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Friday, January 25, 2013

Suck or Slap! How does your story start? by Kitty Griffin

We know how important story starts are. If you can't catch them at the beginning------------you've already lost.

Continuing with our theme this month--beginnings, here are six story starts to ponder.  
It's time to eat some words. Chew them. Swallow them. Learn from them. See how they taste.
Might as well be award-winning words, right?

There are two ways to start a story. 

One. You can slowly draw the reader in. You can suck them in. Your words have to be powerful though. Don't bore them.

I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier

I am riding the bicycle and I am on Route 31 in Monument, Massachusetts, on my way to Rutterburg, Vermont, and I'm pedaling furiously because this is an old-fashioned bike, no speeds, no fenders, only the warped tires and the brakes that don't always work and the handlebars with cracked rubber grips to steer with. A plain bike--the kind my father rode as a kid years ago. It's cold as I pedal along, the wind like a snake slithering up my sleeves and into my jacket and my pants legs, too. But I keep pedaling. I keep pedaling. 

Has Robert Cormier hooked you? Has he pulled you in? 
Do you want to know what happens next?

Two. Ready for a slap? Some stories whomp you right upside the head. The author has no pity. You are drop-kicked right at the start.

What Jaime Saw by Carolyn Coman

When Jaime saw him throw the baby, saw Van throw the little baby, saw Van throw his little sister Nin, when Jaime saw Van throw his baby sister Nin, then they moved.

Ka-pow. That's a smash. I read that the author, Carolyn Coman, wanted to show how when someone is frightened that their words often come out in a repeating stammer.

Do you want to know what happened to the little baby, Nin? Would you keep reading?

Look at the next four openings and decide. Suck or slap? Which one appeals to you? Why?

The Goats by Brock Cole

     When he came back to the beach with wood for the fire Bryce grabbed him from behind. The firewood scattered, bouncing off his knees and shins.
     "Okay, Bryce," he said. "Cut it out." He tried to sound unafraid, even a little bored.
     Bryce pulled his elbows back until they were almost touching. The boy tried to look up at the other kids. They turned their faces away, squinting out over the lake or frowning up into the trees above the beach.
     "Hey," Bryce said. "Do I have to do everything?"
     For a moment no one moved, and then Murphy shrugged and knelt down heavily in front of the boy. He was frowning, as if he had to do something disagreeable.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

     There was a hand in the darkness and it held a knife.
     The knife had a handle of polished black bone, and a blade finer and sharper than any razor. if it sliced you, you might not even know you had been cut, not immediately.
     The knife had done almost everything it was brought to that house to do, and both the blade and the handle were wet.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by  Stephen Chbosky

August 25, 1991
Dear friend,
I am writing to you because she said you listen and understand and didn't try to sleep with that person at the party even though you could have. Please don't try to figure out who she is because then you might figure out who I am, and I really don't want you to do that. I will call people by different names or generic names because I don't want you to find me.

The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
     In the beginning there were thirty-six of them, thirty-six droplets of life so tiny that Eduardo could see them only under a microscope. He studied them anxiously in the darkened room.
     Water bubbled through tubes that snaked around the warm, humid walls. Air was sucked into growth chambers. A dull, red light shone on the faces of the workers as they watched their own arrays of little glass dishes. Each one contained a drop of life. 

There you have it. Six openings. Six notable books. 
Suck? Slap? 
Which one draws you in? 
How about your writing? Can you decide if your opening is a suck or a slap?
Beginnings. If yours doesn't drop-kick the reader in, if it doesn't hook them and pull them in then WHY NOT! 


  1. This is a fascinating blog! Thank you very much for graphically showing how stories begin with a suck or a slap. Your examples were perfect. Again, thanks.

    1. thanks, Audrey...
      These are some of my favorite books. I used them when teaching KidLit. Sometimes I will go to Amazon and pick 10 books and get the Kindle samples and read all 10 samples just to see what catches me.

    2. Nice to hear from you, Laurie. How are you?