1. MissRis
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    MissRis Contributing Member

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    How do you start your YA book?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by MissRis, Apr 18, 2012.

    I'm just wondering how you start your YA novel? I read a lot of them and there seems to be a current throughout that sort of start with the action right away or some precipitating event that really gets the ball rolling quickly as opposed to mystery fiction (I'm thinking Stieg Larsson and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), which are usually fairly slow starting.

    The premise behind this question is that I have been struggling with the opening chapters of my own YA supernatural/fantasy fiction and I just would like to brainstorm with some people.

    For me, the problem is that I want to kill off my MC's parents to sort of get the ball rolling (having an adolescent with no parents is much easier to handle when she goes off on unknown adventures). I have this really lame dream sequence as the first chapter (sooooooo cliche it's ridiculous, but it was initially just to get me writing past the first chapter) and chapter 2 is that she's waking up from the dream (also sooooo cliched) to her house burning down, which results in her parents death and the story snowballs from there. Now that I have finished a first draft, I know my beginning needs some major work, but I'm not exactly sure how to do it without dragging on the beginning. YA audiences are fickle and you really need to catch them with an interesting beginning.
     
  2. GeorgiaB
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    GeorgiaB Member

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    Hey there!

    I too am writing a YA book. This is my second one, although the first is completely flawed and unedited and waiting until June-ish until I go back to reread and rewrite. What I learned from the first book and now 30,000 words into my second is that I have to get through those first couple of chapters, no matter how bad they might realistically be, or I will never get into a groove where my writing starts to have any sort of potential. So, I'm in the same boat as you.

    My first book opens with my MC coming back to school after a pretty boring holiday break. She meets an interesting new student. Prior to this, the reader finds out that her parents recently divorced. This, too, sounds pretty cliche, at least not that exciting. So, I think I will probably have to rework it, or try to make the writing spectacular so that readers would want to keep going. (I think of John Green who could certainly make that a page turner, because his writing is so amazing and his characters fascinating.) My second book has more of an original opening that I think has more of a hook. However, this one has been truly challenging because my MC is a foster kid, and she has such a complicated history I could start it just about anywhere to follow a meaningful event in her life.

    So I agree that adolescents want a book to grab them from the first few pages. (Actually, the blurb on the back of the book needs to grab them first -- I just stood in Target and read a lot of them.) It's sad in a way that there is this much impatience when it comes to reading, but it reflects the world that we live in. And, honestly, I love a book that just reaches out and pulls me in right away! Hunger Games comes to mind. I haven't curled up with Wuthering Heights lately, although that is a favorite, too. :)

    I have been reading the YA entries for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award on my Kindle. Downloading the opening excerpts is free, and it is the first 3,000 to 5,000 words of the top 250 contestants.... It has been so interesting to read how others handle those first couple of chapters, and I can see what works (an obvious few) and what does not (many of them). You might want to take a look.

    In your novel, why don't you start with the fire, and nix the dream sequence? Could you start with her talking about the fire with someone -- i.e. cops, friend, relative? Could you start with her parents' funeral?

    Really, I just wanted to mention the Amazon contest thing to you, but got carried away.

    Good luck with your book!!

    Georgia
     
  3. MissRis
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    MissRis Contributing Member

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    This is an extremely helpful answer! I wanted to make sure people that were replying to this thread were actually writing or read YA because it's very different from other genres because of its readers. I have thought about just opening with her trying to escape the fire and now that you have also suggested it, I'm thinking it might be a great way to go. I am going to check out this contest on Amazon because it will be REALLY helpful. And I agree about THG - I bought Divergent, another dystopian fantasy, but I'm finishing another series - and it does a very similar opening to THG.

    Thanks!

    Marisa
     
  4. Rumwriter
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    Rumwriter Active Member

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    I'm writing a YA series too, also fantasy. I try to start out with as much drama as I can. Especially with kids, you need some big conflict and big action right away I think. Funnily enough, a few times that I wrote chapter 1, I also started with a dream. Now, the catch with my series is that dreams are important, and I thought that would be a good start, but I ultimately scratched it, because even though dreams do BECOME important, no one knows that at the beginning, and if I take them through a whole chapter of action, and then tell them it wasn't real, they'll be annoyed (even if it is crucial to the plot later). So I would nix starting with a dream.

    Starting with parents burning in a fire is intense, though. That sounds like a good start. Or maybe the MC lost somewhere, since she/he is now an orphan.

    I have to say, knowing exactly where to start the book is hard. BUT, I like what I heard Vonnegut say (I actually saw somebody attribute this to Vonnegut, so who knows how trustworthy the source is), BUT: Start as near to the end as possible.

    I've also heard that Hemingway after writing a book would throw out the first 18 pages. So consider if what you're writing is really important, or if it's just boring exposition that isn't needed. Then, after you write it, look back and see if it's STILL got a lot of stuff you don't need. But no matter what, I'd say introduce a problem as fast as you can. That's what people want to read.
     
  5. Cassiopeia Phoenix
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    Cassiopeia Phoenix Contributing Member

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    I don't even know if my book is YA, but I started with some action already. I wrote down the first crime and introduced the MC in less than one thousand words. Especially because the crime is a rather interesting one so I think it's a good start. The things sort of cool down in action in the first chapter but then I will introduce another character who is important to the plot and doesn't go well with the MC...
     
  6. MissRis
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    MissRis Contributing Member

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    Rumwriter - thanks for the helpful response. I was thinking of just axing the dream and have my MC just start up in bed coughing violently and she has to try and escape her burning house. I didn't know if that was *too* intense for a beginning though? (Is it possible in YA?) Regardless, I think I am going to take up your advice and go with that. I think my other problem is that I made my MC's parents a same-sex couple, I don't know why, but it sort of felt right (the mythology I'm using is loosely based on Amazons, but I've sort of made up my own mythology melding together Roman, Greek, and Celtic stuff) and I feel bad killing them right away. I'm a lit student and the inner critic inside of me is saying, "Is the author implying something about same-sex couples having children?" and all that blah-blah-blah literary criticism.......... I sometimes feel slightly schizophrenic because I think like an author, but also a literary critic.
     
  7. Rumwriter
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    Rumwriter Active Member

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    yeah, I mean...I sometimes worry about whether or not I'm making something too violent for YA also, but I try to remind myself that YA does not mean kids books. A YA book can be enjoyed by a big audience. Ender's Game for instance can be enjoyed by a 14 year old, but it's still got dark moments in it. And if that doesn't do it for you, look at all of the kids being brutally murdered in Hunger Games.
     
  8. MissRis
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    MissRis Contributing Member

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    Touche salesman, touche (sorry - lame Family Guy reference).
     
  9. 1000whitewhales
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    1000whitewhales New Member

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    Cliche is not always bad, take red blood road, molda young. Cliche love story, dystopian world tappets off from bad max, predictable ending but absolutley amazing red. why?

    Awsome proton, great halaber between show and tell, great solid page, great characters
     
  10. ithestargazer
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    ithestargazer Active Member

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    Well, I may as well start off the same way everyone else has. Yes I too am writing/attempting my first YA novel.

    Firstly, I'm not sure if you're aware of Disappearing Parent Syndrome (DPS) which refers to a tendency for YA fiction to dispose of parents early in the narrative so that the young characters can have free reign. You mentioned that your MC's parents die in a house fire. If this is relevant to the story and not just a plot device to make the story easier to write then disregard this. If it isn't, maybe you could look into alternate techniques.

    I agree that cliche is not always bad. In fact, cliche is cliche because people like it. It's all about how you write your story and how you develop characters, setting and narrative. I definitely agree with the above comments about reading as much YA as possible. Take note of the elements that attract you from these books and look at ways you can apply them.

    Good luck :)
     
  11. AmyHolt
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    AmyHolt Contributing Member

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    I like the point that ithestargazer brought up. If having you MC's parents die or gotten rid of in some other way isn't the inciting incident (the thing that changes everything for the MC and starts the plot moving forward) then you shouldn't start with it. Think about your ending, what started everything that got your MC to that point. That's what you start with. If the parents don't play a major role in the actual plot, forget about them. Now if for instance the fact that your MC's dad dies is a huge factor in why you MC acts the way she does, then by all means include it. Otherwise...
    Congrates on finishing your rough draft. That's amazing and show great dedication.
     
  12. MissRis
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    MissRis Contributing Member

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    @Amy Holt - I think your advice is great! Their death is a catalyst to the rest of the action because it's how she finds out her parents (and herself) are part of a group of mythological beings that helps keep humans safe from various dark forces. The MC, after her parents death, finds out that she is a child of prophesy that were given to her parents to keep safe.
     
  13. louis1
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    louis1 Contributing Member

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    murders, I start with several murders. but of course they're all relevant to the story.
     

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