Everyone loves a cup of a piping hot tea — I know I certainly do, especially when I’m in for the long haul.
Okay, I’m sure there’s some coffee people out there. I get it. But I’m not talking about actually drinking tea (even though I’m pretty sure my blood is made of it by now), I’m talking about telling a story.
The slang “spilling the tea” refers to sharing gossip, exciting news, or drama. Usually this phrase is about celebrity shenanigans or your best friend telling you that Susan broke up with Todd. This term probably came about because you’ll end up accidentally spilling your tea from shock.
However, writing is like “spilling the tea.” You’re looking to hook your reader in with something memorable, and you want them to stick with you until the last page. That means your writing — or “tea” — needs to be good all the way through so your reader will make it to the last sentence. You don’t want it get cold halfway through, otherwise the reader won’t finish.
But how do you hook a reader in and get them wanting more? Let’s find out.
Grip from the First Sentence
Your first sentence needs to be something that entices readers to go on. That’s why many professional writers suggest starting with a hook that draws the reader into the work.
The “tea” in this case is the story, and all you have to do is start your writing with the action, drama, what’s happening, etc. It can be as simple as “Damien decided to run away to live with chickens.” After reading that, you probably asked: why he would do this? See how that works?
Now consider this — what if you started with “Damien ran away.” It doesn’t hold as much weight as the first statement, since it doesn’t start an interesting story. And most wouldn’t consider a normal circumstance “piping hot tea,” since there’s nothing to really talk about.
Telling a story that peaks our curiosity is exactly what writing is. The difference between hooks that make it and ones that don’t is interest. If the reader doesn’t say, “I need to know more,” then you don’t have a very good hook.
Examples of Great Hooks
When beginning writing anything, you want to start answering the questions who, where, and what is happening. You don’t need to give the how or why, as your writing should answer those questions later on.
But what does a gripping first sentence look like? Let’s take a look at two examples from different genres.
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Fangirl starts out with a single sentence, but it sets the story up with what’s going to happen next. Let’s examine it and how it’s effective:
There was a boy in her room.
- Who: A girl
- Where: Her room (which is later to be clarified as a dorm room in the next few lines)
- What: a boy is in her room, and she’s not happy about it
This opening line hooks you in because it gives us the setting: a college girl that’s moving for the first time. It also gives us a sense that the main character is younger, and that she’s already experiencing a surprise on her move-in day.
When writing a hook, you want to already be in the action. This book doesn’t start with Catherine walking up to the door or in her car on the way to college. She’s already in the room experiencing complications.
Starting in the action is what makes this interesting. We immediately know who the main character is, and we’re curious to know how she’ll deal with her new college life.
Kill the Farm Boy by Deliah S. Dawnson and Kevin Hearn
Here’s another example of a hook. Take the first paragraph from Kill the Farm Boy:
Many moons ago in a principality far, far away, a hirsute lady slept in a tower that was covered in thorns. In general, such an occurrence would not be considered worthy of note, for people slept in towers all the time regardless of their current level of hair growth.
Here’s how this paragraph answers the questions:
- Who: a hirsute lady
- Where: a principality far, far away
- What is happening: she’s sleeping in a tower, but everyone does that
The first paragraph of this book aims to grip the reader’s attention with references to Rapunzel, but with a twist. It uses the word “hirsute,” which is a term for excessive hair growth, to describe the woman.
We also get the sense that this is in a fantasy world, and the writers poke fun at the fact people are always sleeping in towers regardless of hair length. I’ve read this book, and I can tell you it’s lovely comedy only gets better as it goes on.
From the get-go, the reader understands this is a satire and the writers are making a commentary on fantasy tropes. It’s effective because you ask, “Why is the tower covered in thorns?” and “What makes sleeping in towers so commonplace?”
The Plot: Aka the “Tea”
So after writing your hook, now you’ve got to keep your reader’s interest. After all, they’ll stop reading if your writing isn’t interesting. This is the “tea,” that amazing story you’re about to tell with your words.
Think of this way: your tea is the action, the suspense, the drama, the betrayal, etc. This is what drives your main character, and you’re sharing the lengths they go to get what they want. Your story centers around the obstacles and how they will overcome them.
That means you’ll have to always keep things interesting even after the first chapter. You want the reader to find out if your narrator’s going to get the girl or finally win the science contest.
Here’s a few tips on how you can stay interesting throughout your writing:
- Make one scene logically flow into the next. Have you ever heard Newton’s third law: “for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction?” Well, that’s true in writing. If one character wants something, but there’s someone in his way, what will he do as a result? For example, if Mike wants the part in the school play but Tom was casted instead, how does he go about convincing the drama teacher he should play the role? Continue to build on your story, and your readers will want to know the end.
- Keep the stakes high. In your writing, there should be consequences. Your character should have something they can lose, whether it’s the affection of their crush or their job. Stakes can help build tension and make a story better when your character starts to struggle.
- Don’t hand the plot. Nothing makes a book fall flatter than the plot just being “handed” to the main character. Have them work for their happy ending, otherwise readers will stop reading because there’s nothing for them to root for.
Everything in your story should feel natural yet interesting, so you want to really take some time to plan out your narrative.
Connecting All the Story’s Events
One of the most exciting parts about storytelling is coming up with all the different plot lines. Every character has his or her own ambitions, interests, and goals, and that can make for some interesting tension.
That’s also a big part of the tea — the “oh no, she did not just do that to win him over.” Writing is like interconnecting a bunch of people’s goals and how they conflict with one another.
I kind of like to think of Youtube drama when it comes to this concept. There’s always a different side to every story, and each individual has their own reasons for validating their beliefs. Even when someone’s clearly in the wrong, they always have a rebuttal that’s plausible to them.
The reader of a story won’t side with every character similar to how we don’t believe every celebrity on the internet. However, it’s important that your character still feels justified in what their doing, right or wrong. This will help fuel the tension and give your character a motivation to keep going.
Are you ready to write “tea”?
Now that you know how writing good narratives is all about presenting the hook, it’s time to start writing. Grab a cup of tea and get to work.
FOLLOW GRACEMORYAN.COM FOR MORE WRITING ADVICE
Do you love to write? Here at gracemoryan.com, I’m dedicated to finding and sharing the best writing advice in one easy-to-find place. If you’re an individual who’s looking to improve their writing craft, follow gracemoryan.com for the latest writing tips.