Making a Promise

I feel a bit stupid, sitting here, staring at my keyboard, wondering how to begin a post about beginnings. But maybe that’s the way it should be. Because writing beginnings is hard work. Well, let me rephrase that—writing good beginnings is hard work. That’s probably why this beginning sucks. Because I didn’t really work all that hard at it. I’d apologize, but I’m on a tight schedule and don’t have time to be sorry.

 Sorry.

 Anyway, I don’t know about you, but I love it when I pick up a book and the first few lines pull me so completely into the story that I know I’m in for a journey I won’t soon forget. The opening provides the author’s promise of great things to come.

 Wendy Mass made me a promise about a month ago. But actually it wasn’t only one promise. It was three. And all three promises came from her novel Every Soul a Star.

 No, I didn’t reread the opening paragraph three times. At least if I did, that’s not what I’m talking about. Wendy Mass made three promises because she wrote three beginnings, choosing to tell her story from the perspectives of three different kids—Ally, Bree, and Jack. Each of them gets his or her very own Chapter 1. Let’s look at the three beginnings and consider how they manage to make such great promises to the reader.

 Chapter 1: Ally
      In Iceland, fairies live inside of rocks. Seriously. They have houses in there and schools and amusement parks and everything.
      Besides me, not many people outside of Iceland know this. But you just have to read the right books and it’s all there. When you’re homeschooled . . .

 Chapter 1: Bree
      I was switched at birth.
      There’s no other explanation for how I wound up in this family. My physicist parents are certified geniuses with, like, a zillion IQ points between them and all these grants to study things like dark matter and anti-matter, which are apparently very different things. . . .

 Chapter 1: Jack
      My father has no head.
      Well, of course he HAS one, but I’ve never seen it. All I’ve seen is about a hundred photos of the rest of his body. . . .

 These could be the beginnings to three different books, and I’d want to read all three of them. That’s because each beginning makes a tremendous promise, giving a glimpse into a character who will drive the story forward.

 In each beginning, the point of view is clear, and the presence of voice is hard to miss. Reread those three beginnings. It doesn’t require much imagination to hear each character speaking to you. But these openings provide more than clear points of view and engaging voice. They also reveal just enough characterization and plot that I’m compelled to keep reading.

 Ally? She seems to believe some strange things. Plus, I learn she’s homeschooled.

 Bree? She’s got, like, that slightly ditzy way of talking, and she, like, doesn’t seem to think she’s too smart compared to her parents.

 And Jack? For some reason, his dad’s out of the picture. Literally.

 So when you’re working to craft the perfect beginning to your story, look closely at your opening lines. Do they establish the point of view? A believable voice? Do they provide a hint of your characterization and plot? If so, you’ve probably crafted a great beginning. And once you’ve made a promise like that, you might as well keep writing.

7 Responses to Making a Promise

  1. I so very much love Beginnings – even if they are the hardest thing to write! They are also the most worked on part of my books, and often I’m still not completely satisfied. (Are we ever though?) I love seeing how other authors do their openings and it’s something I talk about a lot when I visit schools – those terrific Opening Hooks.
    Great post, TP!

  2. Great post on beginnings. I love Every Soul a Star!

  3. The Graveyard Book begins with two black pages and the lines “There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.” What an opening that just reels you in.

  4. Yes, I love these beginnings. So tough to get it just right. Here are a few of my favorites I blogged about recently: http://gpattridge.com/2012/08/03/starters/

    T. P. Jagger Reply:

    Greg,
    Thanks for sharing your link–you definitely highlighted some other great beginnings in your post.

    T. P. Jagger

  5. Linda Andersen

    Thanks for this book recommendation for a strong beginning–make that three strong beginnings.

  6. Beginnings ARE hard, I agree. Which is probably why it feels so good when we (finally) get them right. I recently read Every Soul a Star and must agree with you (again) that there is a definite promise in each opening.