Are the "authorities" wrong about how to start a novel? - Page 4


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Thread: Are the "authorities" wrong about how to start a novel?

  1. #31
    If a book does not grab my attention in the first chapter I take the view, 'life's too short' and move on to another book. I struggled with John Grisham's book, The Whistler, as it introduced too many characters in one go. My husband who also read the book, said the same. If we were not already familiar with the author, we would not have been tempted to buy more of his books.


    I am busy, so I have limited time. I will not labour through books which do not hold/grab my attention from the start. The characters must be engaging as well as the opening chapter.
    Last edited by PiP; December 20th, 2020 at 03:21 PM.
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  2. #32
    Life is short and there are so many books to read. You can usually tell in the first paragraph if the book is worth investing your precious time.

  3. #33
    Quote Originally Posted by Sam View Post
    Yeah, absolutely, and part of writing well is learning what works and what doesn't.
    It looks like that's about the only part of your reply that responded to what I wrote, rather than what you imagined. Nowhere did I say "abandon hooks", only that there is more flexibility in how to capture a reader's interest than some "experts" advise. Is it somehow a mystery to you that my examples would come from successful authors? LOL

    Quote Originally Posted by Sam View Post
    I have several friends, all of whom are avid readers, who don't even read past the first paragraph if it doesn't hook them
    Pity them. I've never abandoned a read after the "first paragraph". I've generally gone to enough trouble to get a book I may have some interest in to not then learn something about it. I have put them down after a few pages, generally either because it's in a style not to my taste, or I simply find bad writing. Personally, I'm patient with plot if the writing is at least competent.

    The point is to engage the reader. You engage the reader by writing well. I've looked at myriad efforts by hopeful beginners who start with dramatic hooks (they thought) but their writing is crap, because they haven't yet learned the craft.

    [QUOTE=Sam;2320326]Yes, an established author with an established readership can do whatever the absolute fuck they want. They're established, OP. They already have a myriad of fans who buy their work based on their name, not on how well they hook them./QUOTE]

    There is some danger in making statements like this in utter ignorance of the specifics being discussed. Here is the first paragraph of her first book published.

    I saw it first at twilight. The Highland mountains were purple in the fading light, the western sky a brilliant tapestry of gold and crimson. Against the fiery northern sunset the ruined tower rose in jagged silhouette, still standing guard over Blacktower House, which sprawled along the slope of the hill below.

    It doesn't sound like you or your friends would have read further, and you'd have missed out on a clever and amusing author.

    You seem to have somehow come to the conclusion that my post was advice to every beginning author to start their novel with backstory. At one point in your reply, you argue something I wrote by essentially repeating what I wrote. LOL Take a deep breath and try again.

    My last sentence was the point of the post. Learn to write well first. Get the horse before the cart.

  4. #34
    Quote Originally Posted by vranger View Post
    It looks like that's about the only part of your reply that responded to what I wrote, rather than what you imagined. Nowhere did I say "abandon hooks", only that there is more flexibility in how to capture a reader's interest than some "experts" advise. Is it somehow a mystery to you that my examples would come from successful authors? LOL
    I responded to all of what you wrote, but whatever.

    Pity them. I've never abandoned a read after the "first paragraph". I've generally gone to enough trouble to get a book I may have some interest in to not then learn something about it. I have put them down after a few pages, generally either because it's in a style not to my taste, or I simply find bad writing. Personally, I'm patient with plot if the writing is at least competent.

    The point is to engage the reader. You engage the reader by writing well. I've looked at myriad efforts by hopeful beginners who start with dramatic hooks (they thought) but their writing is crap, because they haven't yet learned the craft.
    If that were true, every English lit graduate would have a bestseller. It is, in fact, demonstrably untrue. Writing well is half the battle. You can write the most technically sound novel imaginable and it won't matter a damn if there's no story, no conflict, no hook. A great novel employs both great writing and great storytelling.

    There is some danger in making statements like this in utter ignorance of the specifics being discussed. Here is the first paragraph of her first book published.

    I saw it first at twilight. The Highland mountains were purple in the fading light, the western sky a brilliant tapestry of gold and crimson. Against the fiery northern sunset the ruined tower rose in jagged silhouette, still standing guard over Blacktower House, which sprawled along the slope of the hill below.

    It doesn't sound like you or your friends would have read further, and you'd have missed out on a clever and amusing author.
    No, my friends and I would have read on, because the first line is a hook. "I saw it first at twilight". That is a patently obvious hook. It sets up a question of what the character saw, such that you want to read on to find out what it is.

    This comes from the flawed notion that hooks have to be action-laden. They don't. The best hooks are ones to get you to ask questions. That opening line couldn't be any more of a hook if it tried.
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  5. #35
    Thought better of.
    Last edited by vranger; February 17th, 2021 at 01:17 AM.

  6. #36
    Yeah, I'm happy to call truce.

    I've been saying for years: good stories keep us on the edge of our seat; great stories keep us on the edge of our seat when we don't even know why. That's why a hook that poses an immediate question for a reader, which they will then demand to know an answer, is every bit as powerful as a hook that starts with action.

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    "One morning I shot an elephant in my pyjamas. How he got into my pyjamas I'll never know." ~ Groucho Marx.

    "It is better to be feared than loved, if one cannot be both". ~ Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince.

    "A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer". ~ Bruce Lee.

    "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's mind there are few". ~ Shunryu Suzuki.

    "Give a man a mask and he will show you his true face". ~ Oscar Wilde.

    "He who learns but does not think is lost; he who thinks but does not learn is in great danger". ~ Confucius.

  7. #37
    Quote Originally Posted by Sam View Post
    great stories keep us on the edge of our seat when we don't even know why.
    Agreed. I mentioned in here somewhere that I've read a LOT of books where I'm halfway through the book and I don't know when the meat of the plot is going to start, but I'm entertained and still reading. (Actually, with me that's a slam dunk. If I finish the first chapter, there are only a handful of novels in my life I've abandoned after that, even if I was wrinkling my nose at times).

    For the last couple of years I've been reading Jack McDevitt's "Alex Benedict" series. It's very unusual plotting and writing. The stories are sci-fi mysteries, and for a considerable portion of the novel you have no idea what the story is getting at. The MCs get interested in something ... you do get that much. Then they roam around interviewing people and doing research. Most of the time, the focus of the mystery changes well into the book, and the final act is straight out of left field.

    You get one interview after another where the interviewee denies useful knowledge. Deep into the series, I now expect one more more of the interviewees is lying and will soon try to murder the MCs, but that's not the point.

    There is nothing extraordinary about his style, and the personalities of the MCs are in no way unusual or titillating. Yet he's been a success. I'm certain these books are not for everyone. They impress me as a somewhat intellectual exercise, and I have room for that.

  8. #38
    The purpose of everything we write is either to entertain or educate. Obviously, first few pages of a fiction book need to capture the imagination of the reader, and entice them to read further. I believe there's an over-emphasis on the first sentence... or three sentences... or first paragraph - people have a longer attention span than that.

    Potential readers see your book title and cover - if that looks interesting, they'll read the description - if they're intrigued they'll pick up your book and read a few pages. If they're still interested they'll usually make the purchase.

  9. #39
    We want to write a first sentence that is engaging and meaningful. But, it's hard to do meaningful without any setting; it's hard to do engaging without any character.

    So, in one style of starting a book, the first line is action and then it's a huge bootstrapping. Not knowing what's going on can actually be an incentive to keep reading (and is a well-accepted technique), so not knowing what is happening at the start can actually be a hook.

    It was Christmas, and Dan was in the middle of proposing to my mom when there was a knock at the door. (Lucky Caller)
    The author has merely started the story at an interesting point in the action. It has potential and importance. But there was no way of doing that without creating mystery -- who was Dan? What was the knock? Will he finish the proposal? And on and on.

    All five of us looked that way -- me, Mom, Dan, my sisters Rose and Sidney, all of our heads swiveled en masse [EDITED: I HAD ORIGINALLY TYPE IN MASSE]. . .
    that continues the story but it also fills in the setting/characters.

    I am trying to reconcile Sam and vranger. There are different styles of starts, and in my opinion this is the best. You could see it as mystery, and you could see it as ordinary story telling.

    The author then continues the scene, and we quickly get to a discussion of opening the door that I think makes most sense if the girls are teens.

    We don't get to who is at the door until page 5, but that was not the author drawing out suspense (which some authors do intentionally). It was just the author spending 4 pages explaining who Dan was and filling in the backstory of proposing.

    Is this seat taken?" I asked the attractive young woman sitting by herself in the lounge. (The General's Daughter)
    In way, you could not ask for a more mundane start to a story. But it has potential, and it raises questions.

    A hook? No. This book hooked me about as fast and strong as a book can, but that was on word 65. Enough to keep going? Yes. Contrast that to:

    My brother was the king of nowhere. This fact doesn't matter to anyone ...
    I laughed at how bad that was, then set the book down with no intention of reading it.
    Last edited by EmmaSohan; December 21st, 2020 at 12:34 AM.
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  10. #40
    Quote Originally Posted by vranger View Post

    You read everywhere these days that you must capture your reader and quickly involve them in the plot. It's nonsense, but it's rammed down our throats constantly.

    ...

    So how does [Barbara Mertz] pull it off? Her narrative is clever and entertaining ... whether she is writing backstory or current plot. Her first-person MC has personality on display, and the reader is entertained.
    To me, that's exactly how she has captured her reader / audiobook listener - with clever and entertaining prose and MC personality. If that's the thing that involves the reader in the plot, then so be it. Other writers might use an inciting incident, or a curious deviation from the norm, or a tense moment of action, or a vivid description, to hook their reader. Just ... something. I think uncertainty around this point sets in where people think capturing the reader's attention must adhere to one form. It needn't, to my mind.


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