Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What God Did

He took me by surprise. That's what He did.

Several weeks ago, an idea began noodling around in my head. Create a blog especially for kids, those middle-graders who will be my readers if I ever get pubbed. I gave a lot of thought to the blog title, settling on Quirky Quill, and came up with the logo. That was it. I slammed it into "Park" and did nothing else. Then.

This past Saturday morning, as I checked email and waited for Says You on NPR, an idea dropped through the ceiling of my room and landed smack-dab on top of my noggin. My eyebrows slammed into my hairline. An index finger shot into the air. And I hollered out (very quietly, since others were still sleeping), "THAT'S IT!

You see, before that moment, Quirky Quill had been a generic concept: do a blog for kids. But after the near-fatal collision with the IDEA I knew exactly what the site would be like. It would be for kids, 'tweens who love books--reading them and writing them. Okay, so they may not be actually writing whole novels (though I was surprised at how many do), but they are crafting stories, baby-stepping toward longer works.

The site includes writing hints, book reviews, author interviews; a page I call "Bookshelf," where I feature fiction that doesn't violate the Christian world view; a "Writer's Nudge" feature, and a "Dear Miz Sharon" page where readers can ask me questions.

I've included below an article that is Part One of a series I call "Fiction in Baby Bites"


Hook 'em! Hook 'em good!

Your BFF loves your story idea. Your dad's convinced you're a literary protégé. Grandma's boring her friends at the senior center with stories of your prowess with a pen. You have a plot. You know what's going to happen in the story--kinda, sorta. Now it's time to put that golden pen to the paper (or, more likely, those pink little fingertips to the pc keyboard) and write.

Where to begin. That's the real question. Some smart aleck might say, "At the beginning." That's not the best answer, Mr. Aleck. The beginning can be really boring, full of back-story explanation and description. You can work that in bit by bit later on, but first  hook that reader. Make 'em care. Propel them to read on.

One way to get the job done
 is to plunk them down smack-dab in the middle of the action. (The fancy, writerly term for that is in medias res. That means "in the middle of things. It's Latin.) In other words, something important already has happened. Something so big, the life of the main character (MC) will never be the same.

"How do I write something like that?" you ask. I heard you. Check out first lines and first paragraphs of good books, books that have won awards, books that you really like.

Consider these:

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." Now, that one's from my all-time favorite author: God, a.k.a. Yahweh, etc. Doesn't that line just grab you by the throat? It's simple, easy to understand, and to the point. It makes readers ask, "Then what?" He goes on to tell the then what. The Book is hundreds of pages long, but it's so captivating that we have to read on. What big thing happens? Everything is created by the Book's MC, and nothing will ever be...nothing again.

Here's another:

"Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. This story is about something that happened to them when they were sent away from London during the war because of the air-raids." In medias res. The world's at war. The children are in danger from air-borne bombs, and they have to leave all they've ever known, all that's familiar. 

And another:

"That morning, after he discovered the tiger, Rob went and stood under the Kentucky Star Motel sign and waited for the school bus just like it was any other day." We guess that Rob is the MC, and though the line is delivered in a mundane way, a boy's discovering a tiger somewhere near a school bus stop is extraordinary. So then what happens? As a reader, that line hooked me--hooked me good. The book lived up to the promise delivered in that first line. BTW, the author's work has won many awards. 


"'Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents,' grumbled Jo, lying on the rug." What has happened? We don't know yet, except that this Jo is facing a giftless Christmas. (Can she ever endure such horror?)


"My name is India Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog." Is there a big change in the MC's life? Oh, yeah! Will anything ever be the same? Probably not. Is it a good hook line? Uh-huh. Good enough to entice some film producers to turn the award-winning book into one of my favorite movies. Do you know what it is?

It's your turn. 
  • Check out the hook lines of some of your favorite books. Choose the three you like the best, click "Comments," and tell us all.
  • You know the first Book I've mentioned above is the Bible. The others are from what books? If you think you know, click "Comments," and show how brilliant you are.

Write on!
Because of Christ,


  1. Sharon, how wonderful. Wow, I've been mulling and mulling ideas for a website for a long time. I pray I get gobsmacked by an idea as terrific as this, and soon.

  2. Keep praying, Mary. I've come to realize that our blogs are, or can be, ministries. When I get an idea, I tend to jump on board and drive forward with it. Counter to my normal MO, I waited on the Lord to give me direction. I wasn't really even conscious I was doing that. Then He, as you said, gobsmacked (or should it be "God-smacked") me. I've learned His timing is always best.

    Write on!
    Because of Christ,
    Sharon (who can only comment as "Anonymous" unless the comment window is a pop-up)

  3. Book 1 is The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe; The second is The Tiger Rising (I think); book 3 is Little Women. And the last one is from Because of Winn Dixie. Oh, Kate DiCamillo! She's one of my favorite children's authors! I'm a huge fan.

    Okay, I'm going to play "find a first line." These aren't from my favorites, just ones I could think of and could find in my kindle real quick:

    How is this for an opening sentence?

    "Mrs. Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped down into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladies' eardrops and traversed by a brook that had its source away back in the woods of the old Cuthbert place; it was reputed to be an intricate, headlong brook in its earlier course through those woods, with dark secrets of pool and cascade; but by the time it reached Lynde's Hollow it was a quiet, well-conducted little stream, for not even a brook could run past Mrs. Rachel Lynde's door without due regard for decency and decorum; it probably was conscious that Mrs. Rachel was sitting at her window, keeping a sharp eye on everything that passed, from brooks and children up, and that if she noticed anything odd or out of place she would never rest until she had ferreted out the whys and wherefores thereof." -- Lucy Maude Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

    We can't write long opening sentences like that today! :-) But I love that book.

    Here's another good first line, definitely makes you want to read more:

    "When I was three and Bailey four, we had arrived in the musty little town, wearing tags on our wrists which instructed--"To Whom It May Concern" -- that we were Marguerite and Bailey Johnson, Jr., from Long Beach, California, en route to Stamps, Arkansas, c/o Mrs. Annie Henderson." -- Maya Angelou, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

    Maya Angelou. Her writing is like sparkling crystal. I can read her over and over again and not grow tired of marveling at her word-weaving ways.

    One of my favorite things to do is walk through the library, pull books off the shelves and read first lines. It's a secret pastime and now the secret's out.

    Great post! I really enjoyed it. And your website sounds delicious!

  4. Karla, you're right on all counts. Thanks for playing! Wish I had a prize to give you. :-)

    I guessed the ANNE OF AVONLEA one correctly, also, and I confess to loving long sentences, having written some longer than 100 words. I'm hoping long sentences return to vogue. Writing conventions seem always to be in flux.

    I didn't guess the Angelou quote because I'm more familiar with her poetry than her prose.

    As for walking among the stacks and reading first lines, that's a delightfully delicious literary habit and one that can be quite edifying.

    Glad you enjoyed the post.

    Write on!
    Because of Christ,

  5. I'm skipping the comments because I want to give the only one I know of (other than the Bible) -- the second is from "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe".

    Other good hooks: I can't quote it, but "When Eight Bells Toll" by Allistair MacLean has a great opening, with the hero knowing a gun was focused on him (this story was first person narrative.)

    Then, there's one I started reading, "The Shadowed Mind" by Julie Harris: "He looked utterly ordinary." That got me reading on.

    And going back to Lewis' Narnia series, can one outdo the opening of "The Voyage of the Dawntreader"? "There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it."