Best First Sentences in YA Fantasy

shutterstock_123859036Now that I’m writing the ending of the second book in The Conjurors Series, I find myself looking back to the beginning – particularly the very first line of the story. I read a great article in The Atlantic about Stephen King’s approach to writing great first lines – make it an irresistable invitation to continue reading and introduce your style and protagonist. This master of the craft spends weeks and even years perfecting opening lines, and once he does, the rest of the story flows.

But for me, I find that writing a great first line means having a complete grasp of the story as a whole. No matter how detailed my outline is, the story is still nebulous until it’s written. I love to research the “greats” when I’m looking for inspiration, and I thought you might enjoy some of the best first lines from young adult fantasy novels that I encountered on my search.

In these dungeons the darkness was complete, but Katsa had a map in her mind.
– Kristin Cashore, Graceling

This is a simple, graceful opening line that introduces the reader to the protagonist with an interesting tidbit about her personality. It also puts the reader in the middle of the action without being confusing or disorienting.

I felt her fear before I heard her screams.
– Richelle Mead, Vampire Academy

An excellent example of an attention-grabber that propels the reader straight into the story.

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrgggggggggghhhhhhh!” His fall seemed to go on forever.
– Jamie Thomson, Dark Lord: The Early Years

We’re smack dab in the middle of action, and the tone is already set for the offbeat humor that is unique to this story.

Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood.
– Rick Riordan, The Lightning Thief

This short sentence both establishes the conversational, first person voice of this series as well as immediately making the reader relate to the protagonist.

Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.
– Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass

A girl and her daemon sneaking around in the dark? Please tell me more!

The demon exploded in a shower of ichor and guts.
– Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Angel

Starting in the middle of an action scene is a classic way that authors hook readers, to the point where it sometimes feels cliche. But Clare decides to go big or go home with this approach, and it got my heart pumping from the first line.

The children were playing while Holston climbed to his death; he could hear them squealing as only happy children do.
– Hugh Howey, Wool
Foreshadowing at its finest. The contast between the squealing children and the prospect of death is riveting, and it also introduces us to the first protagonist of the story.

It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.
– Maggie Stiefvater, The Scorpio Races

This first line shares some of the characteristics of the first line from Wool, but I loved it even better because of its perfect mystery and simplicty.

Dear Reader, I’m sorry to say that the book you are holding in your hands is extremely unpleasant.
– Lemony Snicket, The Bad Beginning

Lemony Snicket has a very unique tone in his stories, and from the first line of the A Series of Unfortunate Events series, readers can instantly get a sense of it. I also admire the use of reverse psychology. What is it about him warning me away from this horrible book that really makes me want to keep reading?

I am dead, but it’s not so bad. I’ve learned to live with it.
– Isaac Marion, Warm Bodies

One of the best first lines I’ve come across. Readers get an instant sense of both the tone of the writing and the personality of the protagonist. It also introduces us to a unique concept right away. It doesn’t take pages to discover that we’re in a world unlike anything we’ve read about before.

Did I miss any of your favorite YA fantasy first lines?

Author Interview: T. Sae-Low on Writing YA High Fantasy

Author PicFor the sake of transparency, I’ll admit that the new author I’m interviewing today is one of my favorites. His YA fantasy Prophecy Rock series is action-packed and filled with characters who stay with you long after you’ve finished reading his stories. So far he has written the first book in the series, Genesis, and a novella called Shadows of Kyrus that will be released soon and I had the pleasure of beta reading. Both stories are quick, enjoyable reads that I recommend.

With the Prophecy Rock series, Sae-Low created a compelling world that feels real and robust. He is also gifted at creating powerful, believable female characters, a subject which you may already know is close to my heart. I hope you enjoy this peek into his thinking process as much as I did!

Tell us a little about the mysterious T. Sae-Low. Can we know what the “T” stands for?

Well, long story short, I’m a native of L.A. but went to college down in San Diego. After college I tried a couple different fields of work and ended up becoming a teacher. It’s Mr. Sae-Low by day and the mysterious T. Sae-Low at night! The “T” is just the first initial of my first name which is “Theppong.” The name is Thai which is where my parents are originally from before emigrating to the U.S. I’ve been told that it means “Angel of Mercy” or “Angel of  God” in Thai, but my family could just be messing with me. I’m thinking it’s the latter.

Cover_R5What was the hardest part about writing Genesis, and how did you overcome it?

Two things immediately come to mind. The first was creating the outline. It took so much longer than I thought it would. For months and months I spent countless hours researching to create Eos and all the characters that populate it. After that, I needed to figure out where I wanted the story to go. Once I had all that done, the writing came a lot easier than I thought it would…but it was just the first draft. The second thing that I think any creative mind can attest to was the revision process. To get the manuscript just right, at least in my mind, took a while. I continued revising and tweaking things until I was finally satisfied with the story. It took a lot of time and perseverance but it was well worth it when you see the finished product.

The female characters in Genesis are very strong. Did they come from your imagination or were they inspired by people from your life?

Yeah, I wanted to have strong female leads because I feel that they’re just so much more interesting than the typical “damsel in distress” archetype. Since the novel takes place in an age of constant warfare, I knew there would be a good number of battles (both large and small) in the novel. I didn’t want my female characters to be watching from the sidelines but actually in the thick of the action and even dictating what was happening.

I find my inspiration from a variety of sources, but I do tend to look back in history at ordinary people who did extraordinary things. Figures like Mother Theresa and Harriet Tubman come to mind. To endure incredible odds and still manage to come out on top is truly fascinating. For my female characters, in addition to being able to beat down their enemies in battle, I wanted them to have strong and opinionated personalities that almost commanded attention. I just felt it made them that much more interesting.

What was your inspiration for the vivid settings that you created in Genesis?

The world of Eos is a combination of a whole lot of different sources. I grew up reading and collecting comic books and watching anime with my older brother. Every title seemed to have a unique and wonderful world that I always wanted to learn more about. Why is the sky colored green? Why do they have to wear masks? Why are the buildings shaped like that? I found myself asking more and more questions as I delved deeper into these make-believe worlds. Another part of me has always been fascinated with mythologies of various cultures. Each one is so creative and different in how they try to explain and make sense of the world around us. I love reading about creation myths and what different cultures believe about the afterlife. All of these inspirations mixed together in my mind and what came out was the world and mythology of Eos and Prophecy Rock.

You’ve also written a novella that will be published soon, Shadows of Kyrus. Which story did you find easier to write?

Even though Genesis was a longer story, I felt it was easier to write than Shadows of Kyrus. With Shadows of Kyrus, I wanted to approach it a little differently and experiment with the narrative format. As a novella that takes place in the world of Eos but isn’t necessarily tied to the main story arc, I gave myself more flexibility in what I wanted to do. As odd as it may sound, I was inspired to write Shadows of Kyrus after I read some of the classic monster tales like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Shadows was originally supposed to be told as a series of flashbacks during an interview but the plot evolved in a different direction during the writing process that I am very happy with.

What is the strangest thing that has ever inspired you?

I ride the train to work everyday and just watching and observing different people helps me create some of my characters. Here’s a short story. So one day an older man boards the train with his bicycle and starts banging his bike against the seats and even into other patrons. He’s cursing and hollering at everyone and just making a huge scene. Eventually he starts mouthing off at another rider and the other guy gets so angry that he hurls his soda at the old crotchety man, splashing soda all over the place, including me! I and other people were upset but the old man was laughing hysterically at the whole thing. The other rider got off the train and the old man exited shortly after. It was such a weird and random scenario, but I honestly couldn’t stop wondering what this old man’s story was. How the heck did he get to this point in his life? Did something horribly tragic happen to make him become like this? Or has he been like this his whole life? Anyways, when I got home that night and did some writing, the incident inspired me to write the scene in Genesis where one of the key characters meets the old man at the marketplace.

What are some books and authors that have inspired your writing?

There are so many to choose from but the ones that stand out to me are the masters of fantasy like Tolkien because of his incredible ability to create worlds. I mean the guy even created the term Mythopoeia! George R.R. Martin is a master of weaving together multiple plot lines into one epic story like no other. I’m a big fan of Paulo Coehlo and his works like The Alchemist. His ability to tell a simple yet deeply profound story is a skill that I truly admire. I also listen to great speeches from history on my iPod (yeah, I’m a nerd like that). Speeches are fascinating to me because you have to deliver so much with such few words. Even though it’s a different medium, I try to incorporate the same principal into my writing as well.

Is there anything else you’d like us to know about you?

I just want to thank Kristen Pham for the chance to be featured on her wonderful blog. Please support indie and self-published authors. There are a lot of great writers out there who deserve to be recognized and are creating truly unique and ground breaking work. Thanks to everyone who has supported me and my writing. Please check out my website at to learn more about me and the Prophecy Rock Series. Shadows of Kyrus is almost available so please stay tuned! You can follow me on my blog, Twitter, and Facebook. Thanks!

How to Create a Likeably Flawed Protagonist

shutterstock_104313347As a writer, I’ve often heard about the trap of creating a character who’s too perfect. They don’t seem human and can often come off flat and boring. If there’s no room to grow, then where’s the story going? On the other hand, creating a flawed character is a tricky business. With a few notable exceptions, readers want to root for the protagonist, so they must be likable. Sometimes we may want to shake them, but they aren’t so irredeemable that we want to shut the book.

The best protagonists walk this line with flair and originality. Below are the lessons I learned from some of my favorite, classic authors on how to create characters whose flaws are an integral part of what makes them compelling.

Make a Flaw a Secret Strength
Jane Eyre – Jane Eyre

Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is one of my favorite novels of all time because of the wonderful heroine at the center of her story. Jane has a temper, railing against the unfairness she encounters with her family and at her horrible boarding school, rather than accepting her lot quietly, piously and passively like a good little girl. It’s this fighting spirit that makes Jane so lovable to the reader and her love interest, Mr. Rochester. She is also uncompromising in her values, leaving the man she loves when she finds out that he’s married, even though she wants to stay with him. This stubbornness almost costs her happiness and even her life, but when she manages to take a risk at the end of the story, her reunion with Mr. Rochester is all the sweeter for knowing how hard it was for Jane to turn around and come back to him.

Counterbalance Flaws with Self-Sacrifice
A Tale of Two Cities – Sydney Carton

Charles Dickens knew how to paint bright spots of humanity even in its darkest hour, and Sydney Carton is the best of his creations. A cynical, alcoholic and depressed character at the beginning of the novel, Sydney is completely transformed by his love of a woman to give his life to save the man she loves. His story wouldn’t be nearly as compelling if he was  better man. It is overcoming his flaws, or achieving true goodness in spite of them, which makes this story one of those that stays with you forever.

Choose a Flaw People Can Relate To
Hamlet – Hamlet

There are dozens of wonderful Shakesperian examples of flawed heroes to choose from, but Hamlet stands out as one of the characters who strikes a chord with many people. His fundamental goodness – loyalty, courage and committment to the truth – are undermined by his flaws – his indecision, pride, and depression. He’s a character that you simultaneously root for and want to shake. Every time I read the play I find myself somehow hoping that his final demise can be prevented. He’s a character that has taken root in my brain as a reminder that good intentions without action can be disasterous.

Let Your Character Revel in their Flaw
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Lisbeth Salander

Perhaps this isn’t quite a classic, but I couldn’t end this post without mentioning Lisbeth – a violent, anti-social vigilante with an obsession with revenge and justice. What’s not to love? Stieg Larsson did an incredible job created a complex, multi-layered heroine whose flaws make her more lovable, rather than less. She’s tough, able to take down men three times her size, but also vulnerable, a woman alone who only knows how to turn to herself when she needs help. Watching her kick butt is gratifying and riveting.

Who are some of your favorite examples of delightfully flawed heroes and heroines?

Author Interview: Michael Fedison

me2The author I had the pleasure of talking to today is Michael Fedison, who not only has written a young adult sci-fi adventure called The Eye Dancers, but also a popular blog as well. His writing style is very natural and free-flowing. It feels like a peek inside a creative and very collaborative brain. His posts, both on the craft of writing and life in general, are very enjoyable to read. Visiting his blog always makes me realize how much I like being a part of the writing community, where it seems like most people are very open and want to share best practices. Mike is the embodiment of this – both a talented writer and just a cool guy happy to help fellow writers learn what they can from his journey.

The Eye Dancers is written from the perspective of four boys who find themselves in a parallel universe where they are the only ones who can save a missing girl. He does an excellent job giving each of the boys a unique voice. I enjoyed learning about how Mike found inspiration for his novel, and I hope you will too.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am, first and foremost, a dreamer, someone who always has his imagination on overdrive.  I have loved to write creatively since the second grade.  By day, I work as a technical writer for a computer software company—so the creative writing offers an escape.  At the same time, I can be practical when I have to be!

What was your inspiration for your The Eye Dancers?

eye_dancers_lowresFirst and foremost, The Eye-Dancers is a story inspired by my own childhood, the friends I shared growing up, and the conversations we’d have about outer space, life “out there” . . . all sorts of stuff.  Combine that with my desire to write a book about adolescence, growing up, friendship, the very nature of reality, quantum physics and parallel worlds, and the oneness of all things—even things that seem so distant and removed—and you have the inspiration behind The Eye-Dancers!

Tell me about your main character. Was he based on someone you know (or yourself)?

Well, there are really four main characters—Mitchell Brant, Joe Marma, Ryan Swinton, and Marc Kuslanski.  They are all inspired by friends I knew when I was a kid.  So it was fun to write for these characters.  Mitchell is the character I can relate to the most—when I was his age, I shared many of his characteristics.  Like Mitchell, when I was in junior high, I was very shy around girls, had an overactive imagination, and loved old collectible comic books, especially The Fantastic Four.

Where do you go for inspiration when you’re feeling blocked?

The Twilight Zone is always a favorite, as is Ray Bradbury.  If I’m in a slump, I can pick up a Bradbury short story, get lost in the language, the imagination, the enthusiasm, and that almost always serves as a tonic when creativity is running low.

What’s the strangest thing that has ever inspired you?

I would have to say the “ghost girl” dream I had when I was a teenager.  I dreamed of a little girl, standing out in the road, beneath the streetlamp.  In the dream, it was late, well past midnight.  I looked out the window, and saw her.  She gestured for me to come outside.  But I felt afraid.  The light from the streetlamp filtered through her, as if she were more ghost than girl.  What did she want?  Why was she there?

I never discovered the answers, as I woke up shortly thereafter.  For weeks, I wanted to include this mysterious girl in a story—but nothing seemed to fit.  Finally, I decided to file her away in a “story vault,” and hope I would be able to write about her someday.

Fast-forward twenty years, and I experienced the same dream, of the same girl!  The difference?  This time, when I woke up, I had the start of a story idea in place.  That story would become The Eye-Dancers.

What are some books in your genre that have inspired you?

Can I skip over the genre part? 🙂  I love to read—all genres, fiction as well as nonfiction.  Truman Capote is one of my favorites—a master wordsmith.  Ray Bradbury is phenomenal—unparalleled imagination and love of writing.  To Kill a Mockingbird, A Separate Peace . . .  I could go on and on!

What are some words that you live by?

Reach for the stars.  Recognize your dreams, your calling, and go for it.  Don’t get discouraged when things veer off course, as surely they will.  They do for all of us.  The key is to keep dreaming, keep working, keep perfecting whatever it is you feel passionate about.  There is only one “you.”  Do what you love, find your voice, and share it.

Is there anything else you would like us to know?

I would just like to say that I write what I love, I write about the things that resonate for me.  That’s really all any writer can do.  Hopefully, by sharing the things that matter to me in the best way I know how, I can also make those same things matter to you.

Author Interview: Kendra Highley

author-picI’m excited to share my interview with today’s author – Kendra C. Highley. I had the pleasure of being one of the original reviewers for the first book of her Matt Archer series, and have been a huge fan ever since. For those who haven’t heard of the series, it’s about a boy who is chosen by a magical knife to become one of the world’s few monster hunters. It’s an action-packed, funny coming-of-age story under the most unusual circumstances, and I highly recommend checking it out. She recently published the latest book in the series, Matt Archer: Legend, and her contemporary YA novel, Sidelined, was picked up by Entangled Publishing and will be released this year.

Kendra was also one of the orginal reviewers of my novel, Into the Dark, and her advice was invaluable. Watching her star rising has been an inspiration for me, and I hope you feel the same after hearing about what motivates her in today’s interview.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m a wife and mom of two, and work as an HR manager during the day. I love to bake, read, write and vacation. Vacations don’t come often though, so I have to enjoy them while they last! I live in the Dallas area and I report to two cats. I’m their primary staff advisor (it was a promotion–I’m very proud).

What was your inspiration for your the Matt Archer series?

Matt Archer Legend 680x453Strangely, that’s easy for me to answer. I was at my first writers’ conference in 2009, and a published YA author was talking about Twilight and the dearth of “boy-centric” YA. She said, “Boys don’t want to fall in love with misunderstood vampires; they want to kick vampire butt!”  My son was 8 at the time, and a big reader, and my initial thought was to write a short story about a boy who saved his uncle from a monster…and the whole Matt-as-a-Monster-Hunter concept was born from that.

Tell me about Matt. Was he based on someone you know (or yourself)?

There are little bits and pieces of people I’ve known, but Matt’s really his own person. He was a very strong character in my head from the very beginning. Odd, since he’s a teenaged guy, and I’m neither. But I just had this connection with his voice and he formed through that.

Where do you go for inspiration when you’re feeling blocked?

I’d like to have a pithy answer…but usually I go to my pantry and snack. : )

What’s the strangest thing that has ever inspired you?

A bottle of Vicodin. I’d had to have my shoulder stitched up after an injury and that’s what the doctor prescribed. I’m very wary of prescription pain pills, and had just read an article about how they were the #1 abused drug among teens now. Out of that, Sidelined (Entangled, 2013) was born. It’s a story about an elite high school basketball player with scholarship opportunities. However, she gets seriously injured at the state tourney and can’t play anymore. She eventually becomes addicted to pain killers and much of the story is about her spiral down, and her struggle back out.

Tell us about an inspirational figure in your life.

My Dad. He read to me nearly every night when I was little. I arrived at Kindergarten able to read because of him. He encouraged my love of books from early on, and when I told him I planned to self-publish, he was right there to support me. My mother died when my sister and I were teenagers, so we just had Dad…he’s always there when we need him. And he’s super-smart, too. When he retired, he went back to school to get a Ph.D. in American History…because he had dreamed of doing it. He’s an inspiration.

What are some books in your genre that have inspired you?

This would be a long list, so I’ll limit it to five:  A Wrinkle in Time, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Jackaroo, and Twisted.

What are some words that you live by?

Life’s too short not to eat chocolate. : )  But also “family first.” It’s really hard to work two jobs and juggle family life, but I try hard to take care of my family like they take care of me.

Is there anything else you would like us to know?

Writing is hard, and a lot of times you feel like giving up. I was lucky enough to meet Laurie Halse Anderson in 2011, and when she found out I was a writer, she signed my book cover with “P.S. Don’t Quit!!!!”  I took it to heart, and that made the tough times easier to deal with and the great times that much more rewarding.

If you are interested in self-publishing, there’s a great blog by Lindsay Buroker that can answer a lot of your questions.  She’s very generous with the knowledge she shares and, given her success, her advice works.  You can find her at <KP: I second Kendra’s recommendation. Lindsay’s blog is one of my favorite self-publishing resources.>