7 Killer Approaches to Writing a Killer Opening Line

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As we know, a good first line of a book (and chapter) can do much more than just begin the story. It grabs our attention, sets the tone, reveals something to come, lets us taste the narrative & voice, gives the first impression, and can be locked into our memory for years to come IF it is done well.

Look at the 7 approaches below and study them. (FYI: Thanks to Lorie Langdon for sharing these with us!)

I’ve also added links to some of the most popular first lines in YA Literature. Compare, enjoy, and then mentally put them into their correct categories. Then look at your own first lines. Where does it fit? Practice rewriting your first sentence. And if you are so bold, share it in the comments!

  1. A statement of eternal principle

– Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

– Paper Towns by John Green: “The way I figure it, everyone gets a miracle.”

 

  1. A statement that conveys the narrative

– Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa: “I had a farm in Africa.”

– Stardust by Neil Gaiman: “There once was a young man who wished to gain his Heart’s Desire.”

 

  1. Characterization

– Stephen King’s 11/22/63: “I have never been what you’d call a crying man.”

– The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway: “He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish..”

 

  1. Start mid-action

– Lorie’s current WIP:A brisk gale whipped the sea into peaks that pitched the Skylark around like a leaf in a flooded stream.

– The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner: Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting.

 

  1. A statement of paired facts

– Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo:Joost had two problems: the moon and his mustache.

– A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

  1. 6. Statement laced with significance and/or conflict

– Heather Webb’s Becoming Josephine: The missive arrived in the night.

  • DOON by Corp and Langdon:I skidded to a halt in the crowded corridor, totally unprepared for a showdown with the evil witch of Bainbridge High.
  1. 7. Start with setting that evokes emotion, establishes mood, or raises questions

-A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas:The forest had become a labyrinth of snow and ice.

-Maria V. Snyer’s Poison Study: Locked in darkness that surrounded me like a coffin, I had nothing to distract me from my memories.

 

LINKS:

https://www.bustle.com/articles/164702-20-ya-novels-that-will-hook-you-from-the-first-line

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/teen/15-of-the-best-opening-lines-in-ya/ 

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/38-best-first-lines-in-no_b_8836484

 

Thanks Lorie, for sharing your tips with us! *Find Lorie’s books on amazon here & her website.

Nova, signing off!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author Interview: Lauren Mansy, The Memory Thief

Pen Friends ~ Today’s interview is with YA Author, Lauren Mansy, talking about her debut, The Memory Thief. From what we have heard it has incredible world building and an intriguing premise! You can still pre-order it and it will arrive on your door on when it releases on October 1st!

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SP: Hi Lauren! Thanks for joining us! Before we get into book stuff, could you share a bit about you and your writing journey? 

LM: Thank you so much for having me, Nova!

I’m from the western suburbs of Chicago, where work alongside my parents in our family business. In my free time, I love grabbing coffee with friends, staying active outdoors, and traveling – I have two nephews in California, so I’ll use any excuse to spend time with them! 🙂

My writing journey first began the summer after my college graduation. I’d hoped to go into children’s publishing, but my senior year, I’d been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease, a form of lymphatic cancer. I’m so thankful to say that I’ve now been cancer-free for seven years, but that was a very difficult time for me. After completing my treatments, I wasn’t healthy enough to find a job, so my parents suggested I do something creative to help in my healing process. For some reason, all I could think about was writing a book. And once I started writing, I found that I never wanted to stop! Writing fiction helped me express myself in ways that I’d never done before and helped me process through some of my most difficult memories. I’ll be forever grateful for that! Continue reading

What To Do In That Post-Conference Glow

It’s Conference Season, Pen Friends! If you’ve ever been to a writer’s conference, you know the wonder and the crazy exhaustion and overwhelm that come as a result of being immersed in a gathering of a couple hundred (or more) writer friends.

I just got back from Realm Makers in St. Louis, and as I myself am feeling the end-of-conference feels, I thought I’d share this #throwback post for you in case anyone else is going to be conferencing soon (or if any of my fellow Realmies need a boost as they readjust to real life).

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Author Interview: Taylor Bennett

Pen Friends ~ We are delighted to have Taylor Bennett, debut author of Porch Swing Girl, here with us today!

Taylor Bennett Author Photo

Spinning Pen: Hi Taylor! Thanks for joining us. First, will you please tell us a bit of who are you and how long have you have been writing?

Taylor: Thank you so much for having me. I’m absolutely thrilled to be here! For those who don’t know me, I’m a seventeen-year-old homeschool senior, and I’ve been telling stories literally since I knew how to read. I’ve always loved beautiful words, and stringing those words together to create a story has always been one of my favorite things.

I never knew I could actually succeed in it, though, until I got offered a three-book contract! I write contemporary Christian young adult novels that tackle tough subjects and show light can shine even in the darkest night. When I’m not writing, you can usually find me taking pictures for my Instagram, eating really good food, or walking in the beauty of the PNW.

SP: We love the idea behind your debut novel, Porch Swing Girl (which is out now!)! How did this idea develop? How long did it take for you to write it?

I first got the idea for Porch Swing Girl by literally waking up. One morning, I honestly woke up, and the title was just there…I couldn’t get it out of my head, and I started playing with the idea of a girl on a porch swing. I didn’t know who she was or what she was doing, but I knew something had to be wrong. And…it all started from that! It took me nine months of off-and-on writing to finish the first draft, and about the same amount of time to edit it, which was waaay too long!! Now that I’m under contract for books two and three, I’m learning to write much faster 😉

SP: Will you tell us the story of your journey to getting your first contract?

Of course!

So…when Porch Swing Girl was still in its earliest stages of development (AKA I think I had maybe fifteen chapters written???) I decided to test the waters. I was already registered for the Oregon Christian Writers’ summer conference, and, because of that, I was able to send advance submissions to three editors of my choice.

I ran down the list of publishers and found three I liked–including Mountain Brook Ink–that were willing to look at a contemporary YA novel, sent off the queries, and went on my way.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I received an email from Miralee, the force behind Mountain Brook Ink, requesting to see more of my manuscript before the conference. I did a little happy dance, sent off the required chapters, and started counting the days until we would meet at the conference.

Porch Swing Girl coverWhen we connected a few weeks later, Miralee expressed a lot of interest in my book, and she was interested in seeing more–not just the rest of the still-unfinished manuscript–but a full proposal for a trilogy. I worked for an entire year to polish and perfect Porch Swing Girl, as well as start work on a second book. By the time the Oregon Christian Writers’ conference rolled around the next year, I was ready. And so was Miralee.

She found me in the hallway and invited me and my mom to meet with her later that afternoon. We did, and that was when she informally offered me a three-book contract. A total dream come true!!

SP: What are some books that have inspired you along the way? 

Every book that I read inspires me in one way or another! I’m particularly drawn to intense, raw stories like those written by Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray is one of my all-time favorites) and Joanne Bischof (her book, This Quiet Sky, rips my heart out every time I read it). But I also draw inspiration from the whimsy of classic children’s stories. The original Winnie-the-Pooh tales spark a desire in me to tell timeless, heartwarming tales. The way Jeanne Birdsall (author of the Penderwicks series) showcases the small bits of magic in everyday life constantly encourages me to do the same.

SP: What kind of a writer are you? Do you start with a scene? A big picture? Are you plotter? Gut feelings?

I’m what I’d call a “mood writer”. What I mean by that is I usually get my ideas from a feeling. Maybe I want to write a story that feels dark and a little bit edgy, but that also has the glimmering magic of a city skyline. Perhaps I get the urge to pen a tale full of light and life and hope. Every idea of mine revolves around a certain kind of aesthetic. I have billions (approximately) of Pinterest boards with different aesthetics, and each one represents a story I’d like tell someday.

For me, plotting is the most difficult part of writing. It’s easy to create characters, settings, and emotions, but plots often elude me! I know how I want the book to feel, and I usually have a vague idea of the type of emotional roller coaster (upside-down, dead drop, loop-de-loop, etc.) I want to take my readers on, but it’s a struggle for me to find the best way to create those big twists and turns.

SP: You’re still in high school (wow!)–how do you balance being an author with everything else you have going on as a teen?

Honestly, I’m not very good at this. I’ve never been good at balancing things. When I do something, I usually put in about 200%, which means I have a hard time stepping back and focusing on everything else in my life! One way that I’m working to get better at this is by making a to-do list at the start of each day. I’m homeschooled, so my schedule is pretty flexible. 🙂

I list all of the things that need to be done by the end of the day, but I don’t put them in order, and I don’t give myself a time limit for each individual activity. If I get everything done, great! If I let a few things slide…I have to add them to the next day’s to-do list. BUT, like I said, I’m still learning how to balance all of this myself, so my advice is far from expert!

SP: If you could pick the brain of any author, who would you want to hang out with, and why?

Hmm…maybe Sara Ella. She’s such a sweet, kind, and TALENTED author, and I am amazed by the success she’s had in both her writing and marketing. Her Instagram account is on point, and I love the way she connects with her readers in a real and honest way. I’d also love to go back in time and chat with A.A. Milne. His stories are so simple and childlike, yet they explore huge themes and have such a depth to them that makes my writer’s heart swoon.

SP: What’s your advice for other young writers who dream of being published?

Don’t be afraid to reach out! For a long time, I was nervous to connect with other authors, because I practically thought they were celebrities. And, yes, some of them kind of are. BUT there are a ton of super friendly, down-to-earth writers who are MORE THAN HAPPY to chat with you. Send them an email, track them down at a writer’s conference–trust me. They’ll be thrilled to hear from you!

When I first approached a published author, I was sure they would send me off with nothing more than a pat on the head. Instead, they were extremely kind and inspiring. They chatted with me, gave me advice and encouragement, and even read a bit of my work! So, no matter where you are in your writing journey, don’t be afraid to connect with other, bigger-than-you authors. Building relationships with them can be so motivating, and a real blessing for both you and them 🙂

SP: Favorite drink while writing? Snack? Distractions? 

Considering that I actually hate coffee and anything carbonated, I mostly drink water, though I have a certain weakness for unique blends of tea and flavored lemonade. My favorite distraction is Instagram. Hands down. Bookstagrammers are so creative!! And my favorite snack would have to be chips and hummus. I’m obsessed XD

SP: Where can we learn more about you and your book?

You can visit me on my website, or find me on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, and YouTube. I’d absolutely love to connect with you, so feel free to shoot me a message any time!

Thanks again, Taylor! 

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Dana, signing off.

My Favorite Villain: Making the Bad Guy

“We often find the hero and villain have the same goal, but are using different methods to reach it.”

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That quote was used in a panel of writers talking about anti-heroes and villains at the annual North Texas Teen Book Festival. All the authors had one thing in common: they’d written tales with the villain – an anti-hero – as the protagonist. They explored the reasons why they had chosen to write stories from the “bad guy’s” point of view, and went over their favorite villains and anti-heroes.

I have two favorite “villains” about whom the above quote happens to be true. One is from a book series, and one is from an anime. *spoilers ahead!* Not every villain has to share a goal or vision with the hero, but oftentimes adding comedic (or tragic) irony to the conflict in your story causes it to have greater depth and complexity.

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How to Have a Fantastically Bookish Holiday

How to Have a Bookish ChristmasPhoto: Joanna Kosinska

It seems like more and more, the holiday season is just jam-packed with wall-to-wall everything, and that can be both exciting and utterly exhausting. It starts in October and doesn’t really let up until the beginning of January.

And with everything that’s going on during the holidays, how on earth are we supposed to tackle our amazing TBR piles of glorious books, much less spend time with those novels we’ve been writing?

I’ll tell you what, Pen Friends, I’m staring at an absolutely insane schedule this week, between the day job, a very tight freelance deadline, rehearsals for a play, and getting ready for Christmas (say what?! Christmas is in less than a week? How did that happen?), and I’m sad to say there will be little to no time for books this week. So many tears.

But fear not!

If any of you are in a similar space with too much to do and not enough time for holiday cheer, I have a suggestion! Make time for it. I know, I know, I’m crying just thinking about how I can cram another thing into my schedule, but hear me out. I’m going to try to listen to myself, as well.

True bookworms find clever ways to do bookish things (and this can apply to anything you care about, even if you’re *gasp!* not much of a reader). Sneak the important stuff into the gaps of your day.

Even if you’re just overwhelmed by the sheer amount of activity swirling around you, you can–and should–take a few minutes to just sit and be quiet. Make a list of the good things that have happened this year while brushing your teeth. Plot out your antagonist’s troubled backstory while cleaning your house for the ugly sweater soirée you’re hosting. Sneak in another chapter during your lunch break.

Want to make a holiday gathering fantastically bookish?

Here’s my idea for making the season bright and nerdy. Let’s take a page out of my favorite Icelandic Christmas tradition: every year, most Icelanders get at least one new book as a Christmas gift. Since they traditionally open gifts on Christmas Eve, once everyone receives said new book, they then all spend time quietly reading together.

How wonderful is that? It might not be the most spirited way to start a holiday party, but it sure sounds like a great way to wrap one up. If you’re having a gathering, invite your friends/family to bring a book they love, wrapped up all pretty. Then, let everyone open one, and voila! New books for all! You can even trade around until everyone has one they’re excited about. Finish the night with some reading time. (Have a bunch of extroverts in your group? Stage dramatic readings of your new books for added excitement!)

Wherever you find yourself this holiday season,

I hope you have a chance to slow down for a bit and experience some of the joy that this season can bring. And of course, may you be filled to the brim with great stories of all kinds.

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Dana, signing off to go find some hot cocoa.

YA Author Interview: Aminah Mae Safi

Pen Friends ~ Today’s YA Author, Aminah Mae Safi, has got her hands full with all kinds of writerly projects and great advice across the board! She truly inspires as she talks about not giving up on your craft & dreams and how her first book, Not the Girls You’re Looking For, came to be!
Aminah Mae
SP: Hi Aminah Mae! Thanks for joining us. First, can you please tell us a bit of who are you and how long have you have been writing?
Aminah Mae: Forever! But also– seven years. That’s a big difference, no? I grew up writing and I come from a family of storytellers. The kind of people that everyday life becomes a big dinnertime epic. We’re a fairly dramatic lot. I remember the time I read a Camelot comic in some after school program and I noticed that Guinevere didn’t do anything. So I re-wrote it. I must have been about seven or eight. Please note: this involved not only re-writing, but type setting, photocopying, cutting and literally pasting new words over the old comics, then photocopying again to make the final product look legit.

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