Catch and Release Storytelling

We writers talk all the time about setting a story hook. You see analogies that are reminiscent of fishing for good reason. Because it is like fishing. More specifically, like deep sea fishing where you hook that fish/reader and then play them in a long protracted battle. At the end you want to land that fish/reader but not until the end of the story. The difference is that you want the reader happy they got landed.

And yet, so often in my critique group, I see writers playing catch-and-release.

Recently, for instance, I looked at a first chapter. In the first couple of paragraphs, it came out that the MC's husband had been killed several years before but the murder had never been solved.

I'm immediately thinking, "Great hook" because I want to know what happened. And then the writer went into backstory and told me the details. Guess what? That's catch-and-release storytelling. Because there is no other hook to keep me reading. I had a question. The author answered the question. End of hook.

The author should have made me wait at least until she had me invested in her main character. That's how you play your fish. Er... I mean reader. You set the hook on the first page. Sometimes it's enough to carry the story until the end. Most of the time, it's not, so you have to set a second hook before you relieve the pressure on the first, then set a third before you let go of the second, and so on until the end of the story. Even better, set more than one. Never, ever give your reader a moment when there's no hook pulling them onto the next page.

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