Vonnegut’s First Rule for Writing Fiction
1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted. –Kurt Vonnegut
I did something this weekend (while recovering from a minor surgery) that I haven’t done in years. I put a book down with the intention of never picking it up again. Maybe that makes me lazy, or maybe it makes me wise. I’ll let you decide.
The point is this—three pages into the novel, I knew I didn’t want to invest 300-400 pages worth of my time in a book I knew I wouldn’t enjoy. This is not to say that the book was terrible. I just recognized immediately that it was not going to be something I cared to invest in.
Call me a cynic. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Okay, now that that’s out of the way, there are some things that are clear. You may not be able to judge a book by it’s cover, but you can judge it by the first few pages. That’s why it’s so important to have an outstanding opening. If you don’t, people will understand that their time will likely not be well spent reading your novel.
“But my book has the greatest ending!” you may say.
It may. But, for the love of all things good, please get to it sooner than page fifty. If you don’t have a gripping opening, then I have no reason to believe you’ll have a compelling ending. That’s simple logic, harsh as it may seem.
Vonnegut understood this. No one likes to finish a book and think, “What a waste!” Being forced to read lousy stories and books is one of the primary reason fewer and fewer kids are reading.
So what can we do as writers?
Use the pages we have wisely. Make them matter. Make them count. Every page.