1. Blue Night
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    Blue Night Active Member

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    Do I really have to be Stephen King?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Blue Night, Oct 19, 2011.

    As I research more and more about self publishing (I know it’s taboo, just like Prologue’s), I tend to see the same suggestions for the story: Kick start it quick.
    Really?
    Of course I am biased toward my writing, but I feel my story is interesting without jumping right into action. Can I just let it build up?
    What are your true thoughts on this and have you ever read someone’s first work and it didn’t have a ‘hook’ at the beginning and you appreciated the overall story?
     
  2. lostinwebspace
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    lostinwebspace Active Member

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    I can't remember. I remember reading books that I found dull at the beginning and wound up liking near the end, but that might have just been my preference for how a story starts, not that the book had a bad start.

    Other than that, my opinion is that, if a story doesn't have a nice hook in the first few paragraphs, you risk losing a reader's interest. When a reader checks a book at the store, I imagine they'd flip through the first page but not sit down to give it more than three pages before they decide if they like it or not. So, for the casual browsers, you might need your hook up front to catch them. There's a lot of emphasis on first sentences out there.

    I think a wise way to think is this: The blurb on the back cover will get the reader to the first page. The first page will get the reader to the cash register (or not).

    If you think your first page is "hookish" or isn't, maybe get someone to read the first page. See if that person asks for the rest.
     
  3. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    There is a difference between being interesting and being packed with action. The story doesn't have to start off with action, but it has to be interesting from the beginning or I won't read it. As for Stephen King, I've only read his earlier work but I don't remember them starting with a ton of action.
     
  4. Jabby J
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    Jabby J Member

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    Not that is matters, but if I'm looking through a book in the store I usually flip to page 10 or so. Sometimes I flip to a page towards the back third so I can actually catch a true exerpt instead of the fluff that usually is written to "hook" a reader. If it's interesting, I'll pick it up. The moral of this little blurb, if it's written well it will sell.
     
  5. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    For me, the back cover has to hook me. If I like that, I will read the book in its entirety no matter how it starts out.
     
  6. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Opposite of me, since I don't read the back :)
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i read the back, but i also check out the first page... if either one doesn't sell me, i don't buy the book...
     
  8. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    I cant help but read the back, its like a crack addiction. Haha :p
     
  9. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I agree that it doesn't have to start with action, but it should be interesting. What you can't afford is to be dull.

    So what's interesting, if there's no action? The voice of the narrator can be interesting. A description of a setting can be interesting. The main character's situation can be interesting. Humor can be interesting - not much happens in the first page or two of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but there's humor enough to keep a reader going until the wild stuff ramps up.

    That said, I always give a novel a fair shake before I set it aside. I'll read several pages, even several chapters. I read three hundred pages of The Stand (unabridged version) before I decided that it was too boring to continue with. They say you can't judge a book by its cover. I would extend that: You can't judge a book by its cover or by its first page or two. I don't think it's fair to pick up a 500-page novel, read the first page and find it slow, and decide that the other 499 pages will all be crap because of that.
     
  10. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I don't care if it is slow or not, minstrel, but if the first handful of pages doesn't engage me in some respect, I put it down and move on. I have too many books in my to-read pile to continue with ones that may (or may not) become worth reading at some point later in the book.
     
  11. A.L.Mitchell
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    A.L.Mitchell Active Member

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    It doesn't need to start with action. However, it has to be intersting to say the least. Sometimes it is best to build the suspense and draw the reader in. So good luck and have fun in writing. :D
     
  12. TheSpiderJoe
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    TheSpiderJoe Senior Member

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    You guys ever read the principle/rule of page 69/99?

    I heard about it on the blog-o-sphere. They say you can tell whether or not you are going to like a book by reading the 69th or 99th page.

    I've never done it personally but I did try it on some of the books in my collection and it worked about 80% or the time.
     
  13. MarmaladeQueen
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    MarmaladeQueen Senior Member

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    For me, I need to have engaged with at least one of the characters wthin the first few pages to want to go on reading, but there are many ways to make a character engaging. Long descriptions at the start of a novel put me off. Having said that, there are many books where I have soldiered on despite not feeling initially engaged. Some have really grabbed my attention further on and have been thoroughly enjoyable reads. Others have remained tedious. I rarely leave a book unfinished, and generally only do that if the writing is really poor.
     
  14. WriterDude
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    WriterDude Contributing Member Contributor

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    I tried to read 'The girl with the dragon tattoo' by Stieg Larsson, but honestly I thought the first 100 pages or so were incredibly dull and had nothing to do with the actual story. The only reason I kept reading was because it's a trilogy, and a cute woman recommended it to me. So I decided to get through at least one book, and I'm glad I did. After the first 100 or so pages, the story started getting really interesting, and I ended up loving the entire trilogy. It wasn't exactly the best books I've read or anything, and they had some serious flaws that dragged them down a lot. But even so, I loved them.

    The point is I ended up loving the trilogy, but I only read it because it was recommended. If it hadn't been, I would have put the first book down long before it started getting interesting, and there's no way I would have bought the other two. I have far too many books to read as it is, so I really need a hook as quickly as possible to keep reading. Why spend a week slowly dragging myself through a book I hate, when I can rather spend the week on a book I love? ;)
     
  15. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Have you read anything by Stephen King? He doesn't generally start with a lot of action, so I'm a bit puzzled by that part of the question. In fact, he doesn't always have all that much "action", anywhere in the book - it depends on the book.

    A book needs to start with something interesting. And most of the time, it should start with events rather than narrative, but that's not for the sake of "action", if by that word you mean big exciting fast-moving-and-usually-violent events. It's because narrative is often pretty boring if you don't yet care about the characters, and it's hard to care about the characters if you haven't "met" them yet by seeing a scene where they're doing things. But they don't have to do anything more action-packed than, say, participating in a dinner-table conversation. An _interesting_ dinner-table conversation.

    Returning to Stephen King, his book _The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon_ starts with a mother and her two kids getting out of the car and starting on a hike. There's resistance, grumbling, the viewpoint character (the daughter) is having thoughts and feelings about things. So it starts with events, but they're very, very low-key on the action scale.

    Now, that was written after Stephen King was popular enough to write whatever he darn well pleased, but I don't recall that _Carrie_, his first big hit, was all that action-packed at the beginning either. And didn't _The Shining_ ease pretty slowly into the scarey stuff too? He grabs reader interest from the beginning _without_ a bunch of action or even a clear indicator of where the story's going. He has characters, they do things and they have thoughts, and he manages to make them engaging enough to suck you into the story.

    Shifting to a very different author and a different decade, _An Episode of Sparrows_, by Rumer Godden, starts with a meeting of an eminently dignified and civilized group of people discussing, of all action-free things, a garden. One of the participants quietly and subtly gets her way in spite of the others' preferences. No action. No raised voices. Barely a frown. But in spite of that, you feel that character's need to dominate, and you feel the others' helpless resentment. It's definitely interesting.

    So, no, you don't need to start with a lot of action, and if you want examples of how to start quietly, one author that you could read is .. Stephen King. :) (Or, of course, Rumer Godden, one of my favorite authors, but she published a long time ago.)

    ChickenFreak
     
  16. Blue Night
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    Blue Night Active Member

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    I love Stephen King's writing.
    I posted this morning and now have a chance to read the replies. I see how vague I was.
    I should have included the quote from a website, "Unless you're Stephen King, you need to quickly draw the reader in with something that hooks them." This is in reference to those who wish to self publish.
    I apologize.
    I'm saying I am no Stephen King. And I don't have a hook or action scene to draw the readers in. My first chapter doesn't include any dialogue, just a man's thoughts. So do I have to be Stephen Kings to attract a reader or do I have to hook the reader in the first chapter with some type of action? Again, this is all in reference to self publishing. And I'm considering this for my first writing.
    Again, I apologize for not better wording my original post. I had one cup of coffee and off to work I went.
     
  17. Fullmetal Xeno
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    Fullmetal Xeno Protector of Literature Contributor

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    That's funny, im the exact same when it comes to looking at the back of book covers. But like Steerpike said, it would be a good idea to capture the reader's interest without tons of action at first. You want to get to know some basics first, then you can prowl into the action.
     
  18. proserpine
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    Stephen King always starts with something interesting. All books should.

    If you don't want to start with action, start with an interesting thought. If your character doesn't seem interesting, no one will want to read about him/her.

    Have you read King's book "On Writing"?
     
  19. Ubrechor
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    Ubrechor Active Member

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    One of my ever-lasting favourite novels of all time is The Northern Lights by Philip Pullman. He starts with events, yes, but it is not action packed, it's just fascinating. It fills the reader with so many interesting questions and tantalising hints that they want to continue reading regardless of how much action there is in the first few chapters. I would have to say that if nothing happened for the first few pages, if nothing made me think or ask myself questions, then I wouldn't be interested. But the key isn't action. A hook needs to be intriguing above all else in my opinion.
     
  20. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Of course you don't have to give your stories an interesting start. Just remember that readers don't have to read your story.
     
  21. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    As you can tell by now, some people:

    -Read the back
    -Read the first page
    -Read one of the last pages
    -Read a random page

    I think the lesson learned here is to have an interesting and well written book the entire way through.

    Just sayin'
     
  22. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's something to be said for that. I wish more authors did it.
     
  23. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    Agreed.
     
  24. cobaltblue
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    I always read the back of the book and see if anything there catches my attention, then I might open the front cover and read a little of the first page. I wouldn't say there needs to be action (of any sort) right off the bat.. the blurb on the back needs to give me an idea of the type of story it's going to be and then once I'm interested I look at the first page to judge the style of the writing.. if it's too long winded or dry or crammed full of big words in an attempt to impress then I will put it back on the shelf. It just needs to seem interesting for some reason.

    Stephen King - I was a big fan of his older stuff, then I felt he lost his way (maybe it was the 'he can write anything and it will sell' thing) I stopped reading his books, then I found my way back with some of his more recent contributions being more 'up to par'.

    The Shining doesn't start out with any action - the first chapter is titled 'Job Interview' and with the exception of a mean thought by the main character there's nothing much going on at all - so where's the hook there? well... there is a question asked that's not explained so then the reader might be thinking, hmm.. what's that about? but nothing big.

    Carrie on the other hand, starts off with a newspaper clipping detailing an odd event, followed immediately by a paragraph which ends with the revelation that Carrie is telekinetic --- there's a hook!
    (yes, I have these books on my bookshelf and dusted them off to check out the first pages)

    I almost always finish every book I pick up to read... I believe there's only been two that I have not persevered with and finished, and one of them was a Stephen King (Gerry's Game?? Gerard's Game? something like that.) I agree with the PP with regard to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - the first what, 100 pages of that book could have been edited out and it would have been great ;) I'm glad I kept reading because I enjoyed the actual story we eventually got into.
    The first Harry Potter book felt the same, the first 1/3 of that book was a bit boring, but I didn't have anything else handy to read (my niece had gotten bored too and accidentally left it in my house) and so I kept reading and I ended up liking the story..

    so.. long story short.... I don't think there needs to be a Hollywood explosion hook.. just don't write horribly on the first page and expect the masses to keep reading ;)

    Blue
     
  25. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    I always remember that book about the evil 3-socket plug. It was unusual because they do not have them in Maine, but a British back packer brought it with him in his back pack. Then the protagonist awoke in the middle of the night and stepped on the plug and from there on in her life became a shaving socket nightmare. Stephen King is certainly the queen of bollox.
     

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