While looking through the YMCA catalog for the new year, I said to my darling husband, “Hey, do you think the kids would want to play volleyball in the spring? My younger daughter, who I hadn’t even realized was listening, leaned over the back of the couch and said, “You have my attention.”
My darling husband was going on about something, I wasn’t really listening to until he said, “We should go there for dinner.” He had my attention then. Yes, I am a very food driven person and also sometimes a bad wife.
Getting and keeping someone’s attention is kind of what I strive to do as a writer. I mean, if I’m writing and no one’s reading I’m basically just talking to hear myself. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I did it for years. If you talk long enough, eventually someone will start listening.
Actually, people started listening right away here on PBW. I feel very blessed that not a week goes by that someone doesn’t read my words. It’s why I love blogging, if I can be completely honest. I love knowing that when I talk, I have someone’s attention.
A book needs to have a readers attention if it is to be read at all. You have to grab a readers attention before they’ll even open the book in most cases. You sure have to get an editor’s attention with your query letter if you want to be published. And once you are published, you’ve got to get new readers to pay attention long enough to read your book, then hope it had enough of their attention to get them to be up for a second one. No one wants to be a one hit wonder.
The problem is that it is so freaking hard to get someone’s attention! Everyone’s got so much going on in their lives. My kids are twelve and even they don’t have a lot of time to sit the hell down and read a book. I sure as hell don’t have a lot of time to read. Maybe an hour a day, and that’s just because I read an e-book while walking to work. Yeah, I make considerable effort to find time to read and most days I get to. Let’s be honest, though, I make that effort because there’s nothing else I’d rather do, except write. Not everyone feels that way. Some people read casually if you can believe that. Some people read if they have nothing better to do. Some people read just because they think that grownups should read.
I don’t write for those people, to be honest. If you’re a grownup and you’re reading because you think your supposed to, you’re not interested in dragons that are scientists and men who weave visions. But that’s not really the point I’m trying to make here.
The point is, as much as I love reading, a piece needs to have my attention from the start. A blog post, a short story, a book. If I know I’ve got ten minutes to breeze through a few posts on my break, I’m going to skip your story if I don’t like it right away. If I know I might only get to read 24 books this year and I read chapter one, you’d better make me care about chapter two.
How each author does this is totally different. When I started reading Clockwork Angel, I was drawn right in by the mystery of it all. When I started reading Hunger Games I had limited knowledge of the world, but I instantly wanted to know why all of this was going on.
There’s something important to remember, there. I was confused by the first chapter of The Hunger Games and Clockwork Angel. Harry Potter as well. The authors jumped right into the story, and just explained things along the way. I tried to do the same things with Broken Patterns, jumping right in with an attack on the Septan Palace. Who are the Montelarians, why are they attacking? You know all of this by the end of chapter two, but that’s not what I start with. I start with men in the canals, sneaking up to the palace walls.
Many writers have said that they’ve written first chapters and then thrown them away, starting with chapter two.
So whatever you’re writing, make sure you have my attention right from the start.