It seems that more and more publishers and readers like stories to start off with Action! Excitement! Thrills!
I’m thinking about this because I’m in the middle of reading To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and it certainly begins–by today’s standards–slowly. I think the first line pulls the reader in: When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.
You want to find out what happened, right? After a couple of paragraphs in, though, it might lose some readers as the narrator (Jem’s younger sister Scout) discusses her family’s history and how they came to the town she, Jem and their father, Atticus, now live. A friend of mine said she tried reading the book a few times, but couldn’t get into it. That might just be personal taste, but I hate to see people missing out on this incredible book because they can’t get past the first few pages.
I decided to reread it after a senior citizen friend of mine raved about it. Now, the fact that this particular friend read, finished, and loved To Kill a Mockingbird is a proud moment for me. She is 83 years old and Chinese-American. I’ve been visiting her once a week for the past—has it been 10 years!—to help her with her English. Her exclamations of, “It’s about family! It’s about life! It’s about everything!” had me close to tears. Now I know how teachers feel when a student finally “gets it.”
I read the book many years ago in grade school (isn’t it required reading for all kids?). Between the book and the movie, the story is ingrained in my mind. Lee’s beautiful writing evokes a time period and a place that comes alive through the distinctive voice of Scout—telling the story as an adult but through her perspective as a child.
Published in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird is still worth reading. And it makes me happy that a book doesn’t have to start with a bang to be a page turner, to be timeless, to be a story “about family, about life, about everything.”
What draws you into a story and makes you want to keep reading?
Starting with too much of a bang can also be annoying if I feel manipulated. I think what pulls me in is seeing the character in his world, as it is, at a moment of doubt, perhaps, or while going through a life-changing experience. The developments must feel organic. Doesn’t have to be an immediate page turner. The story has at least the first chapter to pull me in, after all. On the other hand, it had better pull me in and not go on and on about trivial matters. But yes, manufactured bangs can be a double-edged sword.
Thanks for your thoughts on this, Silvia!
I loved your piece ‘Start Your Story With A Bang’. There are good stories out there that don’t have to light up the sky in the first page. There are quiet, pull-me-in attention grabbers that can be amazing reads in their own right. Thanks for saying out loud what many of us feel.
And, yes, that is how a teacher feels when a student ‘gets it’ and is excited about reading.
Thanks, Aubrey. 🙂