Writing Tip — Beginnings

slow-fastI’ve run into a problem with my YA novel The Truth and Other Strangers. I have written two different first chapters and don’t know which is better, starting slow or starting fast.

Slow start

This versions begins slowly, building tensions, raising questions, and introducing characters, a few at a time. Below are the opening paragraphs:

As the church service let out that wet morning in July, I had just one thought on my mind — get going and get gone. The longer we were out in public, the better the chance of stirring up suspicion.

My brothers’ and sisters’ comments bombarded me as I picked up my brother Damon-James, who was two, and herded the rest of them out of the pew.

“‘Junior, I gotta go to the bathroom.”

“Junior, it’s still rainin’.”

“Junior, where’s my hat?”

“Junior. Junior!”

That caught my attention because it was a man’s voice instead of a kid’s.

The rest of the chapter has Junior trying to get out of the church but he’s delayed by a retired lawyer and his brother Nick almost getting into a fight. In the next chapter, the family drives home where the sheriff, who hates their family, is waiting for them.

Fast start

The second version starts with Junior driving the kids home from church and finding the sheriff waiting for them. I introduce the characters as the main plot unfolds.

As I forced our ancient van onto the steep, rocky drive to our trailer, I was only thinking about lunch and how relieved I was that we had gone to church without raising anyone’s suspicions. Every trip into town ran a risk of somebody noticing something wrong.

Ignoring the groans of the Deathtrap, as we loathingly called our van, I drove over the last rise to the only flat spot on the mountainside and stomped on the brakes, throwing myself and my eight brothers and sister forward. And all thoughts of lunch and relief out of my head.

Voices chattered around me, but I couldn’t tell the words.  All my senses could take in was that a sheriff’s car was parked into front of our work shed.

I have had positive and negative remarks about both beginnings. I am reading YA novels, and some start quickly, throwing the main problem out in the first sentence, and others have prologues or slow starts, so you can get to know the characters before the plot kicks in. I personally prefer slow starts, but then I like characters. I will put up with a fairly lousy plot if the characters engage me.

So which do you think is better to catch the attention of YA readers?

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