How to hook your reader in three sentences or less…

We’ve all been told this. When you are a new author, you need to “hook” your reader in the first few lines of you book, to keep them coming back. It’s not only the reader you want to perk interest in, it’s the editor whose going to ultimately accept or reject your story.

My editor, can tell if a story is worth his time and effort in the very first paragraph. Trust me on this, he’s a tough cookie to please and humbled the hell out of me, when I started working with him. In fact he only needs the first twenty pages or so of a manuscript to determine if he wants it or not.

Why? Because, in those first few pages a writer should clearly present the premise, plot, and main characters. Twenty to twenty-five pages is just about three chapters.  Many if not most publishers request the first three chapters for initial submission.  The reason is, these chapters are crucial in setting up the pace, story line, conflict and desired goal, for the rest of the book.

Okay so how can we do this. While I can’t speak for anyone else, I can outline how I prepare my work to incorporate, premise, conflict, goals and introduction of the primary characters and/or secondary characters depending on the story.

Before I even start to plot out my next story, I already have in mind how I want the story to begin, and how I want it to end.  It’s the in-between that needs  plotting.  So I figure out my characters, who/what they are. I don’t use character charts but I do have a brief outline I use, I believe I have already discussed my character outline in a previous post.

Once I know my characters and they have their personalities and back story, I incorporate my premise.  This is where the plotting begins. I know already how my story will begin. This would mean that I already have a basic idea of the premise, plot and conflict. 

If you are anything like me, I need to write everything down in ascending order from start to finish.  This is actually very helpful, since my outline will eventually transform into a synopsis, when the novel is finished, and ready for submission.

So I’ve figured out my plot, I know my characters and I have a premise which I want to make clear for the reader.  And I WANT to do this within the first three chapters.

So again, how is this done? It is actually not that hard. Every writer has a way of organizing his or her work. However, all writers know how important it is to “hook” the reader and ESPecially the editors, within the first few paragraphs of any story. Partly because, it’s the first three chapters that will be part of a writers submission to a publisher.

Now what I am posting here is not anything I have taken classes on or workshops, (although I have taken several writing courses over the years, on craft…) it is my experience through trial and error, rejection and observation, and the eventual slap my forehead, “duh” epiphany.

The first paragraph, should : present the hero/heroine. A premise should be evident in the character’s interaction in the opening scene. I envision all my scenes as if they were playing on a movie screen.  The opening scene is very important, since it will grab the reader right from the very first line.

For example: Raine walked through the ruins, his hand ever ready on the hilt of his sword. There were eyes following him, calculating his every move. If only the King had not given the staff of power to Vladimir, his home, wife and new born son would still be alive….

Okay, so in those few sentences, I have already established…1). Hero, his name, his occupation and a bit of internal conflict, 2). a premise-obviously a war broke out over this “staff of power” (set up for future conflict), our hero’s quest to right the wrong, (the death of his family) and 3). Timeline, our hero is walking through ruins holding on to his sword, he is loyal to a king, so there is the impression that he is a knight of some kind, so we know that already the story will most likely take place in some kind of historical setting.

All that in the very first paragraph!

The second chapter I like to introduce the HEA, and in most cases the antagonist/villan, and/or the “imminent danger”. Sometimes it’s not a person or beast, etc…but a type of catastrophe..In chapter two I want to embellish the premise and connect the Hero and Hea, what is their common goal or why do they cross paths. Does one have something the other needs. Also the hero’s mission is made clear…the main conflict is introduced…

Here is an example: Princess Nal could not believe her eyes. Everything her father had built had been obliterated in a matter of days. The staff of power should have brought prosperity and growth to her kingdom. Instead, they were fooled by the  dark wizard. They should have never given the staff to Vladimir. A noise to her right startled her. She turned to find a grim-faced knight standing at the charred entrance of the throne room. The face was one she had admired ever since her Revealing a year ago. Raine.

Okay I got a bit carried away with this example, : ).  But as you can see it does in fact introduce the HEA.  And also, the villain is mentioned as is the conflict.  We now know that this “dark wizard” is responsible for the destruction of the kingdom. Now we have strengthened the premise and given the hero and his HEA a purpose/goal.

Finally the third chapter, for me , should set everything in motion…

An Example: Raine grabbed Nal by the arm and pulled her roughly against him. His face was inches from hers, she could smell the vile stench of death on his clothes, mixed with sweat and something else she didn’t quite recognize.” You’re coming with me!”

Nal wrenched her arm free and tilted her head back to look him in the eye, “No!’

He paused and a strange expression settled briefly on his face. His stance betrayed him. Nal knew he was trying hard to remain stoic, as if none of the carnage around them had affected him. Yet she saw through his façade. He knew it too. His face hardened and he wrapped a muscular arm around her waist, slamming her smaller body flush against his, “No princess, we have to leave. The staff wasn’t the only thing Vladimir wanted,” Nal gasped as she caught his meaning.

Yep got into the story again…but I think you see my meaning when I said put things in motion…Now Raine and Nal are on the run, Vladimir is obvious looking for the princess and Raine has to protect her and some how set things right….

Hmmm, wonder what happens next!  At least that’s what I’m hoping my readers and the editors who I submit to will be wanting to know.  While this formula works for me, it may work for some of you who are reading this post, or it may not. I hope it does, and remember…Hooking the reader in is Key!

Emma Paul


2 responses to “How to hook your reader in three sentences or less…

  1. Just noticed the You’re in the title…OOPS! should be your…. (grin) guess I should have spell checked the title! Please don’t hold it against me….. : / Okay it’s fixed..

  2. Good pointers, Emma!

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