Think you have a few pages to hook your audience? Think again.
Last night, I explored my childhood bookshelf at my mom’s house with my eleven-year-old niece, Lilly. Then I watched as she went through the books one by one.
“How ’bout I read this story to you, Mimi?” Lilly said to me after piling up a decent-sized stack of mid-grade novels to take home.
“Sure,” I answered, excited to see some of my favorite stories being reclaimed.
Then I listened as Lilly struggled through the first line of one of the books. About half-way through that line, she stopped. “Uh, how about I try this other book?” she said.
“Okay. You don’t like that one?”
“No, I have to get a feel for them right off. I can tell right away if I’m going to like it or not.”
After struggling through the opening lines of two more books, Lilly gave up. I was sad, yet I understood. I was exactly the same way as a child, and I’m not far from there now. If an opener doesn’t hook me, I’m out.
Thankfully, Lilly’s mom and I made a strong enough sale on the rest of the books in Lilly’s stack (mostly because they had boys and possible kissing in them–Lilly’s almost twelve) that she still went home with a bunch. But today I’m left thinking about the openers we create for our audience, and the limited opportunity we have to grab their attention.
Earlier this week, I started reading Chris D’Lacy’s mid-grade novel The Fire Within. Admittedly, it was the cover that attracted me to it. (Think people don’t judge a book by its cover? Think again.) I have to give the cover artist high props for this one: it’s beautiful and intriguing. The problem: both the cover and the short cover flap description promise that the book’s about dragons. Now at almost half-way through it’s 350 pages, I’ve yet to encounter any dragons that aren’t clay statues.
Again, my thoughts turn to Lilly and my childhood self. Would I have continued reading? Heck no. And this is despite the fact that D’Lacey’s writing is quite good. (I’ve been studying his sentence structures and dialogue techniques as I read because I feel like I have a lot to learn from him–which is why I’ve kept reading despite the lack of dragons.) But I was promised dragons. How long do I have to wait to see them in action?
Here’s some things I made note of from watching Lilly and from my experience with D’Lacey’s book:
- An opener must be short and powerful.
- Big words and difficult names don’t belong in the first sentence. (Lilly tripped over some of these and tossed the books aside immediately. You might say this applies only to stuff for kids, but I wonder…?)
- Deliver on your promises. If you say you’re going to give readers something, give it to them. Immediately. (Suspense is great, but please, at least give us a taste so we want to keep reading.)
What do you think? What do you love or hate to see in an opener?
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