Tips Tuesday: First Pages — One Editor’s Pet Peeves

 

Last week I attended the New York meeting of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), where there was a wonderful panel on opening pages. It got me thinking about what I like – and don’t like—in opening pages. Everything I’m about to describe has crossed my desk! There are exceptions, of course – these are general observations.

-Lengthy descriptions of time and place by a third-person narrator. If I don’t know something about the main character(s) and/or some action by the end of the first couple of pages, then I’ll have a tough time forging on. If you can’t let go of the description, try moving it behind your first bits of dialogue or action, and see how that feels. Readers want immediate connection.

-Prologues that go on for more than one page. I’ve cut many a prologue when they don’t do anything to set up the story and add intrigue.

-Paragraphs of witty/snarky dialogue without pause. I’m not sure why this device is so popular. It doesn’t work, alas.

-The alarm clock going off and the protagonist waking up. This works sometimes. Only sometimes.

-The alarm clock going off and the protagonist waking up from a Very Bad Dream that foreshadows her/his conflict.

-A dream sequence that feels real, followed by the alarm clock going off. See a pattern here? Remember, these are my pet peeves. I’m not speaking for all readers. Still, food for thought.

 

The very best way to get a sense of successful opening pages is to read the opening pages of your favorite novels (or bestsellers, or award winners). It’s tough, I know. But you can do it!

Author spotlight

Liz S.

Hi, I'm the Editor-in-Chief at Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan. I've worked in the book biz for over 30 years (let's just …

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