Greg Cox wrote:
I still remember a cover letter that was attached to a submission years ago, explaining that the book started slowly, but got really good around Chapter Five. To which my response was, "Well, if you know the first four chapters aren't very interesting, why didn't you fix that before submitting the manuscript? Or maybe just start with Chapter Five?"
Hm, but does "slowly" really mean "not very interesting"?
Well, the fact that the author was apologetic about it was not a good sign. "Bear with me until I get to the good parts."
To be clear, you don't have to blow up a bomb or fire a gun on the first page of every book. But you have to do something
to hook the reader's interest. The reader does not owe the author a couple of chapters to get warmed up . . ..
This applies to expository material in general. Even if the primary purpose of a scene is to move the plot from Point A to B, or introduce a bit of information that will turn out to be Very Important further down the road, you want the scene to be interesting in its own right.
Don't get we wrong. That doesn't mean that every chapter has to have a car chase or gunfight. But, ideally, even the set-up scenes need to have something
going on: conflict, humor, sexual tension, a colorful setting, punchy dialogue, stylish prose, clever turns of phrase, or all of the above.
Ideally, you should be able to open a book randomly, at page 142, and get caught up in the scene within a few pages or so . . . even if you don't know what the overall context is. Any scene that exists solely
to advance the plot is a scene that needs work. And, to get back OT, any opening that's just
about telling the reader what they Need to Know before the actual story starts has a problem. People need a reason to keep turning the pages from Page One.
Easier said than done, I know, but that's the goal to aspire to.