Monday, March 12, 2012

Thou Shalt Hook the Reader

By Julie Daines
The 10 Commandments of Writing and When to Break Them

Writing Conferences. We go. We listen. We obey. Maybe sometimes we obey too much.

My next few posts will be about when to break the writing commandments.

Commandment 2: 
Thou Shalt Hook the Reader

This commandment is drilled into our heads almost as much as Commandment #1, Show don't tell.

In fact, the internet is overloaded with first line contests, first paragraph contests, and can you hook the reader in 200 words or less? 

The truth is, I'm a fairly good reader, and I rarely come across a first 200 words that is impossible to resist, let alone a first line. 

Yes, a good hook is important--but it must not be contrived or gimmicky. It must set the stage for the story to come. A hook is meant to attract readers AND let them know what they can expect your story to deliver.

A recent article in Writer's Digest by bestselling author Steven James says, 
Too many times a writer will grab reader's attention early on with a scene that's clearly been contrived just for that purpose, without introducing the character or the setting of the story. Consequently the writer is forced to insert excessive backstory into the next scene--thus undermining the forward momentum of the plot. Take your time, trust your readers and craft a hook that orients them to the world you've created. Then drive the story forward without having to explain why you started it the way you did.
James then outlines seven elements of an effective hook:

  1. Grab the reader's attention.
  2. Introduce a character readers care about.
  3. Set the story's mood.
  4. Establish the storyteller's voice.
  5. Orient readers to the world of the protagonist (and enable them to picture it).
  6. Lock in the genre.
  7. End in a way that is both surprising and satisfying.
This is excellent advice. I would especially recommend you pay attention to the mood and genre. 

What are your thoughts?


Scott said...

You're right. A lot of times, I find a first line or paragraph that seems intentionally set up to satisfy the hook requirement. It might be beautifully written and cool, but it has a distracting sign that says "HOOK" in flashing neon. I'm not a fan of those. Other times, though, that great first para flows into great second para and a third and a fourth, not only setting up the story perfectly but fitting organically with the rest of the work. Those I like. Those make me settle in comfortably with the feeling that this is going to be a great read.

gaylene said...

I've read several stories that have fabulous first pages, then it's like they forgot about the rest of the book. So, sure, first pages are important for an agent or editor (and the reader, too), but they aren't everything.

Danielle Paige said...

I think that--like in 'show don't tell' and countless other concepts--it's a balancing act.

Erin Shakespear said...

I'm loving this series, Julie! Love the seven elements of an effective hook. Great post! :)