Tag Archives: grabbing readers’ attention

Sucking Readers into Your Story: the Narrative Hook

204NeverlandThe narrative hook is how you grab readers’ attention from the onset. It’s a speedy way to draw readers into your story, making readers want to know what’s going to happen. This literary device is what keeps readers reading.

A narrative hook is important because readers, literary agents, and publishers dedicate very little time toward deciding if a book is worth reading. Sometimes this time is as little as a few seconds! Your story needs to grab people right off the bat.

One of the best ways to utilize a narrative hook is to have it pose a question in readers’ minds. This doesn’t mean literally writing a question into the text, but showing the readers a scene that formulates questions. Here’s an example:

“Across the room a woman holds her front teeth in the palm of her hand.”

  • Ron Rash, “Not Waving, But Drowning”

From this opening line, readers want to know what happened to the woman. Why is she standing there holding her teeth? Etc.

Narrative hooks arouse readers’ curiosity.

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

  • George Orwell, “1984”

It’s likely you’ve seen an analog clock at some point in your life. Have you ever seen one strike thirteen? It’s doubtful. Clocks don’t strike thirteen, so why are they doing so here?

Great narrative hooks hint at something more. They intrigue readers by showing there’s more than what’s on the surface. They should set up expectations, and then follow through on them. If you mention the protagonist’s kid sister in the first paragraph, she should play a big role in the story.

“When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping.”

  • Suzanne Collins, “The Hunger Games”

Prim isn’t physically in the novel for long, but she’s the reason why Katniss, the protagonist, enters The Hunger Games. Prim is the reason the entire novel occurs.

Plus, readers want to know what “the reaping” is.

Narrative hooks should be used early on, usually in the first sentence, sometimes the first paragraph, and rarer, at the end of the first page. Remember, it’s very easy for readers to bail on a story. If they’re not pulled in immediately, they won’t consider the book worth their time. There are agents, editors, and publishers who will reject an entire novel based on the first sentence! That’s a lot of pressure for the opening line, and a very good reason why your opening should be phenomenal.

Typically your original opening is not the one you end up with. As you gain a deeper understanding of your story and characters, you’ll be able to write a better opening. If you write a great hook, readers will have a hard time pulling away from the story.

What are some great narrative hooks you’ve read?

(Photo courtesy of Wikia.)

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That Critical First Page: Grabbing Readers Attention in Seconds

The first page, whether it’s a novel, short story, research paper, proposal, etc., is extremely important, if not the most important page in a piece of writing. The first page paves the way for all the other pages. It’s what grabs readers’ attention, or turns them off.

The first page sets the stakes, tone, pace, voice, and setting. It lays out the mood for the entire piece of writing. If you’re writing about a world that has magic, the first page will have magical elements to it.

Similar to how agents spend about three seconds reading a query letter, readers spend seconds on the first page. If the story hasn’t grasped their attention by the end of page one, they’re unlikely to keep reading.

The first page should:

  • Set up point of view. Is this first person, third person, second person? Is there one point of view, two, three, more? (If you are writing a multiple point of view story, it’s usually better to write in third person.) Is the point of view more limited or omniscient?
  • Article Lead - wide62398472115ew6image.related.articleLeadwide.729x410.115eyw.png1413437505967.jpg-620x349Show setting. A story begins where and when it does for a specific reason. If the opening page shows your protagonist standing, staring out the fourth floor window of a hospital, while it’s raining and the entire world seems a wash of gray, why is she there?
  • Give conflict. This is what’s at stake for the main character. Without conflict there is no story.
  • Establish the protagonist. Is the protagonist female or male? How old is the protagonist? What’s her name? Age? Why is she the protagonist? You don’t have to get into the specifics of what the protagonist looks like on the first page, but readers should know what the protagonist looks like very early on.
  • Present the tone. Is it unhappy, comical, sassy, peaceful, depressing, angry, or hopeful? There can be layers of tone within a story, especially in novels, but the overall tone remains consistent.
  • pacing trIntroduce pace. Pace is the speed at which a story occurs. Look at detective novels, events in that type of book moves quickly. However, in historical fiction, the pace is generally slower. In Young Adult literature, the pace tends to be fast, while in adult works the pace can be a little more unhurried. Does the novel jump straight into action and drama or does it meander there?

Since the first page is so crucial, it won’t be perfect the first time through. In fact, writing the best first page possible probably won’t happen until you know the entire story. So much of making a story suspenseful and surprising is hinting at what’s to come. Sometimes the foreshadowing is obvious, while other times it’s very subtle, but it’s there. And the only true way to hint at what’s to come is to know the entire story, and the better you know your story, the clearer picture you have of all those elements the first page should contain.

How do you go about writing first pages?

(Photos courtesy of The Sydney Morning Herald and Fiction University.)