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Writing Tips for Fiction Writers!


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  How to Hook Your Readers - Right From the Start
by Shawn Scarber

I've always felt it was important to catch your reader from the very start with a good hook. But just how do you go about creating a good hook? The key to a good hook is hiding as much information as possible while revealing enough to interest a reader. After the first paragraph a reader should be asking questions about the characters involved (who?), their motivations (what?), the story's time and place (When and where?), and finally the reason behind all this action (why?).

A pro can create many of these kinds of questions in the first sentence. Let's look at a few and see what I'm talking about.

The creatures came again last night.
-- Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge

This creates a whole new list of questions. Who or what are these creatures? Why did they come? What happened when they came? If they came again, what happened the first time they came?

I lost all interest in sex after I died.
-- Water-Skiing Down the Styx

Another list of great questions. Who is making this statement? Why are they dead? If they are dead, how are they speaking? Why would being dead make him lose interest in sex?

Believe me, the last thing we ever expected to find was a Snark.
-- Hunting the Snark

What the heck is a snark? What were they expecting to find? Who is doing the finding? What happened when they found the Snark?

As you can see, a good hook gets the reader asking questions. This is one of the reasons you will hear so many experienced writers encouraging you to 'show-not-tell'. Showing by its very nature raises questions in the readers mind.

On a broader scale you may want to use more than just gimmicky first lines to hook a reader. A reader wants interesting characters doing interesting things. They want to know that the investment in time they are making with your story is going to pay off on an emotional and mental level. How do you accomplish this?

Let me try and illustrate this.

We have a vampire. Perhaps he is a ruler and to keep this power he must gain a queen. Now we need motivation for this change. Let's say he has to find a queen because in this world vampire ruler ship must be equally represented by both sexes. However, this particular vampire doesn't want an undead queen because he has fallen in love with a mortal. The only problem is unless he takes a queen he will be stripped of his throne and powers. On top of this, if it is ever discovered that he is secretly hiding a love affair with a mortal human woman he will be killed by a council of vampire rulers. What we do is just keep piling problems onto our vampire hero until we find a place to start.

Now let's look at the bride to be. Maybe she is just as disinterested in this ruler ship. Maybe she has motivations to be somewhere else, and with someone else, but must make the relationship work because her family name is riding on its success. She is more practical and less emotional, but still needs to gain the vampire ruler's love.

If we want to open the scene with these two meeting, how would we go about doing this?

Here we must do a little world building. Consider that this sort of thing has been a problem in the past. The council will most likely have systems in place for introductions. Perhaps the prospective rulers are taken on a series of 'dates'. Maybe they communicate via legal council, building and designing terms of agreement. Whatever it is they do, it must seem real, it must seem like the way things should be for that world.

So where do we start this epic love story? At the point that change is introduced to the main character.

If it is Vlad, then we might start with a councilor telling him he must accept the bride or give up the crown.

If it is the mortal, then we start with Vlad telling her the bad news.

If it is the queen to be, then we start with a councilor telling her she has been selected to be queen to Vlad.

All of the characters will have goals that appose the change. Vlad will be against gaining a queen and will fight and argue as much as he can without losing the crown. The mortal will find some way to put herself in the position of this would be queen, or maybe even attempt to kill her. The would-be queen will try and fight to get out of the arranged marriage. In the end though, each character will be trapped into doing something they are against. If we, the reader, connect with that character emotionally then we will cheer for their success and feel their pain when they fail.

I hope this helps. This isn't the only way to make a great hook. Any other suggestions would be great to hear.

Copyright 2003 Shawn Scarber

You can meet Shawn here:


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