Am I jaded beyond redemption?
(Disclaimer: A bottle of Bolla Romagna may have influenced this posting.)
I keep clicking on the opening pages of indie novels, on their Amazon pages, in order to assess if I can tolerate wading into them. Most lose me by the second sentence, not even the second paragraph anymore.
I began to wonder if I’m that precious, that insular, that smug, self-righteous, self-indulgent or any number of complaints that could be lobbed my way. My own books aren’t selling much. I’ve got no magical juju to offer, just my observations (opinions).
So I figured I’d click on something with promise, John Green’s latest book/movie. Here’s how Green opens a book:
With a bag in each hand, I paused for a moment outside the van, staring at her.”
We’ve got some sort of activity in progress, in medias res.* We don’t know what’s in the bags or why he’s holding them. We have place, standing beside a van. And we know he’s staring at a girl. With reasonable inferences from the genre we can guess that he’s a young man enamored of this girl, and whatever happens next is bound to be important to his life.
That’s sentence one.
By the second paragraph her mouth is right up to his ear, and she says, “I. Will. Miss. Hanging. Out. With. You.”
This is the opening of Paper Towns. And that’s pretty much all I know about it. But you can just tell you’re in good hands and that Green has command of the medium.
I’ll refrain from knocking anyone’s work. It’s so hard to open a story. A billion possibilities exist, and those are just the ones you’ve thought of. Most are wrong, but why are they wrong? There’s no genie going to pop up out of your 5 hour energy drink and beat you about the head until your opening pages sing.
Perhaps robots with Scarlett Johansson voices will perform this function in the next 5 years.
Most writers will undoubtedly just fall back on formula. This works; the gurus said so. God himself has ordained that stories must begin like so…
And there’s really only one problem with that approach: the word “novel” itself.