1. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Once the reader is hooked

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by 123456789, Aug 18, 2014.

    The first n pages of a book are stellar. The reader is head over in heels fascinated with the novel. My question is, at this point, how much abuse will the average reader accept? Can the writer afford the occasional obnoxious paragraph, or pointless back story, or straight up tell, once his/her reader is hooked, and if so, to what extent? Any and all thoughts welcome, especially regarding examples of novels that do this.
     
  2. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I'm on book three of the Hyperion series and I just skipped a couple paragraphs after reading with rolling eyes, "you stay with me Raul Endymion". Disgustingly cliché. But, I certainly didn't put the book down. :)
     
  3. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would question why a writer would want to know how much they can "get away with". Are they talking about being mere mortals or wondering how lazy they can be?
     
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  4. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I'm not sure 'lazy' is the word I would think @123456789 was going for. But I do agree with you asking, why would you need to ask this. Isn't it better to make every minute or your book exciting? ;)
     
  5. Sheriff Woody
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    Sheriff Woody Active Member

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    I'm struggling to get through A Feast For Crows, which is one of the most boring books ever written. Half-way through it now. I've stopped to fully read 4 other books at various points.

    As long as important character and story developments are happening, I'm interested. If not, I'm bored out of my mind.
     
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  6. JamesBrown
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    JamesBrown Active Member

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    Treat a novel like you would a woman or she'll get rid of you pretty quick. This isn't the Victorian age, woman can get divorces easily and readers can throw away books half way through then trash you on amazon if you start spewing out 'obnoxious paragraphs' and 'pointless back story' - why would you want to do that anyway?
     
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  7. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    @shadowwalker
    @GingerCoffee

    In my opinion, cliches are going too far. That's just being lazy, and never acceptable. What I'm wondering about more are questionable things, like exposition, a sudden increase in back story, maybe a long speech. It's not being bad or lazy, but it requires more of the reader's patience than a nice clean hook, or a passage laced with tension.

    Of course, even a passage filled with cliches could theoretically work, if the writer has established himself as original and clever, and had something else in mind later, probably something humorous.
     
  8. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    You do realize this sentence doesn't make sense as worded? I still get the point, except, plenty of lovers (male and female) accept abuse.

    But this is a good basis for another analogy. If a stranger asks you to go digging through the trash with him, because he swears to you there's treasure at the bottom, you'll probably tell him to get lost. However, if its someone you're in love with....

    One way to look at it is delayed gratification vs instant gratification. Maybe the novel openening is instantly gratifying. In this case it means the reader is intrigued from the text that he's reading as he's reading it. Later on, there's a passage, that, in and of itself, is not so gratifying, but serves as a setup (or build up) to something that is. The passage in question might not be acceptable at the start of a novel, but maybe later on? Another way is conventional vs unconventional

    Anyway, its not about being lazy, its about pushing the envelope of the agreement established between the reader and writer at the start of the novel.

    PS: pointless in "pointless back story" was probably not a good word
     
  9. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    I don't mind backstory (although I've noticed many folks do) but I dislike novels where I feel nothing is happening. Two examples? The first riddlemaster book and (in my opinion) the worst offender, lord Valentine. In lord Valentine the story is hardly in motion, the main character feels more along the lines of (actually, he IS) 'let's see where these guys are going, maybe there's something on the way that'll help me'.....plus he won't shut up about deserving to rule.

    The riddlemaster I disliked because aside from almost nothing happening, we get no glimpse of what's going on behind the scenes (my way of saying we have no idea how the character feels, what he's thinking and such) to the point that someone tells him/shows him something and he freaks out and until he explains it later I have no idea what his problem is and EVEN THEN, I don't know the character well enough to appreciate his feelings on the matter. I need an author to pull me INTO the character.

    Lord Valentine is the only one of these two that I never finished and I have no intention of going back.
     
  10. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    There seem to be two issues under discussion here.

    One is ...can you get away with a few spots of sloppy or" incorrect" writing in your first few pages? I'd say probably not. In fact, you shouldn't try to get away with bad writing at all ...anywhere in your story.

    Two is ...do the first few pages have to be unputdownable—usually meaning exciting and fast paced? That's not really a yes/no question.

    Different styles of writing will appeal to different kinds of readers. Some readers (me) like a story that promises interesting things—interesting setting, characters and potential plot. I prefer the start to be a slow drawing-in, rather than a whack-whack whammy.

    A slow drawing-in usually means the story will pick up pace as it goes on. A whack whack whammy start INEVITABLY means the story will slow down just afterwards, to let the reader catch up and figure out what's going on.

    I was reading an article recently by an agent who talked about things she finds disappointing in reading an MS, and that's a big one. She said it's obvious so many times that the writer has crafted and re-crafted their opening chapter, but then the rest of the story droops into a disappointing let-down. She said that she has learned to mistrust a too-active beginning, and has begun to value a more measured approach, because that measured approach usually means sustained storytelling skills.

    However, she did say that awkward sentence structure, bad grammar, cliched word choice or errors in punctuation usually do send the MS straight to the bin.
     
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2014
  11. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I've noticed it's easy to fall into the trap of polishing and shining the first chapters of your story while giving the later parts far less attention. Unfortunately that shows as diminishing quality the further the story progresses, but who wants that? I'd argue that the ending of a story, the final conflict and resolution, are almost as important as the beginning because they affect the reader's impression of the story as well as the reading experience a great deal. That's why I think it's crucial to pay equal attention to the ending and all key parts of the story, preferably trying to maintain high quality throughout the entire story.
     
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  12. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it was in Ingermanson's "Snowflake Method" (I could be wrong) that I read something in the line of "keep the pace up, make every single sentence, paragraph, WORD! hook your reader with excitement and action". Frankly, I think... NO. Writing in a "dynamic" style doesn't mean "writing like you're a hyperactive on amphetamines". The prose looses focus, becomes shallow, insubstantial, boring, if you don't change the pace, put up something new, diverge from the flow, make it interesting from within the language, from within the structure (make the structure interesting, make a structural change), not just on a diagetical level. In other words, having 300 pages of THE SAME is the same as having no pages at all... you know :)
     
  13. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is more what I was getting at. First you call him Mr. Jones. Then it's Thomas, then it's Tom, then it's something else...

    Reminds me of the introduction made for a friend's PhD defense. "We already know he's great, so we're going to skip the formalities and just have a nice conversation about the work."
     
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  14. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Quality and effort are important from start to finish. This I maintain. However, I don't see why that quality has to be presented in the same exact way. Something that on it's own might appear lazy, comes as a breath of fresh air when contrasted with surrounding lush prose.

    We have countless threads and workshop entries highlighting successful strategies toward engaging the reader, and I agree with most of them, but I'm wondering how often those strategies can be thrown out the window (intentionally) later on in the story in order for a little contrast or perhaps something experimental, assuming the reader is already committed to the story and hooked.
     
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  15. Lae
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    Lae Contributing Member Contributor

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    Loved Hyperion & fall of Hyperion, not started Endymion yet.

    I genuinely read that as A Feast For Cows, I did indeed think 'my god that must be boring'

    This is true but novels arent that good for washing the dishes, they get wet and soggy.
     
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  16. Siena
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    Siena Active Member

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    Best advice is probably to try not to lose the reader at any point.

    Which means chuck the parts that are losing the reader and insert opposite.
     
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  17. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Not a good idea. You hooked the readers in, why would you start slacking off just for a bit of fun? At best the readers will lose interest and stop reading. At worst, the readers will lose interest and trash you and your book online, telling others to not read a single word out of you. Is that what you want to do?
     
  18. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, but 1) on what grounds would you base your "reader"? and 2) is there really only two solutions in any given situation?
    First, you may be able to gather a dozen beta-readers, and get a dozen different answers (as is mostly the case). You could use your own judgment as a reader, but all of us know how hard it is to make the distance and objectively read your own text. And you are most likely not to get bored by your own work on that level :)
    And the other question is "doing the opposite". Which is good only in the case you are facing only two paths, no more, no less, and that is never the case.

    @123456789
    I instantly think of Bolano's 2666 - the best novel I've read in last 10 years. Just...try to read it. It literally never gets boring, style-wise: it speeds up and down, make sudden turns, almost crashes and disentegrates at points, then flows like a wide lowland river, meanders and bayous all around... and then knocks you over by 30 pages of gruesome details of randomly murdered women :) And yeah, there are diagrams in it as well. :)
     
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  19. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    That's a great strategy, but what it means is you'll need to get several beta readers to give you quality feedback for your entire story, once you've finished witing it. (Folks won't know what matters and what doesn't until they've read the whole thing.)

    You will NOT be able to figure out whether other people 'get' your story without feedback, unless you are a genius permanently ensconced at the Right Hand Of God ...apologies to any of you who are...:)
     
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  20. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You seem to assume readers only want one thing, and only one style, one genre, one type of story. That's just rubbish. Truth is, if you write your exposition well enough and make your character interesting enough, assuming the information is actually important to character development and/or plot, then you're doing just fine.

    Dostoevsky - of the 100 pages or so that I've read of Crime and Punishment - writes pure philosophy pretending to be fiction, in my opinion. I'm not into pure philosophy, so I stopped reading. But he's a classic. Tolkien writes hundreds and hundreds of pages of history and detail on Bilbo's presents and guess what, he's a classic too. And no, I didn't finish reading that either. Then you have trash like Twilight and guess what, that's a global bestseller that spawned 4 Hollywood movies. Then you have people like Lee Child and Tom Clancy who write purely action. Terry Goodkind managed something like 11 bestsellers and ALL Richard Rahl (his MC) does is make cliched speeches, one of which apparently lasted 3 chapters lol. (unlike the rest of the examples though, Goodkind is exceptionally bad that even his fans once commented that Goodkind must've run to the bank laughing.)

    Truth is, different readers look for and like different things, and thus they will have patience for different things. I don't have the patience for detail such as what's in LOTR but clearly millions of others do. To brand anything as "questionable" or "shouldn't be in it if you want to hook the reader" is bad practice and bad working theory for a writer. To use your example of "exposition" being questionable - I actually love reading that stuff.

    The only thing you need to know is: is this important for the story and/or character development? If yes, put it in there and make sure you write it damn well, or consider splitting it into several chunks. Timing of where you put these things is just as important as how you write it. Do it well, and you can do anything.

    If the reader can see it's relevant information or you reward the reader by revealing it's relevant information soon after, the reader will learn to trust you and read through it even if it might not be initially interesting. But hopefully you'd write it so well that the reader isn't even aware he's doing it ;)
     
  21. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, I think these are two very important points. Pay attention to timing. We've all seen this done badly ...the dreaded starter 'infodump' or the badly-placed flashback. Some of this stuff is fine in itself, but it's just turns up in the wrong place and wrecks the story's momentum.

    And reader trust. That is SO crucial. It's so hard to put a finger on exactly how that works, but it's definitely a factor. Readers start out wanting to trust an author, but if the author starts doing weird stuff—

    contradicting what has gone before
    answering questions in ways that make no sense
    taking an easy/miraculous way out of difficult events in the plot
    making characters behave out of character without a good reason
    coming up with an ending that betrays everything has gone before

    —the trust dissolves.

    When the reader loses trust, they lose interest in reading anything else by that writer, or even in finishing that particular book.
     
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2014
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  22. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I guess another way to approach the OPs question is:
    Are there elements which would not work in an opening, but readers would have no problem with later on?

    Might there be bits of backstory that are dull when they pertain to characters we don't know? But later on might be quite interesting to explain why characters have particular quirks, motivations, fears etc

    Certain sorts of transitions seem fine to include a little bit of telling of the sort you'd not want to include in an opening.
     
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  23. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Well, that depends on how it's done, I suppose, since anything can work as long as it's done well. I'm not sure if this is an example of it done well or badly, but in my and @KaTrian's current WIP, there are some highly educated and very smart characters, some who left school early, weren't the sharpest tools in the shed to begin with, and have further impaired their minds through drug abuse, and characters who fall somewhere in the middle.
    Of course that means there are vastly different tones in the different POVs, including different lingo and level of intellect as well as descriptions of pleasant and intellectually stimulating activities vs. grotesque and downright stupid activities depending on whose POV we're in. That gives at least some variety to the tone of the story if the different plot developments and events aren't varied enough.
     
  24. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, definitely, the reader will forgive a multitude of sins, once they are hooked and have to know how it all plays out. Prime example is Peter F. Hamilton. About 50% of every one of his novels are pure drivel, the rest is genius. It's an arduous process, skimming through hundreds of pages of car chases and pointless, repetitive, meandering descriptions, but you have no choice, if you want to know the intricate and imaginative sci fi stories he tells. He is a very frustrating and brilliant writer, all in one.

    So I think the reader will put up with much abuse. But, if a writer is capable of writing brilliantly, then the crap side of it isn't due to lack of skill but to laziness and lack of editing, overinflated ego etc. All things that can be fixed. Certainly, I aim to not put my readers through that.
    This, however, is a completely different ballgame. There's nothing wrong with exposition, monologues and back stories, if they are written well. Even if they aren't, they are easily forgivable if they are well placed within the narrative, and if the rest is good, the reader will accept that weakness. Readers don't look for perfection, they look for entertainment. Give them that overall, and you might not get all five star reviews on Amazon, but you will be read.
     
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  25. JamesBrown
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    JamesBrown Active Member

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    Ok, technically you're right. It should have been "treat your reader like a woman" but stylistically "novel" was better.

    If you can have a hook as good as heroin maybe a reader would be prepared to rummage through the rubbish with you, but only if they're really desperate, otherwise they'd go to a dealer who made a better job of packaging and selling the material.
     

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