Rhobin’s question for May, 2017 was suggested by Skye: Has so much emphasis been placed by other writers’ advice, publishers, reviewers, etc. on authors to have a spectacular opening page/1st chapter that the rest of the story sometimes gets left behind? What are your thoughts and experiences with this?
One of my required reading projects in high school was The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy. It was incredibly boring to a teenager. That was not because of the content — looking back now, I see a great deal of tension and food for thought — but because of the verbosity. What I can say in 20 words took 20 pages (well, I may be exaggerating, but only slightly).
I reckon it wouldn’t find a publisher today. Current audiences are conditioned by TV to expect instant tension, immediacy, rapid movement. But, as Skye’s question implies, this applies to the whole book.
Often, I advise my editing clients to ask the unasked question about every scene, every paragraph, even ever sentence. This is: “Why should I bother to read on?” Every little advance needs to be a teaser to encourage the reader to turn the next page, read the next paragraph, progress to the next sentence.
So, yes, we need to start with a bang, but never descend to a whimper.
Apart from the continuation after the opening, another critical point is often after the sample to be submitted. Typical requirements are “first three chapters” or “first 5000 words.” So, there is the temptation to burnish that much to a fine shine, then ease off. Instead, even after the last page, the last word, we want the reader to say, “I want to read on!”
This is why my just-published book, Guardian Angel, ends with a birth.
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