Thursday, January 14, 2010

Hook and Trap Your Reader!

Whether you write fiction, essays, articles, e-mail, or straight narratives for blogs, you (the writer) have a tiny window —less than 10 seconds— to grab the reader’s attention and hold him to the end of your text. This is easier said than done. But it’s done all the time by experienced writers.
One of the sites that carries my stories shows almost half-a-million readers in 5 weeks. Not to boast but to help, I bring this up to give you a few hints. Because many articles on the Web tell you about the importance of titles, hooks, surprises, and other tricks that may possible keep the reader reading—I will simply comment on 3 points that work for me.

1. An honest, “tell-all” paragraph
Not only do I spill the beans about my story in the first paragraph, but I also give some vivid details. If my character is going to die I will be honest and say that right away: “She came to die.” No need to save or withhold information to give a punch-line at the end.
Even better is to have the paragraph read like a conclusion, summary or closing remarks.
Once the opening paragraph is out of the way, I pack in the most important details of the story next. By using the “Indirect Free Speech” technique, I plant doubts in the reader’s mind. For example, I would write: ‘Is she serious?’ ‘Will her family accept that?’ ‘How ironic that this may end rewarding him!’

2. Have something of value in the story
Oscar Wilde —the witty English writer— once said, “Nowadays people know the price of everything, and the value of nothing.”
Today people do know the value of many things and expect to be rewarded for the time that they are investing in reading your material. The best reward that a writer can give to the reader is a great experience. Writers do write because they have something of value to say, and those experiences —negative and positive— could be a most rewarding and pleasurable experience.
Therefore, you should choose your material, topics, themes, and items with care. Dionysius of Halicarnassus —around 10 BC— in his critical essay on Isocrates says:
“But most significant of all are the themes upon which he chose to concentrate, and the nobility of the subject which he spent his time in studying. The influence of these would make anyone who applied himself to his works not only good orators, but men of sterling character, of positive service to their families, to their state and to Greece at large.”


3. Be monosyllabic
Nothing can be more exciting to a reader than to get an eyeful of crisp monosyllabic text. Short, unpretentious words, with lots of active verbs will take the reader a long way. On the other hand, if you load your opening paragraph with adverbs —especially those ending in ‘ly’— you will lose your reader in less than 5 seconds.
To give you an example, I reach for Salman Rushdie’s Midnight Children, and I open a page at random:
“I swear he could eat a whole kid in one go. And so what? I told him, eat, fill your hole, a man comes to Kashmir to enjoy life, or to end it, or both.”

With those snippy words that the eye can scoop up in a fraction of a second, the reader is prompted to go on to the next snippet. And so on. Once hooked, you —the serious writer— may inject more serious words.

Senada Selmani, model

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