A lot of don’ts and dos.
Don’t use a lot of description. Don’t open with back story. Do try and start with action. Do introduce the story theme and problem. Do establish character and setting. Do excite your reader. Do show the promise of your novel in the first sentence, in the first paragraph. Oh yeah…and hook your reader.
Hook your reader.
Hook your reader, HOOK YOUR READER!
All are true. All are dangerous. Why? Because everything rests on the HOOK!
E V E R Y T H I N G. Therefore, people work their butts off on the beginning of their novel!
Or they should be.
And then what happens?
How many of you have read a false hook? Loved the first line or paragraph, and then the book goes downhill. Such a disappointment. We don’t want a bunch of marketing tactics drawing your reader in for a one bite, for the rest of the meal to taste less than good. It sullies our reputation as story tellers.
Writers should be hooking their readers through the entire novel. Raising questions. Little and big. Keep them turning the page.
How to avoid the false hook? Look at more than what you are saying. Also look at how you are saying it. The tone.
You need to show the promise of your novel with what is going to happen and how the story will be told. They go hand in hand. The how is your needle, the what is your thread. Can’t have one without the other. Readers don’t want a great story that is written poorly. Nor do readers want a crappy story that was written beautifully.
Let’s look at how NY Times Bestselling author, Harlan Coben uses his needle and thread. Here are his first two of paragraphs of Tell No One in either the right order, or the wrong order.
Which one is the first paragraph? Does one have more or less promise than the other? **********You better not cheat. Don’t run and get your copy, or look on your Kindle.
Look at his writing.
Paragraph A :
There should have been a dark whisper in the wind. Or maybe a deep chill in the bone. Something. An ethereal song only Elizabeth or I could hear. A tightness in the air. Some textbook premonition. There are misfortunes we almost expect in life—what happened to my parents, for example—and then there are other dark moments, moments of sudden violence, that alter everything. There was my life before the tragedy. There is my life now. The two have painfully little in common.
Paragraph B :
Elizabeth was quiet for our anniversary drive, but that was hardly unusual. Even as a young girl, she’d possessed this unpredictable melancholy streak. She’d go quiet and drift into either deep contemplation of a deep funk, I never knew which. Part of the mystery, I guess, but for the first time, I could feel a chasm between us. Our relationship had survived so much. I wondered if it could survive the truth. Or for that matter, the unspoken lies.
OOOOh I got the chills!
Are you turning the page for more? Yes you are.
He has given us over 20 questions in 163 words. And his tone? The intensity of his tone is one wave after another moving us further into his story.
It is always taught in speech writing classes: you tell the audience the same information three times in the course of an informational speech. It takes three times for your reading audience to really get what you are saying. Well. Harlan does it 20 times in the first two paragraphs. He wants us to listen and keep listening.
What is the difference between Harlan Coben’s novels and an unknown suspense thriller that has just been passed over in the submission pile? He uses the what, and the how, very well. And the tone he uses is a question in itself.
But, the biggest difference: Harlan keeps his answers close to his heart. He lets go of information in a deliciously suspenseful way.
A crumb here, a morsel there.
And he doesn’t let go of those nuggets until after the reader has met the wondering threshold. It is true.
Timing is everything.
Harlan has excelled at the art of threading his hook through every moment of his Best selling novels.
Look at your WIP.
*How far does your hook get you?
*How can you work in the concept of needle and thread?
*When do you start giving up those precious answers?
Did you figure it out? Which of Harlan’s paragraphs is the first paragraph of his book? A or B?