When I was at college I did a film studies paper. One of the first things we learned, and something that has stuck with me since then, was that filmmakers have twenty minutes to hook the audience in. After twenty minutes, if the audience hasn’t been hooked, then you’ve quite likely lost them. They’re more likely to turn off the film and find something else to do.
Talk about pressure!
With books, it’s kind of the same. There is a lot of talk about how the first lines really matter. It’s true, of course. First lines are really important for setting the tone of the book for the reader. You can tell a lot about a book from its first line, and often I’ll buy a book based on its first line and writing style.
More than that though, I think with books it’s similar to films. You have two chapters to hook the reader in. If your reader gets to the end of chapter two and is still saying “I don’t have a clue what’s going on here, I’m utterly and completely confused” then I think you have a problem.
I’m reading a novel at the moment which left me feeling the same way. I got to 20% through and I still didn’t understand what was happening. It was almost trying so hard to be captivating and mysterious that it just fell short and left me tempted to put the book down. I persevered though (a lot of people who reviewed this novel did not), and the story got much more interesting and captivating. Once I got to 60% through the book I finally cared about the characters and what was going on. The plot holes still frustrate me and I wish there was a little more insight into how the situation arose in the first place, but I care enough to want to finish the book.
|This is pretty much me with my current book. Except I'm not a male. And I don't wear jumpers like that.|
It goes to show how hard it is to get it right really. How do you get it right? Is there any way of pleasing everybody? The answer to that is probably not. Take Harry Potter for example. NPR recently listed the series as number one on the best ever teen novels list yet for every ten thousand people that love Harry, there is another thousand that can’t stand him.
My Dad once told me that people have differently wired brains. Techy people and arty people typically have a different kind of ‘wiring’ in their brains. It’s not to say they can’t enjoy the same things, like watching a Broadway show, listening to music or watching a sports game, it just means their brains work differently. My Dad, he’s an electrical engineer and he’s pretty good at math. Me, well I majored in Creative Industries and I’m terrible at math. During high school, Dad would spend hours trying to teach me long division and algebra because I just couldn’t get it through my head when my math teacher would explain it in front of the class.
I remember Dad saying he had a math teacher once who had a brain so mathematically wired, that he couldn’t understand how people didn’t understand. He would get frustrated at his students when they couldn’t simply pick it up after he’d explained it once or twice. The students, like me, probably had their brain wired somewhat differently that they needed everything broken down and practiced over and over before they understood. Those students though could possibly have excelled in creative writing or piano playing or art while the math teacher quite possibly could have struggled.
|This is me when I can't get my head around Trig...|
I mention all this because it could come into play when reading a book. The fact that I haven’t been able to engage in this book until I’m 60% of the way through could be entirely different for someone else, someone who’s thought processes are entirely different. They might be hooked from the first sentence, whereas they might also find a book that I loved really hard to read.
So how do you combat this? I honestly, have no idea! I wish I had the answers. Then again, if I did, I’d probably be on the track to being the next J.K. Rowling by now…
|It's just cute, yeah?|
What do you look for in an opening line? An opening chapter or even the first quarter of a book? Do you like the ‘I’m not going to say much about what’s going on so you can try and figure it out later’ kind of thing or the ‘I know what’s going on and I like the way the story is progressing?’ I’m curious…. Do tell!