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The 8-Second Advice for Writing a Narrative Hook

Do you know what the average human attention span is?

According to a Microsoft study, it’s eight seconds.

Eight teeny, tiny seconds. That’s it.

You already used up at least half of it to read those first few sentences. Or, from my end, I have four seconds or less left to capture your attention, if I haven’t already.

For that matter, even after I do pique your interest, I have to keep piquing it every eight seconds.

If you’re already invested in a book or TV show, then my guess is that time frame goes up by a decent bit. But you’re not so lucky when it comes to polishing (i.e., editing or rewriting) a narrative hook. You’re still in the first-impressions stage.

Which means you’ve got to put on one captivating literary face in order to succeed.

While editing or rewriting a narrative hook, you have to ask yourself whether your novel’s intro has what it takes.

That’s going to be decided by your potential readers who see it. Ultimately, your creativity, passion and hard work is either going to interest people or disengage them.

Since the “people” category is exceptionally diverse, you should never try to please everyone. As we discussed in yesterday’s Writing Challenge, that’s a waste of your time. You’re much better off identifying your ideal reader, and then targeting him or her like crazy.

With that said, for better or worse, doing that is only going to set you up so far for success. There’s still a whole lot of room to run here.

Even taking your ideal reader into consideration, you’ve still got a lot of flexibility with your literary hook.

Think about all the novels that have captured your attention over the years and why you wanted to keep reading them after that first line or first paragraph or first page. More than likely, you’re going to find that there were some stories that started as teases, some that kicked off in a more relatable fashion, and some that threw you right into the action.

Yet they all had that je ne sais quoi about them: that promise to keep your interest all the way through to the end.

What exactly is that je ne sais quoi? Good look figuring it out.

No, really. Good luck figuring it out!

As evidenced by so many successfully sold novels out there, writing an effective narrative hook isn’t impossible. So don’t take any of this as discouragement.

If anything, you’re in the sweet spot. You get the guidance of having an ideal reader to understand and direct your intro at… while still having creative license in exactly how to approach him or her.

For instance, let’s say you’re writing a mystery. In that case, clearly, your readers are expecting and anticipating something to solve. They want to see how smart they are up against your main character.

Therefore, in your case, writing a narrative hook should probably promise or tease a question – or the fact that there’s going to be a question. That could be by:

  • Setting up the crime scene

  • Introducing the detective (professional, amateur or accidental)

  • Introducing the criminal

  • Introducing the motive.

See how much room that leaves you?

That means the je ne sais quoi involved in writing a narrative hook – one that sells – is right there in your creative mind.


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