Monday, October 22, 2007

First Pages

As one does in Dubai, I was killing time while the boys were having a snow boarding lesson. So I wondered into Virgin and did an exercise........I looked at books. I stroked covers and admired titles. I debated what made me pick up a book and what made me put it down then I read first pages as I have been thinking about mine. As an 'pre-published' writer I know that quite possibly my first page may have to 'better' (here read - a real grabber) than someone who has a following already. I know that because on authors I love I just pick up their books - at most I will read the blurb on the back. I don't read the first page in the shop. I also know I am not alone on this.
However yesterday I read loads of first pages of 'my' type of books - women's fiction. Yesterday's exercise wasn't about improving my mind or challenging it. It was about pleasure as a book buyer. It was also about trying to learn what would make me continue to read my own book - for I am after all writing for me or my type of reader - if that makes sense.



So I stroked and perused my way through maybe fifty books. I am sure the staff thought I was some sort of a pervert. The first book that grabbed me on the first page was Maggie O'Farrells The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox. I was intrigued and I would have read more but yesterday I was not in a historical mood and it struck as historical - dance cards yous see. Did I mention that I didn't read the blurb on the back of the books. I chose purely by title, cover and first page. So I put Maggie back for another day. Then I hit upon a section of Erica James' A Breath of Fresh Air. I will confess it wasn't the title or the cover but the fact I knew her name as she won the RNA Romantic Novel of Year award in 2006 with Gardens of Delight. So therefore my research was skewed. However the first two sentence had me:






"Charlotte had never seen a man cry before, so she wasn't sure how to react to her husband's unexpected display of emotion. Not once had she ever imagined Peter capable of crying; It went against all she had ever known about him."






I read on and I am now the owner of the book. I caressed a few more and the next book that ended in my basket was Christina Jones' Love Potions.






"Okay, so finding so finding a naked man in her bed wasn't unusual. There had been one or two in her past - not at the same time, of course."






There was another one that I loved but sadly left behind.....and I can't remember the authors name of the title. May have to return and add it to my list........


So what did I learn in this ... Covers are third on the list of importance to me, titles are first if I don't know the author at all, and the first page put the book into my basket so to speak. Now The cover and title told me it was 'my' type of fiction so maybe I should put them first because when you are looking through tables of mixed fiction I really don't see the covers of Andy McNab and Clive Cussler so packaging works.

You may be wondering how I read out of my 'box' because I do. I love reading the reviews in the weekend section although they never review 'my' type of fiction. Of course there are book club selections, friends books and personal recommendations that round out my trb pile.


When I came home I looked at the various opening lines of August Rock and wondered based on the above research which would make me put it in my basket.


1. Judith sat watching the incoming tide lap over her red toenails and wet the brilliant white lace of her wedding gown. Tears caused it all to blur to pink.


2. The cloying scent of oriental lilies permeated the heavy air. June was not supposed to be this hot on Cape Cod and certainly not on her wedding day.

3. The leaves in the birch trees hung limp as Judith looked at the grey sky. Even the birds were not moving in the heavy air but little girls in rose coloured dresses spun about her with stinking pink lilies clutched in their fists.


Interesting......I know which I would choose based on the first lines but which one would you?

27 comments:

Jan Jones said...

Sorry, Liz, but I still prefer number 2.

It sets the scene. It tells you where, when and who. It's got a promise of unease, a hint of build-up, but it doesn't start bang off on misery.

But, heck, everybody's different. That's just my opinion.

Ray-Anne said...

Option one for me.
Sympathy, empathy, and challenges the reader to fill in the answers to the key questions - who/why/where?
I would want to read on. :-)

liz fenwick said...

Thanks Jan. They all have something....... my favorite taking them out of context is the first one I wrote but I can see value in all.......

liz fenwick said...

You must have post while I was Ray-Anne......I'm with you but then they whole wedding senarios is in flshback.............

Jessica Raymond said...

I'd pick number one. It's the one that makes me most strongly want to read on and find out why she's crying. LOL at worrying that the bookstore staff would think you were a book perv!

Jess x

Lane said...

It's number 1 for me Liz. No woman would mess up her wedding dress without real reason and I want to know why.

Must admit I rarely read the first page when browsing. I always open randomly and see how it reads.
I must admit to stroking the covers though:-)
x

JJ said...

I'm a stroker too.

No 1 for me, too.

JJx

Flowerpot said...

Number One for me too, Liz!

liz fenwick said...

Yes, Jess I am a book perv!!! Glad to see I am not alone too :-)

Number one seems to stike the right note most of you lot.....me too although as I said to Jan I can see the value of the others. Now I have much thinking to do......

Leatherdykeuk said...

Number 2 for me, though number 3 has an abstract quality reminiscent on Vonnegut.

B.E. Sanderson said...

Number one is a grabber for me. Makes me feel like I'm right there experiencing what she is, plus it has a wonderful way with words that I love. =oD

Cathy said...

I like number 1 best. It definitely grabs your attention whereas I think the others have a little too much descriptive detail to do that for me. But hey, they are all good :)

ChrisH said...

One - definitely!

liz fenwick said...

Thanks for the feedback. One seems to hit a cord. Now trying to figure out how to keep one but acheive all the the bits in two and three.........

cs harris said...

#1 for me, too.

I actually don't pay that much attention to first pages anymore. I've noticed authors work really hard to make them grabbers, and so the book often doesn't live up to its promise. I'll open the book half way and read a page or two--it gives me a much better feel for sustained writing style and pacing. But then, I suspect I'm not typical.

Fiona Harper said...

I like number one too, Liz. Number two has beautiful words, but the first one has the curiosity factor.

liz fenwick said...

Thanks CS and Fiona :-)

Kate.Kingsley said...

Hi Liz,

Number 1 for me ~ the image is so immediate and striking (and as a recent bride I am still uncontrollably drawn to ANYTHING that features a wedding dress in any way, shape or form ;-).

I did a similar exercise with first pages recently, as part of Susan Hill's writing course (are you still following that, btw?) and I found that I tended to be drawn to either very poetic, musical openings, or anything slightly jarring or startling (but not too much of a shock for shock's sake) ~ I think option 1 falls into the latter category for me.

Kate K

liz fenwick said...

Hi kate, yes, i am still following SH's course:-)

Lisa said...

Another vote for #1 from here, but I do like them all.

Leigh said...

Number one.

Because:
1. It tells me loads about the character.
2. It sets a scene (albeit only in part).
3. It suggests conflict from the start.

There is so much here that makes me want to read on.

Also: read Dick Francis. He might be the king of formula fiction, but he's an ace at first lines!

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Sorry I'm late, been busy writing... number 1, for all the reasons everyone else has given.

I'm intrigued about Dick Francis's first lines, I'll check them out next time I'm in the library.

liz fenwick said...

Me too About Dick Francis.....thanks for the input Lisa, Leigh and Zinnia.......

Julie Cohen said...

Number one. But if you cut the first sentence of number three and rearranged it somewhat so that it had more impact, I'd like that just as well. Eg

Even the birds were not moving in the heavy air. Little girls in rose-coloured dresses spun about Judith, clutching stinking pink lilies in their fists.

Julie, an editor at heart

liz fenwick said...

Thanks Julie :-)

KayJay said...

Number 1 works best; it asks a question and puts the reader in the action immediately. I also would read on if it started with number 2, but would probably lose the first sentence and begin with 'June...'.

Gawd, I'm going through this myself right now! I cannot decide on my first sentence, it's a total nightmare!

liz fenwick said...

Thanks KayJay. Number one is now again the first sentence :-) Godd luck choosing yours. x