The only just literary critic is Christ, who admires more than does any man, the gifts He Himself has bestowed. – JRR Tolkien

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Story Pacing – Urgency – Hooking Readers

The First Fifty - Crucial - Pages of Your Book

Using urgency for your characters and putting them in peril to keep your readers engaged and turning the page of your book.

The first fifty pages of your book are crucial for setting the hook in your readers. Something has to happen. Something exciting, or intriguing, or you risk losing your reader’s interest.

Limit Backstory – It’s always tempting in the beginning to fill the reader in on everything they’re going to need to know to understand your character’s background.

Resist this temptation.

If you must provide backstory in the beginning, wherever possible let your character manifest backstory through action or through dialogue.

Avoid long-winded exposition by a boring narrator.

Whenever possible, parcel out backstory in small amounts to prevent reader boredom.

Exceptions – An exception can be made if your backstory is an exciting flashback you can relive for the reader.

Other Things That Hook the Reader – In addition to a cliff-hanger event, a quirky voice or a good sense of humor are excellent ways to hook a reader. Another way is to present a compelling question – a question the reader won’t rest until they’ve answered.

A Sense of Urgency – Urgency is important to maintain tension in your story. Give your protagonist a time limit. Let’s say your protagonist is a bank robber. Give him or her two minutes flat to finish robbing the bank and escape before police arrive. Then throw in various complications and delays to raise the tension.

Make the bank manager forget the combination to the safe. Maybe a customer goes into labor. Man against time is one of the most common tools used to create tension in fiction. Use your imagination. Have fun.

Create a State of Dissatisfaction in Your Characters – Make your characters frantic, annoyed, and anxious. Give them premonitions of pending doom. Keep them off balance, and you’ll make the reader want to follow along. It’s called rubbernecking.

If you jack up your protagonist with a horrible day of one thing after another, many readers will want to stick around to see what the character does at the end of the day to assuage the stress. Whether it’s going to the strip club to down ten double martinis, or jumping from an airplane, or stalking their next victim if they’re serial killers, tormenting your characters will drive them to do all kinds of crazy thing. And as a side benefit, the reader will want to join them.

And by keeping your characters unhappy, the reader is not as likely to get bored. Who wants to read about someone having a great day at the office?

Keep Your Characters Suffering – If your characters are in the midst of emotional or physical pain, few readers will likely want to leave them that way. No one wants to set aside a book while the protagonist they identify with is suffering.

By keeping your characters suffering, you keep the pace flowing. Readers likely won’t stop reading until they’ve got resolution.

Raise the Stakes – In A Little Peace and Quiet, my protagonist, Terrence Jessup, is fresh out of prison. With his small inheritance, he buys a little plot of land on which he settles down, hoping for, as the title implies, a little peace and quiet.

This was a good example of the character driving the plot. I’d initially planned only on tormenting TJ with low-class neighbors who blasted death metal music all night long, and never cut their grass. But on TJ’s first night out of prison, I decided to drastically raise the stakes, forcing him to kill a man in self defense.

Think of the worst thing that could possibly happen to your character.

Do that to them.


Then sit back and watch them. See how they react.

You yourself might not even know what they’ll do. But your characters will know what to do.

They always do.

Happy writing.

How to hook your reader through good writing and pacing your story - get the first fifty pages right.

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