Monday, November 1, 2010

Hook ‘Em!

Today I'm privileged to introduce you to one of my closest friends - Vonda Skelton. She and I met at our very first Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference and she's been my partner on this writing journey ever since. Vonda Skelton is a national speaker, freelance writer, and the author of four books, including Seeing Through the Lies: Unmasking the Myths Women Believe and the Bitsy Burroughs Mysteries for kids. She is the owner of The Christian Writer’s Den Writing Blog, She and Gary have been married 41 years—and they’re still happy about it!

We are both having a crazy week, so we decided to switch blog posts and bring back a blast from the past. Enjoy learning from a master!
Just don't forget to join the converstation!

Hook 'Em
by Vonda Skelton
I’d already had one article published in Clubhouse Magazine (Focus on the Family) and was eager to write another. I developed a unique idea, found the perfect 12-year-old to interview, and had received the go-ahead from the editor. But my submission was quickly rejected.

And it was all because of my opening paragraph.

Here's what I initially submitted:
Have you ever had a field trip that changed your life? Lindsay Knauer has. She was ten years old when her home school group planned a special field trip to learn about fencing. "I didn't think I would like it, but I did." Like Lindsay, a lot of kids are finding out how much fun fencing is.

The editor's response was kind, but his words roughly translated to something akin to, "Y-A-W-N!!!!!!!!!!"

Lindsay and I collaborated on the rewrite and hit the jackpot:
The air is filled with the crashing and clanking of weapons. Screams of victory and cries of defeat echo all around me. Scoring machines screech high-pitched beeps that set my nerves on end. The score is four- four. The next touch determines the winner.

I have only a few seconds to plan my attack. Suddenly the director calls, "Ready! Fence!" My heart pounds. Rapid footwork takes me to my opponent. Weapons slice the air, metal cracks metal. I lunge for my opponent. Will it be victory or defeat?

Big difference, huh?
In my original paragraph, I made many mistakes.
  • The first was starting with a question. Think about it. If you open with a question and the answer is yes, the reader doesn't feel he needs to continue because he already knows what you're going to write about. If the answer is no, the reader believes the piece isn't of interest to him and he moves on. Either way, you lose the reader.
  • The second mistake was that the paragraph was just plain boring! And, in case you haven't learned anything else, I hoped you've learned that boring is bad. Really bad.
It’s easy to see that the first example was generic, take-it-or-leave-it writing. But the rewrite drew in the senses, built tension, and engaged the reader through action. Senses, tension, and action are good. Really good.

So as you write your book or article or short story, remember to use the senses, tension, and action to draw the reader in. And chances are, you'll draw the editor in, too.

And that's good. Really good.


  1. Thank you for having me on your blog, Edie! It's always a joy to share this journey with you!

  2. Good to know! I'm "writing" a little journal for my Grandson, and would like to keep his interest. You guys are doing such great work! Thanks for sharing with everyone :)

  3. Hi Edie and Vonda, Thanks so much for this post. I actually think Susanne Gosselin read those two beginnings in her workshop at the BRMCWC. It was even more profound to hear them out loud.

    But since I forget easily and I tend to like to overexplain, especially in the first paragraph, I can never be reminded too often about hooking the reader. You'd think living at the beach, I'd get it!

  4. Thank you, Delane, for your kind note. Grandchildren--what great motivators!

    And Kim, you're right! Suzanne and Jesse do use me as an example of what NOT to do! Haha! But the good news is, I've gone on to write many pieces of them, only because I learned my lesson! :-)