Where to Begin?

Rabbit - psychicHow often have you picked up a book, only to put it down again after reading a single page?  Children often don’t even give books that long.  Their worlds move so fast, with movies and computer games and the Internet, that they’re likely to put a book down after only a sentence or two if it doesn’t immediately grab them.

So for a children’s writer, this lends the first sentence and paragraph even more weight.  It’s rare to get this right in the first draft though.  I know I have a bad habit of meandering into my stories, rather than dropping readers immediately into the characters’ lives and problems.  I don’t mean you necessarily have to start with high action – there’s no need to go killing people off in the first sentence.  What I mean is conflict.  Even quiet stories need immediate conflict, even though it may be more emotional in nature.  And what I mean by conflict is those things driving the characters, hence the plot, forward.

For the fantasy novel I’m working on through the mentorship, in my second draft I discovered that my story actually started at chapter 15.  Luckily I didn’t have to scrap everything before that, but this is where the true conflict began.  In rewriting this as chapter 1, I thought long and hard about that first line.  I wanted it to reflect the ultimate conflict my lead character needs to resolve.  In brief: she comes from a winged tribe, and is the only one ever born into it that cannot fly.  Although she comes across many challenges on her journey, they all ultimately boil down to one problem – her lacking self-belief stemming from this inability.  She feels it defines her.  As such, the very first line sees her entering a situation highly dangerous for one who cannot fly.  So immediately her core conflict is challenged, just a taste of what she must resolve in the end (and while this is her internal conflict, her external conflicts are also introduced in the first page).

I find it interesting after finishing reading a book, to go back to the first paragraph and see how other authors do this.  Figuring out where to start is not always easy.  But if you can get to the heart of your character and your story – the heart of the conflict – then you have a pretty good chance of getting it just right.


5 Responses to “Where to Begin?”

  1. 1 Julie January 4, 2009 at 11:39 am

    Hi Kath,

    Thanks for the tip about going back and re-reading that first paragraph. But if it’s a really good book, I might not stop at the first para!


  2. 2 Madeline January 5, 2009 at 4:49 pm

    That is a good suggestion. I have been doing some “beginning” exercises recently, but I hadn’t thought about going back to the beginnings of books I had read. Hmm…I may be doing some research here soon!


  3. 4 swatch April 11, 2009 at 11:00 pm

    Hi Katherine
    I am reading this blog with great interest as I am working my way out of a procrastination over a proposal for a Masters Research Proposal (note the capitals as in AA Milne). I don’t suppose anything can get as dull and dry as academic writing, unless it is legal stuff. I will ponder your pages as I run flapping down the hill.

    So thanks for this and all the best with your writing – Stephen

  4. 5 Katherine Battersby April 13, 2009 at 6:56 pm

    Thanks Stephen. Good luck getting through your own writing – it certainly does sound a little dry, but I’m sure you’ll make it sing anyway!

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About this Blog…

A blog of ramblings about the world of writing and illustrating for children, by an author / illustrator who might just have a thing for rabbits.

Katherine's picture books, 'Squish Rabbit' and 'Brave Squish Rabbit', are out with Viking (Penguin, US) and UQP (Australia). Please e-mail if you would like her to blog about something in particular.

All text & images  Katherine Battersby

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