Hook Readers with the First Line of Your Picture Book
By Maggie Lauren Brown
Since picture books consist of few words, every word counts. This is especially true of the opening line. When a reader browses a bookstore, they might pick up a book and look at the title and cover, or they might flip to the first page to see if it catches their attention. As authors, it’s our job to grab them in some way with that very first line.
There are many ways to do this, but today I’ll discuss four examples of what an opening line can accomplish:
The first example, from TASTE YOUR WORDS by Bonnie Clark and Todd Bright, shows how to present the inciting incident in the very first line. The opening line is, “Amera’s friend Maddie accidentally bumped into her at lunch.” This “inciting incident” (the event that sends the main character off on their quest), wastes no time thrusting the reader into the story’s action. It’s hard to put the book down when the excitement has already begun.
The next example, from MOTHER BRUCE by Ryan T. Higgins, introduces an interesting character. The opening lines are, “Bruce was a bear who lived all by himself. He was a grump.” This example uses two lines, but they are short and work together. Instantly we get a feel for Bruce’s personality. The lines also raise questions: Why is Bruce so grumpy? Do other bears live with family or friends? What’s going to happen to Bruce in this story, and how will him being a grump play into that?
The next example, from FRANKENBUNNY by Jill Esbaum and Alice Brereton, demonstrates how to set the tone of the story. The opening line is, “You know monsters aren’t real, right?” Immediately, the reader knows the book will have monsters in it and will probably be a little creepy. At the same time, the tone is conversational and lets the reader know that the narrator has something to prove to them. In addition to establishing the creepy-yet-lighthearted tone, this line uses another device by asking a question—this engages the reader by getting them to think of their response.
The last example, from IDA, ALWAYS by Caron Levis and Charles Santoso, shows how to present an intriguing setting. The opening line is, “Gus lived in a big park in the middle of an even bigger city.” Immediately the reader gets a sense of a bustling location filled with lots of action. The reader will wonder what kind of park and what city it is, and will have to read on to find out.
Look at the opening line in one of your picture books. What does it accomplish? Would it hook a reader and make them instantly want to know more? If not, time to revise!
There are more strategies than just these; you could show the main character’s problem, present an interesting fact, make a joke, and more. Let me know your favorite strategy in the comments. Happy writing!
Once upon a time, Maggie Lauren Brown performed as a synchronized swimmer, mermaid-for-hire, and high school English teacher. Now, she writes about her adventures in children’s books. Maggie is an SCBWI and 12x12 member, a Children's Book Academy course assistant, and is represented by Adria Goetz of Martin Literary Management. Maggie's debut picture book, JOY THE PANDACORN, releases next year with Clear Fork Publishing.
We are so excited to be mixing things up at CBA, beginning with some delicious additions to the Blogfish. Meet our awesome new bloggers!!
Here's our lineup:
1st Mondays begin with Clear Fork/Spork editor/art director, former agent and former kidlit professor Mira Reisberg PhD who is also the Director of the Children's Book Academy.
2nd Mondays will feature super smart Melissa Stoller whose career is taking off with several new books.
3rd Mondays will feature Bryan Patrick Avery, published writer, man of mystery, and professional magician among other things.
4th Mondays will feature the fabulous debut author/illustrator Maggie Brown.
And 5th Mondays will feature the wonderful Ave Maria Cross