Monday, October 26, 2009

That's What Hooks A Reader Author Pat Bertram

How cool is this! Pat Bertram is visiting The Haunted City Writer here in St Augustine Florida as part of her worldwide blog tour promoting her new release  DAUGHTER AM I
Welcome aboard Pat!

 Murdered grandparents? Octogenarian (former) mobsters? GOLD? Good Stuff! Read the excerpt & give it a test ride. Today Pat is going to post about what hooks a reader. Now pay attention. Don't slouch.

See y'all at the bottom of the page.

The age of writing long descriptive passages (or even short ones) at the beginning of a novel is long past. Today people want to be drawn immediately into the story without wading through unnecessary verbiage. An editor might look at the first five pages before tossing aside your manuscript, but potential customers will give you a mere twenty seconds to draw them in. Once you have caught their attention, they might read a little further, and perhaps they will even buy the book. They certainly will not wade through the first five, ten, fifty pages until they get to “the good part.”

That “good part” must be right up front, especially if you’re a first-time writer. That’s all you have going for you — the ability to get off to a fast start and capture the reader’s attention. Your name certainly won’t do it; no one knows who you are yet. Your credentials might help, but only to establish your credibility after a potential reader has been hooked. And they will never be hooked by your ability to turn a clever phrase.

So what will hook the reader? A character. Always a character. No one reads a book for a description of the weather, a place, or an issue. They don’t even want a description of the character. They want to meet him, to see life through his eyes, to bond with him. They want to know what he wants, what his driving force is. And they want to know who or what he’s in conflict with.

Without conflict, there is no story, but without a character for the reader to care about, there is no story either. Character and conflict are inextricably combined, and together they create the tension necessary to sustain a story. I know you think it’s okay to let the tension rise slowly, which it is, but the tension level at the beginning must be high enough to let the reader know something is going on.

A practiced writer knows how to adjust the tension by temporarily letting up on the main conflict and interjecting intermediate conflicts, or even adding inner conflicts to shadow the outer ones, but all conflicts must be somebody’s conflict. For example, you might be concerned about war, but seeing a specific soldier dealing with his experiences makes you care, maybe even makes you cry. And you will want to know what becomes of him.

That’s what hooks a reader.

Pat Bertram is a native of Colorado and a lifelong resident. When the traditional publishers stopped publishing her favorite type of book — character and story driven novels that can’t easily be slotted into a genre — she decided to write her own. Daughter Am I is Bertram’s third novel to be published by Second Wind Publishing, LLC. Also available are More Deaths Than One and A Spark of Heavenly Fire.

Geez.... Now that's what I call a blog post.

Have a snappy, grab ya by the throat opening for a work in progress? Somethin' that's gonna make folks want to read more? Do you have a comment on this topic that you'd want to share to kick off some lively debate? Maybe some brave souls would include some ideas or examples in the reply section & we can all make fun of ya. Nah, wouldn't do that. Post a comment that's gonna make me want to give somethin' away this week. I do that sometimes - 'cause I'm JaxPop.

Thanks for stopping by. Now go buy Pat's book! Buy all of 'em!


Carol J. Garvin said...

What have you got that you're willing to give away, Dave? Doesn't matter... I have a title, two characters and a couple scenes in mind for the new story I'm going to write during NaNoWriMo, but not a clue for an opening hook. Drat!! Great post by Pat anyway.

Happy coconut bashing!


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for having me back again, Dave. It's been great visiting here in Florida!

Shannon Delany said...

Pat always makes great points. :-) I actually was chatting about what hooks readers earlier today too (Pat, I'd love to claim it's a case of great minds think alike, but I'm betting you had a jump on me ;-).

I agree character and conflict are keys to hooking readers. I'm also a sucker for a strong opening line. :-)

Anonymous said...

I once read a book about hooking the reader, and every single one of the lines given as an example of a great hook were ho-hum at best. Most were dreadful. Just for fun, I had the members of one of my facebook groups post the first sentence of their books, and some were real humdingers! You can see the discussion here:

JaxPop said...

Carol - Come on give it a shot. I'll go ahead & make a fool of myself. So for the first time ever (no one has seen even a word of this book) here's the 1st paragraph from RECKLESS (not 100%)

1720 Gallows Point – Port Royal, Jamaica

A thick rope made of hemp and flax was cinched tightly around his neck, biting into the skin while a thinner cord bound his twisted hands painfully behind his back. Calico Jack Rackham, condemned to a die a pirate's death, stood weak-kneed on a wooden platform in the blistering heat facing the sea, his weight temporarily supported atop a trap door. Soon the flap would fall away and he would plummet into the open void beneath the gallows. He prayed that his neck would snap with the plunge, rather than strangle in agony while blood vessels and capillaries burst and hemorrhaged.

Let's see - What would I give away? Probably somethin' that no one would want - a book for kids maybe? T Shirt from The Oldest City in America?

Pat - I'm glad to have you, just a bit disappointed so far that the turnout's been sparse. Maybe I messed up doing a pre-guest-post? This post is also up on a few other sites.

Shannon - Welcome. You're right, Pat makes great points, she's a terrific talent & she's always willing to offer help to others. I'm sure DAI will be a huge success. Thanks for stopping by.

JaxPop said...

Carol - Missed the Coconut thing but I gotta tell ya this. You already know I have back trouble. I'm also terribly heroic (in my own mind). One of the workers at our home away from home cut down a coconut for Deb (the 'guys' are sooooo nice to Deb) & put it on the table on our rear balcony. I was sitting in the living room looking out the big window at the ocean & this coconut fell off the table & rolled toward the edge of the balcony. I jumped up & ran out the door to 'save the day' - worried it would land on someone's head & kill 'em. I lunged for it just a half second too late & my back creaked. I took great care standing up straight, while I eyed that stinkin' coconut wedged safely in the bottom rung of the railing.

Anonymous said...

Dave, it could be the day -- Sunday is a much better day for blogging than Tuesday. Don't ask me why. Also, I am late doing my promo for your promo of my book. Have you ever noticed that promotion is so much like the house that Jack built? You have to promote the article that promotes the tour that promotes the blog that promotes the book that Pat wrote.

I like your first sentence. What a hook!

My hook for More Deaths Than One doesn't come in the first sentence. The first sentence for that book is, "What do you think of a guy who embezzles from his own business?" An okay hook, I guess. But the real hook comes on page three: And Lydia Loretta Stark was dead. Again.

I think that's my favorite bit that I've ever written.

Karen Michelle Nutt said...

I do like a strong opening lines. Characters need to have some sort of conflict and a away to resolve it by the end of the tale.

The opening line for Reckless has me hooked. Love to read about pirates. Calico Jack Rackham is about to hang,hopefully you go back and tell his story or he escapes this hanging. Will Mary Read and Anne Bonny a part of the story, too?

By the way Pat, I saw the link on facebook (posted by Rebecca Vickery)

The title hooked me to take a look at what you had to say. Titles can also hook the reader, too. :)

Dana Fredsti said...

Well done, Pat! I am so looking forward to reading all of your books!

JaxPop said...

Pat - I'm going to leave your post up for at least a few days. It's a good topic & hopefully some folks will take the plunge & get engaged. When folks read your opening for Daughter Am I ... hooked for sure.

Karen - Thanks for visiting. Hoping Pat's blog tour stirs up lotsa buzz. Maybe I'll talk about RECKLESS in a week or so. Glad you liked the opening though. Stop back any time.

Dana - Thanks for stopping by. If you haven't check it out yet - visit Pat's Blog. 2 thumbs up.

Carol J. Garvin said...

Not your back! Noooo! All the coconuts in the world couldn't be worth wrecking it again. I hope that creak wasn't a devastating one and it's going to be okay.

As for offering a hook paragraph... will you settle for the opening of a 4000 word short story? It's not an action plot, but here goes:

“What have I done?” she whispered. The question hung in the air like dank fog.

Angela twisted the thin gold wedding band around several times. It began as an absent-minded motion but then she slowly slid the ring off her finger and stared at the bare ribbon of pale skin that remained.

Your opening is great, Dave! It's enough to make me want to read it, and I don't do YA... well, not usually. I do read my daughter's when she lets me. Then again, I have teen grandchildren and I have no doubt they'd love to read it. :)

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Hey, Pat! I'm dropping in to let you and Dave know that I've got this posted at Win a Book. Dave, if you've ever got anything that needs some extra promo, drop us a line.

A. F. Stewart said...

An excellent summation of how to hook a reader.

L. V. Gaudet said...

Hi, fellow Blogspot blogger & writer here (also with a blog elsewhere) ... I followed the link from Pat Bertam's blog to here and am really liking this blog.

I have two opening lines to share from two novels in progress.

Men of Twelve (fanstasy):

"The young queen, Davena daughter of Lileas, sat in her bed chamber, softly singing to her new baby daughter as she rocked her to sleep. Her robes enveloped the swaddled baby in their soft blue embrace. Fire crackled quietly in the fireplace, radiating its gentle warmth to the mother and child, chasing away the chill drafts of the old stone castle. Although it was no longer the dark of night, morning’s sun hasn’t yet risen, allowing only a soft hint of the brightness she would soon bath the world in to chase away the moons cold glow."

Unnamed murder/mystery/thriller:

"Flies buzzed noisily around the over-filled garbage cans as a small brown and black filth-matted mongrel trotted up the alley. He paused briefly to sniff disinterestedly at the cool flesh of the dainty hand poking out between two garbage cans in the dirt-strewn lane.

Looking up at the darkening sky with sad brown eyes, he shivered and whined pitifully as a deep rumble rolled threateningly through the heavens. With a shake of his matted coat, he scampered off down the narrow alley as the first heavy drops began to fall."

Okay, hit me with your best shot.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Excellent post, Dave & Pat. And so true. I envy the writers of today. They have every great writer at their fingertips. And the knowledge available... mind-boggling. I think back to when I started writing in 1984 and laugh out loud. Having you around back then would have saved me a lot of work, Pat.

Bravo on your success!

ps. My book should be here any day! At least that's what I hope.

JaxPop said...

Carol - The back is okay. Your opening paragraph is awesome - very descriptive. You can feel the angst. Teenaged grandkids? A daughter that writes YA? Hmmm. Glad you liked my opening.

Susan - Thanks!!! I'm sure Pat appreciates it. I'm gonna check it out myself - can ya gimme the link?

A F - I've got to get back to your blog. I've visited before & you do a great job.

L V - I've never been much of a fantasy reader so you'll understand why I'm drawn more to the mystery/thriller. Maybe someone else can jump in. .. "at the cool flesh of the dainty hand poking out between two garbage cans" ... is really a killer line. Sad, creepy, tense - makes ya wanna read more. That's the point. I'd get rid of the redundant description of the dog's coat. You mention that it's matted twice. At the end - I'd say something like 'as the first heavy drops slapped against' or 'as the first heavy drops pelted .." Just my opinion. Bravo!!! Nice job.

Joylene - I was hopin' you'd stop by. Can't imagine attempting to write like those before us. Have a friend down here that has 7 or 8 books out. He writes everything in longhand - using a pencil. I agree - Pat's a pretty good coach & she's very generous with her time (like a few others I know - ahem) when it comes to helping other writers.

L. V. Gaudet said...


Thanks. It's nice to have some feedback.

And you may just find my fantasy not too painful to read. It's not exactly what I would consider traditional fantasy. It tends to be a bit too gruesome for that. Thriller/fantasy perhaps? Fantasy/thriller? Does such a thing even exist? I'm a horror fan mostly, and it tends to come out in my writing.

JaxPop said...

L V - I don't know if I've ever read any fantasy. Horror is good. Read plenty of that. Horror/fantasy/thriller sound worthwhile. Appreciate you putting your sample out there. That was cool & I liked your writing. Hope you visit again.

Carol J. Garvin said...

Thanks, Dave. And yes, teenaged grandkids (I'm not so young anymore)! The daughter that writes is the mother of some of them and is represented by Michelle Andelman of Lynn C. Franklin Associates.

Anonymous said...

Joylene and Dave, It's so odd to think of myself as a writing coach. Writing came so hard for me, and it's only recently that I realized I actually knew what I was doing.

Anonymous said...

Dave, here's the link to win-a-book, Susan's site:

JaxPop said...

Pat - Don't discount the value of your bog posts & the overall encouragement you offer. Thanks for hangin' out here in Florida - had a good time. Let me know if I can help you out any time.

Tracey Witt said...

Excellent post. And you're absolutely right. I think we get wound up in setting the scene sometimes maybe and don't get right to the characters and their issues. Very good points all.

Anonymous said...

Dave, Thanks again for inviting me to visit! It was a joy.