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Hooking Your Readers
How to Begin Your Story So it's Scrumptious
There’s this old book from 2007 by Les Edgerton called Hooked. And it’s all about writing “fiction that grabs readers at page one and never lets them go.”
And one of the key things that Edgerton says is this
“Novels and short stories, no matter how complex their plots may appear, are almost always based on a simple underlying structure: A character begins in stability in his world; this world becomes unstable after the introduction of an inciting incident; the character struggles to restore his stability; and a new stability is established at the conclusion reflecting the change the protagonist has undergone as a result of the struggle.”
That’s a tiny bit wordy, right?
So here is a simpler way Edgerton lays it out:
Stability + Inciting Incident = Instability + Struggle to Resolve That Instability = New Stability.
So, in the beginning of your story there’s some stability. Others call this the “set up.” You can call it whatever works for you. But it is almost always there.
The first step of hooking your reader is making that beginning sexy enough to keep them reading.
Every writer and storyteller wants the beginning of their story to be enticing, sexy, something that someone can’t put down.
A story is like a hot fudge sundae. You want the reader to gobble the whole thing down and that’s not going to happen if the first few bites suck.
Luckily, there are a few components that absolutely help us writers make the beginnings of our stories sexy.
Hook – This is the first sentence or first paragraph. You want it to clutch the reader in its hands and never let go.
What makes a sexy hook? A mystery. A question. A strong voice.
Disruption – This is the tension. This is the suspense. Will there be trouble in the beginning? Can you sense it like a good phone psychic in the quivering resonance of the sentences and word choice? Are there big stakes?
Backstory – I know! I know! It’s a naughty beast and we must be wary of it before it takes over our entire lawn like some sort of invasive weed. But you do want to sprinkle a little bit of it here and there.
Emotion – There needs to be some emotion on the page and that emotion needs to be detailed and sexy and all about the showing and not the telling.
Don’t say, “Shaun was sexy.” Say, “Shaun rubbed that ice cream sundae all over his bulging pecs and he didn’t fart at all. He was the perfect husband.”
A Want and a Must Have – Your character needs to want things. Those things need to be surface level (an ice cream sundae) and a bigger yearning (to finally feel loved). They need to be on the page throughout the whole book and inform the entire book.
Things that Suck – Similarly, most books involve the transformation of a character on their journey. To have a positive transformation, there needs to be things wrong in your character’s life. Those things need to be there in the beginning.
These are the first steps, right? And I’ll be talking more about this. So, do not panic. The first scene gets easier the more you learn about it. I promise. And you can totally do it.
The hook is about the first line, the first scene, the first chapter. It’s about character introductions and scene structure, but let’s start here for today, okay?
You’ve got this writer. Go make yourself a sundae.
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