By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund
Last week I shared about my dyslexic daughter squealing over a new book she recently got in the mail (in this post). But I also mentioned just how hard it was to keep her attention with books.
Sadly, once she started reading the new squeal-worthy book, it fell into the book graveyard like so many of her books do. It had a gorgeous, captivating cover. A catchy title. An interesting blurb. And it promised to be a fun, light read.
So why did it die and get buried?
After she read the first chapter, I asked her how she liked it. She sprawled out next to me on the couch and said, "It's boring."
"Oh no." My heart sank because I knew just how difficult it was to find books that she really enjoyed reading. "Why's it boring?"
"All she does in the first chapter is talk on the phone."
Sure enough, as I paged through the book, the phone conversation was the scope of most of the first chapter.
Now I know there are plenty of readers out there who will persevere past the first chapter and perhaps find the story appealing. My other teen daughter did and ended up liking the book.
But how far will most readers go before giving up? A page or two? A chapter? The middle of the book? Does some of it depend on whether the reader paid for the book, feeling the need to persevere and get her money's worth? Is it easier to toss the book aside if it's a library book, loan, or freebie for the Kindle? I know it is for me.
On the one hand, I think a book needs to have something that hooks us into reading it right from the start. But on the other hand, even if a book has an exciting hook it can still fail to deliver the rest of the story.
So where does that leave opening hooks? Is the beginning really all that important or not?
Over the years, I've come to realize that while I like a heart-stopping opening, something that grabs me and dumps me into the middle of the story and conflict, I'm also able to overlook a slightly slow beginning if the story itself grips me.
One book that kept my daughter's attention was Wish You Were Here by my friend Beth Vogt. As a runaway-bride story, the opening AND the story premise are both captivating. While the book doesn't begin with a huge bang and while it's not super fast-paced, Beth dangled enough enticement in front of my daughter to keep her reading. The opening delighted my daughter, and then the story swept her along. She finished the book and LOVED it enough to pass it along to many of her friends.
I personally think a book should attempt to do both those things, entice me at the beginning AND then sweep me along with the story, as Beth's book did. After all, some people (like my daughter) won't read on if an author doesn't do BOTH.
But if I had to choose a fantastic beginning or a sweeping story, I'd pick the sweeping story. I can overlook a slow start, but I can't overlook a slow book. I might be able to wallow through the first few arduous pages, but if the story doesn't grip me, then I usually can't persevere.
Dear readers, what's more important to you? Do you NEED a captivating opening hook to keep reading? Or do you persevere past a slow opening if the story is promising enough?
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