Tom Palmer's writing blog - How I write: how you write, Part Three autumn term
Posted by Tom Palmer
3 Oct 2011
“The plane stopped in front of the airport terminal. People stood to gather their bags, thinking it was safe to get out of their seats. But it was far from safe. BANG!”
One of the hardest things an author has to do is to write the first line. You know what you want to write about. You know who is in your story. Even how it is going to end. But how do you start?
I am about to begin the second book in my series called The Squad. It is about a football team who are also spies. The story will begin with the children being sent to Norway to stop several countries embarking on World War 3.
But how do I start it?
With a description?
It was cold when the children landed in Norway. The mountains were white with snow. There were chunks of ice in the fjords. Trees were blowing about wildly. They all shivered as they walked across the runway.
Maybe it’s because I am not great at descriptions, but I think that the sentence above is not a good enough way to begin a book. I want the reader to need to know more from the very first line. If the reader wants to know more, then they are going to read on.
I have three tricks that I use to start a book. I didn’t invent any of them. I learned them from reading hundreds of books by other authors.
One: start with danger
The plane stopped in front of the airport terminal. People stood to gather their bags, thinking it was safe to get out of their seats. But it was far from safe.
The plane lurched forward, then crashed downwards, its left wing snapping.The children were all thrown out of their seats.
Two: begin with a question
Five children sat at the side of the fjord, staring at a vast expanse of water. They all saw it at once: a black shape emerging from the deep fjord.
‘Look!’ Kester shouted. ‘A whale?’
They all stared hard. And, as the thing emerged, they knew it was not a whale.It was too big for a whale. Now it towered over the water, forcing a small fishing boat to veer out of its way.
‘What is it then?’ Hatty gasped.
Three: start with dialogue
‘What are you doing?’
Lily and Kester looked up to see Georgia in the doorway. She could see them and the suitcase of spy devices that they were sorting through.
‘Nothing,’ Lily lied, closing the suitcase.
‘What’s in the case?’
‘Don’t lie,’ Georgia pressed. ‘I know you’re up to something.’
Danger, a question or immediate dialogue plunge you headfirst into a story. All three techniques introduce characters and some of the tensions in the story being written, hopefully making the reader want to read on.
Now I just have to decide which one to start my book with…
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