It is a fact of life that
publishers will only read one or two pages of
your manuscript. They receive far too many
submissions to give each one their undivided
attention from beginning to end. And, sadly, some
of these submissions don't deserve more than a
minute or two of an editor's time.
As a reader, I have given up on books that
haven't grabbed me in the first chapter.
Children, I'm sure, are less patient than I am.
Therefore it is vital for a writer to grab the
reader in the first page or two, especially when
writing for children. We can even narrow this
done to the first sentence or paragraph. Your
beginning should intrigue the reader and inspire
him/her to read further.
Dialogue and action are a great way to start a
novel. Imagine the beginning of your children's
book as dropping your readers into the middle of
things, when everything is starting to change or
get interesting. Using dialogue or action to
plant questions in your readers' minds will
hopefully make them want to read on.
Of course, sometimes it's necessary to set the
scene. Background information about the
character, their family, home, friends etc - that
is essential to the plot - should be interspersed
in such a way that it never slows the story down.
Certainly it should never fill the first few
pages of your manuscript at the expense of the
Let's look at some examples from my own
Beginning with dialogue -
(From my easy reader Chick Catches Dinner)
"I can't sleep," said the chick.
"I'm not tired."
In the above example, I've introduced the main
character and her problem.
A few lines later:
"I wonder if anyone else is awake,"
said the chick. She went for a walk.
Thus begins chick's night-time adventure.
Beginning with action -
(From my junior novel The Mad Mower)
Tony felt nervous, as though his stomach was a
food processor mixing a chocolate cake.
In the above example, I want the reader to wonder
why Tony is feeling nervous. What is so important
to him? And who is Tony anyway?
A few lines later:
Now he was ready to test his computer programme.
If it worked it would be unbelievable. It would
change his life forever.
The above paragraph is meant to keep the reader
turning the pages. What computer programme? Why
would it be unbelievable and change his life
Beginning with action and dialogue -
(From my easy reader Down the Well)
The hen heard a splash in the well, so she went
to have a look.
"Hello," yelled the hen.
"Hello," yelled a voice.
Again, in the above example, I want the reader to
keep turning those pages to find out the answers
to a few questions. Has someone fallen down the
well? Is the voice simply the hen's echo?
Beginning with setting -
(From my junior novel Martian Milk)
The carpark at Shopper's Dream was busy. It was
Thursday, the day when shoppers from Planet Nub
and Planet Teg came to visit, looking for
bargains. Paul's mother, Mrs Taylor, flew the
space-car around and around, looking for a place
In the above example, I'm setting the scene of a
futuristic Earth. The idea is still to keep the
reader turning those pages.
By now, you should be seeing a pattern with
beginnings. They are all about hooking the reader
and making them want to read more until they have
all the answers.
The conflict should be evident as soon as
possible, preferably within the first few
paragraphs of your children's book. Your reader
needs to know who the story is about (main
character) and why there is a story (the main
character's problem/conflict) as early in the
novel as possible. You want your readers
identifying with the character and their problem
before they have a chance to lose interest. This
is even more important when writing for children.
Children have shorter attention spans and a lot
of distractions around them, such as TV, computer
games and sport.
Writers often start their story at a point then
later, in the rewriting/ editing process, change
the beginning. It can take numerous attempts to
get the beginning right. Whole opening chapters
can sometimes be discarded to improve a story.
I've done this myself.
It isn't enough to captivate the publisher or
reader with a brilliant beginning. You need to
keep the standard. The middle and ending of your
children's book should be equally as satisfying.
However, it is the beginning of your novel that
will keep the publisher reading or make them move
onto the next submission.