Beginning Your Novel: MG & YA First Pages, Pacing, & Voice

January 8 - 9, 2022


Online Weekend Intensive

  • Saturday, January 8, 2021 (7pm – 9pm EST)
  • Sunday, January 9, 2021 (12pm – 5pm EST)
  • 40 participants max

Join us for a productive weekend packed with first page reviews, revisions, writing exercises, Q&A with agent Linda Camacho, and interactive lectures (with closed captioning): all designed to help you go deeper into your work in progress and approach it with fresh ideas.


  • Informal: You will create during the course and can share in small groups with some informal verbal feedback from faculty and peers.
Beginning Your Novel: MG & YA First Pages, Pacing, & Voice


Do you want to see how unlocking the opening of your manuscript can affect the structure and trajectory of the rest of your story?

Quite often, issues with a story in progress can be traced back to its beginning. For this weekend intensive, Erin Dionne and Chris Tebbetts will help you look at how your first pages and early choices can help you navigate the rest of the writing process. What promise are you making to the reader on page one? How can you best deliver on that promise as you work to create a taut middle and satisfying ending? While our focus will be on beginnings, the session will also offer discussion, tools, and tips to help writers get unstuck at any phase of the process.

Participants will be asked to submit Page One from a work in progress prior to the workshop. You’ll workshop this submission during the weekend and use it as a basis to share during peer and informal feedback. (Some submissions will be used as examples during class exercises.)


  • Novelists (middle grade or YA) or chapter book writers.
  • Beginners, if you’re eager to figure out your story and make meaningful progress on your draft.
  • Experienced writers, if you’re working on or struggling with a new story and you want to begin again with support, community, and accountability.
  • Those who like the structure of a weekend intensive with all sessions taking place over the course of two days, with small group opportunities and large group lectures.


Saturday, January 8, 7-9pm Eastern
Part 1: The Promise of a Good Beginning

  • Welcome with introductions including one line from your WIP
  • Opening writing exercise
  • Mini-lesson: Deep Point of View
  • Revise: Workshop your submitted page in real time with breakout rooms

Sunday, January 9, 12-5pm Eastern
Reconvene to share discoveries from yesterday

Part 2: Voice

  • How does word choice, tone, and personality on the page add to the reading experience?


Part 3: Pacing

  • How can you ground your reader in the world with your beginning?
  • Revise: Workshop your story’s beginning with breakout rooms
  • Reconvene to share and discuss changes made and talk about other considerations (e.g., when and if to outline, sustaining tension, seeding your ending from the start, plot vs. theme.)


Part 4: Q&A with agent Linda Camacho

  • Small Group Office Hours and Community Discussion: Where are you stuck, and why are you here?
  • Reconvene for parting thoughts

Throughout the Workshop

  • Informal feedback on all writing exercises.
  • Practical approaches to assessing elements from the beginning of your manuscript and reincorporating them throughout the story.
  • Open discussion about the many ways in which we get unstuck, with a focus on practical solutions.

A note about workshop agendas and how they change and evolve.


This weekend intensive is best if you attend and engage in all the sessions live. (Note: If your schedule does not allow you to attend all the live sessions and you would still like to register, that’s OK! You’ll have access to the recordings with closed captioning. They’re posted the day after the session, and they’ll be available through February 28, 2022.)

Trying to figure out how this course fits into your schedule? Read some ideas about planning for the right level of commitment.


Your book can be a meaningful experience for the children and young adults who read it. This course helps you identify the promises you are making to your readers on page one and offers ways of making sure you deliver on those promises, all the way to the end of the story.

Why do we mention this? Learn about the Highlights Foundation mission.


Erin Dionne: Promises, Promises*
Chris Tebbetts: The Secret Is, There Is No Secret
Blog Post on Visual Outlining with Chris Tebbetts
Chris Tebbetts: As Simple As Possible: Three Ways To Tighten Your Prose
5 Ways to Reclaim Your Creative Joy
Step Away From Your Manuscript & Shake Things Up With Writers’ Bingo
Breaking Through Those Creative Blocks
Chris Tebbetts: Mining Our Personal Fascinations for Story Material

See what Erin Dionne thinks is the hardest part about writing a good beginning. Hint: She once cut 72 pages off the beginning of her novel in a revision.

Hear about the time Chris Tebbetts learned something new by re-reading the first page of his book: “There’s something in those currants, isn’t there?” “There is now!”


“Erin and Chris were extraordinary–not only thoughtful, insightful, and fun but also unbelievably generous with their time. The resources they provided are helpful and varied.”

“All the faculty were knowledgeable, kind, generous, and thoughtful. And caring. I appreciated Erin’s skill at building a safe space to share. The material from all faculty was well prepared and rich!”

“I found both Erin and Chris intuitive, personable, genuine, accomplished and willing to go the extra mile to help. They work well as partners to lead and I liked that each had a different way of approaching things.”

“Chris Tebbetts is an extraordinary teacher—his direct critique went straight to the heart of my novel and the techniques he provided, through the live and recorded sessions gave me revision tools which are relevant to my manuscript and to my overall writing goals. Erin Dionne’s lectures illuminated many paths for everyday writing practices. Her teaching provided many, many strategies for strengthening my manuscript.”


Chris Tebbetts

Chris Tebbetts is the author and co-author of many books for young readers. Titles include the #1 New York Times…
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Erin Dionne

Erin Dionne’s latest book for tweens is Secrets of a Fangirl (2019). She’s the author of 6 other books for…
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Linda Camacho

Virtual Special Guest Linda Camacho is an agent with Gallt & Zacker Literary. After graduating from Cornell University, Linda interned…
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