Thursday, February 2, 2017

0 Opening Lines: Red Light/Green Light Preparation

As we mentioned last week Thursday, on March 9th, our spring round of a contest called Red Light/Green Light will begin. It's a fun competition that gives you an opportunity to have your opening lines judged by a publishing industry professional.

To help you critically examine your openings with an eye to revising them for Red Light/Green Light, we like to look at the opening scenes from great books, and break down what about them compels the reader to keep turning those pages. This week, I (Laura) picked up TO ALL THE BOYS I'VE LOVED BEFORE, by Jenny Han, and read it in a day. It's a lovely, sweet contemporary romance and I'd highly recommend it! Here's a peek at the opening paragraphs:

I like to save things. Not important things like whales or people or the environment. Silly things. Porcelain bells, the kind you get at souvenir shops. Cookie cutters you'll never use, because who needs a cookie in the shape of a foot? Ribbons for my hair. Love letters. Of all the things I save, I guess you could say my love letters are my most prized possession. 

I keep my letters in a teal hatbox my mom bought me from a vintage store downtown. They aren't love letters that someone else wrote for me; I don't have any of those. These are ones I've written. There's one for every boy I've ever loved--five in all. 

When I write, I hold nothing back. I write like he'll never read it. Because he never will. Every secret thought, every careful observation, everything I've saved up inside me, I put it all in the letter. When I'm done, I seal it, I address it, and then I put it in my teal hatbox. 

This opening gripped me right from the first line, because not only does it have a great voice and reveal a lot about the narrator in a short space, it also hints at what's to come in the pages ahead. We realize right away as the narrator (Lara Jean) speaks about the things she likes to save and makes a wry joke about the things she doesn't save, that we'll be following a quirky and relatable main character with a good sense of humor.

Then, as the opening continues on, we're introduced to the concept of Lara Jean's love letters. It's obvious to the discerning reader that Lara Jean's assumption that her letters will never be read is going to be proven wrong, which provides us with a promise as to what will happen in the rest of the book.

To really grab a reader's attention with your opening lines, you can follow author Jenny Han's recipe for success:

1 part character detail
1 part promise of what's to come
2 parts great voice

Blend together well and simmer over the course of your first few pages ;)

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