Monday, September 26, 2011

Blog Chain - Keeping the Faith

It's Blog Chain time again. Okay, technically yesterday was blog chain time again, but I didn't realize we did this thing on weekends, too. I don't blog on weekends. Hell, if it doesn't involve my daughter's soccer game or getting drunk and watching football, I don't do much on weekends.

Anyway, back to the business at hand. This chain topic was selected by Shaun, whose first post you can find: here.

Here is how he introduced it:

In writing, we talk a lot about grabbing the reader from page 1. From the first paragraph, the first sentence. I spend a lot of time working on my first paragraphs because I know that agents and editors are pretty much going to decide whether they want to keep reading based on that. It's the first impression. A crappy first page is like walking into an interview in your underwear. So it's important to grab your reader right away.

But what about those books that don't?

What are three books you would tell people that they need to keep reading even if they aren't immediately sucked in by the first page?


Before I share my three, I just want to point out that I'm a very patient reader. I don't have a problem with books whose stories take time to build. I've only ever given up on two books in my life, and it was never within the first five pages. Do people really do that? Give up on a book that quickly? Or is that only when industry professionals are considering work?

Right. So here's my three:

1) The Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien. I'm listing this one, because it's basically famous for starting slow. Now that I'm a (somewhat) professional writer, I can see the point people are making when they make this argument, because the plot does take some time to get going, but in my opinion, it starts out just right. It's a vast world Tolkien was building, and it took time to get a feel for it. Personally I love every minute of it.

2) Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, by J.K. Rowling. This is one I'm a bit ashamed to admit. But it's an interesting story. I first bought this book for my daughter when she was about 6. I had seen Good Morning America talking about the lines outside of bookstores when The Chamber of Secrets was released, and I wanted to see what all the hype was about. So I bought her the book. I read the first two or three chapters myself, and being the fool I was at the time, I scoffed. "This is a children's book!" I said to myself. "Clearly it's beneath me," was my second sentiment. So I'm sad to say that I gave her the book and it took another 4 years or more before she finally convinced me to give them another chance. I think she was on Goblet of Fire at the time. Well, this is going to sound cliche, and it probably is, but reading those books changed my life. I realized that great writing could be meant for any audience, and I've been reading, and loving, and writing, and toiling over, "YA" and "MG" books ever since.

3) The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner. This one I was reminded of by the blog chain member who came before me, Sandra. I'll link to her post at the end. This is a perfect example of this topic for me, because honestly? I still don't fully understand this book. I've read it three times. The whole stream of consciousness style is one I always struggle with. The first time I read this book it made no sense to me. But I came back a few years later, and read it again. Okay, admittedly, there are still parts that don't make sense, but it also contains some of the most powerful writing I've seen, and I've come to love it in spite of my ignorance.

So there you go. A day late and a few dollars short, that's my take on the topic. Be sure to visit Sandra's post, that came before me, and Kate's post, which will probably go up today (sorry, Kate)!

54 comments:

KatieO said...

Great post and interesting choices! It's funny how I don't "remember" TLOTR starting slow, I just remember all the exciting parts...

Natalie Aguirre said...

I didn't start reading Harry Potter until right before Goblet of Fire came out and it changed me too. That's when I started writing my novel.

I'm a more patient reader like you. I'm not sure every book has to completely grab you at the start to be good.

I can relate to the busy part of weekends with your kid's sports. Mine is swimming. But lucky you that you get to get drunk and watch TV. I have all the chores and blogging/writing work to do then.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I rarely give up on a book. Heck, I read all of Dan Simmons' The Terror and that entire book was slow and plodding.

Alison Stevens said...

Harry Potter was the first one to pop into my mind. :) I've only given up on a couple of books. I'd have to give some serious thought to which would make my top three for must-read-on.

Renae said...

Great picks. Lord of the Rings may start out slow, but you're right, it's a big world that takes some time to build.

And for me, once I start a book I have to finish it. It makes me crazy to have unfinished books laying around the house regardless of how they start.

salarsenッ said...

Great points, Matt. It's interesting to point out books that don't follow the 'grab'em' NOW! theory, but still catapulted an author's career. I'm currently taking a class where we examine the first sentence, paragraph, etc... We have to find books that we feel work in these areas and those that don't. It's been a great learning experience for me.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I've never stopped reading a book after the first page if it doesn't grab me. If I bought the book (and I usually buy online so I haven't even seen the first pages), then I'll read the entire book no matter what (hey, I spent the money, I'm not letting the book go to waste). If it's a library book, it's got 50-100 pages to grab my attention, otherwise it goes back unread.

There's a few books that had (for me) lackluster first few pages but I ended up enjoying the book.

maine character said...

I couldn't get through the Faulkner, either, and when I read HP, I actually skipped the opening 'cause I couldn't stand that family in the movie.

But about a month ago I finally went back and read it and loved the quiet wit under every line.

Sarah said...

Always interesting to see people's picks. I have to agree that Tolkien certainly takes his time. I don't mind a slow start as long as I feel it's deliberate and not just flabby.

Old Kitty said...

I'm so glad you're a patient reader! I have massive problems with the "grab the reader from the first sentence" school of thought because it seems so... maverick and kind of dishonest. Ahem. It's like setting a trap for a helpless fawn. Not nice. LOL! Maybe this applies to flash or short story fiction but for novels.. as proven with your choices, this maxim should maybe be used with caution or a pinch of salt!

For me words in good fiction are there to be savoured. That's maybe why it takes me forever to read a book. I'm in awe when people read a hundred books in a week. I can't do that.

and now I'm digressing! off I go! Take care
x

Heather Kelly said...

I actually had a lot more patience as a kid, then I do now, for slow beginnings.

I enjoyed HP's beginning, the first time I read it, but now, reading it aloud to my second batch of little Harry Potters, I was thinking, "let's just get to platform 9 3/4, for crying out loud." :)

I have to preface my above comment by saying that things can be slow if they are beautifully written. I think I read for cadence sometimes.

Slamdunk said...

I don't have a problem with slow-starters and only put down a book (I rarely do as well) if it is poorly researched and filled with mistakes or overly offensive.

I did have trouble staying with a couple of the European mystery writers--until I understood that being overly descriptive was just their style.

Hope your fantasy teams are doing well. Mine got crushed this weekend.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Yay for #2! Now, if you could just convince the rest of the adult writer-population. :)

Amanda Bonilla said...

Great post. LOTR is a slow read throughout the series, in my opinion. But it's not the kind of slow that would make me want to stop reading. Rather, it's like you said, a lot of extensive world-building that HAS to be covered in order for the story to be what it needs to be. I think a lot of epic fantasy is like that. World-building takes a lot of words.

Anne Rice's books tend to start slow like that. But it's only because she's so descriptive and a fantastic world-builder. Her books are worth the time put in.

Ted Cross said...

I'm not a fan of coddling the new impatient breed of reader. I love slow-building stories, and I'm already tired of hearing that we must grab people in the very first paragraph, if not sentence. Many of my favorite books do not do that, yet they are fabulous.

Carolyn Abiad said...

I'm not one to put a book down once I pick it up. I do read the first pages before I buy/borrow. If I don't like what I read, I'll find another book. On the other hand, classics are often slow starts, but I read through them. My method must be flawed. ;)

Huntress said...

When Gandalf said, "Fly, you fools", it ripped me from my teenage life (read the book in college) and put me square on Middle-Earth.

But that was nearly two thirds through the book.

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

I agree with Amanda that LOTR is slow throughout. I think people were more patient when our society wasn't so fast-paced. That's why it can be hard to read the classics; they were written for a different mindset.

Creepy Query Girl said...

THis is a really great idea! Writing the first pages of a book as though our audience as ADD isn't always what will make someone keep reading. great choices!

Carrie said...

Your Harry Potter story is great. I never quit reading MG and YA. I was pretty happy when Harry Potter took off because all the sudden there were these other grown ups reading Harry Potter.

Joshua said...

"...I just want to point out that I'm a very patient reader. I don't have a problem with books whose stories take time to build."

Agreed, and I'm with you on the first one for sure. I'd throw ENDER'S GAME and CONTACT into the mix, though. Nothing against good old HP or Faulkner, but I like dense material.

Jeffrey Beesler said...

The last book I stopped reading altogether was a how-to-write book with essays that just didn't captivate me. Ugh. It's pretty hard for me to ever put down a book for good, but man that was one stinker of a tome!

Bryan Russell said...

Yeah, Fellowship aint' exactly a rocket at the beginning. Mushrooms!

Tamara Narayan said...

As a pre-teen, I read the first page of Stephen King's The Stand (this was before the expanded version was released) and put it back on the shelf. It was just a working stiff in a gas station. How dull! Now, of course, The Stand is one of my favorite books and I've probably read it ten times.

Michael Offutt said...

Minus the prologue of Game of Thrones, I think George R.R. Martin takes a while to get the ball rolling so you should stick it out and wait for it.

William Gibson's Neuromancer is chock full of flowery writing but has kind of a slow burn before the action picks up. The flowery writing keeps you going because there just isn't anyone out there that writes like Gibson.

And Frank Herbert's Dune has kind of a slow start. He borrowed that annoying habit of putting unrelated snippets of information at the top of all of his chapters from Isaac Asimov (who also has a slow start to Foundation) and I don't think any of that stuff on top of the chapter head is needed since it's an infodump. But Dune is one of the greatest science-fiction books ever written and I absolutely love it so I encourage people to plow through those parts and realize the genius of the story.

So yeah...I'm basically saying that writers should read the best known works of Herbert, Gibson, and Martin but I may be prejudiced because these are my favorite authors.

Anime said...

Hi Matthew! I mosey'd on down here to return the follow and realized you only have the networked link that goes through fb. *sad face* Is there a link to follow through blogspot? If I've missed it on your page because it's waaaaay too early in the morning *thinks 10am is too early for me*, please forgive my brain fart and direct me to said link. Thanks! By the way, LOVE the layout on your blog! :D

~Ani

Cynthia Lee said...

Great post! I'm always frustrated by people who think FOTR is too slow. Honestly, that's so dumb. I just can't wrap my head around it.

I read The Sound and the Fury twice before I realized that there were two Quentins in the story, the weird brother and Caddy's illegitimate child. Great book. I like how it starts in the middle, doesn't bother to explain anything and then ends in the middle. :)

Elle Strauss said...

I usually give a book the first chapter to snag me, even if just mildly. After the first three, though, if I'm still not engaged, there's a good chance I'll move on to the next book.

Lindsay said...

I was the same with HP until I gave it another chance. Now I try to give a book 3 chapters to hook me. It has usually picked up the pace by then :)

Lydia Kang said...

Totally agree with # 1 and #2, though I haven't read #3. Part of the reason why LOTR is so good is that I know the ending. Every time I reread it, I savor the slow moments.

Michelle McLean said...

Harry Potter is on my list too :D

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

I hate to say this but LOTR is on my 'will never read' list. I fell asleep during the first movie, and figured that was enough of a hint that those books wouldn't be for me;)

Christina Lee said...

HP is tricky that way, right? I'd add Game of Thrones to your great list. But then BANG it hooked me and kept me reading!

Kelly Polark said...

I agree that HP didn't quite have the hook in the first few pages. Heck, Harry isn't even in the first few pages!
But the whole concept and likable characters made it unnecessary I guess!

Jamie (Mithril Wisdom) said...

I've not read the Faulkner novel, but I completely agree with you on the LotR side of things. As you may know, it took me 10 years and a 3 week group read to get through Fellowship!

LTM said...

I think those first words/chapters are also important in these days of Kindle "samples," too. But as for your list, good choices. I came way late to HP, also. In fact, I still haven't read them all...

But anyway~

Michael G-G said...

I actually didn't think HP started off slowly at all, but that's probably because I knew the Dursley, right down to their lace-curtain twitching, got-to-keep-up with-the-Jones's ways. (Half of Britain is related to the Dursley's!)

Great post, Matt. Things can start off slowly in a novel (i.e. I don't need explosions or dead bodies on page 1) but I do need to have a sense that something important is going to change...

Sarah Pearson said...

I'll probably be on my own here but 'The Dragonbone Chair', the first in Tad Williams' 'Memory, Sorrow and Thorn' trilogy is, to me, a perfect example. Most of that book is build up, but the pay off in the other two is so worth the wait.

Alleged Author said...

I definitely agree with LOTR starting soooo slowly. I've read quite a few books that didn't grab me in the beginning and then I loved them later on (then there have been faster books that I felt very "meh" about).

Jo Schaffer said...

I don't have ADHD with my reading either. Some of the best books in the world take their sweet and thorough time. And there is a place for that... like good foreplay.
Books don't always have to be fast and furious.

Kristen Pelfrey Faulconer said...

I am a patient reader and I have a willingness to be pleased. I've only given up on a few books, but it wasn't because of the first sentence, paragraph, or chapter. I am sad that crafting a story in today's pubbing industry means grabbing and running--a mugging as opposed to a heist. I think that seducing readers is a good thing, and seduction requires time.

Elizabeth Mueller said...

It is interesting what is accepted and what is rejected these days. Some books puzzle me to how they managed to worm their way into public! ;)

♥.•*¨Elizabeth¨*•.♥

Christine Fonseca said...

Love your choices and BTW - you're weekend sounds an awful lot like mine!

Arlee Bird said...

I don't believe I've ever given up on a fiction book. Much can develop from a slow start just as a whambang beginning can crumble into a messy bore. I've given up on a few non-fictions though. If it starts seeming like a bunch of bs and I'm not really getting much out of it then I don't mind getting outta there since it's usually not necessary to know how those books end--the content before the end is what really counts.


Lee
Tossing It Out

Jennifer Hillier said...

I almost never give up on a book. Mind you, if the book is really slow, I may find myself skimming, but I hate not finishing. At the very least, I'm always curious to know how the story ends.

Sommer Leigh said...

I remember starting Fellowship of the Ring and reading and thinking, "Ok, clearly this book must get good sometime...right? Right?"

It did, of course, although I admit I skipped all the singing passages.

And I have stopped reading books within the first couple of pages, though usually I can get through the first couple of chapters before I give up. The thing that does it is usually the voice, not that it is slow or lacks necessary hooks to keep me around. If the voice of the story turns me off or bores the heck out of me, I move on. There are too many books to read to stick with one when I know I don't like the voice of the storyteller.

Katrina L. Lantz said...

Hey, your first two books are the first two I thought of!! But I haven't technically read LotR. It was read to me as a bedtime story when I was a child. And HP, well, I decided it didn't start slow for me; it started cute. ;)

Your post made me realize one of the reasons books might start slow is world-building, and that's a heck of a good reason to start slow. Gotta get that world introduced aptly. Thanks for this!

Laura Marcella said...

Love LotR and HP! I tried reading The Sound and the Fury, and I just couldn't make it. I don't remember how far I read it before I put it down, probably somewhere between 50 and 100 pages. Stream of consciousness is difficult for me to read. I tried though!

Hannah Kincade said...

I usually give a book 40 pages. It's my hard and fast rule. If I'm not hooked either by the story or the characters, I'm done. I have too many books on my list and even more that I know I'll love.

Michelle H. said...

Totally agree with the LOTR series, although for different reasons on why it's a slow starter.

Jonathon Arntson said...

The first time I read HP1 I was sold. When I picked it up years later, I found myself shooting ahead to the good parts.

Margie said...

The Sound and the Fury. Oy. I read this in college. And grad school. And in another grad school class. I'll give it that it has good parts, but a whole, eh. Great list!

Abby Annis said...

It's been a really, REALLY long time since I read Fellowship of the Ring, so I don't remember it starting slow. Of course, I first read it as an assignment for my AP English class my sophomore year in high school, so compared to some of the other drudgery I had to endure, FOTR was exciting and fun to read. Maybe that affected my perspective a bit. ;) It's still one of my favorites.

I've tried Harry Potter three times and despite making it to chapter 12 on my last try, I still can't get into it. Just not my thing, I guess. Harry Potter made my son an avid read, though, so it's one of my favorites by default. ;)

Shaun Hutchinson said...

What a great story about Harry Potter! I was the same way. I was living in a two family house in Rhode Island when The Goblet of Fire came out. I'd sworn I would never read those silly Harry Potter books (because I was hip and hated anything that was popular). But then I got a nasty cold and had nothing to read, so one of the kids who lived downstairs loaned me her copy of The Sorcerer's Stone. I was hooked. Sick as a dog, I went right out and bought the rest. And like you, it made me realize for the first time that YA was something more than I'd believed.