One of my twin daughters got a new book in the mail and squealed with excitement as she opened it.
Sadly, once she started reading the new squeal-worthy book, it fell into the book graveyard. It had a gorgeous, captivating cover. A catchy title. An interesting blurb. And it promised to be a fun, light read.
So why did it die and get buried?
After she read the first chapter, I asked her how she liked it. She sprawled out next to me on the couch and said, “It’s boring.”
“Oh no.” My heart sank because I’d been looking forward to reading the book too but now wasn’t sure if I would. “Why’s it boring?”
“All she does in the first chapter is talk on the phone.”
Sure enough, as I paged through the book, the phone conversation was the scope of most of the first chapter.
There are plenty of readers out there who will persevere past the first chapter and perhaps find the story appealing. My other teen daughter did and ended up liking the book.
But why take a chance on a so-so opening? Why not craft a more captivating start a story?
Like many authors, I always search deep to find the right scene to start the book—something exciting or dangerous or unusual. I also try to find something that alters my character’s comfortable life, something that knocks them off the path they’ve been on and forces them into a new and different direction.
But no matter how hard attempt to craft my opening, I still occasionally get reviews that complain about a slow start. There’s just no way to please everyone.
How far will most readers go before giving up? A page or two? A chapter? The middle of the book? Does some of it depend on whether the reader paid for the book, feeling the need to persevere and get her money’s worth? Is it easier to toss the book aside if it’s a library book, loan, or freebie for the Kindle? I know it is for me.
So where does that leave opening hooks? Is the beginning really all that important or not?
On the one hand, I think a book needs to have something that hooks us into reading it right from the start. But on the other hand, even if a book has an exciting hook it can still fail to deliver the rest of the story.
Over the years, I’ve come to realize that while I like a heart-stopping opening, something that grabs me and dumps me into the middle of the story and conflict, I’m also able to overlook a slightly slow beginning if the story itself grips me.
I personally think a book should attempt to do both those things, entice me at the beginning AND then sweep me along with the story. After all, some people (like my daughter) won’t read on if an author doesn’t do BOTH.
But if I had to choose a fantastic beginning or a sweeping story, I’d pick the sweeping story. I can overlook a slow start, but I can’t overlook a slow book. I might be able to wallow through the first few arduous pages, but if the story doesn’t grip me, then I usually can’t persevere.