Monday, April 9, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge: H is for...


For my entries in the 2012 A to Z Challenge, I will be focusing on writing elements that I find important and that I want to incorporate into my work.

Today, the topic is HOOK

Most writers are familiar with the adage that you have to quickly hook your reader.  For an unpublished novelist, you may have at most one page to get a slush-reader, agent or publisher to keep on reading, and they've usually decided well before that.  It's the same way with short stories, if not more so.  I've heard that a paragraph or two is usually enough for a slush reader to decide if a piece is going to get past the slush gates.  If they read the rest of the story, it usually serves to only reinforce that initial gut decision.

To many writers, this rush to judgment seems hopelessly unfair.  But I actually understand the reasons and don't really have a problem with it.  I'm often the same way when deciding what book to buy if I'm unfamiliar with an author or the title -- I'll skim the back blurb and then read chapter one for a bit, and it usually only takes a page or so.  If I'm pulled in, I'll probably like the whole book.  If not, it's stuck back on the shelf.

So I get it. It just means that as a writer, I need to do all I can to get my reader on the hook as fast as possible.  But how to do that without resorting to cheap artificial gimmicks? 

It's not that hard -- just start with an interesting scene.

No descriptions of the weather, no rambling historical back-story, no slow-paced scene-setting -- start mid-scene with identifiable characters engaged in something that arouses curiosity, tension, concern, and questions in the reader.

It doesn't have to be death, mayhem, car-chases, and explosions.  Just something that seems interesting, intriguing, and gets the reader wondering, "What's going to happen next?" 

I get that question from my reader and I'm home free.

Well, maybe not home free, but I've at least gotten them onto page two or three -- then I also have to give them spotless prose; gripping dialogue; compelling characters; and a dynamic plot that keeps them involved until the final word.

But that's the easy part, right?

Thanks for visiting -- see you the rest of this month for more alphabetical fun!

Don't forget to visit HERE to see all the bloggers taking part in this A-to-Z challenge, and try to drop in on as many of them as you can!


.jessica. said...

I would say, in fact, that oftentimes death, mayhem, car-chases, and explosions actually turn people off in the first page - because who are these people and why are they running around so much and ACK things are exploding and where did that guy come from and you know what, this is really disorienting and I'm going to put the book down now.

I like your rule: does it make me ask, "What's going to happen next?" Even totally out of context (which every first page is!) your first scene should be compelling enough to make the reader want to keep going. Great post!

cherie said...

Well said. And I have to agree with Jessica ^. An opening scene that throws the reader immediately into the thick of things turns me off, just because I haven't had a chance to connect with the characters and therefore, care about what happens to them.


DL Hammons said...

This is one area where being called a HOOKER is a good thing! Well said!! :)

Simon Kewin said...

Great post - seems a few people are posting on this. A good, intriguing opening always works well, I think. Leave the reader thinking, why the hell is that happening!?

Nicole said...

Your point about thinking like a *reader* while writing your hook is so true! I think it's so important to remember that.

Darlene E Williams said...

Great theme. Us writers can never be reminded too many times of elements of writing.

Chris Fries said...

@jessica: Oh yeah, I agree. As a mystery reader & writer, one of the most common 'hooks' is the BOPO (Body On Page One) opening. This is one where it can be both disorienting AND cliche. Yes, there's gotta be at least one dead person in there at some point early in the story, but why do so many mysteries open with the killing or the crime scene? Thanks so much for the comment!

@cherie: This is true. I think it's best to avoid opening with a slow, drawn-out character introduction, but we have to at least give out enough info in the opening to make them seem like people the reader wants to care about. Thanks for the comment -- I appreciate it!

@DL: Lol! I hear ya, Don!

@Simon: Absolutely. And in the pieces of yours I've read, you've definitely never have a problem doing this! Thanks for the visit and the comment!

@Nicole: Thank you for positive reinforcement! I appreciate your visit!

@Darlene: Thank you very much!