last novel before Christmas, I have been spending a lot of my time filling the notebook. I spent a couple of hours looking at religious paintings; I saw the finalists in the wildlife photographer of the year competition and visited an abandoned shop which now hosts local artists’ shows. I’ve been reading fiction and non-fiction. I’ve been stealing ideas and dropping them into the swamp.

On the 1st February, I will sit down to begin something new. I’m not sure what it will be yet. I’m hoping that the notebook has been getting jostled and shaken and heated and when I open it on that day, something exciting will spring out. Or, of course, grey sludge might dribble onto my keyboard. There’s no way to know when just the right ideas will meet, so until then, I’m out in the world, scribbling in my notebook. Or on the back of a receipt if I’ve brought the wrong handbag.

8 Comments on When Chemistry Becomes Biology - Elen Caldecott, last added: 1/13/2010
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21. Nature of Beginnings (Part 2)

Hi folks, this will be a three part series on beginnings. This is part two. My posts will be short for a while but hopefully useful.

I'm relating beginnings to what we find in nature because that how I figure stuff out. Explosive beginnings are common in nature. Think the big bang. On a local scale -- volcanoes exploding, floods pouring, and meteors colliding. Earthquakes happen along fault lines. Epidemics sweep through populations unopposed. When searching for the beginning of a story, it's a good idea to get near to the day when things changed forever. If you are near the day nothing happened, your story is not going to fly. If stuff starts happening midway through the book, well, that ought to be the start. If nothing really happens to the end, you may have a lot of rewriting to do.

I hope you work hard this week and get tons done. :)

This week's doodle is "Kid Sees a Fish."

What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.

2 Comments on Nature of Beginnings (Part 2), last added: 1/19/2010
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22. Beginnings or Grab that Reader and Never Let Them Go

I've been thinking a lot about beginnings for my MG novel. I'm getting ready to turn in the first 25 pages for a conference critique, and I want that first line, first paragraph, first page to really grab the reader. I know when I'm browsing in a bookstore, I read the back jacket flap, then I'll read the first line of the book. If the first line doesn't grab me, I stop. If it does grab me, I'll read the first paragraph. If that first paragraph grabs me, then I want the book. So, now I'm writing for the 8-12 year old reader and I'm figuring they'll stop at the first sentence, so it's gotta be a good one.

In Nancy Kress' book, Beginnings, Middles, and Ends, she says the beginning must offer a promise to the reader of what they'll get out of your story. Look at these beginnings from some middle grade novels I love:

Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee:  "I have been accused of being anal retentive, an overachiever, and a compulsive perfectionist, like those are bad things."  

BAM! I love Millicent already and want to know more about her. The rest of the story centers around the promise that this somewhat pretentious genius will be struggling to find her place, caught as she is between the adult intellectual endeavors she loves and the reality that she's still a kid.

Savvy by Ingrid Law: "When my brother Fish turned thirteen, we moved to the deepest part of inland because of the hurricane and, of course, the fact that he'd caused it."

Savvy uses a subtle beginning (although I'm intrigued her brother's name is Fish) and then hits you with a surprise--he caused the hurricane? Can't wait to read on. The book centers around the promise that all the kids in this family have their own special power or savvy.

Which makes me think, perhaps it makes sense to find that one sentence that describes my story and then have my main character say it in his own way. What do you think? What kind of beginnings make you want to read on?

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23. Nature of Beginning (part 3)

Welcome to my back fence where I like to chat about writing and all things creative. I'm continuing my series on the nature of beginnings. I had an interesting chat with the multi-talented author Gail Carson Levine recently about CHAOS. Check out her blog for some ultra-fine writing advice.

Chaos is the study of systems that respond easily to change, especially at the beginning. These systems are highly sensitive to initial conditions. These conditions can vastly change the outcome of the systems. This sensitivity is called the butterfly effect. Initially, the wings of a butterfly can really set something like a hurricane in motion. If you look at the system later, a butterfly's wings will make little difference to the wild power of a hurricane. Yep, the beginning is REALLY important in a chaotic system.

I think that novels are chaotic systems, and this is why beginnings are such a bear. The first chapter of a novel is the place that beginning conditions are put in play. The first chapter will determine the course of the whole book. A book is very sensitive to changes in the beginning. The entire outcome rests on those first few pages. One of your goals is to find the butterfly wing events that set the engine of your story in motion. Yes, at times, this is like looking for a needle in a haystack. I've said it before. In the beginning, write a first chapter with a "tossability" factor. It's easier to back track from the hurricane to the butterfly wings event than the other way round for me.

Don't be hard on yourself if you've tried going at that beginning on your current work the twentieth time. Just take a deep breath and keep going. This process is delicate, complex stuff. You are David taking on Goliath. The good news is persistence is the key. You will move into the a solid pattern with enough tries. Don't give up.

Cast off into the deep waters knowing that you will find currents that will take you to distance shores. I hope you enjoy the journey this week. I will see you next week with some GOLDEN advice. :)

Now time for doodle of the week. I call this one, "Carpet at Seatac".

The fear of infinity is a form of myopia that destroys the possibility of seeing the actual infinite, even though it in its highest form has created and sustains us, and in its secondary transfinite forms occurs all around us and even inhabits our minds.
Georg Cantor

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24. Start Your YA Novel with a Bang

James Killick just offered up another great post to help us improve our fiction. In a nutshell, he suggests rethinking the writing advice that urges us to start with action. Start with drama, he says. And I couldn't agree more. Starting with a dramatic situation that leads to a change in the protag's life kicks starts the entire novel and makes it easy to layer on complications that keep the reader intent on reading.  Make sure you've provided enough background for the reader to care about what is happening in the opening conflict, and ensure there is emotion involved in that conflict, not just action.

Go get dramatic!


2 Comments on Start Your YA Novel with a Bang, last added: 4/9/2010
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25. Firsts and lasts


What firsts and lasts come to mind today?

Behind the question

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