SCBWI MidSouth: Lessons learned from the first pages session

I had the pleasure of attending SCBWI Midsouth last weekend, and I have notes to share. Some of the most talented people in the industry were there teaching us, and these little nuggets of wisdom may be as fresh for you as for me.


These notes are from the First Pages session: anonymous first pages were read aloud and then kindly critiqued by two members of the staff. This advice will help you hone to perfection those first two hundred words of your book.


  • Make sure you’re showing. There are times when beautiful narrative, almost an essay of introspection, can be appropriate in small doses. The first page is never an appropriate time. You must show us the character, show us her feelings, her desires, her problem. Never tell us. Think of it as a film scene void of narration. We should see it unfold like a scene. We should feel present.
  • Where are they physically? This critique came up several times. Often, it wasn’t clear exactly where the MC was. It doesn’t take more than a few sentences, but knowing where we are, having the backdrop for the action, is critical for being sucked into the story.
  • Don’t open with a flashback. Start with the now.
  • We need very little backstory to understand the MC and care about her problems.
  • Include the five senses. As much of the five senses you can include, the more immersed we’ll feel, and therefore, more invested.
  • If the MC is having opinions, making personal observations about the scene, we get a better sense of her character.
  • Get perfect placement. Each beat should be ordered just right, so restructure your scene as many times as you need to until it flows with spectacular pacing.
  • We need to care about the MC before world building. If we care, we’ll listen to the world-details. If we don’t care, the world building will make us put down the book.
  • And my personal favorite: Don’t use general descriptions. If you have the words “noise,” “smell,” etc., change them to the specific. Freshly cut grass. Lawn mowers roaring. The stink of gasoline. Again, ground us.


Next week I’ll be sharing excellent query advice from two conference sessions, so be on the lookout for that as well!



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