Thursday, September 20, 2007

Grabbing Your Reader's Attention--With a Bang

Start With a Bang
By Vivian Gilbert Zabel

According to Les Edgerton, many good and even brilliant stories never get read past the first paragraph, or perhaps first page, because of a poor beginning.

If the first part of a story does not "grab" the reader and cause him to want to read more, the author has failed no matter how wonderful the rest of the story may be. Begin with a vivid scene.

The opening of a story should successfully set the stage for the reader, "hook" the reader, create with words the desire in the reader to want to read more.

At the start, the problem should be introduced. That means the problem is an event that changes the protagonist's world in some way, and the problem may not always mean trouble.The reader may not realize that what happens at the beginning is even a problem, only that it triggers a desire to know more.

For example, if Johnny is a character in a children's story (yes, writing for children follows the same guidelines and contains the same needs as any good work) and has never walked to school by himself before, only with an adult by himself, he starts his first walk with excitement and trepidation. If the author writes:

Johnny had never walked to school by himself before. His mother or grandmother had always walked with him. This example "tells" the situation, but it does not "show" the story.

So, let's try showing and creating a "hook."

Johnny opened the door a crack. As he peeked out, he thought, Everything looks the same. He swallowed and opened the door farther. He stuck his head completely outside and searched the walk leading from the porch.

"Johnny," his mother said from behind him, "do you need me to walk to school with you again today?"

Johnny glanced over his shoulder. "Momma, I'm big enough to walk by myself." He picked up his back pack and marched out the door. "I'm five years old now."

Dialogue in the first few paragraphs helps catch a reader's attention and helps the reader to "see" what is happening. Melissa Stewart says, "Put dialogue to work." A good way to engage the reader immediately is to have captivating dialogue.

Excessive narration, expository, or text causes the flow of the story to stop anywhere, but when needless narration begins the story, the reader loses interest immediately.

Grab his attention by using a vivid scene; "show" the reader what is happening; hook his interest immediately; and start your story with a bang.


Sources used in this newsletter include notes I've made over the years as well as
Harvey Stanbrough, "Stop interrupting," November 2006 The Writer; Les Edgerton, "HOOK, GRAB and PULL," August 2007 Writer's Digest; and Melissa Stewart, "Write for children -- 12 steps to success," June 2006 The Writer.

After teaching composition for twenty-five years and becoming an author on http://www.Writing.Com/ a site for Poetry, Vivian Gilbert Zabel produced Hidden Lies and Other Stores, Walking the Earth: and The Base Stealers Club, which can be ordered through most book stores and on

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