This pep talk is part of the Summer of Jinn tour! Look below for more details of the blog stops, the novel itself, and the contest Lori is holding!
We’ve all heard ’em: the writing “rules.” Especially for the first page, we writers are explicitly told what not to do. Don’t start a book with dialogue, with a description of the weather or setting, with a character looking in the mirror, or——with a character waking up.
We’ve all heard ’em: the writing “rules.” Especially for the first page, we writers are explicitly told what not to do. Don’t start a book with dialogue, with a description of the weather or setting, with a character looking in the mirror, or—egads!—with a character waking up.
If these are the writing rules, then how do you explain Jonathan Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You, which starts brilliantly with the line of dialogue, “Dad’s dead.” What about Stephanie Perkins’s Anna and the French Kiss, which begins, “Here’s everything I know about France: Madeline and Amelie and Moulin Rouge. The Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, although I have no idea what the function of either is.” And Veronica Roth’s Divergent: “There is one mirror in my house. 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.”
Now, what about that last one, the one about not starting a book with someone waking up? Examples abound: Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, which starts with Katniss stretching across the bed for Prim, or Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, which opens with the protagonist reaching for his sleeping child, or David Levithan’s Every Day, which begins with the words “I wake up.”
Or my own novel, Becoming Jinn, which not only begins with the main character waking up on page one, but has her looking in a mirror on page two. That’s a double no-no right there. And I was told not to do this. Many writers who were generous enough to donate their time to give me feedback on my first pages told me this would be an instant turnoff for agents.
Maybe it was for some—I honestly don’t know. What I do know is those first pages with Azra waking up and looking in a mirror never changed, not through revisions with the woman who snapped up Becoming Jinn to become my agent, not through revisions with my editor, who bought my book in a two-book deal in less than two weeks of being on submission. The first pages I queried with are the exact same pages now in the finished book.
Why? How? Are those of us who break the rules just lucky? Yes, and no. We are lucky in that we find agents and editors who choose to live by the story, not by the rules. Because what matters more than some arbitrary rule is being true to your characters and the story you are telling.
Novels must begin in the right place, and sometimes, for some of our books, that right place is smack dab in the middle of a rule. So we break it. But we have to not only know that we are breaking it but also have a good reason for doing so.
Let’s face it: the rules stem from a place of good intentions. They want us to not write something that has come to be a cliché. That’s the real “rule” underlying all of these others. I like to think of these rules for opening pages (and rules for any part of novel writing) more as caveats, warnings, things that make you take a second and a third and a fourth look to make sure you are swimming against the tide for a good reason.
If you are, then you need to take a deep breath and plunge ahead, ignoring the naysayers and those who wag their finger at you. Conforming is easier than not. But, at least in writing, one particular cliché is true: Rules are made to be broken. You just need the confidence in your work, the strength in your convictions, and the belief in yourself to do it.
Born into an Italian-Irish family, Lori Goldstein earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism and worked as a writer, editor, and graphic designer before embracing her love of fictional people. Lori is the author of the young adult contemporary fantasy series Becoming Jinn (Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan, April 21, 2015; Sequel, Spring 2016). When not writing or reading (preferably from a sandy local), Lori can be found chatting books and perfecting the art of efficient writing through Twitter (@loriagoldstein). You can visit her online at www.lorigoldsteinbooks.com, Tumblr and Instagram: lorigoldsteinbooks.com.
Follow all the stops on the Summer of Jinn Blog Tour:
July 2: B&N Teen Blog: My Favorite 2015 Debut Beach Reads
July 6: Fangirlish: Exclusive Chapter Reveal
July 7: Dark Faerie Tales: Q&A, Special Announcement, and Exclusive Giveaway
July 8: Adventures in YA Publishing: A BECOMING JINN Debut Lesson: The Trouble with Measuring Success
July 9: Write All Year: Write All Year Pep Talk: Breaking the Rules
July 10: YA Books Central: Exclusive BECOMING JINN excerpt with a signed book giveaway!
July 10: Fangirlish: 2 for 1 Friday
July 13: Comfort Books: Q&A
July 14: Bewitched Bookworms: Azra and Henry’s Favorite Beach Reads
July 15: Freshman Fifteens: The 15ers share their favorite beach reads
July 16: Children’s Book Review: All-Time Favorite Beach Reads
Click here to enter the SUMMER OF JINN Blog Tour Giveaway! Lori’s giving away two $20 gift cards: one to her local indie Harvard Bookstore and one to B&N! Redeemable in person or online. Open internationally.
And she’s also running a special promotion in honor of the summer season. Buy #BecomingJinn by July 30 and receive free bracelet temporary tattoos. More info on Lori’s blog.
Azra has just turned sixteen, and overnight her body lengthens, her olive skin deepens, and her eyes glisten gold thanks to the brand-new silver bangle that locks around her wrist. As she always knew it would, her Jinn ancestry brings not just magical powers but the reality of a life of servitude, as her wish granting is controlled by a remote ruling class of Jinn known as the Afrit.
To the humans she lives among, she’s just the girl working at the snack bar at the beach, navigating the fryer and her first crush. But behind closed doors, she’s learning how to harness her powers and fulfill the obligations of her destiny.
Mentored by her mother and her Zar “sisters,” Azra discovers she may not be quite like the rest of her circle of female Jinn . . . and that her powers could endanger them all.
VOYA gave Becoming Jinn a starred review saying: “The genie theme is original and appealing. Azra is likable; her struggles–even factoring in the genie issue–are real and relatable. This well-written title . . . will not stay on the shelf.”
Cover and author photo: http://www.lorigoldsteinbooks.com/press-kit/