Updated: Jul 10, 2020
When was the last time you picked up a book, opened it up and went, “Wow! That’s boring. I want to buy it!”
If you’re anything like me, that’s never happened before. For that matter, I think it’s safe to say that, if you’re anything like anyone, it’s never happened before.
I’d be willing to wager it’s never happened before in the history of the printing press. Or of the scrolls before them, papyrus, animal hide or whatever.
And before you think you’re so clever, required reading for elective classes don’t count. The same goes for a book club pick you heard was horrible but have to purchase anyway.
You don’t want to buy those books. You have to buy those books. There’s a difference.
What I’m talking about is personally selected pleasure reading. Particularly novels.
Nobody reads a novels’ first lines and buys it unless they’re at least a little hooked on the narrative.
Going off that last line of needing to be “suitably intrigued,” I’ll admit – along with my wager above – that this state of being does differ from person to person.
Some readers demand to be in absolute, breathtaking love with the first few lines. Others are fine with more of a tease or two.
Either way, we’re still talking about the same literary device in action.
While I have heard of some readers who are willing to give books-to-buy a little more leeway, most of us aren’t going to get past the first few pages – probably not even the first few paragraphs – if we’re not immediately intrigued.
That’s what a hook is: It’s the opening lines that offer something or promise something that readers will want to latch onto. It might be action or intrigue or romance or sympathy or a promise that this world can make sense again after all. But whatever it is, it’s gotta be good.
Good enough, that is, to make the reader want to continue being a reader – your reader.
There’s the bait sitting on the narrative hook (i.e., your front jacket image and back jacket description). There’s the fish (i.e., your potential reader) closing in on the narrative hook (i.e., picking up your book).
Will he be tempted enough to bite?
Then he does! He's on the narrative hook. He's reading it! But is he secured enough?
That depends on how quickly you can reel him in. There’s really not much time.
Exactly how much time is debatable, since some people would argue it could be a whole chapter. Others would say it’s a couple of paragraphs and no more.
As for me, I generally tend to think of narrative hooks as consisting of the first page and a half. Though it might be as short as the first few lines.
That’s because most of us readers know what we like in a novel. And we’re even better at identifying what we don’t like when it comes to advertising.
If that sounds like a random topic change, it’s not. Don’t for a second think that a narrative hook is anything but a marketing ploy. It’s the last step in the book sales process that lands you that fishy you want so bad.
More about that on Thursday!
Editor’s Note: Read the next post on narrative hooks here.