Tag Archives: writing tips

Hook your Reader with a TERRIFIC First Line

“It was a dark and stormy night.”

(A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle)

 

“Where’s Papa going with that ax?”

(Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White)

Some people call them “hooks”—that all important first line of a book. Imagine a fishing hook with a fat juicy wriggling worm on the end. That worm is much more appetizing to a fish swimming by than the metal hook will ever be dangling all by itself–and so will a juicy first line of a book to potential readers cruising the shelves in a bookstore or library.

A fishing rod and worms is how I describe the creation of story hooks when I do my Creative Diary writing workshop with kids. You want to throw that great, delicious hook out there, capture your reader, and then reel them in and not let them go until they reach THE END. As a writer or a librarian or a teacher trying to grab a child with a book, we want our potential reader to get intrigued, to *Get Hooked* and KEEP READING.

So just how important IS that opening first line or first page for Readers and how important are first lines for Writers?

Let’s go to our panel of experts:

Readers First!

Aubri, 15-years-old: “The cover of a book definitely draws me in first, but the first line makes or breaks it. I have to be intrigued, but I also like funny stories like the Junie B. Jones books that start out really funny and scary books where a character might be in prison and something is going to happen to them.”

Shelby, 12-years-old: “A first line makes me want to keep reading. If it’s boring, I’ll stop. I will probably read the whole first page, but unless I like it, I’ll stop reading the book. When I’m browsing the bookshelves, I read the synopsis on the jacket, too. And the Author stuff on the back.”

Milyssa, 16-years-old: “I like good first lines, but it’s more than that. The whole first paragraph has to be great.”

Writers Next! (Clicking on the author’s name will direct you to their website)

KIMBERLEY GRIFFITHS LITTLE (moi):

“I’m a sucker for great first lines. I also spend a lot of time thinking about my own first lines when I begin a book. Sometimes it takes until the end of drafting before I know what works best. Here’s the first line from my novel, When the Butterflies Came: ‘The first butterfly comes the day after the funeral.’ I hope it raises questions like “the first butterfly?” or “who just died and why are butterflies showing up?

Keep reading for more thoughts about First Lines and great books from some wonderful MG authors!

VIVIAN VANDE VELDE

“The first line needs to set the stage, giving us a glimpse into when and where the story takes place so we can immediately begin to picture things. Optimally, it should give us a meaningful glimpse at the main character–saying, thinking, doing something relevant to the story. (That is, I don’t think highly of stories that try to grab you with a cheap falsehood, as in: Terrified, Melanie screamed, convinced she was going to die. Of course, no one had ever died from seeing a mouse, but it COULD happen…) It should set the tone, giving us the voice of the character if it’s in 1st person.

And, if possible, hint at the conflict which will be at the heart of the story.

The story where I think I accomplished this most successfully is GHOST OF A HANGED MAN, which starts: “Pa said we were too young to go to the hanging.”

 

 

GREG LEITICH SMITH

“The voice has to grab you and make you want to continue and there should be some follow-through in the rest of the novel about the thing(s) that arose in the first line.

In NINJAS, I used, “I knew I was in trouble when I heard the cello,” which lets us know the protag is (a) in trouble and (b) is in some strange situation wherein that trouble is announced via a cello. And the “trouble” itself forms the basis for the main conflict.”

 

BARBARA O’CONNOR

“First lines set the tone for the story (funny, dramatic, etc). First lines are the front door of the story and should say “come on in”.

My new favorite first line is from The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester coming out the end of August: “Owen Jester tiptoed across the gleaming linoleum floor and slipped the frog into the soup.”

 

HEATHER VOGEL FREDERICK

“The former journalist in me always thinks of first lines as the “lead” to a story. When I was writing for newspapers and magazines, I always found that once I got the lead right, the rest of the article flowed from there. It’s like building a house on a solid foundation.

My goal for the first line is to reach out and grab the reader by the lapels and pull them into the story.”

Favorite first line? Still my first-born, from The Voyage of Patience Goodspeed:

“‘Absolutely, positively not!’ roared my father in a voice meant to be heard through the teeth of a Cape Horn gale.”

 

 

BARBARA BROOKS WALLACE

“Tell him, Muddle! Tell him we’re not mice!”

The first sentence of The Barrel in the Basement is a first sentence that HAS to be followed by the second – which is even better!

“Pudding gazed with horror at the huge yellow cat who lay on his side daintily probing the mouth of the jar with his paw.”

LAURIE CALKHOVEN

“I often go back and change my opening after I’ve written the end. In Daniel at the Siege of Boston, 1776, my main character thinks in the end that the siege was like one long staring match between the British and the Patriots. I wasn’t happy with my opening, so I went back and decided to open with a staring match:

“I stared into Josiah Henshaw’s red brown eyes and vowed not to blink.”

“I wanted to open with action, and this sets the tone for the rest of the book.”

M. J. AUCH

“Here’s my favorite from a short story called “Witch’s Son”.”

“When Abigail Brewster brought her son, Hugh, back from the dead the first time, he looked all fragile and wispy, like morning mist on the village commons.”

SUE COWING:

“When the flying boat/returns to earth at last, /I open my eyes/ /and gaze out the round window./What is all the white? I whisper. /Where is all the world? ”

“This is from Katherine Applegate’s masterful novel-in-verse, HOME OF THE BRAVE. Civil war tears young Kek from his family and his cattle-herding village in the Sudan, and he is relocated in Minnesota in the middle of winter. He has never felt such cold, never seen or imagined snow or such a place as America. I love the way Applegate has this character express in such powerfully simple language experiences that he can barely comprehend, making the reader instantly curious and sympathetic.”

MICHAEL HAYS:

“He was the best of toms. He was the worst of toms.” – from THE CHESHIRE CHEESE CAT: A Dickens of a Tale by Carmen Agra Deedy & Ramdall Wright.

“This is a feline twist on A Tale of Two Cities in this great MG animal story told within the world of the inn where Charles Dickens spent quite a bit of time. Need I say more?”

T.P. JAGGER:

I’ve always liked the opening lines of SCHOOLED by Gordon Korman because it effectively introduces the 1st-person narrator’s voice while hinting at the plot enough to raise some questions that compel the reader (at least me!) to keep reading:

“I was thirteen the first time I saw a police officer up close. He was arresting me for driving without a license. At the time, I didn’t even know what a license was. I wasn’t too clear on what being arrested meant either.”

HILLARY HOMZIE, author of Queen of Likes:

“I love this first line because I just love Deborah Wiles writing: “I come from a family with a lot of dead people.”

It’s the first line of Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles (MG Harcourt, 2005).

The next lines after that: “Great-uncle Edisto keeled over with a stroke on a Saturday morning after breakfast last March. Six months later, Great-great-aunt Florentine died–just like that–in the vegetable garden. And of course there are all the dead people who rest temporarily downstairs, until they go off to the Snapfinger Cemetery.”

And on that funny “morbid” note, I want to give a huge thanks to all of our reader and writer experts on the subject of First Lines and Hooks! Now Go forth! Find a Great Hook Today or Write a Great Hook  – and Fall In Love at First Line!

Since I adore first lines, please share your favorite First Lines below in the comments!

Kimberley Griffiths Little has been juggling book launch parties for her FORBIDDEN trilogy (Harpercollins) with her right hand, twirling a handful of new characters with her left while drafting new book proposals with her toes. Throw in too many cookies, a household that never sleeps . . .and you have a typical day in the life of a writer on deadline. See Kimberley’s beautiful new website here: www.KimberleyGriffithsLittle.com. Friend her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kimberleygriffithslittle

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How to Create Complex Characters

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about complex characters. You know—those memorable folks who inhabit our favorite books and keep us awake past our bedtimes. But what is it about these characters that makes them so memorable? What writing tricks have the authors employed to compel us to follow their characters from beginning to end, even if it means sacrificing our sleep?

These are questions I’ve asked myself as I’ve sought to improve the character development in my own stories, so I thought I’d share a writing tip that I’ve found helpful. However, even though it’s probably safe to assume that everyone who reads the MUF blog loves to read, I figured I’d give your reading-brain a 3-minute break today. So instead of an in-depth written post, I’m presenting my writing tip as part of my video series as The 3-Minute Writing Teacher.

If you’re a writer, I hope the video will prove useful as you continue to improve your writing craft. If you’re a teacher, consider using the video as a launch point for a writing mini-lesson. And if you’re neither a writer nor a teacher? . . . Well, maybe you’ll want to watch the video anyway, just to see what Luke Skywalker and a school bully could have in common.

How to Create Complex Characters

Do you have an example of a memorable, complex character from a book you’ve read? What was it that made that good character a bit bad . . . or that bad character a bit good? Feel free to post in the comments below.


T. P. Jagger The 3-Minute Writing TeacherAlong with his MUF posts, T. P. Jagger can be found at www.tpjagger.com, where he provides brief how-to writing-tip videos as The 3-Minute Writing Teacher plus original, free readers’ theater scripts for middle-grade teachers. For T. P.’s 10-lesson, video-based creative writing course, check him out on Curious.com.

Writer’s Tools: Wisdom from a Third Grade classroom

UnknownOne of the things I love about school visits it that I get to go to classrooms all over the country and meet wonderful students and teachers. There are some comforting universals to a grade school classroom: a certain amount of clutter, a map, the alphabet along the wall. And then there are delightful surprises: a pet iguana, a stunning view of the wilderness, a reading loft, a tank of salmon fry to be released in a local stream, a flag flown by a student’s father over his army camp in Afghanistan. It’s a window into the thoughts and values of the community I’m visiting.

I recently visited a third grade classroom where I saw two student made posters on the wall. The first was titled Writer’s Tools in the Hand. Underneath was an illustrated list: paper, pencil, eraser, dictionary, word list, and illustration tools.Unknown-1
It was a good reminder to take a moment before I begin my writing session of the day to have all the tools I need at hand. I especially liked the word list idea. I know many teachers help their students brainstorm a list of likely words before they start a writing assignment to help them get started. Though I don’t need that technique, I have used a variation of it. Every writer has word habits, words or phrases that pop up more often than they should. I have about a half dozen that I lean on more than I should, so I make a word list of them and post it over my workspace to remind me to make stronger word choices and not lean over much on the familiar.
It was the second poster that really struck me though. It was titled: Writers’ Tools in the Head and Heart. The list included: thinking, good ideas, awareness, fun attitude, information, concentration, quiet or silence.
There are so many things to love about that list, and perhaps most importantly that writing well engages both the head and the heart. I love it that thinking comes before good ideas, an excellent reminder. Sometimes I have to think about a scene for days, even months, before I have a good idea about how to fix it.
    Awareness is a tricky idea, I asked a group of the third graders who had made the poster what they thought awareness meant. They said that it meant you should pay attention to all your ideas about a story not just the easy ideas that were in the last story you read. Excellent advice!
  images Fun attitude might just be the best advice of all though. If my writing isn’t going well, it’s almost always because I’ve lost the joy of it. Loss of joy may not be the cause of bad writing, but it is at least the reliable companion of bad writing. And when I change to a more positive and playful outlook, the writing reliably improves.
   Information and concentration are pairs I’ve been learning to use as a pair. I love research so much, I could spend all my time chasing the next dazzling fact and completely lose track of my story in my zeal to fill it up with the amazing details I’ve learned. But sometimes what I need is not more information but concentration on the research I’ve already done.
   Finally I love it that quiet and silence are not the same thing. Sometimes I need absolute silence for a particular task. Reminding myself to turn off the music for the duration of the task helps. Other times I just need the quiet of my brain focusing on just one thing, not email, not social networks, not housework or snacks but simply the quiet of letting myself be a writer and nothing else for a few hours–a true gift!
So how about you? Do you have a favorite tool of the hand, head or heart?  I’d love to hear about them in the comments.