Nova Ren Suma, author of the forthcoming Imaginary Girls (which I can't wait to read), tweeted this yesterday:
I used to be an editor. I know how important those first few pages are -- sometimes I wouldn't even commit to the whole first chapter if the first pages didn't really suck me in. (See post title. You really need the "proper amount of suction.")As a reader, I love the download-free-sample option on my Kindle. As a writer, I see how essential it is to have a BRILLIANT first chapter.
Everyone's busy. You can buy a new song in under a minute right on your phone, and if you don't like it, you can buy another one. You can watch movies right on your computer, and the screamingly funny episode of Raising Hope you missed on Hulu. (Well, I think you can. I actually don't ever miss them.)
In other words, if the story isn't demanding that you keep reading in a clawing-your-shirt, look-at-me! way, a lot of readers are going to shut the book and go on to the next one.
Sometimes it's hard to remember that as a writer, though. You know what's coming. You know all of the gut-wrenching and scary and touching and funny things that are going to happen ... just later on. You know everyone should keep reading, because they payoff is going to rock!
But you have to make sure readers know that, right up front.
It's tough, because it makes it seem like every first chapter in the world should be full of explosions and Sophie's Choice style decisions and romance and a cliffhanger or three. And if every book opened that way, reading would get a little exhausting.
It's not always what happens. It's about how it's told.
You have that friend, I bet. The one who can tell you a ridiculous story about the thing with the squirrel and the broken toaster oven in the parking lot of a WalMart, and it doesn't matter that it's ridiculous, because the way she tells it is guaranteed to make you laugh, and gasp, and possibly cry a little. That's what will suck you in, every time.
That's your voice. And in the end, that's what will make your book impossible to put down, from page one.
In other news, guess who's considering rewriting her first chapter today? Go on, guess.