Holding the reader’s attention is the total goal, and among the most effective ways to do this is by creating what I’ve come to call A Thread of Apprehension. Give your readers something to fret over.
Here, from a Booker-Prize winning novel called The Sea, The Sea, by Iris Murdoch, is an excellent example:
The sea which lies before me as I write glows rather than sparkles in the bland may sunshine. With the tide turning, it leans quietly against the land, almost unflecked by ripples or by foam. Near to the horizon it is luxurious purple, spotted with regular lines of emerald green. At the horizon it is indigo. Near to the shore, where my view is framed by rising heaps of humpy yellow rock, there is a band of lighter green, icy and pure, less radiant, opaque however, not transparent. We are in the north, and the bright sunshine cannot penetrate the sea. Where the gentle water taps the rocks there is still a surface skin of color. The cloudless sky is very pale at the indigo horizon which it lightly pencils in with silver. Its blue gains towards the zenith and vibrates there. But the sky looks cold, even the sun looks old.
I had written the above, destined to be the opening paragraph of my memoirs, when something happened which was so extraordinary and so horrible that I cannot bring myself to describe it even now after an interval of time and although a possible, though not totally reassuring, explanation has occurred to me. Perhaps I shall feel calmer and more clear-headed after yet another interval.
In this opening, Iris Murdoch requires her readers wait eighteen pages before she reveals the horrible and extraordinary episode, and yet the reader — if, anyway, she’s anything like me — is thrilled to do so. Why? Because there’s this sense of intrigue, a tremor of apprehension running all through those opening pages, and all because of that deceptively simple sentence in the second paragraph, which makes you the reader curious to continue.
Unfortunately, the rest of the novel doesn’t quite deliver, but the opening is exemplary.