Hooking in our readers

My last fiction blog (8.10) asked the question – when it comes to telling children’s stories, how can books, as mere words on paper, compete with the excitement of today’s tablets and other alternative means of presentation? Children have become used to being highly stimulated. As an aspiring children’s fiction author – what do I need to consider in my story?

Firstly, we are told to have a good hook so I looked up some well known first lines. From Charlotte’s Web (A. B White) – ‘Where is Papa going with that axe?’ Here’s a strange one from Imogen’s Antlers – ‘On Thursday, when Imogen woke up, she found she had grown antlers.’ From Fly Away Home – ‘My dad and I live in an airport.’ Finally, from Johnny and the Dead – ‘Johnny never knew for certain, why he started seeing the dead.’

All of these first lines are intriguing. They each open up a question and invite young readers to find the answers. So I thought about my own book, which opens with a diary, in which my character writes her secret thoughts (age 7-9). My book is about friendship and loss so the diary is an imaginary friend – Hi, Diary, I love you so much. You are my best friend. And I want to tell you all my secret thoughts.’ Is the focus on secrets enough to hook my potential readers in? I have to hope so.

But hooks are not just first lines. Given that stories must have a discernible beginning (about 25%), middle (about 50%) and end (about 25%) – the hook is surely far more than the first line or so. So how are readers persuaded to read on, after that intriguing first line or paragraph? From many years of attending Swanwick Writers’ summer school, here is some of the advice I have held onto:
Grab readers with the first line
Open up character intrigue – who? Why?
Create an inciting incident – something happens!
Set the mood – emotion
Introduce something ominous
Continue to throw problems at the character – make him/her react
Open up question to be answered or problem to be resolved
Continue to place barriers in the way of the character’s goals

I have become intrigued by characters in fiction. What is it that draws readers towards characters as real people? And how do we draw our characters, as three dimensional- enough to make the main ones live and breathe on the page? So I need to examine my own first draft and be prepared to tear it apart.

Character? Her needs and goals? That’s next week’s fiction blog.

« Back to Blog