Resources for Writers
Really Useful Links for Writers: Hooking Your Reader
I spoke about self-promotion before, but all the marketing in the world won’t help if you can’t keep a reader’s attention. The last thing you want is for readers to be drawn to your books, and then give up because they couldn’t get past the first chapter.
And yes, that really is all you’ve got for a lot of readers. One chapter. There’s a reason most agents and submissions editors ask for the first couple of chapters only, and not the whole book. It’s not just because they’re extremely busy and have to be able to judge the likely quality of your work from a small sample, but because they understand the industry. And right now, the industry is the most competitive its ever been. You’re not just trying to keep your readers from putting your book down; you’re trying to keep them from putting your book down in favour of television, cat videos on Youtube, the latest superhero movie, and mobile app games. Instant gratification is a major factor in entertainment, and it takes hard work to keep your audience focused.
Start with your beginning. Make sure it really pops. I find that the start of a story is the hardest to write, especially the dreaded first sentence. Write It Sideways has some advice on this, with the key lesson that you should always open with something the reader will find interesting. A character waking up in the morning is not interesting, unless there’s something to show about their life or the world. This is why so many agents and submissions editors consider the old ‘waking up from a dream’ opening to be a red flag.
This recent article from Kristin Lamb has some excellent points that are applicable at any stage of your work. It’s all too easy to get caught up in crafting a form or rushing ahead with things, and we forget to watch for simple mistakes like these. Small things add up, and your reader may not even realise why they’re not feeling drawn into your book.
You can learn a lot about how to draw in your reader by studying a little psychology. Write To Done discusses the scientific reasons why certain writing tools and techniques keep our attention. It’s often easier to put changes into effect when we understand the reason for making them, so don’t sabotage yourself by rejecting advice just because it’s not clear what difference it will make.
Of course, you don’t want to stick to the same stock methods of writing. There are many different ways to apply these tools, and Janice Hardy has some advice on this. Not content to simply give out abstract tips, she breaks down the very idea of what a ‘hook’ can be, and presents various kinds of hooks for you to use.
Hopefully these tips will help you grab readers’ attention and hold onto it. It’s a tough business, and we need all the help we can get.
(c) Paul Anthony Shortt