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Edmontonian
09-09-2008, 10:42 PM
Hello everyone,

I already know the answer to my question (the author has penned a lot of non-fiction books), but just wanted to bring this issue to everyone's attention. I'm talking about "Suspect" the first book of Michael Robotham fiction. While we are taught by almost everyone to start the story with a catchy line, to grasp the reader's attention and all the good advice, read for yourself to see how this story starts...

ED


From the pitched slate roof of the Royal Marsden Hospital, if you look between the chimney pots and TV aerials, you see more chimney pots and TV aerials. It's like that scene from Mary Poppins where all the chimney sweeps dance across the rooftops twirling their brooms.

From up here I can just see the dome of the Royal Albert Hall. On a clear day I could probably see all the way to Hampstead Heath, although I doubt if the air in London ever gets that clear.

http://www.bookbrowse.com/excerpts/index.cfm?book_number=1543

CaroGirl
09-09-2008, 10:48 PM
That sounded okay to me. How do you want it to start?

Karen Duvall
09-09-2008, 10:48 PM
I like it, Ed. It puts an immediate image in my head and sets the scene. I know where I am, where the character is. I feel compelled to read on.

I don't think every book has to start with a grab-you-by-throat beginning. I don't know what kind of book this is, but I like this author's voice and would read more based on that alone.

Bubastes
09-09-2008, 10:53 PM
Why is the narrator on a hospital roof, and why does he/she seem to go there often? I want to keep reading and find out.

Bufty
09-09-2008, 10:54 PM
What's wrong with it, E - don't you get any image from it?

All an opening has to do is catch the reader's interest. This does. Great setting. Who's up on the roof of the hospital - and why?

You should be learning from openings like this. I am.

Mr. Anonymous
09-09-2008, 11:00 PM
I thought it was funny.

vixey
09-09-2008, 11:05 PM
:poke:

Yeah, Ed. I liked it, too. Sort of reminded me of a scene from V for Vendetta.

Edmontonian
09-09-2008, 11:07 PM
Thanks for the replies.

If I only have twenty seconds to scan this book in a bookstore, I would put it down. There is no thrill in the first page, nothing is happening, and frankly, I don't give a hoot about what you can see from the roof or in the roof, hospital or not.

Unless, the hero is going to witness a murder from up there, or spot a dead body, or something even slightly thrilling, this scene has no point. At least not right in the opening lines of the first chapter of a thriller.

But then, I have already shelved the book, so I wouldn't know.

ED

Bubastes
09-09-2008, 11:11 PM
This is why there are so many different books. There's something for everyone.

I agree with Bufty, though. There's something to learn from every book, even from the books you don't like.

Bufty
09-09-2008, 11:13 PM
There's a touch of sour grapes here, I think, Ed.

But anyway - each to his own, and there's plenty more on the shelf - maybe someone will pick yours up and think it's dull, too.


Thanks for the replies.

If I only have twenty seconds to scan this book in a bookstore, I would put it down. There is no thrill in the first page, nothing is happening, and frankly, I don't give a hoot about what you can see from the roof or in the roof, hospital or not.

Unless, the hero is going to witness a murder from up there, or spot a dead body, or something even slightly thrilling, this scene has no point. At least not right in the opening lines of the first chapter of a thriller.

But then, I have already shelved the book, so I wouldn't know.

ED

vixey
09-09-2008, 11:14 PM
I just looked at the link to see title and author. I have to admit, I probably wouldn't have picked it up because of the cover.

http://www.bookbrowse.com/images/jackets-p/9780307275479.jpg

nevada
09-09-2008, 11:19 PM
wow, you could read maybe two paragraphs. by giving up on robotham that quickly you're giving up on a fantastic author.

Or are you annoyed that robotham gets published with something that *you* consider inferior to your own writing and you are not published with something that *you* consider superior? It's fine to say, "hey this doesn't catch my interest." But it's arrogance and envy to say "hey how does this get published. It obviously sucks. He doesn't follow *the rules*" which is what your first post implies and your second post re-iterates.

Especially since all responses after your first post suggests that we actually like that beginning. We want to know why the character is in the hospital. Why is he looking out a window and thinking about what he sees? It implies that he's been there for a while. Thats where the thrill is. It's in trying to figure out about this character. Thrillers that start with a murder on the first page don't always grab my attention. At that point, I don't know anyone, nor do I care that they get murdered.

The *rules* are only guidelines. You can do anything you want, as long as it works. And based on people's response, I'd say this works. And I've read robotham and it works very well. He writes fantastically and I was up till 5 am reading.

Karen Duvall
09-09-2008, 11:20 PM
So a good question to ask is why this opening works for some and not for others.

For me, I know it's a thriller before I start reading and the author is setting me up in what Vogler calls the ordinary world. I'm being tenderized for the thrills to come. If it had opened with some guy getting killed, or the discovery of a dead body, I may or may not be hooked depending on how the author handled it. What I do know is that I have to care about the character(s) before I'll care about what happens to them.

In this example, the contrast between a movie for children and the realities of a London rooftop are intriguing.

TheAntar
09-09-2008, 11:28 PM
Let me chime in with a question if ya'll don't mind.

I have a story in the works that I really want to start with a cinematic opening, yet every crit pretty much tells me the same thing Ed is worrying about -- it isn't grabby enough.

So tell me this: what elements of that opening are interesting enough to draw you in? I want to set a scene, quiet and serene and then whallop you over the head with something all in the first page, but the first paragraph I want quiet, serene, its raining blah blah.

So how does an author get away with such things, as ed asks? I want to get away with it too. Help me :)

Bufty
09-09-2008, 11:30 PM
Get rid of the 'blah' 'blah'.

Prozyan
09-09-2008, 11:34 PM
So how does an author get away with such things, as ed asks?

Why do some people like chocolate ice cream and others like vanilla ice cream?

If you can answer that question, you can answer the one you asked as well: different tastes.

Many people have said they enjoyed the opening posted, while only a couple have said they did not. Stands to reason for the majority there is nothing wrong with the opening.

So I suppose the real question becomes: What exactly is the author getting away with?

Now, aside from that question, it is really a rather pointless exercise asking "Why does 'x' author get away with 'y' thing when I can't?". Usually, it is much deeper and more complicated than just "x" author doing "y" thing the same as you and everyone ignoring it for "x" author while drilling you for it.

Karen Duvall
09-09-2008, 11:37 PM
Antar, in this case I believe it would be voice that entices. Some authors simply have a captivating voice and style that sets them apart and takes a reader's breath away. You don't want to just set a scene, you want to grab readers and make them care. So it's not so much what you say as it is how you say it.

In fact, I know many writers who rewrite their openings after they've finished writing their book. *raises hand* My original opening was pretty bland, but I couldn't fix it until I was done with the story. I like my opening now. It's not action, it's not atmosphere, it's character. But my book is written in 1st person and it's urban fantasy.

C A Winters
09-09-2008, 11:44 PM
So a good question to ask is why this opening works for some and not for others.


Excellent writing.

Sets the scene--imagery is awesome--just enough to give me a picture without pages of description.

I don't like the cover--but based on opener, going to buy and read it.

Christine N.
09-09-2008, 11:48 PM
Let me chime in with a question if ya'll don't mind.

I have a story in the works that I really want to start with a cinematic opening, yet every crit pretty much tells me the same thing Ed is worrying about -- it isn't grabby enough.




But this IS grabby. It sets you in place immediately, and the place isn't all that usual - the roof of a hospital. The dome of Royal Albert Hall (which I've seen, so now I have an image). It compares the image to something many people know - Mary Poppins. The brain looks for patterns and meaning, and now we've got something familiar to grab on to. There's a small reference to the foggy weather, but it's definitely not 'a dark and stormy night'.

Now I have questions - why is he on the roof of a London hospital? Who is this guy? It's a great lead-in to a story.

I'm betting the next paragraph or two will answer some of my questions. It doesn't have to grab you by the shirt collar and shake you, but it DOES have to make you want to read on.

josephwise
09-10-2008, 12:00 AM
Let me chime in with a question if ya'll don't mind.

I have a story in the works that I really want to start with a cinematic opening, yet every crit pretty much tells me the same thing Ed is worrying about -- it isn't grabby enough.

So tell me this: what elements of that opening are interesting enough to draw you in? I want to set a scene, quiet and serene and then whallop you over the head with something all in the first page, but the first paragraph I want quiet, serene, its raining blah blah.

So how does an author get away with such things, as ed asks? I want to get away with it too. Help me :)

It's a simple matter of introducing great conflict, quietly. The passage in the originating post does that. As others have mentioned, we immediately question the narrator's reason for being on the rooftop. We know it's a thriller, and we know that exciting stuff usually happens in hospitals. So the fact that the narrator chooses to introduce him/herself "away from the action" says a lot, and for a lot of readers this technique is very captivating. Without that element of conlfict, the imagery wouldn't have been impressive at all.

Hint at the abnormal whenever you describe the normal. Maybe it's a quiet and serene morning, with soft rain outside and a playful blanket of fog over the gutters. But shouldn't we have heard the family in 514 getting ready for school this morning? They're usually so loud. And what's that down there on the sidewalk?

BenPanced
09-10-2008, 12:01 AM
It immediately dropped me into the scene with a sense of anticipation.

nevada
09-10-2008, 12:43 AM
Just as a side note, the UK covers are much better than the north american ones. So don't go by the covers. I've noticed lately that north american covers kind of sucked. I read The Drowning Man by Robotham and it's fantastic. Very much a character driven writer.

maestrowork
09-10-2008, 12:48 AM
It's a good opening, I agree. We have a protagonist (first person), a vivid setting (hospital roof), and an intrigue: Why is the protagonist there?

Shadow_Ferret
09-10-2008, 12:56 AM
I certainly would have read further than those two 'graphs. It was good writing and great visualization.

BenPanced
09-10-2008, 12:56 AM
Then again: is the narrator actually on the roof or in a room in the building across the way?

BenPanced
09-10-2008, 01:06 AM
Still not convinced the narrator's on the roof.

Damn, now I gotta find the book just to prove you wrong!

BenPanced
09-10-2008, 01:10 AM
Or I can find the book and see what the third, fourth, fifth, etc., paragraphs have to say. :e2poke:


Or..you can just click on the link in the original post, toolbox.
<mockingtone>Me meme me me me meeem mee meme mee me me *pbbt pbbt pbbbbbbbt!*</mockingtone>

BenPanced
09-10-2008, 01:13 AM
:cry:

SPMiller
09-10-2008, 01:17 AM
Seeing the mention of Mary Poppins actually put me off--I don't like that movie. The setting on a hospital's roof also didn't intrigue me--I've hung out with too many urban explorers, I guess. Don't feel compelled to click on the link. Basically, boring opening.

JJ Cooper
09-10-2008, 01:18 AM
On Michael Robothom. Suspect was the first novel from Robothom. He ventured into writing fiction after ghost writing many sucessful biographies. He got a good break with suspect and has since produced many top quality crime fiction novels. Plenty of awards as well including his second Ned Kelly award last week for his latest book (I think he also may have received a Dagger award).

You could learn a lot about writing by reading a Robothom book.

JJ

ishtar'sgate
09-10-2008, 01:18 AM
I liked it too but I guess you're into thrillers and that immediate grab to the throat kind of novel. My reading taste alters according to my mood or time constraints. If I haven't much time to read I want to be grabbed right away. If I'm feeling kinda lazy and can have a long afternoon in the sun I prefer a more sedate pace.
Linnea

NicoleMD
09-10-2008, 01:21 AM
I liked the opening enough. Though I would probably automatically buy any book written by a RobotHam.

Nicole

brokenfingers
09-10-2008, 02:48 AM
I believe the answer is simple:

It's a conspiracy.

And judging by the number of replies in this thread alone, I'd say it's a rather large one.

BenPanced
09-10-2008, 04:29 AM
Sowwy. It's back to Benny. Man...I hate to see a grown smiley cry.
:Hug2:

BenPanced
09-10-2008, 04:37 AM
I. Want. That. BOOK. OMFG. I just finished the excerpt and I am so fargin' JEALOUS. I wanna writ tht gud!

It's not what I usually read, either. His setting and description were so vivid, and the dialogue felt natural. I could hear them speaking to each other and the sounds of the city below them. I looked at the synopsis and I've got to finish reading this.

How can a book that starts like that become a best-seller? Because it's GOOD, dammit. Again, it's not my usual choice for reading material but if the rest of the book is like that, I'm willing to change my mind!

MrWrite
09-10-2008, 04:40 AM
That book has just gone on my I Want It Now list. Great opening.

brokenfingers
09-10-2008, 04:50 AM
Thanks for the replies.

If I only have twenty seconds to scan this book in a bookstore, I would put it down. There is no thrill in the first page, nothing is happening, and frankly, I don't give a hoot about what you can see from the roof or in the roof, hospital or not.

Unless, the hero is going to witness a murder from up there, or spot a dead body, or something even slightly thrilling, this scene has no point. At least not right in the opening lines of the first chapter of a thriller.

But then, I have already shelved the book, so I wouldn't know.

EDWow. I just read the excerpt and all I can say is: Are you kidding me?

The first page starts with a kid with cancer about to kill himself and the protagonist trying to figure out how to stop him.

That's not gripping? That doesn't make you want to find out what happens next?!?!

Um, while it's not "witnessing a murder" or "spotting a dead body", it's the next best thing. The author has set up the possibility (it's called suspense) that you might see one of those two things! (Okay witness a 'suicide' instead of a 'murder' - but still a death!)

Wow.

MrWrite
09-10-2008, 04:53 AM
Of course Edmontonian wouldn't know that because he didn't get past the first two sentences :D

kuwisdelu
09-10-2008, 04:58 AM
Hello everyone,

I already know the answer to my question (the author has penned a lot of non-fiction books), but just wanted to bring this issue to everyone's attention. I'm talking about "Suspect" the first book of Michael Robotham fiction. While we are taught by almost everyone to start the story with a catchy line, to grasp the reader's attention and all the good advice, read for yourself to see how this story starts...

Personally, I agree. It didn't grab me, and I found the opening kind of awkward. But then I'm notoriously picky, so I don't know. I've also never heard of this guy before and have no idea what else he writes, so I'm kind of a blank slate there.

Here are my thoughts...


From the pitched slate roof of the Royal Marsden Hospital, if you look This was awkward to me...the "from" needs a verb before it, like "Peering from" or "Standing on" instead of just an ambiguous preposition. between the chimney pots and TV aerials, you see more chimney pots and TV aerials. It's like that scene from Mary Poppins where all the chimney sweeps dance across the rooftops twirling their brooms. I thought the reference was a bit of a cheap way to get by with description without having to describe anything; it's a major turn-off for me to get that kind of thing this early, but that may be just me...

From up here I can just see the dome of the Royal Albert Hall. On a clear day I could probably see all the way to Hampstead Heath, although I doubt if the air in London ever gets that clear. Nothing wrong here.



Just my opinion. I'm not all that into thrillers, and don't care if there's immediate action or not. But like I said, I'm notoriously picky as far as style goes.

ETA: I read more of the excerpt, and I liked the rest of it better. Personally, I'd just lose the very first paragraph and call it a day.

Mr. Anonymous
09-10-2008, 05:16 AM
I'd have to agree. I just finished reading the excerpt as well. Loved it.

czjaba
09-10-2008, 05:28 AM
I liked it. I clicked on the link and while I normally don't like first person, present tense, this book is going on my list for Amazon.

Appalachian Writer
09-10-2008, 05:34 AM
I think it's pretty good. It does grab my attention, makes me ask questions. Why is it bad?

VoltShadow
09-10-2008, 05:40 AM
Damned, now you made me read it. And there's another fraggin book I have to purchase from B&N or Amazon. I'm a bit disapointed that he used numbers for the temperature, but chasing a three down to zero with the windchill, that actually flows very well. So overall I'm impressed with the first page in all honesty.

willfulone
09-10-2008, 06:32 AM
I read and would buy.

Carmy
09-10-2008, 06:40 AM
I like it.

But then, what do I know about openings? A Beta just shot down one of mine, and it hurts!

(If you're reading this, my wonderful Beta, thank you for your honesty.)

JJ Cooper
09-10-2008, 06:47 AM
Damn, Edmontonian. I think you just sold a bunch of books for this guy. That's gotta burn. (-;

His latest release, Shatter, is narrated by the same character. More details at his site - http://www.michaelrobotham.com/aus/index.htm

Enjoy.

JJ

Phaeal
09-10-2008, 05:37 PM
The opening's okay with me, though I too found the first sentence a little awkward. I'd read on.

I'd say Mr. Robotham owes Edmontonian a TY letter. No publicity is bad publicity, eh? ;)

maestrowork
09-10-2008, 05:56 PM
Maybe Robotham is Edmontonian. Brilliant!

mscelina
09-10-2008, 06:01 PM
Promotion by diss.

has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? :D

Momento Mori
09-10-2008, 06:11 PM
JJ Cooper:
His latest release, Shatter, is narrated by the same character.

I totally misread your post as saying that the next book was called "Shatner", which led to a daydream about William Shatner stalking the rooftops of London's hospitals and singing Chim-chinee.

*goes for brain bleach*

If I was judging a book on the opening couple of lines, then depending on how I felt that day (i.e. if I was in the mood for a more winsome narrative voice), I'd read on. But usually I'll give the first few pages a go and read the jacket blurb before making a decision.

MM

vixey
09-10-2008, 06:17 PM
I totally misread your post as saying that the next book was called "Shatner", which led to a daydream about William Shatner stalking the rooftops of London's hospitals and singing Chim-chinee.

ROFLMAO - and in tears. This image really made me wake up this morning.

nevada
09-10-2008, 06:49 PM
I totally misread your post as saying that the next book was called "Shatner", which led to a daydream about William Shatner stalking the rooftops of London's hospitals and singing Chim-chinee

The Shat would totally do that. I bet he's signing up for the movie right now.

vixey
09-10-2008, 06:51 PM
But the way he would sing Chim-Chimeny ... oh, my ears!

tehuti88
09-10-2008, 06:52 PM
I found this opening neither terribly fantastic, nor terribly horrible. I've seen worse. I've put down worse, and I've picked up and read worse! It really all depends.

I tend to be a bit more forgiving when selecting a book. The cover and title draw me in first, I admit. But I then look at the back cover to see what it's about, the spine to see if it tells the genre. Then the inside of the jacket to see if there are any blurbs there if not on the back. I look for the story's summary. If that keeps me going, then I browse through a few pages to see what the style is like. (This was the point when I gave up on Stephanie Meyers (sic?) and her vampire books. I saw a few lines in the middle of the book, was appalled that this was YA, wondered if I'm just really prudish, scanned a few more lines, gagged over the narrative voice, and put it back. Just my opinion.)

And do you know what? I just realized that reading the first few sentences is not usually something I do. I tend to browse more toward the middle, where the writer is more likely to have gotten into the swing of things, to see how it is. I might look at the very beginning but I guess I don't tend to judge an entire story based on that alone. I take a lot of things into account before buying a book.

But maybe I'm just more patient that way because I don't have anything better to do? *shrugs*

Edmontonian
09-10-2008, 06:59 PM
Hello everyone,

I'm glad to cause some conversation. Although some of your replies were misguided, my point (which initially I thought was pretty clear) was that the beginning in Michael's book completely shattered conventional beliefs, held dear to our hearts and taught religiously in most writing courses.

To the writters of all those comments that attempted to make this matter personal or starts a bickering, sorry, fellows, you failed miserably.

I haven't started playing the field yet, but once my first book comes out, I hope people would talk about it, whether they like it or not, it does not really matter.

In terms of commissions for selling Michael's book, I get 10 percent of the cover price :-)

ED

KikiteNeko
09-10-2008, 07:17 PM
I might be in the minority here, but I think that opening reads like a fourth grader's book report.

But yes, these are the things that become bestsellers, whereas the more skilled, deft, agonizingly-finetuned writing slips between the cracks. Why? Because the readers decide what they're going to buy, and ... yeah. You can see where I'm going.

Toothpaste
09-10-2008, 07:25 PM
Edmontonian - I honestly think sometimes those "rules" are more harm than good. I still believe one should learn them, but then they have to ALSO teach how to forget them. Nathan Bransford wrote a really interesting post (buried in his archives) about the difference between starting a book with a bang literally and starting a book that will grab a reader. So many authors these days are so determined to throw the dead body into the first sentence, the explosion, the whatever, they are taking the grabbing the reader to the most extreme. There is still a place to establish scene and mood, to create the lull before the storm.

Personally I didn't really get hooked by the beginning, but that was by the quality of the writing. The Mary Poppins reference was so obvious and tired in my opinion. But the actual setting and way he did it read as interesting and got us right into the story. If every book began with a literal bang, it'd get tired very quickly.

maestrowork
09-10-2008, 07:26 PM
my point (which initially I thought was pretty clear) was that the beginning in Michael's book completely shattered conventional beliefs, held dear to our hearts and taught religiously in most writing courses.

And what conventional beliefs are they? What I tried to convey was that I found the opening did its job -- it may not be the way I'd have written it, but it held my interest. It presented the main character, a place, and some kind of intrigue to keep the readers wanting to find out more. It put us right in the story instead of miles of backstories.

I think it's a misconception that the first few paragraphs of a book must start with a bang, or a major conflict, or death or action. Not necessary, even if you're writing a thriller -- it doesn't always have to start with murder, or mayhem.

Stacia Kane
09-10-2008, 07:29 PM
I thought it was a good opening, too. I could have done without the Mary Poppins line (I'm not a fan of the use of "you" in fiction like that, although it's not as bad in first POV as in third) but I liked the setup and description, and the voice interested me.

So I don't believe this goes against conventional wisdom in the slightest. We're told to begin in media res, with a scenario or action that will draw the reader in and interest them; the MC standing on the roof of a hospital certainly interested me (why? What's he doing up there? Is he going to jump, is he chasing someone, is he spying on someone, what?) We're told to have an interesting opening line with strong voice; I thought this did. We're told not to begin with backstory, and this didn't.

I haven't heard of this author, but I'd like to check him out. I like thrillers and this one grabbed me.


ETA: Heh, I see while I was writing this a couple more people posted, too. Yes, starting with action does not mean the first line of the book has to be "The dead body flew threw the air, blood streaming from the gash in its throat" or anything. It just has to be interesting in some way, raise some sort of question or curiosity or sense of anticipation/excitement in the reader. The point is not to have an opening line like "Bob woke up and went to make himself a cup of coffee" or "Amy was twenty-two and she had beautiful long blonde hair and blue eyes and everyone thought she was great."

Debs
09-10-2008, 08:04 PM
Well Ed, I clicked on the link, thinking I would read just a few more lines and read all that was there.
Now I have to go and buy the book too 'cos i am completely sucked in to the story.

nevada
09-10-2008, 08:04 PM
I'm glad to cause some conversation. Although some of your replies were misguided, my point (which initially I thought was pretty clear) was that the beginning in Michael's book completely shattered conventional beliefs, held dear to our hearts and taught religiously in most writing courses.

Held dear to *your* heart maybe. I don't see how it completely shattered conventional beliefs, and certainly in the writing courses I have taken nothing was taught religiously. The mantra was "if it works, do it." And based on responses here I would say that this worked extremely well. So maybe you should let go of your conventional beliefs held dear to your heart and think outside of your box.

Momento Mori
09-10-2008, 08:17 PM
Basically, I agree with everything that Toothpaste has said above, but I'd also point out that as someone who is doing an MA course in creative writing and who took several evening classes in creative writing before that, I've certainly never been taught that you must start your story with a catchy line or grab their attention from the off. How you open your novel usually depends on what genre you're writing in (if any) and where your story actually starts (i.e. are you starting it at the inciting incident, or are you starting it later on in the chain of events).

I'm not sure how the opening you posted "completely shattered conventional beliefs, held dear to our hearts and taught religiously in most writing courses". The course I'm on teaches you to look at what the opening of your novel needs to do, which usually (but not necessarily) is to introduce a character, situation or setting that will make the reader want to find out more. Sometimes you can do that through your opening sentence, but that's not always going to be possible, e.g. literary fiction writers are more likely to go for a slow build up over the opening few chapters as they establish character and setting. In childrens and YA fiction, it's customary (but not obligatory) to plunge straight into the action or scenario.

Without having read the book you're quoting from, it seems to me that the author is establishing an unusual setting, which will be built on in the chapter. If this is the case, then it's not assessing the opening couple of sentences that's important, but whether the setting is going to be developed into something interesting in that chapter that will make the reader want to find out what happens in chapter 2.

MM

Prozyan
09-10-2008, 08:28 PM
. . . was that the beginning in Michael's book completely shattered conventional beliefs, held dear to our hearts and taught religiously in most writing courses.


Bolding is mine, of course.

One old adage to keep in mind when taking a writing course from a professor is "Those that cannot do, teach." In other words, take any conventional wisdom or firmly held rules with a grain of salt. Toothpaste and KTC are dead on correct in their advice about the so-called "rules". Guidelines is a much better term.

That said, I don't really see which conventional beliefs, held dear to our hearts and taught religiously in most writing courses that were shattered by this opening.

I will say I didn't find the first four sentences particularly gripping, but they did get me to the fifth sentence without stopping. The fifth got me to the sixth, and so on and so forth until I did find the book grabbing me.

Basically, I'm asking what "rules" did this opening break? I'm asking this question not to turn this into some type of confrontational discussion. I'm genuinely interested in what rules you believe this opening violated. The only one I can see is that the opening didn't interest you. That is perfectly fine, but it doesn't necessarily mean that because you personally did not like the opening that it is breaking some deeply held convention of writing.

mscelina
09-10-2008, 08:44 PM
Okay, I'll bite. What precisely ARE you asking then? You start off with this--


Hello everyone,
I already know the answer to my question (the author has penned a lot of non-fiction books), but just wanted to bring this issue to everyone's attention. I'm talking about "Suspect" the first book of Michael Robotham fiction. While we are taught by almost everyone to start the story with a catchy line, to grasp the reader's attention and all the good advice, read for yourself to see how this story starts...

*snipped for brevity*


--which is either (A) a complaint about the writing style or (B) an indication of preference for the teaching that apparently we all have had. Then you go to this--


Thanks for the replies.

If I only have twenty seconds to scan this book in a bookstore, I would put it down. There is no thrill in the first page, nothing is happening, and frankly, I don't give a hoot about what you can see from the roof or in the roof, hospital or not.

Unless, the hero is going to witness a murder from up there, or spot a dead body, or something even slightly thrilling, this scene has no point. At least not right in the opening lines of the first chapter of a thriller.

But then, I have already shelved the book, so I wouldn't know.

ED

--which indicates that you do NOT like the opening and, as a result, would NOT buy the book. So then, you finish with this-- (bolding and commentary mine)

Hello everyone,

I'm glad to cause some conversation. Although some of your replies were misguided,*an insult to some of the people who took the time to read your post and respond to your thread* my point (which initially I thought was pretty clear)*and obviously it wasn't, even to yourself* was that the beginning in Michael's book completely shattered conventional beliefs, held dear to our hearts and taught religiously in most writing courses. *which you completely dismissed in your second post as pointless*

To the writters of all those comments that attempted to make this matter personal or starts a bickering, sorry, fellows, you failed miserably. *didn't notice anyone bickering. Looked to me like people were trying to figure out what problem--if any--you had with the opening. A problem that was implicated by the title of your thread, by the way*

I haven't started playing the field yet, but once my first book comes out, I hope people would talk about it, whether they like it or not, it does not really matter.

*snip*
ED

Look, we can only go off of what you give us when you start a thread that deals with subjectives like writing style. If you initiate it with a question like "How Can a book that starts like this be a bestseller?" then you have to expect that we are going to assume that you dislike the opening. Especially when you verify it with your second post.

So, I ask again--what is this "issue" you wanted to bring to our attention?

There is no issue. Robotham wrote a description that some like and some don't, leading into a fairly gripping first scene. The opening establishes location. The 'big bang' you're looking for that 'we hold dear to our hearts' (which was a gross generalization, by the way) occurs within the first couple of pages. So you wouldn't buy it? Fair enough--but several other people on this board will. Is that the issue?

Because from where I'm sitting, after reviewing your posts, it sounds to me that because YOU didn't like the opening because it violates some preconceived notion of how a story should start then it's some sort of miracle that it's now a bestseller.

And besides, Ed, if you already know the answer to your question then why bother to chastise the rest of the board for their replies? *shrug* Seems like a waste of time to me.

BenPanced
09-10-2008, 09:19 PM
Oh, to phooey with it. You introduced several of us to a damn fine book, so whatever backtracking you're trying to do, Edmontonian, is useless to me.

IceCreamEmpress
09-10-2008, 11:57 PM
Okay. Edmontonian, you asked the question, "How can a book that starts like this be a bestseller?" and your question was answered: Because more people find the opening engaging than find it off-putting.

You didn't like the opening because of the tone or because it was too casual or because it wasn't exciting enough, or something (I'm not too clear on what your issue with it was from your post, actually).

Other people liked the opening because of the tone, because they felt it evoked a strong first-person voice, because they felt it set an unusual scene vividly, because they liked the reference to Mary Poppins, etc., etc.

And that's how a book becomes a best-seller. Not everyone has to like it; just a lot of people.

hammerklavier
09-11-2008, 12:06 AM
I liked it too, made me want to know what he's doing in the hospital, staring out the window.

Willowmound
09-11-2008, 12:37 AM
Get rid of the 'blah' 'blah'.

Nice.

That's basically it.

rhymegirl
09-11-2008, 01:01 AM
I've got to say I was curious so I read the first page of the novel. Even just reading the first 2 paragraphs, I was hooked.

As for the Mary Poppins reference, I liked that. I saw that film when I was about 9 so the reference immediately took me back in time.

This is the thing about books. You're already going to have feelings about what hooks you and what doesn't. It's great to be able to write an intro that will hook EVERYBODY.

But I don't know if that's really possible. There are classics I've tossed aside because the intro didn't hook me. But they'll hook someone else.

You can't please everyone.

seun
09-11-2008, 01:56 PM
The opening was a little clumsy but I'd keep reading for a bit.

AuthorGuy
09-11-2008, 02:33 PM
Get rid of the 'blah' 'blah'.
Exactly. What matters in the scene is that the character, and perhaps the writer, are interested in it. There are cheap ways of showing this--catching the character in the middle of some action where he'd better be interested-- and there are the not so cheap ways. The first line that started this thread off is one of the expensive ones.

Judg
09-11-2008, 10:24 PM
Edmontonian, sneering is not endearing.

Just sayin'.

narnia
09-12-2008, 08:57 AM
I had no issue with the opening because it took me about 1.5 seconds to read it and by the time I may have noticed it didn't follow the rules I'd been sucked in by the subsequent paragraphs. ;)

Seriously, I thought it was a great opening and immediately painted a picture for me. I must admit, however, that I am familiar with that area of London, but even if I wasn't the Mary Poppins reference would have painted that picture for me. In all fairness one could argue that a reader unfamiliar with Mary Poppins (as unbelievable as that sounds :D) might have a different opinion.

And in the interest of full disclosure I am a fan of Michael's books and enjoyed both Lost and Suspect. I became a fan of the person after he spent over an hour helping me resolve a plot dilemma, and picked up Lost because he impressed me during our conversations and I was interested to see how he put his story together. I enjoyed it so much I picked up Suspect and devoured that as well.

Can't wait to read Shatter!

:Sun:

triceretops
09-12-2008, 10:32 AM
TIPS FOR THE FIRST CHAPTER
Make sure the first chapter starts with action.
Okay, folks. We might give Ed just a wee bit of wiggle room. The above quote comes from Joe Konranth's site, and he also goes on to say that one should never start a first chapter/paragraph with atmosphere, scene or setting. I don't neccessarily believe in this, myself.

But...

We've all seen several blogs and writing sites where agents and editors recommend the same advice--better to get things moving and interesting from the start. The DIFFERENCE is, is that this applies to new writers who don't have scores of publishing experience and books behind them. King could have a guy tinkling in a urinal and counting the stains on a bathroom wall with his first sentence, but we would continue on because we know his style and there's a good bet that he's going to please.

So it can be pretty damn confusing when a new writer reads all of these tips and rules, and then opens up a book and finds the opposite. It's because these authors CAN, it's because they have a great voice, and because it's probably not overdone.

And it is so very subjective, anyway.

I can't cite any examples off hand, but can anyone remember best-selling books that begin with long (boring) prologues, face-in-the-mirror descriptions, waking up scenes, elaborate settings, or other so-called non-standard openings? They're out there. Why do they get a passing ticket? Famous author scenario aside, it might be because of...

Voice.

I think this has been mentioned upstream. Prince of Tides starts off with a kind of boring inner monologue (for me anyway), but the thing that sucked me in about it was the VOICE.

I think we've all been confused at one time or another from contradictions in what 'should be done' and what we ultimately find out there. I think it just depends on how well the author pulls it off.

Tri

Prozyan
09-12-2008, 10:49 AM
TIPS FOR THE FIRST CHAPTER

Make sure the first chapter starts with action.

I'm pretty convinced that "rule" has ruined more potential openings than any other, simply because a lot of people have no idea what "action" means.

It is said much more accurately: Start with interesting.

The real interesting of this particular excerpt come five sentences into it, when the narrator starts speaking with the teenager. The author spent a whole four sentences and 87 words setting the scene before getting to the meat of the scene. Is that too much? Probably not.

So often people get caught up in playing the "gotcha" game that they ignore the larger picture. Sure, it is easy to point the finger and say "look! He's starting with scene setting! Bad author, bad author!". But does anyone really consider why the author began that way instead of with the fifth sentence? Look at the big picture. Once the narrator starts talking to the young man, the scene takes off. If the settting weren't described first, the author would eventually have to interrupt the action flow to get to it. Instead of doing that, the author spends 87 words grounding the reader in the setting before taking off into the action, which allows all the tension and emotion of the action to stay at the front.

Its kind of like that deep breath you take on a rollercoaster, when you've reached the top of the hill and are starting to head down. A quick breath, then woosh, you're off.

If you really want to get something out of looking at successful author's work, try to get past playing the "gotcha" game and see if you can figure out why the author made the choices he did.

MelodyO
09-12-2008, 05:54 PM
As an aside, just out of curiosity a while back I checked out the first lines of ten random thrillers on Amazon, and guess how many of them started with breathtaking action instead of set-up?

One. The other nine had the usual weather, setting, internal monologue, MC intro, etc. Sounds like all those authors aren't taking the right creative writing courses. :D

narnia
09-12-2008, 06:38 PM
... snipped

Its kind of like that deep breath you take on a rollercoaster, when you've reached the top of the hill and are starting to head down. A quick breath, then woosh, you're off.

... snipped


Very nicely put!

Toothpaste
09-12-2008, 06:38 PM
I finally found agent Nathan Bransford's entry on beginnings which is very pertinent to this thread: http://nathanbransford.blogspot.com/2008/01/shock-and-awe.html

But this is what I don't get. JA Konrath (whom I respect a heck of a lot btw) can say start with action, every single agent in the world could say the same, so could every writing teacher . . . if a beginning doesn't start with action and still works. . . it, you know, works!

I was so very fortunate as a kid growing up. For some reason I always knew that I was the one in charge of what came out onto the page, so I played around, experimented, sometimes to abject failure, but I never though there was one right way to write. This held me in good stead when I started taking classes in it, and I learned that despite the instructions the teachers gave, truly they were only guidelines. I could submit something that broke the rules and still be graded well.

If it works it works. Obviously Edmontonian didn't like the beginning, but most in this thread did, that to me suggests that the author did something right. He's also a bestseller, so maybe others out there thought that too. What we should look at (and have) is WHY this beginning works.

Anyway . . . with respect to the ones who insist books must start with action . . . as one who definitely did not, I say let's stop confusing people with these absolutes. Or at least explain the foundations of the rules, something we so rarely do - we like snappy easy to remember one liners, but these can wind up being just as harmful as good. We need to explain the rules in depth so that people can learn when to use them, and when to toss them to the side.

AmusingMuse
09-12-2008, 06:49 PM
Well, I have to give him kudos for being different. What if every thriller started off with action, there would be nothing to set them apart from each other. I would then become bored and although his writing is well done, I doubt it would be something I would read much of. When critiquing a novel already published and circulating, I would highly recommend all to keep an open mind to change or different, as this is what I feel is selling right now. Do not get "trapped" in typical writing forms, be unique and different. It might sell faster.

I truly believe he did find a catch. Because here we are discussing not John Smith's novel, but his.

Just a thought. Wait until the virtual ink dries now before you pounce!:tongue

nevada
09-12-2008, 11:10 PM
I think there might be a misunderstanding of "action". I don't think when people say "start with action" they mean big explosion, murder, mayhem. They mean start with "happening out of the ordinary."

In that case, in this example it does. Guy's on a ledge, in freezing temperatures trying to talk a kid down who lets face it has nothing to lose, and guy's wondering if the rope is tied off on the other end. It's out of the ordinary, we are holding our breath to see if the kid jumps, or if the guy falls and if he falls is the rope tied off? And the author sneaks in the little nugget that the guy has a disease too. What kind of disease? It's got be something bad, so what's going on with that? So many questions raised. So many things for us to think about. That is action.

And to me, Konrath always comes across as ummmmm arrogant, and My way or the highway. Most authors realize that their method might not work for everyone but it doesn't hurt to try them all. Reading Konrad's advice I always have the feeling that he's saying, "this is it. don't bother with anything else because I know it all and you have to listen to me because I know better than you." I find it very off-putting.

And Narnia, make sure you read The Drowning Man. It's brilliant. It completely sucked me in.

CheshireCat
09-13-2008, 01:48 AM
Okay, folks. We might give Ed just a wee bit of wiggle room. The above quote comes from Joe Konranth's site, and he also goes on to say that one should never start a first chapter/paragraph with atmosphere, scene or setting. I don't neccessarily believe in this, myself.



One should always be wary of advice that contains the word "never."

As has been said here repeatedly, if it works -- it works.

Thank goodness we don't all like to read the same kind of books, or the same kind of openings. What a boring world it would be.

And how few of us would be able to produce saleable work. ;)

BarbaraKE
09-13-2008, 05:54 AM
I see Edmontonian's point.

I didn't particularly like the opening. Granted, I've read (and ultimately enjoyed) books that started out much worse. I thought the sentences were awkwardly constructed and it didn't 'grab' me at all. (I did not follow the link to read more so I can't comment on anything further.)

But let's be honest. If one of us had posted this in SYW, half the responses would have been...

'start with something interesting, not description'.

Half the remaining responses would have been...

'do you know you used the word 'chimney' three times in the first two sentences'.

Robert Farley
09-21-2008, 04:00 PM
If every book started with a car crash, a fiery explosion, a gun shot, someone falling overboard, etc., the value of the "thrill" diminishes. It's like gory TV. We see it so often, we're immune to its gore.

Often the value of these exotic settings lies in giving a false sense of security that everything's all right to the character, but as the reader, we sense that so much can go wrong, and that is where the potential for thrill comes: in our waiting for the metaphorical blade to fall through the channels and lop off a head.

Robert<><>

Edmontonian
09-22-2008, 07:06 PM
In soccer, there's the "too-good to be beaten" syndrome, when a team with very few chances in winning has to face one of the giants, Brazil, England, Italy. In these case, even the best soccer players of the weak team, who otherwise do pretty well when playing against teams at their level or a little better, are practically crashed, mainly not because of their skills, but because of the psychological factors of playing against giants.

I think this is true sometime in writing, authors who are not published or who are somewhat successful, believe that it is a sin or they are not qualified or it is just impossible to criticize established authors like J. Grisham, S. King and others. However, no gloves needed for new and upcoming authors.

ED

Disclaimer: My reply is not intended to re-start the debate on this book or on the rules (if there are any) of starting a book or things that have already been discussed and repeated. However, new suggestions and comments, are welcomed.

Momento Mori
09-22-2008, 08:41 PM
Edmontonian:
authors who are not published or who are somewhat successful, believe that it is a sin or they are not qualified or it is just impossible to criticize established authors like J. Grisham, S. King and others. However, no gloves needed for new and upcoming authors.

Really? I think you need to check out the discussion threads on AW for Dan Brown, Christopher Paolini and J K Rowling amongst others. AW's published writers, unpublished writers, the whole shindig have criticised those established authors and their writing quite vigorously.

What we're really talking about here is a matter of personal taste, to which there are no right or wrong answers. The difference between an extract from a published book and a passage posted to the SYW Forum is that it's too late to change anything in a published book, so it either works for you or it doesn't and you'll buy it or walk away accordingly.

In other words, you're reading the published work as a reader first and whether it makes you want to read on or not. I know a lot of people here who'll also be reading it as writers and thinking about how they could improve it or change it, but that's an academic exercise different to the motivations that will make you fork over your cash.

If someone were to post that same extract on SYW, then it would be because they wanted to know how to improve it because they want it to be published. People would therefore be reading it as writers first, offering suggestions to improve it. And maybe those suggestions would help the writer get an agent and publisher, and maybe they wouldn't. But the exercise is completely different.

So basically, you're comparing apples and oranges here, IMHO.

MM

Enzo
09-23-2008, 06:14 AM
Now the next time I visit a bookstore, I'll be looking out if they have any Michael Robotham. You guys have me curious.