Learn to Hook Your Audience from Disney/Pixar Films

first words starting story lisa ferland

At the 2019 Stockholm Writers Festival,  Julie Cohen presented on how to learn story structure from Pixar films and it got me analyzing everything in a new light.

Now, I’m much more mindful of the hook of a story and I notice when there is none.

What is it about a movie or book that sucks me in within the first minute of watching/reading? 

During her wonderful presentation, Julie went into great detail about story structure and how to create inciting events, climaxes, and resolutions but for this article, I’m going to focus only on the beginning of a story since so many of us (myself included) get it wrong.

But first, take two minutes and watch the opening scene from Cars below.

Opening scenes should plunge you into the action right away

The scene in Cars starts in all black and you hear the main character giving himself a pep talk before his big race. There are bright lights, the cheers from the crowd, engines revving, and rubber flying.

There’s nothing but action in the first two minutes of the film.

That’s how your book should start—jump straight into the action—hook your reader and get them flipping the pages.

Almost every writers festival has a “first pages competition” where writers submit their first 2-4 pages of the book they are writing for critique. 

Make your first lines count

Why are those first pages so crucial?

Those first few pages are what hook your reader and get them to keep reading.

The judges from the Stockholm Writers Festival said that the first line of the story was the most important. They could tell if a story would deliver or not after reading the first line alone.

Since then, I’ve analyzed a lot of first lines of all books in all genres.

Here are a few first lines worth mentioning:

“The two would-be jade thieves sweated in the kitchen of the Twice Lucky restaurant.”

Jade City by Fonda Lee

“Where’s Papa going with that ax?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.”

Charlotte’s Webb by E.B. White

“All children, except one, grow up.”

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

“If your teacher has to die, August isn’t a bad time of year for it.”

The Teacher’s Funeral by Richard Peck

“Jim Gallien had driven four miles out of Fairbanks when he spotted the hitchhiker standing in the snow beside the road, thumb raised high, shivering in the gray Alaska dawn.”

Into the Wild by John Krakauer

“When the clock strikes one…mummies come undone.”

—When the Clock Strikes on Halloween by Lisa Ferland

(Hah! I couldn’t resist!)

Get to the point

Disney/Pixar movies are pared down, fast-paced, and simplified—that’s why they are so enjoyable.

All authors are competing for our readers’ attention. There is no time to waste because a whole digital world of “whatever I want to explore” is sitting right next to them or is resting in their front pocket.

Jumpstart the beginning of your book—children’s book, nonfiction, or fiction novel—with something magnificent.

The authors of the First Pages competition at the Stockholm Writers Festival said that they spent hours rewriting their opening lines.

Make your opening scene hook your reader and move quickly into motion.

 

Short stories should start fast

Like in a drag race, you don’t have much time to get your story going if you’re writing a short story.

Practicing flash fiction is a great way to exercise your short writing/sprinting muscles.

I subscribe to the Flash Fiction magazine newsletter to see what people are writing.

Testing out your flash fiction chops on Reddit is also a great way to get reader feedback and hone your writing for free

I recommend reading: How to Write Short by Roy Peter Clark

This book has great tips for writing better emails to your readers, Twitter posts, and Kickstarter campaign pages.

It also has exercises at the end of each chapter so you can practice, practice, practice.

What is the first line of your book? Share it below! 

Book Marketing Ideas

“Content is fire, social media is gasoline.” -Jay Baer

When it comes to marketing your book, you have to do what every business does—get your product (that’s your book) in front of people who might be interested in reading it.

How you go about doing that will need to vary based on your audience.

In my lecture, Identifying and Connecting with Your Ideal Reader, I walk you through how to define your reader and think about where you can find them on the internet and in real life. (Click here to head to that lecture.)

Your marketing strategy for 25-35 year old women who are interested in yoga and aromatherapy will be slightly different than another author’s strategy who is targeting men between the ages of 55-65 years who are American classic car enthusiasts.

While the messages will differ depending on your ideal reader, you can still reach them in similar ways.

Here are a few ideas to market your book:

1. Book reviews on blogs

I guarantee that someone out there has a blog and is enthusiastic about your book’s genre. It’s up to you to track them down and make the connection.

Google your fingers off and create a list of potential book review bloggers and start contacting them with a friendly request for a book review.

You’ll need to send them either an e-book file or physical book for their review. You must give your book to reviewers freely and don’t even hint to them that you are looking for positive feedback.

According to Amazon’s book review policies, you cannot solicit positive reviews in exchange for a free copy of the book. Authors cannot incentivize or compensate reviewers in any form.

Ask the blogger to copy/paste a version of their review on your Amazon sales page and Goodreads when they are finished and ask them to let you know when the review on their site is live so you can share their blog post far and wide on your social media platforms.

If it helps sweeten the deal, you can offer one physical book for them to run a reader giveaway. They’ll run the promotion and send you the mailing address for you to ship once the giveaway ends.

As always, be genuine, be grateful, be nice and you’ll go far.

2. Let your voice be heard! Podcast interviews

Similar to your blogger outreach, you should repeat the same process for various podcasts. Hop on iTunes and start searching for pods related to your topic.

If you’re going to be a guest on podcasts, you need to know a few things:

1. Get a decent microphone. Sure, you can do it with your ear buds, but really, a nice microphone makes a huge difference and it’s not that expensive.

I use the Blue Yeti Microphone and I got it at a discount during a Black Friday sale. Get the foam filter that goes over the head so we don’t hear every spittle and click. Your listeners will thank you for spending an extra $7-$9 on your equipment.

If you find yourself on more than two podcasts, it’s time to invest in a microphone. Who knows? Maybe you’ll start your own podcast…storytelling in the author’s own voice is always nice to hear.

Whenever preparing for an interview, remember to relax. It’s just a conversation. Prepare some talking points around why you created the book, your inspiration, and what you want readers to take away from your book and let the words flow.

The more you do, the better you will be at interviews so do some mock interviews to calm your nerves.

3. Take ALL of the pictures. Share on Instagram

Someone who does this really well is Lola Åkerström who created an Instagram account for her book, Lagom.

 

A post shared by LAGOM Book (@lagombook) on

Readers send her pictures of her book in their house and she reposts them on her Instagram account. 

The end result: a stunning display of creativity and engagement with her readers around the world.

Seriously, follow her and do one better, buy her book here.

4. Put things in motion with a moving gif or video of your book

Want a high-quality image or video of someone reading your book but you don’t have any models around?

You can head to websites like Placeit.net and create a mockup of your book.

This can turn into a rabbit hole so don’t get lost. Get in and get out!

Here’s an example of a one that I tested out.

Buuuut, if you want to DIY it, which you might, you can create your own by animating your own book cover images.

Here’s an example of what I did for my Knocked Up Abroad books. You can see it on my homepage here.

Steps (super easy and free):

1. Take some flat lay pictures of your book(s)

2. Make the scene somewhat interesting

3. Make slight changes between snaps

4. Animate them using iMovie OR do what I did and create an animated slideshow using the Elementor WordPress plugin on your site.

5. Join a few marketing groups

There are TONS of other ideas for marketing your book—this is only scratching the surface.

For more ideas, I recommend reading Book Marketing Made Simple by Karen Williams and joining marketing groups on Facebook.

Internet Marketing for Authors and Books

and 

Marketing Across the World if you’re looking to connect with international entrepreneurs.

I’m in both groups, so come in and say helloooo.

6. Blog in your own words

This one is the most obvious but I almost forgot to mention that you should be blogging and continuing to put your ideas out there.

Add a link to your book at the bottom of every blog or in the sidebar widget of your site to encourage your readers to read more.

Put the link to your book everywhere. Make it easy for readers to find you.


Okay! That’s it for me. If you have any questions, let me know in the comments.