Over the weekend, I attended my local SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference, once again walking away with more writerly friends, awesome editor contacts, and an almost irrepressible urge to get back to the keyboard.
The best part was listening to Janice Del Negro talk about excellence in craft. But since I can’t do justice to her talk (other than to recommend Ursula K. LeGuin’s Steering the Craft), I wanted to share feedback from an agent on several first pages that were submitted before the conference. The pages were read aloud, and then the agent critiqued them. It was fascinating to hear, back-to-back, several first pages from authors at all different levels in the writing journey. Even more interesting were the agent comments. These comments all applied to middle grade and young adult manuscripts:
- Dialogue on the first page – the agent was a big fan of dialogue as a way to show character, and thought a lack of dialogue on the first page could be a red flag
- Make sure there’s a kid in the story – some stories had no children in the first page
- If there’s three paragraphs of setting description on the first page, the setting had better be a major character in the story
- Not a lot of stories these days are successful with talking animals
- Language needs to be natural, not overwrought or didactic
- Work to your strengths – if you can do funny, do more of it; if you do serious well, do more of that
- For SF: new tech names are fun, but make sure to avoid just renaming the “coffee pot of the future”
- Contemporary tech (iPod, etc) can quickly date a story, and isn’t always necessary for contemporary fic
- Cliches: Dogs we love, old Mrs. Carmichael’s, “Mama,” kid moving to a new town, adult looking back or telling the story
- You can use cliches, but they must have a fresh spin
- Don’t have cigarettes in MG, the librarians will not be happy
CAVEAT: My recommendation is not to worry about any of this until you have completed your MS – or possibly even gone through a draft or two. Only once your story is fully formed can you really write that first opening scene/chapter IMHO (thanks to aspiring below for sparking that thought!).
ALSO: See Tricia’s interesting post/comments on Dialogue on the First Page