Guest Blogger: Dr. Mira Reisberg
First of all, thank you Kathy for inviting me to guest post about writing compelling hooks that hook the reader in and make them want to keep reading, and for giving me the opportunity to let folks know about our Yuyi Morales scholarships for the upcoming, updated, interactive Craft and Business of Writing Children’s Picture Books that have helped so many students get published. Yuyi is a former student who is now a multi, multi award-winning best selling author illustrator who is also an exquisite human being, so we honor her with these scholarships – click here.
If you’d like to find out more about this 5 week, time-flexible e-course, which l’m lucky enough to co-treach with brilliant Random House/Knopf editor Kelly Delaney, click here http://bit.ly/cbwpb Right now we have a $100 off early bird discount available until December 7th for this course that features tons of individual attention, bonuses, and fabulous submission opportunities with agents and editors. This course has a proven track record of now published and award winning students, plus a money back guarantee. The first live training start January 9th!
Hooking Your Reader In and Keeping Them Reading
by Mira Reisberg
And now for the super fun world of hooking your reader in so that they want to, nay, have to, keep reading to find out what happens next. And for us children’s book creatives, remember our readers are agents, editors, and then yay, children.
Emmie felt goosebumps on her arm. Then she heard footsteps coming closer and closer. Was it really Mr. Toad come to get her?
Here’s a suspenseful hook that lures the reader in with sensory details of how Emmie was sensing impending danger. Then a hint at what that danger might be but no answer. There’s also some sense of place through “voice” in that it doesn’t say, “who had come to get her ” but “come to get her” which hints at a more spare, perhaps rural environment. I don’t know about you, but I really want to find out if it really is Mr. Toad come to get her and just who is Mr. Toad?
Direct or implied questions and conflict are great ways to hook your reader in and make them want to keep reading to find out the all important answer to what happens next.
Here’s a fun one:
Jacob’s weird, weird aunt was coming to visit. He couldn’t wait.
This is a similar hook that makes us curious about Jacob’s aunt and Jacob. Also kids love weird and weird is a wonderful word to say out loud. Try it.
And another one:
Not only was Catherine loud and whiny and stinky, she also hogged all the attention. What could Jeremy do to get the attention back where it rightfully belonged – on him?
The conflict here is the arrival of Jeremy’s new whiny, stinky sister and how he’s going to reclaim his rightful place at the top of the family hierarchy. We just know that trouble lies ahead and trouble often means fun.
Here’s a softer more soulful one that relies more on slightly quirky but beautiful language to hook the reader in, conflict, and the universal theme of loss.
If only Nana Grace was here to help, things wouldn’t be so messed up, so mixed up, and so soul-sucking sad. But she wasn’t, and she wouldn’t be, ever again.
Originally I was going to use Nana Angela, which has a lovely rhythmic quality with a bit of rhyme at the end, but then I decided on Grace. Grace is a beautiful name that is more evocative of the essence of the story where the main character has to find her own inner grace to deal with the loss of her grandmother and what’s going on in her family. This short hook also features the poetic writing techniques of alliteration, repetition and rhythm.
Here’s a nonfiction hook that relies on our fascination with things weird or unusual.
It’s pink, it’s gooshy like jello, and it’s been described as the most disgusting looking thing alive. It’s… .
For those of you who didn’t guess, it’s a.. blobfish. Hooray. This is what’s known as a page-turner where you end the page with some sort of question or curiosity. Here l’m ending mid-sentence with some ellipses as part of a nonfiction concept book I’m writing about the natural world. I’m giving sensory information about what it looks like, feels like, and how it’s been emotionally described, before forcing you to turn the page to either find out what it is or confirm what you think it is. I’m also setting up what will hopefully be a delicious pattern of curiosity, page turn, payoff and extra info. Finally, there’s a wee poetic technique called assonance, where the inner vowels of gooshy and looking match.
The thing with a hook is that you only get one chance to make a great first impression. With YA, middle Grade and Chapter Books you have a little more time to set the stage before hooking the reader in, but with the economy of language so critical in picture books, you need to start with a bang.
Think of emotion, curiosity, action, conflict, adventure, poetic techniques, distinctive voice, unusual settings, humor, sensory detail, something weird or different, universal themes, and which of these elements your story needs to hook the reader in. Then keep using these techniques to keep the reader hooked until the very end!
Bio: Dr. Mira Reisberg is an award-winning former kidlit university professor, a best-selling children’s book illustrator/writer, an editor and art director, and a former children’s literary agent.
She’s also the director of the Children’s Book Academy. Her passions (obsessions) include kid’s books (of course), creative problem solving, helping others get published, being creative and having a loving life.
PLEASE NOTE: Editor Kelly Delaney is Writing and Illustrating’s Featured Editor for December and will be doing the first page critiques. Due to the holidays, the Deadline to submit is December 15th. Check back on December 9th for the first part of my interview with Kelly.