I give a movie, TV show, and books, five minutes to grab my attention. And it’s not because I am super busy, and I don’t have time. It’s because I have a short attention span. If you can’t get my attention and keep it, I move on to something that can.
I used to go to a movie theater a lot, but if I can’t focus on the movie, I’ll fidget or take a trip to the restroom. Sometimes, multiple trips, and I have only walked out once. I’m always with someone, so it makes it difficult to get the other person out the door.
Then what happens when a book passes the five-minute mark but fizzles out?
I stop reading. I move on.
A strong opening to your story is important, but so are the first three chapters because you want your readers turning pages.
If you can’t keep the pages turning, your readers will move on to another book that will.
Is action always needed to engage your readers?
An explosion, someone drowning, or falling off the roof, isn’t always required for a strong opener. I’ve taken an example from one of my favorite authors, James Patterson. His book, Honeymoon, is the only book that I read in one sitting. His chapters are extremely short, mostly one to two pages long.
James Patterson – Home | James Patterson (Book list)
Prologue—Honeymoon by James Patterson
THINGS AREN’T ALWAYS as they appear.
One minute, I’m totally fine.
The next, I’m hunched over and clutching my stomach in sheer agony. What the hell is happening to me?
Chapter One–Honeymoon, by James Patterson
NORA COULD FEEL Connor watching her.
He always did the same thing when she packed to leave on one of her trips. He’d lean his six foot three frame against the doorway to his bedroom, his hands buried in the pockets of his Dockers, a frown tugging on his face. He hated the thought of their being apart.
Usually he wouldn’t say anything, though. He’d just stand there in silence as Nora filled her suitcase, occasionally taking a sip of Evian water, her favorite. But that afternoon he couldn’t help himself.
“Don’t go,” he said in his deep voice.
The opening for chapter one took a bit longer than the prologue to keep me intrigued, but they were both effective.
Why? Show Don’t Tell
I hate saying this because everyone does, but it’s true. If I tell you something, you can’t become a character in the story. But if I show everything, you can participate in the experience.
It comes down to–which one do you prefer?