Thursday, April 9, 2020

#SCBWIdigital Workshop: Editor Sara Sargent Presents "Outstanding Openers: How to Grab Your Readers Right From the Start"

All of us at SCBWI hope you and yours and well and safe. Today, Thursday April 9, 2020, Random House senior executive editor Sara Sargent presented a #SCBWIdigital workshop to over 2,500 members, in which she shared her favorite first pages to illustrate "the seven key elements of a good beginning to a middle grade or young adult novel, and how to put them to work."

A screen capture of Sara Sargent discussing the opening of Graceling

Sometimes, even a presentation has a prologue. Today's is the question: What do we want the opening of our novel to accomplish?

Sara launched into examples of ways other authors have very successfully pulled off different strategies. Like the first page of Graceling by Kristin Cashore to discuss "effective sense of place." Sara explained that what makes it effective is that Kristin brings in an emotion to it. You get how Katsa's feeling by how the place is described.

"Bringing some emotional resonance into it really makes a difference."

Sara also had polls for each story opening shared, asking "Does this first page make you want to keep reading?" We got to answer Yes or No, and then Sara shared the poll results.

How many of us wanted to read more of Graceling?

79% yes.

John Green's prologue to Paper Towns was the example for "compelling voice,"

Katie Cotugno's first line of 99 Days was the example for "tension."

There were more examples and categories, even a category of "Damn good writing." (That example was Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt.)

This analysis of successful openings is something each of us can do on our own, too.

For our own openings, Sara advised us to be "honest about our strengths as a writer," and offered us a diagnostic exercise to weigh each element of our own opening page - asking us to work through each element and consider if it is solid, needs improvement, or is absent. There's even a diagnostic exercise for elements of openings we should avoid (like if our opening is too confusing, or has too much exposition, or is rushed.)

Sara discussed unlikeable characters, pacing, and so much more in this packed session. The workshop concluded with a wide-ranging Q&A. Lin Oliver even had a question of her own, about picture book openings.

Last words of Sara's wisdom from today's session that I'll share here was on Prologues:

"For me, the most effective prologues are when we seed and come back."
And hey, even this blog post managed to come back to prologues!

Thank you, Sara.

Stay safe, all.

p.s. - Did you miss it? The video is available for 30 days to SCBWI members here.

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