Peril, Drama, and Relatability

Most authors want to hook the reader within the first chapter—perhaps the first page—maybe even in the first paragraph, if they’re lucky. But it’s a nebulous piece of advice to say, “Remember to hook the reader.”

How do you hook the reader? Everyone is different, no one detail will hook everybody, so what are the main factors that contribute to a reader’s attention?

Peril.

Drama.

Relatability.

The key is to have all three of them, but two will do just fine. One, on the other hand, typically isn’t enough. It’s the combo that really hooks a reader and gets them invested—and the moment they’re invested, they’ll keep going.

But how do you capture each of these elements? Well, for starters, peril is straight forward. What danger is present to the MC? Is it life threatening? Is it detention? Something in between?

How about I construct a scene to illustrate my point? What if we started with some extreme peril?

 

I dangle off the edge, my fingers slipping. It’s a sixty foot drop to the acid mire below.

 

Already you can see how this is intriguing. But it’s not enough. Someone is going to die—and that’s exciting—but why do we care about this guy? The reader has nothing to relate to. I’ll add a few things.

 

I dangle off the edge, my fingers slipping. It’s a sixty foot drop to the acid mire below. I wish I had some way to tell my son I loved him—but now I won’t even be there for his birth.

 

This extra sentence adds depth to the character that wasn’t there before. People can relate to caring about family, and everyone knows the love shared between parents and their children. Now the reader doesn’t want the MC to die, and the reader doesn’t even know his name.

But wait. What if we added drama into the scene?

 

I dangle off the edge, my fingers slipping. It’s a sixty foot drop to the acid mire below. I wish I had some way to tell my son I loved him— but now I won’t even be there for his birth.

Rough boots crush my knuckles. I stare up, shocked and reeling.

My brother smiles down at me. “Don’t worry. Your wife is next.”

 

Oh jeez! A few sentences in and we have all of it—peril, drama, relatability!

Now, this is a simple scene, nothing fancy. The trick is to weave these factors into the first chapter of your work—to keep the reader hooked into the action. You want the reader to want to continue, and to answer the all-important question: “How does this end?”

Once the reader is invested (once they need to know the answer) then you have your hook. :3

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