Your eyes flutter open as the sun's orange rays peek through the slats between the window's blinds. Man, it's too early to be awake, your brain tells your sleepy body. You breathe deep. Wiggle your toes and fingers. Creak-crack go the joints. A tiny thought floats into your mind like a speck of dust and lingers. And it lingers. The thought, like most do, grows larger and takes up more space in your brain, sending electric currents down through your body and firing up your arms and legs. Suddenly, it feels too late to be still in bed and you launch onto the smooth floorboards. Grab a pen! your brain tells your body. Go get your notebook! Let's get started.
Hopefully this is what it feels like to wake up on your "writing morning," or whenever you give yourself the space and time to love your creative self and get that pen on paper.
I want to talk about first pages, or the first chance you have to make a strong impression on your reader--whether it's an agent or editor you're trying to convince to take you on, or a child and parent picking up your picture book for the first time, or a blogger trying to entice readers to carry on. :-)
In a picture book, you have only 32 pages and about 500 - 600 words to get the whole story across, so your first pages have to do some hefty lifting!
The first (and/or second) page of your picture book should introduce the main character and the conflict, or story's tension, simultaneously. Fast, I know! But you really do have only 16 spreads to get from start to middle to end, so make each one count.
Some picture book stories start out "X has a problem." While this is really too familiar by now, I urge you to try it for your first draft. It will help you set the plot in motion, and you can edit it out later. Of course, there are some books that start out with that phrase and it works! Really well!
from Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type, by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin
Really, what you want your first page to do is act as both a stage and a launching pad for your characters. Let the audience know who the character(s) is and why they should want to continue watching. Then launch the characters and the audience off on their journey, whatever it may be.
In using your first page to give the first taste of your character's flavor, you should establish his/her voice, both literally and figuratively. As you're developing your character, think: "How would this character speak?" "Is she nerdy?" "How would he react if a giant spider crossed in front of his feet?" "What would she eat for breakfast, and would she ask for seconds?" "How would he feel if he woke up for work one day and found his cows typing on typewriters?" Maybe you answer, "With a Brooklyn accent." "Decidedly, yes." "He would get down on the ground and do a spider crawl, too." "She would eat 100 pancakes and then ask for more." "He would feel undermined, grumpy, and threatened by his workers."
Remember that "X has a problem" example from above? Well, decide on this first page what your character's problem will be and let it be known to the reader. This will give the reader a bit of an idea of where the book may be going and what to expect. Kids (and grown-ups) like to think they know what's going to happen, even if the author flips that on its head later and twists the story through delightful (or even weird) surprises.
from Nanette's Baguette, by Mo Willems - You might think you know what happens when Nanette goes to get that baguette, but you might also be surprised...
And even if your story is a bit on the quiet side, and the character is shy and needs a little more than one page to ease into it...that's OK too. The book School's First Day of School takes about four spreads to introduce the character (the school) and its conflict (it's nervous about the first day of school). But none of these pages are wasted on unnecessary exposition. Every single bit goes toward building that character such that the conflict is very real by the time the reader learns about it.
1st page of School's First Day of School, by Adam Rex and Christian Robinson, where the reader meets School for the first time.
4th page of School's First Day of School, where School shows Janitor (and the reader) that it's nervous for all the children to arrive on the first day.
Kathy Temean, of the blog Writing and Illustrating, has asked me to do First Page critiques for four of her lucky readers! Knowing how important it is to get this part of your picture book spot-on, I am thrilled to be doing this, starting next week. You still have time to get your first pages in, so head on over to her blog by clicking this link to learn more and enter. And, readers who mention the Writing and Illustrating blog post will enjoy a 10% discount on editorial services from Alli Brydon Creative until November 30, 2017.
Looking for someone to help you set your characters into motion? Go on over to Alli Brydon Creative and take a look at my list of services. Like a menu, but with no food--just creative fuel.