Almost every writer, and almost every expert you hear speaking at a writer's convention, makes the declarative statement that the writer must capture the reader's interest in the first few pages in the opening chapter. Many of these same writers will admit it's not the first few pages . . . but the first four or five paragraphs of the first page which determines whether a reader decides to read on, or walk away and go find a McDonald's for a coffee and some fries.
Okay. I agree with that. But how do you spring the trap and capture a reader whose just casually flipping through the pages of a novel he's absent mindedly looking at?
Imagery and intimacy.
The imagery idea is obvious. Verbal portraits. Building, through words, a mental image so clear and visual . . . yet vague enough to allow each reader to fill out the details with their own images. For me, writing any novel, I open with a vivid image. Especially the Turner Hahn/Frank Morales police-procedurals. The opening scene is a crime scene. A murder has taken place. Turner and Frank have been called in to begin the investigation. Vivid imagery from the get-go. I'm banking on the idea any potential reader is caught up immediately in the beginning of the investigation.
But here is where imagery needs intimacy. Not just any old word suffices in making that image of yours to come alive. Instead of trying to explain it, let me over an example.
The blood pooled into the inexpensive carpet and dried into a dark stain.
The crimson smear of dried blood now looked like a hardened veneer
pressed deeply into the cheap carpet.
Of the two sentences, which do you prefer in creating that verbal image? Image-making is not only describing the scene; it is using the right words to describe the scene.
I leave you with this further example. The opening sequence from the Turner Hahn/Frank Morales novel. A Taste of Old Revenge. (Go sailing down the right column. You'll find it there). Read it and see if it grips you viscerally with a number of different emotions.
A stale breeze played through the dead man’s hair.
An unwanted breeze.
A breeze filled with malaise.
The old man was slumped across the open cavity of an accounts ledger, his face squashed
between the pages of a thick accounting
book. The body looked remarkably like a
piece of trash carelessly tossed onto an old kitchen table. Or maybe like a discarded, broken doll long
forgotten by the one who had once loved it. As I bent down for a closer
inspection I could see a clearly defined hole in the back of the old man's
hairless cranium. There was remarkably
little blood. What little blood had seeped
out had created a tiny rivulet down the man’s neck and formed a dark puddle about
the size of a man’s palm on the brown pages of the accounting book. The blood was not fresh.
Inspecting the wound I got the impression of precision. A surgeon’s frugality of effort. Or a craftsman’s sure touch in a grisly occupation. Standing up and frowning, another impression occurred to me.
Premeditation. Coldly calculated and flawlessly executed.
And who said a murder had to be messy?