Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Wednesday’s Writing: Hook Your Reader!

womanwritingMost people understand that a book has a beginning, middle and end. Good writing has a flow that leads your reader on from chapter to chapter, scene-to-scene, in a seamless way.
"I just couldn't put your book down!" is a reader statement that's always music to our ears, and we get that by keeping the reader's interest as we lead her from page to page..

We use what I call hook beginnings and cliff-hanger endings, which keep the flow going in your story and keep the reader, well, 'hooked' into the story. This creates the 'waves' of action-and-rest that help your reader get excited and then take time to digest the story, all the while knowing that the next wave of activity/tension/action will be crashing ashore any moment now! When you begin your book with an intriguing paragraph, the reader wants to find out what it's all about.

The most intriguing first line hook I ever saw was: "I wasn't there when I died." I can't remember the name of the author or the title of the book, but that one line impressed me enough to remember it several years later - and to take the book home to read! If anyone out there knows the title of this book, please leave me a comment and let me know what it is!

So, we all know that your story needs a beginning, a middle, and an end, but did you know that this applies to each scene and chapter, too? This means your book would have twenty or more of these, depending on the number of scenes and chapters you have!

That's not as daunting as it sounds. You see, beginnings and ends are magical as far as your reader is concerned: they are the promise that keeps her reading from one chapter to the next, maybe even all night until she finishes the book.And isn't that a wonderful thought, that someone would say to you: 'Your book was so good, I just couldn’t put it down…' ?

How do we do this?

We start with hooks.


A hook is usually short, snappy and intriguing - usually no more than the first two paragraphs. It is written in such a way that it arouses the reader's curiosity, prompting her to read on to find out more. 

On a more pragmatic note, think of the 'loss leaders' in your local supermarket's weekly advertising flier. The bargain or 'special' lures you into the store, and before you know it your cart is overflowing with other purchases as well!

In our terms, the hook is like a 'special' - it lures the reader in and persuades her that she wants to read the entire book or chapter. Of course, unlike the supermarket's advertising, the rest of the 'goods' you're offering your reader are all high quality and great value!

The hook beginning grabs attention and leaves your reader asking questions such as who is this? Why is this happening? What comes next?

The opening hook for my romantic suspense, Another Man’s Son, from The Wild Rose Press, goes like this:

The growl of the powerful engine turned heads among the early tourist crowd as Ben Asher rode the Harley hog along the waterfront. It was early evening and the sun was just slipping down below the ocean, tickling the quiet wavelets with pink and purple and painting the sky rich shades of rose and crimson.

Who is Ben  Asher? Where is he? What is he doing? Why are people looking?

Another Chapter has one of the main characters, Ket Morgan Junior, declaring as the hook:

“No, Kathryn, dear – the boy has been kidnapped, but not by me.”

A kidnapped child, a frantic mother, an uncaring father? Don’t you just want to know what’s happening next?

And a later scene starts with this hook:

“Well, son, you’ve sure made a mess of everything as usual.I’m getting tired of having to clean up after you.”

Isn’t there something sinister about this? What was the mess that had to be cleaned up? And isn’t there a threat in the words?

The middle of your chapter or scene, like the middle of the book, will flow from the hook along the outline action that you have drawn up. The keyword is motion - keep the story moving along. As you will have seen from the writer's journey, or Hero's Journey, there is a flow to storytelling similar to sound waves through the air - the story starts off on an upward slope to a high tension event, slows down to let everyone catch their breath, then up we go again….with the lows getting slightly higher with each high until the final dénouement at the end of the book, where we tie up all the loose ends and let everyone relax again.

Each chapter and each scene start with a hook, flow through the middle, towards the end. And next Wednesday’s Writing is going to be about ‘cliffhanger’ endings that will have readers eager to get to the next hook beginning!

Partly excerpted from Naked Writing: The No Frills Way to Write Your Book!

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