First pages is one of my favorite writing workshops. Below are some of my writing tips from a previous first pages event on picture book manuscripts (the examples are my own).
1. The main character should be the first character introduced. Limit the characters on the first page to one or two.
2. The first few lines should answer some basic, but essential questions. Who is the main character? What does the main character want or lack? Where is the story’s setting? When is the story taking place?
In CHRISTINA KATERINA and the TIME SHE QUIT the FAMILY by Patricia Lee Gauch, illustrated by Elisa Primavera the opening line answers the four Ws. MC: Christina Katerina, MC’s Want: to quit her family, Where: family’s home, When: quarter past nine on Saturday.
3. Does your story have enough set up? Are the main character's wants clear?
4. Choose your kid-friendly details carefully. Unless it’s important to the story, we don’t need to know the main character has a barrel chest, lives in a tree house and eats worms. Leave room for the illustrator.
5. Narrator’s voice is also important. Make sure it has voice or personality.
6. Packing too much information into the first page can make scenes confusing and the first page boring. Avoid info dumps.
7. Is the story something a kid can relate to? Is it age appropriate? Is it new? Different? Does it entertain?
8. Is there some tension on the first page? In my earlier example, Christina Katerina’s opening line is full of tension. She wants to quit her family! Wow!
9. Does your story sound like a list rather than a narrative? Even alphabet books have a story. In HI, KOO! A YEAR OF SEASONS by Jon J. Muth, children learn about the four seasons, but in every verse there is a letter of the alphabet, starting with A and ending with Z.
10. If the story is written in verse, why? Is the rhyme forced to advance the story? Did the story get left behind?
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