Flashback, Part 1: How Come The Fault In Our Stars Opening Works?


Dear Diane…

In media res, or “in the middle of the action,” is about timing your book’s opening so that readers join a life in progress rather than shake your hand and read your cast list. This strategy is coupled with other strategies intended to intrigue readers, like piquing curiosity, startling them, triggering fears, etc. The Fault in Our Stars opens with Hazel going to the Support Group meeting where she’ll meet the love of her life. It’s the right time to enter her life even though the action isn’t bold. John Green then startles readers with first lines that defy expectations: a teen poo-poos her impending death. He then makes sure all teens can relate to that teen narrator even though they don’t suffer terminal cancer: Hazel suffers adults who claim to know how she should handle her problem because they are adults and adults know best. I feel your suffering, fellow teen! Her description of the meeting and how she’s been pushed to go feels more like commiserating with peers than a backstory dump. Slow? For those who want more action, perhaps. But the book’s success suggests its opening intrigues. I love this question and will explore If I Stay‘s opening in the next post.

Happy writing!
The Editor

*This flashback favorite post was originally published 9/15/2014

The Editor, Deborah Halverson, has been editing books for over 25 years and specializes in Middle Grade/Young Adult fiction and nonfiction, New Adult fiction, and picture books. For her editorial guidance in making your manuscript ready for submission to agents and publishers or for self-publishing, click Editorial services. Learn more in her books: Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies and Writing New Adult Fiction.


  1. I just peeked through Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies, and ordered the book. I wish I had started my journey with it. Instead, I have a book in galley state and am feeling a little bit panicked. Fortunately, I see you have a couple chapters about organizing and managing the marketing which I hope will help me. I have always enjoyed your writing style; you don’t speak down to us as though we are dummies, yet you make complicated issues easy to understand! Thank you once again.

    • Thank you for your kind words about my writing style. I’m a writer in the trenches, too, in addition to being an editor. Regardless of what hat I’m wearing, I like to imagine myself sitting at a table with friends, talking storytelling and wordsmithery over coffee or a delicious mug of cocoa. It’s so exciting that you’re in galleys. Whatever part I and Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies might have in helping you stay calm and focused on next steps, I’m so happy to play it. Cheering you on, MaryAnn! (When your book is pubbed, I hope you’ll drop a note so I can check it out!)

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