Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Guest: C. Lee Mckenzie's Great Time Lock Disaster and Opening Lines

Today, I'm excited to hand my blog over to the talented and wonderful C. Lee Mckenzie!

There's nothing’s more dangerous than a wizard-in-training. And Pete Riley, has just proven it. He's worked a bad time spell--a very bad time spell.

No YouTube, no smoothies, no Manga. Not ever again. Not unless Pete figures out how to reverse his spell and free Weasel and him from Victorian England. 

He has until the next full moon. Only a few days.

Tick. Tock.

C. Lee On Opening Lines

Opening lines are the hardest for me to write. So much hinges on them. I’ve gone through books and read hundreds of first lines to find out successful writers’ secrets for getting me into a book. 

Then I started doing a bit of research. The best definition of a great opening came from Sol Stein in Stein on Writing. Here’s a short version of what he says: 

The first lines must: 

  • excite the reader’s curiosity, preferably about a character or a relationship.   Stein later refers to this as “quick characterization.”
  • introduce a setting.
  • make the story important enough for the reader to continue.

I’d add that the first lines must sweep me away from where I’m reading in my chair and plunk me dead center inside the world of the story.

Here are three of my favorites. 

1. Today I moved to a twelve-acre rock covered with cement, topped with bird turd and surrounded by water.  Alcatraz sits smack in the middle of the bay—so close to the city of San Francisco, I can hear them call the score on a baseball game on Marina Green. Okay, not that close. But still. Al Capone Does My Shirts, Choldenko

2. Tad was beginning to hate the spear. 
It was his first spear, and—when he had woken on the morning of his twelfth Naming Day—he had thought that it was the mist beautiful thing he had ever seen. His father had always pretended that Naming Day presents were brought each year by the Moon Elves, who traveled to Earth on moonbeams and brought gifts to well-behaved girls and boys. The Waterston, Rupp

3. “Where’s Papa going with that axe?" said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast. Charlotte’s Web, White

  • In each case, we immediately locate the character(s). 
  • We sense their emotions and know a bit about them: 1) a relocated, not too happy person  2) disappointed  12-year-old 3) kid who’s curious and a bit fearful 
  • We know which point of view these stories are going to be told in. 
  • We know a bit about the setting: 1) isolated place, unattractive, sense of coldness 2) a different way of life with Naming Days and kids with spears 3) morning, maybe on a farm

Now here’s my attempt from The Great Time Lock Disaster. I’m up against some stiff competition. 

One minute the clock was tick-tocking on the mantel and the next it was a smoldering mess.

“No,” Harriet shouted. Then she braced one hand on her desk and covered her eyes with the other. 

Pete froze, not blinking, not breathing, but waiting to see if Harriet would point one of her long, bony fingers at him and turn him into a turnip or something slimy. 

To celebrate the launch of The Great Time Lock Disaster I'm giving 20 eBooks away. Hope you'll jump in to the copter and go for a ride!

Usually, C. Lee takes on modern issues that today's teens face in their daily lives. Her first young adult novel, Sliding on the Edge, which dealt with cutting and suicide was published in 2009. Her second, titled The Princess of Las Pulgas, dealing with a family who loses everything and must rebuild their lives came out in 2010. Double Negative (2014) was her third young adult novel. Researching it turned her into a literacy advocate. Her fourth YA, Sudden Secrets came out in December 2014. 

When she really want to have FUN, she writes middle grade books. Alligators Overhead and The Great Time Lock Disaster are now available.


Cherie Reich said...

First lines are definitely important. Thanks for the tips, Lee! Congrats! And your first lines are definitely intriguing. :)

Sarah Foster said...

First lines are so tricky to figure out! I've changed mine a few times and I'm still figuring it out. Thanks for the tips!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great tips on first lines. I really liked your examples and the first lines of your story. Congrats, Lee!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I think yours is a great beginning.
I've learned to use one-line starts with a punch. Although finding that line takes a long time.

Crystal Collier said...

Awesome thoughts. I've always felt that a first line needs to communicate at least 3 major things: Perspective, a promise of conflict, and a hint of backdrop. It doesn't HAVE to communicate all three, but the best ones usually do.

cleemckenzie said...

They take as long to write as the whole book sometimes!

cleemckenzie said...

I think learning that anything I write can always be better has been the biggest help for me.

cleemckenzie said...

I'm glad you liked the examples. There are tons of excellent ones.

cleemckenzie said...

The shorter it is the harder it is to write. Isn't that the truth.

cleemckenzie said...

Nicely put, Crystal.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I need to work harder on my openings. Thanks for the examples of good ones, including yours.

Dixie@dcrelief said...

Free suggestions, received with love and adoration... I needed these today! Thank you Lee.

Thank you, Tyrean for the hosting!

Stephanie Faris said...

I'm bad about coming up with a great opening line, followed by a great opening scene, then fizzling out about a third of the way through the book!

Shannon Lawrence said...

Thank you for the tips on openings! Your opening is definitely strong.

Maurice Mitchell said...

“Where’s Papa going with that axe?" What a great line! Very well done.

Tyrean Martinson said...

I usually have trouble at that point too, and I don't start with awesome opening lines . . . so you are way ahead. :)

Tyrean Martinson said...

Cherie, Sarah, Natalie, Alex, Crystal, Diane, Dixie, Stephanie, Shannon, Maurice - thank you all for stopping by and visiting with C.Lee!!!

C.Lee - thanks for being so awesome to not only guest post but pretty well keep my blog running yesterday. I was under a heavy bit of workload . . . but I'm back to the blog, a day late. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Karen Lange said...

Great tips! I too, struggle with first lines sometimes, whether fiction or non fiction. What sounds good one day may not sound that way the next. Lee, appreciate your insight. Tyrean, thanks for hosting. :)

Chemist Ken said...

Your opening lines in both books in the series were great, and one of the reasons I bought them. I'm using your opening lines as examples to learn from for myself.

Tyrean Martinson said...

C. Lee gives great tips!

Tyrean Martinson said...

Yes, C. Lee knows how to hook us as readers. I need to study her opening lines more.

Arlee Bird said...

You've got the clock in the opener just as the clock is on the book cover. Since the book title has "Time" in it clock is an appropriate object to start with.

Arlee Bird
A to Z Challenge Co-host
A Faraway View

Elizabeth Seckman said...

I always thought Steinbeck was a master at opening a story, but I love him, so I am biased!

Sharon Himsl said...

I love Lee's summary on the three things to look for in creating opening lines--character, setting and emotion. I've been studying opening lines at my blog using lines from the Classics and still just shake my head at some of the great lines. They really do make a difference, something I'm trying hard to learn. Thanks for sharing!