Monday, July 19, 2010

Sometimes Direction Leads You Elsewhere

And that's okay. As long as it leads you somewhere. Six Sentences had a contest titled "Mind Games", and when I first sat down to write, I ended up with what is now called "Hit or Miss", a far cry from mind games:

Barry sat across from me, staring so hard at my forehead that I thought he might burn a hole straight through it. My fingers hovered over the white pegs, even before he called out "B-12", sinking my cargo ship. I added another white peg to the boat, shaking my head. "Liar," he called out, standing up and peering over the other side of the grayish plastic barrier to find all my boats filled with white pegs, my game long over. That's how I ended up in the other room, eavesdropping while my husband of almost fifty years asked the customer service representative if he could speak to Milton Bradley himself about what to do when he found his wife cheating. At a board game.

I'm happy with it, but sometimes it baffles my mind. How does someone just sit at their computer with this small inkling of an idea, and come out with a life? A life that's never existed before? Do we have the authority to do that? That's some pretty powerful stuff, writing is.

Jumping off that, a great book needs a great image on the cover. I know, I know. "Don't judge a book by it's cover," right? That's half the battle for me. The other half? A great first sentence.
Here are some of my favorite first sentences from the YA genre:

"You can tell a lot about people from what they order for breakfast." - THE FORTUNES OF INDIGO SKYE, Deb Caletti

"To say my life changed when my mother married Dino Cavalli (yes, the Dino Cavalli) would be like saying that the tornado changed things for Dorothy." - WILD ROSES, Deb Caletti

"Not to brag or anything, but if you saw me from behind, you'd probably think I was perfect." - NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL, Justina Chen Headley

And why are they great opening sentences? Because the words are so definitive, so matter-of-fact, that you're forced to ask a boatload of questions: "Who ordered breakfast that was so transparent?" or "What did Dino Cavalli do that was so life-altering?" or "Why from behind? What am I missing?" There are hundreds of examples throughout written history, but these are just a few quick examples. My books each have to have a powerful cover and a powerful first sentence. I'm going to give you a small glimpse into each.

"Even if I had enjoyed this flight, what followed could only be described as inevitable. With my eyelids finally drifting closed, my last few moments of peace in this world were cut short by a loud, overly friendly voice. It had been my third, maybe fourth attempt to sleep."

"In the beginning, you never see the end, but it's there. Just a little glimmer off in the distance that you have to squint to see. Beginnings were always the same: the morning after, so many bad decisions just reek of alcohol and loose lips. There I was, okay, several mornings after, trying to do laundry so I could rid myself of any memory of the stain on my shirt, the smell of liquor on my clothes. In the laundromat across the street from my neighborhood. And I prayed, just prayed, that my father didn't drive by, peering inside the glass interior to see my tired face staring back."

Note: The covers are mock-ups, and I'd love to hear opinions on them, even though I fully intend on redoing both of them at a later date. Right now they are placeholders for my website, which I hope to launch in the fall.

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