Friday, April 5

The Strange: How To Hook A Reader's Interest

The Strange: How To Hook A Reader's Interest

I've been writing about hooks lately, especially in openings, but the fact is that we need hooks all through our story, hooks being little things that keep our readers curious, interested, wanting to turn pages to find out what happens.

Hooks build and maintain narrative drive.

In the third part of his Storytelling as a Fine Art series, writer extraordinaire, David Farland, talks about the role of The Strange in creating and maintaining reader interest. (You can find the first two parts of his series here and here.)

How To Engage A Reader's Interest: Offer Something Strange

As I wrote this post one of the songs from the soundtrack of The Lost Boys started to play in my mind: People Are Strange. It's true. And strange people are interesting. Exciting. Look at the dictionary definition:
-    Unusual or surprising in a way that is unsettling or hard to understand.
-    Not previously visited, seen, or encountered; unfamiliar or alien: "she found herself in bed in a strange place".
I think that's the key: hard to understand. We want to be challenged, we want to read something that will make us curious, beguile us, that will make us excited. Engaged.

David Farland mentions that J.K. Rowling wrote her books at a 9th grade level when a lot of adult literature is intentionally written at a 6th grade level. That was part of their draw: readers of any age want a challenge (Robert Sawyer talks about withholding description to make reading interactive).

Here are David Farland's examples of beguiling strangeness:

Visit a strange new world, visit a fantastic setting

- I think one of the many reasons I, and so many others, fell in love with J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books was the fantastic and fabulous places he took us to, the kinds of critters--Trents!--he introduced us to.
- Recall the iconic bar scene in Star Wars, the one that takes place in the Mos Eisley Cantina. Not only are there all manner of exotic creatures but most of them are pirates and smugglers.


Someone who "thinks, speaks, or behaves in an unpredictable fashion". I'd Say Han Solo fit that bill nicely (he did shoot first, after all! ;).

Surprising Language

Use language in surprising ways.

- J.K. Rowling: "Muggles", "Severus Snape".

- Neologisms, modern slang, regional dialects.

Modifiers, nouns, verbs

Leslie Norris: "Try to avoid using modifiers or nouns or verbs unless they're surprising in some way."

David Farland's example: "A brief, desolate smile flashed like summer lightning across Serena’s lips."

(This is also the sort of thing I've been calling a hook. Since smiles generally aren't desolate this smile is strange, different. That makes us curious. Why is this one different?)

Less Is More


Sometimes you want the pace of your story to fly. For instance, in a climactic fight scene. In that case you want your prose to be spare.

Another example. David Farland gives us a scene where characters discover love. He writes:
... I’ve seen those moments where a young woman suddenly gushes with newly discovered love, and the author will seek ways to convince us that her love is purer, larger, and nobler than any love that has ever blossomed within a woman’s breast.

That’s nice, but it doesn’t work. Your goal is not to describe how your character feels, but to create an experience that makes the reader feel the desired emotion. Your goal isn’t to describe how your heroine feels, it’s to make the reader fall in love.

Very often, it is not the overwrought description of an incident that arouses the emotion, but a nice spare depiction that simply makes the reader feel as he or she should feel.

Sometimes, less is more.
How about you? Have you used the power of The Strange in your work lately?

Other articles you might like:

- 3 Elements Of A Great Story Opening
- Kris Rusch: Don't Accept A Book Advance Of Less Than $100,000
- C.J. Lyons Discusses Whether Amazon KDP Select Is Worth The Price Of Exclusivity

Photo credit: "Raiders Of The Death Star" by JD Hancock under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

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