The Reading Writer

What draws readers into a book? In order to keep reading and investigating writing and writing techniques, I have added another group of books to my first page analysis.

MCCATHY M, THE CONVENT, ALLEN & UNWIN, AUSTRALIA, 2012:          I don’t immediately connect with the characters or the particular writing style, what did engage me was the setting. There is mention of the Johnston Street bridge and the Collingwood Children’s Farm…I used to live near here and I loved the farm. It is a haven in the suburb and always surprises me to have such a beautiful locale so close to Melbourne city. So, I guess it is nostalgia for this place that will drive me to read further.

Marsh K., Jepp, Who Defied the Stars, Hot Key Books, London, 2012:

The voice of this book seems old-fashioned, kind of historical. I’m not sure from reading the first page what time the story is set in, but I’m guessing in a time long past. The main character is a dwarf and this intrigues me as I have never read a story written from a dwarf’s perspective. There is a description of the protagonist’s home town that gives a kind of historical background. Given that I quite like historical fiction, this one has me hooked and I will read more.

Green J., The Fault in our Stars, Penguin Group, New York, 2012:

Ok, so a cancer book really ISN’T my kind of thing and I probably would never have picked it up had I realized, despite this book getting rave reviews all over the place recently. However, despite the subject matter (teenagers with cancer) being terribly sad, the first page feels incredibly light and upbeat – no easy feat given it deals with cancer, dying, depression, medication and support groups – a lot for a first page! But the voice of the main character is conversational, blunt in the kind of way a conversation with a close friend would be, and honest and direct…and I REALLY like it. I will definitely read on.

Pratchett, T., Dodger, Random House Children’s Publications, London, 2012:

My first confession is that I am already a Terry Pratchett fan, so regardless of what I think of the first page of this book, I will be reading the whole thing anyway.

At the beginning of each chapter, Pratchett gives a brief overview of what the chapter entails – it’s a little old-fashioned, but suits the era in which the story is set. The first page is all about description of setting. This is not written in the same style as his Discworld books, and so I can see it might take me a little while to change my expectations, however, I have read some of his other books too (A Hatful of Sky for example), so this shouldn’t be too difficult, just interesting for me to notice that I come to this book with preconceived expectations. Having said that, his first page descriptions are brilliant – I like how he goes into detail about the rain and then sums it up in a simple sentence, “It was a deluge.” I also like the variety of words he uses to describe the same thing: ‘overflowing’, ‘throwing up’, ‘regurgitating’. He plays with sounds too: “…busting its banks, bubbling…” 

Pratchett’s detail of description and use of language is a winner here, and is more than enough to fully engage me, despite my love of his work.

What is it that draws me in to these four books?

1) Setting – even if I don’t particularly bond with the characters or the writing style, the setting can hook me in; 2) interesting or unusual characters; 3) a little bit of history; 4) lively descriptions, and 5) language and vocabulary.

Writer’s Relief investigates how to give your manuscript a fighting chance with literary agents…two of these points relate to the opening pages of a novel! Among other things, they say: “1. Beginning your novel with long descriptions of the weather or the scenery. Avoid an “information dump” right off the bat, including drawn-out descriptions of the main character or backstory. 2. Beginning your novel with a cliché. If it feels even mildly familiar, skip it.”

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