Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Tuesday: The New Monday (Also, what's a hook?)

Oh, there you are gentle readers. Did you miss me? Think I was lost in the crazy tornadoes? Fear not! I am fortunate to be alive and well and merely suffering from a case of Blogger screwing up my Monday posting by not being available. I shake my fist at thee, Blogger!

And thus, Tuesday is the new Monday wherein I may wax philosophically on what is known in the writer community as the dreaded, horrible, terrifying, repugnant... HOOK!

Also known as the one-sentence pitch, logline, tagline, etc (though each definition tends to vary depending on who you're talking to), for our purposes, the hook is a single sentence containing less than 50 words that sums up your novel in a precise and interesting way. Most writers hate the hook; they fear it, thinking it an abomination to distill their craft into something as puny and unsophisticated as a sentence.

They may be right, who am I to judge? However, the hook is essential to the modern publishing world. Without one, when an agent/editor asks you, "So what's your book about?" You don't want to say, "Duh, uh, well, it's about this person who gets in a lot of trouble and has to get out of it somehow." Gee, yes, that sounds great, sign me up!

Ehem, now, I don't have any personal problems with the hook. Single sentences don't scare me, entire epics are my fear, but that's a post for another time.

Hooks should consist of 2 main things:
  1. Character - Who is the protagonist (and maybe antagonist) at their quirky core?
  2. Conflict - What's the major plot, what's at stake?
Both of these things should be stated in a way that is both:
  1. Precise - Each word needs to count and have meaning within the story.
  2. Interesting - The entire point of a hook is to catch the reader like a fish, if it's boring, you're done.
Now, I recommend never having more than 1-2 characters and 1-2 conflicts in the hook, preferably just 1 that you want to showcase. Your major stuff only. Subplots and non-main characters can wait for a synopsis (which I'll cover some other time). Use only what is most important to the story, that which as the most meaning, or that is the best descriptor for your character/conflict.

Your aim is to get it around 25 words. The shorter, the better, so long as it maintains its strength. Drop unnecessary adverbs/adjectives and instead pick verbs/nouns that illustrate your point entirely. Be specific.

Don't be vague. Overcoming troubles is something all characters do, that's the entire point of a conflict. Tell exactly what is going to happen.

Rachelle Gardner, blogging Literary Agent extraordinaire, gives some great information on hooks here. She also critiques some hooks submitted by commenters here. She's way more experienced than I am with hooks, so if you can't take my advice, take hers.

Nathan Bransford, another super-blogging Literary Agent, gives his advice here. He prescribes the following formula: When [OPENING CONFLICT] happens to [CHARACTER(s)], they have [OVERCOME CONFLICT] to [COMPLETE QUEST]. So, when all else fails, just fill in the blanks!

Hooks aren't easy, but look at it this way, you've already set out to finish (or have completed) an entire novel. Don't let one little sentence scare you off!