Someone posted a photo of the first page of Time Between Us on Instagram and said, “I can tell this will be a good book!”
I can tell this will be a good book.
As a reader, don’t you love that feeling? It doesn’t always happen, but when it does, it’s a little bit magical, isn’t it?
As writers, we’re all told about the importance of that first line, first paragraph, first page, first chapter. Good openings are how we hook an agent. They’re what make an editor pay attention.
But when it’s all said and done, we work so hard on those first lines, because we want to give readers what they want: That this-is-going-to-be-good feeling.
Want to know a secret? No one would have said that about the original draft of Time Between Us. I worked on it for over a year and refined those first pages so many times I’ve lost count. But I know exactly where I began.
I had a crystal clear picture in my head of Anna Greene, my main character. I wanted readers to know herright away, so I began like this:
When I was nine years old, my dad and I spent the day at the Adler Planetarium in downtown Chicago. Against his better judgment, he let me wander through the gift shop, where I proceeded to talk him into buying me a box of plastic, glow-in-the-dark stars and planets. When we got home, we worked together to transform my room.
Are you there? Hey, wake up!
Don’t worry... I’m not offended that you dozed off. I’m pretty sure no agent or editor would have kept going either.
But here’s the thing: I loved this chapter. Writing this scene helped me get to know my protagonist and it did a lot of heavy lifting to set up the story. I clung to it for a long time. But deep down, I knew that if I wanted to give people that magical “good book” feeling, this opening wasn’t good enough. I needed less exposition, more dialogue, more questions than answers, and action.
Good openings make you question what’s going on and force you to keep reading, madly turning pages to find out what happens next. But here’s the fun part for us authors: They give you an opportunity to play with your readers’ heads.
Everything changed when I let myself have some fun with the beginning. Rather showing you Anna’s totally normal life, I started at a point far off in her future, on a day when everything in her life might change forever.
This is how Time Between Us begins now:
Even from this distance I can see how young he looks. Younger than the first time I saw him.
He looks younger? People don’t usually look younger than the first time you saw them. Something strange is happening.
He and his friends have been skating around Lafayette Park for the last couple of hours, and now they’re sprawled across the grass, downing Gatorades and passing around a bag of Doritos.
Wait, that seems totally normal. A park setting. Recognizable drinks and snacks. Wait... maybe things aren’t so strange.
Everything about him is so similar, so familiar, that I almost scoot over to close the distance, like I would have done so naturally when I was younger. But sixteen years have come between us, and that’s enough to keep me on my side of the bench.
Nope. Wait a minute. Not normal again. Sixteen years have come between the two of them? What’s going on here?
The first chapter is designed to ping-pong between the normal and the strange, keeping you reading and questioning and wondering—letting me play with your head—until very end, when you get to these lines:
What I just did could change everything, or it could change nothing. But I have to try. I’ve got nothing to lose. If my plan doesn’t work, my life will remain the same: Safe. Comfortable. Perfectly average.
But that wasn’t the life I originally chose.
Does that make you want to keep reading to find out what happens next? Is that better than a trip to the planetarium? I sure hope so.
Have some fun with your opening. Take your reader on a ride. Keep them guessing. Make them say, “I can tell this will be a good book.”
Here are a few openings that hooked me right away:
“First the colors. Then the humans. That’s usually how I see things. Or at least, how I try. Here is a small fact. You are going to die.”—The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
“He’d stopped trying to bring her back. She only came back when she felt like it, in dreams and lies and broken-down déjà vu.”—Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
“Day 5994. I wake up. Immediately, I have to figure out who I am.”—Every Day by David Levithan
About the Author
Blissfully married. Occasional superhero in the eyes of two remarkable small people. Animal lover. Avid reader. Gadget freak. Music addict. Dreadful cook. Happily stuck in the mid-90s. She writes young adult fiction about fun stuff like travel, music, romance, and normal people with extraordinary talents.
Her debut novel, Time Between Us, was published in sixteen languages and has been optioned for film. The sequel, Time After Time, will be available from Hyperion on October 8, 2013.
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About the Book
Calling Anna and Bennett’s romance long distance is an understatement: she’s from 1995 Chicago and he’s a time traveler from 2012 San Francisco. The two of them never should have met, but they did. They fell in love, even though they knew they shouldn’t. And they found a way to stay together, against all odds.
It’s not a perfect arrangement, though, with Bennett unable to stay in the past for more than brief visits, skipping out on big chunks of his present in order to be with Anna in hers. They each are confident that they’ll find a way to make things work…until Bennett witnesses a single event he never should have seen (and certainly never expected to). Will the decisions he makes from that point on cement a future he doesn’t want?
Told from Bennett’s point of view, Time After Time will satisfy readers looking for a fresh, exciting, and beautifully-written love story, both those who are eager to find out what’s next for Time Between Us’s Anna and Bennett and those discovering their story for the first time.
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