What a Bestselling Author Can Teach You About Hooking Your Readers

What a Bestselling Author Can Teach You About Hooking Your Readers

Reader Comments (65)

  1. Awesome article, Jeff! My fiction and my blogging have an entirely symbiotic relationship, one constantly feeding the other. Still, as you’ve said, I tend to cram too much exposition in the beginning. Yours is an excellent reminder. I have a 1400 word post that I need to trim today. I know just where to start. Thanks!

  2. Jeff, What are your thoughts on advising writers to start their inciting incident (i.e., the opening of their book / blog post) with power verbs?

    I’m surprised I don’t see more people giving this advice. I think there’s no better way of “jumping into an exciting opening” than opening with exciting verbs.

  3. Great advice here Jeff! Regardless of the topic – you have to get back to your writing basics when it comes to hooking readers in. Foreshadowing (thinking English 101) is one of the most valuable tools of the trade. Thanks for the wisdom!

  4. I think Alfred Hitchcock called the inciting incident “the Macguffin”; whatever it was that got the plot rolling. I don’t know why he called it that. I would go look, but that would distract me, and I’ve got my own blog post to go write!

  5. Shane,

    I think you’re right on the money with that. Writing with powerful verbs might be well-worn writing advice, but it’s advice I frequently admonish myself with during editing. Even those last two sentences bear evidence of that ; )

    I’d just add to your idea that weak verbs are sometimes the fault of picking the wrong subject for your sentence. Changing the subject of the sentence often frees up room for the writer to play with and leverage better verbs.

    – Jeff

  6. @Jodi, the Macguffin is a device (sometimes it has no real intrinsic value, like the Maltese Falcon) that drives the plot along. I like Hitchcock’s quote on it, “In crook stories it is almost always the necklace and in spy stories it is most always the papers.”

  7. Vaulting to the middle of the mine field has its distinct advantages when writing anything. Thanks Jeff for always providing target oriented advice.

  8. Nice article, Jeff. Your own title and opening graph practice what you preached … and then I read through your list of Pressfield’s blog titles and got an altogether different mental image of, umm, hooking your readers when I saw “Sex Scenes.”

    I look forward to reading through more of Pressfield’s work … and the comments thus far have me thinking about how well Hitchcock used angles and filters to shape his films.

  9. You know, your text in Google reader headlines: “What a Bestselling Author Can Teach You
    About Hooking” Hmm. sounds interesting. …

    No, wait, it’s just false advertising. there’s a fishing lure placed prominently on the page. Those damn wiley Copybloggers!!

  10. Great post Jeff and congratulations on guest posting! I loved Pressfield’s War of Art and this is a good reminder to re-read it.
    Warning: Blatant plug for Jeff’s class. Jeff is an awesome teacher and there is no better or cooler venue than the campus of the Wizard Academy in Austin.

  11. If only more people would read your post and apply these tips and techniques. Congrats on the post.

    After reading this, I’ve already gone back to a project and massaged it a tad.

  12. When I teach kids how to write they always come alive when we start talking about “Opening Big”. Their imaginations run wild with aliens and vampires, jellybeans and giraffes. And then they figure out how to connect that energy with what they really want to write about.

    It’s nice to see that the same thing works for adults and has been working for all writers through the centuries. Great job, Jeff.

  13. Thanks for a great post!
    Steven Pressfield is one of my favorite writers, both for impact and inspiration (The War of Art) and historical fiction (Gates of Fire). I have recommended and given these two books more than any others -except for the Scriptures.
    I look forward to digging in and learning more from the blog of this writing master.

  14. I love this post. I used to do a similar thing with blog posts – I would delete the first 100 words after I’d written the post. Now, I’ve learned to write a bit leaner, but the strategy still works.

    I like the inciting incident example though, because you’re right, that’s what gets you hooked. Time to think of things in a new light 🙂

  15. The “rule of the first third” is equally painful and powerful. Writing shorter posts that suck your reader right into the story surely is a great advice to follow.

  16. You had me hooked from the start, Jeff. Congrats on the guest spot. Love how you hooked along before finally revealing the inciting moment idea fully. Nicely done. I recall both that porn post and the most important lesson one as well. Thanks for stirring them off the bottom of my fish tank memory. Dave’s right: Jeff’s a great teacher–in person or online. I’m following Wanek’s idea and bookmarking this one for future reference.

  17. …I want more.

    This post kicks it up a notch and exposed the art behind the science. The nuance behind the process which I often overlook when I write.

    Plus there is a bonus – take a look at Steven Pressfields blog – it knocked me completely on my rear end. I’m a little gob smacked by how much I don’t know.

  18. @Stan, Pressfield’s blog is amazing, isn’t it? I’m grateful to Jeff for turning us on to it.

  19. Thanks for the great insight, Jeff. Only the best teachers can break a complex subject like this down into understandable – and doable – pieces. You gave me my much-needed lesson for the day!

  20. Awhile ago I read here at Copyblogger the idea of dropping your first paragraph so the lead in to your post was more interesting. I gave it a try and it really did work. The blog post was far more compelling without that paragraph. I can now see it was probably because by dropping it, the inciting incident was brought out in the beginning and not lost amongst unnecessary detail.

    I shall keep the 3 steps at the ready from now on. Great tips Jeff. Thanks!

  21. Attention is so scarce in this new Social Media age. Really enjoyed your tips Jeff!

    It reminded me a lot of writing copy. You’ve got to have a good headline that grabs attention but if the rest of your copy sucks, you’re definitely not going to get the sale.

  22. @Sami, some writers call those first paragraphs “throat clearing.” They’re often useful to write, just not so enjoyable to read. 🙂

  23. Jeff,
    Great article. I would like to write a bit about it on The Wizard Times this week; and then give a link to this site and the article . I particularly say, “amen” to the 5 points in Beginning with the end in mind.
    We do that as well when planning our shows at the Kentucky Opry.
    Mr C

  24. I have learned a lot here. I have read many good books but I can’t seem to dissect the secrets of its success. By your interview with one of the greatest author I have grasped the secret.

    Thank you for sharing it here. I always wanted to be a great writer and these are important lessons for me. 🙂

  25. Definitely something to aspire to with these ideas. I still need a lot more pratice but hopefully I’ll be able to pull it off soon. Off to check out Pressfield’s blog now. Many thanks for sharing it and your tips with us:)

  26. Leaving stuff out is so effective. And difficult! Hence the metaphor, “kill your darlings.”

    I’m always, command-x. Undo. Command-x. Undo.
    Like Boyz II Men say, it’s so hard to say goodbye.

    And then I remind myself, “no one but me will know this absolutely brilliant passage ever existed. And no one but me will miss it.”


  27. Jeff, the “throw away the first third” is great advice. Its a great way to create business letters, too.

    I recommend throwing out the first paragraph (which is usually just “mumbling”) and moving the last paragraph (usually a great synopsis) to the top.

    Sign it, and out the door.

  28. I just finished “How to Tell a Story” by Rubie & Provost. Very good. Not a difficult read, but doing the exercise and applying their advice will keep you very busy indeed.

    They discuss inciting incidents in detail.

    Typically, I try to throw that first paragraph away and rewrite it completely, especially that first sentence.

    Checking out Pressfield now.

  29. I’ve been blogging since about 2006 and I am astounded at how much I just don’t know, and how much I have managed to figure out on my own.

    Thanks for helping me close the gap a little more between what I know and don’t know.

    I use the “inciting incident” (not that I knew that was what I was doing), but do not implement the first third as described here. I try to re-read my blog posts to minimize typos but clearly don’t spend enough time refining the entry for best performance.

    Thanks again!

  30. Sean,

    Thanks for the comment, buddy. Pressfield is awesome. Make sure to subscribe to his Wednesday writing feed. And good luck.

    – Jeff

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