Thursday, March 27, 2014

6 Inspired Openings: Make Your First Impression Worthy by Laurisa White Reyes

Laurisa Reyes is the popular middle grade author of the Celestine Chronicles books, THE ROCK OF IVANORE and THE LAST ENCHANTER. She is making her YA debut with the Sci/Fi Thriller CONTACT, which will release in June!

Make Your First Impression Worthy by Laurisa White Reyes

I’ve always been intrigued by opening lines of books. As the editor-in-chief of Middle Shelf Magazine, a digital magazine that reviews and spotlights books for middle grade readers, I quite literally read the first lines of dozens of books, fifty or more, each month. I only have time to read a handful of these books all the way through, so those first lines can mean the difference between landing a prized promo spot in our magazine and ending up in the pass pile.

You’ve probably heard the saying attributed to Will Rogers: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Nowhere is that more true than in books. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard is to start a book with a bang. That doesn’t necessarily mean an author has to open with a literal explosion or even with action at all. It means finding the most effective moment to introduce readers to your story. Those first sentences carry a heavy burden. They must inform the reader about the story’s genre, mood, pace and sometimes even the setting and protagonist. Think of that opening line as a doorway through which your reader steps out of his/her world and into yours.

So, where is that sweet spot in the story that will entice your reader to step through that door? The answer varies from writer to writer and story to story. Let’s first look at where not to start a story. Martha Alderson, author of The Plot Whisperer, encourages writers to avoid starting off with flashbacks or memories. “Don’t tease the reader,” she says. “Writers, especially beginning writers, often find themselves wanting to blurt out everything up front. This often shows up as a flashback early on in the story to show the back story or event that first sent the protagonist off kilter. Don't...” (“Creating Curiosity,” The Plot Whisperer blog post 23 May 2009)

This isn’t to say opening with a flashback can’t ever be used effectively. One of my favorite books ever, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, begins toward the end of the actual story. British secret agent Verity has been captured by the Nazis and is forced to write her confession, which becomes the story of how she became an agent and ended up in occupied France during World War II. Most of the novel is a flashback, two actually. But it really works for Wein because she is a highly experienced author and knows how to pull it off. But it’s something I wouldn’t attempt and would discourage other authors from trying.

Another place not to start a novel is too far before or too long after something really important occurs. However, beginning a story just before or just after a traumatic event creates a feeling of immediacy for the reader. In Tracy Holczer’s The Secret Hum of a Daisy, twelve-year-old Grace’s mother has recently been found drowned in a river. Caitlin, in Kathryn Erskine’s Mockingbird, has just lost her older brother in a school shooting. Megan Miranda’s Vengeance opens as Carson, a teen volunteer at a convalescent hospital, witnesses the death of elderly patient.
I carefully considered this sort of situation when writing my upcoming young adult sci-fi thriller, Contact. My protagonist, Mira, is a suicidal teenager who does everything she can to avoid touching other people. In an early draft, I started the story describing a suicide attempt, but then I realized the opening would have a greater impact if it began shortly afterwards. The opening lines became:

I’m alive.
Still alive. . .

Just five simple words, yet they reveal so much. From these we know right off the bat that this story will be told in first person present tense. The protagonist has just had a near death experience (whether suicide or something else, we will find out soon enough). And we know that this is not the first time it has happened. Most importantly, these words leave the reader wanting to know more.
Here are the opening lines to the books mentioned above. In my opinion, they really pack a punch:

“I am a coward.” – Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein

“Back when everyone believed Delaney was going to die, I made a bargain with God. Correction: I made a bargain.” – Vengeance, Megan Miranda

“It looks like a one-winged bird crouching in the corner of our livingroom. Hurt. Trying to fly. . .” – Mockingbird, Kathryn Erskine

“All I had to do was walk up to the coffin. That was all.” – The Secret Hum of a Daisy, Tracy Holczer

About The Author

After earning her B.A. in English in 1995, Laurisa White Reyes spent many years writing for newspapers and magazines before gathering enough courage to live her dream of writing novels. Contact is her third published book. She is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in creative writing, is a book editor for Hamilton Springs/Xchyler Press, and is the Editor-in-chief of Middle Shelf Magazine. She lives in Southern California with her husband and five children.

Webiste | Twitter | Goodreads | http://laurisareyes.blogspot.comBlog

About The Book

It takes only half a second…

…Like those commercials where a crash test dummy rockets forward at high speed and slams into a wall.
…In that instant, every thought in Emma Lynn Walsh’s head collides with mine—every thought, memory, hope, disappointment and dream.
…I open my eyes to see Dr. Walsh peering at me, a puzzled expression on her face.

“Let—go—of—me,” I order though clenched teeth.

Mira wants to die. She’s attempted suicide twice already, and failed. Every time she comes in contact with another person, skin to skin, that person’s psyche uploads into hers. While her psychologist considers this a gift, for Mira, it’s a curse from which she cannot escape.

To make matters worse, Mira’s father is being investigated in the deaths of several volunteer test subjects of a miracle drug. Shortly after Mira’s mother starts asking questions, she ends up in a coma. Although her father claims it was an accident, thanks to her “condition” Mira knows the truth…but proving it just might get her killed!



  1. CONTACT sounds awesome! I love the cover, too. Great points about opening lines, thanks! :)

  2. Thanks, Laurisa, for some good reminders. Contact sounds terrific.

  3. Laurisa, your opening lines of Contact are awesome! Can't wait until the release :)

  4. Such great advice. I would expect nothing less from a talent like you, Laurisa. Counting down the minutes to CONTACT.

  5. Something I wrestle with: the opening line.

  6. Thanks, Laurisa. Good post that I shared with my writing students,


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