Thursday, February 10, 2011

Trust in the Author

Former agent and author Nathan Bransford recently tweeted this: “A great first paragraph establishes the tone/voice, gets the reader into a flow, and builds trust in the author.”

Readers open a book hoping to trust the author based on the first paragraph. Yes folks, paragraph!

We are all readers. We know what it’s like to crave an immediate connection with a book and its writer.

But let’s examine this idea of trust even further.

Here are a few reasons why a reader wants to trust the author…

Belief in the CharactersIf you create an appealing character, bursting with a fresh voice readers automatically feel like you care about their reading experience. They sense you took the time to develop an original and thoughtful individual to throw into the opening conflict.

Planted in SettingYour first paragraph is the ideal spot to root your reader. Ground them. Once they know where they are, they’ll feel much more comfortable. This is true in real life as well. You don’t need to go overboard with description. One sentence can do the trick. Readers won’t feel at ease with a book until they have a concept of the surrounding. Are they at a zoo, a bank, or watching a wrestling match? Plant them.

Attracted to Unique VoiceReaders want to know they spent their money wisely or are about to spend their time wisely by delving into your book. You must search empathically for your unique voice and make sure it shows up in paragraph one. Why is this imperative? Because there are far too many books out there. Readers don’t want a knock-off. They don’t want cliché. What they do want is to feel the thrill of embarking upon unexplored terrain.

Engaged to Read OnOnce you establish a strong character, reveal their environment and accomplish this in tandem with tantalizing the reader with a compelling plot, they’ll want to read on. You’ve succeeded at engaging your reader. You’ve built enough trust in them that they’ll invest time reading your story.

Anne Lamott wrote, "To participate requires self-discipline and trust and courage, because this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, as my friend Dale puts it, How alive am I willing to be?"

So ultimately it starts with you. Before you type your first paragraph or rather even a single word. Before you sit at your computer. How alive are you willing to be? And is your answer to this question demonstrated in your first paragraph?

*photo from Flickr


Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Oh my...How alive am I willing to be? What a great question. I've never thought of it that before and it really opens up such great possibilities, doesn't it? Openings are difficult for me. I was just looking through my Genesis feedback on one of my stories, and how differently people see your work. One loved the opening and was hooked, the other said it wasn't strong. Go figure, huh?

Sarah Forgrave said...

Awesome post as usual, Wendy. Your question of how alive am I willing to be reminds me of Jennie's guest post on your blog yesterday. Powerful stuff.

Gia Cooper said...

I love this post. I'm willing to be so alive...that my first paragraph holds my pulse...rapid...wild and pounding, same as it was when my fingertips let the words flow.

Casey said...

I love the first paragraph. It can do so much for the reader, the writer, the character. Like you said it grounds us in that setting and in the story. They are so hard to write, but I love that challenge and I love to browse book stores and read the first few lines. :)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Oh, good post. How alive am I willing to be? That's a great questions because it helps define my writing journey so far, slow but steady steps to being the writer I really want to be. I'm ready to take the steps and try something new and be bold--to yank that reader into my story and not let go.

henya said...

Good question. The answer might be difficult, however. All writers go into writing with good intentions. I think that time, practice, and more practice help in finding our voice, and defining who we are.

Pepper said...

What a great post, Wendy.
And true. So true.
I guess a follow up question would do you find your unique voice? Does one have to 'find' it, or is it innately there?

And, I'm creating a checklist for these rules to follow in a first paragraph. Wow! What wonderful food for thought.

Gee, speaking of food - here's some yummy Blondies with a dose of Hot Chocolaate on the side.

Kaye Dacus said...

Yesterday, I downloaded a sample of a historical novel about Queen Emma of Normandy/England (who was married to King Aethelred and King Cnute and was the mother of King Edward the Confessor. From the description, I was looking forward to reading this fictionalized version of this historical figure.

Until the author gave Emma's age as "three and ten." To me, that showed she had not done her research properly and I no longer trusted this author. You see, even in Old English (which is what they would have been speaking in 1002 when Emma and Aethelred married, the word for that number was þrēotīene---which directly translates to thirteen. As in all other Germanic language groups the -and- numbering didn't start until one-and-twenty.

I may go back and give the sample another try, but if the author of a historical work didn't do her research on something as simple as that (and it shows up twice just in the opening few paragraphs), what else didn't she do her research on? How can I trust her?

Kaye Dacus said...

) and ) (sorry, forgot those above) :-)

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Sherrinda, I loved Anne's question. It was too irresistible not to include in the post and it makes sense. The more we live, the more our work will come to life.

Sarah, Maybe that was why I was so attracted to it. It rang of vibrancy.

Gia, There is something about a first paragraph that locks you in, isn't there? I love when I come across those (even more when I write them).

Casey, I'm a book store browser too. So enjoy doing that.

Cindy, Great thought about not letting them go. It's as though the author writes in such a way the reader understands they can't not read the story.

henya, Absolutely agree. Practice and discipline are essentials in this industry.

Pepper, I feel blessed on the topic of voice. For me voice identification has come organically and fluidly. I know others who have fought and struggled to grasp their voice for years. Mine is like sliding on an old pair of loafers when I begin to write. Sometimes I feel more me when I write than when I speak...anyway...another post for another time.

Kaye, Profound and excellent point, especially when it comes to historical works. (Those who write historical blow me away!) I see where you're coming from though, if you catch that in the first paragraph (I'm impressed you knew the correct term) than what else might you stumble upon...

I'd love to keep this conversation running because it's already launched dozens more thoughts in my already overactive brain...

Thanks for chiming in!
~ Wendy

Mary Vee Writer said...

What words of wisdom not only in the post, but the comments thus far!!
I, as a reader, expect to be sucked into any book with gale force winds. I am an American. I'm not patient. I won't wait several pages to be sympathetic with the protagonist while being bored with descriptors or mindless dialogue chatter. Give me a reason to put off laying my head on the pillow--I want to yawn at work the next day because my book--the characters--the writer forced me to.
Now if I can accomplish that in my novel...'twill be good:)

Kaye Dacus said...

Mary--I know exactly how you feel. My time is precious, so I want to make sure I'm not wasting it. There are certain books I've been hesitant to read, which everyone else rave about. So I read the first couple of pages, and they don't draw me in. So I put the book aside (or don't order the full thing from Amazon or return it to the library). When they ask me if I read it, I tell them this---that it didn't draw me in immediately.

"Oh," they say, "you have to stick with it until around page 100---that's when the story really takes off."

No, I'm sorry. A well-written book should "take off" on page 1, not page 100!

Angie Dicken said...

I am really tempted to start my first paragraph with the setting...and have read somewhere (I think an agent's website) that this is not always a good's the landscape architect in me!
But, I so agree with wanting to believe in the characters...if I don't connect to them within the first page or so, I rarely pick the book up again...
Sherrinda- speaking of Genesis, I have spent this past week contemplating my opening...pressure!! It makes it or breaks it really...but there is also some subjectiveness with the in the end, I guess we have to rely on faith! :)