SCBWI Summer Conference, Part 4: Literary Agent Linda Pratt and Opening Lines

Linda Pratt of Wernick and Pratt Agency did a breakout session entitled, “To Market, To Market: Readying Your Manuscript for Submission,” which covered things to consider A) while creating a manuscript and B) once it’s ready for querying. In regard to the creative process, she focused on the basics, including the importance of a strong opening.

Much of her advice about openers echoed what I’ve picked up from other workshops and websites. That an opening should stir a sense of curiosity. That action can draw a reader in, but action alone doesn’t make an opener compelling. That whatever kind of opener we choose, it’s most effective when it’s evocative. And in the midst of that familiar advice, I had an “Aha!” moment.

To illustrate her point about evocative openings versus plain action, she used excerpts from a story about normal people dealing with witches (I didn’t get the title of it – sorry!). She first read the opening and then an excerpt from page 3. The opening did not contain much action but had a strong hook that hinted at the main character’s fear of witches. The other passage depicted kids running through a bustling marketplace. Pratt then went on to explain that the story would’ve been weaker if it started with the marketplace action because it would’ve come off as a generic market scene. In contrast, the first sentence took the most unique thing about the story (normal people and witches) and pushed it to the front.

That was where the “Aha!” came. I’ve heard time and again about needing a strong hook and starting the story in the right place. However, the part about picking the most unique thing about a story and pushing it to the front was new. Or at least this was the first time I really heard it. But it makes quite a bit of sense. If your story is about a guy trying to win back his girlfriend with his snake wrestling skills, you should introduce those elements upfront instead of starting with random horseplay with his best friend.

Of course, like many things, this is easier said than done. (I am currently on Version 5.2 of my WIP’s opener). But now that I’m better aware of what I should be aiming for, I at least have a better chance of hitting the target.

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