Readers' Advisory

Writing the Flash Booktalk

Flash Blog Graphic (1)

Now that you have some ideas on why you might want to try flash booktalks you’ll need to actually write some.

The Hook

First, find your hook. If you are going to booktalk a title in one minute you need to find a hook. A hook is the thing that is going to sell the book in about 60 seconds give or take.

An unusual format might be a hook.  Books written as screenplays, scrapbooks, diaries, and emails have a built-in hook. Possibly the easiest hook is the high concept story. It’s easy to tease a book quickly if it has one overwhelming concept. High concept books include things like The Hunger Games, most spy novels, and road trip books. Even Hatchet is a high concept book when it comes to booktalks.

A really great first line can also be a hook, think about these examples:

“When the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it’s never good news.” – Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz

“There was a hand in the darkness and it held a knife.” – The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

“Before anyone reading this thinks to call me a slut—or even just imagines I’m incredibly popular—let me point out that this list includes absolutely every single boy I have ever had the slightest little any-kind-of-anything with.”

The Boyfriend List  by E. Lockhart

I can also find a hook by picking out the things I know from experience get my teens interested in a book.  Things that seem to be the biggest draws are fighting for survival, betrayal, and secrets.

For example, with Incarceron the hook is the huge prison and the fight for survival:

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Incarceron is a prison so huge that it contains not only cells, but forests and large cities filled with gangs prisoners.  Finn, a seventeen-year-old prisoner, has no memory of his childhood and is sure that he came from outside Incarceron, but some prisoners don’t even believe there is an outside – making escape attempts dangerous if not pointless.

Then Finn finds a crystal key that allows him to communicate with a girl named Claudia. She claims to live Outside- her father is the Warden of Incarceron, and she is being forced into an arranged marriage. Finn is determined to escape the prison, and Claudia believes she can help him and possibly save herself at the same time. But they don’t realize that there is more to Incarceron than either of them could imagine.

Before I Fall is another excellent flash booktalk candidate. It’s easy to get down the the basics of the story. Lauren Oliver really has a knack for catchy concepts.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

What would you do differently if you knew today was the last day of your life?   Samantha had everything: popularity, a hot boyfriend,  she and her friends ruled the school and they made sure everyone knew it.  Until the accident… until  Sam died….until she woke up again the next morning to start the same day over… Until it happened six more times after that…..enough that Sam starts to examine all of her relationships, even the ones with people she thought didn’t matter.

The Essentials

When writing the flash booktalk you need to zero in on the things that attract a reader to a book. Who is the character? What is the conflict? Why would the reader care what happens?   As I share more booktalks you’ll see that many of them seem a little vague. One of the perks of doing such short booktalks is that you can easily avoid giving too much away.

Here’s an example:

Gentleman by Michael Northrop

Everyone has seen them in school. The underachievers…the kids with bad grades and have bad attitudes… the kids who skip school or fall asleep on their desks…the kids who smoke whatever. You know…those waste-of-space  cases.

Mike, Tommy, Mixer, and Bones have being underachievers down pat. Not only are they from the wrong side of the tracks, they’re from the wrong side of everything. Mr. Haberman, the despised remedial English teacher, calls them the four “Gentlemen,” but there is nothing gentle about them. They all have problems, but they are tight, they look out for each other, and they are loyal.

It wasn’t unusual when Tommy was sent to the principal’s office. It wasn’t unusual that he disappeared on the way. What was unusual was that he stayed disappeared.

Mike thinks Mr. Haberman has done something to Tommy, and the remaining Gentlemen are determined to solve this mystery. But it’s surprising how fast things spiral out of control.

In about a minute we know all the players, we know what the issues are, and we haven’t given much away except that there is DRAMA! Drama is what keeps people reading after all.



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