I am over the moon that Graham Smith has kindly offered his time to write up this insightful and interesting piece on #KillerHooks. I am trying to refrain from the Eeeeeks! and OMFG’s….but it is proving to be difficult as I admire and am somewhat in awe of Mr Smith’s talent to not only deliver a superb narrative hook…he also is flawless in executing the #Finisher…an ending that will just floor you! So without further ado…here he is!
Grabbing Your Readers by the Throat
Now that I’ve got your attention with that headline I’m going to share a theory and maybe, just maybe prove a point.
In today’s world everyone has much shorter attention spans as there are far too many things competing for our attention. There’s TV, Netflix, the Book of Faces, other social media outlets and traditional pastimes such as reading, arts & crafts and a thousand and one other hobbies. Then there’s the unholy coupling of family and work fighting for a piece of us too.
With so many distractions we’re constantly flitting from one thing to another until one firmly grabs us and refuses to let us go.
Think about the films or the shows you love, do they start out bland and slow or are you thrown right in to an action scene or some dramatic point? Take the Bond films as an example, the opening sequences now are only surpassed by the final set piece. The viewer’s whole attention is dominated from the start and the actual story is explained much later.
Having read all of Ian Fleming’s novels, I can say with confidence they did not start the same way. In fact they are generally a slow build towards a climactic ending because that was the style at the time and those novels re-invigorated a flagging thriller market. I firmly believe they would not get published today because of their ponderous beginnings.
Today’s style is one which insists readers are hooked right away lest their interest shift to a more gripping target. It’s certainly something I try to inject into my own writing. My debut novel Snatched from Home opens with the following line “Victoria Foulkes’s head snapped up when she heard the crunch of her husband’s nose breaking.” The sequel I Know Your Secret has an elderly woman finding a crucified priest on page one.
This is me reaching out and grabbing my readers by the throat because let’s face it, when you grab someone by the throat you can be sure you have their full attention.
Most modern crime or thriller novels start this way and the high heid-yin otherwise known as Lee Child says he asks a question on page one and doesn’t answer it until the last page. Helen Fitzgerald’s latest novel Viral has the wonderful opening “I sucked twelve cocks in Magaluf” which is a sure fire throat grabber. Because of its sexual nature it has garnered a certain amount of opprobrium which has attracted publicity and debate which in turn will draw readers as they buy the book to see what the fuss is about.
Perhaps one of the best pieces of writing advice I have heard is “put your second chapter first”. In other words, start with the action and introduce the story and characters later.
Here are a couple of examples I’ve made up to emphasise my point. The first kicks off with action and the second, well, I’ll let you judge what it starts with. If it even starts at all.
1) I punch the third guy second and whirl to face the first who’s pulled a knife from somewhere.
2) I towel myself dry and reach for the aftershave. My face in the mirror looks as it always does. Plain, average and uninteresting. Blue eyes, smooth skin and straight nose topped by curly brown hair.
Okay, hands up I’ve been deliberately exciting with one and bland with the other, but let’s take a closer look at what I’ve done.
The first asks questions right away. Who is the narrator and can (s)he survive the fight against superior numbers and weaponry? Why is (s)he being attacked? Which side are the good guys, the narrator or the attackers?
The second is bland and uninteresting, banal and boring. It’s everyday and can only be rescued by impending tragedy. I’ve also gone so far as to give the character a face thereby robbing the reader of the opportunity of creating their own mental image.
For me it’s a no-brainer as to which of these two books I’d read. If I’ve grabbed you by the throat long enough to have you still reading at this point, I’d be very interested in reading your thoughts in the comments. If for no other reason than to send lots of alerts to Noelle’s phone which will grab her attention.
Erm….thanks Graham….I think! Seriously though, I would absolutely LOVE to hear your thoughts in the comments below, so don’t be shy….and if you want to see if Graham does really practice what he preaches…check out my review for The Major Crimes Team Vol 1: Lines of Enquiry and Snatched From Home and/or grab yourself a copy – Links below!
Oh and if you want to follow Graham Smith and Tweet to your hearts content as he just LOVES to chat…you can find him on: Graham Smith Twitter or Graham Smith Author Page on Facebook…what was that you said to me the other day Mr Smith? Hmmm…I think you have again been “Hoisted by (your) own petard” Noelle-2 Graham-0 ??