How to Hook a Reader [Editing 101]

TEMPLATE EDITING101

Today’s the day we launch our new week-long mini blog series solely focused on editing! This will be a five-part series dedicated to all things editing-related, and it’s titled “Editing 101.” We’ll be sprinkling editing-related posts on our blog throughout the next week, so stay tuned, writers (or aspiring authors!).

Today we’ll be discussing everything on how to hook a reader. First (and most obviously) you should write your novel. An ugly first draft is, unfortunately, very necessary in the writing process–but you’ll thank yourself for that ugly draft later, once you have a *shiny* manuscript. The first thing we usually do after writing the first draft is think of major plot holes we need to fix. And sometimes, the best way we begin fixing those major plot points is changing the beginning of the novel altogether.

Here’s an example: in the first draft of one of our unpublished YA manuscripts, the opening scene was the main character waking up. This, immediately, should set off some warning bells: the main character waking up from a dream can sometimes be waaay too cliche, especially in a first book in a series. Especially if the dream was something super exciting, but now the main character is waking up to their “mundane, normal life.”

A lot of the time, first drafts don’t start in the right place. (We can speak from experience–our newest WIP needs a completely different exposition.) Your current chapter three might just need to become the new chapter one. You need your opening to hook readers, to capture their attention, and if the opening’s exciting enough, they may just gobble the book whole.

What we’ve learned over time is that opening sentences are key, as they are the first look a reader gets into your story. Here are some exciting YA book openings where the first few sentences immediately captured our attention:

  1. A MADNESS SO DISCREET by Mindy McGinnis: “They all had their terrors. The new girl believed that spiders lived in her veins.”
  2. THE YOUNG ELITES by Marie Lu: “I’m going to die tomorrow morning. That’s what the Inquisitors tell me, anyway, when they visit my cell. I’ve been in here for weeks–I only know because I’ve been counting the number of times my meals come. One day. Two days. Four days. A week. Two weeks. Three. I stopped counting after that.”
  3. AN EMBER IN THE ASHES by Sabaa Tahir: “My big brother reaches home in the dark hours before dawn, when even ghosts take their rest. He smells of steel and coal and forge. He smells of the enemy.”

Now, how do you keep a reader hooked? There are plenty of ways to do this–namely, tons of action sequences, perhaps a luring mystery. Books that rotate in multiple POVs can be very fast-paced if the author keeps the chapters short (a few books that do this really well are THE MURDER COMPLEX by Lindsay Cummings and SALT TO THE SEA by Ruta Sepetys). It’s all about keeping the reader’s engaged, setting up high stakes, and making sure your main character is someone interesting to read about. We especially find that short sentences help hook a reader–even if they’re a bit vague, they keep the reader drawn in.

That’s it for our first post in our “Editing 101” series! Let us know if you learned anything new, or any other tips on how to hook a reader.

Until next time,

S&S

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