Grabbing, and keeping, a reader's attention is paramount for an author, especially in today's crowded book market. Bored readers won't become rabid fans. Robin Murphy shares tips on how to keep your readers' attention and keep them turning the pages until the end.
According to Just Publishing Advice, Amazon Associates states there is one new Kindle book published every minute and forty-two seconds on Amazon. Can you believe it?
Did that get your attention?
I hope so because this is an example of a hook, which is how you open the first sentence or paragraph to grab a reader’s attention and keep them glued to the very end of your story or article.
Your hook can contain a statistic such as this, a quote, or a shocking anecdote. With so many books published, it’s vitally important to have a great first “hook” in your story because let’s face it; there is a lot of stiff competition out there to keep a readers attention and build a fan base. But you’ll also need more than that first sentence or paragraph to keep the reader hooked.
Here are some tips on how to do just that:
What Makes a Good Chapter?
Ideally, each chapter should contain a small dramatic arc within the larger dramatic arc of the entire novel. The story or article rises to its climax through peaks and valleys of dramatic tension formed by scenes within chapters.
Every chapter should rise to a small climax and then relax at the end, which creates a bridge to the next chapter. Using tension through a problem of intrigue keeps the reader wanting more.
It doesn’t matter how many scenes you have in a chapter, just make sure one peak is larger than the rest.
Creating the Scene
A scene is a series of action that carries the reader from one point of view, during a particular period of time, in a specific place. It uses the same dramatic arc as discussed above in creating a chapter.
A chapter could consist of a single scene or two or more brief scenes. Make sure every scene has a climax point, and the climax point signals a new scene. Be sure your peak doesn’t occur too early because the rest of the chapter can seem flat and excessively long.
The Three Rules of Creating a Strong Scene:
- Advance the plot
- Deepen characterization
- Enrich the setting
You can have a scene with only two of these things, but it won’t be as strong. If it only does one of these three things, then you’ll need to revise to make it stronger.
You can introduce your main character for the first time, describe the scenery, and convey where the story takes place. It may not advance the main plot, but it’s fine for the first scene in a novel and contains two of the three rules.
Character, First and Foremost
While vivid description can hook your reader, characterization is what really matters. You want your readers to care about and admire your character.
Make them real and complex by giving them a health issue, or struggling with difficult childhood memories, or even someone diagnosed with PTSD. When readers can relate to your character, they’ll be hooked and ready to read and learn more about their story.
Give Your Character Something to Do
While description is a good way to introduce your character and setting, you’ll want to add more action to make the ride exciting.
An example could be a drunk who creates a disruption on a subway and confronts your character. Your character may stop the drunk from accosting another person. Maybe your character’s father was an abusive alcoholic, and he is incensed with anyone who drinks.
It’s all in the details
At first, the action, details of character, and the setting must carry your story. No matter what is going on in your character’s day, the details need to be vivid enough to engage your readers’ interest.
The story may just be getting started, but readers are already making up their minds if the character is real enough to care about, and whether they’re going to continue reading the next 400 pages.
Invite the Reader Into Your Story
Let’s use the premise of your character and the drunk on the subway. Your character stood up to a drunk to protect another passenger. The readers will think not only does your character take care of himself, but he also comes to the defence of someone else.
You’ve just created reader hooks and a good peak of tension with 1) an admirable character, 2) fast-paced with action, and 3) a warning of trouble brewing.
Develop Your Hooks
Introduce your story and the main character with an interesting, vivid scene. Create strong hooks to grab your reader. Show your character in action so the reader can learn their personality. Let your imagination roam.
You can open a scene with your character scuba diving on a reef and the regulator malfunctions, and they run out of air, or someone is about to walk down the aisle and has second thoughts about getting married. Just be sure your character is believable. Create something fun, exciting, or even dangerous.
This is the fun part of writing, using your creativity to create a world for others to enjoy.
Who Is Telling Your Story?
At some point, you’ve decided whether to write in first-person using the “I” voice such as, I focused the lens of my Pentax-K 500 and saw the heaving creamy breasts bobble over the pink lace underwire push-up bra.
Or third person using “he” or “she.” She lay like a battered rag doll with haunted lifeless eyes staring up into nowhere. That choice is entirely up to you, the writer.
Whatever you choose, make sure your character’s voice is strong. A boring, monotone voice will lose the reader. If you’re having difficulty choosing which voice to use, try writing a few sentences in both. You’ll soon discover which voice resonates with you, and will work better for your story.
One possible “hook” in the opening of your story is to use a dramatic plot event and then cut quickly to a scene from the past. However, be sure your flashback is critical in telling your story.
Don’t include them unnecessarily. It could potentially stop forward momentum, pushing your reader backward. Your story should move like a steam engine: pushing forward with great speed. You also don’t want your reader to become more interested in the flashback. Make sure the flashback’s benefits outweigh the drawbacks.
Show, Don’t Tell
This goes without saying. There is much controversy over this method, but I for one, agree with showing instead of telling what’s taking place with your characters. I, as a reader, love being pulled into the story as if I was sitting right there having tea, or fighting for my life hanging on a cliff. When telling, you’re stating a fact.
An example would be your character is old, short, sad, or happy. Whereas, in showing you help the reader see this in their mind’s eye by describing your character being short because others in the story are looking down at him. Sad? Your character’s eyes are puffy from crying, or their nose is red from blowing so hard, or simply a tear-stained face.
Remember, actions speak louder than words.
[Note from Joanna: See my free video tutorial on Show Don't Tell here.]
Here are three examples of narrative distance:
Near-zero distance – This type of narrative is where you bring the reader inside the head of the character. They only see what the character sees, hears, and tastes, etc.
Moderate distance – The reader is standing back, not looking through the eyes of the character. As readers, we get more details, but we no longer share the character’s experience.
Extreme distance – This allows you to show the reader the larger picture without the limitations of a single character’s point of view.
I hope these tips have helped you with creating the hook for your story or article, as well as ways to keep the reader wanting more. However you choose to write your story, develop your characters, or use your hook, remember…keep on writing!
Which of these suggestions do you use when you're hooking your reader? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.
Robin Murphy is an Amazon best-selling author of a paranormal mystery series. She also writes chick-lit, and nonfiction.
She is a speaker on author platforms, self-publishing, and marketing, and the sole-proprietor of Rookie Writers Solutions.
A Complete How To Guide for Rookie Writers is a practical, hands-on and user-friendly book to enable a rookie writer to learn how to get their newly created work produced and available to readers.
[Cranes fighting image courtesy Chris Sabor and Unsplash. Orange underground tunnel image courtesy Ebenezer Abebe and Unsplash. Train image courtesy Dan Roizer and Unsplash.]
The advice given above is good but all is written in the abstract. People reason by analogy. That means we need examples and stories to absorb information in useful form. Next time, please illustrate your points with examples.
Shaquanda Dalton says
Thank you very much Robin for the great advice. I love the concept of having climatic arcs inside of each scene and I will try to use that more to keep my readers hooked!
You’re very welcome. Glad this was helpful. I appreciate the kind words.