That’s a fun question – why did a reader choose the novel that she chose?
For me, it’s a number of things: plot, balance of drama and comic relief, believable characters, clear and purposefully prose – but I think it’s the perfect combination of all those things. It’s a feeling that I get after the first few pages or chapters. It’s the need to keep reading. It’s that…tingly feeling in my stomach, like the uphill part of the roller-coaster, you know the one right before the first drop? You can hear the click-click of the tracks pulling you up, up, up, and up to that drop.
It’s that same tingly sense of anticipation and nervous excitement. It’s like…don’t judge when I say this, but it’s like a high. It’s that buzz from the first margarita. (Be honest, who thought I was going to use another M word?)
Achieving that, as a writer, is like trying to shoot flying clay pigeons while blindfolded.
It takes a long time, I think, to “get” how to write that kind of opening in a novel. Which details do I include? Which details do I hold off until later? When is the perfect time to unleash those bits?
One thing that new writers often do is that they tell you the entire story in the first chapter. They want you to know everything there is to know about the character or the world right away.
That’s called exposition overload. Sprinkle the details as needed, like salt and pepper. As necessary. As they become relevant. While Bobbie is making her coffee in the morning before her big interview for the Royal Magician, do we need to know that she’s afraid of spiders? Not unless there’s a spider on the counter, or the King has a weird spider fetish. If it’s not relevant to the scene, add it in later.
The best ways to “learn” what’s relevant and what’s not is to read. Read published novels. Beta read unpublished novels. See the difference. Practice!