Monday, August 22, 2011

COSCBWI August Meeting: 1st Pages

Our SCBWI meeting for August was an open-critique where members brought in the first page of their manuscript.  We read each first page aloud, then offered feedback as a group.  Here are some pointers and common issues that came up:

1-Be sure you double space your manuscript, use 12 point font, and have one inch margins all around.  Your first page should also start about half-way down the page.  (I know, I know--what a jip!)  It's good to get into these habits from the get-go, though.  That way, when you are ready to submit, you won't go, "Shoot!  My first page cuts off in the middle of an awesome paragraph!"

2-Don't info dump on page one.  (i.e. don't give the main character's entire list of extended family members or describe every piece of clothing in their wardrobe.)  Sometimes less is more.

3-On the other hand, don't be too vague either.  It's nice to have your main character's name on page one, one or two defining features of his/herself (looks, personality traits, etc.) AND/OR the environment so readers feel grounded in the story.  From that list, pick what's most important to your story.  If little Betsy Lou will be learning to overcome her fears in the book, we really ought to see that she's a scardey-cat on page one.  If your book is about city-dwelling dinosaurs, it would be good to know your book takes place in New York City and not the jungle.  And if Timmy's story is all about dying his hair magenta, then his boring hair color is a must-know upfront.  

4-Do try to be exciting and make your reader eager to turn to page 2.  You can entice your reader to flip that page by incorporating a number of techniques including suspense, humor, intrigue, action, sympathy, attitude (and many many more!)  It's a good idea to pick up some of your favorite books and study the techniques those authors used on their first pages that made you say, "I must read more!" 

5-Remember that your first page is your book's first impression.  Make it as polished as possible and get as many pairs of eyes on it as you can.  You'll be glad you did. :)

There's one other piece of advice I've always taken to heart regarding first pages.  I heard it when I attended the Northern Ohio SCBWI conference in 2009 and it's stuck with me ever since.  The conference had a panel event where several agents and editors gave their first impressions of attendee-submitted first pages.  The advice they gave us was this: your first page should make a promise to your reader.  A promise.  What that promise is, is completely up to you.  Makes you think, huh?

What things do you like to see in the first page of book?  Do you have a favorite book opening?  (I'm pretty partial to the first page of Harry Potter!)  And if you feel overwhelmed by the daunting task of creating a rockin' first page, here's Snoopy to make you feel better!

Happy writing!

Snoopy/Peanuts is copyright Charles Schulz and Peanuts Worldwide LLC


  1. Great reminders. By the way, I want to read your story about city-dwelling dinosaurs!

  2. Oooh! Maybe that can be my next project...

  3. Can the wonderful Snoopy image be used for my classroom newsletter?

  4. Hello! I found the Snoopy comic on Google Images. I don't mind passing it along to you--or you can look for it there, too. Obviously, I can't speak for Peanuts Worldwide LLC on the image's use, but I imagine Charles Schulz would be happy to see his comic on a classroom newsletter. (I hope he doesn't mind that I borrowed it for my blog post, either!) Good luck with your newsletter! :)