The hook is on my mind as I enter Dublin Roasters in Frederick, and no, I’m not talking about the arm of a pirate. I’m referring to the bomb dropped right on time at the end of Chapter 3 in a romance novel. This weapon of word choice is meant to grab the reader’s attention and hit them where it counts—swallowing up their attention. I’ve been there, unable to put a book down and there’s no better rush from a reader’s perspective. I want to feel like I need to turn the page.
This isn’t an easy thing to do. This is the sacred hook.
The more I write, the less importance I place on this catch-all as a necessary means to capturing the reader’s attention. I find the author’s writing style is equally as important to me. Quick, witty banter goes a long way or eloquent paragraphs that make me savor the simplicity and beauty of words are just as powerful. My writing style evolves as the themes of my stories change, I focus less on finding the perfect placement of a problem for my characters and focus expanding their struggles throughout the book. I have major points that need to happen in order to move the story along, but I don’t let a formula dominate the natural progression of tension. I want the hook to be continual and rise steadily throughout the pages.
Coffee connoisseurs are no different than readers. We’re a picky lot. Maybe the term snob is thrown around. I think we’re misunderstood. It comes with the territory of enjoying something to the point of knowing what I like and don’t like (in both cafes and books). The bookstagrammers I follow share a mutual love of caffeine in our mugs. We take photos of our coffee and our books, spreading a sense of our style through a single photo, just like the opening sentence of a book. I know, even before the end of the first page, if I will like this story. If I will like this café. Both have something in common.
By the time I order my single shot espresso, I’m intrigued. A coffee house is tricky. The atmosphere must appeal to a wide range of customers while remaining intimate. My eyes take in the interior. The decor is warehouse-style, decorated in strings of white lights on the ceiling and comfy chairs and tables on the ground. There’s art on the walls and coffee to buy on shelves. A sense of responsibility is present in the fair trade signs and photos of staff trips to coffee farms in Columbia. I see a chess board, which gets points. Coffee and games go together, but what’s important is the concept of this place, much like the way a writer controls the flow of the story. What’s going to make me stay? Is it the big reveal in a book or the promise of a place I want to return and share with friends?
Elements of a coffee drink and writing a book are not that far apart. They’re universal. Each begins with an idea. There’s conflict along the way. Dialogue, communication, and training in each craft are required. Readers need a reason to keep reading. A presence of authenticity is necessary. How the author or business owner spins either one is what makes it unique.
Writer’s today don’t have the luxury of ‘building’ the story. The formula of which readers grew accustom to doesn’t work. It’s dated and overdone. A readers wants to be kidnapped by the plot immediately. There’s low tolerance for an author dragging the story at their heels and it can go against a writer’s desire to let the story take it’s time. I struggle with this as my fingers hit the keyboard. How to remain true to the timing of events in the plot while moving along quick enough as to not lose the reader’s interest. There’s thousands of romance novels out there and a bulk of them are offered for free. It’s tough to know how to proceed. Give in to the market or cultivate something else. There’s plenty of places to get coffee. Neither is no longer a novelty.
I’m comfy in this big leather chair and tempted to put my feet up on the table (which I would never do). I consider the key elements in designing and giving the hook a sustainable lifeline.
I begin with Pacing. Instead of dumping the major problems in the first three chapters, try spreading them out. Give away what’s useful. Tease the reader and hint at more problems to come. Add a couple of twists along the way. Keep the reader hostage by making them think they know what’s coming and give them something unpredictable. Reduce the level of information and let the inner struggles and fears of a character shine. Use descriptions without distracting from the story. Those are some that come to mind.
I haven’t left Dublin Roasters in case you’re wondering. I’m at the end of my drink and I’m not ready to go. The best compliment to an author is that you’ve decided to come back for more and the same is true for this place. I’m hooked.
Dublin Roasters. 1780 N Market St, Frederick, MD 21701