SAY WHAT YOU MEAN (Mean What You Say) – an excerpt

Publishers (like Nevermore Press/Trap Door Books in Lunenburg) are asking authors to contribute some online content in these days of homeschooling; not sure if this link will work, but here it is, in case you have 15 spare minutes – personally, I’m using my spare time trying to learn to sing harmony – a lifelong goal. Let’s just say I’m not a natural… Stay well, stay home, stay sanitized!

First lines, and a New Year

I’ve been struggling with the opening pages of the story I’m working on lately – writing, rewriting, chopping, slashing, rearranging punctuation and words. Frustrating! So I decided to check out some first lines of middle grade novels I keep close at hand:

When May died, Ob came back to the trailer, got out of his good suit and into his regular clothes, then went and sat in the Chevy for the rest of the night.” 


Jacob held his pointer finger just above his thumb, forming a small rectangular box in the air. He closed one eye, held the box up to his open eye, and trapped puny little Majok in the frame.” – A HARE IN THE ELEPHANT’S TRUNK  (moi)

Uncle Ted said Jimmy bumped his head falling off the swing. He said Jimmy just seemed to let go of the chains when he reached the highest arc, and he fell, thunk, to the ground and lay still.” Hartry


The movement of the train rocked me like a lullaby. I closed my eyes to the dusty countryside and imagined the sign I knew only from stories.” Vanderpool


They’re all very different openings, but what they have in common is that they invite the reader in to the story, and they raise questions – who is this person, and what’s going to happen to them? First lines must be full of the ever-elusive “voice”, set the tone, convince the reader it’s worth his/her time to read further.

I wrestle with beginning lines a lot more than closing lines. Not sure what that says about me or my writing process. In particular, I’m never fully convinced I’ve started the story in exactly the “right place”. There are rules about creating first lines with a lot of oomph, but there are also many examples of amazing books that completely break those rules, and all fiction-writing rules, in fact (example – “It was a dark and stormy night.” – A WRINKLE IN TIME, L’Engle).

Here’s a great blog post about first lines, specifically in relation to middle grade novels:

I’m usually inspired to get back to work when January 1st rolls around – how about you? Any fabulous first lines you’ve stumbled upon (or written) lately? Hope 2014 will be a banner year for you and yours – full of peace, health and love.