Thursday, October 15, 2009

How to Hook Your Readers--and Avoid Bad Lines & Stinkers! (OF COURSE there's a giveaway)

How does Webster’s define hook? “To seize, to grab hold of, to fasten.” Nowadays readers give us one, maybe two pages to attach their eye sockets to our writing. Those editor/agent types? Maybe one or two WORDs!

What’s a writer to do? Hone your hook with a diamond file. How?

A. Have a larger-than-life character ask a provocative question.

Why do mothers think they know best? Jill slammed shut her rattletrap Honda. Another hand-me-down from Mommie Dearest.

B. Give an in-your-face opinion that simmers with conflict.

Mondays stink. Especially a divorce anniversary. It was hard walking through a New Orleans downpour, but resentment and a chock-full court calendar fueled me into the Justice Center. Deadbeats called. And I would answer.

C. Use sensory words (touch/sound/smell) to pull the reader into another world.

Slurp. Glug. The radioactive ion device gobbled up enemy compounds. At least something in Batarka continued to function.

D. Paint a setting. Follow with a close-up of the character’s reaction.

Sweaty children blinked and slumped into their state-issue chairs. Fans hummed valiantly but failed to stir lifeless air. Even the name tags she’d pinned onto the boys’ and girls’ overalls drooped from the killer heat. Susanna forced a spring into her step. She hadn’t spent four years at Mississippi State to take the first train home.

E. Make a list, then check it twice…for emotion.

Balloons. Presents. Thirteen lit candles. A pretty pink cake. Shayna closed her eyes and pretended to make a wish. Pretended she was happy. But that’s all it was, pretend. If Daddy didn’t show soon, her insides would swell from all the pretending, and real tears would explode to drench everything in the room.

F. Craft killer dialogue that screams of conflict (Stockett’s The Help).

“What am I doing wrong? Why can’t I stop it?” Miss Leefolt, she look terrifed a her own child.

It? That was my first hint: something is wrong with this situation.

How to Avoid Bad Lines and Stinkers:

Don’t tangle your readers with convoluted reasoning or exhaustive description.

Avoid casts that force the reader to leap the pond of rational thinking or credibility.

Beware of murky settings and characters. If your waters are crystal clear, readers don’t mind going deep!

Before you fling out too much line, remember that in writing, less is frequently more!

Got your tackle packed? Your lunch made? Let’s go fishin’! Sure hope you catch the big one!
Oops! Almost forgot the giveaway! A great hook from one of my FAVORITE authors! "Sisters are overrated," she decided. Which book?
Winner of a signed copy of A Passion Most Pure is Virginia C.! Thanks for all the great comments, ladies!


  1. Is it A Passion Most Pure by Julie Lessman?


  2. Michelle, I'm not tellin'. But you will definitely be ENTERED!!!
    I have had fun talkin' to a Texan!
    Do you drawl now, too?

  3. A Passion Most Pure by Julie Lessman. Still trying to sharpen my writing with that diamond file you're talking about. Great post, Patti.

  4. Lee, you are 10 on my Moh's scale of hardness!

  5. "A Passion Most Pure" by Julie Lessman.

    Wonderful post! Thanks!


  6. Wow. The minute I finish typing this comment, I head for the "print" icon. This selection will be tacked on my office wall above my computer by 6 p.m. tonight!

    Thanks, Patti, for sharing your brilliance. I love the gifts in you. And you.

    "A Passion Most Pure" by Julie Lessman?


  7. I'm reading this one now. Julie Lessman's A Passion Most Pure. Great read indeed!

  8. Great post, Patti. Brilliant, just like the rest of your writing!

  9. Oh man, Patti, was this a fun blog or what?!!! Great advice, girlfriend.


  10. I would guess A Passion Most Pure by Julie Lessman.

    desertrose5173 at gmail dot com

  11. A Passion Most Pure by Julie Lessman.

    Wilda Morris

    wem @

  12. You hook the beginning HARD ... and you hook the end of each chapter (even each scene)

    It's something you need to focus on, not just hope for.

    It's fun and lively and vital to keep the reader in that Barcolounger where she belongs, forget supper, ignore those crying children, WHAT HAPPENS NEXT IN THIS BOOK!!!!!

  13. Girlfriends, y'all provide me a looking glass into your personality!Such GREAT hooks, and this is just for a BLOG COMMENT!

    But Man, why didn't I choose a Less famous hook? (sorry, caffeine high).

    Thanks, Debra, Jeanette, Pearl Eileen, Lisa, Julie (you sneak, you), Carmen, Wilda, and Mary!

  14. Great post, Patti. I needed this! I'm going to print it out too...

  15. I had to laugh at Mary's comment (like that never happens . . . ) because I remember when my kids were small and I used to hate to drag myself away from my book. Now I can read to my heart's desire and I fall asleep mid sentence.

    Thanks Patti! Like Mary's post yesterday, it's amazing the power of a few words - the hook, the one-sentence blurb. All those thousands of words we write depend on a very well chosen few.

    Patti, Julie's win of BOTY was preceded by the reading of her first sentence at ACFW Banquet--so that made it even easier for those of us who attended. (IOW Julie, Great Hook!)

  16. Oh, dear, I knew I should'a missed my daughter's wedding to cheer Julie on!

    What a dumb choice I made! Or maybe brilliant! All of y'all get a chance to win!!!

    Thanks, Susanne and Debra, for the visit! And thanks, Debra, for the testimony, you Chamption of truth, you!!!

  17. You know what this means, don't you? We're all hookers! LOL

    The book is "A Passion Most Pure" by the fabulous Julie Lessman... but don't enter me. I already have the book :+}

  18. I knew the answer immediately...before I looked at these comments ;-) It's a Passion Most Pure...but don't enter me! I already have the entire series (it's totally awesome). Whoever gets it will be one happy reader!

    xoxo~ Renee

  19. Jen, aren't you getting a little racy to be an inkie? LOL.
    Renee, well aren't you Miss Smartypants! Sorry, just had to use that phrase to keep up with Jeanette Levellie!

    Next time I will definitely puzzle y'all's gray matter. This time I was a flop.


  20. "A Passion Most Pure" by Julie Lessman.

    Steer clear of those murky waters :)

    gcwhiskas at aol dot com

  21. Virgina, good to reconnect! I'd know that e-mail addy ANYWHERE!
    Okay. I'll avoid Bayou Southern waters--not!


  22. Hi, Patty!

    Remember, the surface of the water may just show a reflection. Who knows "what lies beneath" : )


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We, the ladies of Inkwell Inspirations, would love to give free stuff to everybody. Since we can't, we will often have a giveaway in conjunction with a specific post. Unless otherwise stated, one winner will be drawn from comments left on that post between the date it was published and the end of the giveaway as determined in the post. Entries must be accompanied by a valid email address. This address is used only to contact the commenter in the event that he/she is the winner, and will not be sold, distributed, or used in any other fashion. The odds of winning depend on the number of entrants. NO PURCHASE, PLEDGE, OR DONATION NECESSARY TO ENTER OR TO WIN. ALL FEDERAL, STATE, LOCAL AND MUNICIPAL LAWS AND REGULATIONS APPLY. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED.