Sunday, October 25, 2009

Get the Hook

On the Vaudeville stage they used to bring out the hook when an act was bad and yank them from the stage. This was a great attention getter and made the audience react with hoots and hollers.
When writing, a hook is also an attention getter. You need to write something that catches the reader's attention and doesn't let them put the book down. Each chapter, each scene needs to have two hooks. One at the opening and one at the ending. Your job as a writer is to keep your reader up all night because they HAVE to know what happens next. It doesn't matter if you write short fiction (40-60,000 words) or long (90-100,000). In today's market there isn't time for long passages of description unless it has hook. Unless the reader has to know what is around the next corner or what Billybob is going to do when confronted with the truth.
A hook can be action. It can be emotion such as regret, or guilt or fear. It can be confrontation or impending doom. Look for the punch in your scene and start there. Here's an example: Evil preferred the cover of darkness. So it was no surprise when Detective Ryce Alden found himself behind crime scene tape at 3 a.m.
This example sets the tone of the book and invites the reader to wonder what happened and read on.
I'm judging a contest and am surprised by the lack of hook in the entries. It's not about word count, my friends, it's about hook. When working on a partial or contest entry, don't look at page count, don't think that the more words you can squeeze in the better--it isn't. An entry or partial can be short. The goal is to leave the reader/judge/editor/agent wanting to read more. If you can do that, you will be successful in all that you do.

12 comments:

Jessica said...

I love hooks! They're so fun. But they have to interet and involve the reader. I've seen books where I could tell there was a hook but I wasn't too interested so it didn't do anything for me.
I'm trying to learn to use the right hook at the right time... LOL

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Jessica,
Thanks for stopping by.
Yes- right hook at the right time is key. lol.
I had a writer once have her character fall off the porch and into the bushes. Then the character got up and went inside and answered the phone. When I asked why the writer had her fall off the porch, the writer answered. "I was told you had to start with action."
Yes, action is good-but it has to have a point. Just like a hook.

Cheers!!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Working on 'hook!'

And 'hook' is also required when promoting the book, too.

~Sia McKye~ said...

You're so right. I've been reading some partials and am finding the same. No hooks or not enough. I'm learning what you say--two hooks, one to set the tone and one to draw you into the next chapter.

I'm surprised how few realize or employ it.

good article, Nancy. I've learned a lot from you. Not only reading your blog but seeing you put your money where your mouth is--in your books. :-)

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi, L. Diane- yes, you need hook for promotion, too!

Hi Sia, thank you so much. Funny isn't it? You would think that hook would be obvious...but it's not.

Linda Kage said...

In this day and age when Ridlin and ADHD are so big, I believe you when you say you have to continually use hooks to keep the reader's attention. Can't go on and on about the scenery for a whole chapter anymore, which makes me wonder if some of the classics out there would even make it onto the marketplace in today's world. Times are a changing, that's for sure. But that works for me, I love reading stories with lots of hooks!

Pamala Knight said...

Thanks for the great post, Nancy. I'm trying to bear your good advice in mind when writing. I try to start out the chapter and also end it, with a hook--keep the reader interested. And no unnecessary, meandering scenery-chewing, either. Everything should forward the action or relate to something revealed later, right?

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Linda, yes, I agree. Many of the classics and bestsellers of yesterday would not even make it off an editor's desk today.

Hi Pamala, yes, you are completely right. Everything should forward the action or lead to something revealed later.

We must be lean, mean writing machines... :)

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I think the hook can be harder to write than the book - and maybe that's because I know it's so important to get it right.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Jane,

Yes, hook can be harder because it can make or break the book...no pressure...lol

Ann Victor said...

LOL! Next time I'm struggling to find the perfect hook, I'll visualize myself as a lean mean writing machine!!

The alternative - being yanked off teh page with a great big hook - is too horrible to contemplate!! :)

Informative and interesting article, thanks Nancy!

Barrie said...

I never made a connection between the vaudeville hook and story-writing hook. Thank you!