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Hooking the Reader

Originally published March–April 2008

Hooking the Reader: An Introduction

    When we write, we want to give our readers the same kind of experience LSU fans had when Les Miles had our boys go for it on fourth-down not once, not twice, but five times in a neck-and-neck game against defending national champs, Florida. We want to surprise them with faking a field goal and scoring with a no-look, over-the-shoulder touchdown pass to the kicker . . .
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Hooking the Reader: Love at First Sight

    Do you believe in love at first sight? I don’t, but that’s not actually important for this discussion.
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Hooking the Reader: The Character Investment

    Yet there are some authors who are so adept at characterization, they can introduce a gloomy or negative character as a POV protagonist in the beginning of their novels and they don’t lose us. The secret is building the rest of the narrative around the character so that the reader feels invested in what happens to the character—whether for ill or for good—and wants to know what happens next.
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Hooking the Reader: Scene Two, Take Five

    Starting scenes in media res, or in the middle of the action, hooks the reader. Just as we don’t want to open the book with the boring scene of someone going through the morning routine (unless he wakes up to discover he’s metamorphosed into a giant cockroach overnight), you don’t want to start any scene in your book that way. Readers don’t want the mundane, day-to-day stuff.
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Hooking the Reader: That Scene Is a Disaster!

    Once you know what your character’s goal for the scene is, you must determine what Bickham calls the “disaster” that will happen at the end of the scene to keep them from reaching that goal. Now, when I first read this, I thought: But that doesn’t work in every genre. But I think I’ve figured out what he means.
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Hooking the Reader: “To Be Continued . . .”

    Picture this scenario: You’re watching your absolutely favorite show. Things are getting dicy for the heroes. All of a sudden, there’s an explosion! Your heroes’ lives are in danger! What’s going to happen to them? Are they okay? Will they survive? Then, the screen goes black. And then you see: TO BE CONTINUED. “NOOOOOOOOOOO!” you scream. “I have to know what happens next!”
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Hooking the Reader: Facing the Consequences

    To keep the reader hooked, [Bickham] suggests creating a diversion that stops the hero’s ability to complete the task or work through the conflict of that scene. The character wants to move on, but is thwarted because his scene is postponed, left hanging. This creates a delay, a setback, a “mini-disaster.” In cinematography, they call this the “cut-away.”
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