I’ve recently been thinking about novel beginnings, and how it’s common (and good) advice to start with big obvious conflict. However, I don’t think that it’s always necessary to do that. More importantly, I’ve been thinking about why that is true for me as a reader, and by extension, as a writer.
When I begin reading a new book, I want to trust the author, and the author’s voice. I want that as much as or more than any other element of the story. If the author’s voice is strong/interesting, she doesn’t have to be describing Things Blowing Up Real Good. Her prose can ease me into the story. This is more likely to happen if I am familiar with the author, and that trust is already established; otherwise, she has to show me she has Style. Not too much Style–not so much that I’m annoyed–but a level that makes me feel I’m in good hands.
As you might guess, the author’s voice is something on which everyone’s mileage will vary. Widely.
More prosaically, I can get involved with a story quickly if it immediately poses questions, either through presenting a mystery or presenting a contradiction or something otherwise unexpected. Even an unexpected description (which goes back to voice, a bit) will do for making me want to read on. (Ditto chapters, scenes, paragraphs, sentences…it’s turtles, all the way down.)
Immediate suffering/problems on the part of the narrator does work for me, as well, quite reliably. I think that’s the quickest and easiest way to engage the reader. What does the protagonist want, and why can’t she have it?
However, I prefer the feeling of being safe in the author’s hands.
As an example, as a child I loved the Chronicles of Narnia. I looked forward to seeing the movie version of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe after hearing how faithful the details were to the book. However, I didn’t love the movie. After some thought, I realized that what made the experience incomplete for me was that in the movie, the author’s voice was gone. And that voice was what I loved, without even knowing it. I don’t remember flashy opening sentences. I remember the voice.
Related Post: Novel Beginnings – On Opening Sentences.
Amen! I could not agree more. The movie didn't even entice me. I want to picture the story as I read as a child. Hollywood can keep it's special effects. I'm rather tired of having my childhood joys plundered. I wouldn't have watched Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" if the story had meant more to me growing up, like "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" did. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!
I try to think of movies as different entities from the original book, but the closer I am to the book, the harder that is.