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Whether you’re an “action right off the bat” kind of person or enjoy a slow burn, having a strong opening paragraph/page/chapter (a.k.a. the hook) is imperative. We’ve noticed a trend of kickback to the advice of action right from the beginning of the story lately and felt the desire to speak to this topic.

You have to grab the reader

As an editor you see a lot of different styles of writing. Some authors introduce their action/plot early on in the book, typically from the very first page. Some prefer to reserve it a few scenes, building the world they live in before they begin dropping the hints of what will happen in chapters to come. But one thing is similar in every book, and that is the author’s desire to gain the interest of the reader from the very first word.

Maybe you need action

Proponents of an action-based hook say there is nothing better to get the reader glued to the words you’ve written than a strong action scene, a murder, kidnapping, bank heist, or anything plot related that will scream “Come read me. I’m interesting.” Dissenters would argue that starting out so strong is like sprinting the first mile of a marathon—you’ll burn out of energy—the reader will lose focus in the mid-rise slump. They believe it is difficult to maintain the level of excitement needed to keep readers glued when you start so powerfully. Still others would argue that if done well, while simultaneously developing your characters and world and even backstory, a punch of action in the beginning can kick start a great manuscript.

Maybe you need a slow burn

On the flip side, some believe beginning slow and building to a steady burn that roars to life in climax may be the way to go. Proponents of this method of hooking readers often rely on the strength of their world or the uniqueness of their characters to make the audience so enamored of the book they must read more, finding the idea of relating to the cast and their story more intriguing than a smack of adventure right off the bat.

So which way should you choose?

That is the golden question.

There are a lot of questions you can ask yourself when trying to decide the best route to take for your novel. Not every genre of book will have an action-based plot, and those tend to be the type that fit better with an action-packed first page. Additionally, not every story is plot driven. Some books tend to be more relationship driven or even character driven. Those types of books tend to really lead in well with a slow burn, though there are exceptions to that rule as well.

Whatever hook you choose it should be just that—a hook. You can’t catch a fish with just a line and bobber; you need the hook. And you just won’t interest a reader without a little bait on that hook as well. Action-based hooks are simple to understand. You start out with something punchy, something that screams at the reader.

A quieter hook, however, can be difficult to achieve, and a lot of authors struggle to really nail this. The trick is to be able to reach into the reader’s mind immediately by connecting to them in a tangible way. Books are essentially the stories of characters who live in fantastic worlds and share experiences and emotions common to mankind. By writing a dynamic and compelling characters who have real, raw emotions and quirks, the author will call upon the reader’s ability to empathize, sympathize, and relate, thus keeping them glued saying, “I wonder what will happen to this guy.” This can be done in a myriad of ways, but the key is to make the reader really feel something.

Take away:

  • You need to get your readers’ attention right away!
  • Connect with their sense of adventure.
  • Connect with their emotions.
  • Force them to ask “What comes next!”

Every author wants people to read their stories, and every reader wants to be mesmerized and drawn into the world from the first line, whether it’s a slow burn or a punch to the gut. The trick is knowing your plot, your characters, and your world. Taking a little extra time during your revision and editing process to craft an amazing hook could be one of the best decisions you make as an author. It will literally sell your book for you, and the best part about it is, you get complete control, total say-so, so get that hook baited and grab a few good readers!

~Martha Reineke

MK Editing Services LLC

Line, Bait and Hook!

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