One of the first things taught in writing is the hook — that starting line or paragraph that pulls the reader in and keeps them reading until the end of the column, article, or novel.
There are times when an idea for a column comes, but finding that hook takes time. During these situations, it is not uncommon to write the entire column in the same amount of time, or less, than it takes to determine the first line.
Sometimes, the hook will come through an epiphany, and the entire structure of the column will flow like water down Niagra. The words stream from the heart to the brain, down the arms, into the fingertips, across the keyboard, onto the screen, reaching the reader throughout cyberspace and on the printed page.
Many authors will use writing prompts. A prompt is a word or phrase that is used to get the writer thinking, igniting the writing juices, turning empty thoughts into the next great American novel or a Pulitzer prize-winning article.
Everything I have said so far brings me to where I am now. Nearing a deadline and having a desperate need to place something profound on paper. As a writer, there is the desire to write a column so deep, so full of undeniable wisdom; editors will wonder how the world survived through millennia without the words he or she has just read. The wish is to have everyone read the column, then a natural but unnatural minute-long silence followed by the phrase, “Amazing, this writer is a sage.”
So what hook do I use for the last column of the year? I have never used a writing prompt for the column, but I decided to look at a few of the greatest hooks of all time and see how they would flow into a Preacher’s Point that would endure for years to come.
Go big or go home they say; so I will start with the first line of the arguably the most excellent novel ever written – “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville.
“Call me Ishmael.” – Any religious column starting with these words would need to include something about Jonah and the whale. It fails my purposes though because my name is not Ishmael and the more I think of the line and the story of Moby Dick, the more I want to go into the kitchen and put a tray of fish sticks in the oven.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …” The opening phrase from Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities.” Immediately, the passage from Ecclesiastes chapter three comes to mind, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die … A time to kill, and a time to heal … A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance …”
Dickens’ line did spark the thought of a passage, but the topic is “Happy New Year,” therefore looking at the ups and downs of life may not be the best way to bring about a positive outlook for the coming year.
“I am an invisible man.” – Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man.” The line seems to lack substance.
“It was a dark and stormy night.” For some strange reason, Snoopy on top of his doghouse is clear in my memory, but these famous words come from the quill of Edward George Buwer-Lytton and the opening of his novel “Paul Clifford,” published in 1830. This line brings to memory Jesus calming the sea – oh well – so much for dark and stormy.
If you are a regular reader of Preacher’s Point and you have read everything in this column so far, you may be wondering what has happened with the real Preacher Johnson. Rest assured I am still alive and not being held for ransom.
The lines above and the novels holding them, along with others are some of the most significant words humankind has ever written, but there is another Word, that no earthly writer is justified to stand in His shadow.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that as made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men… And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-4;14).
In the upcoming New Year, if you want it to be happy, follow the Word – Jesus Christ, the Word. In Him was life; and the life was the light of men.