After a week or more of going over the facts and figures of the last 5 months, my brain decided it had had enough. Every time I sat down before my work computer, the brain shut down. It simply refused to work. I’d stare at the computer screen and wonder what I was supposed to be doing. I’d open an Excel spreadsheet to review the latest numbers sent by our accounting gurus and my eyes would glaze. There simply wasn’t enough coffee or tea or caffeine in any form or fashion to jump start the brain.
Okay, I’ll admit it. That’s usually my reaction to anything that has to do with numbers. I’m not a number person. Never have been and never will be. But usually I can push my way through it. Especially when the bosses are waiting for my report and recommendations. Not this time.
Making matters worse, I couldn’t write. Whether it was a blog post or on my current work-in-progress, it just wasn’t going to happen. I finally had to admit it. I’d hit the wall and needed to recharge the batteries.
We all hit this point from time to time. For me, this time, it was a combination of real life issues hitting throughout the holidays, work, stress and trying to finish my current wip. Fortunately, I realized it pretty quickly and knew exactly what to do. In fact, I’d already started taking steps several weeks before I finally realized I was about to smash face first into that wall.
What was I doing? Something I should have been doing all along but had let slide after an injury over the summer. I was working out. More than that, I was having fun working out. I don’t know about you, but if I work out regularly, I feel better and I function better. If I’m having fun working out, well, I’ll work out more often.
But last week when that wall suddenly appeared, I found myself falling back on my oldest and most reliable method of recharging — gaming. There is something so very satisfying about battering Jar Jar Binks and watching him smash into dozens of tiny Lego blocks. Okay, I admit it. I play Lego Star Wars – The Complete Saga on my Wii. But really, I only do it so I can beat up on Jar Jar Binks. Is there anyone who has seen that “first” movie — you know the one I mean. It came out fourth but is first in the story line and, imo, really, really bad — who hasn’t wanted to beat Jar Jar?
Yesterday I spent a couple of hours, while waiting for a tech to come do some repairs, playing Zelda: The Twilight Princess and that started me thinking. Mind you, just the ability to think was welcome. But what surprised me was the path my thoughts went down.
A little background for those of you who aren’t familiar with The Legend of Zelda. There are approximately 20 games in the series. It has appeared on consoles ranging from the older Nintendo systems to handhelds. To complete the game you have to be able to solve puzzles and fight. But there is also a continuity of characters in the games. So, as you move from one game to the next, it’s like you’re playing with some old friends.
But that’s not what started me thinking. No, it was how Twilight Princess began. The start of so many games begins with training, with learning how to use your character’s different abilities. Often, there is little, if any story revealed. Not so with Twilight Princess. You are introduced to the hero and people who are important to him. You are given hints about trouble brewing. Then children he cares for are put into danger and he has to make the decision whether to go after them or not. Of course, being the hero, he does and he rescues them. But this is only the prelude to the real danger ahead. The hero soon has to decide if he is willing to risk his life, and possibly the lives of his friends, to save the world.
This training period was the hook for the game. It gave the necessary information so I knew how to use my hero’s abilities but it also threw me into a story where I cared about what happened to the characters and wanted to keep playing to see what was going to happen next. It’s the story of the game, not the smashing of buttons, that has me wanting to do more.
And that is what the opening of a book should do. Note that I said opening. Those first few pages of a book can be the make or break of it. You have to hook the reader, convince them they want to read on. That means giving them characters they care about — and that can be either a villain they hate and want to see brought to justice or a hero they can cheer for — and giving them enough of a hint about the plot to make them want to know what happens next.
So that’s my challenge as a writer and an author. Does my book — or the book I’m considering for NRP — hook the reader quick enough to keep them reading? Does it give the reader characters he can care about? Does the story start in the right place? If it doesn’t, it won’t matter how well written the book is. Readers, on the whole, want to read something they care about, something they can enjoy. If you don’t believe me, think back to some of the books you had to read in high school or college. They were classics or written by the masters of modern literature. But did you enjoy them? Would you have bought them for recreational reading?