Beginnings: why the first 50 words of your picture book must really grab an editor

So, you’ve written a picture book, but does your beginning really grab readers? It must hook young readers and before that, the editor or agent to whom you are pitching, and not let them go!

Start quickly:

Remember, picture books are only 12 spreads and under 800 words. With this limited word count, your opening needs to be snappy and exciting. You don’t have time for lengthy explanations or set-up. Also, this will make your young reader lose interest.

Engage the reader:

It is your chance to quickly engage the reader with the main character, their problem and setting.

Hook the reader:

The best beginnings are memorable and hook the reader into wanting to turn the page. You need to get readers to want to go on a journey with you.

Include Who, What and Where?

What: what is the story about?

Where: where is the story set?

What: what does the main character want and need? Set up the main problem or conflict. 

Make it vivid and memorable:

Get right into the characters' shoes and their situation – make readers feel like they are really there and want to find out what is going to happen next. Use interesting phrasing and sights, sounds and smells to hook in readers. Make your words create a rhythmical pattern that readers might want to join in on.

Experiment with the voice:

Each picture book beginning has a unique voice that fits the story and your voice as an author.

Here’s a trick to writing really great beginnings: Go to your bookshelf (or a library or good bookshop). Pull out 5-6 different sorts of picture books. Read the first spreads aloud. Now, go back to your story and re-work it in the same style as the picture book you’ve just read. Try out different ones for size. Ta-da! You will start to get a feel for the kind of voice that is going to hook the reader for the story that you are writing.

Make it come full-circle:

The best picture books have echoes of their beginnings in their ending – the story has come full-circle. The character has somehow grown and changed as a result of the action, and the problem has been resolved in a satisfying way. Check your story for this pattern and edit accordingly.

Natascha Biebow is an experienced editor, mentor and coach, who loves working with authors and illustrators at all levels to help them to shape their stories.
Check out the Cook Up a Picture Book Coaching Courses.

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