There is something very strange about those first few pages that you read in a book… so many emotions and thoughts come to mind when I think about the experience of just starting a new novel: intrigue, judgement, excitement, loathing, disgust, pleasure – and the list goes on.
After going through that experience a few times now I thought that I will try to verbalize some of the internal monologue that happens in my mind when I start a new book.
Why on earth do writers try so hard to impress you with their vocabulary in those first pages? Seriously, how many times have I started a new novel/series, and on page number one thought to my self, “Good grief… I’m obviously not smart enough to read this guy’s stuff, I can barely understand what he is saying“.
Then as you continue reading another strange thing starts happening… the writing becomes less complicated and the vocabulary starts feeling “dumbed down”. I haven’t made a proper study of this yet, but I would guess it’s one of the following that is really happening:
- You learn how to properly skip over the words you don’t know/understand and rather focus on the greater story/message being conveyed.
- The writing wasn’t really all that hard, you were just not accustomed to the author’s style. Once you get used to the style of writing, you read it with less effort.
- To impress the publisher/audience, the writer wrote and re-wrote, read and re-read the first few pages about 20 times more than any other part of their book. So they really just went overboard on that part.
This experience to me is, I grant, quite ridiculous in the light of the aforementioned, but after reading too many books you can’t help but judge the author based on those first few pages :)
After reading a few books and getting a “feel” for what you consider good writing to be, you start becoming very judgemental when you start a new book. On that first page I already find myself thinking, “Good grief… this author is CLEARLY not as smart as the other authors whose works I have read. The writing is clunky and doesn’t flow, and the vocabulary seems very limited“.
How ironic is that? The very reason that I get irritated with so many authors in the first few pages of their book is also the reason why I get irritated with others that don’t do the same. Woe is me! Obviously readers are hard to please and of those I am apparently the worse.
No matter how easy or hard a book was to read in those first few pages, at some point there is either a metal break-through or resigning that happens – because come chapter 4 or 5, you completely forgot all about your first impressions. When I get a bit deeper into a book, I can’t really remember why I at first judged the writing and it all turns into “fluff” in my brain.Why did you say the book wasn’t written well?
Well… you know, words and language and stuff… heck I don’t know, it just wasn’t…
So what about the story then?
Oh that was pretty cool, enjoyed it.
So would you recommend the book?
I guess… yes it was rather fun.
I started off writing this blog post without having any direction or conclusion in mind, it just kind of formed itself as I dumped my thoughts here. And now in the very end I guess I did come to a conclusion after all:
Vocabulary is great and wordplay nice, but in the end, the story is the kingmaker.
This probably holds true for so many of the break-out novels that publishers wouldn’t touch but became massive successes. I read the reviews, I saw how the critics complained about the clunky writing etc. But in the end people didn’t care all that much about that fluff, they wanted a good story and that is what the book gave them. In the end the sales speak for themselves.
I do realize that I have never been very linguistically minded and didn’t really find as much pleasure in writing for the sake of writing, so my opinion once again remains my own and others’ will differ. But I will take this bit of self-discovery and apply it in my own writing attempts. Though I may fail in the area of writing style, the one area where I can’t afford to fail is in the telling of the story. And how much moreso is this true for speculative fiction? Who cares if the fantasy started with “A long time ago in a kingdom far, far away”, as so many others do? In the end it is about the journey that the world and characters take you on that will make you stick it out until the last page.
Oh wait a minute… did you just think to yourself reading that last line, that starting a story with “A long time ago in a kingdom far, far away” is silly? Well then, why don’t you tell that to George Lucas who sold his “A long time ago” franchise for $4.05 billion!
2 thoughts on “Those first few pages”
I think you make some good points here. It is hard to judge a fantasy book an the first few pages. There is a whole work there to explore and first few pages cannot give you the whole thing. It’s like judging a whole country based on the ride from the airport to the hotel.
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Story definitely is King. And characters too. I think if both of those are poor, but the writing is superb, I would still consider it a poor book.
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