There it is, hiding among the colorful feathers, a hook. It attracts a fish and tempts him. Chomp! That hook won’t let go. Writing friend, pay attention.
As with a catchy tune, the clever story premise catches the reader’s eye, promising entertainment and satisfaction. And that ‘hook’ ought to sink in deep, keeping the reader turning pages for more.
It’s like you learned in band or choir: the beginning of a song–and its ending–must be perfect. That’s right, flawless. The start of a book should be confident, strong, compelling, and winsome. The middle? Not so much.
I hate when a book is unfocused (bland) in the middle, but that mistake isn’t fatal. With the beginning, it is.
Amazon’s Look Inside feature is your friend–or not. You have five or six paragraphs to snag the sale. You’re promising the prospective reader a thrill ride–can you deliver? Will the emotional roller coaster be an enthralling, entertaining experience? Readers don’t want a wobbly, ho-hum story any more than they want to climb aboard a rickety zip line.
It’s not about the money spent, it’s about time. We’re talking about hours or days–my new Darcy book is kind of long–that a reader will never get back. I need to be at the top of my game and provide a satisfying return on that investment.
So, having gone on about the hook, I present the opening paragraphs of Darcy By Any Other Name. I had my work cut out for me! I had to tantalize the Austen fan, while also giving clues to those who have never read Pride and Prejudice. Thus we have aloof, reserved Mr. Darcy, the bumbling Reverend Collins, and the lovely Elizabeth Bennet, whom they both admire. I rewrote the opening chapter a bunch of times.
Fitzwilliam Darcy’s gaze swept the Netherfield ballroom. A stout fellow, his clothes shrieking of the parsonage, was urging Elizabeth Bennet to join him in the dance. Darcy’s smile threatened to become a smirk. He’d seen the man earlier, bumbling through dances he did not know, skipping and cavorting like a mooncalf. Apparently Miss Elizabeth would have no more.
Should Darcy ask her for another dance? Hardly! They’d danced earlier, and everything Darcy said she deliberately misunderstood.
Perhaps this was just as well. After all, what was she to him but the second-eldest Miss Bennet? Even in his thoughts—especially in his thoughts! —he would allow this beguiling young woman no quarter. Yet like a moth drawn to flame, here he was thinking about her, observing her.
That parson, or whoever he was, was mightily attracted. His smiling attempts at raillery spoke volumes. Why hadn’t he the sense to conceal his infatuation? Did he not realize that he was making an idiot of himself? She so obviously did not wish to speak with him.
And yet this was the sort of fellow that Elizabeth—no, the second-eldest Miss Bennet! —was likely to marry. Truth, Darcy reminded himself, must be faced. And so he studied the parson’s flushed, well-fed cheeks and promising double chin.
That a person like this (Darcy could hardly call him a man!) might wed adorable, intelligent Elizabeth was revolting. But such was the way of the world, his world, and it happened every day. Darcy drew a long breath and averted his gaze.
A writer, like any artist, has only one chance to make an impression. Be sure your hook is sharp and solid, and set it up to sink in deep.
Tomorrow’s post? I is for Intensity. Thanks for stopping by!
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