OPENING LINES Results from Stephanie King

Chip Colquhoun gets expert advice from top literary agents and editors to help you tune up your concept and your pitch, and create the strongest "hook". This month's advice comes from former Usborne Commissioning Editor – and current Megaphone Write co-director –

This month we had a total of eight entries. As promised, three entries were selected at random and forwarded to Stephanie. You can read the entries and Stephanie's feedback below.

Meet Stephanie

Once her English Literature studies at UCL were over, Stephanie King embarked on a career in children's publishing. After a little brand licencing here and copywriting there, she joined Usborne as an editorial assistant. But she didn't sit in that post for long. Within years, she was Commissioning Fiction Editor.

Stephanie commissioned and edited an excitingly eclectic range of books for readers from age seven to YA, including many by bestselling and award-winning authors such as Sara Hagger-Holt, Phil Hickes, William Hussey, G M Linton, Ann M Martin, Serena Patel, Meredith Russo and Darren Simpson.

Stephanie enjoyed 15 happy years employed by Usborne. But more recently, she felt called to spread her wings wider by establishing herself as a prominent freelance editor. Naming her business after the 'Scribbling Suit' donned by Little Women's heroine Jo whenever she sat down to write, Stephanie now continues to work with Usborne, but also supports Faber, Hachette, the inclusive fiction studio Storymix, the Golden Egg Academy, and many others.

Stephanie is passionate about finding and nurturing talented children’s writers of colour, keen for all children to see themselves reflected in the books they love. So when she was offered the role of Co-Director at Megaphone Write CIC, a mentoring scheme for unpublished children’s writers of colour, Stephanie accepted eagerly.

You could say Stephanie's life revolves around finding, encouraging, and enabling the best children's fiction to reach readers who love and need it. What would she say after reading the first 100 words of your manuscript? You might get an idea by reading what she has to say about the entries below...

Submission 1

Title: Poppy Divine

Pitch: Poppy Divine wants to save the world, but she has two problems. Firstly she has an uncontrollable temper. Secondly, Ms Vile is forever making things hard. Can Poppy, and Mr Simmons her neighbour, use her temper to right the world’s wrongs?

Stephanie says...

What a fun name for your main character! But in the pitch, perhaps her core motivation could be clearer? It’s tricky to orient yourself as a reader here; are we in the real world, a fantasy land, or somewhere in between? And how exactly does she intend to the save the world? It might be worth trying to focus this, so readers understand the stakes. It would also be helpful to know that Ms Vile is another of Poppy’s neighbours, to give us a sense of the setting, and the dynamic between your three key characters. Headlining your protagonist’s key flaw is great though – I am already invested in learning if Poppy can learn how to control her temper.


Have you ever felt that intense urge to throw something?  A fierce boiling rage that builds inside you? Well, I have.
        My name is Poppy Divine, I’m 13 years old and live with my scatter brained mum and scruffy dog, Ralph.  We are lucky enough to live in a garden flat so can grow some of our own food and watch the limited wildlife a busy town has to offer.
        Mr Simmons who is in a wheelchair, lives next door and Ms Vile (real name Ms Rile, but nicknamed on account of how mean she can be), lives upstairs.

Stephanie says...

Your opening sentence is strong – the question immediately draws the reader in, and there’s something compelling about her admission of her intense rage. It immediately had me wondering what has led our narrator to feel this way, and I wonder if it might be worth considering whether your next sentences should tell your reader a little more about this specific situation.


As it stands, the next sentences are all exposition – can you show us this set-up, rather than telling us about it? Details like Poppy’s age, Ralph, her mum being scatter-brained, her living arrangements, and the neighbours could all be woven in using action and dialogue that leads back to that arresting first sentence. I love the immediacy of the first paragraph and the freshness of the voice – how about carrying that through the rest of your opening?


Submission 2

Title: Josette’s Summer of Secrets

Pitch: Josette visits France in 1949. Despite being dispatched to a children’s holiday camp, she keeps looking for a buried, promised doll. In searching, she and two friends discover that her much-misunderstood French great-aunt was an amazingly brave and truly a wartime hero.

Stephanie says...

The concept of the buried, promised doll is intriguing, and I am taken with the idea of the richness of an elderly lady’s life being discovered by our protagonists. The French setting following WW2 is also interesting and fresh, and not a perspective often seen.


However, I think the link between the trip to France and the search for the doll could be made clearer, alongside the reasons for Josette’s fascination with the doll. I think readers might appreciate more insight into Josette’s story – how old is she? Is she a wartime baby? Has she ever been to France before? What journey, both internal and external, will our heroine be embarking on? I’d love to get a clearer sense of this in the pitch, as it sounds like it has the potential to be great.


I’m staring into sparkling white foam on the crest of the waves. It is 1949 and we are steaming across the English Channel to France – AT LAST!  I don’t feel seasick. But I DO feel dizzy with delight. 

        "People call the foam ‘White Horses’," my grandfather 'Pops' says. "Just imagine riding on the back of them all the way to France," he chuckles, adding, "I can’t wait to be back there!"
        Pops is always joking, but today he sounds serious. My grandparents have been separated from France - my grandmother’s country - ever since the War began in 1939.

Stephanie says…

I love this opening line – it’s so visual and suggests endless possibilities, as well as putting you right alongside your narrator. The detail about Josette not feeling seasick, but dizzy with delight, sets the tone and mood – I’m excited to be there with her! Pops’ dialogue is also engaging and hints at his character, while revealing important information for the reader (their destination, and that he is returning after some time).


With your narrative in the first person, it’s important that the voice feels naturalistic. Having Josette tell us both the year we are in and the year war broke out doesn’t quite ring true to me – it feels a little too self-conscious and expositional. Can you give your reader this information by situating us more firmly in Josette’s world instead? How does she feel about going to France? After all, her name is French. Is this her first time? Focusing on how this is different from her previous experiences could also provide you with an opportunity to drip in information about the war ending more organically.


External details such as clothes, food, possessions, etc can all help anchor your reader in a specific historical period, alongside references to how much time has passed. Centring your child protagonist and focusing on immediate details will draw your readers closer to the narrative – which sounds like an original and interesting idea. 

Submission 3

Title: Max & The Inbetweeners

Pitch: Newly ‘awoken’ Inbetweener Max Wyndward helps the Gargoyles of Oxford solve a magical mystery that threatens their very existence with the help of her feisty Nana. A humorous but exciting magical whodunnit with friendship at its heart.

Stephanie says…

This is a confident pitch, and outlines the kind of fun adventure story readers can expect. The stakes are clear, and the idea of Max being a “newly 'awoken' Inbetweener” is intriguing – I am curious to discover what this means. It can be risky to introduce new story-specific terms in a pitch, as these might frustrate potential readers rather than draw them in, or unnecessarily obscure your key themes. However, in this instance, by outlining the key conflict clearly, you have hinted at what this might mean, just enough to pique my interest.


The little Stone Dragon was incredibly itchy.
        Yesterday’s weather report hadn’t mentioned anything about a storm, yet at around 2am a particularly strong gust of wind had blown some mouldy old leaves out of the guttering and straight up his nose. Now they were stuck.
        It was rather undignified. He was, after all, supposed to be on duty. He tried wrinkling one nostril… and then the other… but it was no use because, as everybody knows, Stone Dragons simply cannot move.

Stephanie says...

This is an excellent opening line. The contradiction of a stone dragon feeling itchy immediately situates the readers in a world that is about to defy expectations, raising questions and making me want to read on. The anthropomorphism of the dragon made me chuckle, sets the playful tone, and hints at his character – his indignation and discomfort at the leaves stuck up his nose when he’s on duty is a good comic detail. I love the fact you haven’t felt the need to explain everything outright, and are instead inviting the reader into the world of your story and trusting them to learn more as they read on. It also feels fun – a great enticement to keep young readers hooked!

Thank you to everyone who submitted,
and a huge thank you to Stephanie for her time and feedback!

Our next Opening Lines opportunity will be in June – so get preparing your submissions!

To join SCBWI and take advantage of the many opportunities like this one to be supported in the development and pursuit of your craft – and also find advice on marketing your work, meet fellow writers and artists, and much much more – visit


If you've received feedback from Opening Lines, how did it help you? If it led to you finding an agent or a publisher, please contact us – we'd love to hear your story. 

*Header image: by Ell Rose and Tita Berredo



Chip Colquhoun began storytelling for children in 2007 and was asked to write the EU’s guidance on using stories in classrooms in 2015, but became a published children’s writer in 2016 after The History Press commissioned him to write Cambridgeshire Folk Tales for Children. He’s since had 21 books published, most as part of the Fables & Fairy Tales series he co-produces with illustrator Korky Paul (published by Epic Tales), but he's most excited about his new release out in January 2024: All the Better to READ You With: Stories & Lessons to Inspire Reading for Pleasure. You can find Chip on X and Facebook.


Ell Rose is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures. Contact

Tita Berredo is the Illustrator Coordinator of SCBWI British Isles and the Art Director of Words & Pictures. Contact

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