Read First Chapters – Only

aafterA meaningful page-turner develops that quality early on. It “hooks ’em in the first ten pages.”

The term, “hook” seems off-putting to me – like referring to the ecstatic magic of falling in love as, “bonding.”

But here’s a valuable suggestion from my sister-in-law. Go to Amazon and find a book that might be somewhat similar to a story you would write. Read the first few pages for free. See where they hook you and how. Take notes.

Buy the book only if you’re hooked.

Then go to the bottom of the page where they list similar books and do the same thing with those.  Read the first parts of every story you can.  I did this recently and it was an eye-opener that taught me a lot at the subconscious level.

It’s said that we will never become successful writers if we don’t read a lot of fiction.

I believe it, but still, I don’t personally enjoy reading fiction as much as I enjoy writing it. Reading fiction is a lot of work for slow readers like me. It seems overly time-consuming. And the more I love a story, the slower I read it for some dumb reason.

To my diseased mind, reading nonfiction is more fun than reading fiction! Ridiculous. And I want to be a fiction writer?

Yeah, I know. You read tons of fiction. You have since you were a kid. That’s great! Kudos. But one of your writer friends doesn’t. The quiet one. So hear me out.

A work of fiction has an infinite number of complex things going on simultaneously. The elements are too many, too subtle, and too complex to take into your mind cognitively, analyze and master without reading stories.

To become fluent in a new language, you have to move in with people who speak it exclusively. You have to be very young, too, if you want to avoid having an accent. Many of the important subtleties of connotation and the body language of the vocal apparatus cannot be taught, they can only be absorbed.

That’s like learning to write fiction.

Parts of it are beyond cognitive discussion. They’re machine level language to the mind. “Implied memory,” some call it.

Honestly, reading fiction kicks my butt.

I recently finished, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. As slowly as I read, it took forever to finish Green’s touching work of art. Of course, I couldn’t put it down, so that meant I was reading instead of doing a bunch of other things I “should” have been doing.

So I felt a little guilty about that.

Plus, I cried my eyes out all over the place when I was reading it. Not just in one spot, but here, there and at the end. Huge sobs, I’m sorry! I was a basket case by the time I was done. But inspired. Perhaps a little discouraged, too, because Green is orders of magnitude better than I am as a storyteller and writer.

Basically, I was worthless after that powerful story. (You gotta read it!)

So for me, reading only the first chapters of books that I don’t own is a useful discipline. It keeps me from spending too many consecutive hours reading. It teaches me the unteachable subtleties of the most practical component of success: hooking the reader in the first ten pages. It improves my writing like nothing else on earth. And it spares me the painful tears that great stories wring out of me.

Give it a try, maybe. First chapters only.

I want to give my sister-in-law credit again for giving me this valuable learning technique. Thanks !!!

M. Talmage Moorehead

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