One of my favorite authors died a couple years ago, but his characters live on under different writers. Some have been OK, some have been Not OK, a couple, IMO, have been bad.
When I saw my favorite character’s first other-written novel, I quickly picked it up off the library shelf, looking forward to reading about my female PI friend.
Let me say that I usually read a book through to the end. Of late, if I don’t like a book, I’ll set it down after a few chapters.
This was the first time I dropped a book at the first sentence.
What should have been an easy opening was so badly written I lost complete trust in the author. I don’t know how that line got by editors, but WOW it stank. I showed it to a friend and he blinked, snapped the book shut and said, “That stupid sentence is going to haunt me for days.”
I’m dead serious. It was that bad.
More than anything else, the first sentence, paragraph and chapter is all about building trust with your reader. That is done with:
- A strong opening that is…
- Well written with…
- Proper grammar in the narrative that includes…
- A hook that grabs me and has…
- No typos that…
- Gives me a solid glimpse of a character I can care about with empathy, curiosity, anger, disgust, or any other strong feeling. What we have to avoid is, “who care?” or apathy toward the characters.
This is how you build trust, because a book is all about trust. The reader is trusting the author that reading this won’t be a waste of time, that you the writer knows what you’re doing, that the reader will be satisfied by the story.
In The Amazing Voyage II, Isaac Asimov’s lead character came off like an idiot. He wasn’t asking any of the questions that a normal human being would ask, or catch any obvious issues presented by the character. Then at the end, we suddenly find out that the main guy DID catch everything. Through the whole book I’m calling that guy an idiot, then the flip came, and I felt cheated. I want to read the Foundation series, but I don’t trust the writer. I read that book 30 years ago and still don’t trust Asimov. Without trust, you aren’t going to invest hours in the book.
Asimov’s mistake was in making the errors so obvious that I caught them all. Had he been more subtle and the main character had to uncover the errors for me, I would have been fine, but we expect our main characters to be at least as smart as we are. Typically with mysteries, the detective solves the clues as we go along. In the first place, Asimov’s character had to use copious exposition at the end (where it never belongs). By doing so, he told us we had never known the character, which is a requirement of a story. Even the unreliable narrator makes everything fall into place at the end. It works because we never distrusted the UN or thought the UN was an idiot). He wasn’t an unreliable narrator, Asimov was an unreliable storyteller.
Trust is vital. Earn it.