All Things Writing

Start That Story Off Right! How to Set Your Hook.

February 01, 2022 Bryan the Writer Season 3 Episode 3
All Things Writing
Start That Story Off Right! How to Set Your Hook.
Show Notes Transcript

Welcome to the show everyone! Hope you are doing well. This is All Things Writing and I am your host, American author, Bryan Nowak.

let’s get hooking? 

Have you ever read a book that was so woefully lacking in any kind of hook that you put it down and never picked it up again? I most certainly have and if you have too, you are not in the minority. If you are not hooked, then why should you continue reading?

In an article written by Sharon Short in Writer’s Digest there were five characteristics of a great beginning. I will make sure and post the link to writer’s digest in the show notes so you can check them out yourself. Well worth checking out.

She focuses, in the article, on five characteristics of a great beginning. 

The first is an overall sense of immediacy. She says that readers must have a reason to read, even if that reason is visceral or lies in the subconscious.

It was like I was saying, you need to present your audience with some reason to continue reading or they will just put the book down and walk away. And no one wants that.

She suggests that it is perfectly fine to start with dialogue or action, but you need to still pique your reader’s curiosity.

The second characteristic is the tone you set. She also uses the word tone in the article. 

You must ensure that word choice and overall tone in the beginning of your work will tell the reader what to expect. Are they going to laugh? Are they going to cry? Will they be terrified? You need to make sure and build that into the beginning.

Third is suspense. I am a fan of saying that all books are mysteries since you are starting with something you have never read so you have no idea how it is going to end. It is a mystery in that sense.

Sharon says, “just hint at what’s to come.”

A great example is in the first paragraph of the book Watchers by Dean Koontz. It is stated that the main character is taking only “…a package of Oreo cookies, a large canteen full of orange-flavored Kool-aid, and a fully loaded Smith and Wesson .38 Chief’s Special.”

To me, that is a great hook. You know this guy is planning for something and not something good.

Next Sharon’s article mentions something that drives me crazy. She specifically calls out specificity as an important characteristic of the writing. 

What she is getting at is the importance of getting to the point when you are still hooking the reader. 

And lastly fair play. In my own words, don’t offer them a steak dinner and then serve them linguini. Or maybe I am just hungry?

You want it to work, so there has to be foreshadowing of something fixin’ to go wrong. You cannot just let it lay on the page there if your reader expects horror, mystery, scifi, etc. Let your reader know that there is enough in store to keep them moving through the pages.

Remember the idea that your first chapter is essentially a contract with your readers. Don’t mislead them.

Want to know more? Check out Writer's Digest here! 


 

 

 

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Welcome to the show everyone! Hope you are doing well. This is All Things Writing and I am your host, American author, Bryan Nowak.

What do I write? Oh good question. I write horror, mystery, and science fiction novels. By the way, in case you missed the announcement, my novel, The Bagorian Chronicles, was re-released on the 28th of January by Dingbat Publishing. That novel that was picked up along with the next book in the series. Interestingly enough, it was the first book that got the attention of the publisher and not the second, which was what I sent them. But, that is the way these things work sometimes.

So, what is The Bagorian Chronicles. Well, have you ever wondered how you would fare when you were pulled completely out of your element? Our Protagonist, Haley Meadows, has the chance to find out when she suddenly finds herself kidnapped and on the space ship far from home. 

See, Haley is not really an ordinary girl. On her 16th birthday she follows a spaceship landing in the middle of the night near her house. As it turns out, there are plenty of people who most definitely don’t want you knowing about aliens. The U.S. military, for example. When she is arrested by government officials, she is given the opportunity to come to work for them as a highschool intern is she promises to keep her mouth shut.

Five years later, she is faced with a conundrum. She is studying journalism and discovering how unethical journalists can be. In her job with a government agency where she should be thrilled with what she is doing, she is kind of bored with the routine. I mean, working with aliens is great, but she is really just working for a galactic concierge service.

While all of this swirls around her, add in the minor problem of finding herself light years away from home onboard the flagship of an organization known simply as “The Order”, a galactic crime syndicate dedicated to controlling all crime in our galaxy.

If that was not complicated enough, she finds herself at the end of a disruptor.

Did that wet your whistle? I sure hope so. I am going to tell you to do a search on the great googlizer and put in the search term, Dingbat Publishing, and you can find the Bagorian Chronicles. While you are checking out the book, check out the other great authors on the page. I will most certainly put the link in the show notes for you to find it.

The next item we have to clear from our extensive to-do list today is review the stats for the last ten days. Who is listening to the show the most? Well, truly an international flare going on this week. Vancouver, British Columbia is in the number one spot! Then we have Brisbane, Australia plowing onto the scene and taking the number two spot. So, truly 1st and 2nd place are not in the U.S. I am super proud of that. Next we have the fine people of Antelope, California, just north east of Sacremento. Then my good friends in Houston, Texas. Finally, in the number 5 spot is Ashburn, Virginia. Ashburn, for those of you who are familiar with northern virginia, know it is right next to my hometown of Sterling here in Loudoun County.

No matter where you are listening to the show from, thank you so much for joining us. I appreciate all of you. If you like what we are doing here and want to show that appreciation, hit that like button on whatever app you are listening on. That makes sure you know when the next show comes out. And if you want to support the show financially, which is great appreciated, you can either subscribe to my patreon page or hit me up through paypal. All those links are in the show notes, but we got a show to do, so lets get cooking. Or should I say, let’s get hooking? 

Get your mind out of the gutter! We are talking to day about the almighty hook this week on All Things Writing.

Have you ever read a book that was so woefully lacking in any kind of hook that you put it down and never picked it up again? I most certainly have and if you have too, you are not in the minority. If you are not hooked, then why should you continue reading?

My editor has pointed out the importance of ensuring you put in a punchy finish to each of your chapters. She hits on this because this is sort of like a secondary hook that needs to come at the end of each chapter. If you don’t give your reader a reason to turn that page, they are going to turn off the light and go to bed. You don’t want that!

So, what is a hook? 

As crazy as it seems, this statement alone will send authors to their respective corners to put on the boxing gloves and come out fighting. There is a visual for you. J.K. Roling and Stephen King going ten rounds the ring. I suppose I would put my money on the Harry Potter creator.

Anyway, it is not as dire as I make it seem and I am kidding when I suggest so much dissention. I think most of us would agree that the hook is really the reason our reader keeps reading the story, novel, play, script, what ever you have that you are reading.

If you scour the countryside, you will find all kinds of advice like you have to hook them in the first paragraph, the first few lines, the first page, by the end of chapter one, etc. Literally there have been tons of advice. I am going to steal a little bit from an article written by Sharon Short in Writer’s Digest as there were five characteristics of a great beginning. I will make sure and post the link to writer’s digest in the show notes. But first, what do I think?

Okay, understand this is Bryan Nowak’s point of view and no one else’s, but I think you will not find too many authors out there who are against what I am about to say.

Your hook really must have these two characteristics. The first being, again my opinion, that it shows up in the first two pages of the book. Preferably the first page, but I would go with the second and live with that.

The second element is that the hook needs to give the reader the question they need to answer by reading the rest of the book. For example, in the Bagorian Chronicles, I give you the appearance of a spaceship. In Crimson Tassels, I give you the imagery of an axe. In Riapoke I give you this idea of a missing person.

Like a true detective story, every book needs to provide your reader with a question they need to answer and the only way they can answer the question is by continuing on reading. That is not to say you don’t need more hooks, but certainly your major one needs to do these two things if you are going to keep them moving through the book.

So, what advice did Sharon share? 

She focuses, in the article, on five characteristics of a great beginning. 

The first is an overall sense of immediacy. She says that readers must have a reason to read, even if that reason is visceral or lies in the subconscious.

It was like I was saying, you need to present your audience with some reason to continue reading or they will just put the book down and walk away. And no one wants that.

She suggests that it is perfectly fine to start with dialogue or action, but you need to still pique your reader’s curiosity.

In another show I talked about building that rollercoaster profile of a hill you want to bring your readers up. How would it look if you took them first on a long ride over a fairly flat track? Boring would be the word I would use. You need to start getting up that hill right away or risk losing them.

The second characteristic is the tone you set. She also uses the word tone in the article. 

There was a viral video going around of the burial of a man in England. He arranged to have a recording of himself installed in the casket. In it, he shouts that the joke was over and he was not dead. He then begins singing a song as the casket is lowered into the ground.

What does this have to do with anything? Well, I bring it up because it is a great reminder that the most somber of occasions can be hilarious if you write it that way. This man wanted people to remember him as a jokester. So, he left them laughing which is what he wanted to do. He controlled the narrative as it were.

You must ensure that word choice and overall tone in the beginning of your work will tell the reader what to expect. Are they going to laugh? Are they going to cry? Will they be terrified? You need to make sure and build that into the beginning.

Third is suspense. I am a fan of saying that all books are mysteries since you are starting with something you have never read so you have no idea how it is going to end. It is a mystery in that sense.

That is not really what we are talking about here. A little bit ago, I mentioned the rollerocaster hill. You need to start up that hill in your story or novel right away or you will not keep the reader’s attention. Sharon says, “just hint at what’s to come.”

Remember when I mentioned the axe in the first chapter of my book Crimson Tassels? That is exactly what I am doing. The axe plays a critical role in the story and will show up again later. I hint that the axe holds a special place in the narrative.

Another great example is in the first paragraph of the book Watchers by Dean Koontz. It is stated that the main character is taking only “…a package of Oreo cookies, a large canteen full of orange-flavored Kool-aid, and a fully loaded Smith and Wesson .38 Chief’s Special.”

To me, that is a great hook. You know this guy is planning for something and not something good.

Suspense can be a little harder to build when you are writing short form, since you have to get to the point of building suspense right away. But that is when you really have to do some solid writing and ensure that you can hand some of the details over to the reader and not explain everything to the Nth degree.

Next Sharon’s article mentions something that drives me crazy. She specifically calls out specificity as an important characteristic of the writing. 

What she is getting at is the importance of getting to the point when you are still hooking the reader. But more specifically I would add that ultimately you may have the greatest world building, the greatest characters, etc. But you have to resist that temptation to begin with this hugely elaborate backstory that is going to just confuse and disenfranchise your readers.

I was actually trying to rack my brain for an example where I have seen it happen, but I can’t think of one right now. Suffice it to say that it is important to not try and deliver everything in that first chapter. Backstory is like a nice cup of tea or a fine wine. Meant to be enjoyed and savored over time, not gulped down all at once.

We see that a lot with new writers who convince themselves they need to explain a few things to the reader first. No, you really don’t have to.

And lastly fair play. In my own words, don’t offer them a steak dinner and then serve them linguini. Or maybe I am just hungry?

As you know I am a horror guy. It is what I like. But if I were to start out a novel with all fluffy bunnies and kittens, then turn to the horror, that would be off-putting. Sure, there are ways to do that kind of thing, but you have to have killer bunnies and kittens then who turn toward murder after being infected by a weird strain of a bacteria in their food. But you cant just start with the nice bunnies and kittens in the first chapter then have them kill people in the next. It is just a bad thing to do.

You want it to work, so there has to be foreshadowing of something fixin’ to go wrong. You cannot just let it lay on the page there if your reader expects horror, mystery, scifi, etc. Let your reader know that there is enough in store to keep them moving through the pages.

Remember the idea that your first chapter is essentially a contract with your readers. Don’t mislead them.

Now, I am most certainly not going to read the entire article to you. But I really want you to go out and take a look at Writer’s Digest. While they are not a sponsor of the show, I do really like their magazine. Writer’s Digest is a good organization and they put out a great magazine with lots of articles in it. It is only one of two magazines I subscribe to. So, check it out.

That is a wrap for this episode of all things writing. Thank you for being here and taking a listen. I will be back next week with more fun things to discuss. I am not sure who I will have on, but we shall see. I may just delve into another issue having to do with our fun filled world of writing.

I actually do want to do an episode where I talk about how to introduce books to prospective readers based on how they react to you.

Remember that if you enjoyed the show, hit like so you can know when the next show comes out. Please consider a donation to the show to keep us going. I know podcasts have been a great help to some people through COVID times and I don’t mind doing it, but a little tip every once in a while helps keep the lights on.

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Again, thank you for listening, no matter where you are. On behalf of All Things Writing, this is Bryan Nowak, signing off.

 

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