Thursday, June 23, 2011

Hook Them in the Heart

“What makes a book a pageturner?”

I asked that question of a legendary editor who had ushered many pageturners into publication.
“Heartstrings,” she said. “You must pluck their heartstrings.”

She meant you have to make your reader care if you want her to fly through your words as if life depended on finding out what happens next.

How do you fill that tall order and plant the narrative hook so deep in your reader’s psyche that she can’t bear to tear herself away?

You must tell a story whatever you are writing – novel, memoir, narrative nonfiction or how to open a can of tomato soup. Make it into a story, a story happening to a person. Make us care what happens to that person enough to keep turning pages to discover her fate.

What inspires us to care about the person at the center of your story? Make that person struggle mightily. The mightier the struggle, the faster pages fly. Make your person struggle with grace, and you set the hook deeper still.

You are setting that hook in the reader’s heart, plucking her heartstrings. This is a story, in which she cannot help but become involved.

She pulls for your person to pry the lid off that tomato soup can in time to feed the hungry hoard and save her finger from a near fatal nick in the bargain. Her triumph is your reader’s triumph, and that reader will remember her time with your work as an absorbing, satisfying experience.

Most important, in writing career terms, that reader is eager to read your next heart-hook story whether its fast flying pages are made of paper, pixels or flashes of lunar light.

Another huge plus happens even before you get to the stage of having a reader to hook. You hook the editor you are submitting to or the agent you hope to attract.

Good luck with all of that, and keep on writing whatever may occur.

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