Nine Ways to Hook Your Reader With a Powerful Opening Sentence.

Nine ways to hook your reader

with a powerful opening sentence.

hook

 

Maybe you’re like me in that your blank computer screen acts a bit like an impenetrable wall one moment and an empty canvas of possibilities, awaiting your inspired ideas the next.

Picture it… While you’re hanging out at your local coffee shop, a girl at the table near yours tells her friend about an incident at school involving their class guinea pig, a projector cord, and a schoolwide black out. Your eyes bulge behind your iced cappuccino. What you just overheard is the makings of a humorous story.

Over the next number of days or weeks, you create a list of characters and give each a life and a history. The story problem becomes clear as you plot the grandest of all middle-grade adventures. Notes in hand, you sit before your laptop, typing out that first brilliant sentence that will have readers begging to know what happens next.

That’s about the time your inner editor bluntly tells you that what you wrote is sludge. “That gopher hole in your back yard,” she says, “has a better opening than this!”

Delete, delete, delete…

Where to start?

 

1. Begin with one attention-grabbing word.

Darkness. Pitch darkness filled every square inch of my school today thanks to our class guinea pig, Percival Pickles.

2. Make a comparison.     

I wish I had been placed in Mr. Dowfeld’s class with the hairy tarantula instead of in Mrs. Peach’s class with Percival Pickles, a guinea pig with serious powers.

3. Start with a powerful moment that raises curiosity.

Every room in my school went into a sudden blackout.

4. Begin with a fact.

Not every guinea pig makes a good classroom pet.

5. What sound can be heard?

Nibble, munch, squeeee! All of Lincoln Jr. High fell into darkness when Percival Pickles, our class guinea pig, bit the projector cord.

6. Start with a question.

What happens when a guinea pig mistakes the projector cord for his lunch?

7. Open with a fact that hints at something significant.

Death is merely one side effect that comes when a classroom pet electrocutes itself.

8. Begin with an intriguing fact.

Nobody, not even Percival Pickles, our classroom guinea pig, could believe an electrical shock could shoot his IQ off the charts.

9. Let your readers hear the compelling voice of your main character.

At 8:15 this morning, the single most important thought peddling through my head was to scamper to my squeaky wheel and play. Twenty-three minutes later, I’m well into understanding Einstein’s theory of relativity.

If you have a favorite way to hook readers with a great opening, I invite you to post it in the comments.

Also, if you enjoyed this post, I hope you’ll share it through social media.

Children’s Halloween Story Challenge

I recently accepted Susanna Leonard Hill’s challenge to write a Children’s Halloween story. You might be thinking that writing a story for Halloween doesn’t sound like a challenge. It’s simple really. All you have to do is:

 

  1. Decide upon the main character. (Could be a typical kid, or any number of spooky spooks like a ghost, mummy, goblin, or black cat.) 
  2. Then decide what the main character wants. (Maybe Max wants to grow the biggest pumpkin for a contest. Perhaps Gina wants to win a prize for the best costume at the school party. Maybe Carl wishes to learn a few spells from the witch down the block.)
  3. Then, think up an inciting incident to challenge the main character or keep him from attaining his goal. (What if… on the morning of the contest, a squirrel has eaten through Max’s prized pumpkin? What if Gina discovers that three of her best friends bought the same costume she did? What if Carl hears that the witch eats all children who enter her cottage?)
  4. From here, our main character must try and fail at overcoming obstacles in his/her path, fall into a dark, hopeless moment, get a brilliant idea, try again with renewed spirit, arrive at the grand story climax where resolution comes followed by the perfect denouement.

Normally this would not be a problem if the contest allowed writers 500 words (typical for picture books) to tell their story, but that isn’t the case.  These are the instructions:

The Contest:  write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children (title not included in the 100 words), using the words costumedark, and haunt.   Your story can be scary, funny or anything in between, poetry or prose, but it will only count for the contest if it includes those 3 words and is 100 words (you can go under, but not over!)

So, I grabbed a cup of tea, sat at my computer, and started writing. By the time I had created a setting for my story to take place in, introduced my main character, and revealed his problem, I was already into the story by 88 words. Great! 12 more words to go. Delete, delete, delete. I started again and again, slimming and trimming, tightening and selecting the best words. And on the 26th of October, I will post my 100-word Halloween story here for you to read.

“Hiccup For Me.” The inspiration behind a story.

 

Most of the children’s stories I write, although fiction, come from a childhood memory or develop from some random remark my daughter makes. However, one of my favorite stories came about when our dog got a near-clinical case of hiccups.

drawn by Leslie Leibhardt Goodman

drawn by Leslie Leibhardt Goodman

Hiccups…. I pondered over a cup of minty tea. A dog with hiccups! That could be embarrassing. Hmmm… Do I know what it’s like to get the hiccups at an inopportune time? YES! My mind zipped back to my 6th grade history class. 6th grade—an awkward enough time in a kid’s life, but paired with Mr. McNab, my history teacher, 6th grade was intolerable. You see, Mr. McNab LOVED when a student in his class hiccupped.

He’d be droning on and on about the details of the Boston Tea Party when from some remote corner of the universe that was our classroom…

HICCUP!

Pausing his lecture to place his piece of chalk on the wood ledge, Mr. McNab rotated like a lighthouse beacon and faced his students. His eyes deliberately panned the rows, searching and waiting for the perpetrator to reveal him or herself. Ears cocked and alert, he waited.

HICCUP!

With the keen moves of a hawk, Mr. McNab sought out his prey.  Swooping in on his helpless victim, his large hands securely gripped the sides of the defenseless kid’s desk. Lowering his head to achieve direct eye contact, he demanded, “Hiccup for me.” Keeping his eyes locked on the poor kid’s quivering face, he waited for another hiccup.

drawn by Leslie Leibhardt Goodman

drawn by Leslie Leibhardt Goodman

“Come on…hiccup for me.”

Damn if that didn’t work every time! Pure humiliation is an awesome cure for hiccups. When the kid (whose name I’ll not reveal…) couldn’t hiccup, Mr. McNab resumed class with a smirk on his face as if he knew he’d won.

So, having that personal memory to fall back on, (woops…did I say personal?)  I had what I needed to write a fictional story about a dog who got the hiccups. Sink the hairy fellow in a totally embarrassing situation, and voila! I am sooooo ready to write.

Sometimes the most embarrassing moments in our childhood make for the funniest stories.

More of the stories that inspire my stories to come!

Would You Silence The World?

Something my daughter said yesterday sparked this blog post. We sat outside, reading on our porch swing when she huffed and puffed.

“I can’t concentrate!” she nearly exploded. “There’s too much noise.”

I set my book on my lap and listened. “Hmmm,” I said. “I see what you mean. Let’s pretend we can silence every noise.”

airplane trail“Quiet, airplane,” I said.

“Quiet, bird!” my daughter ordered.

“Quite, trucks and cars and train, whistling into the station,” I said.

“Quiet, squeaky springs in this swing bench,” my daughter ordered.

“Quiet, gusty wind, and balmy breezes,” I added. “And while we’re at it, let’s quiet the footsteps and chatter of our neighbors, walking their dogs,” I said.

“Quiet, dogs!” my daughter said.

Next, I quieted myself. Even when my daughter asked questions, I said nothing.

“Talk to me!” she said. “I changed my mind. I don’t like all this quiet.”

Of course, we don’t have the power to remove all the sounds in the world.

Thank goodness!

But in pretending we were magical enough to evoke silence, I helped my daughter realize how important sound is and how easily we tune it out. The thud, thud, thud of jeans in the dryer, the soft blub, blub, blub of the fish tank filter, the soft, wheezy, breathing of my dog, sleeping behind me on my chair. Sounds are all around us–constantly.

As a writer, I often feel like I enter into moments like a deaf person given the gift of hearing, or a blind person given the gift of sight. The symphony of sounds surrounding us is a great gift. Tune in today and as you listen, make a mental list of the sounds you hear.

A note to writers: When including sounds in your work, let those sounds bring meaning to your writing. Let the sounds reveal something about your characters. Does the train whistle remind Charlotte of her vacation in Italy when, because she missed her stop, she met the man of her dreams? Does the warm breeze take Robert back to the beach where he proposed to his wife fifteen years ago?

The random mentioning of sound in a book serves as dead filler. Bring sound to life by connecting it to your characters.