1. Cyrano
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    Cyrano Member

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    Hooking an Audience

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Cyrano, Aug 29, 2009.

    Many times I have turned away from a book, simply because I couldn't get into it. However there are books where right on page one I was swept up in the story, and was unable to set the book down until I was finished.

    What's the best way to "hook" an audience from the very beginning of your novel?
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Good writing always keeps me hooked. In the end you can't please everyone, and there will be some people who quit reading your piece after the first few pages. But the best way I can think of to hook someone is to make sure your writing is the best it can be.
     
  3. The-Joker
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    The-Joker Contributing Member Contributor

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    The best way t hook I think is, is conflict. You don't have to start off with the main conflict of the plot, but as long as there's some tension about something, then the reader will want to know more. You have to give your reader something that they want to see resolved. Whether it's resolution comes on the next page or next four hundred pages.
     
  4. Carthonn
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    Carthonn Active Member

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    I agree. Conflict is always interesting and keeps the readers invested. Long descriptions of scenery is bogus, BS and boring.
     
  5. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    My opinion on this has sort of evolved to where I now see that there's no "best way". Some books that I love started off with conflict--it put you right into the thick of things. The conflict could be physical or mental/emotional. Others introduced a character that intrigued me or that I connected to because of issues they were dealing with to which I could relate. Some people are enchanted by certain settings, and so entering the story with a focus on that hooks them.
     
  6. Nobeler Than Lettuce
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    Nobeler Than Lettuce Contributing Member

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    It's not about hooking a character so much as it is about stating your thesis. I mean (I would hope) we're all writing for something much deeper. So treat the beginning of a novel like an essay. For example: In 1984 Orwell starts with "...and the clocks were striking 13". Now this instantly draws the reader out of their comfort zone by introducing something odd while maintaining a consistent view of the universe Orwell wants to depict. It both hooks the reader, and is held in common with his thesis.

    Like the poster above me mentioned, there is no best way. Start the novel with a gunshot, a description of a church, some trumpets at a funeral, a riderless horse, a story about a tree, or like Vonnegut did in Slaughterhouse, with the ending. It doesn't matter as long as you get your point across.

    As a side note: Are you writing literature? Or are you writing dime novels? Ask yourself.
     
  7. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    You'll never hook every potential reader, but you have to make the story/character/action interesting enough that the readers want to continue. It could be immediate conflict, it could be an intriguing question, it could be colorful prose that just seems to flow.

    Cyrano, look at those novels that caught you in the first few pages, and see what it was that got your attention, and hooked you into wanting to read more.

    Terry
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    There are tbings to avoid, even if there are different approaches to grabbing te reader. Number one on my list of things to avoid is the background lecture, also known as the infodump. Contrary to popular belief, readers do not need to know background information at the outset of the story. It's far better to keep them wondering, so when they do encounter a nugget of background information, it's like finding a gemstone in your garden.

    If you want to hook the reader into the story, get into the story right away.

    Another mistake I have even seen seasoned writers make is introducing too many charactersa at a time. It's far better to introduce only one or two characters in a scene, so the reader has a chance to fix them in his or her mind. It's like walking into a party comprised of people you don't know. When you're introduced to everyone at once, you're lucky if you can remember who any of them are ten minutes later. But if you talk to one person at a timme for a couple minutes, you stand a much better chance of keeping them straight.

    So focus on one or two characters in the opening. If you have to have other important characyters present in the scene, keep them in the background for the time being. We can get to know them later.

    I favor starting with a character dealing with a problem. It doesn't have to be life or death, with bombs and bullets, but something that shows the character reacting to a situation to reveal an element of character.
     
  9. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    I've read some books or stories that from the very beginning it is like water to a man in the desert, you can't get enough fast enough. You read the words as fast as your comprehension will allow...and yet you hunger for more even after the book is finished. I like those types of stories the best.

    Then there are others that start out with the appetizer that is very appealing, hinting at how great the main course will be, so you read on at a steady pace until you get to the dessert that is totally and fully satisfying. Those are my second favorite kinds of books.

    Then there are books that set the hook but never fully realize the potential of the catch...they tend to leave you feeling flat in the middle and unsatisfied at the end. These are books I never read again.

    Then there are the books that start out like a stinking rotting corpse and you put it down after the first page feeling thoroughly disgusted. These are books I never even buy.

    It greatly depends on the skill and style of the writer. Both of the first types of books are great books, the kind that get read over and over again. The hook at the beginning is so striking that it makes you read on, each paragraph, each chapter, is so enticing and that you can't put it down without knowing what happens next.

    I know that is what I aim for. Getting the reader so involved in the story that they can't stop reading. That's what the hook is for.

    I just stumbled upon a promotion for a book called John Dies at the End by David Wong (coming out 9-29). On the website is the first part of the next book, John and Dave in the temple of X'al'naa''thuthuthu. From reading the first 1/3 of the sequel I can tell the that book coming out is going to be good.

    I think there are some people who have a natural ability, built into their DNA, much like people who can play music by ear without any training. However, like playing music by ear, the ability to write prose that is highly entertaining is a learnable skill.

    Edit: I realized I didn't actually answer the question. I don't think there is any one formula for writing an exciting hook. Each one depends on the story and how entertaining the whole of the story is. I always find starting with something of a mystery at the beginning (not necessarily a thriller or sci-fi, but any type of mystery will do) to get me hooked. Even if I am a little confused at the beginning, the not knowing what is happening or why makes me want to read on. Hooks that make me want to discover, along with the characters, what is going on, are usually the best hooks. I can't wait to see how the author works the things out makes me read the rest of the book.
     
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  10. JoeMusings
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    In Stein on Writing, Sol Stein says the average bookstore goer picks up a novel and gives the novel five pages before deciding whether to buy it. He recommends the writer grab the reader's attention as quickly as possible, if possible on the very first sentence. He cites many examples of this, my favorite one being, "I wanted to strangle mother but I knew I'd have to touch her to do it."
     
  11. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    I just recently read a book like that.
    I was interested, but ultimately, it was a book that I shall never read again. One of the coolest characters turns out to be a bad guy who dies a miserable, pathetic death. The main character dies.
    It was just. . . a crashing wave of disappointment.
     
  12. Operaghost
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    Start in The Middle! Obviously it will be that start of your book, but if you start with teh ball rolling and a major event or conflict happening then the reader will want to knwo more. Think about the opening of James Bond Movies fo rinstance which all have their own mini narrative to draw you into the plot, Whislt it doesn't have to be as complex as this, starting with a hook in this way will encourage people to find out more, Jaws for instance opens up with a killing, as does Jurassic Park, (novels and indeed the films) and all this before the main characters have even been introduced. whilst many horrors open up with the first killing /scare/ transformation in order to start the story running
     
  13. Speedy
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    Speedy Contributing Member Contributor

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    A guess its different for every genre, for yself fantasy is my life.

    I always like novels tha always make you question yourself or question something. And i like the a mix of resolutions (Not at the end but sprinkled throughout) ad some questions never answered.

    If i read a book, to only have it answered a chapterlater, its a sure way for me to close the ook for good.

    Also i want a story told to me (yet good enough for my to grasp part of myself), not a story thats thats being read for the writer only (like to many Stephen King books of late. I swear that mans is only in it for himself and not the reader anymore).
     
  14. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    there's no magic formula for hooking the reader...

    some of the best writers do it with action, some with description... some with dialog and some with narrative... many times it's a bit taken out of the middle of a story and many times it's the very start of one...

    the only thing all good hooks have in common is that elusive, hard to define goal, 'good writing'!
     
  15. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    What do you think is the most fascinating question in your own book? Start with that. Pretend you don't know your own story (pretend you're some other person) and read the first paragraph. Does it give you goosebumps? Then it's settled.

    If you can, present it as a paradox. The human mind is wired to put things in order, so if you present something that doesn't make sense (but suggests that it could make sense), then the brain will obsessively look for an answer.
     
  16. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I'd like to believe that good books start with great, stylish, gripping first sentences, but (after opening as many books as I can while I work (at a bookstore)) that the majority of openings, even in books I love, are really mundane and dull. Obviously they start doing interesting things soon after, but I dunno, I just have this idea that first sentences should be this perfect crystallised essence of that writer's style, and the novel itself, but its never true. Well, rarely. So I guess don't stress too much about grabbing them from the first sentence, just go with Maia, and begin with good writing, and follow that with more good writing.
     
  17. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    I totally agree with that. In retrospect, I've been taken in by many fascinating first sentences, only for the story to be dull after all. Some of my favorite books start off not bland but exposing the character in a non-scintillating way. But then I'm taken in by character development first and foremost.
     

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