Written: Baiting the Hook
I hear often that I’m a great scene setter. I have a way of pulling you into the story like it’s on a movie screen in your head. Though I come by this naturally, I still have to work to get it exactly right. Too much description and it’s a fail. Readers want to use their imaginations. Too little description and it becomes narrative, keeping the reader slightly removed from the story instead of experiencing it the way you want them to. Indeed, it is a fine line you tread, but it is not impossible. You just need to find the right bait to catch the right fish.
I watch a lot of movies and television. I’m watching when I should probably be writing. Truth! Most of the time, if I am not hooked within the first six minutes, I’ll change it. This is true of writing, as well. You must hook the reader right out the gate if you want them to read your book. So, how do we do that?
Let’s turn to the television again. Any time a new show airs, they use a “pilot” episode to intrigue you.
This past Tuesday, I caught the pilot of a new show, The Game of Silence. It started with action right away, while weaving present day and past memories together. It hinted at things that made me think I knew what happened, but never actually told me what it was. It comes on again on Thursday, and you better believe I will be watching it.
I’m hooked. I snapped up their bait like I haven’t been fed in years. I’m well on my way to being gutted, breaded, and fried in a pan. Here’s how it happened:
- The opening scene is dramatic, then quickly moves to a group of boys doing the crazy things boys do.
- One simple line: “If Boots hadn’t gotten in the truck that day, things might have happened differently.” Boom!
- Boots grabs a weapon and assaults a mysterious person we only get a two second memory of. (This staged the entire plot line in one step: revenge.)
- More past memories of the boys, this time taking up the defense of the one girl they’ve allowed in their “crew.” Enter more drama. First conflict, and we haven’t even hit a commercial yet. And? I’m already invested in these characters. I haven’t even discovered all of their personalities, but they are already endeared to me.
I already know they got in trouble and the rest of the story will be about revenge and peace. I have to watch if I want to know what really happened to them as boys that made them this way. Plus? It reminded me of a dark movie that’s on my favorites list: Sleepers.
I want my stories to do this. I want readers sucked in from the very first line. I want to drop the mike and leave them stunned.
- Start with impact. Create a dramatic opening. Start with the action. Lead with the deed. Open with the murder, the crime, or the consequences.
- Sprinkle in teasers. Let them start guessing from the first paragraph.
- Establish your characters with their words and actions. Endear them to your readers swiftly.
- Add in more teasers. Up the tension.
- Introduce the obstacle, the main conflict that the MC has to overcome.
- End your first chapter inconclusively. Leave them hanging with just enough to turn the page.
What if you do all that and it still falls flat? (because sometimes it does). Restructure. If your third chapter is better than the first two, open with it. Read it aloud. Cut out anything unnecessary that won’t move it along. Your opening should be quick, gut wrenching, and breath stealing. If it’s not, rework it until it is. Here is a short list of things to consider when revising your opening.
What can I take out without changing the story? Tighten your sentences, make every word count.
Am I getting lost in this myself? Is this playing in my head as I read? Close your eyes. Use your senses to make the scene come alive. Write what you experience, but don’t overwrite it. Your readers will see it in their heads in their own ways. You’re just creating the illusion.
Are you using a passive approach? Add your zombies to activate your sentences. Make the reader “rush” through and gasp for breath at the end. They just ran a race to see what happens!
Backstory. Only add what is absolutely necessary. A great way to add backstory without overwhelming the reader is through dialogue.
“Man, it’s been 25 years since we’ve seen each other! Do you remember?”
“No. I don’t.” Yet, he did. E-block was chaos and the guards did nothing.
“I saw the warden. He’s here in this building! We have to do something.”
“What’s the point? It’s in the past.” But the warden let them do what they wanted. He just walked past like nothing happened.
How long did you have to read? Like a good show or movie, you want to do as much as you can in the shortest amount of time possible. Six minute hook. Did it take too long? What can you cut out and maybe thread in a later scene to give it more impact in the beginning?
And in conclusion, step away from the story. Give it a week’s rest. Open it on a whim another day and see how it grabs you. Did you fall in love with it all over again? Yes?
Congratulations. Your bait worked. Write on!
For more tips and a do’s and don’ts list for your first three chapters, check out JK Allen’s post here.
We talked about the connection between television and writing today, also, check out A.L.’s post on the connection between writing and music.
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