Monday, December 10, 2012

#GuestPost : Lydia Sharp, Author of Twin Sense #YA

Today I have awesome blogger & YA author, Lydia Sharp, stopping by share her ideas on crafting effective openings. I first met Lydia over at the Writer’s Digest forum, where she taught me the old show don’t tell ‘rule’ of writing.

She knows her craft & I’m thrilled to have her here in celebration of her newest release, Twin Sense. Before getting into the good stuff, I gotta show you the purdy & synopsis.

As girlfriends of the Taylor twins, Layna and Sherri have only been friends by association. But when Sherri breaks up with Keith (for real this time), and Kevin gives Layna a promise ring (whoa, what?), Layna's whole world spins off balance. She avoids Kevin's unwelcome pressure to commit by spending more time with Sherri.

Without the twins around, Layna and Sherri are tempted to go beyond friendship status. Then Keith tries to win Sherri back, and Kevin apologizes for rushing Layna. Now she's stuck inside a double-trouble love quadrangle that has her reaching for the consolation cheesecake. The only way to sort out this mess is to make an impossible choice—between the one she wants and the other one she wants—or she might end up with no one.

LOVE LOVE LOVE this cover!!!!!! Can't wait to get my hands on one! Be sure to check out the 'extras' for TS below & don't forget to click on the purdy to add it on Goodreads!

Alright. Enough from me. Welcome, Lydia!

The opening lines of any story are like a handshake between the viewpoint character and the reader. There is arguably more pressure on your opening page to be perfect than any other in the story (except perhaps the final page).

Personally, my first drafts tend to have too much backstory in the opening pages. On a second draft, the first thing I do is strip my opening scene of lengthy explanations. These drag the scene down. They pull the reader out of the “now” and place them in the “before.” There’s plenty of time for explaining things later, perhaps as early as your second chapter. But in my opinion it has no place on the first page, or even the first scene.

So what should be included? Here are four crucial components of an effective opening:

1. Appropriate tone/voice.

When I first started writing fiction professionally, the top suggestion I received for improving an opening was to cut all the adverbs. Honest truth? I never believed in that advice. What if use of adverbs fits the tone and voice of the story?

The advice to remove ALL of ANYTHING is too strict. It doesn’t allow room for creative freedom, and creativity is what fiction is all about. So when analyzing your opening, ask yourself:

What genre/type of story am I writing? A hard SF novel is not going to have the same opening lines as a contemporary romance. The mood is wholly different for each, emphasized by your word choice. If the overall tone of the story is humorous, show it in your first line. If it’s serious, show that right away too.

When you shake someone’s hand you subconsciously make assumptions of character based on the feel of that handshake. Readers make the same subconscious assumptions about your story when they read the first line. Are you giving them the right impression?

2. Correct tense and point-of-view.

When my editor for Twin Sense asked why my first line was in past tense and the rest of the story was in present tense, this was my reaction: ~headdesk~

It seemed so obvious once she pointed it out--I was promising one thing and giving another. If a story begins in a certain tense, the reader will rightfully expect it to continue in that tense until you show a good reason to change it. Changing tenses from the first sentence to the second? Not a good reason. It unnecessarily jars the reader.

As for point-of-view, this is where you must show that you know what the reader expects from your genre. For example, YA contemporary romance is quite often told in first person, female POV, either past or present tense. While adult contemporary romance is often told in third person, past tense, ping-ponging between the hero’s and heroine’s POVs.

Of course there are going to be exceptions to every “rule”, but when deciding what tense and POV to use, you must take into consideration what your readers will be expecting from the story you give them. Or you might turn them off on the very first page.

3. Present the story question.

This doesn’t mean you have to spell anything out for the reader. The story question is implied through the happenings of the opening scene, and then emphasized throughout the rest of the book. After finishing, the reader should be able to look back at your opening and see that, yes, it was there all along even if they didn’t notice it at first.

For example, the main story question in Twin Sense is about a love triangle--who will the main character choose? So right away on page one the reader is introduced to the two people the MC will be stuck between later, and how she feels about each of them now. This effectively plants the seeds of question in the back of the reader’s mind. They know something about the opening scenario has to change by the end of the book.

4. Active forward progression.

This comes back to the previous advice that backstory (large chunks of it, anyway) have no place in an opening. Why? Because it moves the story backwards instead of forward.

Think of it this way: When you first meet someone, say, at a party or gathering, and they introduce themselves, then immediately start talking about their horrible childhood, or their horrible exes… is that pleasant for you, or uncomfortable? Wouldn’t you rather they talk about what’s happening in the here and now? Current events, what they enjoy doing in their leisure time, how you both know the same friend of a friend--anything that’s relevant to your present situation is better than going backwards in your very first conversation. You usually save those other things for future chats, after you’re more familiar with one another.

The same goes for your character’s introduction to the reader. Don’t scare them off by telling too much too soon. Keep everything said clearly relevant and it will automatically move forward. In the beginning, this is what keeps a reader turning pages. They are not invested in anything yet, so forward movement is all you have on your side at first.

To emphasize all of the above points, here are some of my favorite first lines, followed by one of my own:

I hadn’t killed anyone all winter, and I have to say I felt pretty good about that.

Lies Beneath by Anne Greenwood Brown, YA fantasy

Something is wrong with the sky.

Life Is But a Dream by Brian James, YA contemp

The first time I died, I didn’t see God.

Fracture by Megan Miranda, YA SF thriller

We look like a couple of brunette bananas.

Twin Sense by Lydia Sharp, YA romantic comedy

What are your favorite first lines, and why? What do you think is the hardest part of crafting an effective opening?


There Is Nothing Wrong with You (or Why I Write GLBT YA)

Twin Sense Blog Tour (Nov - Dec 2012):

Take 5: Lydia Sharp and Twin Sense
@ Writer Unboxed, November 18

New Release: Twin Sense
@ Euterpe YA, November 23

Adapting Story Structure for Any Project
@ The Bookshelf Muse, November 26

WOW Wednesday: Writing the Book You Want to Read
@ Adventures In YA & Childrens Publishing, November 28

Lydia Sharp is a novelist and short fiction author who grew up on the shores of Lake Erie. Then she got tired of finding sand in her clothes so she moved further inland, but she'll always call Ohio home. Laughing is her favorite pastime. Kissing is a close second.

For Lydia's published and upcoming fiction, click HERE.

Lydia is also a regular contributor to the Write It Sidewaysblog and the award-winning Writer Unboxed blog.


  1. Thank you for your post. It's perfect timing since I'm working on my opening scene right now. I have a tendency to start in the wrong place and usually lose a few pages or scenes before I get to the perfect place.

    1. Ooh, and I forgot to say I like your cover. Very nice!