Opening Lines with Becky Bagnell from Lindsay Literary


What grabs the reader's attention? 

What immediately draws you in and makes you want to read on?

We are excited to welcome Becky Bagnell from Lindsay Literary to Opening Lines this month. Becky has taken time out of her busy schedule to offer professional feedback on the opening lines submitted by our brave SCBWIs. 

Becky set up the Lindsay Literary Agency in 2008, having worked as a commissioning editor for Macmillan. The agency represents a range of authors, but specialises in writing for children. Becky has a particular interest in debut authors and discovering new writing talent. Becky represents SCBWI members Sue Wallman and Ruth Hatfield

At the moment Becky is on the lookout for middle-grade fantasy adventure - but something with real heart and humour - nothing too dark! However, she’s always keen to be surprised by new writing - so any texts that show originality and off-the-wall thinking that are aimed at children or young adults could be a possibility. 

Submission #1 

Elevator Pitch:The Moonglass Adventures: Hamelin. (MG) 

Can Shazia, an adventurous girl with cerebral palsy, save her new friend Rachel from the danger of the pied piper when she discovers she can time travel? 

Feedback from Becky:

This is a great elevator pitch; it is short, punchy and would definitely make me keen to read the first few chapters. There is a lot of intrigue packed tightly into this short pitch and it gives a strong introduction to the three main characters. I love the idea of time travelling into the world of the Pied Piper and Shazia sounds like an interesting protagonist. 

Opening Lines: 

Shazia cautiously opened her eyes and found she was kneeling on warm dirt. She could smell something nasty that stank like the stink her old rabbit hutch made when it needed cleaning out. Bleargh! She tried breathing through her mouth to keep the smell out of her nose, but the whiff was so strong she could almost taste it in the back of her throat. Where on earth was she? 

There was an odd sound coming from somewhere nearby. Staying on all fours Shazia tried to keep her awkward mouth-breathing quiet whilst she listened. The sound came in harsh rhythmic pairs: Hsssst-hsssst! Hsssst-hsssst! Out of the corner of her eye Shazia saw a small brown creature scamper along a length of wood. A rat? Yikes! Shazia turned back towards the strange Hsssst sound, but her left arm skidded away from her and she twisted over as she hit the ground. Ow! Looking up she saw wooden beams - maybe this was a small barn? She’d managed not to yelp out loud but somebody had heard her fall. The Hsssst-hsssst noise had stopped. 

Feedback from Becky:

I liked this opening – there is great use of imagery and through the first person narrative all Shazia’s senses are being described to great effect. There is a strong feeling of foreboding in these two paragraphs and it is clear that this is going to be an adventurous story that would work well for the middle grade readership. Having said that, there were perhaps a few too many exclamation marks and interjections for my taste – I find that words like ‘Yikes!’ and ‘Bleargh!’ tend to make me feel less convinced by a character than more. I would also suggest that although it is exciting to parachute a reader into the middle of a tense situation with a character – it is also important not to leave it too long before you retell their last solid memory, to help ground the story. 

Submission #2 

Elevator Pitch: The Revolution Begins Here… Sort of 

Meet Millie Quinn: a shy, socially-awkward girl who’s failing at being a teenager. Big Time. When the regional debating competition is announced, Millie is shoehorned into joining by her “fruit-loop” of a mum and starts researching her given topic: feminism. With a lot of help from her friends, Millie finally realises the importance of feminism and finds her own voice whilst doing so – finally becoming the teen she wants to be and ignoring others who judge her. 
‘The Revolution Begins Here… Sort of‘ is a coming of age story aimed at a YA and ‘tween’ audience. It centres on the themes of friendship, identity and feminism. 

Feedback from Becky:

There are lots of interesting ideas being put forward here and it definitely sounds like something I’d be keen to read. I think an exploration of feminism through the eyes of a teenager sounds great! However, as an elevator pitch it is probably too long in my opinion, I’d normally aim for a maximum of two sentences. The idea of the elevator pitch was originally conceived as the one liner you might give to hook an editor or agent if you were caught in a lift with them. Having said that this is a good example of what could be used for the blurb or a slightly longer pitch. 

Opening Lines: 

I hate my birthdays. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that I’m the only teenager in the universe who hates their birthdays. And that’s not even me being hyperbolic. Promise. 

Birthdays, my mum and presents should never go together. It equals disaster. I don’t know why she does it. I mean, this year I gave her a list. A list that she completely ignored. I knew I’d never get those GHDS to tame my brown frizz; I don’t know why I bother. It’s as almost as if she wants me to be as uncool as she is. 

“Millie, what do I need a list for? I do know what it feels like to be a teenager and I do know you,” she said, as her unplucked monobrow creased with disgust. “I’ve got you the perfect present that I know you’re going to love. Everyone will want one. For you’re going to lead the revolution, my darling.” 

Feedback from Becky:

I really like the opening sentence in this one, it is short, punchy and immediately tells the reader quite a lot Millie. The piece of dialogue that you’ve chosen to quote from Millie’s mother is also just perfect because its tone is revelatory of character and it does so succinctly and with humour. However, there are times when Millie’s voice feels a little strained. For example I don’t think there are many teenagers that would use the word, ‘hyperbolic’ in casual speech and so I’d definitely suggest sharing this with your target audience and getting their feedback. 

Submission #3 

Elevator Pitch: Title: Is It Snowing Yet? 

Matty's impatience for snow drives his mum mad, however its eventual arrival doesn't turn out quite as he had hoped. An entertaining picture book about the contagious excitement of that very first snow fall. 

Feedback from Becky:

This a good pitch, it is short, to the point and tells the reader what to expect. However, although the author uses the words, ‘contagious excitement’ I wasn’t convinced that the story was going to deliver on this promise. I would suggest that although it could be a bit of a spoiler, in this case it might be worth including some other key elements from the plot into the pitch. 

Opening Lines: 

Matty absolutely could not wait for it to snow. 

Snow meant sledging and days off school. 
Snow meant snowball fights and building snowmen. 
Snow meant big gloves and woolly hats.

Or at least that's what he'd seen in books and on the television. 
It never snowed in the country where Matty used to live. He couldn't wait to see it for himself. 

'Is it snowing yet?' Matty asked his mum.
'No. The Spring flowers are only just waking.'
'Is it snowing yet?' 
'Not yet. The bees are busy making honey in the sunshine.' 

'Is it snowing yet?'
'No. Not yet. The golden leaves are swirling down from the trees.'
'Is it snowing yet?'
'Almost. The animals are finding warm places to sleep.'
'Is it snowing yet?''

Feedback from Becky:

This is a strong idea for a picture book – snow can be a hugely significant change which young children experience. The author seems to be cleverly building anticipation for that moment when the ordinary world transforms into something spectacular. Having said that – snow has been covered quite extensively in the picture book market and so in order to make this text work it would be important to bring something new to the snow story. Clearly, with this particular task the author has only been able to show the first few lines and so it is difficult to anticipate what their final twist will be, but I would suggest that the denouement should be significant or fundamentally surprising or humorous in some way – I’d love to see what the author has in mind! 

Thank you Becky 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 

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.


Follow: @LMMinns

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