There is a promise made by the cover of a book. An exciting cover demands an exciting interior. And yet, quite frequently, as I examine the books that interest me, I find that the opening pages make me want to scream. “What is this crap?”
Clichés, redundancies, wordy, yet unnecessary narrative that uses simplistic language; certainly not at a level prescribed for the audience. These are just a few of the faults that riddle so many titles. Yes, I am aware that we use words; however we should be using evocative words that immediately transform to imagery within the reader’s mind. That is a well written book.
It appears that writers often fail to read their own work out loud. After writing your work, your brain is less than a trustworthy editing companion. Your brain will edit out things, acting nobly on your behalf, when in fact, you require the opposite. The problem arises from the the fact that you have been reading the same tying over and over, refining your story and hardly perceiving the errors you leave behind, both grammatical and in word choice.
Did you catch the error in the last paragraph? Be honest.
Let me offer an example. For this hypothetical novel, we shall use the title: “Death by Toilet.” The cover imagery is a glossy blend of colors across a slightly faded image of a bathroom, the vanity prominently centered with a reflected image of a bloodied knife held up, post-attack. Cool!
And you open the book and begin:
Sarah swept back her freshly bleached hair so she could admire the muscular hunk casually strolling the beach in front of her. The sun had left a sheen across her body, a droplet sliding between her full breasts. The man, whose name she would never ask, even if they wound up in her hotel room, seemed to ignore her. She, on the other hand, had her gaze firmly upon him. A Speedo, she thought. How solidly European. Not that so tight an outfit was a bad thing. Nonetheless, her immediate problem was that his attention was elsewhere, and despite a somewhat sparse beach population, Sarah hated to feel ignored.
She pulled herself to her feet, adjusted her hat, and scooted up behind him before slowing to his pace, as though she had been there all along. Only when she was close enough to touch his ass did she decide to speak.
Can you hear me screaming already? What is this story about? How is the title even close to the opening scene? Is there even a hint of death, toilets, anything beyond a sappy, sexually focused romance novel here?
Pro-authors can do what they want. They have the audience built-in, they have the past sales and the reputation that their story will deliver. Readers will bide their time and bird-walk with the author. But for the newbie, the author struggling to find a following, even after a third novel, this sort of thing won’t work.
Please don’t misunderstand. This is not a case of poor writing skills. It is a case of failing to grab the reader and pull them along, beginning, not on page one, but from the cover and the blurb.
The example above would be better titled Lust in the Sand. At least you would know what you are going to get.
Here is an excellent mental exercise for you. You are at a party, and you’ve just enjoyed your first drink. You go for a refill and are approached by someone of the opposite sex. He/she smiles at you and offers an introduction, then asks: “Tell me about yourself?”
What do you say in a few sentences that describes YOU!
“I’m a working writer, now finishing off my fourth mystery novel.” Or, “I live a life of freedom as I create pretend worlds and the conflicts of those who live within them.” It’s awkward, right? If you cannot define yourself in a sentence or so, then how will you convey the intent of your novel to your readers?
Try thinking third person, instead.
He’s John Smith, dashing insurance broker by day and detective writer by night, now struggling to solve the case in his latest book, Death by Toilet.
Okay, time to stop screaming now, and get back to writing!