Fast and furious is the order of the day, at least at the start.
A few things have happened in the last few months. An acquaintance of mine recently started their own e-zine and indicated that they were so inundated with entries that they found themselves making decisions after reading the first part of the stories. If a story did not hook this person right up front, odds are they would not finish reading it.
Also, within the last two months I read two different books on writing. Both suggested that an opening line is critically important and can sink or save a story int he submission process.
Also, I received a rejection on a long story I submitted many, many moons ago. The feedback was helpful and thorough but again, suggested that the story opened too slowly and did not start getting interesting until far too late. Good advice and something I take to heart. But there it is again:
IMPORTANT: OPEN STRONG.
I guess I’ve never given the opening line as much import as most others apparently do. A strong opening line can be great and be a great hook. But I don’t think it’s a great guarantee of a good story any more than the inverse. Consider:
The trawler plunged into the angry swells of the dark, furious sea like an awkward animal trying desperately to break out of an impenetrable swamp.
The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.
To me, the first line is atrocious. It’s cumbersome and the adjective use is awkward. The second line is smooth, attractive, and sets the situation beautifully.
So why did I enjoy the first book more? The first book is from Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity, a book I very much enjoyed reading. The second is from one of my favorite authors, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger. It read fairly well but I could not force my way through the whole series. I thought that despite King’s wonderful imagery, the plot was trudged at the pace of a snail on quaaludes. Based on the thoughts of opening lines, by logic the second book should be more publishable. Reading the entire manuscripts of both would have have left me picking Ludlum’s book. So what does that mean? Nothing, just offering an alternate point.
Is this just a case of the market speaking? Is there some actual research that indicates most readers won’t keep reading if the intro is boring? Or is this a case of conventional wisdom that has never been punctured?
This must be one of those junctures in the course of a writing career where one has to decide whether to follow their heart and write what they want or bow to publishing world and write what the market demands. I understand the reality of the situation but it’s personally annoying.
God, making these decisions are the only part of writing I hate.