Monday, August 26, 2013

An Itch That Demands to be Scratched, or the Narrative Hook:

Mosquitoes swarm the southern town in which I live, and for some reason, they love me. I've grilled-out with a large group of people and walked away the only person bug-bitten. On an evening walk with my family a few nights ago, a mosquito found the one square inch of skin I hadn't doused with bug spray--my big toe! An incessant itch can be relentless and annoying in real life. 

But applied to writing and the narrative hook? An itch is brilliant.

I once attended a conference where Larry Brooks was keynote speaker. Afterwords, I immediately bought his book Story Engineering.  Here is a small slice of what he has to say about hook:

“What is this wondrous little tease called a hook? Doesn’t matter, as long as it’s visceral, sensual, emotionally resonant, and makes a promise of an intense and rewarding experience ahead.  It’s a simple something that asks a question the reader must now yearn to answer, or it causes an itch that demands to be scratched.”

I love that analogy, an itch that demands to be scratched.  

I'd also add an extra dimension: A writer should never scratch her reader’s back--at least, not completely, and definitely not until the end of the story!

Figuratively never scratching a reader’s back means we  leave them wanting more. We never satiate. Our reader feels the need to continue on our character's journey until that journey reaches its satisfying conclusion. In Manuscript Makeover, Elizabeth Lyon calls this creating movement and suspense, and I'll tackle the "how-to" for that in an upcoming post.

That itch—the narrative hook—is worth its weight in gold when it creates reader empathy.

“When narrative hook alludes to the character wound and need, it reaches into the deepest part of the reader’s heart and sets the frame for the entire novel.”

In other words, the reader is invested, the reader cares. Larry Brooks also says, “the more the reader cares, the more effective the story will be.”

Great advice, right?  Find more in the two phenomenal craft books below.  

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