OPENING LINES with Lindsey Fraser #5

Opening Lines with Lindsey Fraser from Fraser Ross Associates #5!

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

Our lovely Lindsey Fraser season continues today. Her marathon of feedback is almost over, with next Saturday featuring the last run. Thanks, Lindsey, for your professional insight and encouragement!

Lindsey Fraser and Kathryn Ross established the literary agency Fraser Ross Associates in 2002, largely specialising in books for young people. The agency represents writers and illustrators from all over the UK.

Submission #12

Title: SoLo

Elevator pitch:

All 15-year-old Maya wants to do is fit-in with her friends and be cool. But when her scientist father goes missing and all the adults around her turn docile, no one believes her theory that the two events are linked. Trying to find her father, Maya discovers a world of lies and deceit, where the powers-that-be will do anything to stop her reaching the truth.

Opening Lines:

The worst thing about my parents is their ability to be embarrassing. Every time I think it can’t get any worse, they manage to do something even more cringe-worthy. The gym hall was mobbed the day it happened. We were all crushed shoulder to shoulder, as if we actually liked being that close to each other; teachers, parents, pupils and random members of the public who’d been coerced into our school in aid of Syrian refugees. I ran my hand down the thigh of my SoLo jeans, not a wrinkle - just the way it should be. I wished I’d worn the pale blue t-shirt rather than the cut off sweat-top, but I’d only got the sweat top that morning. No one had seen it yet. I scanned the room, the ‘populars’ were already at the tombola table, presumably trying to win the magnum of champagne. I made a mental note to give it a try later on.
Then I saw Dad.
Where the hell did he come from? He never came to school events - far too busy at work - which is a huge relief when your mum runs the school PTA. Dad not being around is one less gram of potential embarrassment.

The pitch is a little lacking in confidence - what is it about the novel that you believe will have everybody flocking to it? If you know and believe in it, that should come across in the pitch. The first sentence - All 15-year-old Maya wants to do is fit-in with her friends and be cool - gives us useful information, but it doesn’t distinguish this book from lots of other books for this readership. If you could set the premise up with a more edgy tone/narrative voice, perhaps, it would feel more necessary to read on.
The opening section is more promising than the pitch. Embarrassing parents aren’t that original an idea, but the narrative voice is full of personality and fury and already some contradiction, which is always a useful plot driver.

Submission #13

Title: Sterling Smith Should Run the Country

Elevator Pitch:

In this middle grade book, Sterling Smith runs everywhere - but one thing he doesn't run is his own life. Mum says the Skyrunners superheroes convention is too expensive, but when Sterling tries to find other ways of getting there, everything goes wrong! Can Sterling get his tickets, and win the big cross-country race at school too?

Opening Lines:

     "If you want to go, you'll need to save your pocket money, Sterling," Mum says, up to her elbows in flour and sugar. There's a big Skyrunners superhero convention in town next weekend and I really, really want a ticket, but I've just shown Mum the flyer and she says it costs too much money.
My mum's a baker. She makes nearly all the birthday cakes round here. Everyone loves them. Which means my whole house smells of baking all the time. You would think that's a good thing, wouldn't you, but she never lets me have even a nibble.
Right now she's making Olivia Spiker's cake. Olivia is in my class, but we're not really friends. Every Saturday at parkrun, we line up against each other and fifty other kids. The last few times she's been faster than me - and she gloats about it. So I wish Mum would let me put some black pepper in her cake. Or something even ickier.


This sounds as if it could be the kind of 8 to 11 novel that newly confident readers consume with gusto. It’s a familiar premise - needing money to do something/achieve something/go somewhere - and in its familiarity lies its potential appeal to your readership.  
I like the various ingredients you’ve fed into the opening section, but I would prefer for the focus to remain on the job at hand - Sterling’s desire to go to the Spyrunners Superheroes Convention - for a little longer before heading off into potential subplots about Sophie Spiker. Why is he so desperate to go? What is he determined not to miss out on? Get the reader on board with the core plot driver, and then add layers of narrative.

Submission #14

Title: LOOTED - A YA crime novel.

Elevator pitch:

What links three teenage boys, a secret, a lost painting and an art thief? When Max finds some old papers, his Grandfather's life story starts to unravel. Who is he really? and why is he so afraid?

Opening Lines:

      ‘Be careful what you wish for,’ Ben looks up from his phone. ‘It might happen.’
      ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ I throw grass at him. The gardeners have been out on their ride-on mowers and the park smells of warm hay and summer.
      ‘Dunno,’ he ducks. ‘It’s what my mum always says.’
      We’re quiet for a bit, watching toddlers get overexcited about a lame slide. A twist of envy curls inside. When did I last get excited about anything in my life? School, homework, hanging out, that’s all there is. Dull. Can’t even find a hobby I like.
      ‘I wish something would happen though,’ I tell Ben. ‘Anything’s got to be better than this.’


This is an attention-grabbing pitch/blurb, firing ideas out and suggesting what questions we might ask as a result. It’s a combative approach to make us pay attention and it works well, as long as it isn’t overdone.  
It’s a comfortable opening scene, with a familiar feel to it - given a nudge by the ‘I wish something would happen though’ line, which reassures us that something will. However it doesn’t feel as if it’s written for a YA readership - it feels younger. Are you sure it isn’t upper MG/teen?

Thanks again Lindsey for your time and professional feedback! Opening Lines is a great exercise, for those who receive personal feedback above, and for all of us who want to learn what makes those killer lines.

Missed the first four Opening Lines with Lindsey Fraser? Read them here #1 here 2#  here #3 and here 4#

Like to contribute your own submission? The next Opening Lines will launch in late June.
Please email your title, elevator pitch and opening lines to Liz at with Opening lines in the subject line.

Hooked by the feedback? You can see more of Lindsey Fraser at the Edinburgh International Book Festival this summer. Follow Lindsey on Twitter: @LindseyFraser

Liz MacWhirter is a features writer for Words & Pictures and belongs to the SCBWI Southeast Scotland network. Her first YA novel, Black Snow Falling, is currently out on submission through Lindsey Fraser of Fraser Ross Associates. The Fairy Pools was published by Scholastic in an anthology in 2008. She writes award-winning copy for clients and ad agencies, as Liz Holt.

Follow: @LizMacWhirter

Louisa Glancy is a features editor for Words & Pictures.
Twitter: @Louisa Glancy

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