Monday, May 23, 2011

"Divergent" -- And what a newbie author can learn about the first page

I first learned about "Divergent" (by debut author Veronica Roth) at a SCBWI conference where Molly O'Neil spoke. She spent an amazing day with us, breaking down how to build a character, and first pages.... She handed out a sheet with first paragraphs of books and what made them so great. I still have it. She included my favorite PB to read aloud, "I Stink," "Charlotte's Web," and "The Lightening Thief" as some of the many examples. She also included this book:

     "There is one mirror in my house."

First sentence. As a girl, I was drawn in. Only one mirror? I like my mirrors. What type of house is this, what type of people? But it gets more weird...

     "It is behind a sliding panel in the hallway upstairs. Our faction allows me to stand in front of it on the second day of every third month, the day my mother cuts my hair."

Wow! I'm drawn in.. I want to know more about the factions. I want to know more about her. I'm....


I'm so hooked, that I eye the preview copy of the book lying in front of Molly, she let us come look at it. For a second, I thought about snagging it. I wanted more. I'm not into Dystopia, I'm more of a sunshine girl, but it was too late. It was like someone who knows they shouldn't go down a street, but something glimmering caught their eye, and they are curious. They need to know more, so they tiptoe in.

I bought the book once it came out, and it sat eyeing me as I waited for the right time to read it. I knew it was one of those books I'd inhale, so I needed a good block of uninterrupted time where I could ignore my husband, kids and any other responsibilities I'm supposed to have.

I picked it up. Kids were in bed, and my husband was not home... I started, I was pulled in... I read, pulled in, caught up, I was in heaven... until Chapter 7.

Chapter 7, I realize this is not my type of book. Someone died. There is danger. These aren't my people. I want pretty in pink people, I want Oompa Loompas, romance, talking rabbits. The pictures I see are dark and forbidden. I think of putting it down, but I'm


So I read on. Chapter 9 makes me really uncomfortable. I again think about putting it down. But the hero, I see some of me in the hero, a little bit. She is brave. I like to be brave, well, try to be. I'm often very giving, what would it be like to be brave? Why is she there? Does she really belong there... Oh, I can't put it down. I'll just skim over the black eyes and the blood (it's really not that bad if you like reading those things...and I think again how I'm one of the few who prefers unicorns pooping out rainbows to a good fight). But I have to know.

I read over 1/2 of the 487 pages that night, long after my husband got home. Way past my bedtime.

I was up early. I had to know. I read on... It got more violent, but it wasn't too descriptive at least, or I managed to skip over it, not sure... (the bad thing about reading is if you close your eyes, you can't ask someone what you missed.)

Finally, at 9:30 am, I finished. I was in awe. Had I known what it was really about and not read the first page, I'd not have read it. I'm glad I did. The little romance saved me from the violence, and the redemption and growth of character was fulfilling.

A book I'd never have read on my own, but did, just because of the first page being presented to me.


When my son is trying to decide what book to buy, I always just say, "read the first page, ignore the cover."

So now, I'm going to go and finish writing my Fantasy novel, and then go back and edit, edit, and edit, and perfect that first page so that you as the reader, want to read my book, even if it's not something that would normally draw you in. I can only hope to have a bit of the talent Veronica Roth has.


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