16.27: Nobody Wants to Read a Book

Your Hosts: DongWon Song, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler

Our controversial episode title comes to us via John Schwarzwelder, and it points up nicely the importance of today’s topic, which is first lines, first pages, and how we set about convincing people (who may or may not want to read a book) to read OUR book.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson


Homework: read the first pages of the last three books you read. Take notes on what you find exciting about them. What kept you reading? What would make you pause?

The Last Watch, by J.S. Dewes

10 thoughts on “16.27: Nobody Wants to Read a Book”

  1. I have the same comment as Jens. There is usually a way to listen to the podcast.

  2. Speaking so far only as someone who has read books instead of written them, I really strongly dislike the notion of “hook them with the first sentence”. It strikes me as the sort of thing somebody with a marketing background came up with, as opposed to a storyteller.

    It stands out immediately in the wrong way, because it looks like the writer was following a guide to publish a book instead of believing in their story. I can see the practical sense of it, but I don’t like the start of a story to be a billboard. I would rather have it unfold gradually instead of going straight to the money shot.

    I guess it probably depends on the length, the genre, the tone, the style, etc., but I’m fine with the first few pages being setup before something happens. For a novel, it can be the first chapter or two, so long as that space is used to get me acquainted with the people and the world enough for me to be invested in whatever takes place next. If I have some attachment to the characters, then anticipating an event can be as engaging as the event itself.

    What I’m personally looking for in the early bits is how the writer puts their sentences together, what sort of vocabulary they use, what they begin describing first, and what kind of details they include. If I don’t enjoy how the words are moving through my brain, then I don’t really care what’s happening in the story.

    I once read a World of Warcraft “novel” a thousand years ago and it had basically no descriptions. I didn’t know who any of the characters were or what they looked like. I could barely tell what was going on. I’m pretty sure there was a big battle or something taking place, but the actual writing was so terrible, none of it mattered.

    So overall, I think consistency in the writing and confidence in the story are more important than hooks. You can open with a space battle or a bank robbery or the protagonist rolling over in bed if you want. I think it depends on the writer’s skill and how the pieces of their story are arranged.

  3. This week, Mary Robinette, Dan, and Howard were joined by the fifth Beatle, Dongwon Song, who kicked off the next intensive course looking at how to start a novel. How do you keep the reader from tossing your novel into the trash? How can you avoid burying the good stuff 30 pages in. Start with the interesting part. Consider an ice monster prologue, aka cold open, and think about musical theater overtures? Read all about it in the transcript now available in the archives.

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