On Saturday, October 9, 2010, fantasy writer Cinda Chima spoke at the SCBWI-MI Writers Conference on “Engaging a Middle-Grade and Young Adult Reader.” She stressed the importance of drawing the readers in with your first line. She said to open during a change, or with an interesting character, or an interesting setting; to open with humor, or with atmosphere and suspense. She gave several examples of first lines of novels.
Cinda said that writers need to make a promise to the readers about the story in the very beginning, and then keep that promise at the end.
Use conflict and action to keep the readers reading. Story happens when character and conflict collide. She encouraged us to “write cinamatically” with our delivery, like screenwriters.
New world-building slows the pace of a story, so deliver information on a “need to know” basis. To help speed the pace, use dialogue with the scene, use short paragraphs and sentences, and use simple sentence structures.
Cinda suggested printing out your story, then highlighting in different colors the narrative, the action, the dialogue, and “the exciting parts” to see where the story drags.
She spattered her talk with quotes, one from Alfred Hitchcock: “Drama is life with the dull bits cut out.”