Kristen Lamb had a similar post about this called In Media Res, a couple of weeks ago. And I think it's time we discussed this again. I know how topics come and go, and then come around again. But it seems to me that sometimes we just need to be reminded of stuff we know and thought we forgot.
Back when I was querying, I read a lot of agent blogs and they all said the same thing -- You need to have a great opening line, a fabulous "hook" to draw the reader in. Sounds good in theory, but I was never one to practice it. My stories start at the beginning (if that makes sense). I don't want to drop three paragraphs or chapters for that matter just because that's where the action is. I mean, just because you have a great opening line doesn't necessarily mean that the rest of the book won't suck. Believe me, I've seen this happen.
Standing in a bookstore, you open the novel, read the first page or three, plunk down $15- for something you think is going to be fabulous and once you get to the end, if you even GET to the end, you find out the $15- was wasted.
In my opinion, I'd rather start the book off a little more slowly and allow the reader to get the WHOLE idea of what is GOING to happen rather than just dumping them right into the zombie apocolypse, or the shoot out at the corner of 5th and Main, or into the middle of a conversation where you wonder who's speaking, and having them say, "What the hayzoo is going on?"
For example, when I started showing REMEMBERING YOU around, everyone told me to dump the first two pages and open when Genna first sees Tony at the diner. Then I could fill in all the backstory later. Uh, no. That's not where the story began. It began with her driving up interstate 95 and thinking how surprised Uncle Sal would be when he saw her. It began with her remembering what it was like to be home and why she left in the first place. It began with her nervousness and anxiety.
I mean, ten years is a long time to be gone, there's a boatload of emotions going and then, BLAM, there's Tony. I mean, that's like going to a funeral and having the dead person sit up in the casket. It's an "Oh shit" moment. (Not an "Ah Ha" moment.) But as in "Oh shit, what is Genna going to do now?" I like to REACH the tension instead of just starting out with it.
Some people call that backstory. Others call it info dumping. I call it the beginning.
As a reader, no one would care about Genna and Tony and why the meeting was so significant if they didn't know she hadn't been home for ten years or why. And that's what the first two pages were all about. It's a lead in to the "Oh shit" moment.
Tell me -- Would you rather get dropped in to the action, or would you rather be led to it? Do the old publishing "writing rules" apply anymore? Do we really need to "hook" a reader with the first sentence?
Anne Gallagher (c) 2013