Readers want to know who the main character is right away. They also are interested in knowing what the main character wants. Action and plot can also start on the first page. By using these elements, you’ll hook a reader.
An example of a first page establishing character, setting, and a problem is No Roses for Harry! by Gene Zion. This is an excellent example of how a first page can use character, setting, and a problem to invite the reader in and move the story forward. The story begins with action and has “heart.” It is the hook that draws the reader in, the emotion.
Here is the first page: “Harry was a white dog with black spots. On his birthday, he got a present from Grandma. It was a woolen sweater with roses on it. Harry didn’t like it the moment he saw it. He didn’t like the roses.”
In this introduction to the story, we see the main character, “Harry was a white dog with black spots.” The setting: “On his birthday,” and the story problem: “Harry…didn’t like the roses.”
In Brave Irene, by William Steig, the first page establishes the main character, Irene and her mother, Mrs. Bobbin, the setting, their home and the story problem, Irene’s mother is sick and can’t take the dress to the duchess. The reader knows right away the essential elements of fiction: character, setting and story problem.
The following is the first page from Brave Irene:
Mrs. Bobbin, the dressmaker, was tired and had a bad headache, but she still managed to sew the last stitches in the gown she was making. “It’s the most beautiful dress in the world!” said her daughter Irene. “The duchess will love it.”
“It is nice,” her mother admitted. “But, dumpling, it’s for tonight’s ball, and I don’t have the strength to bring it. I feel sick.”
Once upon a time there was a very old man and a very old woman. They lived in a nice clean house which had flowers all around it, except where the door was. But they couldn’t be happy because they were very lonely.
So the next time you are writing or revising a picture book, try including your character, setting and a problem all on the very first page.
- Gag, Wanda. Millions of Cats. New York: Coward-McCann.1928.
- Steig, William. Brave Irene. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 1986.
- Zion, Gene. No Roses for Harry! New York: Harper & Row. 1958.