Most of us don’t read very far in a novel, whether it’s a young-adult novel or an adult novel, unless we like the opening. We want to find the opening pages written well. We want to find them intriguing. We want to find them filled with potential.
As for my own efforts, here are opening sentences from two of my novels. The first sample is from my first adult novel; the second sample, from my first young-adult novel.
The day that changes our lives forever does not introduce itself by that name. It just comes. We awake. We arise. We move about. We may pray. If we do, we may ask God for His protection. From what, we do not yet know.
My mother has a scar on her face that goes from here to here. The scar traces a flattened V-shape across her cheek. It starts near her mouth and goes along her right cheek almost all the way to her ear. It was made by a man wielding a perfectly enormous screwdriver….
Are those openings “filled with potential”? Well, I certainly hoped so at the time I began those stories.
But an intriguing opening is not quite enough. There is another big piece I have to have, early on, or I will not be reading very far. I have to like one of the main characters. Really like her or him. Somebody I can pull for. Somebody I can hope things will turn out well for in the end. Somebody I’ll find myself worrying about. Somebody whom I’ll feel a need to protect from… well… from whatever she or he might need protecting from.
I’ve had the experience – you, too, probably – of starting a novel because someone recommended it, or because reviewers have rated it highly, and yet, after reading dozens of pages, or, in one case, after reading more than a hundred pages, realizing that I just didn’t care whether things turned out well for the main character or not. I wanted to like that character. I just didn’t.
And so, I stopped.
There’s one more thing. In addition to finding the opening filled with potential, and in addition to needing to like the main character, I’m always hopeful that something in a novel will prove inspirational for me. I hope to be inspired by heroism, by virtue, by persistence, by self-sacrifice, by fidelity, by love: love of and by people, love of and by animals, love of and by the Lord.
C. S. Lewis once wrote, “Courage is the name of every virtue at its testing point.” I like novels best when a character I have come to care about behaves in ways that illustrate that idea, such as telling the truth under circumstances that make truth-telling difficult to do. That kind of behavior inspires me to try to be like that in my own life.
When novels do these three things for me, I’m happy. And I am going to read to the very end.