Nathan Bransford, Author


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What Makes You Read On?

If you haven't already entered the 4th Annual Stupendously Ultimate First Paragraph Challenge, please do so in the official contest thread! Win partial consideration by Catherine Drayton and a signed ARC of JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW!

One of the things I love about the annual first paragraph contest is just seeing the sheer number of ways you can start a book. Violent, sedate, loud, quiet, profound, prosaic, rapturous, reserved.... every possibility is on display in just this one contest.

So what do you like to see in the opening pages of a book?

We've all picked up books in a bookstore or perused them online. What makes you decide to read on and decide to buy the book? Is there a common element that keeps you reading or something you look for in an opening? How do you know you're in good hands?






136 comments:

Eric Laing said...

An author who isn't afraid to be subtle. Both in voice and in story.

Chris Phillips said...

same as everyone else. steamy vampire romance! <3

Down the well said...

Almost always there is something about the voice that grabs my attention and makes me want to read more of what the author has to say.

And making me curious about what will happen next is never a bad thing.

Laura Campbell said...

Still working on my paragraph, but I will be entering the contest!

Let's see...I read a wide range of books. If the beginning has a sympathetic element to it, and the humanity of the character or situation is believable. I sympathize or share some aspect, and continue reading to see how similar we are.

Other times, a question is posed or a situation is set up and I must continue to read to find the answer or figure out why it happened.

Either way I'm intrigued and want to know more. Thanks for the post. Gives my writing a different angle.

Whirlochre said...

The footprints of some mysterious new creature leading tantalisingly away.

Nicole said...

As I was reading the entries, it surprised me how much I was drawn to subtle, ominous openings with a confident voice. Those were the ones that most intrigued me and made me want to read further.

Great job everybody!

Jenny said...

I don't think it's very tangible for me. Humor will generally get me to read more. But it could be a great voice, an interesting turn of phrase early on, a character doing something out of the ordinary...

Though command of the language is uber-necessary. If I have to struggle figuring out what the subject of the sentence is doing I'll put a piece down quick.

S. Kyle Davis said...

For me, it's voice combined with one of the following:

1) a tense moment. Strong, obvious tension or subtle, below-the-surface tension. Either way works.

Good example: Hunger Games.

2) a character moment. Specifically, I'm talking about something quirky here. Something that shows the character as unique, funny, weird, etc.

Good example: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's/Philosopher's Stone

3) a poetic/literary moment. A concise and targeted literary opening, especially in a book where you don't expect it, gets me every time.

Good example: Twilight

Josh H said...

I read the jacket first. If I like the premise, I can forgive a number of first-page sins, but if the author's voice doesn't grab me, I put the book back down.

Or rather, in some cases, if the author's voice doesn't bore me, I keep reading. I think it depends on the book.

Eric Laing said...

I believe prefered genre plays a major factor here. I doubt folks who like romance look for the same thing--on average and in general--as those who lean towards sci-fi.

Dawn Embers said...

I must confess: I don't read anything except the back of the book before buying.

If I've heard of the book, like the cover and/or like what the synopsis is on the back then I'll buy and try to read the novel. I probably should read at least a few paragraphs from now on.

Marsh said...

Boredom and impatience really keeps me out of book reading. Sometimes it's the book's fault sometimes it's mine.

Emily White said...

I think a really great first paragraph has a great narrative voice. I'll read a wide variety of openings and love them as long as I can picture a person behind the voice and not just see a string of words relaying events.

kit said...

The curiosity factor—what will happen next? Plus voice and quality of writing.

Sean said...

I enjoy a confident voice and a relatable scenario. One I could actually envision happening to me in real life. Like "Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets". Or "IT".

Andrea said...

Language, voice and honesty.

And no weird distractions, like typos and errors I notice a lot.

Matthew Rush said...

Any number of things can intrigue me and make me keep reading, but I would say that the most common has to be voice. If the WAY a writer tells a story stands out, makes it sound like no other story I've read before, then it could be about almost anything, with almost any kind of characters in it.

If it doesn't have that sound to it, then it would have to be about something I really like, or contain some amazing characters (like lots of sword fights, space monkeys, kung-fu, existential philosophy, chi manipulation, lusty barmaids, and warriors of questionable honor).

Amanda said...

Voice.

And on the flipside, I almost always put down a book if it starts violently or with a true action sequence. I don't want to read about ninja kicks, dodging bullets, etc. if I don't even know who the heck the characters are.

Nick said...

Voice, nine times out of ten.

You can open with a murder, a snog, waking up, eating breakfast, having sex, or whatever you very well please.

It doesn't have to be 100% enthralling right off the bat, but if the writing comes across as dull, I don't give a damn if you've got the most fascinating opener in the world. I will get bored, wander off, and probably never pick that book up again.

Lauren said...

Voice is that intangible answer - but I tend to prefer an authorial voice over a character voice. Even in first person, I prefer it when it feels like the character is 'telling' the story with an agenda rather than narrating it like a play-by-play.

I also prefer openings that are a bit of a 'slow burn', enticing me with the language or an interesting idea, rather than thrusting me into the middle of a conversation or an action scene.

Richard Gibson said...

I definitely don't know...but as agents sometimes say about what grabs them, I know it when I see it.

Ted said...

I open a book I'm considering to a random page in the middle and read a page or two. If I like the style and voice, I flip to another random page and read more. After doing that several times, I either buy the book or check it out of the library. I rarely read the first page and never make a read/stop decision based on it.

Anonymous said...

Tension. In the words, in the Character in the world created by the author. A good beginning becomes like an endless soup that you are swimming in, drowning in. You keep devouring more and more without looking at the clock until it is 3 am in the morning. That is a good book!

Stephanie Garber said...

I don't usually buy books based on the first paragraph, but I have enjoyed reading some of the entries for your latest contest, and I was surprised by what did and didn't entice me to read more.

I think Nicole already said it well when she wrote she liked subtle ominous openings, and I agree. I like openings that leave me with a feel for the book's tone, and at least a hint of a question that begs me to read more.

On the contrary, I don't think I like first paragraphs that start in the middle of action. I think the build-up is usually way more interesting... without it, who really cares what happens in the action?

Steve Abernathy said...

Lyrical cursing.

L.A. Colvin said...

I like to be thrown right into the action. I don't want to many characters at first but I need to have a feel for the scenery or lack there of.

Kathleen said...

It can't kick off with melodrama. If a teenage girl is whining in the first sentence, or there's some ambiguous allusion to lost love, I probably won't read it. Also "memoir" type beginnings where the narrator is reminiscing abstractly before launching into the plot are a turn off. I like to be dropped right into the middle of action when I open a book.

vnrieker said...

I like a little mystery without too much melodrama. I wanna be curious without rolling my eyes.

Here, Nathan.

http://www.thefuntheory.com/piano-staircase

It's unrelated, but I thought you might enjoy it. =D
(Sorry about my ignorance of making links blue and shiny.)

Kathryn Packer Roberts said...

I think I'm subconsciously trying to make this into a science so I can make my story start out the right way. There are a number of things I look for (and this is a great exercise btw):

1- Voice
2- The hook (this can include not giving away too much and which really could be a lot of things, but something that interests me about the MC that I want to keep reading on)
3- Topic, which is different for everyone.
4- Setting, although I'm finding I like a verious rainbow of these now. Really, in the old days I don't think I could be so thrilled to have a book start off in outerspace, but I've rethunk that...thunk. =)

Hannah Jenny said...

When I open a book in the bookstore to see if I'm going to buy it, I want something that "flows" nicely (just is generally well-written) and is either a nice description (pretty or interesting) or says something unique about a character. It doesn't need to be exciting, because I don't mind being drawn in gradually (I usually like that better)

abc said...

It's not so much a hook as it is voice and character for me. Who can deny the allure of Holden Caulfield and Harry Bosch and Nick Carraway?

Stephanie McGee said...

I have to confess that I don't read the first page when deciding to buy a book. I read the blurb. What keeps me going when I start a book I've bought (or has been bought for me) is the character. If I can care about the character (or the "Oh snap" moment that upsets their world) enough to care, I keep going. If I can't empathize in any way with the character or their plight, I stop.

Scott said...

I noticed that many of the submissions so far, although well-written in detail, seemed to be trying too hard. They sounded like the author has heard that you should start with something that catches the reader from the get-go and demands their attention! Like this! Wow!

I noticed a while ago that my openings were a little forced, trying to be too grabby. They sounded like a cheap made-for-TV movie that had no confidence in the body, and therefore felt the need for a kick in the gut at the beginning.

Is that what some have mentioned in the comments as the need for subtlety? If so, I heartily agree. Even a YA novel would turn me off slightly if it started out by trying too hard. Maybe thrillers could do this, but I think most novels can get away with a serene beginning that doesn't try to smack you in the face as long as they are well-written in general and are self-confident.

Hillsy said...

Sounds daft but ever since I started learnign about the craft of writing I don't read the first page in a prospective book. I flick to the middle and scan through to get a feeling of style and prose.

1st paragraphs are too much like the hard sell. "Look at me! Look at me!" I think for an agent they work due to the shear volume of 1st paragraphs they receive, for me as a reader they can be too overengineered and overwrought to be a valid representation of what's inside.

Rebecca said...

I like to be strung along a little. An intriguing hook is vital, but I get overloaded if the author tries to tell me everything up front. I admire authors who can balance exposition with movement of the plot and trust their readers to keep up.

Also, I completely forget who I'm quoting here, but I saw an agent comment once that the reader should get a glimpse of what's 'normal' for the protagonist, if only for a few paragraphs. I think that's really good advice.

Lisa Cron said...

Beautiful writing? Voice? Humor? They're good, but they're secondary to the one thing that matters most: The first page has to incite a sense of urgency that spurs my desire to know what happens next.

When I scan that first page, I'm jonesing for the feeling that something is happening. I crave the notion that I’ve come in at a crucial juncture, and not a moment too soon. What intoxicates me is the hint that there is not only trouble brewing, but that it’s long standing and about to reach critical mass. This means that from the first sentence I need to catch sight of the breadcrumb trail that will lure me deeper into the thicket. I have heard it said that fiction (all stories, for that matter) can be summed up by a single sentence: “All is not as it seems.” Which means what I'm hoping for in that opening sentence is the sense that something is about to change – and not necessarily for the better.

Simply put, I'm looking for a reason to care. So for a story to grab me, something must not only be happening, it must have a point, a.k.a. a consequence. It’s my desire to find out what the consequence is that draws me deeper in. This means that whether it’s an actual event unfolding, or that we meet the protagonist in the midst of an internal quandary, or merely a hint that something’s slightly “off,” on the first page, there has to be a ball already in play. Not the preamble to the ball. Not all the stuff you have to know to really understand the ball. The ball itself. This is not to say the first ball must be the main ball -- it can be the initial ball, or even a starter ball. But on that first page, it has to feel like the only ball, and it has to have my complete attention.

mshatch said...

compelling characters are my #1 choice. If a book has that I'll forgive a lot.

Ulysses said...

Action that raises questions.

It's the questions that the opening raises in my mind. I keep reading in order to find the answers to those questions, which, if things are done right, will raise more questions to keep me reading.

A little while ago, I studied the openings of 7 books I had read recently and tried to figure out why they worked. The summary is above, but the full (and interesting) results are here.

I also analyzed the opening prologue to Coyote Horizon, because it did its job so well.

Terry Odell said...

Anything that tells me I'm going to care about the character and want to know more about him/her and his predicament.

Terry
Terry's Place
Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

Martin Rose said...

The language must be masterful -- it must flow seamlessly from one word to the next; and secondly, it must not give too much away. I crave an air of mystery in the prose -- it helps create tension.

Kevin said...

Not a fan of sneakiness or tricks in the opening paragraphs. I love clarity and accessibility, where the reader experiences the mood, characters, and plot and without difficulty. No guessing games. I need useful information in the opening paragraph. I need to know why I should keep reading. Also, while reading through the contest entries, I found myself skimming or skipping paragraphs entirely if my eye detected too much baggage (i.e. excess adjectives, adverbs, passive voice). Reading the entries made me appreciate short, crisp sentences. As a composer, the experience reminded me of "noodly" melodies...music where the melody waffles around the same cluster of notes (usually in the middle of the music staff, which on paper looks like a noodle) without any dramatic climaxes. Such peaks gave the music distinction. Short, powerful sentences give writing definition.

Anonymous said...

The quality of the prose matters a lot to me. A strong voice, a smooth flow, an instant feeling or vision of place or person. I like a book that feels intimate right away.

I've been reading Mating, by Norman Rush, and it's a good example of a very strong, individual and engaging first-person voice.

Kevin said...

One more thought: great novels don't always start with urgency. Cliff-hanger moments in the first pages don't always work. Novels provide escape. Some of my favorite novels in literature spend the first few pages describing a setting or a mood that is irresistable. For example, I remember one novel that opened with a description of two characters standing in a park in London at sunset. Nothing urgent was happening, but it was so well written that my first reaction was, "I want to spend time in this world immediately." I kept reading to prolongue my stay in that world. Urgent things developed in the plot eventually, but not at first.

John Jack said...

I don't know about "makes" me read on. If I'm made to do something, I tend to shy away. The differences between rape and seduction: forced against one's will and powerless to resist.

Compels me to read on? Okay.

Curiosity, caring about what will happen next, passionate, evocative circumstances, clashing wills, relevant, timely, timeless themes, exotic settings, emerging larger-than-life characters suffering insuperable struggles, potent opposing forces, and contentious private and public intra- and interpersonal interactions.

Give me an intimate reading experience, voyeur-like, vicariously experiencing an out-of-body transformational projection into the time, place, situation, events, and persons of a story.

Liesl said...

Interesting characters and conflict. It doesn't have to be a the big conflict, but just something standing in their way.

I would say "voice" grabs me, but I think voice is simply the product of a skilled and confident writer and it's not always obvious.

Teralyn Rose Pilgrim said...

I hate hooks. You know, the kind that start out with someone holding a gun and you're supposed to read further to find out why they're holding a gun and what they're going to do with it. When people start a book that way, I have no interest in continuing because anyone can hold a gun. I don't care about the book or the character yet.

Beth said...

I agree that the voice has to capture my attention. What that means to me is that the voice has to show me:
1. What genre I'm reading
2. A hint of the main character's personality including weaknesses or strengths that might lead to the conflict or denoument
3. That the author has a good handle on the point of view

Ria said...

A wide variety of things will make me read of: an interesting set-up, character I can relate to, anything involving thieves or assassins.

I think a more concrete answer would be, what turns me off. The major turn-off for me is a first paragraph that is nothing but description. Be that of the landscape, the character's features, the social climate. It doesn't really matter. If there is no action on the first page (I will allow one or two rambling paragraphs, if they are interesting), I put the book down.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

A hook of a first sentence.

Followed by a first paragraph that is short, enticing, and lives up to that first sentence.

Kathy said...

So many different things make me want to read a book that it's hard to put them down. A clever line, something that peaks my interest. A bout of action told in a sardonic voice. A sarcastic take on a mundane setting. A beautiful sweeping vision on a world to be discovered. A voice unique to the author and the character. All these things and more make me want to read beyond the first page.

JES said...

I go with voice. And subtlety: on the page as in real life, do not grab me by the lapels and start shouting what I need to think.

Daniel Smith said...

First, hook me. Make me like the characters. Make me interested in the story. Make me care about what happens.

Then tell what comes next. Make the words, and hence the story, flow.

If this is done well, then I'll read on. But if/when I come across a problem, bad wording, a grammatical mistake, or most often something simply written out of order, then I lose flow *and* interest.

Anonymous said...

"I am told," says Dixie Durango Hu, 23, trophy wife of Hawaii Governor Waldo C.K. Hu, 61, "that you're an unlicensed, amateur, rogue private investigator. That you lie, cheat, and break laws. That you're lookin' for work only because you're broke and need money for a lawyer. That you like clients with the kind of problems they can't take to the cops. And that you've been drunk for a week. Did I miss anything?"” Dixie watches Harry try to stand up. She says, "Sit down, Mr. Daffodil. You're just what I wanted."”

by DRM dmyers@the-i.net

JES said...

P.S. And I'll add: if it's a familiar author, I'm inclined to give him/her a pass if the first page (or chapter) doesn't quite ring true.

Meg said...

I want to feel like the author is really going to put me in the main character's head and have their thoughts and feelings be believable.

And of course I need to feel like this character is going to be interesting.
That's why I read - to hear about the much more exciting lives of other people!

T. Anne said...

Voice! They can make me read almost anything as long as I really like the voice and style.

Bea said...

I have to be wowed by the first page, even better the first paragraph. I need to be hooked in from the start and able to place myself in the story and vision it

Bea said...

I have to be wowed by the first page, even better the first paragraph. I need to be hooked in from the start and able to place myself in the story and vision it

Kevin said...

Generally, I find it hard to stop reading if I'm immediately curious at what's going on. Even if the writing isn't good, I still end up reading further than I would have.

Bea said...

‘So, what’s Andrew doing now?’ asked Jane, the family friend my mother hadn’t seen for years. ‘He’s working as a tree surgeon for one of his friends, and Peter is in telecommunications,’ she said, of my two brothers, aged 28 and 30. My sister Sarah, 26 at the time, explained that she was working in Trading Standards for the Council. ‘And what about Rebecca?’ Jane’s husband Paul asked. ‘She now works as a high- class escort,’ said Mum, with as much normality as she could muster. ‘So she’s a hooker?’ Paul countered triumphantly, with a big grin. Embarrassed, my Mum then tried to explain that I wasn’t a hooker and that I travelled all over the world, going to prestigious hotels and restaurants with businessmen.'

Like this from The Girlfriend Experience :)

rosaria said...

Nathan, your contest/comment is not receiving any more entry. I'm attaching mine here:


I have a feeling that my time is running out, and to talk about my past I need to borrow an eagerness that no longer exists in my present life, a way to see my tomorrows lined up like ice- cream flavors, days and weeks different and exciting, ready to be savored. Writing these stories, these memory fragments, will retrace my journey to America, to the times when a scared seventeen year old flew over the Atlantic leaving her little town in Lucania, Italy, to pursue her dream of an education.



Thanks!

Nathan Bransford said...

rosaria-

Entries must go in the official contest thread, I'm afraid. I didn't have a problem leaving a comment in the contest thread just now, you might try again.

salima said...

To be honest, I read well past the first paragraph. If I'm not hooked in three pages, I know I probably won't be. a notable example of this is the Hunger Games, the first paragraph of which (is very good) but didn't particularly hook me. By page 3 I couldn't put it down. And, hmm....I guess I usually like being plunked headfirst into some sinister action with a lot of ambience. And emotion. Not a tall order, right?

OHHHH!!!!! And I must say one of the best, best, best first paragraphs in the history of first paragraphs is in "Tuck Everlasting."

Raquel Byrnes said...

You know I started reading a book last night at midnight...because I'm mental...and couldn't put it down.

The reason? Questions....I had so many questions the author made me wonder what was going on from the first paragraph.

Why was she so scared? What's with all the security? Why would she have two offices, one with her name and one with a fake name?

I read until 2am. *Yawn* I didn't even think I liked the genre...it was a free download from Kindle. Now I'm totally hooked on this author and will totally buy her next book.

Sue Harrison said...

A character I care about, immediately. A voice that I can HEAR so distinctly that the narrator seems to be right in the room with me as I read.

Naomi Canale said...

I never read the back of a book first. Shamefully, I do judge a book by its cover and title. Then I'll open the first page to see if I like the writing. If I get hooked, like in a recent book I read, How To Say Goodbye In Robot or always Ellen Hopkins books I'm hooked! Great job everyone! I'm loving a lot of the paragraphs out there in this contest. Thanks Nathan for doing this, it makes all us writers happy inside!

Stephanie Barr said...

Humor/character. I'll be more willing to continue if I find the first bit funny. If I get caught by a character, I'll go through fire.

E. VERNA said...

What makes me read on? Uhm...the element of surprise. Don't we love surprises, mystery and enigma?

The Red Angel said...

Imagery, good and realistic dialogue between characters, and a font big enough for me to read without squinting. ;)

I also like books that tend to move fast...slower-paced books are still more often than not quite excellent, but when I pick up a book and read the first paragraph and I feel the desire to keep going, I usually take a fancy.

~TRA

http://xtheredangelx.blogspot.com

Heidi said...

I'm captivated by an interesting voice, as though the character is an interesting person that I'd like to get to know more, or something intriguing that raises questions in my mind.

Lisa Yarde said...

Overall, I want a hint that I should care about the characters and one source of conflict on the first page.

Sommer Leigh said...

I think it is easier to explain what I don't like - I don't like noticing the hook. I don't want a beginning to feel like it is designed specifically to sell to me some great story. I don't want it to feel forced.

I do want it to feel organic and natural to the story. I want it to feel like it belongs specifically to this story and not written just for me to keep me reading.

I do not want to notice the writer in their first paragraph.

Stoich91 said...

Haha...good writing, of course. What else can you tell from the first 100 words besides that?

Anonymous said...

Hi Nathan,

I have a quick question: Well, I accidentally posted my entry twice while I was working on it (a shorter one and a longer one). I foolishly pressed the publish button instead of preview and (BAM!) my entry was entered. I didn't see it in the comments section so I decided to finish editing. Big mistake.

I asked for it to be removed but I suppose that was an awful thing to request, so now I would like to know if I'm disqualified and, if not, which entry will you consider (the incomplete or the completed)?

Thanks so much for your time. :)

D.G. Hudson said...

I usually check the first page, a page in the middle of the book and then read the blurbs on the back before making my decision.

A writer who can draw me in bit by bit is my preference. IMO, a writer's voice can be the maker or the breaker.

I prefer stories set in otherworldly locales, in another time and place.

Stephanie@thecrackedslipper said...

I recently posted about this on very topic on my blog! http://thecrackedslipper.wordpress.com/2011/01/10/getting-on-the-list

But the fast answer is concept, voice, character. In that order! Big burst of action-- not my thing. I like to be drawn in, not tossed in.

anvil said...

For me, instead of something that keeps me reading, I look for a paragraph that doesn't stop me from reading. If it 'breaks the picture plane' (art school speak, sorry) and I start thinking about how the paragraph is constructed, or an awkward word that stands out, a cliched phrase - anything that stops the flow in the first paragraph is a red flag. I'll keep going, but I'll be aware that I'm reading instead of being sucked into the story.

That's what I want in a book, I want to forget that I'm reading it.

Ann Best said...

The promise of something interesting.

J. R. McLemore said...

If the prose comes across casually and the writer has piqued my interest in the first chapter, I'll continue to read.

Purple prose always makes me walk away.

I'm not a huge fan of Dean Koontz, but his book ODD THOMAS read so casually that I was thoroughly impressed. I know how hard it is to craft a story to make the reader feel that comfortable and he did a great job on that one.

Roza M said...

want that mystery, that kind of tingle that makes me say ouuu. Examples: Tonight was the big night, the one I'd waited for my entire life. The awakening, the first shift-- the loss of my moon virginity.~ Dark of the moon, a dark guardian novel by: Rachel Hawthorne. It's my favorite in the series.

Katherine Hyde said...

The main thing I look for is prose that makes me say "ahhh." I also like an appealing voice and a hint of something unusual waiting for me within the book.

Phil said...

It's not plot, it's not action, it's not the setting. It's the voice. If there is a particularly intriguing turn of phrase or a sense of mastery of language, I'll read on.

M Pax said...

If I don't know the rest of the plot or how it ends before leaving the first paragraph, I'll keep reading and buy. I don't like this knowing the whole story before the end of the first chapter thing. It bores me.

Becca said...

It's different for every book, but usually the voice. Just the way the first few things are described. I can't stand it when it sound immature.

J.J. Bennett said...

Something has to draw me in. Voice, intersting situation, but most of all something that feels authentic.

Kristin Laughtin said...

There are so many possible ways to compel me to keep reading that it's difficult to come up with a grand unified theory of them all. A hook that promises this story will have something unusual to distinguish it from similar works in the genre will usually do it, as will a strong and unique voice, especially one that uses language or uncommon words in interesting and atypical ways while still being clear and understandable. I like openings that are subtle, ominous, or dreamy (without being an actual dream). I want to feel like wind is whipping me along, further into the story, and that I'm being carried by the force of the words.

Melody said...

What draws me in is a question, usually. As soon as I wonder *why* something is the way it is, I need to keep reading to find out more. Also, a voice that grabs me and won't let me go...helps. :)

Watcher55 said...

Whether a ballet or a gyrating rave. whether sublime or gross. Light and Dark have to dance on the words.

Jamie Fox said...

I don't think I have anything specific. It really depends on the book. I think it's all unique to the story/premise. I like when some piece of action comes quickly, but it doesn't have to be in the first paragraph as long as the voice and writing grab a hold of me. I guess what I am saying is that it either has to start with a bang or have an interesting enough character to make you want to read it until the bang comes. Lol

Dara said...

I have to feel that connection to the character within a few pages. The voice has to be there--not over the top, but evident.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

I think it's the sum of the parts, the sense of an author's authority, the command they have over language and story. It's not one simple thing, but how the many facets of fiction come together to form something real. The dialogue is sharp, the description evocative, the mood engaging, the characters true and honest and three dimensional. It is the sum of these things, the way in which a vision is created in the mind, a whole new world that superimposes the real one. I'm not pulled out of the story. I'm not thinking of the laundry, or that phone call I have to make. I'm inside. Inside something real, and while the words keep coming it is the one and only world I know.

Shooting Stars Mag said...

I don't have "one thing" but I really just want the story to start for me in the beginning. I hate books that drag on for awhile and I just can't get into it.

-Lauren

Mira said...

Interesting question.

I've noticed there seem to be two types of readers. Those who like the first page to drop them right into the action, and those who like the book to unfold slowly and draw them in.

I have a theory that those who like to read commercial prefer beginnings that grab you, and those who read literary prefer the slow unfolding immersion style.

I like commercial, so I prefer a book that moves you into its world fast. I like to be gripped and to lose myself quickly.

But that's about rhythm. The other things that will keep me reading are: voice and mastery.

A good voice will engage and intrigue me and give me a sense of pleasure in reading right from the start.

I won't notice mastery, which is both skill and confidence, but if it's not there, that will stop me in my tracks and I'll stop reading.

So that's me.

Btw, I thought all of the paragraphs were good. Didn't see any I didn't like! I don't envy your decision, Nathan. If you need help, I'm good at the eeinie meanie mo method. :)

Chemist Ken said...

Voice, definitely.

But I usually crack open the book somewhere in the middle instead of at the beginning. I find it gives me a better handle on the author's voice than the first couple of pages do.

February Grace said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Caroline said...

I like to be hooked within the first few pages. If the pacing is too slow, or the language too florid, then I generally lose interest.

February Grace said...

Whaaa, blogger messed up my comment, trying again.

I have to echo the first comment and say- voice and understatement.

I maintain voice cannot be taught (or stolen) and you can't pretend you sing like Josh Groban if you've got the rusty pipes of...well, I'm not going to pick anybody specific 'cause that'd be mean. Let's just say, of some of the folk who audition for American Idol and can't carry a tune no matter how elaborate the pulley system.

I would add I like a writer with a clear idea who they are and who they're writing about.

Toomuchinformationandemotionallcrammedtogetherwithouteventimetotakeabreathinaparagraphthatisreallyawholepagelong

...well, that just makes me tired. And I'm too tired already...

May your eyes soon recover from the smarting they must be doing...so...many...entries!

~bru

Kathryn said...

I have to confess that I always open up a book to two or three random pages in the middle and start reading there - if I'm pulled in by the voice, characters, or plot - I buy it. Humor always helps, too! I guess I prefer a random sample to something that's been crafted to draw me in.

flibgibbet said...

Voice and a story question that interests me.

I get the story question from the blurb----the reason I bothered to pick up the book in the first place. I get the voice from the first page. If the voice fails to dazzle, I put the book down.

(And I really hope it's obvious that poor grammar is a deal-breaker. Characters can break all the rules they want, authors can't).

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I like a bit of dialogue in the beginning. I'd rather determine a character's character through the words he or she uses than have a full description of empty background.




-Alex

Alwyn said...

I was in Waterstone's the other day. I'd been looking for "Paranormalcy"(which I'd decided to buy based on the first pages preview at Amazon incidentally). They turned out not to have it, so the salesgirl in their awesome YA section took it upon herself to advise me. Within minutes she had my arms totally loaded up with books. All of them were essentially the same general concept. Paranormal YA, saving the world with a side of sexy supernatural boy+human girl romance.

It only took me a few minutes to flip them open, read a few lines and and decide which ones I wanted to buy, and which ones I would put back on the shelves. In spite of the fact that, if you'd just looked at the back cover you would think they were all essentially the same basic product and would therefore have the same level of appeal.

So I guess for me it's something ineffable to do with tone and voice.

It's usually just a tiny thing that blends in perfectly with the tone of the opening but also sort of stands out, that does it for me. Like Rachel Hawkins in Hex Hall describing the uniform as a skilt (half skirt, half kilt) or Ally Carter's Katerina Bishop, teenage criminal, realizing that she had inadvertantly become a girl whose shoes squeaked. One little thing that makes me realize "You and I are going to get along wonderfully book!"

But I think one thing worth pointing out is that when we're considering buying a book we're not deciding based on the first paragraph alone. We've presumably read the back cover, or heard the general plot, and are intrigued by it enough to pick up the book and flip it open. Which is why I think I'd rather see a book that opens on great tone, or great dialogue than an immediate "hook" or which tries to pitch me into the plot too fast.

I mean, I've read the back. I've opened this book knowing it's about a boy who goes to wizarding school and has adventures. So the fact that the book opens with a description of the sheer mundanity of the Dursleys and not a Quidditch match isn't going to stop me reading. It's just going to get me settled, allow me to get comfortable with the author's awesome turn of phrase, and continue knowing that this is all a prelude to Hogwarts.

That's me at least.

Anonymous said...

I hate to say it, but more often than not I judge a book by its cover. The people who design these things are brilliant. They seem to know just how to pull me in and make me want more. If the cover grabs me and the blurb is good, it's mine.

(Needless to say I possess more books than I'll ever have time to read.)

If I'm iffy then I'll read the first page. Usually by the end of the first paragraph I've either set the book down or I'm on my way to checkout.

I'm occasionally disappointed but if I give the book a second chance I'm usually glad I did.

What grabs me in that first paragraph I guess is the style. I want the first line to come out and say "Read me, I'm fun."

One of my favorite opening lines is from Scott Westerfield's Uglies.

"The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit."

I couldn't get that book home fast enough.

As for the contest entries, I'm with Myra. I thought they were all great.

The ones that pulled me in the most were the ones with a bit of mystery and humor but I found myself intrigued by a few that weren't the sort of thing I'd usually read.

And there's a couple in particular that I'd buy based on their first paragraph alone- even if the cover sucked.

LJK

Falls Apart said...

characters, characters, characters!

Becky said...

Immediate action.

writergal24 said...

I don't know exactly what it is that I look for, but when I pick up a book and read the first sentence, I can automatically tell if I'm going to like it or not. I guess I look for how real the voice is and whether I can relate to it.
Also, something that catches my interest.

reader said...

1) Voice.

2) A character that seems flawed, yet still has a goodness about them.

3) Lovely writing.

G said...

Usually when I peruse the new book racks at the library, the following things must jive in order for me to read the book.

1) the inside jacket blurb grabs my attention.

2) when I open it to a random page and start reading it.

If what I start reading makes me read for another three or four minutes, then I take it home.

Lucinda Bilya said...

Good strong dialogue, or at least introduce me to the characters. If I don’t know them, how can I care what happens to them?

Don’t blow me away with action in the first sentence.

One opening paragraph here by Leatherdykeuk introduces his character as a cop before letting us know he must go a murder scene. Although I don’t normally read cop stories, I would read that book because I already care about the character.

Some opening paragraphs are confusing because of the wordiness and prepositional phrases.

Simply “show” the first four of the five W’s…who, what, where, and why, and save the last one, how, for the rest of the book.

Thanks again, Nathan for all the instruction, guidance, links, and caring that you put into your blogs. In trying to set up a blog, I feel like I am looking at assembly instructions written in another language. I managed to my picture up and my website, but walked away with my hands up in the air. I enjoyed your blog about Twitter and plan to study it thoroughly. After this contest is over, how about a blog about how to set up and blog for us blogger newbies?

Lucy

Patricia said...

If that first paragraph or page can make me feel something, then I am interested. Whatever the feeling- excitement, sadness, envy, joy, love, it has to make me feel something.

Jil said...

I agree with Kevin, I must be drawn into a place where I would like to be, with people I want to know and will sympathize with. I want beautiful writing.
All the answers to Nathan's question are so different it makes me realize that the only way to satisfy myself as a writer is to write what I like to read. There are readers out there who feel the same, whatever that may be.

tamarapaulin said...

I used to stick to my favorite authors, but now that I'm studying writing, I push myself out of my comfort zone. I'll buy/borrow books that have won awards or are bestsellers, even if I don't love their openings, just to study the craft. I've learned a lot this way, but if I hate a book at the 1/3 point, I will put it down, since life isn't THAT long.

Roberta Walker said...

Conflict, questions, tension. Not long descriptive narratives.

wendy said...

Great question, Nathan.

I like to see that the technical side is working with great word choice that enables me to form a vivid picture and feeling for what the author is describing; also, I love a fantasy element to be present. But most important of all, I desire beauty and sweetness to be there in a way that uplifts and inspires me to be a better person. A bonus is if the author has worked something completely original into the story he or she is presenting, something I hadn't thought of before in regard to philosophical insights, or in the way they present the story on the stylistic side of things.

J. T. Shea said...

Matthew, your wish is granted, but with apologies to Amanda:-

It was a dark and stormy night. I awoke from a dream just in time to see the lusty barmaids leap over the bar, swords in hand, to attack the space monkeys who had just rushed in.

'You brought swords to a ray gun fight?' the Head Space Monkey laughed as he and his hirsute comrades pointed their massive ray guns at the nubile young (maybe?)maidens. 'Take off your clothes!'

'What clothes? the Chief Lusty Barmaid asked.

'Oh,' said the Head Space Monkey. 'That's your skin? No fur except on the head? Our knowledge of human anatomy is limited. But we intend to greatly expand it within the next few minutes.'

I leaped to my feet, which were still stuck to the ceiling where I'd left them, slapped them on and lay into the space monkeys with a flurry of Kung Fu blows so fast and intricate they were a blur to all, including me. My hands were lethal weapons! Also my tongue, nose and left earlobe.

Soon the space monkeys all lay comatose on the beer-soaked sawdust of the stone-flagged floor. And the lusty young nubile (probably not)maiden barmaids stood unmolested. Which did not seem to please them.

'It is the Warrior Of Questionable Virtue!' the Chief Lusty Barmaid said, leering at me. 'Oh great WOQV! Answer but one question and we are all yours for the night!'

'As long as it's not about sports,' I said.

'What is the a priori purpose or raison d'etre for primate existence in this 23rd century?' she asked.

I pondered her query. For about 2.5 seconds. 'Whatever!' I shrugged.

'Close enough!' the Naked Nubile Lusty Young Chief Barmaid said. 'Let's dance!'

'I hope you mean 'dance' as a metaphor for sexual intercourse,' I told her. 'And not literally. Because I have two left feet. Literally. Oh wait. One's just on backwards.' I rearranged my right foot. 'And I'll probably need a little chi manipulation after.'

Laurie Boris said...

Grab my empathy and the rest of me will follow.

Kate said...

The premise is a big draw. If I'm interested in the premise, I can fight through a few pages of less than sparkling prose until things start getting juicy. But a really snappy first page can keep me reading a book that I might not have been so interested in to start with.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

I want to feel an emotional connection to the mc....

Mary Jo said...

An intriguing voice - a hook that snags any of my emotions (love, fear, humor, curiosity, etc.) and a lyrical flow of words.

Ebony Johanna said...

I love to hear about people's stories, whether fiction or nonfiction, and when I see that in the first few pages, I am hooked!

Anonymous said...

@Jil

"All the answers to Nathan's question are so different it makes me realize that the only way to satisfy myself as a writer is to write what I like to read."

Well said.

Tammy said...

I like the first line to be short and seemingly impossible.

R.D. Allen said...

The idea of interesting secondary characters. I am the sort that VERY VERY VERY rarely enjoys the main character. I pick a character to vouch for and read on because I want to see what happens to them and what they do.

A promising premise can grab me too. Like, the idea that a child can write into a book and effect life in a nearby town. Or that a government "reaps" teenagers and makes them battle to the death. Or a secret submarine way before its time. The premise of a novel usually wraps up the pull.

WriterMoma said...

I am a huge fan of book openings. I can spend hours just reading the first few lines of books at the store, however, for me what type of beginning begs to be read thoroughly? I don’t much like a jarring entry into a world I know little about with dialogue. I like to be rooted in my surroundings, presented with a titillating question that can only be revealed by reading the pages ahead. Don’t give me a grocery list of names or start off with confusing data though, I want to be submersed in the story before being thrown information that would otherwise put me into overload is I weren’t so involved in the characters yet.

Ted Cross said...

Some want to grab the reader immediately in the first paragraph, while others (like myself) prefer to use the whole first chapter for that and are content to start a bit more sedately. I think the latter folks are at a disadvantage in contests like this, naturally.

jjmcsorley said...

I want to get a sense of the voice and the genre as soon as possible. The first paragraph doesn't need to be clever, but if it offers some kind of theme then the reader can identify if that will grab them fairly quickly. Some stories are just that: stories. Others are stories with purpose (e.g. to bridge a gap between ---, to explore ----, to invite----) If that is the writer's intent then I would want a hint of this very early on so I can read metaphors, time changes, flashbacks etc within that context. Who knows, some work and some don't, some writers have it instinctively and some learn it. Still learning!!

Deniselle said...

This is, of course, very difficult to define. But if I get the feeling that the author is thinking "I am an author telling a story (and aren't I clever!)", I immediately pass. I want the paragraph to read "I am this character, telling my story." So the author needs to believe in what s/he is writing and really feel the characters. It doesn't have to be a first person narrator, mind you, as long as the characters' personality comes through.

I clearly see this in many of the entries, and it is always captivating. In others, the author may have focused too much on jamming a lot into the first paragraph, or grabbing the reader at the expense of the characters.

I also think the character needs to be introduced subtly, through little touches. "I, Catherine Elizabeth Smith, a 16-year-old member of the Littlewood High School Glee Club"-type openings tend to put me off. Instead, give me something like "The Glee Club rehearsal was beginning, and I felt the usual trepidation..." Setting+feeling works better than full name, age, and town the character lives in.

I know this is a cultural difference (I'm Finnish), but the American style of introducing all characters with their full name irks me. It makes me feel more distant to them. I'd rather know someone as Catherine than Catherine Smith. I don't even think every character needs to be named right off the bat. This seems to be a difference between Finnish and American literatures.

Maddy said...

Writing that is vivid, yet has missing details which kindle questions in your mind.

Ishta Mercurio said...

I like unique, specific language. It all comes down to the voice.

Pen and Ink said...

I usually read on for funny or a voice that resonates in my head. It's the reason I post new first lines/paragraphs. I've gotten some amazing reads from that. Places I wouldn't ordinarily go. I just finished Runaway Storm by D Knobbe and can't wait for the second one. I am thing about posting my ten favorite books from last year culled from those first line/paragraphs but it would be a difficult choice.

Debbie Ouellet said...

Great question Nathan.

I like a good opening hook that makes me go "hmmmm, what's going to happen next?" I don't have the patience with books that want to spend a lot of time setting up a story before they get into the meat of it. I want to dive right in.

I also love a strong character that takes me by the hand and walks me alongside them.

Debbie

Margo Berendsen said...

I need two things to keep reading: emotional involvment and a sense of something happening.

This entry really jumped out at me as case in point:

I was six and nowhere to be found. My mother organized a search party - herself and a bottle of tequila - and wafted around the house, warbling my name in a tone more lonely than worried.

Defintely emotion here and something happening - a little kid hiding from a drunken mother.

Very impressed! I tried for the same two things in my first pargraph, but the result was not nearly as succinct, subtle and yet powerful.

Hart Johnson said...

If I've decided to read based on cover blurb or recommendation, i will usually plow on unless it is annoying or the language is cumbersome.

Norma Beishir said...

A story that immediately plunges the reader into the action.

Kevin said...

For me, it's the promise of an emotional experience. This can be through immediate action, lyrical prose, a vicious hook that won't let go. Whatever. I just want to know I am in the hands of someone who can deliver words that make me want to turn off my alarm clock and burrow under the covers for a few days. Someone who understands what the six most powerful words in the English language are.
"Let me tell you a story."

Kathryn Tuccelli said...

I am another "jacket reader", I must confess. I have rarely been disappointed with a book I've taken home or picked up to read, after being impressed with the jacket synopsis. If the synopsis grabs me, I'll read the book. Two books I picked up recently were "The Book Thief" (Markus Zusak) and "We Never Talk About My Brother" (Peter S. Beagle). Love 'em!

sex scenes at starbucks, said...

The opening paragraph means little to me. I realize I'm in the minority. When I peruse books in the store, I turn to the middle. Sometimes, gasp!, the end.

I tend to give stories and writers the benefit of the doubt. But if a short story hasn't introduced itself and its problem in the first 250 words or if a novel doesn't give me a direction to tread in the first chapter, I rarely read on.

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