Grab me. Capture me. Kidnap me. Do this is the first few pages, and I’ll follow you to the end, no matter what.
Confuse me. Bore me. Anger me. Do this, and I won’t be as compliant.
I usually read two or three books at a time. I’ll have one on the go on my bedside table, one that rotates from the living room to the bedside table (depending on how exciting it is), and one floater that could be anywhere. This is probably why it takes me so long to get anything fully read, but I like to have variety. Throw in some non-fiction, and my reader’s brain is happy.
But what if a book doesn’t thrill in the first few pages? I have a friend who will stop reading at page 25 (I don’t know why that’s her limit), if it hasn’t compelled her to read on. She might read the ending, if there was a mystery set up in those first twenty-five, but that’s it. She’s done. I will slog through, though, keep going even if it means it takes me months to finish a book, just because I have this stupid need to finish. It’s a disease, I think.
Getting me in the first few doesn’t happen through plot alone, however. Sometimes, I’ll like a nice long setup, with rich characters and setting. Sometimes, I’ll be more interested in voice. Most of the time, I just need a story to make me stop and think about it…even when I don’t have it in my hands. Those are the special ones, however.
Right now, I’m reading NOS4A2 by Joe Hill, which is frankly, taking me a little bit to get into. The first few pages were well written, but I can’t seem to keep the momentum up. (Probably because I’m trying to read this one before bed, and it’s a little too nightmare-inducing for me to want to read it right before falling asleep).
I’m also reading THE 5th WAVE, by Rick Yancey. This one is a little different. I didn’t like it at first. Okay, I LOVED the first page or two, then thought…what? Put it down. Picked it back up. Put it back down. You get the idea. Finally, somewhere around chapter five, I started getting into it. I’m a little surprised I kept with it that long, however, but I think it’s got me now.
And last but not least, I’m reading Stephen King’s, JOYLAND. Pure joy, right from the delightful cover. I want to read this one right now, all the way through. But then it would be over, and I need to savour it. So, I’ll stick to just a few pages here and there, and enjoy it as it unfolds over the next few weeks.
So here’s what I think about when I’m beginning to write something new:
- Keep an eye on your first chapter. Is there an actual plot point in there, or is it all setup?
- Does chapter one flow into chapter two without making it feel like an information dump?
- Does chapter 3 end with a bang? (Okay, doesn’t have to be a bang, but agents often only ask for the first 3 chapters. You average reader might make it that far also. So, will you get them to read more? Make chapter 3 count!)
What does all this mean? It means, work your opening like it is the LAST chapter you write. I have to think that there are probably many, many books out there that I never finished, that probably had an amazing ending. Usually, books get better, not worse, right? So, finish what you’re writing, go back and work that opening like you mean it. Put everything you’ve got into that opening 25 pages. Or someone might put it down and never read that fantastic ending.
KIDNAP YOUR READERS!!