I don't know how many times in the past few years I've picked up a book that I may or may not have already heard a lot about, and had this happen:
Pages 1 - 20. The book grabs me right away. I reread lines. I marvel. Suddenly I want to tell everybody about this wonderful book. Ohmygodohmygodohmygod. I do tell people about this wonderful book. You have to read it. It's amazing! Amazing!! This is a BOOK. Everything I've written can't begin to compare. I'm a fraud. I'm your neighborhood Quick Stop where you can get gas, a giant pickle, a lottery ticket, and a soggy glazed donut that taste like exhaust fumes. But THIS. THIS is a real book. A real book by a REAL writer.
Page 30. Getting bored. I remind myself of my earlier excitement. I'm sure it will return.
Page 40. Bored out of my mind. Where's the plot? Is there no plot? Maybe it will get better. Is anything ever going to happen?
Page 60. Nope. Nothing happening. Let's skim a little. And a little more. Description of this. Description of that. Fifty pages ago I would have been amazed. Now I'm feeling a little queasy.
Page 100. At this point, I often put the book aside and never pick it up again.
The sad truth is that most literary writers can't plot, and beautiful, amazing descriptions can only sustain a book for so long.
An editor once told me that the beginning of a book should never be a lie. I've probably broken that rule a few times, because we all want an opening with impact. Lately I ask myself what was the promise I made at the beginning of this book? And did I stick to it? Did I carry through?