Wednesday, July 7, 2010

In the Beginning

In the Beginning: Creating the Strong, Narrative Hook
by Jacqueline Seewald

Good beginnings are crucial in capturing a reader’s attention. Every writer knows that a narrative hook is needed in any successful type of writing. Readers pick up a book, glance at the first page, and if it doesn’t grab them, they’ll simply toss it aside. Of course, creating a good narrative hook for a novel is easier said than done. However, here are a few suggestions that I believe will help to interest readers in your novel:

Point of View:

One of the most important things in writing a successful novel is to develop a unique voice. That does not mean that you must write from a first person point of view.
It is important to create a central character that your readers can both sympathize and identify with. Whether writing a realistic or fantasy novel, if the reader can't care about the main character, than the reader won't believe or accept what follows.

Regardless of whether or not you use first person narration, try to stick to a main point of view which makes reader identification more likely. This viewpoint should be from the perspective of a major character in the story. This is one way of hooking your readers from the beginning. And it goes without saying that the main viewpoint character must be either the heroine or hero or both in a romance novel.

Element of Mystery:

Readers enjoy an element of mystery. Every good novel should have a plot that keeps the reader turning the pages, wanting to discover what is going to happen next. It's important to set up some sort of a question that can't be easily or immediately answered, a secret of the human heart that must be delved into. Prick your reader’s curiosity.

Start in medias res:

Start with a bit of intriguing, provocative dialogue or some piece of action. Get your reader involved in the plot from the beginning. Don’t begin with detailed description of people and place. You will lose your reader!

Don’t start with your main character getting up in the morning or doing anything mundane like tooth brushing. Long boring descriptions fine for Victorian novelists, but remember that Dickens was paid by the word; you aren’t! Plunge the reader into the heart of the story from the beginning words.

When you do need to use description, keep it pertinent. Don’t overdo adverbs and adjectives. Use active verbs. Replace your “is”, “was” and “are” with action words whenever possible. Vary your sentence lengths and structures. You want your writing to be dynamic and exciting. Your reader must be quickly involved, must be made to care about what is happening.

Get your reader focused, placing your heroine and hero as close to the main action and problem as possible. Build suspense from the beginning by getting your reader into the thick of things. Weave details and necessary background information into the story as you keep the action of the plot moving along. Introduce the romantic protagonists as early in the story as possible.

Make It Dramatic

Dramatize your story. Don't show, tell. I'm certain you've heard that advice before! How to do this? Create meaningful, realistic dialog for your characters. Each character should be an individual, talking a certain way to reflect a personal point of view, a unique way of thinking. Good dialog leads to action and conflict between people with different viewpoints and goals.
Avoid stilted dialogue by reading your writing out loud. Remember readers have to accept the characters in you novel as real people.

Setting the Scene:

Although you don’t want to overwhelm your reader with too much detail from the outset, settings need to be vividly described so that they seem real. And do create your novel in scenes as if it were a movie.

Above all, respect your readers; give them quality. Take the time to write and rewrite the beginning sentences and paragraphs of your novel, recognizing that this is crucial. Create the perfect narrative hook that will compel readers to read it from beginning to end!


Mason Canyon said...

The title definitely caught my attention on this one. Tea Leaves and Tarot Cards brings to mind all sorts of questions and I would pick it up to find out more. Best of luck.

Thoughts in Progress

Anonymous said...

I love the title also, Jacqueline! And what a cover! You have some great ideas here for beginning to put structure to those hazy story ideas. Thanks for the post.

Anonymous said...

And I like "respect your readers." This is so critical - our readers are SMART PEOPLE - there is so much we do NOT need to explain to them. Respect them, and they'll come back for more. Thanks for reminding us, Jacqueline.

Ellen said...

Wonderful advice, every bit :)

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Mason, Rebbie, Drue and Ellen,

Thank you all for the kind words! You are most generous.

I do feel that strong beginnings are crucial for all kinds of writing. And I admit, it's still the hardest part for me.

Pauline B Jones said...

Great advice all down the line! Love the cover and title, too. :-)

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Thanks, Pauline, I appreciate your comments!

Terry Odell said...

Starting in the right place is critical. And it's not easy. Too much action, and the reader gets lost, wondering why she should care about a character she hasn't met. Too much about the character and it drags.

Christy Tillery French said...

Jacqueline, it took me years to learn these important points. Wonderful advice throughout.

Jacqueline Seewald said...


You're so right. It's a balancing act and not an easy one.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Christy,

I'm still working on it myself. It's easier to teach people how to write than to actually do it.

J D Webb said...

Great post and equally good comments.

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Jacqueline: All good points, for sure, especially about the reader wanting to know the character and empathize. Recently my book club chose "The Bricklayer" to read. I began the book with high hopes. Then the character I'd begun to care about got killed. New character, he gets killed. When the 3rd one did, I put the book down. Turns out many of the readers did the same thing. I guess some like that style, but it wasn't for me.
Enjoyed your post, as always.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Thank you, J.D.! I appreciate your praise.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Joyce,

I suppose that's why I enjoy romance fiction.
I tend to invest emotionally in the main characters. In real life, people we love die and it's terribly painful. When I read a novel, I do want that happy ending for sympathetic characters.

Alice said...

Great advice, Jacquie! You sound just like the teacher I had for a writing for publication class I took a million years ago. She was the best teacher I ever had :)

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Thanks, Alice. But you know what they say about teachers: those who can do; those who can't teach. I'm no longer teaching, just struggling to write, hopefully work that's worth reading.

Lorrie said...

I have a habit of browsing bookstores for the sole purpose of opening the book and reading first paragraphs, or half the first page, to see what kind of hooks they use. Call it a learning trip. I've seen some goodies, and I've seen some really bad ones.
Your advice is spot on. And it is a tenuous balancing act to include all that is needed on that first page.
Thanks for the post.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Lorrie,

Thanks for your comment. I often go back and read some of the classics. I love the way Dickens began A TALE OF TWO CITIES for example.
It's often quoted and rightfully so.