Sunday, September 11, 2011

Eh... Where the eff is the Hook?
*Gouges eyeballs out*

Good novels, like good short stories, contain:

  1. About 250 words per MS page
  2. Interesting, sympathetic characters
  3. Plot or through-line
  4. A hook!

Yes, that thing is bold, underlined, italicized, & exclamation-pointed for extra sparkly emphasis.

The hook needs to be near the beginning of your story if you care about Impulsive readers like me. The shorter the story, the closer to the beginning.

I've been reading Legends, edited by Robert Silverberg, an anthology including stories by Robert Jordan, Stephen King, Orson Scott Card, Anne McCaffrey, Ursula K LeGuin, etc. The Greats. Unfortunately, I'm disappointed by these most beloved authors. At the entree of each new story, I have to grit my teeth and bulldoze through by sheer force of will. Why? I mulled and mulled, and then discovered something (as one is wont to do while mulling).

In Legends, the Greats are at a disadvantage. Their stories are set in pre-made worlds; they have at their disposal more backstory than perhaps Rowling herself had at then end of Deathly Hallows. Sometimes, this wealth of backstory becomes a crutch.

By and large, the Greats rely on their own names, their fame, and their pre-made worlds to hook readers. But in doing so, they allow their story's hook -- that which compels us by desire and intrigue to read on -- to go by the wayside. This, I realized, is why I wanted to stab myself in the eye while reading much of Legends.

The remedy:

  1. Don't forget the hook.
  2. Open with intrigue. Readers are curious and will respond favorably to even the tiniest (arguably, the tinier the better) hint at bigger, stranger, more wonderful things to come.
  3. Two types of hooks. Hooks can be plot-driven or character-driven, as can books. Know what drives your book, and open with the respective hook. (Unless, of course, you knowingly decide to red herring us; then open with the opposite. *grins*)
  4. Hook us in the first paragraph. A little something to perk up our innately curious ears.
  5. Hook us again. At the end of that first scene, plant another hook, hopefully tying in the first and lacing the story with theme.
  6. Hook us again. Yep, you got it. Next scene, a third beat. Another clearly identifiable plot point.

But isn't this too obvious? Too predictable? I ask you -- when you look at a house, do you expect roof, walls, foundation, windows, doors? And if you found these missing? Um... a thing without roof, walls, foundation, windows, doors -- What is that, like, air?

STRUCTURE IS ESSENTIAL. To houses. And stories.

And the HOOK is an essential part of that structure.

I beg you, weave the backstory later -- weave it well -- and open instead with hook and hook and more hook or you will be sued by readers gouging out their eyes.

And because I believe in reward driving motivation & resulting action, I'll put it this way. Can you spot the hook?

Img by Zynga Games

For further reading:
A great post on the hook by @Mooderino: "The Little Hook."

If you know of any other hook posts, please leave them in the comments and I'll list them! Thank you!!