Monday, January 21, 2013

4 Inspired Openings: Anne Osterlund

“So you gonna ask her out?” came the inevitable question.
--SALVATION, January 10th, 2013

“On the night of her coming out party, Aurelia almost died. Of boredom.”

“Aerin tried to ignore the bloodstain on the control panel of the fugitive.”

I tend to think of the beginning of a book like the final third of an ordinary chapter. In most chapters, the suspense and action build toward the end, dropping you off at a cliffhanger. Which is then analyzed and internally dealt with at the beginning of the next chapter. But at the beginning of a book, you don’t have time for analysis or to build the reader’s suspense. You have to grab the reader right away. So it’s like starting right before the cliffhanger. Probably my favorite opener of all time comes from THE RUBY IN THE SMOKE by Philip Pullman. He spends about two paragraphs describing a genteel blond young woman standing, waiting outside a door, in Victorian England. And then he hits you with this line. “Her name was Sally Lockhart and in fifteen minutes, she was going to kill a man.” I dare you to stop reading there!

My experience is that every first scene should in some way encapsulate the main theme and/or tone of the novel. There’s a sense of foreshadowing, often with more depth than the reader first senses. The educational director at the Oregon Shakespeare Company teaches a lesson called “Sleuthing” in which students act out and direct the opening scene of a Shakespeare play. In the process they discover the themes within the entire play—because those themes are right there, at the very beginning. The duality in Macbeth. The mistaken identities in The Taming of the Shrew. The death in Hamlet.

The opening of my first novel, Aurelia, began, initially, at a party. At one point I revised the first line to the one listed above, and the advice that got me there was simply the word “stronger” etched in pencil by editor Angelle Pilkington (who ultimately became AURELIA’s real editor) after she read it for a critique at a conference. This scene, though, while still my favorite, is no longer the first scene in the novel. Instead, the then third scene—which I originally envisioned as the first chapter’s cliffhanger—was switched to the beginning in the form of a prologue. A dark night and dead body. “Death disturbed the night.”

My current novel, SALVATION, begins with a much simpler line. Two guys checking out a gorgeous girl on the steps at church. But there’s irony there. And Salva, the main character, is in conflict. No, he won’t date the gorgeous girl who seems to share his exact background. Because he wants something else. Something more. Something bound to cause trouble among all the expectations pressing around him: from his father, his culture, and his best friend. “I’ll handle it,” Salva says.

But, of course, nothing is that easy.

About the Author

Anne Osterlund is the author of four young adult novels, SALVATION, AURELIA, ACADEMY 7, and EXILE, all published by Penguin Books. Her second novel, ACADEMY 7, won the OCTE Spirit of Oregon Award and was an ALA/YALSA Popular Paperback nominee. Anne works as a full-time author and presents for schools, conferences, and writing events. She grew up in the sunshine of eastern Oregon and earned a BA from Whitworth College, where she majored in elementary education with Spanish and English teaching fields. Anne lives in a cute little yellow house with her new feline friend, Simba, and her own library of young adult books. She has ten years of full-time teaching experience and enjoys immersing students in language, literature, and imagination. Anne and her characters can be found on her website.
Anne's Blog

About the Book

SALVA (Salvador) RESENDEZ is a god at Liberty High School. Quarterback. National Honor Society Member. ASB President. His Mexican immigrant family has high expectations, and Salva is prepared to fulfill them—mostly—but what he really wants is to blend in with his friends and enjoy his senior year. A goal bound for destruction when an asinine requirement forces him into AP English with the teacher from hell. And with walking disaster area, BETH COURANT. Who may be his salvation. But what neither Salva nor Beth knows is that the cost of salvation is mortality.

Buy SALVATION on Amazon 
SALVATION on Goodreads


  1. Thanks for sharing your tips, Anne. Openings are so hard to get right and if you don't you risk losing your readers. Thanks for sharing your awesome first lines.

  2. This is such timely advice! I've been struggling with making my opening pages better, so I find this very helpful. Thanks for sharing these tips! :)

    I love that opening line for AURELIA, by the way.

  3. I'm looking forward to reading Salvation.

    Thanks for the great advice on theme and the opening pages. Perfect timing. That's something I'm working on right now.

  4. Smile. You are all very welcome. I hope this helps!

    (who is off to teach the same lesson to 4-6th graders for an artist-in-residency in a couple weeks)


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