While I was writing yesterday’s blog entry, I found this great post over at Spoonfed Design: 10 Principles of Effective Advertising.
Here they are:
1. Grab People
2. Be Clever and Creative
3. Speak Loudly
4. Don’t Make Them Think (Too Much)
5. Colors That Pop But Make Sense
6. Be Informative
7. Stand Out and Be Memorable
8. Give Off a Feeling
9. Show Not Tell
10. Use Humor
I won’t touch cover design on this one, but these are principles that apply, more or less, to storytelling. A good advertisement tells a story, after all—a story that takes only one moment to understand.
You’ve got almost the same amount of time to hook a reader. A first sentence takes only a moment to read, but it’s your chance to grab people. And grab them you must, because time is money, books are money, and no one wants to waste either on something that doesn’t immediately offer an engrossing escape.
Be clever, be creative, speak loudly, don’t make them think (too much).
There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. – C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed. – Stephen King, The Dark Tower
We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. – Hunter Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Stand out and be memorable, give off a feeling, show not tell.
Those three first sentences are from vastly different books, but each one is simple and intriguing. There’s a story in those first lines—and, more importantly, the promise of a story.
Yes, I know…every book tells a story. You might think that a first line doesn’t need to promise anything that’ll be coming along anyhow. In many cases that’s right. Great books don’t need a great first line—and everyone has a different idea of what is wonderful and suitable for a story.
That said, a good hook is immensely powerful. First impressions usually are. Create the right allure and sense of mystery, and folks won’t let go.
The problem, of course, is making sure the goods aren’t just skin deep. A good beginning doesn’t mean anything without something just as lovely to back it up.