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SIX QUICK HINTS ABOUT HOW TO KEEP YOUR READERS READING
We're talking about hooks here.
So, last week I talked about hooking your readers. And I promised that I’d keep talking about it.
I am keeping that promise.
Hooking your reader might make you think of pirates and nasty horror movies, but it really just means keeping your readers actually reading your book. I’ve broken it down to three sections of two hints a piece.
Let’s get started!
TWO QUICK HINTS TO KEEP YOUR READER HOOKED ON YOUR BOOK
LET THE READER IDENTIFY WITH SOMEONE.
We like stories where we can quickly identify with the main character, or at least a character, pretty early on.
Think about all the BuzzFeed quizzes that ask, “Which Succession Character Are You?” “Which Buffy Character Are You?” “Who Are You In The Wire?” “What Disney Princess Are You?”
It goes on and on.
We humans like to identify with characters who are in the stories we read or the videos we watch. It’s like a nice pat on the back that says we aren’t alone, and it creates community.
DON’T DO THIS:
Start with dialogue on the first line. It’s hard to care about the person speaking if you haven’t met them yet.
“Wow,” he said. “That is really it.”
Huh, the reader said.
2. Tell us stuff we don’t need to know.
So, in 1870 or something like that I had this great great aunt who allegedly stepped on a nail or something, not that it matters. Although, maybe it mattered to her, but yeah. I don’t know why I’m telling you this.
Neither does the reader.
3. Introduce 18 characters in the first paragraphs. It’s hard to remember who is who and who is important.
As Belinda walked inside the Timberland RV Campground in Trenton, Maine, she waved hello to Lincoln, son-in-law of the owner, a retired man with a name like Jack or something, and then she waved to Debbie, Lincoln’s wife, who was riding on a golf cart with Charlene. Peggy was perched on the back with a blonde child whose name I think is Jackie…Or maybe Sam?
Enough said, right?
4. And finally don’t describe things just for the sake of describing them.
Timberland RV Campground descended into a slight hill, managing to split itself across two town lines. It was Trenton in the front and Ellsworth in the back and the back was where there were no trees surrounding the sites, just pull-in places for the giant RVs and motorhomes and campers and busses. I have no idea which is which. I’d never been in a campground before, but they had hook-ups at some of the sites for water and sewer, or just one, and electricity. There were metal fire rings and some people had fancied up their sites with flowers and decks and lobster buoys because … Maine.
So, those were the no-nos, right? Here’s the second tip.
MAKE IT WEIRD
If possible, make your situation not quite so run-of-the-mill. You have a love story. It’s set in Paris. Okay, great. Can it be set in a tattoo parlor in Paris? Or maybe a desk shop?
Readers like both the familiar and the unexpected, so take something typical like a love story and add in a little weirdness – a love story between a human and an aquatic being. That can keep them reading.
TWO MORE TIPS! ARE YOU READY?
REMEMBER THAT EMOTION ISN’T CONSTANT
Nobody wants to read a story where the main character is always angry or always happy or always passionate or always mellow. There are ups and downs to people’s emotions in real life (WHAT? ATTACK ON TITAN ISN’T REAL LIFE?). There should be ups and downs in your character’s emotions, too.
Some writing coaches/teachers/whatever-word-you’d-like-to-use advocate changing emotions in every scene in big ways. I think this works sometimes and sometimes it sort of lulls the reader into expecting those shifts and therefore that makes those shifts less authentic.
Authentic emotion = good
Changing emotion = good
Forced emotion = bad
MAKE PEOPLE WONDER
Not knowing what is going to happen is a big deal when someone is reading the story. Make them wonder what might happen.
One method to do this is to not tell them everything right off. Give some elements of what is happening, but not all.
So, in the NEED series, I have the main character see a man in the woods at the side of the road and also pointing at her plane as it takes off. The reader thinks, “Wait. Who the heck is that man?”
In Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling, introduces the Boy Who Lived, but what did he live through and how? The reader wonders and reads to find out…
MAKE THEM FREAKING WORRIED
The reader needs to care about the character. We want Mr. Potter and Ron and Hermione to survive because those kids are lovable, but we also are worried that survival might not be an option. The stakes are high and those magical bad guys are powerful. These babies aren’t superheroes. Death is possible. Near death happens all the time. We obsess that the trio might not survive.
That’s a hook.
That high stakes conflict coupled with imperfect heroes who tyr so hard? That’s the key.
And there you go. Maybe some more next week, okay?
I hope your writing is happy and you are well!
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