Business Technology

Monday 22 September 2014

How technology distractions are making novels' first lines even more important

Hannah Furness

Published 10/03/2014 | 11:45

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The app, named Summly, offers users a quick and easy way of finding news stories on the internet
Apple iPad

The days of slowly introducing a reader to a novel are over. Authors now believe that their first sentence is crucial if they are going to hold their reader's attention because they are so easily distracted by modern technology such as iPads.

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Speaking at a literary festival, the novelists Simon Kernick and Richard Madeley agreed it was essential to “grab the reader round the throat” from the first line.

The days when writers such as Jane Austen could craft a novel from a gentle start were over, they added, arguing that too much time spent setting up a plot meant a book would no longer work.

At the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai, Kernick, a thriller writer, told an audience: “For me, the most important bit is that you grip your reader from the start.

“I think people these days, as we all know, are so distracted in terms of iPads and iPhones that in order to get people to read a whole book you need to bring them straight into the story very quickly indeed.

“All good writers really need to think about the first line, it’s hugely important. If you spend too much time setting things up, these days it’s not going to work.”

Richard Madeley, a television presenter and author of Some Day I’ll Find You, said: “The days are gone when you could take a leisurely approach to writing. The stories of Jane Austen and so on are wonderful, but those days are gone.

“Other distractions mean you really have to grab the reader by the throat.”

Jojo Moyes, the bestselling author of Me Before You who was in the audience of the weekend’s panel event, said she had altered the way she started her books in response to feedback from readers. She added that she has only once kept the first sentence of a novel intact from the first draft, preferring to return to the early chapters and rewrite them entirely to make them more gripping.

“A lot of the early book reviews I read on Amazon said it had taken people a while to get into the books but they had stuck with it. That told me something: that I needed to speed up.

“In the last three or four books, I’ve tried to bring the reader in a lot sooner.”

Moyes’s 11th and latest novel, The One Plus One, begins: “The irony did not escape Jessica Thomas that she lost the best job she’d ever had because of a diamond.”

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