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?
Have you seen my new website? http://amysjoy.com
>The problem with editing is that you have to keep reading the same thing
and over again.
The writing just isn’t as much fun the 50 bizillionth time around.
Ah time…time is so grand. With time we can set one writing project aside, move on to the next one, and come back to the last one after some time has passed. Then we can see it again with fresh eyes, and be able to really look at it critically, cut out the rubbish, add in more flavor, and–with any luck–find that what we wrote was more brilliant than we remembered.
>Over a month ago, I finished the complete, revised draft of my young adult novel, The Academie. Since then, I have been dying send it off to agents and move on to my next project. What’s standing in the way? Editing. Why? Editing takes patience. Lots of patience.
Unfortunately, no matter how you cut it, editing simply isn’t a quick process. Why not? Because while we might like to hope that our word processor catches everything with its grammar and spell checkers, this simply isn’t the case. It can’t catch if you used the wrong version of a word (hear/here) or if you left out a word, or if you simply haven’t described a particular character with the right kind of detail. Tend to be on the wordy side? The spell-checker can’t catch that either.
So I’ll continue on, page by page, checking to make sure that everything is as perfect as it can be because I know that good editing could mean the difference between getting an agent and publisher for my work or getting my writing tossed into the recycle bin.