When you pick up a book, you usually do three things: you look at the cover; read the blurb on the back and you read the first paragraph to see if you like it.
As an author, you often don’t have much control over (1) the book cover or (2) the blurb, BUT every writer knows that a sizzling story start is vital! That first paragraph has to grab the reader’s attention instantly. Smart writers know you reveal more about your characters by showing them in action, rather than by writing long slabs of description about where they are and what they wear.
There are lots of ways to create Sizzling Starts. Here are just five suggestions.
Start with a bang
I wondered why the baseball was getting bigger. Then it hit me.
Make the reader curious
Let me explain about the divorce, the beach house and the bacon.
Create a Moment of Change
Everything was going well, until my Mum said ‘I’ve got a job in California.’
Never let your three year old brother hold a tomato.
Dialogue quickly introduces your characters
‘It’s just a rat,’ I said, breathing hard. ‘It’s an old house.’
‘Rats don’t growl,’ said Mike.
Share these ideas with your children. Then get them to look at the first paragraphs of books from the library or your home and see what other types of starts they can find.
Here is an Action Activity the whole family can try:
Scaffold a Sizzling Start
Start stories with action! Give your kids one minute to write a start for each of the following phrases. The one minute limit makes them think quickly and not fuss about being perfect — and that allows the creative side of their brain freedom. (Tell students not to worry about spelling until later too.)
- ‘Stop! There’s a…’
- It was a trap, but…
- ‘Get out of my way. You never…’
- The chocolate was great, but then…
- Suddenly he coughed and…
- The car stopped. Then it turned around and started back ..
If your children enjoy the activity, get them to create more story starters. Next time they can run the same activity for you (yes, YOU write, too) as well as your other kids.
Don’t forget, the most effective way to teach children to write is NOT to write full stories all the time. Just practice starting stories well and let kids learn in small, confidence-building chunks.
(C) Jen McVeity – National Literacy Champion