February 22

How to Write a Great Beginning

For those of you who follow me, you know I participate in a lot of workshops available at SavvyAuthors. I’m currently taking a class on how to write a great beginning and one of the assignments was to find two great first sentences, two great first paragraphs, two great first pages. Afterwards, comment on why we think they’re great. I thought this was a great exercise and should share the results with you. Later, when we discuss what makes a bad beginning, I may share those results with you as well.

1st Sentence:
The box was a mystery, and for that reason it was the most exciting gift Mary had ever received.
New Orleans Legacy by Alexandra Ripley, Historical, Adult
Comments: This is the very first sentence in the book. I know for a fact that the box that Mary is excited about is going to have a huge impact on her life. What, though, could a box do to change a person’s life?

2nd first Sentence:
Family Secrets are like terrible birthday gifts.
After Midnight by Lynn Viehl, YA
Comments:I really wanted to actually use this as a page, but decided the first sentence worked well enough without the full page. I find the comparison unusual. Secrets = terrible birthday gifts? And I’m curious about what secrets she has. And why they are so terrible.

1st Paragraph:
I close my eyes, hoping he won’t come tonight. It’s later than usual. I hope he’s given up, or just gone, and I can finally sleep. Cool air blows through the window, and I marvel at my bravery. Or stupidity. It’s opened just a crack, no more than an inch. But until tonight I’ve kept it closed, so I know he’ll be wondering what it means.
Uninvited by Amanda Marrone, YA
Comments: This is actually one of the few books I bought solely on the first paragraph. I found myself reading through the entire page than the chapter and was like….I need to buy this thing. The first paragraph intrigued me. I feel a connection with the girl’s apprehension right away and I’m curious as to who he is and why she doesn’t want to see him. Also, why does he persist in whatever he wants?

Second 1st Paragraph:
Darius looked around the club, taking in the teeming, half-naked bodies on the dance floor. Screamers was packed tonight, full of women wearing leather and men who looked like they had advanced degrees in violent crime. Darius and his companion fit right in. Except they actually were killers.
Dark Lover, by JR Ward, Urban Fantasy, adults
Comments: This one I wasn’t so sure about using. I bought the book because of the one page excerpt at the beginning of the book and not for the actual beginning. We get a good description right off. However so many Urban Fantasy novels start in a similar way. A dance club, half-naked people, etc. What really intrigued me though was the last line. They were actually killers. What kind of killers were they? Did they kill humans? Vampires? Some other boogey? It made me curious enough to read the next paragraph and then the next….

Full Page:
Have you ever had such a horrible day that you wondered why your mother didn’t just eat you at birth like a gerbil does and spare you the hassle?
We’ve all had days like that. I’ve had a lot of them–way more than my fair share if I want to be whiny about it (which I don’t because I try really hard not to be a whiner), but none can compare to the day I accidentally opened a demon portal with my zit cream.
Oh, yeah. I did. Would this happen to anyone else? Probably not. But for me, Kenzie Sutcliffe, it is totally typical. If there is mud to step in, ketchup to squirt on my shirt, or a volleyball to be hit on the head with, I will manage it. What can I say? It’s a gift.
Demon Envy by Erin Lynn, YA
Comments: I was stalking this author before this book comes out. She usually goes by Erin McCarthy but since this was a YA book she decided to use Erin Lynn. Since I trusted her as a writer, I bought the book without really looking at it. But I absolutely love Mackenzie’s voice in this story. She sounds very teenagery and we immediately know what the major plot will revolve around.

Second full page:
Roman Draganesti knew someone had quietly entered his home office. Either a foe or close friend. A friend, he decided. A foe could never make it past the guards at each entrance of his Upper East Side Manhattan townhouse. Or past the guards stationed on each of the five floors.
With his excellent night vision, Roman suspected he could see much better than his uninvited guest. His suspicions were confirmed when the dark silhouette stumbled into a Louis XVI bombe chest and cursed softly.
Gregory Holstein. A friend, but an annoying one. The vice president of marketing for Romatech Industries tackled every problem with tireless enthusiasm. It was enough to make Roman feel old. Really old. “What do you want Gregori?”
His guest whipped around and squinted in Roman’s direction. “Why are you sitting here, all alone in the dark?”
“Hmm. Tough question. I suppose I wanted to be alone. And in the dark. You should try it more often. Your night vision is not what it should be.”
How to Marry A Millionaire Vampire by Kerrelyn Sparks, Urban Fantasy, Adult
Comments: This one I think originally caught my eye because of the title. Was she like a gold digger who wanted a millionaire and ended up with a vampire who happened to be a millionaire? No. Not at all. But that’s what caught my attention first. The excerpt at the front of the book intrigued me but the first page sealed my fate. It shows Roman’s personality at the beginning of the book, the humor Kerrelyn Sparks frequently uses in her books and made me curious: why would he need so much security? What’s described in the first paragraph sounds excessive, even for a foreign diplomat.

What do you think of my choices?  And what books would you use as examples in this exercise?

December 26

June Casagrande and Grammar

June Casagrande has a unique take when it comes to teaching Grammar to writers. She is the autthor of the weekly syndicated “A Word, Please” grammar column that runs in Southern California, Florida, and Texas. She runs the GrammarUnderground.com grammar tips website.  She has worked for the Los Angeles Times’ community news division as a reporter, features writer, copy editor.  She currently copy edits Special Sections of the Los Angeles Times and teaches copy editing online for UC San Diego Extension.

 She has also published three books, Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies, Mortal Syntax and It was the Best of Sentences, It was the Worst of Sentences, and I’ve read all three.

My all time favorite is Grammar Snobs.  I found it years ago, found it funny and informative. If memory serves, Grammar Snobs does focus more on AP style rules than any other style, but the lessons in it are helpful, make rules easy to remember and often funny.

Casagrande does mention her book Grammar Snobs a few times in Mortal Syntax.  Mortal Syntax doesn’t have the same amount of humor in it as Grammar Snobs, but it remains an informative reference guide on rules and usage, such as “I could care less”  or “I wish I was taller,” or “I rifle through my desk.”  She explains why it is or is not correct and if their are better alternatives to the usage presented.

It was the Best of Sentences, seems to lose all the humor that Casagrande had in Grammar Snobs. But the book is an effective source for any writer who wants to improve their writing skills.  On several occasions, Casagrande would start on a grammar lesson that I felt I grasped well, but she’d introduce the topic in a new way and twisted my way of looking at the concept; a different way of looking at without changing the way I knew it work. This book focuses on the sentence structure used, but you’re not having to diagram sentences.

Every lesson in all three books are told in short vignettes, making it ideal for a busy writer who has only a few minutes in line, a few minutes in the bathroom or a few minutes in the car to read. An entire lesson could be read in that short time.  The books are organized in a way so that they are great reference books.

I recommend all three books to anyone who does any type of writing.  Casagrande can make learning writing rules entertaining, and easily entertaining.  They’re all fairly cheap books to purchase as well.