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Contest Alert - And, Action!

As I've mentioned before, I love me a good contest. I recently found out about a new one on Twitter, and it's easy-peasy to enter. Georgia McBride, YA author and host of yalitchat, blogged about openings and what it means to start with action. She then threw down the gauntlet to writers. Using the parameters of a story she outlines, write four paragraphs and why you chose to start where you started.

This is the story Georgia describes: "Boy is only survivor on boat that washes ashore on strange island. Has no idea where he is and upon arrival is captured by natives tribe who raise them as their own for a few years and he falls in love with daughter of tribal leader. Once found, he must decide whether to return home or stay."

The writer's choice is where to start the story, but Georgia gives three options: A) before the voyage starts and we see the boy saying goodbye to his friends and family -including a sick mom- while learning why he's leaving; B) during the raging storm where he loses his father and flashbacks on his life before; C) on the island where he spies a tribal ceremony and his future love interest.

The first 20 people to post their four paragraphs and why they chose which beginning get a free ARC of Melinda Lo's Huntress (yay!). Georgia will pick one entry as her favorite for a chance to win a free 25 page critique by her and a chance at having it forwarded to a host of really cool agents. Not too shabby.

I've been plugging along on revisions on my WIP, and I jumped at the chance at entering. Not just because the prizes are awesome, but because writing something other than my WIP was a SHINY NEW THING. OOOOOO, SHINY NEW THING.

When I first read the scenario and options, I immediately thought of Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. The story of a boy lost in the wilds of Canada doesn't begin with the plane crash that leaves him fighting for survival. It begins with him looking out the window of the plane and thinking about why he's there.

That's why I chose Option B. I believe you have to care about the character before you care about the action. Some of the people posting didn't like B because they don't like flashbacks. Flashbacks can ruin pacing, but they can also be used to build character and tension. Like with anything else in writing, it's in the execution. Option A seems like datadumping, and Option C seems like it puts the character in jeopardy without the reader knowing (or caring) who the character is yet.

As I thought about the contest's story, I envisioned a 14 year old boy on a ship where bad things are going to happen, but he doesn't know it yet. I wrote my four paragraphs quickly (perhaps too quickly, because I see some problems that I can't do anything about now) and with this kid's voice in my head. Here's my entry:

All I can think about is vomit. Hot, sticky, usually chunky, in colors that don’t remind people of rainbows. (Well, there was that Skittle incident in junior high, but the less said about that, the better.) I had finally gotten used to the UPdownUPdownUPdown of the ship after two days of puking, but now the ship pitched UUdownPPUUdownPP in a way that had me clutching the ridiculously small toilet in my cabin in a death-grip.

Dad enters the cabin, a tinge of green under his sunburned face. Dad had his sea legs after the first day of the cruise, but I bet he regretted that all-can-you-eat breakfast buffet he had this morning. I’m not giving up the toilet, though.

“You got anymore of those pills your mom gave you?” Dad sits on the edge of his twin bed, but the ship pitches so hard he has to grab the corner of the built-in desk.

“No,” I manage to rasp out. I’d puked up the last of them about an hour ago. When my mom had packed the Dramamine pills in my rucksack, I thought she was being over-protective, as usual. I’d never been on a ship before, but she had, in the days before The Big C.

By the time I finished writing, I knew that the mom was in remission from breast cancer and the dad was a history professor booked on an educational cruise on board a replica 19th century clipper ship. And the boy, Jayce, was spending his summer vacation with his dad while his mom recuperated with her sister in Vermont. All that information would be teased out throughout the chapter. I heart you, SHINY NEW THING!

But it's time to go back to my WIP. Which is good, because I'm tearing apart the beginning (again). I realized that I need to introduce an important character much sooner. Yes, knowing where to start is an important issue, and thank you, Georgia McBride, for starting the discussion! If you want to enter Georgia's contest, she's taking entries through March 31. Good luck!