Monday, July 20, 2009

Hook Me...or Else!

Quotes of the Day:
My test of a good novel is dreading to begin the last chapter.
~Thomas Helm

You know you've read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend.
~Paul Sweeney

How long do you give a book to hook you before you give up on it?

This is something I've been thinking about recently, as I delve into editing my first few chapters. I know as aspiring authors, we are sort of conditioned to try and hook our readers (i.e. agents/editors) within the first three chapters...or better yet, the first chapter...or better still, the first page. Because we know when we query, we only have a few minutes of a very busy agent's time to hook them into asking for more of our book.

But when you are reading on your own, just for long will you read before laying the book aside? 1 chapter? 3 chapters?

I just started reading A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray...for the third time. I've picked it up twice before, and despite the facts that the passages were wonderful, there were exciting, strange, and mysterious things happening, and it is right up my alley as a historical...I just couldn't get into it.

This time around, I am finally hooked - I'm reading and thinking about it when I can't read, and wondering what happens next. And I'm 80 pages in. It took that long for me to get well and truly into the book.

There are several books that I've done this with, that I didn't really get hooked by until around page 80-100 (Twilight being one of them - bored me to tears for the first few chapters), and sometimes these books go on to be favorites of mine. Twilight, the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon (probably my all time favorite series, but the first chapter bored me a bit). Anne Rice's books are notorious for this, with me at least. The first several chapters are beyond boring, and then I get really hooked.

Most of the time, I stick with these books as long as I do because I've had so many people tell me how much they love them. So I continue slogging through either hoping I'll eventually see in them what others have, or wondering what it is that others love so much and assume if I keep reading I'll figure it out. With Anne Rice, I stick with them because I know if I can just make it to chapter 3, I'll be loving it (except for one of hers....I gave it about 100 pages and then just gave up).

Without that word-of-mouth incentive, or a prior good experience with the author, I doubt I would have given any of those books a second look...I would have gotten bored and put them down, never to touch them again. But I still try to give books 100 pages to catch my attention - mostly because that seems to be my magic mark, the point at which you've either got me or you don't.

So how about you? How long will you give a book to hook you?


Scott said...

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay is one of my absolute favorite books. Brilliant book.

I wasn't hooked with the Prologue. I'm not sure where the book finally hooked me. I tried and tried to read the book . . . for years. One day, I finally sat down and . . . OMG! The book will tear your heart into pieces and strip your emotions to the bare bones. The book is absolutely brilliant and yet, the hook wasn't on the first page, or the tenth, but further in.

Still, as aspiring writers, were instructed time and again to hook the reader on the first page. Throw some dramatic impact right out at the reader and hope they continue reading. Sometimes, though - Tigana the perfect example - the hook doesn't happen until later.

I must say, if anyone ever reads Tigana - after you finish, read the Prologue again, because the hook is there in the prologue!


Eileen Astels Watson said...

If I'm not hooked by the end of the third chapter of a book that's been recommended then I go on to the next one.

If it's a book I've never heard of before, I only give it one chapter to hook me usually. There are just too many books out there that need reading, and not everyone is for me. I get that, and move on to find one that was written for me.

Anonymous said...

This subect came up when I was writing about beginnings...for me, as a reader, I will stick with a book for 100 or so pages. But I think that isn;t "normal" - my husband needs to be hooked in the first chapter, as do my kids.

Ughh, beginnings...they can be tough!

quixotic said...

I think 100 pages is reasonable space to get hooked. I think we give more time to book we buy, because we bought them. When you pay for something, you give it that extra try.

Novice Writer Anonymous said...

It really depends. There have been books that I read maybe 1/3 of the way through and gave up because I just wasn't feeling it.

Others, like Little Women and Cyrano de Bergerac, I gave up on at page 1 or 2.

Still others I slogged through and will never read again, and will likely not pick up another book by said author.

It just varies.

Novice Writer Anonymous

FictionGroupie said...

I do the first page thing a lot in the book store. A lot of endless description from the jump turns me off. But once I've purchased a book, I usually stick with it for a while.

When I don't get hooked, I keep plodding through, hoping I'll eventually get to the good part. However, if I get halfway through the book and I'm starting to feel like it's a job instead of fun to read, I drop it. (Hmm, this is strangely similar to my pre-marriage dating philosophy, but I digress.)

Yamile said...

The Book Thief came to mind when I thought about books that took while to hook me. I read it for the first time a couple of years ago, and last year, when I chose it for my bookclub all I remembered about it was that I had loved it. When I was reading it for the second time, I remember being so uncomfortable thinking that I had chosen the most boring book of all time, and then, it happened. I was trapped by the magic of Zusac's beautiful writing. It took me a few chapters, but boy was I grateful I stuck with it because now it's one of my favorites.
And I agree with Anne Rice's books. In fact, last Sat I FINALLY purchased my very own copies of the Vampire Chronicles, which I have loved since I was in early high school. What a writer!

Cole Gibsen said...

I'm much less fair, I guess. I only give a book 30-50 pages to draw me in and if it fails to...well, I move on. There are far too many books out there to spend time on the ones that make reading "work". :)

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

I also found Twilight very very slow, even halfway through the book I was still debating whether or not to keep reading it. In the end I did finish, but didn't feel sufficiently motivated to read the rest of the series.

Overall, I don't really have a page count that I use to keep going or not, it just depends on the book.

Anonymous said...

Whoa. 100 pages seems too liberal for me. Anywhere between the first page and the second chapter is usually enough.

If I can't identify with the main character, or I don't like the writer's style, or there are too many clich├ęs, I toss the book out the window. And next door's cat sleeps on it. :|

ElanaJ said...

I give a book 100 pages to hook me. For most books, that's 25 - 30% and I should be "into" it by then. For books that seem to be all the rage that I just can't get into, I give them 150 pages.

Books I've started and couldn't finish: City of Bones, Fablehaven, Truancy. I'm sure there are others I can't think of right now.