Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Opening Lines with Amber Caravéo from Skylark Literary

@AmberCaraveo

What grabs the reader's attention? What immediately draws you in and makes you want to read on? 


We welcome Amber Caravéo from Skylark Literary, who kindly joins us to offer feedback on the opening lines submitted by our brave SCBWIs. 



Prior to founding Skylark Literary with Joanna Moult, Amber was the Editorial Director for Orion Children’s Books where she was privileged to work with a host of prize-winning and bestselling authors such as Caroline Lawrence, Liz Kessler, Juno Dawson and Holly Black. She has also worked as Senior Commissioning Editor for Random House Children’s Books and for Working Partners where she edited and developed the million-copy-selling series phenomenon, Rainbow Magic

Skylark Literary – www.skylark-literary.com – is a specialist literary agency that seeks and supports the very best in Children’s and YA fiction. Both Amber and Joanna are former editors from major publishing houses so the agency specialises in nurturing talented authors, helping each to find their voice and develop their writing skills. Skylark Literary is open for submissions and looks for true writing talent above all things. 


The agency is currently running a competition for writers of young teen fiction (closing date March 27th 2016), you can find out more here



SUBMISSION #1 


Title: The Malkin Legacy 11+ Fantasy Adventure 

Pitch: Transformed into a cat to escape the witch trials, 12 year-old Jodie is the only one left to save her coven. Will she seek out the Wolf of the Southern Skies and re-claim her stolen legacy, or will she be too afraid of him to try? 

Feedback from Amber:
The first line of this pitch is great! It immediately intrigues with the mention of witch trials and Jodie being turned into a cat – exciting from the very start! It also clearly indicates that the story is aimed at the middle-grade 9-12 readership by giving us Jodie’s age – fab! However, the second line could work harder. The Wolf sounds interesting, but ‘will she be too afraid of him to try?’ feels a little weak after that great first line. Why is she afraid? More of a hint as to why he’s terrifying would be useful here, but also readers need to know their hero will try – it’s finding out whether she’ll be able to succeed against the odds that makes us want to read, not finding out whether she’ll even give it a go! 

Opening Lines: 

My life as I knew it had changed forever. 

The branches and leaves of the tree I found myself in, seemed to rustle and sway in agreement. A light had gone out from the bright world I once lived in and in its place was a dark, unhappy hole that would never again be filled with love. 

In my new form, all I could do was watch as the men completed the destruction of my home. I wasn't strong enough to fight them anymore. They had come for us both but I knew deep down only one of us would survive. That's what we do. We sacrifice ourselves so that others can live. 

My mum chose me and nothing will ever be the same. 

Feedback from Amber:
This opening immediately engages by letting us know something dramatic and out of the ordinary is occurring, but the choice of words is occasionally puzzling… She ‘finds’ herself in a tree – suggesting that she didn’t get there by her own volition. Why not? It might be more exciting if we know that she’s hiding there deliberately to escape/spy on the destruction! Also, although the men came for them both, she says she knew ‘one of us would survive’. How did she know they wouldn’t both be killed? Maybe we find out more about this later. It’s a little confusing but I’m definitely hooked! 


SUBMISSION #2 


Title: Forever Friends. YA 

Pitch:  Beth can’t believe her luck when she bumps into Karla May during her first fortnight at college. After all Karla was her best friend from the age of 5, when she saved her from the class bully, until her family moved to the US. Since then much has gone wrong with Beth's life. Has Karla returned to save her? Or is Karla the one that needs saving?

Feedback from Amber: 
I like that we get a real sense of the friendship story from this pitch – and the college reference makes clear that it’s for a YA audience, which is great. However, the second line is confusing with all the pronouns. Who saved who from the class bully – and, actually, is this really vital to the pitch? I think that detail could probably be cut! And which family moved to the US – Karla’s or Beth’s? The pitch is so important that every word needs to add something and work hard! The final three sentences are really gripping, so it’s just that middle section that needs tightening. 

Opening Lines:

I hear her before I see her. She's bounding down the corridor, like some model out of a magazine. The boys at the other end of the hallway stop and stare open mouthed. The girl’s got it. She’ll never know what it is. It’s impossible to describe even. But she’s got it. And she’ll always have it, no matter what. 

I too copy the boys' moves. She notices my stare and smiles, twirling a lock of blonde hair around a perfectly manicured nail, before continuing with her catwalk parade. 

It is only then that my heart skips a beat. It’s not possible ... it can’t be ... it just can’t be ... but it is ... it’s Karla. ... the one and only Karla May. 

Applying a slight pressure to the crescent shaped scar on the inside of my left wrist I wince. It still hurts. Even after all those years. 

Feedback from Amber: 
I certainly want to read on – so that’s a great start! I’m curious about this mesmerising Karla May. However, a few things prevent the scene from really taking shape in my mind. Beth says she hears Karla first, but we’re not told what she hears? Is Karla speaking? Also I’d like more of an idea of how Karla looks so that I can really picture her ‘catwalk parade’. Is she aware of the stir she’s creating among the boys or is she oblivious? Is her smile friendly or self-satisfied? Is it basically her beauty that’s causing the stir or is there more to it? I know you’ve said that ‘it’ is ‘impossible to describe’ but I’d like more of a sense of what the fuss is about to make this opening really come alive for me. 


SUBMISSION #3 


Pitch: Prince is a silly middle grade novel about a reluctant vampire prince who is sent out into the scary world of humans in the hope of it "bringing out the best" in him. But things don't go exactly as planned, and Barnaby must face his most dreaded enemies if he and his coven are to survive. 

Feedback from Amber: 
This sounds fun and quirky – both of which are instantly appealing! I think the pitch gives the impression that this book might be more suitable for a slightly younger age group than middle-grade – 7-9s perhaps? – but I’m happy to keep an open mind! To really hook the reader, something a little more definitive about what’s going on would be helpful. Terms such as ‘bringing out the best in him’ (what does that even mean for a vampire prince!?) and ‘face his most dreaded enemies’ are a little vague and generic and I’d like more sense of what they actually mean in this book. 

Opening Lines: Barnaby knew that things were not in their place when his parents asked to speak to him. Clearly there was something very wrong. His parents never spoke to him. They were always too busy doing things that adults do, like entertaining guests and serving tea and sandwiches to important people. 

Of course it wasn´t like they never, ever spoke to him. That would be silly. But conversations at home were usually limited to good-morning pumpkin, time for bed, and don´t forget to brush your fangs. 

When they were angry, the six words they used to speak to him were usually go to your room this instant, and when they were feeling exceptionally ridiculous they would say things like Where´s our Little Walachian Princey-pooh? To which Barnaby was expected to answer happily “Here I am!” (His parents obviously hadn´t realized that Barnaby was no longer three.) 

Aside from the moments of anger and ridicule, Barnaby was usually left to himself, which was quite fine with him. He was happy not being seen or spoken to. He was not very good with people and the thought of being in the spotlight was pretty scary. Besides, it gave him an opportunity to do what he loved most, which was baking cupcakes. 

Feedback from Amber:
The voice is funny and unique. I love it (though it’s still suggesting a slightly younger than middle-grade readership to me). We immediately know that all is not as it should be – which is intriguing. We also get a lovely sense of the alternate world that Barnaby inhabits – ‘don’t forget to brush your fangs’! I like the way the writer subverts reader expectations – Barnaby’s favourite activity being baking cupcakes. There is quite a lot of telling rather than showing going on in this opening, though, so I hope that in the very next paragraph we get stuck into the plot itself and find out just what Barnaby’s parents have to say! But I particularly love that this is ticking two boxes for me – an interesting plot and a unique narrative voice. 


Thank you Amber for your time and professional feedback! 


This is a great exercise in open writing, for those who have received personal feedback through the article, and for all of us who want to learn what makes those killer lines. 

If you'd like to contribute to 'Opening Lines', please email an 'elevator pitch' and your first 7 or 8 (approx) opening lines to Lou at writers@britishscbwi.org 


@LMMinns
Lou Minns is the (joint) Features Editor for Words & Pictures SCBWI BI and also the new Social Media Co-ordinator for SCBWI San Francisco North & East Bay.

Contact: writers@britishscbwi.org 

Follow: @LMMinns

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