The first character that you name in your work in progress should be your point-of-view character. It seems like really sound advice. After all, I heard it in one week from two sources, speculative fiction novelist and writing instructor Brendon Sanderson and author/editor Natascha Biebow.
The idea behind this is that you orient your reader by plugging into the main character first. That way they don’t meet someone else and then find out that that person is NOT the main character. Confusing the reader generally does not pay off.
The novel that I picked up to read after hearing this advice, started like this: “Argyle came to greet me as I unlocked the front door of the Weaver’s Cat” in Crewel and Unusual by Molly MacRae.
I pulled down several more novels and every single novel I chose was in first person which seems to be the exception to the rule. After all, very few characters call themselves by name. The exception? Inigo Montoya. (My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.) But your reader is already in the point-of-view character’s head in first person So as long as you stick with this character you don’t have to worry about confusing your reader.
What about picture books? I went over to Amazon to check a variety of picture books including classics. Here are first spreads in five different books.
“One wonderful day Jim Panzee woke to discover that nothing was right” in Grumpy Monkey by Suzanne Lang.
“Once there was a tree…” in The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.
“One winter morning Peter woke up and looked out the window. Snow had fallen during the night. It covered everything as far as he could see.” In The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
“This is the sandcastle that Lola built” in The Sandcastle that Lola Built by Megan Maynor.
“One night at bedtime, Sloth wasn’t sleepy” in Sloth Wasn’t Sleepy by Kate Messner.
No first person and the main character is named on the first spread each and every time. What does this mean.
Introduce your reader to your main character immediately. You can do this by naming your main character or writing in first person. The younger your reader, the more important this is. This doesn’t mean that you will never find an exception but you definitely need to know why this is important before you try to side-step it.