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Posts Tagged ‘first lines in fiction’

Last week I sat down at the doctor’s office and picked up the latest issue of a weekly news magazine.  I found a great single-page essay and was nearly at the end when I saw, wedged neatly into the final paragraph of the author’s column, a box telling me what I would find on the following page.

Er–what?

Now it’s no secret that I’m a card-carrying member of the instant-gratification club (recent membership in gazillions, last I checked) but is my attention span so short that I need a preview of what’s on the next page while I’m still on this one?

And even more importantly–what about the poor author of the article I’m reading? Here she is, about to deliver her powerful summary and right at the peak of its impact, my attention is yanked to the next author’s article. How is this good for either author? How this is good for me, the reader?  I don’t think it is.

As writers, we know we need to hook our audience right away. We all struggle with that perfect first line–the one that will draw our readers in and keep them there. We know how little time we have to make our impression–we’ve all seen MTV (or at least remember how it first looked). This trend of love-at-first-sentence doesn’t concern me.  What concerns me is that our wooing window is shrinking even further.

Then I am reminded of a book like Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout, a beautifully written novel that brings its readers into the world of Crosby, Maine and into the homes and hearts of its small population. This is a gently flowing stream of a story, not a raging waterfall. At least, not right away. But make no mistake, despite the lack of an initial riptide, myself, and many, many other readers, were sucked under.

But back to the doctor’s office…

Now believe me, I was planning to turn the page of the magazine–frankly it hadn’t occurred to me not to. Yet seeing that “ad” for the next page put me off. Kind of like the way you’re reading an article on-line and a pop-up flies onto the screen, utterly blocking your reading from view.

So please tell me: Am I making a mountain out of a molehill here? Or are we fast approaching a place and time when we’ll need some sort of incentive (think: free toaster) to simply turn the pages of a book?

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