I had a Murphy's Law kind of morning yesterday. First, while watering my veggie garden, I stepped in dog poop. I had on the sneakers that I'd need to wear an hour later, to catch a train into Philly for a voice therapy appointment. The shoes had to be cleaned instead of answering work-related emails that really shouldn't wait.
When I arrived at the station, a train was pulling out as I got out of my car. I was 13 minutes early, so I deduced that the 9:03 was late. But my train, the 9:23, never came. Turns out that SEPTA changed the schedule 9 days ago. I called the therapist and asked if I could come in a bit late. The gist was, it was my dime, I'd get a shorter session for the same price. My voice needed the workout, so I took the next train.
I'd brought a new paperback to read on the commute. As I took a seat and opened the book, my mind was flitting from the work I'd wanted to get done that morning, to how short a session I'd be paying full price for, to "What else could possibly go wrong today?" My blood pressure was definitely above par.
Halfway through page two of the novel, I realized it just wasn't pulling me in. I decided, if the book wouldn't help me forget my troubles, I'd forget them by analyzing why the opening wasn't working for me.
Oddly enough, the story didn't begin at the beginning. The first scene was really the 3rd, then 2 chapters of flashbacks were needed to bring the reader up to speed. I saw why the author chose to start with that particular scene. It contained the essence of what made this murder different from every other one on the market--a character study of the victim presented through a description of the victim's house. The prose was well-written. Problem was, though, not much happened in those first pages. They were mostly descriptive detail.
I think most authors (myself included) like to imagine their readers sitting beside a cosy fire, with no place to go and nothing to do but read. We envision readers who come to our works with receptive minds, ready to sink into and mentally participate in our tales. We like to picture our novels being read straight through, so the reader only need be pulled into the action once. We don't envision hectic commuters, or people passing the time in doctor's offices and grocery lines, or even sleepy folks only awake enough to spend a chapter with us at bedtime.
I learned yesterday that I need to think of the reader as an outsider, peeking into my strange world, with the many concerns of their own world tugging them away. What are they looking for? Possibly just a few moments of escape.
You can't invite visitors into your garden, then insist they look at every pedal and leaf immediately. No matter how proud you are of your garden, that's no way to treat your guests. Make them comfortable and show them something interesting, with the promise of more to come if they stick around or come back later. Start with story, not details.
By the way, on my way home, I got soaked by a downpour. Today, I'm hiding out under my bed.