Friday, January 4, 2013

Lead the Way - A Post about Beginnings

Happy 2013, Everyone!

This month’s theme is about new beginnings, so I thought I’d talk about the beginnings of stories, referred to as “leads” or “hooks.” When I teach this concept to my fifth grade writing students, I break leads up into seven categories as follows:

1.       Description of Setting: A great way to start a tale is to set the stage for the main events. A well-described setting can put your reader exactly where your characters are and that’s always a good thing. You want your readers to feel as if they have left wherever they are and have been transported to a new time and/or place.

2.       Description of Character: Your reader is going to be traveling with your character throughout the story, so showing what that main character looks like, sounds like, thinks about will help your reader connect with your hero/heroine. That connection is important to establish as soon as possible.

3.       Dialogue: Readers immediately get sucked into conversation between characters even if they aren’t sure what it’s about initially. Writing dialogue that sounds real and draws the reader in can be a wonderful way to begin a story. It helps readers feel as if they’ve been hanging around these characters for a while already and establishes a sense of familiarity. Dialogue can also arouse curiosity so readers will keep reading to see where the conversation ends up.

4.       Onomatopoeia: One of my favorite words! This refers to sound words such as crash, bang, and boom. Using onomatopoeia appeals to the reader’s sense of hearing, which can often be neglected when it comes to including sensory details in a piece of writing. I always like trying to come up with unique spellings to sounds like schlup, schlup, schlup for the noise of my dog drinking from his water bowl.

5.       Thoughts and Feelings: This is a great one especially if you like to write from first person point of view. Getting readers instantly into the heads and hearts of your characters always creates a strong lead that will carry the readers throughout the story. It’s especially fun if you have a sarcastic character who can’t always say what they are thinking aloud. With this lead style, you can provide the reader a glimpse into what the character wants to say, which can often be hilarious.

6.       Question: Beginning a story with a question automatically hooks a reader, because he/she will have to read on to see what the answer is.

7.       Interesting Fact: This is a good one for writing nonfiction, but I have seen it used in fiction too. Here, a writer chooses a relevant and true fact to begin his/her story. For example, 99% of humans cannot lick their own elbows. Interested in more? I’ll bet you are! And wouldn’t this be a great beginning for an erotic novel? Hmmm…I think my Muse just woke up.
While there is nothing overly complex or magical about these lead techniques, I think it helps to be reminded of them if you are a writer and to be aware of them if you are a reader. Writers can try to diversify their opening lines of their books, and readers can better understand the “how to” of what writers are doing in their novels.

Check out my books at and see what lead techniques I use!



Margo Hoornstra said...

Extremely interesting information. I know I learned something today. Thank you.

Jannine Gallant said...

I never thought about leading off with a question, but I like it! Great list, Chris.

Barbara Edwards said...

I like the way you broke the theme into smaller chunks easily understood.