Sunday, April 4, 2010

Hook Your Readers

Advertising copywriters insist that a good poster capture the attention of a commuter dashing to catch the 8:05 train. That’s a tough chore—almost as tough as grabbing a reader in the first 30 words of your short story.

The grabber is the narrative hook, an intriguing opener that makes the story impossible to put down. I’ve started scrutinizing the openers from flash fiction sites that depend on a feed into your mailbox and a click-through to their site. These teasers must make you hit their link or they’ve failed. Check these out from Everyday Weirdness (http://everydayweirdness.com):

• “Faith Stands Guard” by Deborah A. Blood: “Holy shit, Faith,” Todd cried, hopping awkwardly to avoid the small terrier. “Do you have to lay there?” He continued toward the kitchen, shouting over his shoulder, “I’m gonna end up stepping on your dog!”...
• “A Note on Spiderlings” by Brenda Stokes: Not all spiders eat their young. Take this from one who knows. I love my spiderlings. All hundreds. I ’d never dream of eating them. It’s barbaric! But sometimes, exceptions must be made....
• “Scuttle” by Milo J Fowler: True Story: I never thought buying a gallon of milk would prove to be fatal. He came at us like the Marshmallow Man, pasty but hairy and flushed and sweaty, gargling and huffing, staring straight through us as he staggered, both arms flailing out...
• “Service” by M.E. Ray: The second person that showed up was carrying a shotgun. He had two Labs with him and looked like he’d been hunting. He made eye contact from the far side of the smoking crater and we both looked down at the cooling metallic teardrop embedded below...

Or these, from Short Story Library (http://shortstory.us.com/):

• “Wild Weather” by David McVey: There are two ways that I could tell this story. I could start at the beginning and keep going until the story ends. That, of course, is how it happened. But it’s not how I experienced it nor how I remember it. In particular, it’s not how I remember Kathy and she, after all, is the...
• “I Will Not Eat Cookies” by Amy Corbin: Recently, I gave all my size 4 clothing to Goodwill. This was very hard to do. I’d been holding on to those things for 10 years. I told myself I was not giving up on being size 4. It was just that these clothes were no longer in style, and when I got down to...

On of my favorite story feeds comes from Big Jewel (www.thebigjewel.com) This week’s lead features “New Old Wives Tales” by Whitney Collins: "If someone dies on Good Friday, they go directly to heaven. If someone dies on Fat Tuesday, they probably had diabetes. If your nose itches, a fool is about to kiss you. If your crotch itches, blame Derek. Be sure to wait an hour after eating before dumpster diving. If you carry an acorn in your pocket, good [...]"

C’mon, tell me that most of these leads make you want to shut out the world and read on.
Our reading culture is changing because of multi-purposing distractions. The TV is going, the iPod is playing, the cell phone is dinging new messages, you’re trying to Facebook a comment on your netbook—all simultaneously—and some presumptuous writer wants your attention? Get serious!

Darrin Miller states in www.Writing.com, “Writing that all too important hook…has to be done in this business in order to make it…. People are busy, too busy to waste their time reading a bad book or short. We have to make them want to read and not stop reading until it’s over, and this has to be done at the beginning. All the greats have done it.

“Stephen King's It would have been impossible to put down. ‘The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years—if it did ever end—began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.’

“Or H. P. Lovecraft’s, Thing On the Doorstep. ‘It is true that I have sent six bullets through the head of my best friend, and yet I hope to show by this statement that I am not his murderer.’

“And Dean Koontz, who is a master of the craft and of writing that single line, which would effortlessly snag his readers. The opener from Strangers, ‘Domimick Corvaisis went to sleep under a light wool blanket and a crisp white sheet, sprawled alone in the bed, but he woke elsewhere—in the darkness at the back of the large foyer closet, behind concealing coats and jackets.’”

When you feel your story is finished, go back and isolate the lead. Will it tease, intrigue, horrify, invite or cause the reader’s blood pressure to rise? Good. Now make sure the story’s last paragraph—even the last line—is just as memorable.

2 comments:

Gattina said...

I was looking for a Thursday Thirteen, or a more recent blog. You only have once from 2008 and 2009 !

DJ Barber said...

Sage advice on opening stories (so very important in Flash)

--dj