10 Ways To Hook Readers

I'm getting ready to start a new manuscript so, of course, I'm agonizing over how to write the scene that opens the book. Conventional wisdom says an author must hook the reader from the very first sentence. So let's talk about baiting the hook.

1. A story begins with change. Change alters the environment for the character and/or threatens a character’s self-concept.

2. Never warm up your engines when writing. A novel isn't zero to sixty in a quarter mile from a warmed-up engine. It's more like Le Mans with a thrilling start and the stamina to make it to the finish line while constantly increasing the pace. So start the story immediately then keep it going.

3. Establish a threat or worry or story question at once. The king is giving a ball. Will Cinderella get to go? (Classic fairy tale Cinderella) There’s a bomb on the elevator. Will the bomb squad be able to rescue the people inside before the bomb detonates? (the movie Speed)

4. Keep character confusion to a minimum by introducing your characters carefully, one at a time not in clusters.

5. Get something happening immediately. A novel is characterized by rising action.

6. Make the story go forward by pushing the hero/heroine back. Make life difficult for them and make those difficulties riveting.

7. Don’t pick up the story threads too quickly. Make readers wait until they can hardly stand it.

8. Do not give the entire life story of your characters immediately. This bogs down the story more completely than black gumbo soil after a rain impedes walking. Sprinkle the back story throughout.

9. Evoke some kind of emotional reaction in the reader. Laughter, tears, anger, disgust, whatever you elicit, make sure it has a universality which gets the same response from someone in Houston as it does from someone in Rio or Prague. We are all basically the same human animal once you remove the trappings of our particular culture. What makes me cry, more than likely makes someone in Tokyo cry. Evoke emotions in readers, and they will stick with your story from the first word to the last.

10. Do not be afraid to write a beginning and toss it away. Sometimes you have to write just to figure out what you’re trying to say. Don’t look at your words as if they are carved in stone. If you think your prose is unchangeable, trust me, once an editor or agent gets a hold of you, you'll learn differently. Be willing to experiment in order to grow.

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