Friday, 16 February 2018

Let's start from the very beginning

by Paula Harrison

Beginnings are hard. I've heard writers talk about how they get lost in the middle of their manuscripts or how they find it hard to finish a story the way they want to. But to me, beginnings are hard... although I still love writing them.

So how do recently-published books in the middle grade age range pull the reader in? I thought we should take a look...

First up - The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

They say the day the Governor arrived, the ravens did too. All the smaller birds flew backwards into the sea, and that is why there are no songbirds on Joya. Only huge, ragged ravens.

Bad omen alert! The symbolism of ravens - those dark, carrion-eating birds - instantly puts us on edge. But more than anything it's the image of the smaller birds flying backwards into the sea that sticks in my mind. Flying backwards is pretty unnatural! This story sets up a sense of foreboding right from the start. The information is told to us second-hand too and this introduces the importance of myths and old tales.

Next let's look at Tin by Padraig Kenny

Snow was falling from the night sky, and all the world was cold and hushed except for the regular metallic squeaking of Jack's joints. Christopher glanced at Jack, but the mechanical looked straight ahead oblivious to the sound.

The poetic feeling of this opening is quickly punctured by the end of the first sentence as the metallic squeaking contrasts with the snowy night-time setting. What is a mechanical? We immediately want to know.

And on to Letters from the Lighthouse by Emma Carroll

We were halfway through the news when the air raid started. It was a Friday in January: we were at the Picture Palace for the 6 p.m. showing of The Mark of Zorro. All month the Luftwaffe had been attacking us, their bombs falling on London like pennies from a jar, 

This book was one of my favourite reads of 2017, partly because it's fantastic and partly because it has a historical setting. I don't write historical myself which means I find it more relaxing to read. This opening has a simple style but that image of the bombs falling like pennies from a jar transports you straight into the mind of the main character and her life in war-time London.

And finally let's look at Wed Wabbit by Lissa Evans

It was such an ordinary evening, but every detail of it would matter; every detail would become vital.
This story had me at hello! My goodness - WHY would every detail become vital? I haven't finished this book yet so no spoilers please, but I had to add this book to my TBR pile after that. Also I love the voice of the main character and how you can tell that she's a young person from the slightly melodramatic way she's expressing herself.

All of these beginnings are authors absolutely in control of their material. We all know why beginnings are so important. Children can easily put a book down if they lose interest in the early pages. A well-crafted opening is a beautiful thing... then you just have to make the rest of the book as good!

Paula Harrison is the author of 5 middle grade novels and 22 young series books, and if you buy them you are welcome to analyse their openings! 

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