Which makes that Alannis Morisette song where she’s making a point about people not being able to handle silence pretty weird. The on air version has an “uncomfortable silence” that’s only around a second long...
I heard this song today, and was surprised to hear my local state included in one of the verses:
e.g. One Republic - Good Life
To my friends in New York, I say hello
To my friends in Utah "they don't know"
I'd love to hear an author's perspective on this, if any of them notice it. My guess is that they stew on opening passages for years before writing, causing them to get a little neurotic about them, then eventually they settle down and write in a way that comes more naturally to them for the rest of the book.
What I think a lot of novice writers, and people giving advice to novice writers, often miss is that "hooking" your reader doesn't mean immediately assualting them with action. All it means is raising a question the reader wants to know the answer to.
For example, "The Wizard Hunters" opens with the line "It was nine o'clock at night and Tremaine was trying to find a way to kill herself that would bring in a verdict of natural causes in court, when someone banged on the door." Not much action - Tremaine is sitting in a dusty library reading books - but that line raises two immediate questions: 1, why is Tremaine trying to kill herself in a way that would be ruled "natural causes", and 2, who's banging on the door at 9pm?
Similarly, "Black Sun Rising", the first book of the Coldfire Trilogy, opens with the line "She wondered why she was afraid to go home." Again, the line raises multiple questions, inviting the reader to keep reading to learn the answers.
How can you not want to keep reading after that? While at the same time it’s still at the beginning, not assaulting you with action, etc
OTOH I think it's often appropriate to keep "mamma" in Italian movies and texts because it carries a huge amount of connotations, which "maman" doesn't.
Well it's not an accurate translation, 'my' create a distance between the narrator and the mother that you don't have in the original sentence.
You traduction is much more objective than what the author wrote.
- opening sentence of Iain Banks' The Crow Road
It's been a long time since last time I read it, but isn't this essentially the opening of the Hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy?
edit: yep, there's a prologue which gives you the broader scope https://www.amazon.com/Hitchhikers-Guide-Galaxy-Douglas-Adam...
Other things I find difficult about writing:
Ending chapters (I saw a really bad one once in the Broken Earth trilogy that was basically "[character] realized she had nothing more to say, so she walked away." I totally understood how the author got herself in that situation lol)
Making decisions on tropes. For example, say I'm writing a sci fi with a "rise of the machines" plot point (I am). What is the nature of those machines? Rampant AI in existent technology? Did it make war-bots? Or maybe multiple rampant AIs in autonomous bots? Etc. There's like fifty of these kinds of decisions I need to make in a book I'm working on now.
Writing dialogue that's interesting, but not campy, but realistic, but not drab.
Crystal’s character has writers block because he is fixated on a good first sentence setting the tone for the rest of the novel, and he never gets past line one.
That must have been driven by comments from initial readers, I suspect. Basically, some of the characters are rewriting the overall story of the series.
In game development, often you'll start with a random level from early-mid game, since that lets you playtest all of the gameplay. You then work forwards and return to the opening levels once the gameplay, art style etc. are all locked in and polished.
I wonder if some writers would benefit from a similar approach?
Funnily enough, there is a (French) Page 112 prize:
> "When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure." One way in which this can occur is individuals trying to anticipate the effect of a policy and then taking actions which alter its outcome.
"The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels."
Morgan's Steel Remains: "When a man you know to be of sound mind tells you his recently deceased mother has just tried to climb in his bedroom window and eat him, you only have two basic questions."
Stephenson's Seveneves: "The Moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason."
Lawrence's Prince of Thorns: "Ravens! Always the ravens. They settled on the gables of the church even before the injured became the dead."
Stover's Caine's Law: "And in this My Dream, Beloved, you know Me. Through your eyes I watch your blunt and broken hands scrabble upon the marble stair: spiders maimed and bleeding on frosted glass."
Scalzi's Old Man's War: "I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife's grave. Then I joined the army."
Rajaniemi's The Quantum Thief: "As always, before the warmind and I shoot each other, I try to make small talk."
My roommate would read the last page of the book to find out if the book was worth his time. We thought he was nuts. Especially since he could read a novel in 3 hours anyway.
"The primroses were over" does nothing for me, but Watership Down is great!
For me its those interludes that raise TNOTW into a class above the normal Harry Potter Copycat Formula that is so popular now.
I never even considered the possibility that, those bits would be putting people off. It's pretty clear that its those sections were Patrick Ruthfuss strives for perfection, that is taking so long to complete the series. He can churn out pages, once he gets "into the rythm" of more common storytelling.
Notably, these kinds of scenes aren't there to sell the audience a false bill of goods. Quite the opposite, in fact: the first few chapters of a story aren't always representative of the whole, hence the addition of a prologue to give the audience a sense of what's to come in later chapters.
As an example of what can happen when an author doesn't do this, Dan Wells' I Am Not A Serial Killer is about a teenager who works in a mortuary and investigates a series of brutal deaths around his town, and discovers that the killer is actually a millennia-old monster. The supernatural reveal doesn't happen until halfway through the book, and if you go on Amazon and sort by 1-star reviews, you'll find a lot of them come from people who thought they were reading a crime story and then got upset when they discovered they were reading a paranormal YA novel. When it came time to publish Wells' next book, his publisher told him, "This time, we're putting the monster on the cover of the book."
Each story is <1000 words (5-10mins), from a distinct author, and if you like the writing style, you can buy more books from the author.
A quick search reveals that someone has a copy of the text freely (but perhaps not legitimately) available.
I've always had the impression that authors just can't help buy try to prove how clever they are in the first paragraph at the expense of making the story compelling. It's like everyone has delusions that the book they're writing is going to be the next Moby Dick, so that beginning must be literary dammit.
I’d love if there was a similar website but instead of existing books it will have new book ideas. Authors will just write the first page and by votes (or donations) get encouraged to write more. Like Reddit’s writing prompts but more organized. Maybe it will be my next weekend project...
Royal Road is one of the newer and faster-growing sites, notable for being the biggest home of free LitRPG stories. Archive of Our Own (AO3) is a site mainly for fan works, though there are a number of people posting original fiction there. AO3 is currently a closed site with a queue to get in (most stories can be read by anyone, but an account is required to post), there's usually a waiting period of around 10 days after you submit your email address to the waiting list.
There are also some forum-style sites like Sufficient Velocity (and its progenitor Spacebattles), where the forum software allows authors to "threadmark" certain posts in a thread and label them as chapters to separate them from the posts that are discussions/comments. Readers can choose between "Reader mode" (which just displays the posts that have been labeled as chapters by the original poster) or a regular forum mode (where they can see all of the comments from other posters between chapters). Although this forum-based approach might make it feel like it's less optimized for sharing stories (as opposed to sites that are tailored specifically to that purpose), I've found that the forum setting makes people much more likely to comment on stories. While these forum-based websites might not have the biggest audiences, they certainly seem to have the most engaged audiences, which I think makes them more valuable if you're looking to validate a story idea.
I'd prefer an outline as the first page isn't enough. Maybe with some parts of the outline marked as spoiler. I just started keeping a couple story ideas as issues in a repo, but they don't come to me as often as software ideas.
0 - https://github.com/cretz/stories/issues
Some novels have powerful first pages and even opening paragraphs. However, one distinction (of many) between the novel and the short story is that the short story must hook your attention from the first paragraph, whereas a novel has the time and space to grow on you.
I'm not sure this will work for novels. As an example, I got the first page of a book which talked about a middle-aged man and his relationship with a prostitute. I was surprised to find out the book was Coetzee's "Disgrace" -- a book I've read and which I do not associate at all with a middle-aged man and his affection for a prostitute. I really don't think you can decide whether you'll like a novel -- or even find out its main themes -- in the first few pages.
I think this approach can successfully work for short stories, though. Short stories have no time to waste; they must both engage the reader and their themes in the first few paragraphs.
...but then again, do you really need a recommendation to read a short story? You might just as well read it and get it over with :)
I'm not even a very attentive reader, but I guess some of these really great opening lines will stick with you forever.
Two of my favorites:
* "Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”
* “I’ve been cordially invited to join the visceral realists. I accepted, of course. There was no initiation ceremony. It was better that way.”
"Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you." -- Ford Madox Ford
Also if you can control yourself and avoid revealing the author/title of books you don't like you won't bias yourself when you get recommendations from friends!
Interesting though ;-)
My suggestion here is not necessarily putting out the first page but a page the author feels most representative of the story/view/idea. Personally I would either draw to a unique plot or some really smooth/beautiful verse. In both scenarios, I don't think the first page may necessarily be representative enough, leaving me the shame of missing a damn good book.
Love the idea though! Thank you.
Ok, I'm hooked!
Forget the first page... All you really need is the first sentence.
And, first thing I can think of is affiliate links. The site is all affiliate links, but I can just MITM it and just sub in my own number and get credit.