Monday, January 14, 2013

4 Inspired Openings: Kristin O'Donnell Tubb

For our Inspired Openings post today, please welcome Kristin O'Donnell Tubb. Her most recent novel, THE 13TH SIGN, released on January 8th.


They took me in my nightgown. BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by RutaSepetys
"Where’s Papa going with that ax?" CHARLOTTE'S WEB by E.B. White
It was a dark and stormy night. A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeleine L'Engle (and every book Snoopy ever started...)

Many writers have been told, "Start the story on the day something changes for your character." It's excellent advice, but the danger of that, as I see it, is starting the story the *instant* something happens to your character. Hollywood openings have wormed their way into our psyche, and we become tempted to open our story with our hero hanging off the side of the cliff by her fingertips. As writers of such, we argue, "But we're rooting for my protagonist from page one! They're dangling over death!"

Sure, okay. But do we care? It's true, we will root for the protagonist to exit the mountainside safely. But imagine if, that morning, we saw her kiss her toddler goodbye before leaving for work. Now that dangle has consequences. Now we care.

So while yes, for plotting and pacing's sake, the old "the day something changes" is excellent food for thought, I'd argue it's just as important - maybe more - to weave in your character, too. How do you do that, and quickly? Voice.

The three examples I've given above are three of my favorite opening lines. Two of them both thrust us in to the plot and are chock-full of voice. (We'll come back to "dark and stormy.")

"They took me in my nightgown." It's a chilling opening to RutaSepetys' best-selling BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY. Who are "They?" Who is "me?" And why does They come *before* me? Took where? And at night? We have dozens of questions from this opening, and the pull to keep reading is deep. Too, Lina's story is told in short, rapid-fire sentences, just as this line reads. This tone adds to the confusion Lina feels when she and her family are awoken in the middle of the night and forced from their Lithuanian home.

Probably the most celebrated of all opening lines, "Where’s Papa going with that ax?" from CHARLOTTE’S WEB has gained that status for a reason. The "Papa" immediately alerts us to a rural family setting, and a relatively gentle one, at that. And where *is* he going with that ax? We want to know! So we follow Fern and we find out.

And then there's "It was a dark and stormy night." Ah, campiness! Ah, purple prose! This phrase was first used in 1830 by Edward Bulwer-Lytton as the opening to PAUL CLIFFORD. So why would Madeleine L'Engle, a master of prose, lean on a hammy opening such as this? I believe it's because she had written a book about time travel. For CHILDREN. A Wrinkle in Time was a rule-breaker from the get-go. Why not have a little fun with that fact, play with your words and your readers? Isn't word play what it's all about?

My latest book, THE 13th SIGN, starts off like this: “Sagittarius: Your bubbly personality and effervescent style make you a shoo-in for ‘Most Likely to be Center of Attention at a Party.’” In THE 13th SIGN, Jalen, the main character, feels very unlike the stereotypical Sagittarius. I hope this opening line captures both the nature of the story and Jalen's false feelings toward the zodiac.

Inspired Openings, for me, not only hint at plot, but give us a solid dose of voice and leave us with questions that pull us in to the story. What is your story about?A World War II story of a teen fighting for her life?A tale of family and friendship on the farm?A time-traveling child searching for her lost father? Your tone should be hinted at from the first handful of words. Happy writing!

About Kristin O'Donnell Tubb

I am basically a big dork who would still be going to school if they'd let me. (But they won't, cause that'd just be weird.) So instead I write historical fiction! All of the research, none of the tests - I've got the best job in the world, doncha think?
SELLING HOPE was given a starred review by Booklist, who said it was "a bouncy tale populated by a terrific cast of characters!" And AUTUMN WINIFRED OLIVER DOES THINGS DIFFERENT has been nominated for the Volunteer State Book Award (2011-2012 list) and was chosen to represent the State of Tennessee in the Pavilion of States at the 2009 National Book Festival. I'm delighted to have AUTUMN serve as Tennessee's ambassador!
I love hearing from readers! Please contact me through my website: You're also invited to swing by my blog:

About the Book

What if there was a 13th zodiac sign?

You’re no longer Sagittarius, but Ophiuchus, the healer, the 13th sign.

Your personality has changed. So has your mom’s and your best friend’s.

What about the rest of the world?

What if you were the one who accidentally unlocked the 13th sign, causing this world-altering change, and infuriating the other 12 signs?

Jalen did it, and now she must use every ounce of her strength and cunning to send the signs back where they belong. Lives, including her own, depend upon it.

Buy THE 13TH SIGN on Amazon


  1. Great point about kicking off our stories, Kristin. It's true that Hollywood's lure has infected our hardcovered brains. I like your explanation, very simple.

  2. Wonderful post and great points about the power/importance of openings! Looking forward to reading The 13th Sign :)

  3. Really enjoyed your post. I often wondered about that line in Wrinkle in Time. It seemed a little goofy, but when I was a kid I never gave it a second thought. I wonder how many of the many publishers who rejected that book glanced over that first line and gave it up right there. It was a risky move, but I think you're right. She did it because kids wouldn't care, and it worked for the book.

  4. I am reading this now, and I love it so far. And I love your example. That line from BETWEEN SHADES OF GREY is incredible.

    Thank so much for doing the post for us, Kristin!


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