Sunday, August 12, 2012

Guest Blog: Gina Ardito

Today I have the distinct pleasure of hosting Gina Ardito, a very talented author and editor. Please give her a warm welcome.

Gina Ardito/Katherine Brandon
Eternally Yours available now!

Barnes and Noble:

Hooking the Reader

When Becky invited me to guest blog here, I asked her what she wanted me to write about. She suggested “hooking the reader.” I thought about this topic all day Friday and Saturday, even wrote 500 words or so, but wasn’t happy with it. Whenever I’m stuck, I run ideas past my son (he’s 15) who shares my creative genes and a warped sense of humor. Saturday night, I asked for his help. “Becky wants me to talk about hooking the reader,” I told him.

His reply? “Tell them to put boobs in the first paragraph.”

Helpful, yes? Umm…no.

Hooking the reader is about more than titillation. Over the years, I’ve judged contests and seen openings where a sexy blonde sashays up to a bar and purrs, “I’d like Sex on the Beach,” when the rest of the story has nothing to do with a bar or drinks or even the beach. That’s not hooking the reader; that’s manipulating your story. It’s cheap and it only alienates your reader. So how do you hook a reader and keep him/her hooked all the way to The End? For me, it’s all about characterization.

First, you have to know and love your characters. Really know them, really love them. Know and love them the way you know and love your children, which requires you to know not only the good parts of them, but the bad: the flaws, the fears, the sins. Understand they’re going to fall every once in a while. Love them unconditionally, but watch them fall without interfering. Let them learn their own lessons in their own time. Then you have to create opportunities for them to fall; literally throw the banana peel under their feet, inches from the Grand Canyon (which you wouldn’t do with your real children).

In my latest release, Eternally Yours, I not only arrange for my character to fall. I make her commit suicide in Chapter One. Because the story takes place in the Afterlife with my heroine arriving in that realm before her time, Jodie had to die in the first chapter—suddenly and unplanned. No running in front of a bus to save a puppy (which was actually suggested to me by an editor) since, in my opinion, if that had been her fate, the rulers of the Afterlife would have known that was her fate and been prepared for her arrival. The only reasonable option for someone to die before her fated time would be self-termination.

Wanna know the hardest part? Eternally Yours is a romantic comedy. Talk about a challenge! How was I going to make suicide funny? Well, obviously, I can’t. The best I could do was to create an interesting opening and move through the suicide as quickly as possible. The rest of the story takes place in the Afterlife, that realm I’ve created after our time here on Earth has come to an end.

I also needed a hero worthy of my heroine, but filled with his own foibles and flaws. Enter Luc Asante, who was taken off life support by his wife after a rock-climbing accident. Luc’s worked as a bounty hunter in the Afterlife, wrangling up ghosts who’ve lingered too long on Earth to deal with unfinished business, for quite some time when Jodie becomes his new trainee.

Okay, great. I’ve got a memorable hero and heroine and some terrific secondary characters. Now, I need to create an interesting world that challenges them and entertains my reader. The Afterlife is chock-full of spirits and rules that will have both my hero and heroine banging their heads in frustration. Readers will love the small vignettes about each ghost they pursue, how they died, and why they can’t move on.
I have the recipe for a great story that will keep my readers turning the pages until The End. Throughout the story, though, it’s the characterization (of the hero/heroine, the secondary characters, and even the world they inhabit!) that keeps the tension taut, the reader rooting for my hero and heroine to find a Happily Ever After, despite the fact that they’re both dead.

Did I accomplish this feat? You be the judge. Read the book. Eternally Yours is available in electronic and paperback formats through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Buying the paperback version? Use B&N. For some strange reason, their price is cheaper than Amazon’s!


  1. "Jodie had to die in the first chapter—suddenly and unplanned."

    I love this - because sometimes shock and disorientation IS the way to hook a reader, if it's what you need the reader to feel.

  2. I have beta-read parts of "Eternally Yours" and I can tell you, you want to read it. The book's dark and surprisingly funny.

  3. I wish I didn't know any writers who've used something similar to your "manipulation" methods in their work... fortunately they rarely come back to our writers group after they hear our - very polite - comments about their efforts during critique sessions. It's almost like "Well, if you won't approve of me doing things the cheap and easy way, I'll just go elsewhere."

  4. Ann Marie, you're absolutely right! As authors, we sometimes want to back away from the shocking, but it's that rich emotion that hooks the reader. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Jim, that's the problem with the writer ego. It sometimes goes haywire and refuses to listen to anything but the writer's own brilliance. Thanks for your comment!

  6. "The Afterlife is chock-full of spirits and rules that will have both my hero and heroine banging their heads in frustration."

    This seems so real to me. It's one thing when there is an antagonist who creates chaos for the protagonists, but when the wrench being thrown into the works is because of bureaucracy is something most people who have ever had a job can relate to. Nice.

  7. Okay, that could have been clearer. I hope you understand what I meant.

  8. Lol! Yes, Belinda. I do know what you meant. I teach a class on conflict for writers and remind them that have to be external problems like weather, red tape, and icebergs, as well as insecurities and misunderstandings. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  9. This is definitely Gina's best work. I love all her work, but this one was so well research. Her out of the box thinking made for a good story about a sad subject, very well said.