Yes, I hear some of you weeping. Dan Brown. We love him, we hate him, we fear his hair. (Ok, I fear his hair.) But like him or not, his books sell.
I haven't read this book, but I still think it's worth looking at the opening.
So Dan grabs me with the first two lines. There's a secret, he even tells us what it is, but what does it mean? I'm curious enough to read on.The secret is how to die.
Since the beginning of time, the secret had always been how to die.
I have problems with this. It's...both weak and strong. On the one hand I want to pull out my red pen and slice out the bits in red. On the other, he's drinking wine out of a human skull. This is not some person sitting in a restaurant enjoying a fine meal; we have someone doing something unusual, thinking aberrant thoughts.The thirty-four-year-old initiate gazed down at the human skull cradled in his palms. The skull was hollow, like a bowl, filled with bloodred wine.
Drink it, he told himself. You have nothing to fear.
We learn more about this character. He's ritualistic. He's progressed, in this this ritual, from a novice to something more. Is it time for him to pass some kind of test, perhaps? And why the noose? Is this a sacrifice?As was tradition, he had begun this journey adorned in the ritualistic garb of a medieval heretic being led to the gallows, his loose-fitting shirt gaping open to reveal his pale chest, his left pant leg rolled up to the knee, and his right sleeve rolled up to the elbow. Around his neck hung a heavy rope noose—a "cable-tow" as the brethren called it. Tonight, however, like the brethren bearing witness, he was dressed as a master.
We learn more about the writer, too. He eschews fancy prose in favor of extremely simplistic descriptions. We all strive to create good and interesting prose, but sometimes simple sells best.
Again with the simplistic descriptions. They're almost too bland, but the author has propped them up by ramping the creep factor. This is ritual is bigger than one man. Brown is pulling that camera back to show us a little more of the picture.The assembly of brothers encircling him all were adorned in their full regalia of lambskin aprons, sashes, and white gloves. Around their necks hung ceremonial jewels that glistened like ghostly eyes in the muted light. Many of these men held powerful stations in life, and yet the initiate knew their worldly ranks meant nothing within these walls. Here all men were equals, sworn brothers sharing a mystical bond.
So this character isn't entirely comfortable with the situation. And something about the other men present must be unusual if it's difficult to believe they'd be a part of this ritual.As he surveyed the daunting assembly, the initiate wondered who on the outside would ever believe that this collection of men would assemble in one place . . . much less this place. The room looked like a holy sanctuary from the ancient world.
Here the author orients us in time...sort of. It looks like it's from the ancient world, but it's not.
Location: Washington DC.The truth, however, was stranger still.
I am just blocks away from the White House.
Time: sometime between 1800 and today.
But he uses just blocks, which to me suggests a casualness of speech, so I'm guessing it's set about now.
This is the first page, and usually as much as I read to determine whether or not I'll buy the book.
My personal feelings aside, I believe this would have been acquired regardless of whether or not The DaVinci Code had sold a bazillion copies. It's perfect for the genre and the readers who like a page-flipper ala James Patterson. And there's no denying people like secrets and rituals--and secret rituals.
Something else we all need to remember, and I often forget this: we're writing for readers. They're the ones who buy our books, so it's our job to entertain them. Writers are a somewhat tight knit community, we love good writing, but we're not a true sampling of all the readers out there. We expect more. Your average non-writing reader is just looking to be entertained.
Dan Brown entertains them.
Anyway, hit me with it, folks. Does it work for you or not? If not, can you see why this works for your average reader?