Monday, September 14, 2009

First Pages: Examples from Recent Greats

As those of us in the Carolinas Region prepare for our annual SCBWI fall conference, one topic is on everybody’s mind. “First Pages.” Every year, at conferences all across the U.S. and around the world, editors, agents, and authors critique the first pages of attenders’ current manuscripts. The idea is – editors, agents, readers for that matter, might not turn to the second page of your manuscript or book if page ONE doesn’t hold their attention.

So here are bits of several “first pages” of recently published middle grade and YA novels off of my bookshelf. They are good first pages. Strong ones. They either tell us so much about the character that we can’t help wanting to learn more about that character. Or they throw us right into a plot so intriguing that we want to keep right on reading!

So, as we’re deciding whether our own first pages are up to snuff, let’s consider these great examples: (I hope their authors and publishers won’t mind me sharing a few sentences of each one here).

Here are some greats:

Frindle: By Andrew Clements (Aladdin. 1996) (Chapter Book).

If you asked the kids and the teachers at Lincoln Elementary School to make three lists – all the really bad kids, all the really smart kids, and all the really good kids – Nick Allen would not be on any of them. Nick deserved a list all his own, and everybody knew it…

Skulduggery Pleasant: By Derek Landy (Harper Collins, 2007) Middle Grade

“Gordon Edgley’s sudden death came as a shock to everyone – not least himself. One moment he was in his study, seven words into the twenty-fifth sentence of the final chapter of his book` And the darkness rained upon them,’ and the next he was dead. `A tragic loss’ his mind echoed numbly as he slipped away…

The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp: By Rick Yancey (Bloomsbury 2005) YA.

I never thought I would save the world – or die saving it. I never believed in angels or miracles either, and I sure didn’t think of myself as a hero. Nobody would have, including you, if you had known me before I took the world’s most powerful weapon and let it fall into the hands of a lunatic. Maybe after you hear my story you won’t think I’m much of a hero anyway, since most of my heroics (if you want to call them that), resulted from my being a screw up. A lot of people died because of me – including me – but I guess I’m getting ahead of myself and I’d better start from the beginning.”

(Note the great “voice” in this one as well.)

Incarceron: By Catherine Fisher (Hodder Children’s Books in Great Britain, 2007) YA.

“Who can chart the vastness of Incarceron?
Its halls and viaducts, its chasms?
Only the man who has known freedom
Can define his prison. – Songs of Sapphique

Finn had been flung on his face and chained to the stone slabs of the transitway. His arms, spread wide, were weighted with links so heavy he could barely drag his wrists off the ground. His ankles were tangled in a slithering mass of metal, bolted through a ring in the pavement. He couldn’t raise his chest to get enough air. He lay exhausted, the stone icy against his cheek…”


Something Rotten, A Horatio Wilkes Mystery: By Alan Gratz (Dial Books, 2007) YA.

“Denmark, Tennessee, Stank. Bad. Like dead fish fricasseed in sewer water. I said as much to my friend Hamilton Prince as we rode in his 4X4.
“You get used to it” he told me. “Just think of it as the smell of money.”
And here I had always thought money would smell better.
The Elsinore Paper Plant was the source of the stink, and the money behind the Prince family fortune. Elsinore makes the paper that you use in your printer, the paper you read the sports scores on, and the paper you wipe yourself with. They make just about every kind of paper there is except the kind money is printed on, but enough of that comes rolling back in that they don’t have to bother…

First pages like these great ones – with their well-thought out characters, their settings detailed via all the five senses, and their action-filled (and sometimes even danger filled) plots make me look at my own first pages again. Do mine stand up to this type of competition? And do yours? Hmmm… they had better.

Because as agents and editors will tell us at every conference we attend: If they don’t stand out from the beginning, our books are not going to get noticed.

Do your first pages measure up?
As for me, today I sat down with mine and did a little re-working.


Anonymous said...

This is a great reminder of how important it is to grab the reader from the first page! Fun entry!

C.R. Evers said...

ohhhh! those are good! Great post.

Janelle said...

That first page to Incarceron, especially, really drew me right in.
Then as I continued reading the next few pages and found out that a beautiful woman who doesn't even know him, rescues the poor guy chained to the tracks and that she dies for it a few pages later... well, I can tell you, I was hooked.
All of these books have such great beginnings! They're brilliant.

Georgia McBride said...

Great examples and thanks or posting. A lot to live up to!

Georgia McBride