Saturday, April 18, 2015

What Hooks a Reader on a Story?

If there were a definitive way to hook every reader into buying a book, I’m sure it would have been discovered before now. Purchasing a book can be a big surprise, sometimes way beyond excellent, sometimes very awful (see this blog post). That’s because all readers are individuals who share some similarities, but most often have distinctive ‘wants’ in reading entertainment.

When I choose a print book, I always read the first few pages. Electronic books don’t usually allow this selling tactic, but excerpts can often be found online, just not always the first few pages. Those pages often determine if I’ll spend the time reading the book. Let’s face it, the cliché is true: time is precious, and I don't want to waste three or more hours on an unsatisfactory story. This lack of prevue might be what is driving potential readers to other entertainment venues. So what draws me into a story?

I like when 1) I receive either obvious or subliminal hints about the lead-in character (in the first chapter not the prologue) and his or her predicament is one that I can identify with in some manner, or 2) the situation is fascinating. It’s that simple. If the character shares an emotional response to an interesting situation, past or pending, I’ll continue reading. Does it guarantee I’ll finish? No, it’s only the start, but if the story continues with the introduction’s promise of suspense, emotional or physical turmoil faced in a realistic manner, or dealing with some life-changing decision, I’m in, no matter what the genre. I do enjoy stories of contemporary, historical, or future eras, and I’m willing to engage in believable fantasy (there are many that are not believable). I do like to receive some type of insight into the human condition before the end, no matter what. That’s also how I attempt to engage readers in my own novels.

Follow the links to discover other author's viewpoints on how story openings hook them:

Beverley Bateman
Diane Bator
Ginger Simpson
Skye Taylor
Marci Baun
Margaret Fieland 
Helena Fairfax
Anne Stenhouse
Fiona McGier
Connie Vines
Rachael Kosnski 
Victoria Chatham
Lynn Crain


  1. Our time is a precious commodity and no one wants to waste it on a poorly conceived book. In the early days of e-books I so often got drawn in with a great cover and blurb and then abandoned the book after a few pages because it was so badly written. Now I'm a lot more selective.

  2. And self publishing makes thousands of poorly crafted stories available, even though electronic publishers have come a long way (and created the market for NY publishers). Finding a good book is sometimes tricky.

  3. Once upon a time if I spent the time to choose a book off a library shelf or purchased it at the local book store, I felt compelled to read all of it however much I wanted to put it down. But as you say, time is precious and I no longer want to waste any of it reading something that doesn't keep hooking me, on the back cover, on the first page and at the end of the first chapter especially, but even past that. If the author doesn't create a need for me to read on, I won't.

  4. Hi Robin, yes, character is the big hook for most of us, but I do agree with your point about fantasy - t has to be something we can envisage. anne stenhouse

  5. The posts are as diverse as we all are. We do all seem to agree that connecting to the characters is what we want, but we don't all have the same expectations and outcomes as far as the characteristics. Not every book is going to be every reader's cup of tea...I know we all have discovered that by reviews, and this was definite proof. Thanks for providing such thought provoking questions.

  6. Diversity in concepts with a common need for the readers to connect with each story. An excellent post.

  7. It seems that a lot of us are hooked by the reader. Character is definitely king, or queen. Of course, my list is a bit longer, and may be even longer than I posted. LOL

    Thanks for organizing, Rhobin. :)


  8. Characters we relate to tend to be the link most of us are looking for in a great story. The others things keep pulling us along. And you're so right, Rhobin about the amount of time we have to read.