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The Lonely One
10-06-2010, 07:55 AM
This is sort of a spin-off of another thread in BWQ wherein the discussion arose about what one might expect in the first 10 pages of a novel.

It struck me as interesting, and how reading trends have changed, though I think most of it falls squarely on an individual kind of taste.

Some readers want a freaking explosion in the first page. Some want depth of character. Some just want an interesting lead-in.

Though I personally think there is room for all the variety of opening pages, so long as something compelling is happening there.

Take Dickens, for example:

"My father's family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip."

Yes, the scene leads quickly into a rather explosive encounter with a villainous criminal, but to some readers it may not come quick enough as Pip spends some number of paragraphs going on about his dead parents, and this opening paragraph is completely stationary in the narrative sense.

Yet, we are immediately immersed in Pip's sense of identity, or lack thereof, and are sucked into the world through his eyes, through his distinct voice.

I believe a modernized version would open, first line, perhaps with "Hold your noise!" and run from there. But is this a preferred opening?

In Dickens's novel, is the central conflict derived from the first 10 pages? Perhaps some vague sense of it, yes, but we aren't thrust into an easily-digestible plot structure; Pip is extremely complex, as are his various encounters throughout this Bildungsroman, and while none can be taken as individually set apart, they initially must be, with some considerable attention paid by the reader in order to have a fulfilling and comprehensive reading.

So I suggest there are many things which make a book desirable upon first encounter.

Running rather haphazardly with the Dickens theme, what are your "Great Expectations" of a novel's first ten pages or so? How do you know you'll want to read on?

elindsen
10-06-2010, 08:02 AM
i do like when something happens. not always an explosion, but novels that lead in with info dump make me put them right down.

Nya RAyne
10-06-2010, 08:10 AM
It depends on what I'm reading.

If it's a romance, I expect the protag and hero to meet and I want friction/chemistry and a reason for them to be together.

If it's a thriller, somebody had better be killed quick fast and in a hurry.

If it's a horror I need to know it without a shadow of a doubt.

I seriously hate stories that drag in the beginning. If I'm not invested by the end of the first chapter, I won't read the second chapter unless I'm bored silly.

Etc, etc, etc...

Qbynewbie
10-06-2010, 08:14 AM
I clicked on "New Posts" and saw, among the listings, a thread called "First 10 pages: what do you expect?". I immediately found the question intriguing and almost immediately reached the eternal answer "well, it depends." :D

I decided that if I were going to read a work from the 19th century, I'd be looking for a nice quiet ride, with pleasant scenery and lots of it. But if I were looking for yet one more novel for yet one more ride on the airlines, I'd be looking for something quite different.

With current novels that I read for pleasure, I tend toward books that are faster paced than many might have been a hundred years ago. Instead of a great deal of set up before we get to a conflict, I like to see the main character about to be dunked in the pot of boiling oil right in the first paragraph. Don't tell me what the judge is wearing, tell me how hot that oil is and why the heck my guy is about to go swimming in it.

And that's only the first paragraph. :D

If I'm in a bookstore looking for something new to read and I pick up a novel, I'll generally read the flyleaf or the back cover and, if they make it seem even slightly interesting, I'll start reading at the first page. I can usually tell if I'll like it within a few paragraphs and I will always make a decision with a couple of pages.

The first few pages need to really grab me these days. I want in on the action and the dialog and I want to know who it is I'm rooting for -- right up front. Tell me who he is in some interesting kind of way. I don't care so much if he's 6' tall (at least at the beginning) but let me know that he's a dirty-rotten scoundrel with a heart of gold. And what in the world trouble is he in?

If you can do that in the first few pages, I'm likely hooked and I'll give you some time and space to start putting together the pieces of your story -- but not too much time or space. Keep things moving right along, please. :)

night-flyer
10-06-2010, 08:14 AM
I wouldn't mind if nothing exciting happened, as long as I got to know the MC and he/she was compelling enough for me to read on. A good voice, interesting MC, and a sense of what he/she is facing in the book is enough for me to read on until the exciting explosion occurs, or whatever.

thelastwordsmith
10-06-2010, 08:15 AM
Dickens...That was a long time ago. Before action movies came out I believe. Life was more boring and you were forced to read just books. You can still get the excitement of a story by watching TV, so why bother reading first ten pages of a boring novel? with that said...I'll also state that Dickens is one of my fave writers. He's in the top 3. But I'm sure I would have dropped his books after picking them up...at barnes n nob...if he's a modern writer.

SPMiller
10-06-2010, 08:16 AM
I expect something interesting.

The Lonely One
10-06-2010, 08:37 AM
Dickens...That was a long time ago. Before action movies came out I believe. Life was more boring and you were forced to read just books. You can still get the excitement of a story by watching TV, so why bother reading first ten pages of a boring novel? with that said...I'll also state that Dickens is one of my fave writers. He's in the top 3. But I'm sure I would have dropped his books after picking them up...at barnes n nob...if he's a modern writer.

To play devil's advocate (Mr. Jaggers, perhaps?):

There are criminals afoot in the marshes, banging sisters into kindly silences and threatening disembowelment, Miss Havisham vampirically attacks the male species from her haunted Victorian fortress with more spite and viciousness than any of the Twilight villains might hope to enact, and the bitter-cruel Estella breaks our hearts.

I submit that Dickens has just as much action, romance and villainy as any modern writer, it's just structured differently.

But your point is well taken; not many would pick up that type of novel in a modern world and read on.

Polenth
10-06-2010, 08:44 AM
It does depend on the type of story, but I expect something about the book to be set up quickly. It might be the character, the setting or something happening. By ten pages, I'll expect some of all of that to have happened.

I don't have a problem with quieter openings, but I do have a problem with openings that try too hard to be mysterious. It'll be a paragraph about how the event changed their life in ways they never expected, but not what the event is or how it changed things.

The vague version of Pip's opening would be:

I had an odd name. It wasn't the name I was given at birth, because I couldn't say that name. So I came up with an easier-to-say alternative.

It will then fail to mention the name for the whole ten pages.

Qbynewbie
10-06-2010, 08:47 AM
That would just annoy the heck out of me. :D

night-flyer
10-06-2010, 08:48 AM
I disagree, my daughter is 18 and she likes Dickens and Shakespheare.

So, I would say that it just depends on the person, not the times.

RobJ
10-06-2010, 09:43 AM
So I suggest there are many things which make a book desirable upon first encounter.

Running rather haphazardly with the Dickens theme, what are your "Great Expectations" of a novel's first ten pages or so? How do you know you'll want to read on?
I ask only that the opening engages me in some way and makes me want to read on. I've seen that done in so many different ways.

Mr. Anonymous
10-06-2010, 09:48 AM
Number 1 thing I look for is writing style.

The excerpt you've taken from Dickens doesn't necessarily have me excited, but I'm not exactly putting the book back on the shelf right away either.

After writing style, I look for character, and not just character, but a character with whom I can connect.

Those are the two most important things to me.

The opening you posted doesn't give me a sense of who Pip is, really. So I'm just like, whatever, Dickens wants to take his time, ease me in.

Whereas, if we take Dostoevsky's The Underground, we have

"I am a sick man...A mean man. There's nothing attractive about me. I think there's something wrong with my liver."

Bam. I'm hooked.

gothicangel
10-06-2010, 12:00 PM
Again, it depends on what I'm reading.

If it's crime fiction then I expect something pretty damn quick. I'm reading Jeff Lindsay at the moment, now it takes 8 pages for anything to happen. But he gets away with it because of Dexter.

I don't think an agent will give you ten pages to get going. There has to be something there within the first 30 seconds.

Mr Flibble
10-06-2010, 01:38 PM
What they said - it depends.

In general an interesting character in a situation that shows his interestingness in a way that will tie to the plot later. Some sort of conflict is good - doesn't have to be explosions, but something, preferably something that shows what sort of conflict is important to this particular character, what he cares about. His boss is about to fire him, he catches his best friend lying to him, the cop gets exactly the sort of case he hates yada yada.

Cyia
10-06-2010, 01:53 PM
Usually, you need a sense of place, a sense of person, and a sense of purpose.

10 pages sounds short, but it's equivalent to 10 minutes of "diffusing" time in a movie. (You know, that last 10 minutes on a countdown that takes up 30 minutes of the film...) A LOT can happen in ten pages; it's often a full chapter worth of words, so you'd better have SOMETHING going on that can hold the reader's attention, even if it's just really really interesting character work.

Phaeal
10-06-2010, 04:17 PM
Jonathan Franzen has often been compared to Dickens, with some justice. The opening of Freedom makes Great Expectations look like it just downed a reckless dose of speed. Please, no more sweeping generalizations about the ability of modern readers to appreciate anything but the break-neck. Sweeping generalizations about nonmodern people having nothing to do but read books are also inaccurate. See Jane Austen, for one, whose Elizabeth Bennett bridles at the accusation that she does nothing but read -- no way, she takes pleasure in many things!

CaroGirl
10-06-2010, 04:23 PM
Well, I'm going to go 100% with voice. If a novel has a compelling narrative, it has me hooked every time, even if I have to wait for something major to happen.

That said, I've started, and even finished, books without a compelling voice, like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I'd heard it was good so I persevered where I normally wouldn't. Was it worth it? I suppose.

Devil Ledbetter
10-06-2010, 04:24 PM
I want some kind of conflict or problem to present itself to the main character. It doesn't have to be the core conflict of the story, but it does have to be interesting and not just trumped up drama for drama's sake.

I usually dislike reading about explosions, car chases or dead bodies in the first few pages because that's before I know any of the characters well enough to give a rip. Never assume the reader will automatically care just because 1. Someone is dead. 2. Someone is in danger. or 3. Your MC is a child, adolescent or developmentally disabled.

However, even explosions and dead bodies are better than books that start with the MC waking up and lying about in bed ruminating about her backstory.

The Lonely One
10-06-2010, 05:21 PM
However, even explosions and dead bodies are better than books that start with the MC waking up and lying about in bed ruminating about her backstory.

haha fair enough. Thanks for the early-morning chuckle.

gothicangel
10-06-2010, 05:38 PM
Jonathan Franzen has often been compared to Dickens, with some justice. The opening of Freedom makes Great Expectations look like it just downed a reckless dose of speed. Please, no more sweeping generalizations about the ability of modern readers to appreciate anything but the break-neck. Sweeping generalizations about nonmodern people having nothing to do but read books are also inaccurate. See Jane Austen, for one, whose Elizabeth Bennett bridles at the accusation that she does nothing but read -- no way, she takes pleasure in many things!

Definitely, it depends on my mood. If I want a crime novel I kind of expect the 'wham' effect. Still I love reading my literary stuff too.

M.R.J. Le Blanc
10-06-2010, 05:48 PM
If I make it to 10 pages? I expect the story to show promise of still being interesting. I can usually make a decision between 1-3 pages as to whether the book is going to be interesting or not though. It doesn't have to be a wham beginning, but there has to be something that piques my interest.

happywritermom
10-06-2010, 07:38 PM
I simply want to be engrossed.

I have to admit though that I've never been a big Dicken's fan. Love Shakespeare. Love (to my own surprise) George Elliot. Love James Joyce. But not Dickens, and I can't stand Virginia Wolfe.

CaroGirl, funny you should mention The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I'm trying to read that right now and having a lot of trouble getting into it. Like you, though, I'm forcing myself to continue because I've been told there is a payoff.

Jamesaritchie
10-06-2010, 07:47 PM
Dickens...That was a long time ago. Before action movies came out I believe. Life was more boring and you were forced to read just books. You can still get the excitement of a story by watching TV, so why bother reading first ten pages of a boring novel? with that said...I'll also state that Dickens is one of my fave writers. He's in the top 3. But I'm sure I would have dropped his books after picking them up...at barnes n nob...if he's a modern writer.

Modern or not, an opening either holds your interest, or it doesn't. The only people who can blame modern life, TV, and movies are those who prefer TV and movies over reading, and who knwo next to nothing about life in the centuries before TV.

Forced to read books is just wrong. Life was more boring is just silly. People didn't sit aropund twiddling their thumbs and reading books, wishing someone would hurry up and invent TV. People then were more active, had more things to do, and were lucky if they ever had time to sit down and read a book.

Soccer Mom
10-06-2010, 07:49 PM
Something to hook me. Something to make me care. Something to make me read further. If I'm not engaged in 10 pages, I won't read on.

Shadow_Ferret
10-06-2010, 08:54 PM
Not sure about all the depends in this thread.

The only thing it depends on is does it hold my interest.

But to be honest, most books are lucky to make it to ten pages, if I haven't found anything within the first page and half, I'm putting the book back on the shelf.

Ton Lew Lepsnaci
10-06-2010, 09:17 PM
if I haven't found anything within the first page and half, I'm putting the book back on the shelf. Ditto

gothicangel
10-07-2010, 12:31 AM
I was think about this thread as I began reading King's 'The Shining' for University.

If I didn't have to read it for my degree, it would have been in the bin by now.

Rowan
10-07-2010, 04:27 AM
Writing style and voice are the first things I notice. If I like both, I'll give it a whirl, regardless of the pace. On that note, I prefer my UF to be faster paced and literary fiction to be well, literary. Give me vivid descriptions and strong character development! :)

I'll stop reading if I don't connect with the MC. I've done that numerous times, but have suffered through beta projects when the MC made me want to retch (because I made a commitment).

Mr Flibble
10-07-2010, 05:05 AM
Not sure about all the depends in this thread.


Depends what mood I am in

Depends if I'm reading something written a hundred years ago ( I cut the slow pace some slack) or not. or what I feel like reading.

Depends whether I feel like a slow burn or an action-packed.

Depends whether this opening grabs me due to stuff I like as opposed to stuff I don't like even if you hit me with a hammer.

Depends.

:D

entropic island
10-07-2010, 06:29 AM
The Hitchhiker's Guide nailed me with the whole hilariously witty dialog and destruction of Earth.

But Brave New World described a fascinating environment right off the bat and hooked me as well.

To Kill a Mockingbird took about 20 pages before I decided to continue. I am SO glad I did.

1984 had some seriously creepy stuff in the beginning that was interesting but just didn't (in my opinion) have the same articulate style of Brave New World.

Dirk Gently books always start out great; not sure why.

David Sedaris books usually start out slow with some good jokes tossed in between but really pick up after a while.

Phaeal
10-07-2010, 06:11 PM
I was think about this thread as I began reading King's 'The Shining' for University.

If I didn't have to read it for my degree, it would have been in the bin by now.

The Shining? Hooked from page one by the tension between the face Jack Torrance is putting on and the edgy turbulence beneath it. In fact, I don't think that book left my hands for more than five minutes at a time from the moment I picked it up until the moment I finished it.

I'm glad to hear it's reached required reading status. ;)

JamieFord
10-07-2010, 06:44 PM
That early in the book you're making a contract with the reader. You are promising them a type of story. And I need to be oriented. Don't withhold time and place. If it's 1968 in Cleveland, please let me know. Let me know who the main character is and give me a reason to care.

Maxinquaye
10-07-2010, 07:29 PM
The key word here I think is "interesting". It can mean so much. As long as the characters on the page are interesting, I'll read on - even if it's so mundane as drinking coffee for ten pages, or if it's a life-or-death car chase.

Just keep it interesting, and I'll read it.

J. Koyanagi
10-07-2010, 07:51 PM
I expect to be hooked. And really, not only in the first ten pages, but in the first paragraph. If I'm on the fence, I'll keep reading for a page or two. There are too many gorgeous books out there for me to waste time on mediocre works.

As for what hooks me? Voice first. Then character, setting, and tension/conflict.

I'm currently critiquing a project in which very little external action has taken place in the first four chapters, yet I'm hooked. The voice, character, tension, and setting are all rich and evocative. I care about what happens, however quotidian, because the author has evoked both sensawunda and verisimilitude, and the character is sympathetic.

darkangel77
10-07-2010, 09:07 PM
I can't really describe it, but yeah, something that's interesting and keeps my attention. I got into the habit of reading back covers, and if that interests me, I read the first page...if it's not interesting enough for me to want to continue, then I put it back.

So as long as it's interesting!

Monkey
10-07-2010, 10:32 PM
I don't read back covers. They aren't usually written by the writer, and they can be misleading in sooo many ways.

I read the first paragraph, maybe two. Then I flip to the middle of the book and read another paragraph or two. If I get the sense that I don't like where the book is going, I'll (very) occasionally read the last paragraph. For me, in most cases, it's not the destination, but the journey. :tongue

What I'm looking for in the first couple of paragraphs is a writer who shows skill and brings me into the story. If the book starts with the MC looking into the mirror to describe themselves, I'm rolling my eyes and thinking twice about buying. If it starts with backstory, it had better be exceptional, or I'm putting it down. I want to see writerly chops and an engaging story, pronto.

In the middle of the book, I want to see that those writerly chops are holding strong, and that the story has picked up some steam. I want to be able to feel tension or conflict, love or sadness, in the random paragraph or two that I read.

In the end, I want a satisfying finish that won't leave me crying, disapointed or asking, "Is that it?"

If a book has a great beginning and middle, I'll usually assume it has a great end. And if it has all three of those, it's probably worth my time and money. :)

RBoyce
10-07-2010, 10:50 PM
I want to be completely submerged in the main character. I want to see a bit of their quirks, their sense of humor or lack of one. I want to hear their distinctive voice.

I want to have some clue of what they look like. So many books that I have read lately completely skip the main characters description or give some insignificant detail.

ultimately though, I want questions to arise that are worth finding the answers to. If I am not curious about a character, even one that I don't particularly like, there will be no reason for me to continue.

Monkey
10-08-2010, 01:50 AM
Welcome to the forums, RBoyce! :)

entropic island
10-08-2010, 02:05 AM
ultimately though, I want questions to arise that are worth finding the answers to.

Exactly.

RBoyce
10-08-2010, 02:17 AM
Thanks, Monkey!

katej
10-12-2010, 03:55 PM
I want some kind of conflict or problem to present itself to the main character. It doesn't have to be the core conflict of the story, but it does have to be interesting and not just trumped up drama for drama's sake.

I usually dislike reading about explosions, car chases or dead bodies in the first few pages because that's before I know any of the characters well enough to give a rip. Never assume the reader will automatically care just because 1. Someone is dead. 2. Someone is in danger. or 3. Your MC is a child, adolescent or developmentally disabled.

However, even explosions and dead bodies are better than books that start with the MC waking up and lying about in bed ruminating about her backstory.

Obviously you haven't ready many Nora Roberts books. She's used ruminating and waking up in bed lots of times. And she's sold millions of books.

Rebekkamaria
10-12-2010, 04:17 PM
Running rather haphazardly with the Dickens theme, what are your "Great Expectations" of a novel's first ten pages or so? How do you know you'll want to read on?- the author gives me a reason to care about the main character

- it’s clear that the author knows what he’s doing (knows his world, knows his character, knows what he wants to tell me, knows where he’s going) and I can just sit back and relax

- if I start to question the story in any way the author himself is behind it, and gives me an answer before I can even start feeling betrayed… this usually makes me love the author more than anything because it annoys the heck out of me if I ask “How’s that possible?” and the author doesn’t answer it, meaning he doesn’t realize there’s something wrong. And I don’t mean the normal suspense stuff; I mean things that sound stupid or wrong, something the character wouldn’t do. If the author outwits me within the first ten pages I will love him till the end.

- I start wondering what’s going on, what’s the bigger picture here, who are these people…

- I either love the language or it doesn’t hinder the story in any way.