by Anne Hamilton
The ads are everywhere: cut down on 1 kg of belly fat each week with this 1 weird diet tip.
It sounds too good to be true. And it is. It’s a con. A lure to pull you into the world of health supplements and diet foods, vitamin regimes and alternative weight loss programmes. Now personally I have nothing against any of those things. However, I object to the advertising methodology: bait the customer with a simple tantalising message and, once you’ve got them hooked, switch the pitch.
That said, in the world of writing, there’s a lot to be said for the old switcheroo. Last week we looked at the ‘Narrative Hook’ and two of its styles—the puzzle and the hint.
This time we’ll look at two more styles which offer the prospect of presenting the reader with a tempting enough morsel to draw them into your book. They’re my two favourites: atmosphere and interruption. I like them both so much, I usually combine them.
‘Murder?’ Holly whispered. She frowned, turning aside to look out of the bus window at the sun-scorched fields and the blurring heat haze on the distant mountains. The roadside went up and down but the sleepy drone of the bus’ engine remained undisturbed by each bump and jolt.
‘It’s true,’ Reece insisted. ‘That’s what she said she saw.’ He lowered his voice. ‘By midnight tonight, he’s going to be arrested for murder. Our murder.’
This was the opening of my debut novel Merlin’s Wood, published ten years ago today. It was the heyday of ‘bait and switch’—the truly explosive, gruesome, intriguing or spectacular opening paragraph that often seemed unrelated to the rest of the book. I sometimes felt someone other than the author had written those spell-binders.
It was kind of like a MacGyver effect—if ever you watched the show, you might been sucked in, as I often was, by the thrilling opening scene—which would then turn out to have nothing whatsoever to do with the episode. Terry Nation, famous for introducing the Daleks in Dr Who and developing Blake’s 7 moved to Hollywood and made an excellent living writing those MacGyver hooks.
I’d resisted the idea of a narrative hook for a long time, lulled into a false sense of security by beta-readers who liked a slow build-up of tension. Finally, after a long series of rejections, I decided to bite the bullet on the issue and see what happened. With cold calculation, I thought of the most dramatic word I could to start a children’s novel. Let’s try, hmmm… murder…
The story was picked up the very next time I sent the manuscript out. The publisher even told me right up front it was the first fantasy he’d ever read. But he couldn’t put it down because he was so intrigued by the opening. From that moment, I was sold on the narrative hook.
Yet, as I’ve looked across my shelves and plucked dozens of Christian novels down to find examples, I’ve seriously struggled to find any.
Perhaps it’s time for us to be more intentional about them. There’s a good reason why it’s used—because they work so well.
In the meantime, if you know of any examples of the Interruption or Atmosphere styles of narrative hook, I’d love to read of them.
And a reminder: over at Omega Writers, this month’s writing challenge is to craft your manuscript’s opening paragraph – either fiction or non-fiction – so it has a nifty narrative hook.
Deadline for entries is 20 December 2013. Entry is free for members of Omega Writers and $5 for non-members. A cash prize of $25 plus 3 new books from Light the Dark and a cool award for your CV awaits the winner.
Send your entries to registrarATwordswithwingsDOTnet
Anne Hamilton is the current President of Omega Writers, a support group for faith-based writers across Australasia. Today she’s celebrating the tenth anniversary of the publication of her first book, Merlin’s Wood. If you’d like to win a copy of this historic momento, we’ll draw a few winners from those who comment a week from today.
Print book giveaway, 3 winners: 1 Australian reader, 1 New Zealand reader, and 1 international reader.