I've been reading a lot lately. I'm always reading, but recently I've found myself entrenched in friends' manuscripts, great middle grade novels, and even some YA fantasy (rereading The Order of Odd-Fish). The first time I read Odd-Fish I was not in the right state of mind for the story. Not fair to James Kennedy and the four hundred plus pages he created.
Ever since finishing up BIRD NERD, I've been tossing around ideas for a new story. I have a few ideas, and I've even started working on a manuscript (LETTERS FROM COOPERSTOWN), but I'm not feeling it. It's just not speaking to me. I think it's time for another setlist: a list of ideas that are splashed down in one or two words. (notice how my setlist back then was titled Bird-Man Street. That was a working title for BIRD NERD. The story changed dramatically once I started writing it; therefore, the title changed.)
When I get a winning idea, I can always envision the opening sentence. Why? Because I begin my stories with established conflict, which immediately connects the reader to the main character's problem or goal. These are the opening lines to my first two middle grade novels:
I'm looking for a bird, but not any old bird. I'm looking for Dad's golden eagle.
The first time I ever thought about crossing the line happened the same day I came face to face with The Girl.
This method works for me. If I can form the opening sentence, I know I have a conflict and character strong enough to start a story. Whether that story survives past page 100 depends on other things, but that's for another post on another day.