Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Opening Lines with Anne Clark

@AnneClarkLit

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


We are excited to welcome Anne Clark from Anne Clark Literary to Opening Lines this month. Anne has taken time out of her busy schedule to offer professional feedback on the opening lines submitted by our brave SCBWI members. 


Anne Clark set up her agency in 2012 after many years working in children’s publishing, as a commissioning editor at Piccadilly Press and editorial director at Hodder Children’s Books. She now represents a range of authors writing for children and teenagers - from picture books and younger fiction, through middle grade, teen and YA fiction to non fiction. 

I’m looking for authors with fresh and distinctive voices and something new to say! What would I like to find in my Inbox? Something to make me laugh out loud, a knock-your-socks-off love story and a really original non fiction idea. I’m keen to work with a diverse bunch of writers. Do get in touch! 

www.anneclarkliteraryagency.co.uk 

Submission #1 


Title
Threadbound: The Filaments of Magic (Middle Grade) 

Pitch: 
Magic is supposed to be gone, and good riddance. But strange things keep happening to Kendric. Things he can’t explain or control, and must keep secret. For if he is found out he will be forced to flee his home and find somewhere magic is accepted. 

Feedback from Anne:

This is intriguing and that first sentence has a good ring to it – but the author isn’t giving me enough information. A pitch isn’t the place to show off your writing style – it’s a chance to sum up what is new and different about your book. The author needs to tell me more - what kind of ‘strange things’ keep happening, is Kendric found out, and what happens next? With a bit more detail, I might well be hooked and want to read on! 


Opening lines: 

The woods were strangely quiet today, the silence had settled around Kendric like a soft blanket when he’d left the cobbled path in town. But now, as he scraped his penknife down a stick and watched the slow curl of bark, the lack of noise pressed between his ears like a brewing thunderstorm. Even the lofty beech trees seemed to be listening for the first song of a bird, though that was impossible, even before the Falling. 

He peered past his dangling legs, and the gnarled old oak’s sparse leaves, at the woodland floor. Perhaps a passing fox had scared all the wildlife. Normally Kendric and his friends made so much noise that animals stayed clear, but the woods were always full of birdsong. Did the woods seem quieter because his friends were quiet, or where his friends quiet because of the same reason that the wood was holding its breath? He shook away the strange notion. Holt must be daydreaming again and Marley would be — 

A pair of leather boots swung down, narrowly missing his nose, he dodged and almost fell from his branch. ‘Hey, watch it Marley!’ he said, and shoved the muddy boots away. 

Feedback from Anne: 
I was immediately drawn in by the strong sense of tension in the mysterious silence. The reference to ‘the Falling’, suggesting some kind of recent disaster, helps to build suspense, and I wanted to find out more. The author has a vivid turn of phrase and the prose has a nice rhythm, both of which help create atmosphere. However, the narrative keeps tripping itself up with asides and speculations, ifs and buts – it’s too early in the book to have so many ideas jostling for attention! I would suggest that the author keeps things much simpler and concentrates on moving things forward more quickly. 

Submission #2 


Title: 
Hoink Can't Fly? (280 words) 

Elevator Pitch: 
Hoink boasts he's a flying pig, and even claims he flew to the moon to get moon-cheese. Dig-Dog says telling lies will have Pinocchio-style consequences, and sure enough, Hoink ends up with a long nose, knots in his tail and trotters so tall he can't walk. But what is the real truth? A PB for 3-6 years. 

Feedback from Anne: 
This is clear and uses well-chosen details to good effect. It sounds a lot of fun - but so much will depend on the ending! There is clearly a twist (‘real truth’), and I would recommend spelling it out in a pitch, unless you are already sure your reader will go on to the full story. I don’t think you need to specify age range for a picture book unless it’s aimed at an unusual readership, and I would tend to avoid abbreviations for all but YA. 

Opening Lines: 

pp1/2 

Early in the morning, Hoink knocked on Dig-Dog's den. 
"Hey, Dig-Dog, come and look!" said Hoink. 
"I just flown up to the top of that tree!"
"See, I left Knitted-Pig up there." 
"You never did! Pigs can't fly!" said Dig-Dog. 
"Telling lies will make your snout grow long." 

pp3/4 
"Aaargh, no! I've got a honker!" cried Hoink. 

pp5/6 
In the afternoon, Hoink called out to Dig-Dog. 
"Hey, Dig-Dog, I've just flown Little Red Truck to the shops!"
"See, I left it on the roof, with the shopping." 
"You never did! Pigs can't fly!" said Dig-Dog. 
"Telling tales will make your tail grow weird." 

Feedback from Anne: 
I would usually read a complete picture book text as it’s so hard to judge from a sample. I like the tension between Hoink and Dig-Dog and the way the author includes endearing details such as Knitted-Pig. I’m enjoying the repetition and am hoping that the author will be able to find enough variety within this structure, and to build up to a hilarious finale with a twist! (So much will depend on the strength of the twist.) I’m thinking about how an illustrator will be able to depict Hoink’s travels while staying within reach of Dig-Dog’s den, and wondering if the overall message will be a cautionary tale about lying (perhaps a little obvious) or something more original? So – lots of questions, but this is a promising start. 

Submission #3 


Title: 
Solus 

Elevator Pitch: 
For over two thousand years a secret society of abandoned children have protected the world's most vulnerable citizens. Now the entire human race needs their help. 

Feedback from Anne: 
This is an intriguing pitch. I’m drawn in by the idea of a 2000-year-old secret and the surprising notion that ‘abandoned children’ – who sound vulnerable – have been protecting the weak and now have an even bigger task. But it’s a bit minimal - I would like the author to tell me a little more about where the story is heading – what is the threat, and how will the children go about saving the world? It would also be good to know what age it’s aimed at. 

Opening Lines: 

There are three ways to rob a bank. 
The first is the way of the movies. 
Wear a mask, run into the bank and scream at the cashiers. 
Maybe even wave a toy gun around for effect. 
Grab the cash from the terrified staff and run. 
Run hard. 
You'll be rich for about the thirty minutes and then the police will find you. 
They’ll always get you and even if you do manage to escape, and you won't, you can't spend the cash as it’s all numbered and marked. 
The moment you try to spend even one dollar you're toast. 
Go for the first way and you're either desperate or stupid or both. 
And you'll never be rich. 
The second way is the most successful; you almost always get to keep the money.

Feedback from Anne: 
I like the dramatic tone of this opening, with its stark first line, short, punchy sentences and bold statements. I’m intrigued by what’s being said, because the statements seem quite puzzling – the police might not find you, and you could spend a lot of cash without anyone checking the numbers of your stolen banknotes! So is the author talking about a very different world from our own? I’m curious to read on. 

Thank you Anne 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 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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