Two Ways to Hook and Keep Your Reader

Little did I know that last year when I attended the Highlights Foundation workshop, "Books that Rise Above," it would change my life. There were five reasons for this, no six, not counting the comfy cabin, delicious food, helpful and friendly staff, ambience of "The Barn" where we congregated, and rural, woodsy surroundings. Linda Sue Park, Patti Gauch, Deb Heiligman, Leonard Marcus, and Betsy Bird; oh my, what an admirable and astute group of five to gather under one roof. The sixth was the distinct pleasure of meeting the attendees, successful writers in their own right, which included Carolyn Yoder, Senior Editor, History, of Highlights magazine and Senior Editor of Calkins Creek Books, and Andy Boyles, Science Editor of the magazine.

This series covers the highlights of what I learned, broken up into a few posts for each presenter. I begin with Linda Sue Park's sage advice on capturing your reader from page one, or in her words: Sticky Bubbles.

The Bubble

Character drives plot. The character is faced with challenges. Illuminate the character and what happens next. Reader will care about her and what she wants and want to see what happens to her. Reader is hooked and can't put the book down until she finds out what happened.

How does Writer create the Bubble? By use of the best words in the right order.

Linda used examples from other books. My example is an excerpt that comes from the first page of her Newbery award-winner, A Single Shard.

"Eh, Tree-ear! Have you hungered well today?" Crane-man called out as Tree-ear drew near the bridge.

The well-fed of the village greeted each other politely by saying, "Have you eaten well today?" Tree-ear and his friend turned the greeting inside out for their own little joke.

Tree-ear squeezed the bulging pouch at his waist. He held the bag high. Tree-ear was delighted when Crane-man's eyes widened in surprise. He knew that Crane-man would guess at once--not carrot-tops or chicken bones, which protruded in odd lumps. No, the bag was filled with rice.

Crane-man raised his walking crutch in a salute.

Without turning the page, we have learned that:

  • Tree-ear and Crane-man are friends
  • They are poor, must scrounge for food, unlike the richer village community
  • Tree-ear has brought Crane-man a special treat, more substantial than typical meals
  • Tree-ear is likely the "bread-winner," the one of the pair who forages for food for their meals
  • Tree-ear's name and enthusiasm hint that he's a young boy
  • Crane-man must be an old man because he walks with a crutch
  • The bridge has some significance in the story

Try to stop me from turning the page. I'm hooked, I'm in the Bubble. I want to learn more about these characters, what they want and what's going to happen to them.

The Sticky Part
The sticky part is making the story stay with your reader for a long time. It is making the story matter.

What sticks? Questions stick best, not answers. Questions are guideposts in the exploration of life. Questions stick long after the end.

In every scene the character faces a choice, makes a decision and takes action. While this is taking place, Reader is immersed in the Bubble, which is a safe place to practice at life. While the character is confronting the problems and getting ready to make a choice, Reader is busy making his own choices.

Stuff to take with you: In Linda's words: Reader asks of every book: What's in it for me? A writer's most powerful tool is Reader's expectation. Writer must be fair. Whatever happens in his book must be justified. In my words: A Single Shard made me laugh out loud and bow my head and cry . I loved it so much I carried it around with me until I had read every last word.

Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 40 articles for children and adults, six stories for children, and is in the final editing stages of her first book, a mystery story for 7-10 year olds. Follow Linda on Facebook.


Heidiwriter said...

Great example and a good reminder of how to create interest!

Karen Cioffi said...

Linda, great tips on hooking and keeping the reader - and it's the 'keeping' that matters. I love A Single Shard.

The staying power of a good book is what counts. The good ones are read and remembered.

Magdalena Ball said...

What an informative post, Linda. Thanks for sharing, not only your workshop experiences, but some of the key aspects of what you learned. I really like the "bubble" and "stickiness" as concepts.

Mary Jo Guglielmo said...

Linda,I think I stayed at the cabin right next door to that one at the Highlights workshop called "Room to Create". It was a perfect writers retreat. Check out the picture of my cabin.

Shirley Corder said...

Thank you Linda. I love the idea of stickiness, and creating a bubble.

D. Jean Quarles said...

Love the advice! Thank you.

Linda Wilson said...

I am glad the advice helped! Mary Jo, I will check out your cabin. Such a warm, peaceful experience to write to our hearts' content! I'm going to another workshop there ASAP!

Anne Duguid Knol said...

Came back to this after reading part two of your article and am absolutely delighted by the concept and explanations. Answers a question I had long been asking myself. Thanks very much indeed.

Linda Wilson said...

I'm glad the posts helped, Annie. The series is going to be long because I learned so much. I hope the rest helps, too. Thanks for your input. It's very much appreciated!

Peaches Ledwidge said...

Reading. Interesting. Good tips.

Linda Wilson said...

Good, hope the tips helped. Thanks for writing, Peaches!

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