Posted by: Kathy Temean | September 18, 2012

Hooking Your Readers

Hook Your Readers on Page 1.

You’ve heard the old saying you have to know when to hold em and when to fold em? Well, Writer’s Digest had a very good article about Rules for writing – when to follow them and when to break them. Here is one part of the article.

FOLLOW IT: One thing I love about my Kindle is that I can view a free sample of the first few pages of a book. I can’t tell you how much money I’ve saved by learning, usually within a few moments, that a writer is rude.  Rude? Am I overstating it? What’s ruder than being 
a bore?

I’m no busier than you are. I have a family, co-workers, things to do, places to go. When I set aside time to enjoy a good book—even if settling in before a fire with what our British friends call a “cozy”—I want to be engaged from the first sentence and held throughout.

I recently critiqued a beginner’s manuscript that began, “I’m sure we’ve all heard the old adage …” Well, if it’s an adage, it’s old, and if it’s an old adage, yes, we’ve all heard it. So why in the world would you want to start your novel with that?

Most experts advise starting with or quickly getting to an “inciting incident,” or at least something that implies that a main character’s status quo has been interrupted.

You tell me. Would you be more gripped by an old adage, or by something like, “When he kissed her goodbye and said he’d see her at dinner, Elizabeth believed only Ben’s goodbye”?

It’s not gunfire, not murder, not mayhem. But I’m betting you want to know what’s going on and will stick with me until you find out. —Jerry B. Jenkins

Jerry B. Jenkins is the author of more than 175 books, including Writing for the Soul, and the owner of the Christian Writers Guild and Jenkins Entertainment, a filmmaking company.

His writing has appeared in Time, Reader’s Digest, Parade and dozens of other periodicals. Twenty of his books have reached The New York Times bestseller list (seven debuting at No. 1). His newest novel is The Last Operative.

BREAK IT: The single most common problem I see in student manuscripts is that they are incredibly confusing. They are incredibly confusing because student authors often refuse to orient the reader by providing basic dramatic circumstances, such as where we are, and what’s happening, and to whom. Instead, we’re plunged into a kind of ectoplasm of vivid descriptions and incisive observations. I refer to this style of writing as hysterical lyricism.

The central reason student writers succumb to this is because they’ve been told over and over that they have to “hook readers on Page 1.” They assume that the best way to do this is to dispense with all the “boring background” and get us right to the fancy prose.

I’m thinking now of a student story I read recently in which we’re trapped inside the head of a young man who is creeping up to a house in the middle of the night. It’s obvious the young man is extremely nervous, but it takes us 12 pages to figure out why: because he’s creeping up to the home of his pregnant girlfriend, with whom he hopes to elope. Why couldn’t the writer simply have told us this up front? Because he wanted to “hook the reader,” and he assumed that clarifying what the story was about with a little carefully deployed exposition would be boring.

Nothing could be further from the truth. What the reader seeks to learn above all is whom she should care about, and what those characters want or fear. Readers deserve clearly told stories, not high-watt histrionics.
—Steve Almond

Steve Almond is the author of the story collections My Life in Heavy Metal and The Evil B.B. Chow, the novel Which Brings Me to You (with Julianna Baggott), and the nonfiction books Candyfreak, (Not That You Asked) and Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life.

He has also self-published two books, including This Won’t Take But a Minute, Honey, a title on the psychology and practice of writing.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


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