According to ads barraging us on TV these days, we are bubbling full of potential that has merely to be ‘released’ by whatever product or service is being offered. Apparently.
To my mind it’s not too different from the Nigerian phone scam – you know, give me $1000 and it’ll ‘release’ the million stashed in my bank. Fact is that athletes don’t ‘unleash’ their potential with flavoured salt water. They work like Trojans to get the potential in the first place. It’s earned.
Of course that’s how advertising works – and therein are lessons for writers.
Advertisers capture imagination – emotionally – in half a dozen words. When associated with an image – a brand – it can be one or two words. But even without that brand, advertising is geared to do what all writing pushes towards; to capture the reader emotionally.
The same techniques are essential for writers, and not just when it comes to the blurb. You need to hook the reader with the first line. And the next. And the next. This doesn’t mean making every sentence a slogan. What it means is thinking about underlying purpose – capturing emotion, then holding it. Advertisers have that down pat.
Funnily enough, you CAN unleash something by using their methods. Sales. Readership. Stuff like that. The technique is:
The reader has to be made to want something – whether to buy a product or start reading your writing. Exactly what that hook is depends on what you’re writing. Newspapers and magazines do it twice – first the heading (usually written by a sub-editor) and then with the opening line or two which is always crafted to grab. Often it’s printed in bolder type, just to drive that message home. That’s what I do on this blog, for instance.
The reader has to get something out of the writing, and in very short order. Something emotional; something satisfying – but not too satisfying. Maybe it’s a question. Advertising slogans often appeal to self-validation or self-worth, even presenting answers without questions. ‘Because you’re worth it’. You need to be more subtle in writing…but maybe not much.
Exactly how that’s done varies by author. Years ago, A. E. Van Vogt used to recommend hooking people stylistically – using specific and often quite odd words to pique imagination. I wouldn’t necessarily go that far. There is a fine line between effect and weirdness.
One of the keys is to think about the meaning of the opening words – their effect; do they pull a reader? Establish tension?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014
Some shameless self promotion:
It’s also available on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/nz/book/bateman-illustrated-history/id835233637?mt=11
Nook coming soon.
You can still buy the print edition here: http://www.batemanpublishing.co.nz/ProductDetail?CategoryId=96&ProductId=1410