Writing for Web: Telling a Story

Once upon a time there was a writer typing on a laptop while sitting on the couch. Or maybe at a desk or at a table in a coffee shop?

R. Petty with her laptop (in cartoon format)

However you write it, that opening sentence begins a story. It may lead to a fantasy land full of talking animals or vampires, or to a place familiar and realistic. Either way, it’s a beginning.

This week discusses how to tell a good story. I am not a creative writer, so this chapter was helpful as Felder explained tips on how to write a story. Of course there are the basics, such as plot, character development, and conflict, but I want to zoom in a little closer.

How do you start a story?

Many writers feel this is the hardest part. I know I do, and I will put a book down if I get 50 pages in and I am not interested. The beginning is just as important as the rest of the story and can make or break your content.

New writers may feel they have to set everything up before starting the action, but Felder believes this is a mistake. Her advice is to jump in! Start with a hook. These are the first two to three sentences that start your story, and here are a few ideas to help guide you through them:

  • An exciting event. Maybe you dump your reader in the middle of a race, a robbery, a love scene, or an adventure.
  • An interesting character. Someone who is unusual, someone who thinks unlike most people, or someone who a reader will immediately sympathize with are all ways to use a person as a hook.
  • Put a character into real trouble. Immediately, start with a conflict to create suspense.
  • If you haven’t developed characters yet, what about a strange event? An event that stands out and urges the reader to keep going to discover the outcome.
  • Many authors love to set a scene. This gives readers a chance to envision a world that may be different from their reality. Think Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Narnia.
  • Love and learn the language. Don’t use the Thesaurus for evil just to replace words; think about how you want to say it. What do you hope to express with your opening? What do you want your readers to see? Set the scene without being too wordy and long-winded.

You may be wondering how this all applies to Web writing? I wondered the same thing, and unfortunately Felder only gives one example of how this applies: Your home page should hook your readers. As I read more, I realized this was it. So, I looked at a few other sites for ideas and discovered you can use a hook to start an article, short story, or simple blog post. And, you can use more than words. Your hook can be a picture, video, slide show, or podcast. In fact, with Web writing you have more options than in print.

So, as you think about your next great idea, think of a good hook. How will you draw your readers in and keep them coming back? If you’re struggling for ideas or just need inspiration, check out some of my favorite stories with solid hooks:

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

The Black Cat

A Little Cloud

The Lottery

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