By Darlene L. Turner
A perfect bait increases a fisherman chances of catching a fish. They take their time and ease thatwiggly worm onto the hook before lowering their line into the water. It’s just as important for a writer to do the same with a novel. Forget the worms and the book will fall flat. How can we do this? Here are some important areas we should reel in on in order for our stories to be noticed and not cast back into the lake.
Great first lines – Most readers will shop for a book by reading that very first line. It doesn’t matter if the next chapter is amazing. If the opening doesn’t hook, the reader will go fishing elsewhere. We want to set up the story right from the first sentence. Every word needs to be carefully chosen. We must edit and re-read the beginning over and over until we get it right. Think about these openings. “Once upon a time…” or “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”—Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities. These are first lines we’ve remembered over the years. They stood the test of time and caught the reader’s attention. Let’s do the same.
Inciting incident – What exactly is this? It’s the event that thrusts the character into that shatters their world and changes it forever. Doesn’t necessarily have to be action-packed, but it has to be trouble for the main character. Loss of spouse, fired from their job, news of a health condition. Of course, for suspense writers it could be the character is kidnapped, witnessed a murder, found out their identity was stolen. The problem must not just scratch the surface but be a story that is sustainable as well as helping to develop the character’s arc. It has to be resolved by the end of the book. Create an inciting incident that will sink your reader into wanting more.
Introducing characters – Just like in an interview, first impressions are extremely important. We need to give the reader reasons to like them. What should we consider to set the hook? Descriptions are important. We don’t want them to appear mousey or brazen. Give small snippets of personality and appearance. The mystery will leave the reader turning the pages to find out more. How does the character talk? What sets their dialogue apart from secondary characters? These are areas we need to think about so the hero and heroine will stand out on the page and make them believable.
Backstory – This is the character’s past. How did they grow up? What traumatic event happened that affects the way they deal with the inciting incident? Backstory is important, but we need to know the right timing of when it should appear. Not too much in the first fifty pages—just snippets to lure the reader. Then as the story progresses more backstory is given. However, do it carefully. We don’t want to take the reader out of the story. Weave it in and it will create a powerful tale.
Foreshadowing – This can be done effectively or totally fizzle in the beginning chapter. We need to be careful how we foreshadow upcoming events. Giving away too much robs the reader of the joy of figuring the storyline out or in the case of a mystery, the clues of the thriller. They like to be surprised. However, if we don’t give at least a hint of something to come, the reader may be disappointed and stop reading. Reel them in with the mystery!
These are just some areas to consider in writing the first chapter. Ending chapter one with an unanswered question will intrigue the reader to turn that page to find out the answer.
Baiting the reader at the beginning will ensure a great catch! Let’s get our lures right the first time by setting the hook with a powerful opening.
How do you set the hook? Share your thoughts on what works for you.
Darlene L. Turner’s love of suspense began when she read her first Nancy Drew book. She’s turned that passion into her writing and believes readers will be captured by her plots, inspired by her strong characters, and moved by her inspirational message. Her books have placed in various awards including the ACFW Genesis, Daphne du Maurier, Selah and Directors Choice (Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference). She’s represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency.
Darlene met her husband Jeff at the turtle races in Ontario, Canada. She loves flavored coffee and plaid shirts. You can connect with Darlene at www.darlenelturner.com where there’s suspense beyond borders.