This post is part of a series featuring students at UMD who completed a project interviewing regional authors for David Beard’s Theories of Writing Studies class.
Hooking an audience and keeping their attention is always a challenge in writing. I talked with Lucie Amundsen for her advice on how a writer can face this challenge, and she shared several methods she uses to draw in readers and bring excitement to writing.
I like the idea of starting with an action. Action is a hook that can take you on a ride. It’s how some of my favorite podcasts have done it (like RadioLab or This American Life). All of the sudden you’re just in it, and it creates this platform for jumping off. It’s a promise that all right, you have to get through some exposition and backstory until you get back to the chickens, but I promise, there are chickens coming and it’s going to be super dramatic.
It’s a poultry ploy to get people to keep turning those pages.
Using action as a starting point is one way Lucie catches her readers’ attention and gives them a reason to be interested in exposition and backstory. If the readers are shown an interesting scene, they will be more willing to learn about the events that led to the scene before returning to that interesting moment of action.
Making all the learning come at a time where it’s important to your main characters is – even though (in a memoir) these aren’t really characters, they’re real people – they’re still two dimensional on the page, right? And this notion about middle agriculture isn’t interesting until you realize that this really affects your characters, so try to always find a reason for the learning and not just vomit it out there.
Showing how a topic affects the characters grounds the information in a story readers can more easily connect with and understand. Lucie utilizes this technique to let the significance of the topic and its effects sink in properly for the readers. In other situations where she is faced with a large amount of information to convey, she asks herself a question:
I would always reread a page and really ask myself would this benefit from being in scene, rather than just exposition? Scene is a lot harder to write, and you can trick yourself into thinking, “oh no exposition is fine, this is fine,” so I’d have to really test it. Would this make the writing more alive if there was a scene? To write a scene is more work, you have to write dialogue, write believable dialogue, and create a space for that scene to be in. And it feels like almost always, your work will benefit from scenes.
While exposition can be a helpful tool, it is not always the solution to creating a strong piece of writing. Lucie is able to hold a reader’s attention for longer when she presents information in motion instead.
As a self-proclaimed ham bone, Lucie also utilizes her sense of humor as motivation for her audience to learn and a method to lighten up the denser portions of her writing.
I think I’m just a ham bone and always have been, I like humor. If I could stay up later, I would probably go into comedy, but you have to stay up really late for those types of jobs. I’ve always been drawn to David Sedaris and that kind of genre. I definitely feel that humor is the best teacher. You’ll remember things if they made you laugh, so it’s worth the effort.
I would think of the humorous as a reward. If I had a long section about the insides of chickens, or perhaps the economic realities of agriculture, I’d say now it’s time to treat my audience to some crap falls that would be more interesting.
For situations where exposition becomes necessary, readers will be inclined to continue through exposition, as they know something interesting will come at the end. Lucie is especially effective at using her sense of humor as an incentive, as can be seen in Locally Laid and in the social media for the titular egg farm.
Regardless of the type of writing being done, all writing shares a similar goal: Catching and keeping a reader’s attention. People love stories, and a lot of Lucie’s advice plays with that idea and brings out the best of a story. No matter what you write, I hope you can find a tip here to help improve your next piece of writing. I thank Lucie Amundsen for sharing such wonderful advice!
Lucie Amundsen is the author of Locally Laid, a memoir about her experience as a co-owner of an egg farm of the same name. Additionally, she acts as an information officer for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, utilizing her writing to help convey the impact of the agency’s research. Whatever the topic, she always finds the story within, and draws it out to teach her audience what they need to know, engage them, and make them chuckle here and there along the way.
Quinn Heutmaker is pursuing work in scientific writing, ranging from research writing to textbook writing to grant writing. Microbiology catches her attention the most, and she enjoys working with microorganisms in the lab. She takes interest in the work of Lucie Amundsen due to her ability to tell stories within research while still presenting reliable and accurate information.