Three Lively Leads: Writing Ideas

The students in my co-op writing class (who are in first to fourth grade) really struggle with starting a story. For the most part, every story starts with “Once there was….” and goes from there. “Once upon a time…” is a close second. It is a challenge to get them to think outside of the box.

So we will be working on Lively Leads for the next few weeks as we work on building ideas for stories and narratives. What a perfect time to revisit favorite books to see what works well for beginning a book. We found that 

Beginning a Novel

The first book is Charlotte’s Web, which begins like this: 

“Where’s Papa going with that ax?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.

Don’t you want to know what happens next?

We talked about what it means to start in the middle of the action. This sentence begins with a question with action, ". . . Papa going . . ." It also has the potential violence suggested by the word "ax" as well. But then, it still gives action to Fern "as they were setting the table for breakfast." Adding this "as" phrase gives a setting and time to the action of Fern talking about her father. All of these things add together to make it a compelling beginning for a middle grade novel.

Starting a Familiar Tale

Next, I thought of a familiar tale retold: The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith. The Three Little Pigs is a familiar story to most kids, so when the story begins as it does, one cannot help but wonder how the story has been retold from the wolf’s point of view.

Everybody knows the story of the Three Little Pigs. Or at least they think they do. But I'll let you in on a little secret. Nobody knows the real story, because nobody has ever heard my side of the story."

In this paragraph, the narrator starts with the assumption we all were thinking when we picked up about the three little pigs. We think know how the story will go. But, it is clear by the end of this page that we have a different kind of narrator and we want to know who he is what his story is. We want to turn the page to find out who he is and what his story is.

If the author had started with “Once upon a time…” we would hardly want to turn the page. As it is, by the time “Once upon a time time” comes (a few pages later), we are dying to find out the “real story.” This could be a great picture book for encouraging students to create their own leads based on fairy tales retold!

Starting a Picture Book

My last suggestion for lively leads is probably not an anticipated one, since the story itself has, mostly, the same two words. The lively lead for No, David! by David Shannon is in the illustrations. The cover gives a little hint to David’s naughtiness, but the first page begins with some lovely wall art that underscores the strength of the words.

The illustration serves as a perfect introduction for David’s exploits!

Little kids reading this book will probably relate to the “Uh Oh!” factor of seeing crayons on walls. (I spent a long time trying to teach my toddler that this was a big NO NO herself!)

The entire picture book is full of child-like illustrations certain to bring kids to echoing “No, David!” themselves as they laugh at the naughty misbehavior . . . and as they relate to the unconditional love from a mother at the end of the book.

That first illustration can bring them in. Right away it introduces the problem, without even saying the words to indicate that David is naughty: anyone looking at the picture can know that!

Which texts would you use to demonstrate a lively lead to your students?

Do you want any of these mentor texts?

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