In our digital world, the concept of perusing bookshelves has taken on a whole new dimension. While brick and mortar bookshops still exist, they are closing at a rate faster than real estate agents can post their For Lease signs. These days the majority of readers surf the web and online bookstores for new releases and old favorites, a place where they can 'take a look inside' at the teasers and sample chapters authors have posted, and have email reminders sent with new releases and promotions.
Yet, however much the physical act of perusing bookshelves has changed, the process readers employ in deciding on which books they'll spend their hard earned money has intrinsically stayed the same. With the exception of Amazon's free reads program that is all the rage now, for the most part, books are still picked up, flipped through and examined before being purchased.
So what lures a reader in? What is it that entices them to pick up your book and scan it? In the world of publishing, there are varying answers, in varying order...a provocative cover, endorsements from other well-known authors, glowing reviews, marketing, social networking, price... But I would be my next royalty check, editors abound who would all agree it's the hook. That more than anything else, it's those first few beginning paragraphs/pages and intriguing back cover blurb that seal the deal.
Since "Beginnings" is our topic for the month of March, I thought it apropos to talk about how one crafts the beginning of a story. Of course, it all starts with an idea. Some inspiring thought, dream or experience that takes root in our fertile imagination and grows from there. But that's not the beginning I'm talking about. I mean, once the idea for a story has formed, and you're sitting with your hands poised over your keyboard, how do you get from staring at a blinking cursor on a blank page to those first all important words?
I have to chuckle, because the first thought that popped into my mind as I asked the question was the phrase, lather, rinse and repeat. I don't mean I suds it up before I sit down to write, but I will invariably write, read, delete and then repeat the process until the words in front of me not only sound right, but feel right. Most authors I know, write from their gut. Their stories, like mine, aren't formulaic. They have a life of their own, as do their characters, and when you live a character's life through your words, you have to feel the truth of it...viscerally. To sane people, that sounds more than a little crazy. But to writers (and artists of any kind) it makes perfect sense.
How many of us get to the end of our stories, type the coveted words The End, and then go back and reread the opening few paragraphs of Chapter One and tweak them? I know I do.
But what's the best way to write a good hook? Should you begin with dialogue, plunging your reader straight into the mix? What about prologues full of description and back story? Are you a fan of starting your hook in that way? I think there are as many right answers as there are different authors. It all has to do with style and voice. I myself have done it with dialogue, and I've also done it with full bodied description, pages before I got into any real dialogue...both equally successful and both putting the reader right into the story. So, what's your style? How do you hook your readers into wanting to hear your voice tell your story?
I'd love to know...