Tuesday, July 24, 2007

It's a Start ... (Part II)

Time once again for "It's a Start," where we take a look at the first sentence (or so) of five kids books randomly selected from my bookshelves. (You can check out the first edition here.) (Note: Maximum number of stars = 5.)

"Brad? Brad Stanislowski? Did you hear me?" / My pencil freezes mid-doodle. Funerals & Fly Fishing, by Mary Barter

Uh oh, someone's in trouble. Great way to start a book! I also like the strong verb, "freezes," and the fact that she managed to get in two fun words right off the bat: "Stanislowski" and "mid-doodle." Stars: ****

My dad's relatives live in Tennessee. Once, on a trip, we stopped in Bristol for lunch. Alice on Her Way, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Frankly, not much to work with here. But, hey, it's Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Guess when you have the creds, you can relax those "first-line-must-knock-the-editor's-socks-off" standards. (The rest of the book IS terrific, BTW). Stars: *

My name is Dovey Coe, and I reckon it don't matter if you like me or not. Dovey Coe, by Frances O'Roark Dowell

This has a strong voice, and it raises the question: Why wouldn't we like you? Stars: ****

I hate my father. I hate school. I hate being fat. I hate my principal because he wanted to fire Ms. Finney, my English teacher. The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, by Paula Danziger

OK! Lots of conflict here! The potential danger with this beginning is that the reader might start off disliking a protagonist that seems to hate everyone and everything ... but note that Danziger cleverly hints at the fact that she must like at least one person, Ms. Finney. Makes you want to know why, doesn't it? Stars: ****

If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book. A Series of Unfortunate Events, by Lemony Snicket

Sure to become a classic. This one breaks all the rules: gives away something about the ending ... addresses the reader in second person ... invites the reader to put the book down, for crying out loud! Gotta love it. Stars: *****

Your thoughts?


Rilla said...

Gotta love that lemony snicket! And gotta love this idea of yours...it's a start.
OK...how about this one...

Kalpa peered out from under the shawl she shared with her mother and shivered. Hooded figures, like shadows, ascended the hill in single file. Each held aloft a flaming torch that sputtered in the silence of the watching throng.

Your thoughts and rating?

Lauren said...

Okay, how about:

"When I was alive, I was the bad twin."

That's my opener I'm most proud of. Now if only I could be proud of finishing the rest of the book!

LindaBudz said...

Hi, Rilla! Hmm, "rating" the first sentence of a book I haven't read ... funny but it sort of changes the way I think about it. Which of course would be closer to the "impress the editor (or reader)" experience.

Now, I'm not sure whether yours is a real book or one of your own beginnings, but here's my reaction: Definitely sets a mood. I want to know who these hooded figures are and what they're up to on that hill, so it draws me in right away (even though I suspect this is fantasy ... lol)!

Lauren, short, sweet and intriguing! Why is our narrator dead?!? And I'm oh so glad we're hearing the story from the POV of the bad twin ... sure to be more interesting than the good twin's version.

As for stars ... you both gete 5 stars for chiming in!

Rilla said...

Hey Linda,
Thanks for the critique. Much more fun judging a book's start when you don't know anything about it, huh? They did that at one of the conferences I went to. A whole panel, editors and writers, each commented on a first page picked at random from a hat. Unfortunately, as I'm not the type who generally wins lotteries, my start never got chosen. But now I have a critique from you. Hope you didn't hold your nose ;P
And thanks for the five stars!
p.s. I think Lauren's first sentence rocks!

LindaBudz said...

rilla said: "now I have a critique from you. "

Ha, that and $4 will get you a tall light double chocolate chip frappuccino!

I've been to a couple of those sessions at conferences. Always interesting (though my first page has never been selected either).

Lauren said...

Wow, thanks for the five stars and all the compliments! *Feels special now*

LindaBudz said...

Aw, of course you're special. And no need to thank me ... you earned those stars and compliments!

BTW, you gotta get to work finishing that one so we can all find out what the heck the dead-bad-twin thing is all about!

elysabeth said...


Cool idea and yes - judging first lines from something you've not read is a different ballgame. I like how you have rated the ones you have read and as a new author and one who hasn't gone through the editing/agenting process yet, I'm sure my opening lines are suck big time.

Let's see I'll throw a couple your way and see what you think - E :)

"Ma'am, the guests are arriving. You should hurry and get dressed now."
"Yes, Tessa." Isabella turned from the window. "This is all so exciting, yet sad at the same time." (From a story entitled Bride-and-Seek)

Elle and Samantha both wanted the necklace. The butterfly sparkled under the lights and in the glass case. They had worked hard, saving their allowances, taking bottles to be recycled and pooling their money. (from Butterfly Halves - I'm surprised it had actually gotten published with it sounding so passive)

"Grow up, Amanda. I don't know why you are acting like this. I just suggested we go look at the house." Brock screamed at his wife. "You think you can get your way all the time?" (From The Tulip Kiss)

I entered the chateau with its old, musty smells. Some things never change. I had been here before. I was on a tour with my writing group and we had decided we were taking a trip to France to see some of the land we had been writing about. Funny thing was I had been writing from experience, even though I hadn't been to France in this lifetime. (From La Cave (translates to The Cellar))

These are four of my personals. The Tulip Kiss was published but is no longer available and Butterfly Halves was published briefly but again is no longer available (long story short, my publisher is super greedy and cut me off because of an interview she did on an ezine on one of the forums I'm a member of and we had to part ways). Bride-and-Seek will be published this fall in the Petigru Review, an anthology for the SCWW writing group that goes on sale for the conference in October (see website - www.myscww.org for details of ordering - coming soon I hope). And the other one, I'm in the process of doing some changes to submit to a contest for the conference for the same writing group - The Carry McCray contest - found on www.myscww.org also. See you in the postings - E :)

LindaBudz said...

Hi, Elysabeth!

I'm not ignoring you ... will share my reactions on these tomorrow. Just got home from a Steve Miller concert.

How's this for a great opening: This here's a story about Billy Joe and Bobby Sue, two young lovers with nothing better to do than sit around the house, get high and watch the tube. Here's what happened when they decided to cut loose.

Now, off to bed!

SamRiddleburger said...

That Steve Miller is a born storyteller alright.

good idea. I like the fact that you chose books at random, instead of hunting down great first lines.

Sam R.

"Old Crotty gasped."
(from my first, still unpublished, MS.)

LindaBudz said...

OK, I am recovered from last night's concert and might even be able to put together a coherent sentence or two re: these beginnings!

Elysabeth, I'm going to take yours in the order in which I like them best:

First, IMO, is Butterfly Halves (which might just be a bias on my part because this one seems to be written for kids ... and also because I love the idea of a shiny butterfly necklace). Anyway, it has a nice tension, as the girls both want the necklace. It gives us some hint as to the girls' economic situation and it makes me wonder what role this piece of jewelry will play in the story. The passiveness didn't bother me.

Second would be Bride-and-Seek. I want to know what event the guests are arriving for and why it is exciting ... and sad! And (I think) we learn in a very few words that this is a wealthy woman with a maidservant.

Third, La Cave. Sets a certain mood and draws the reader into the scene, and then, wham!, we find out the character has been writing about a past life. Cool! I do think the fourth sentence could be changed from passive to active.

Last is the Tulip Kiss one. I like starting with dialogue and the immediate conflict, but I feel a little uncomfortable starting the story in the middle of an argument ... I'm not sure whether Amanda is spoiled or Brock is a jerk, so I don't know how to feel about it. It would make me read on to find out, though!

Sam, I want to know what type of character would be named "Old Crotty" and why he is gasping! Nice!

DMH said...

Of the five you posted,I love Dovey Coe and Lemony Snicket--such attitude!


LindaBudz said...

Welcome, DMH! If you haven't read Dovey Coe, I urge you to run, do not walk, to your local bookstore or library and check it out. It's a wonderful book!

elysabeth said...

Oh Linda,

You are so right on - Butterfly Halves was my ya fantasy that was published for a shor period of time (long story about that but I have all rights and that story needs to go somewhere)

The others were all entered in other fast fiction contests for Echelon Press who did select The Tulip Kiss as January's winner and it was published.

Bride-and-Seek is a ghost story from a calendar I received for Christmas.

La Cave is being fixed up for a contest for the SCWW conference in October -

Thank you for your input - E :)