Please welcome today's guest Liz Coley! She has generously offered to give away a two page (max 500 words) critique. Enter to win at the bottom of the post.
When I wrote the first three words of Pretty Girl-13, I wasn’t thinking. I wasn’t planning ahead. The simple phrase my fingers produced were a Christmas present from my subconscious--more an early Christmas present, because it was November 1, 2009, the start of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). More than three years later, in early 2013, their significance hit me between the eyes like an arrow. I laughed as it struck home.
The first three words? “You had forgotten…”
Of course. How perfect. The whole novel is about things forgotten and things remembered, about things repressed and things recovered. But I can’t claim credit. It just happened.
Establish a Voice, a Setting, and a Conflict
In fact, the rest of the prologue chapter, Lost Time, fell out of my brain the same way, in a flash of inspiration. The final version is 99% untouched from that day because the opening did what openings are supposed to do—it established a voice, in this case a creepy and mysterious observer reporting in second person, recalling to Angie the circumstances of her disappearance; and it established a setting, a character, and a conflict. Most importantly, the opening followed the principle that I had been taught: the story starts when the world changes.
At a writing workshop I attended, the faculty read some opening sentences, and we voted on whether we would read on: yes, no, maybe. Common reasons for “YES” included beautiful language, clever imagery, engaging voice, surprises, or words having to do with death or violence. There was always the promise of time well spent.
When Your Writing Is Ready, You Can Bend the Rules
Beginning writers are told any number of rules. Don’t begin with a weather report. Don’t begin with dialogue. Don’t begin with self-examination or back story. Don’t begin with a world-building information dump. By the time your writing is mature enough to earn publication, you’ve earned the right to fold, spindle, and mutilate these rules. Some examples from my bookshelves:
(1) Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
(begins with a “weather report” like we’ve never seen)
The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit.
Of course, Tally thought, you’d have to feed your cat only salmon-flavored catfood for a while, to get the pinks right. The scudding clouds did look a bit fishy, rippled into scales by high altitude wind. As the light faded, deep blue gaps of night peered through like an upside-down ocean, bottomless and cold.
Any other summer, a sunset like this would have been beautiful. But nothing had been beautiful since Peris turned pretty. Losing your best friend sucks, even if it’s only for three months and two days.
(2) The Third Witch by Rebecca Reisert
(begins with dialogue, but what dialogue!)
“’Tis time to rob the dead.”
Nettle kicks me again. I pull my tattered wolfskin closer about my shoulders and curl into a tighter ball, scooting across the packed dirt of the floor to move as near as I dare to the embers in the fire pit.
“Rise up, lass. Stir your lazy bones, or else half the gleanings will be gone before we get there. Do not think to sleep away the day like a princess in a castle.”
She kicks me again and I open my eyes. Although she is a small woman, she towers above my pallet, her face and shoulders tense as always. If a sorcerer were to bewitch a needle into life, that creature would be Nettle.”
(3) The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart
(begins with explicit self-revelation in a voice that sings)
Before anyone reading this thinks to call me a slut—or even just imagines I’m incredibly popular—let me point out that this list includes absolutely every single boy I have ever had the slightest little any-kind-of-anything with.
Boys I never kissed are on this list.
Boys I never even talked to are on this list.
Dr. Z told me not to leave anyone off. Not even if I think he’s unimportant.
In fact, especially if I think he’s unimportant.
(4) The Last Book in the Universe by Rodman Philbrick
(begins with world-building jargon, a disenfranchised hero, a killer premise)
If you’re reading this, then it must be a thousand years from now. Because nobody around here reads anymore. Why bother, when you can just probe it! Put all the images and excitement inside your brain and let it rip. There are all kinds of mind probes—trendies, shooters, sexbos, whatever you want to experience. Shooters are violent, and trendies are about living in Eden, and sexbos, well you can guess what sexbos are about. They say probing is better than anything. I wouldn’t know because I’ve got this serious medical condition that means I’m allergic to electrode needles. Stick one of those in my brain and it’ll kick off a really bad seizure and then—total mind melt, lights out, that’s all folks.
They call me Spaz, which is kind of a mope name, but I don’t mind, not anymore.
Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes.
About the Author
Liz Coley writes fiction for teens and for the teen in you.
Her first published work was science fiction short stories, published in Cosmos magazine and several anthologies.
Self-published YA novel "Out of Xibalba" features a contemporary teenager thrown back to ancient Mayan times. "The story starts when the world ends."
Upcoming "Pretty Girl-13" from HarperCollins will be released in at least ten languages and audiobook."There are secrets you can't even tell yourself."
Liz lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with her husband, her teenaged daughter, a snoring dog, and a limping old cat. When she's not involved in writing-related activities, she can be found sewing, baking, shooting photos, playing tennis, and singing.
Liz loves reading aloud.
Visit Liz on her website
Check out Liz's blog
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About the Book
13 when she
to her family
to her friends
to the world
but still missing
In Liz Coley's alarming and fascinating psychological mystery, sixteen-year-old Angie Chapman must piece together the story of her kidnapping and abuse. Pretty Girl-13 is a disturbing—and ultimately empowering—page-turner about accepting our whole selves, and the healing power of courage, hope, and love.
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