Years ago when I was first trying to master the narrative elements of dramatic structure, I took notes on every book I read. Eventually, I condensed the most important points and ended up with lots of 10 step lessons, if you will.
Every time I start a new manuscript, I look over those notes. Since I’m starting a new one tomorrow, I reviewed my notes on hooking the reader. So today, it’s show and tell in the old blog arena.
Conventional wisdom says an author must hook the reader from the very first sentence. Here are ten tips to help you do that.
1. A story begins with change. Change alters the environment for the character and/or threatens the character’s self-concept.
2. Never warm up your engines when writing. Start the story immediately.
3. Establish a threat or worry or story question at once. The king is giving a ball. Will Cinderella get invited? Will she make it home by midnight? There’s a bomb on the elevator. Will Keanu and the bomb squad be able to rescue the people inside before the bomb detonates? (Speed of course.)
4. Keep character confusion to a minimum by introducing your characters carefully - one at a time.
5. Get something happening immediately. A novel is characterized by rising action.
6. Make the story go forward by pushing the hero/heroine back.
7. Don’t pick up the story threads too quickly - make the reader get antsy and wait but give them something entertaining while they’re waiting and wondering.
8. Do not give the entire life story of your characters immediately. This bogs down the story. Sprinkle the back story throughout.
9. Evoke some kind of strong emotional reaction in the reader - amusement, sorrow, anger, hate - which will cause the reader to stick with your story from the first word to the last.
10. Do not be afraid to write 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.
Take Elmore Leonard’s advice, especially in the beginning: leave out the parts people skip over.