nancyfulda (nancyfulda) wrote,

How to hook a reader without being hooky

When I started reading Brad Torgersen's "A Ray of Light", I was really hoping it wouldn't interest me. I'd foolishly downloaded the PDF version, and the text on my kindle screen was painfully small. I was really, really looking for an excuse not to keep reading.

But, curse you, Brad -- I was hooked after the first few paragraphs. So I finished the entire story and loved it. It is so totally on my shortlist for this year's Nebulas.

What's fascinating about this is that Torgersen's opening isn't what one would typically consider 'grabby'. There are no explosions, no heavy-handed mysteries, and no narrative allusions to what's about to happen. There's just a Dad, a daughter, and deep sea station.

Here, take a look:

My crew boss Jake was waiting for me at the sealock door. I’d been eight hours outside, checking for microfractures in the metal hull. Tedious work, that. I’d turned my helmet communicator off so as not to be distracted. The look on Jake’s face spooked me.

“What’s happened?” I asked him, seawater dripping from the hair of my beard.

“Jenna,” was all I got in reply. Which was enough.

I closed my eyes and tried to remain calm, fists balled around the ends of a threadbare terrycloth towel wrapped around my neck.

For a brief instant the hum-and-clank activity of the sub garage went away, and there was only a mental picture of my daughter sitting in her mother’s lap: two, maybe three years old, with a delightful nest of unruly ringlets sprouting at odd angles from her scalp. She’d been a mischief-maker from day one—hell on wheels in a confined space like Deepwater 12.

--from "A Ray of Light", Analog Science Fiction and Fact

The implication of trouble with Jenna shouldn't be enough to make me read through eleven pages of microscopic font. But it was.

I think a lot of the draw comes from the power with which the subtle details are provided. Jenna's delightfully unruly ringlets, suggesting that she has a personality to match. Microfractures, terrycloth, and seawater: vivid words that imply this is an author who can deliver a mighty fine tale. And deliver he does.
Tags: writing
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