Flashback, Part 2: How Come If I Stay’s Opening Works?


Dear Diane…

Gayle Forman’s If I Stay opens with what looks like a no-no: the protagonist joins her family for breakfast and they discuss plans for the day. Too often such “dawning day” openings just introduce the protagonist and show her “home base” as a reference point before she leaves for adventure. A strong opening doesn’t just introduce and ground—it intrigues readers in ways that prompt further reading. Forman intrigues by triggering and stoking anticipation. Her chapter header is “7:09 a.m.”, setting up the expectation that a big thing will happen any minute. Then the first two sentences tell us some big “it” is pending. Next, the family debates whether to stay off the icy roads. By then, readers—who know they’ve chosen a book about a girl deciding to live or die after she’s the only survivor of her family’s car crash—have their metaphoric hands over their eyes, thinking, “No! Stay home!” Forman stokes anticipation even as she shows the loving family her protagonist will lose, setting up the heroine’s emotional anguish. Dawning day, yes, but that dawn is loaded.

Happy writing!
The Editor

*This flashback favorite post was originally published 9/22/2014

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. Thank you. Just asking questions about an initial paragraph to see if they say/do what you’ve expressed, is a big help. At SCBWI, I remember hearing that often the second paragraph of an MS makes a better intro to a story, and I’ve found this true with my writing!

    • “Often the second paragraph of an MS makes a better intro to a story.” I love that, MaryAnn. I can easily see the wisdom in that sentiment. I’m so glad you shared it. Thanks!

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