Monday, November 14, 2011

At the Beginning

I spent this weekend in Gettysburg at the Tri-regional SCBWI conference. I had a great time, refueled my writing bucket, and met so many wonderful people. Okay, that sounds trite, but it's true.

Though we are limited in what we can share because of copyrights, I wanted to share one little nugget with you all:

In a session with Sarah Davies, Agent Extraordinaire of The Greenhouse Literary Agency, she said that about 50% of the submissions she receives start with one of the following opening scenes:
  • The MC [main character] just waking up
  • The MC eating breakfast
  • The MC in the process of moving
  • The MC at the airport
  • The MC involved in a major accident
What do they all have in common? They are all literal beginnings. Interesting, no?

She commented that when she sees this, though it sounds harsh, her expectations drop. It's an immediate strike against the manuscript which takes amazing writing to overcome.

Instead, start in an unexpected place, and you'll already be one up from about half the submissions. . . . The middle of a heist. Feeding the pigs. At the top of the school's flag pole. Standing on cloud 9 (literally). In a graveyard digging up a grave. At the scene of a murder.

So many options!

Perhaps we just need to give ourselves permission to go a little crazy. I mean, we are writers, write? (I mean, . . . right?)

Where does your book start?


Ruth Schiffmann said...

Oh, I like this post. Thanks for sharing that tidbit with us. It's really got me thinking. And wow, 50% huh?!

Joanne said...

I love this. My stories always begin in the midst of a pivotal situation that challenges the characters right from the get-go. Their decisions and the repercussions then shape the rest of the book.

Old Kitty said...

I remember one of my earliest stories I submitted for critique-ing only for my lovely CP to return it and say "best not to start your story with someone waking up from a dream - mega turn-off, straight for the reject-pile". LOL!

Starting a story is more difficult that I thought! Take care

Slamdunk said...

Great advice Janet. What we might think is a unique opening may just be a dime a dozen.

I enjoy Gettysburg visits--wonderful place for history and understanding how this nation was formed.

Susanna Leonard Hill said...

What a great post! Some of those I knew, but I wouldn't have guessed the last one *deleting opening of 47 half written novels* :) This is definitely something to think about - something concrete that you can really do something about. Thanks!

Abby Fowers said...

Awesome post! This is good information to have. Don't want to start them out with disappointment.

Anonymous said...

Great post! I like to start off by throwing my MC into a dangerous situation. Lots of action right from the get go.

Peggy Eddleman said...

I'm glad you had a great time! I love conferences.

I've heard about the waking up one, but not the others. It's great to see that list!

Mine starts with jumping off a cliff.

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

Oh my word, no wonder I always got instant rejections from Sarah Davies. My current "finished" book starts with a girl who is moving. The one I'm working on starts with an accident. And the one I'm Nano-ing starts in the morning between waking up and breakfast. LOL!

I'm doomed!!

No, but great point. Maybe I'll have to get more creative with my beginnings. :)


Laurel Garver said...

That's a fascinating statistic. Of the dozen openings I'd written to one of my novels, only the very first one was one of these cliches. But there are plenty of other ways to start wrong! Believe me, I'm an expert at bad beginnings! LOL.

BTW, I answered your grammar question on my blog today.

Jess said...

Thanks so much for sharing this! My mind is already churning with ideas for openings. I'm a tiny bit surprised that funerals aren't on there~ I've seen a lot of those, too. So cool that you got to hear Sarah Davies speak!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

GREAT post! My book starts with the MC hiding in a tree, about to dump a cup full of worms on his sister's head--during her birthday party. :-)

Lenny Lee said...

hi miss janet! im glad you had fun at that confrence. wowee! thats just way cool advice for starting off a story. that sorta like that hook stuff i been reading about. for sure im gonna get more zing in my beginnings.
...hugs from lenny

Carolina M. Valdez Schneider said...

That's excellent advice from Sarah!

I've always found conferences invigorating, too. Really fuels the inspiration. Hope you're writing like mad now!

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

This is really interesting and especially so coming from Sarah Davies. Thanks for sharing this.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

It sounds like you had a great time. I love going to conferences!

Off the top of my head here are some of my beginnings: Running to the bomb shelter; In the grocery store; Watching cartoons; On Main Street; In an isolated village...

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Janet .. interesting tips .. just like titles, chapter titles, posts etc .. 'U gotta draw 'em in for moooore .....'!

Loved reading everyone's comments too - especially young Lennie .. putting more zing into his beginnings ... I think he does rather well so far!

Cheers - Hilary