Hook and Jab

It’s cold in Oklahoma. I promise myself every year I’m going to put up the Christmas lights before Thanksgiving—before the bitter north winds sweep down and I spend a painful hour shivering up on the ladder. Alas, I’ve procrastinated again, and last night was my night of penance. I’ve made a new year’s resolution to get them up in August next year.

Recently I’ve been working on an incredible story of a man’s battle to recover from a traumatic brain injury, or “TBI.” TBI victims never recover fully, and that this man has written a book about his experience is a miracle. I’ll share more about the book in future posts, but I want to point out a couple of writing tools he employs with great success:

Hook your reader ASAP. He begins the book with a scene that both grabs the reader and gets the plot rolling. By page two I wanted to know how the main character could have committed such an act, what the outcome of the conflict was, and to what extent the author's brain was damaged. In other words, I was hooked.

Less experienced writers have a tendency to begin a book like they would an academic paper—giving the reader background information, perhaps even stating a thesis. Leave these habits in English Comp. Action, a precarious predicament, a problem or mystery to be solved—these are things that grab readers and keep them reading. The hook has been widely written on, and rightly so; it is a fundamental tool for all forms of writing.

In a book, you have plenty of room to give background information and set the context for your story once you’ve hooked your readers. But if you don’t hook them, they never get there. I often suggest that my writers look for active (sometimes even climactic) scenes in the second half of their books that they can transplant, at least partially, to chapter one, page one. These scenes can always be revisited at the appropriate time after the full context has been laid.

Jab your reader with a surprise. This author includes the most interesting surprises. At one point he tells his family he's going to work, and they believe him, as did I the reader. However, he abruptly checks out of work early and goes to visit the antagonist—the very individual who caused his brain injury and subsequent years of suffering. What began as a typical day just became very interesting because he introduced a conflict.

Readers love to predict what’s going to happen next in your book; but unlike in real life, they also love to be wrong. Surprises reward your reader for continuing on the journey.

Note that these elements can be applied to both fiction and nonfiction.

Keep writing!


Lanette said...

I'm hooked, too. What's the name of the book? I want to read it.

Curtis Winkle, Executive Editor, Tate Publishing said...

Hi, Lanette. The book in this example is Every 21 Seconds by Brian Sweeney.

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