Lottery Tickets and Horror Movies: How to Grab a Reader’s Attention – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
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Lottery Tickets and Horror Movies: How to Grab a Reader’s Attention

Upon opening a book, a reader is confronted with the opening sentence, “It was a small scar–barely even visible now.” Based on that one sentence, what is it that makes the reader want to know more about the story that follows?

This issue was addressed by Fisher Center guest Pagan Kennedy during her workshop “The Hook: A Workshop for Writers of Fiction and Creative Nonfiction” on Thursday, Jan. 31. Hooking the reader is the main issue for any writer. As both a writer and an independent editor, Kennedy has experienced both sides of the issue. Addressing the dozen students and writers at the workshop, she told them, “You're always going to have to make people fall in love with your ideas.”

Kennedy led students through several exercises to open up discussion on what makes an introductory paragraph interesting. Using a book of short stories, opening paragraphs were read aloud and students were asked why they would or would not continue reading. Afterward, examples of attention-grabbing paragraphs were provided and discussed. Students were then asked to write and share their own opening paragraphs with Kennedy providing positive feedback.

Having worked as a writer for the past 20 years, Kennedy has identified three factors in how to grab a reader's attention.

The first is engaging the reader by making them aware of what is at stake for the person in the narrative. She compared this to a horror movie, when the audience member is engaged with the main character to the point where they yell out instructions to the character on avoiding the killer lurking behind the door.

The second factor to hooking a reader is withholding information. If the reader is given too much information, there is no incentive for them to continue reading.

The third and final factor is advertising the information that is withheld so that the reader will have questions that they want answered.

Kennedy used scratch-off lottery tickets as an example of how to use the three factors of grabbing a reader's attention. Lottery tickets engage people by making aware of the money that is at stake if they win; information is withheld by the fact that the numbers are covered with a silver coating; finally, the withheld information is advertised on the ticket, informing the buyer that they must scratch away the coating to uncover the numbers.

The workshop concluded with a question and answer session with Kennedy on writing.