Crime novelist extraordinaire Mickey Spillane said it best. The first page sells the book. The last page sells the next book. Finesse the six elements of fiction – character, plot, setting, point of view, theme and style – and you’ll hook readers into turning those pages through lunch hours, during commutes and into the wee hours of the morning.

Element #1 – Character
Want to grab and hold your readers’ attention? Create strong characters to drive the story along the road map of conflict that you, the author, draw for them. Strategically placed small details can reveal a lot about characters. Only about 15 percent of the details of your characters’ life, the back story behind the motivation for their thoughts, words, and actions, make it onto the pages. But the more you know about the people driving your story, the better the book. Stretch beyond the usual facts you’d ask a new acquaintance at a dinner party. Is your character an only child? Or did he or she lose a sibling to death or estrangement? Do they need to and/or have they made peace with their parents, living or dead? If not, were the circumstances surrounding their death traumatic for the character and if so, how? Did they have a crush on a teacher? Coach? The next door neighbor? Were they bullied? Or were they the bully? Pick and choose what and when you need to reveal those details, if at all, to the reader. But don’t overload the reader with too much back story or characters that do nothing to move the story along that conflict road map. They’ll resent you for it.

Element #2 – Plot
Think of plot as the blueprint for your story that the characters follow. The layout begins on page one. But while plot is important to the story, always remember that the characters live within it. The twists and turns of plot center on and revolve around your drivers. Engage the gears. Is your protagonist the pursuer, of a dream, an idea, a mystery or the pursued, by a real or imagined antagonist?

Element #3 – Setting
Where your characters live, connect and interact with each other molds and shapes who they are. It’s the world they swim in, the culture that seasons them, the baggage they carry until that transformational moment that causes or forces the decision to let go or not. Make description work for setting. Use it to define the characters and their opinion of their world by weaving what they see, smell, hear, and feel into the action.

Element #4 – Point of View
How do you want your readers to see your story – through the eyes of the “I” in first person, the “You” in second person, or the “We” in third person? That depends again on your characters. If you have a cast that demands equal billing, then be their fly-on-the-wall in third person. However, if there’s a character screaming in your head to take center stage, crawl inside theirs. Tell that story.

Element #5 – Theme
Here’s where the rubber meets the road. What is your story really about? Even the most straight forward genre needs a detour, that sharp turn the reader doesn’t see coming, the story arc that winds and bends to reveal the final destination and stays in the reader’s rearview mirror past The End.

Element #6 – Style
The author’s voice sets the tone from page one. Your technique as a writer, pacing, syntax, choice of words, use of dialogue and description, stamps your style as uniquely you. Style that hooks the reader sells the book in their hands and the next one you write.

Join a sample by example discussion of strong to eh-not-so-much introductions to the plot and characters that grab and hold readers to The End and beyond! Register for my “How to Hook Your Reader” workshop on Saturday, Oct. 21st from 2-4 p.m. at the Midwest Writing Center in the lower level of the Rock Island Public Library.


Teresa LaBella published her first contemporary romance novel “Reservations” in 2013. The big city story continued in “Heartland” set in small town Iowa.  “Belonging,” the final novel in the New Life in Love trilogy, moved the McKenna family saga to the west coast of Scotland. E-books include a trio of stories in “Tales from Heartland” that revisit the charm of Harmony and the lives of neighbors met in book two, and “Love Unlikely,” the surprising chance for happily-ever-after for Marisa’s sister, Rachel.