Alternatively, one might also say I have the spirit of a reclusive, crotchety old man. I'm the guy who sits out on his porch in his rocking chair, listening to the grainy sound of his old wireless and enjoying the afternoon sun. But you put one foot on my lawn, you damn kids, and you'll hear about it! And turn that damn rap music off! You know back in my day... Huh? A point? Hold on.
Let me finish painting this picture. One one side of my rocking chair is a table with my old timey radio and a perspiring glass of fresh lemonade. On the floor, by my feet, is a stack of books. Yes sir, I never much cared for the television once they stopped showing the Bing Crosby programme but I sure do love books. And I've got so many books to read, old and new. Some in my pile are books by authors I love, some are old favourites I want to revisit and some are books by authors I don't know but their book sounded interesting. One thing is for sure, though, that pile of books keeps growing faster than I can read it.
And you, sir, your book is in my pile. It could be three books down, it could be the next book, it could be at the bottom for now but I guarantee you it is there and I will get to it. Feeling special? Don't. I'm a grouchy old man and I'm short on time. If you're an author I love, then I'll cut you a lot of slack. I'll forgive you a lot of mistakes and keep giving you chances. But I doubt you're Stephen King or Jim Butcher. You and me? We don't have a track record you can rely on.
No, sir, what you've got to rely on is page one. Or rather, if I'm in a good mood, you're writing a genre I like and I'm desperate then you've got page one and maybe page two. But that doesn't happen often. If I'm in a bad mood, you've got one sentence to impress me. Most of the time, you can rely on my attention for one paragraph. That right there is your free pass. You want me to read your story? You want me to throw down the cash and buy the book? Then you better hook me with that first paragraph. Shit better be happening, son, because your book might be standing between me and rereading The Mysterious Stranger for the seven hundredth time. You probably can't be better than Mark Twain but you can be engaging enough to distract me from Mark Twain.
That right there is the secret, kids. You don't have to be the best, you don't even have to be perfect, you just have to make me interested. And that shouldn't be hard! I've already picked up your book. The cover caught my eye, the blurb sounded interesting and now all you have to do is make that first page work. And it's not just me, either. Your audience is full of people like me. Or it might be an agent or an editor with a big stack of manuscripts competing for their attention.
Say it with me, now: Page one. Stuff happens, questions are asked, the story hits the ground running. A character says "This was a stupid idea" and now I want to know what was a stupid idea. The building explodes and rains glass down on the streets below and I want to know what caused it.
I can and probably will write a lot more on opening a story but this isn't the place for that. What you need to take away from this right now is simple: I have a lot of other stuff I could be doing, your book needs to make me forget about that stuff from the very first page. Chapter 1 is not a promise of things happening later, Chapter 1 is things happening with a promise of more stuff happening later.
But buck up, champ, because the good news is that I (like a lot of readers) am a pineapple. If you can crack the shell, then you'll find me a devoted reader. Grab me, hook me, suck me in and I'll stay willingly. Alright, the duct tape on these metaphors is starting to show. I'm going to scram before it gets any more confusing.