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What Grabs Your Reader?
It is the dramatic question that grabs your reader and holds him or her. It creates a narrow path that forces the reader into suspense that won?t let go. It moves the story forward. All bestseller-kind-of novels have it. Have you noticed that untrained eyes want you to explain everything in that first line, first paragraph. But it is the ?Dramatic Question? that creates the hook. In my novel, the Mayor?s Wife Wore Sapphires, a mystery/thriller sprinkled with social commentary, I didn?t want it to be clear what was going on. I wanted a question that would create a hook. Even when writing the "who, what, when, where, why, how," I didn?t want it to be cut and dried. I wanted people to wonder. Here?s what I mean? ?In my country, men like him disappear in the thick of night.? (I started in the middle of action. This man is not from the United States. This is a threatening statement about someone we don?t know.) The guest pitched forward from the shadows in the small, but elegant room. A glint of light hit his hair, as slick and black as a crow?s feathers. (That dark-haired man is unsavory. He wants someone to disappear. Who?) I could have written it in a pedestrian telling way instead of an action story way?(The man, Michael D?Angelo was Bolivia. His hair was black and he was intending to kill the mayor of Compton. He said, ?In my country we kill guys like the mayor.? Well, it seems far away. Kind of distant. To me, it?s not intriguing. The host didn?t look up, but smashed the day?s paper in his fleshy hands, then threw it on the fine mahogany desk before him. A small Asian woman stood behind him, massaging his broad caramel-colored shoulders. The masseuse balled her fist and kneaded a knot near his spine. The host gritted his teeth and groaned, his eyes drifting to the luxury yachts docked in the marina below. Then he peered into the fiery night skies that stretched endlessly southward. ?What do you intend to do?? he asked, trying to read his guest?s face, but the man?s dark, piercing eyes guarded his secrets. (What secret does he have? How does it tie into this person he wants to get rid of?) The guest picked up the Compton Chronicle and stared at the headline: SEPTEMBER 1, 1981?COUNCIL MEETING UPSET RUMORED. The host flicked his hand, and the masseuse quickly left the room. He grabbed a white terry robe from the plush mauve chair behind him, pulled it on, and paused a moment, listening. Only the sloshing and squeaking of the yachts in the dark marina waters filled the silence between the two men. Now, he was sure they were completely alone. The slightest trace of West Indian accent became audible. ?You see, we must be so careful on this one. All of America, Black and White, is waiting for the next Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, John F. Kennedy. Someone who can inspire a nation.? He bit the tip off a Flora Fina cigar and spat it from his tongue. ?Most poor slobs realize they?ll never be a hero, but they sure as hell want to know one they can brag about.? He rolled the cigar between his fingers, never lighting it. ?You know, they say a truly great hero comes around every twenty years or so. In the forties, you had Roosevelt. In the sixties, you had King. In the eighties, they will have me,? he chuckled. ?I?ll give Black people something they never had?power. I?m not talking church talk, Black pride, all that. I?m talking about money and clout. Owning buildings. CEO?s of Fortune 500s. Rich Black folks on every block in every city.? He laughed. ?Hell, they may even teach a class about me at Harvard one day!? ?I leave the pretty words to you, Se?or. I?m only here to handle our crisis.? (What crisis? I need to know?) The host was disappointed by his guest?s cool response. ?All I?m saying is, I have an important future to protect.? The guest nodded, seemingly unconvinced. But the host refused to be deterred by anyone blinded to his vision. Every day of his life, he had sworn he?d become rich and famous, a respected part of mainstream society, as good as any man. Even if it killed him. It was a desire that boiled deep inside him. His guest answered in a heavy Spanish accent. ?The only problem with men like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Jesse Jackson is that they never put money in poor people?s pockets. Ah, but our plan?? The host cut him off. ?Compton people need more than a few dimes in their pockets! We have to be smart with this one! Give them what they want? a sense of respect. It?ll cost us nothing!? ?Pardon, Se?or, but there is no sense of respect in LA County taking over the city, and that is the rumor.? ?Damn the rumor! They?ll have to get past me first!? (Who is this?) ?If the mayor holds up the hundred-fifty million on Tuesday, they could.? The host grabbed the crumpled newspaper from the desk and stared?COUNCIL MEETING UPSET RUMORED. He shivered. Public attention at such a critical time. Damn! Studying his words carefully, trying to reassure himself, he said, ?The mayor would never do anything to hurt Compton. I know that.? (We finally find out they?re talking about the Mayor of Compton) Absentmindedly, he reached into his desk drawer and pulled out a black velvet jewelry box. As he opened it, spikes of glitter shot across the dimness of the stately, furnished study. Inside was a platinum necklace with seven perfectly cut sapphires, each encrusted with pave diamonds. A large sea-blue teardrop hung from its center with enough beauty to enhance a queen?s bosom. (Who is that for? Why?) ?Exquisite,? the guest said. ?Yes, it is.? The host couldn?t take his eyes off of the sparkling gems. ?I?m sure your wife will love it,? the guest added. At that, the host snapped the box shut, slid it back into the drawer, and locked it with a small brass key. He quickly moved to the glass door and slid it open. As the night mist hit his face, he bit down on his Flora Fina cigar and turned to the guest, ?No, the mayor would never do such a thing.? ?But what about the mayor?s wife?? (The guest leaves us with this question?) The two men exchanged a look Some good writers leave us with a question without every asking a direct question. But at least one strong question must be in your opening. It is element that attracts then grabs the reader. It is the element in your chapters that will keep them to the end.