You may be 95% there – a compelling storyline, memorable characters, and an ending that makes a reader wanting more. But it’s the first 5% that counts the most. Unless those words on page one hook the reader, don’t expect them to stay long enough to find any of those gems on later pages. That’s the way it works.
Those first 250 words are a daunting task. It often takes me several (more like a dozen) drafts to get it right. I often envision myself standing in the aisle of a bookstore reading my first page and thinking Would I want to keep reading?
So… just where should you begin your opening scene? Let’s take a look at published works to find out how MG books initially engage their young readers. I kept a tally of what happens in those opening moments from the 50+ MG books I’ve read this year. Here are the percentages in rank order:
- MC at home in bedroom or kitchen or backyard upset at something 28%
- Involved in a task that becomes the focus of the story 20%
- Action scene (with MC often in a perilous situation) 19%
- Classroom scene 18%
- Nothing but telling and backstory 15%
The results support the theory that you must gain the attention of your audience from the get go. A middle grader is beginning to question many aspects of life (#1), doing more things on their own (#2), spends a good part of their time in a classroom or school setting (#4), and gravitates like most of us to something immediately happening in a story (#3).
When I first began writing, my first page was more like #5, but now I tend to stick with the top three.
Take a look at your first page and see if you fit in to what’s on the shelf.