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Sporadic Posts
on Writing & Illustrating Children's Books


The first pages reading is my favorite part of the L. A. SCBWI Working Writers Retreat. It happens in two parts: on Friday afternoon, each attendee reads the first page of their manuscript to a panel of authors who give feedback. You have until Sunday morning to revise, then first pages are read again to a panel of editors and agents who give their critique and say whether they would keep reading the manuscript.

The Friday read of my first page did not elicit any editorial suggestions, which was satisfying. And it was useful to have compliments on the parts that worked best. But I took note of the “wow” moments of other writers’ first pages. Did I have a killer first line? No, not really. Did the scene hint at the past and future of my main character? A little. But the hints did not always point to the most important parts of the plot to come. I made a list of more elements to work into my first page to make it even stronger.

Did I knock their socks off on Sunday morning? No. Not really. There was a longer than normal silence after I read. It was eating into my minute and a half of allotted feedback time. I instinctively began to hum the Jeopardy theme, which probably did not endear me to the panel. They were needing to reread because I had worked in too many elements. So even though I didn’t get the accolades we all crave and hardly ever receive, I learned something new about writing, which is totally worth the risk of criticism: All the information revealed or hinted at in a first page should serve the scene at hand. This is what pulls the reader to the next page.

Many writers had begun their first page in the middle of exciting action, a current trend. But the faculty comment we heard most often was: Let the reader get to know the main character before hurling them into a dire situation. The reader has to care about the person being steered into oncoming traffic. A good writer can do that in a few sentences, during dramatic action. I amended my list.

Another important note: a great first page is almost always rewritten once the manuscript is complete. It needs to set up the novel in the best way possible. So don’t keep fiddling with your first page until you’ve finished the whole draft. You must fulfill the promise of a compelling first page with more well written pages. A great first page makes an editor or agent read on, but they will check to see if page three is just as good as page one.

Happy writing!
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