OPENING LINES with Lindsey Fraser #6

What grabs the reader’s attention? What draws you in and makes you want to read on? The lovely Lindsey Fraser season sadly comes to an end today. Liz MacWhirter shares feedback on the Opening Lines for two more picture books. 

Today is the last of Lindsey Fraser's opening lines and, to mark the occasion, I’d like to add – as client to agent – I’m so very grateful for the encouragement Lindsay has given to all of us emerging authors and illustrators. Thank you! And without further ado, the last two Opening Lines...

Submission #15

Title: The Duck Who Dared

Elevator Pitch:

Picture book for children 0-5, shortlisted for the Stratford Salariya Prize 2017.
Claude tries standing out from the crowd - and the crowd soon joins in...

Opening Lines:

Claude lived in a nest made of sticks, leaves and feathers at the edge of a pond. There was a forest nearby, filled to bursting with trees of orange and gold, yellow and green. It was a quiet life, down at the duck pond. But there was just one problem. Claude was… different.

The other ducks liked munching on flies, but Claude found them too crispy.
The other ducks liked crunching beetles, but Claude found them too gooey.
The other ducks liked slurping up worms like spaghetti, but Claude found them too wriggly.
Claude had always been different.

The title is witty, has a great ring to it, and has adult and child appeal. I can imagine adults being drawn to pick up a picture book with this title. I’d have liked the swagger of the title to be more evident in the text. The ‘odd one out’ story is always a strong one, if the payoff is sufficiently convincing, and it’s Claude’s character that’s going to be central to that. We now know various things that make Claude different, but we don’t really get a sense of Claude himself. If - as the title suggests - Claude has to do something courageous in the course of the book, he needs to start from a position very different from the daring duck he becomes. Given the length of most picture book texts currently being published, there needs to be more use made of the first 100 words to convey Claude’s character so that we’re really rooting for him. There’s lots of potential here.

Submission #16

Title: The Real and Actual Story of Sleeping Beauty

Elevator Pitch:

The Royal Story Teller and Sleeping Beauty are arguing about which version of the story to tell; the traditional fairy tale or the real story that actually happened. A picture book for 5 – 6 year olds who just want to be themselves.

Opening lines:

Once upon a time there was a noble King and Queen who longed for a child. Finally they were blessed with a baby girl. They invited everyone from across the kingdom to celebrate the birth of the princess.

You’re talking about me, aren’t you?

Yes. Now shush and listen. 6 good fairies came to the party and brought the baby gifts fit for a princess.

Oi! That’s not what happened. There weren’t any fairies. Why can’t you tell the real story for once? Not this made up tale with fairies in it.

A princess does not say 'oi!'  She says 'excuse me'. Anyway, I think the fairy tale is rather charming.

That’s because you made it up.

As I was saying, the king and queen had forgotten to invite the seventh fairy. The seventh fairy was so upset that she used her magic to place a curse on the princess. When she grew up she would prick her finger on a spinning wheel and fall asleep for 100 years.

That’s not what happened at all. There were no fairies, just Aunt Mavis who came to stay and she’s not magic at all. She was great fun though. Aunt Mavis knitted all those crazy jumpers and let me do whatever I wanted. Mum said she wasn’t allowed to teach me any bad habits.

This is a fairly complex construct - I don’t feel there’s enough here to judge whether the two-hander approach to the story is sustainable, but it’s an interesting approach. The line in the pitch - ‘A picture book for 5 to 6 year-olds who just want to be themselves’ begs a number of questions, and I’m yet to work out how it plays out in the story itself.

Thanks again Lindsey for your time and professional feedback! Opening Lines is a great exercise, for those who receive the personal feedback above, and for all of us who want to learn what makes those killer lines.

Missed the first five Opening Lines with Lindsey Fraser? Read them here #1 #2 #3 #4 #5

Like to contribute your own submission? The next Opening Lines will launch in late June. Please email your title, elevator pitch and opening lines to Liz at with Opening Lines in the subject line.

Hooked by the feedback? You can see more of Lindsey Fraser at the Edinburgh International Book Festival this summer. Follow Lindsey on twitter: @LindseyFraser

Lindsey Fraser and Kathryn Ross established the literary agency Fraser Ross Associates in 2002, largely specialising in books for young people. The agency represents writers and illustrators from all over the UK.

Liz MacWhirter writes award-winning advertising copy, YA fiction, and features for Words & Pictures. Black Snow Falling, her debut novel, is currently on submission through Fraser Ross Associates.

Follow: @LizMacWhirter

Louisa Glancy is a features editor for Words & Pictures.
Twitter: @Louisa Glancy

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