fiction, writing

Seducing the Reader: Part 1

Book Dryad
it doesn’t take much to tantalize…

It seems obvious that in order to get a reader interested in your story, you must have a great line. Something that stands out, grabs their attention, but isn’t corny.  The idea here is to intrigue your reader and bring them into the story without making them lean away and smile politely until they can put the book down and effectively leave the room of your tale. Ideally, by the time you have their interest, they will take your book to bed with them and stay up half the night having fun.

Writing a striking first line without crafting something fit for Bulwer-Lytton is a challenge. And it’s not just the first line, it’s the first paragraph, page, and so on. Like the guy at the bar who never plans for a girl to actually respond to his first line, don’t be left floundering for story when you spent ages getting your hook perfect.

I started thinking about this when I grabbed the quote below as a metaphor example for class, and realized that a brilliant metaphor is a good way to start. Not by any means the only way, but it can be intriguing.

“Port Tinarana was like an old, decaying tart, her face lined with a myriad of streets and alleys, inexpertly caked with a crude makeup of overhanging buildings.” 

Dave Freer has a way with words like few other authors I have read, and part of the reason is that he seems to be a passionate reader himself. He knows what we want, and he delivers. The opening lines to The Forlorn evoke a place we wouldn’t want to live in, but from the safe distance lent by a page, we venture into those reeking alleys, and meet a character we are compelled by.

Personally, when I read I am looking for characters to fall in love with. This may be the reason I can’t stand stories where no-one has any redeeming qualities. There has to be something, for me. A touch of honor, a glimpse of hope, a soul that will not go quietly into the gray fog of nothingness. I adore characters that are curious, chivalrous, and loving… while being a rogue, and even grouchy. Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden or Larry Correia’s Jake Sullivan are men I could read all day long.

Another thing that first line or paragraph can do is signal the tone, the genre, the feeling of the whole book. That guy (or girl, I do tend to be more attracted to men for some reason *shrugs*) sitting there talking to you gives those cues to what they are in haircut, clothing, eyes… all that has to be boiled down to just a few words.

“We came up the trail from Texas in the spring of ’74, and bedded our herd on the short grass beyond the railroad. We cleaned our guns and washed our necks and dusted our hats for town, riding fifteen strong to the hitching rails and standing fifteen strong to the bar.” 

You immediately know what to expect from this rugged outdoorsman, and Loius L’Amour always delivers. The opening lines to Kiowa Trail, even if you never saw the cover, promise an old west adventure.

I’m going to put some more first lines below, with the author and title in white – select to highlight and read. I’ve grabbed a handful of older books (hint) of different genres. Have fun, and remember to look at what makes them work (or not) and guess what genre they are.

“The starship came out of its envelope just long enough to unload the first rack of bombs. It flashed yellow, then it was gone – hypersonic and untouchable by anything not also in a star-drive envelope.”

David Drake, The Forlorn Hope

“There were crimson roses on the bench; they looked like splashes of blood.”

Dorothy Sayers, Strong Poison

“The weather door of the smoking-room had been left open to the North Atlantic fog, as the big liner rolled and lifted, whistling to warn the fishing-fleet.”

Rudyard Kipling, Captains Courageous

“It was only a little after nine o’clock in the evening, but already the horde had gone rampaging away. Lemeul Siddons swept them out with jokes and gestures; he said Scat and Scram by turns, he threatened with pointed finger and clenched fist, he talked of the paper work he must do.”

MacKinley Kantor, Follow Me, Boys

“‘If you were a genuine Army colonel,’ Pilgrim said, ‘instead of one of the most bogus and unconvincing frauds I’ve ever seen, you’d rate three stars for this. Excellently done, my dear Fawcett, excellently done.”

Alistair Maclean, Circus

“She was up to her elbows in someone else’s blood when the call came in. She was used to being up to her elbows in her own blood, since she cultured it practically by the vat these days to incubate the virus in. But to have her hands inside a dying woman, trying like mad to keep the blood in, was new for Mirabeth Tofler. It was of course, this damn field work. In the lab she could maintain a proper detachment. Out here, you got attached to people, and then when they got shot, you did wholly unsanitary things like showing your fingers into a spurting artery and screaming for help while you were being splashed with the blood of a person who you had only known for a week.”

Yeah, Ok, this one is me. Opening lines I wrote for a workshop, when asked to write a ‘hook.’ 

Next week: what to do now that you have their attention, or; how not to stammer and blush uncontrollably.

0 thoughts on “Seducing the Reader: Part 1

  1. I’d never heard of Dave Freer before, but that’s a brilliant opening. L’amour and Kipling were both familiar to me; Sayers’ I’ve read, but didn’t recognize. The last one *definitely* caught my attention–is this an actual story? Who is this woman and why has she moved from lab to field?? And who is getting shot?!

    Re heroes: I’m with you, I tend to be drawn to male protagonists, both to write and to read.

    1. Oh, you are in for a treat. Dave is always an enjoyable read, by himself, or mixed with others.

      And no, it’s not part of a complete story yet. I wrote it for a workshop, said “hm, possibilities” and filed it for later. I’m slowly writing because school has me non-creative for the time being.

      I tend to read male heroes and females alike, and I mostly write female heroines. Pixie Noir was my first long-form attempt at a male, and I had lots of help from my First Reader.

      1. And, very well done. I’ve been reading F&SF for Mumble mumble years, and can usually figure out a plot pretty quickly. You surprised me in PN. BUT, the “afterword” has me lusting for the next one. 🙂 BTW, your male character is very realistic. It rang all to true from my own life experiences. Few women will even look at, much less consider a man/male who isn’t a true “badass” (with intent to “reform”), or handsome, charming, and well off. Guys who grew up with a vision of true chivalry/Don Quixote bent, always get thrown back. Then, they whine about how they’re treated, “can’t find a decent man,” etc.I’m too old to change the kind of person I am, and don’t want a spouse/lifemate badly enough to do it anyway. Thanks for writing 2 main characters that have their heads on straight. Maybe it will make some young women reconsider their choices in dating partners.
        Re” Intro’s, I read an article by Vernor Vinge (?? years ago), with excellent advice. By extrapolation, there are only 2 ways to get the reader involved. (Actually only one, but 2 different methods to achieve it.) One is of course, the seduction of “What happens next, and why?” The VV method is to “grab the reader by the throat, and say ‘READ ME.'” The approach is dependent on both the writer, AND the story. I have a book (I’ve been working(?) on since ~1980-81. The opening line is. “We know you;’re not who you claim to be.”
        If I can ever get out of the Deity forsaken Nursing Home I have to be in, I’ll start working on it again.

        1. Thank you Walter. I’m not a typical woman, and I chose an atypical man to share my life with, and I guess it shows in my writing.

          As for writing, you can’t where you are? What do you need? Might be able to figure soemthing out if we put our heads together.

  2. I second Cedar’s concerns about not being able to write in the nursing home. I know it has to be difficult being in there. I know some nursing homes are very poorly appointed and if you don’t have your own computer already — something portable, too, that may or may not be able to be hooked up to the Internet on your own — you’re going to have trouble. (Even now, where tablets are a greater possibility to stay connected, they aren’t very easy for writers to deal with. There are some tablets that can convert to a word processor/main computer with a keyboard, but they’re also expensive and that may be beyond your current reach.) I hope you’ll find a way to keep working at your craft no matter how slow it may go.

    Otherwise, Walter, more women will consider a good man than you might think. The main thing is, the man has to be open to possibilities and has to be honest about what he wants. If a man doesn’t tell you what he wants, the woman in the potential partnership hasn’t a clue that there might even be the idea of a partnership in the offing.

    This may sound really odd to say, but that’s the position I’m in, or could’ve been in had my best friend not passed away two years ago. He did not tell me he had aspirations beyond friendship, though our friendship was quite valuable to both of us, partly because my relationship with my late husband was excellent and I really didn’t think I’d ever look in anyone else’s direction ever again.

    However, for my friend, had he said something, I would’ve looked in his direction and I’m certain that something would’ve happened there. I probably would’ve even married him, had things worked out — but he died suddenly, and that was the end of all hopes.

    I also want to point out that my late husband, like my late best friend, was not wealthy, was not considered conventionally attractive (at least, he did not think so; I most certainly did), and had been treated poorly by a succession of women who behaved exactly as you described — shallow, self-serving types who really didn’t care about a man if he didn’t have his own house and a flashy car and/or wasn’t someone with model looks. (My late husband’s ex-wife also was not like this — I want to make this clear, as she was a person of substance who just wasn’t right for my husband romantically. They stayed close until the end of his life, and even now I’m in contact with her and consider her a friend.) So when I showed up, my husband viewed me as a genuine miracle — of course, I saw him the same way, as I’m not thin, certainly not wealthy, was also previously divorced . . . anyway, our marriage was exceptional, mostly because we both communicated well.

    If you can communicate, you have a good chance at a decent-to-better romance if there is even one single spark between you, romantically speaking.

    What I’m never going to know is if my best friend and I would’ve had that spark, as he did speak up three days before his abrupt passing (he was ill, and in the hospital, but he was not expected to die) and I was unable to get to him before he passed.

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