In our comment discussion about this morning's post (opening with dialogue), Jami writes,
Isn't the goal of the first page to invest the reader in the story so that they turn to the second page? And without a character to feel invested in, the reader won't feel a connection? So, dialogue can work, but only if it pulls the reader in and helps to form that connection? And authors should consciously consider if it's the best method for connecting the reader to the story? And not just do it because of some trend, or because it feels "immediate", or because it shows you're starting in scene and not in backstory, etc.
And I responded,
Jami, that's it exactly.
I know this is a roundabout, somewhat tortured way to make the point, but I thought if I led everyone to think it through, it might resolve the question in a more thorough way.
Your goal at the outset is to cement the reader to the characters as quickly as possible.
Starting with dialogue can slow down that process. CAN. Not MUST.
So some authors use dialogue to start because it helps them reach the goal of snatching reader interest right away. Depends on the dialogue -- how long, content, what follows it.
Another problem, from my perspective, is that we see bad dialogue openings over and over and over. Until we want to cry. Until we become convinced that they must be impossible to pull off. That belief lasts just until we see a manuscript do it right.
I bought a manuscript that starts with this line of dialogue:
"Make me a door, Four."
Grabbed me right away. I wasn't sure what it meant, but I wanted to find out. Will everyone be hooked by that line? Maybe not, but it has turned out that lots of readers have been satisfied with this line and this story.
Compare that to,
"Honey, where are my keys?"
(not all that unusual a question)
(ditto, and then some)
You can add a speaker attribution without furthering the basic goal.
"This city is the capital of Argentina," Alex Trebek said.
The bottom line: There are rules, and there are tools. The rule for the first page is, "Grab my attention." The tools to help you get there are conflict, character, specific detail, and so on.
I thought it was important to move this to the front page for those of you who don't get to read the comments. It's the answer to our earlier question about opening with dialogue. Yes, you can do it, but only if you do it right!