Wordsmith Wednesday–Where to Start?

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If you’re a writer, I know you’re a reader. Or you better be. Think back on a recent trip to the bookstore or library or, perhaps, your initial foray into the sample you downloaded onto your Kindle. How do you choose a novel you want to buy?

One thing I look at, of course, is the cover. The art, the design, the overall attractiveness of the book’s presentation is a temptation that draws me to pull it off the shelf. Then I read the back cover and inside flaps. If it’s an author I know and already appreciate, that may be all it takes–but more often than not I turn to the opening chapter. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what is going to draw me, as a  reader into the story.

When I think back on the (literally) hundreds of rewrites I did on “Winter is Past,” 80% of them focused on the first fifty pages. I’m not talking edits here. I’m referring to total destruction of narrative already written. I’m alluding to using those little scissors on the tool bar of my computer or wadding up pages of manuscript and slam-dunking them into the wastebasket.

If a book doesn’t tantalize me in the opening chapters, I decide it’s not worth the however many years I have left from the perspective of the 60+ spectrum of my life span.

So what are some of the things that urge me to keep on turning pages?

  • I want to know who my protagonist is, what’s going on in his or her head, what kind of challenges is she going to allow me to share with her on her journey. I’m not talking about her blue eyes and blond hair. You can give me a physical description later on if you like, or you can allow me to conjure up my own image.
  • I’m looking for voice. What point of view has the author espoused? Is his character gentle, abrupt, victimized, crazy? Is she going to tell me about her or drag me into her psyche? Are there other POV characters I’ll get to meet?
  • Now, what about action? Are the opening pages wearisome with long paragraphs of description that don’t seem to lead me anywhere? How long do I have to wait for something to happen? Where’s the conflict? Even in character-driven novels, the conflict better come on pretty quickly or I’ll close the book, fall asleep and leave it unread.
  • And is the author going to just tell me what’s going on or is he going to allow me to immerse myself in the narrative by evoking my senses–smell, taste, touch, vision and hearing? Will I be able to suspend disbelief and identify with the protagonist? Please, please let me be a part of the story.

What other characteristics can you share that compel you to read on, to allow an author’s written word to become a part of your experience? What values do you expect to reap when you assent to spending your precious time with a book?