When was the last time you were hooked? Not on phonics, but on a t.v. show, a blogger, a band, or a hobby—maybe even a food? What enthralls you? I’m currently captivated with Person of Interest. (I miss House.) Lately, I’ve reunited with Natalie Merchant and the 10,000 Maniacs and it feels so good. And I’ve eaten a honeycrisp apple a day for 3 weeks now. I like to get hooked. It makes life more exciting. Anticipation gets to go to work too. You’ll garner these same lovin’ feelings from readers if you learn to use narrative hooks in your writing. Yes, even in writing your blog posts.
Narrative hooks are essential to great content. When you open your narratives/posts, you need to hook your audience’s attention so they’ll keep reading. Remember there is a limitless amount of literature and such to read out there, you have to captivate or you’ll be a lonely writer with few readers. So, unless you are Harold, and you have a magic purple crayon where you can literally draw your reader in, you’ll need to use a powerful lure to bait your reader. The sobering truth is you have just four or five sentences to prove that you are worth listening to (unless you’ve proven yourself in the past). Narrative hooks often consist of the first line you pen. They are sentences with staying power, with resonant effect. I read Dickens in high school and honestly, I don’t remember much about A Tale of Two Cities. But some two decades later, in my mind is the indelible narrative hook, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...”
Let’s look to dear Jane for another memorable and captivating example. From Pride and Prejudice, the opening line reads, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Not only does Austen encapsulate the energy of every plot point in her prolific novel in that one sentence, she also manages to pique interest because her hook is a rather controversial statement, isn’t it? You may continue to read because you earnestly disagree or you forge ahead because you are in absolute agreement. Either way, Austen snagged your attention and you likely felt compelled to continue reading. Her hook helps set the stage for the story and it makes you ask yourself questions. See Jane write. The best hooks leave you with questions; they compel you to continue reading to sate your growing curiosity.
Here are a few other classic narrative hooks that do their job:
- You better not never tell nobody but God. (Alice Walker, The Color Purple)
- It was a pleasure to burn. (Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451)
- 124 was spiteful. (Toni Morrison, Beloved)
- I am an invisible man. (Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man)
- Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. (Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita)
- Mother died today. (Albert Camus, The Stranger)
- Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. (Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes were Watching God)
This is my point: your opening lines are of paramount importance, especially the first one. Find ways to attract readers to your prose. You’ll feel better. (They will too.) You may be saying to yourself I’m a blogger; I’m no Hemingway, nor do I aspire to be. This may be true. But, your craft lives or dies via creativity and hopefully, writing that sings a bit. (We’ll settle for hums a bit if we have to.) I’ll let writing guru John Trimble back me up here: “To write creatively—to come up with ‘a constant succession of tiny surprises’—we must want to. We all have imaginations; the trick is to use them. And it’s in the using of them that writing suddenly becomes a labor of love—and intensely creative, pleasurable activity. Each time we set down a sentence we must ask ourselves: ‘Now how can I express this more memorably?’” So next time you sit down to blog, get your creativity on. Be sure to hook your reader, line and sinker.