You Are Who You Are

When I waited tables, I learned that the most important request a guest could make was the first. If I met this request quickly and accurately I had established trust and the guest could begin to relax: They were in good hands, and their meal would go smoothly. If I failed in that first request, they began to view me with suspicion, and I was now in the uncomfortable position of winning that trust back. I realize I am a bit like a finicky diner when I open a new book. Can I trust this author or not? Take descriptive writing. If in the first five pages the descriptive passages seem unnecessary or overwritten, I have a tendency, further in the book, to despair when I see a thick block of prose upcoming. On the other hand, if the descriptions are pithy and revealing, I look forward to how the author will handle their settings and characters’ ticks.

When a reader picks up your story, they are entrusting you as a guide on a journey. There is not a happier reader in the world than one who has given over completely and willingly to the author. It is like meeting a new friend with whom you can most honestly be yourself.

I think grabber openings are fine, and it’s certainly a good idea to get on with telling your story instead of proving you’re really a writer in the first few pages, but I believe trust wins the day over flash or titillation. And just as in life, trust will always be gained through honesty. Sometimes honesty isn’t flashy, and sometimes it isn’t thrilling, but it is always trustworthy. You can’t win any readers who are not interested in what you honestly believe about something, so take the risk and say what you actually mean as clearly as possible.

Don’t try and fool anyone. You are who you are, and just as in any relationship, you will eventually be revealed. So let down the defense and be clear from the start, and perhaps your new readers will be grabbed not by the fire of your high concept, but by the honesty with which you share it.

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