I was recently at a writers’ conference at which Lin Oliver, the “founding mother” of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, offered some tips from successful writers.
One of those tips that resonated with me was advice from Susan Patron, a former librarian and winner of the Newbery award in 2007 for The Higher Power of Lucky.
Her advice to struggling writers was to “begin on the day that’s different.”
For fledgling writers especially, that is superb advice. Many of our early drafts are like a dog on a hunt for a buried bone: we sniff around the borders of our story, we scratch at the backstory until we’ve rubbed it raw, we chase our tail before our nose catches the scent of what we’re really up to.
When I’ve critiqued manuscripts at conferences and workshops, I’ve noticed that where to begin is a struggle that defines them all. If you follow Patron’s advice and start out on the day that’s different – the day your character discovers he’s adopted or her best friend is really no friend at all or he happens to be strolling by the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001, you have begun with the day that’s different.
The day that’s different will surely hook your readers, helping them catch the scent of the bone you’ve planted. After that, you can let your readers scratch at the backstory and chase after the plot from chapter to chapter. Until, of course, they reach the meaty bone they’re after: the satisfying read you’d been setting them up for all along.