Rebecca Richard discusses whether authors have a responsibility to grip you from the beginning.
I’m the worst for having multiple books on the go at once. One day I’m in the mood for a crime fiction thriller, the gorier the better. Other days I jump at my own shadow whilst home alone and must opt for the safer enemies to lovers oh-no-there’s-only-one-bed-and-two-of-us story. The point is, I get bored easily, change my mind hourly and so I require a book to pull me in quickly before my mood changes and suddenly I’m back on TikTok, perpetuating my worsening attention span.
I’ve been an avid TikTok user for over a year, and while the endless comedy is a gift, the short videos have resulted in a subconscious response that a video has maximum 10 seconds to impress me or I’m already five videos further down my feed. I’m no psychologist, but I can confidently assert that this need to be entertained quickly has definitely translated into my reading habits. A book has to draw me in throughout the first twenty or so pages or I’m ditching it for the next shiny paperback.
"I require a book to pull me in quickly before my mood changes and suddenly I’m back on TikTok, perpetuating my worsening attention span."
As well as my questionable attention span, my uni reading schedule makes me keen to jump into an engrossing story head-first. When I close my laptop for the day, switching my brain off to the seemingly endless academic articles, reading for pleasure is a struggle. All I really want to do is stick on some mindless reality television and not think about anything remotely productive. When I do find the headspace to be able to read for fun, you best believe it better be worth it. As a fourth year with a to-do list as long as my arm, I certainly don’t want to waste time on something I don’t enjoy reading. I do enough of that in my degree.
Much of the literature community online have debated this topic. Do we owe it to authors to finish their books even if we are not gripped from the beginning? After all, the beauty of a slow burn is the clever unfolding of the story, the satisfaction, relief and excitement all rolled into one when they finally kiss.
"I certainly don’t want to waste time on something I don’t enjoy reading. I do enough of that in my degree."
I hate the narrative forced upon us that there are correct ways of doing something. Reading is my hobby, not my job. I don’t owe anybody my time, no matter how long it took them to write their masterpiece. To the avid literature consumers out there, if you have the time to force down every book you begin, I truly salute you. Maybe I’d give more literature a second chance if I had more hours in the day. But the reality is, the market is too crowded for every novel to be special enough to warrant all readers’ undivided attention.
I believe authors have the responsibility to draw in their readers pretty quickly. Too many brilliant slow burns have been successfully written for bad opening chapters to be justified. The Hating Game by Sally Thorne only has the two lovers finally, properly, get together 300 pages in, yet with her charismatic characters and witty writing, she makes it work.
There isn’t an excuse for a weak beginning to a novel. Pull me in and make me care. Your readers do not owe you their time and attention when there are a million other books teasing them from the shelves. Earn your readers’ attention from good writing, clever plot, and engaging characters, not through expectations that people should respect your project.
In an ideal world, we’d all set aside time each day to not just read, but consume novels, meticulously unpacking each metaphor and clue to the plot as we go. Unfortunately, that’s a daydream given the hectic schedules we are all stuck to.
I’m sure no author truly thinks they are owed readership simply because they poured their heart and soul into their book. But the debate is still rife about whether we should finish every book we start because it might just turn out great. And my simple answer is absolutely, unequivocally, no. Read things you enjoy, don’t force a story down like a bad meal just to say that you did it. Don’t let online discourse dictate how you manage your hobbies that you enjoy during your limited free time. And that goes for my take too - you do you.
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