Monday, September 9, 2013

You're Only As Good As Your Opening Line

by Susan J Berger

Richard Peck gave a workshop at the 2013 SCBWI Summer Conference titled You're Only As Good As Your Opening Line.

Of course I had to attend. I felt so connected when I realized I had blogged many of the opening lines he mentioned.

Richard says he spends one day a week perusing the book stores looking for great openings. I've done that! But not once a week.

He gave us a ten point first impressions checklist: I emailed his agent, Linda Pratt, and asked if I could use it.

He said yes, so here goes:

1. Is the first sentence a line and a half long at the most?

2. Do we hear a young voice?

3. Is there a question?

4. Does it start with people, not place?

5. Is there color?

6. If it's not in first person, Why not?  (I write in third. sigh.)

7. How are adult characters kept off the page and off the stage?

8. Where are the unnecessary twenty words? (Richard believes one always has twenty unnecessary words. I think he was referring to the page and not the whole book.)

9. Is there plenty of white space?

Is there a good reason to turn the page?

I plan to use this checklist every time I write a first line...except for the First Person one. I still like Third.

 Richard Peck writes wonderful first lines. Here are three of my favorites.

If your teacher has to die, August isn't a bad time of year for it.
The Teacher’s Funeral.

Unless you never got out of grade school, you have noticed how life keeps making you start over.

You wouldn't think we'd have to leave Chicago to see a dead body.

My next post will be the lines Richard used as examples in his handout.

Happy Writing.


  1. One of my favorite opening lines is from A Tale of Two Cities.

  2. Great, I loved this Susan. Looking forward to his lines from the handout.

  3. Thanks for sharing, Susan. I like third person, too. I like being everywhere and seeing everything! Looking forward to your next post. I love Richard Peck.

    1. Richard Peck almosted convinced me try try first person.

  4. Great post. THANKS!

  5. What a list, Sue! I've already copied it to a file. Many thanks for sharing it and to Mr. Peck and his agent as well. Again, your blog is blooming with useful and interesting material!

  6. Thanks for sharing. I like that third one. Good example - makes me want to read more.

    1. That one is well worth reading, but then, it's Richard Peck.

  7. Dear Susan,
    Thank you for having the courage to ask Richard Peck if you could share his ideas about first pages. I appreciate your willingness to share what you learned.

    Celebrate you.
    Never Give Up
    Joan Y. Edwards

  8. It is my pleasure, Joan. I am always looking for wonderful first lines in hopes of improving my own.

  9. Why does it have to be in 1st person?

    1. That is what Richard believes. He believes it creates a direct immediate link between reader and character.

  10. Thanks Sue. These are very useful tips. Makes me wish I had taken that workshop.

  11. I love this! When is your next posting date?? I'm sharing this link with my WOW! Women On Writing Novel students NOW!

    1. We post on Mondays. Hilde is next, Then Lupe, Kris and Me so I think October 7th. I've written the post because on Sept 22nd I leave for New York, then Ireland and Scotland. The challenge is going to bepromoting the posts from my iPad. I tried it this Monday and it wasn't easy.
      Very hard to copy and paste.

  12. Great list. Thanks for sharing. And the first line from his books are wonderful!


We love hearing from you.