Captain Hook

No, I am not writing about Peter Pan, although some of my heros start out as little boys who don’t want to grow up. I’m talking about the hook in the story that keeps you reading. You need a hook in the first few paragraphs of the story. You need hooks at the end of every chapter. You better stock up, you need hooks by the dozen.

Most important, however, is the hook with which you will get the attention of an agent, or publisher, or editor. As Angie Fox says in this interview, answer three questions, and you should have the perfect hook. Not that the author of a series featuring “a gang of geriatric biker witches” has to work much harder than that for her hook.

Years ago at an RWA meeting, I learned to sell the book based on High Concepts. For instance, if you had a bunch of whacky misfits shipwrecked on an island, in 1815, you could call it a Regency Gilligan’s Island. Meh. But you get the idea. Alexa Schnee explains what readers look for when they first pick up your book. While this changes slightly for ebooks, the read will still be looking at the same three things, and the good news is, if you publish your own work, you get to choose the cover, the blurb, and the opening line.

Suzannah Windsor Freeman explains clearly the issues I try to get across when I critique work for writers on Scribophile. She puts in order 4 things you must avoid, and 6 things to do. I feel like a broken record urging new writers not to use a line of dialog as the opening line, ever. Yes, you can point to many great novels where the writer got away with it. Ask yourself this: Was it that author’s first book? How long did it take you to know who spoke the line?

Every chapter should have its own little arc, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. And that end has to have a hook, or the reader could easily set the book down, yawn, and forget about the whole thing. I don’t mean that the end of the chapter should end the scene. In fact, you want something to happen at the end that makes the reader turn the page in a hurry. Eddie Snipes uses a system he calls Hooks and Nooses. And while I resent his supposition that genre readers have shorter attention spans than literary readers, I. . . don’t remember where I was going with this. Oh well.

Be sure to scroll down to his list of other awesome subjects. Eddie is president of the Christian Authors Guild, just so you know. All the books he recommends have a religious theme about them. But then, all my books have a romantic theme about them. We can’t help but write from our own interests.

Here’s romance author Rebecca Zanetti’s wonderful post about hooks, back story, and showing vs. telling. She’s a pantser* who recommends outlining the first chapter. This is the part of the book where it all happens, you win or lose the reader, and knowing where you are going with it, at least, makes perfect sense.

Marge McAllister at Writing 4 Success explains that once you have a great hook, you must follow through. You can’t have a character wrestle an alligator and then never explain what the Chinese family was doing in Florida in the first place!

Romance University posted Laura Griffin’s great message on how to keep readers hooked. And while I agree with her example on which word served as a better hook, I will always feel that I am being cheated if I don’t get a bit of the emotions the point of view character experiences as we leave them.

Here’s what I mean. Kelly watched Elliot’s unconscious form float away in the oar-less row boat. Now, that isn’t a bad chapter or scene ending. But we don’t know what Kelley thinks or feels about Elliot at this time. Now add the following: What had she done? And how had she ignored her love for him until she lost him forever? Tears impeded her vision, filling her hollow heart with certain doom.

So it’s not a perfect example, being spur of the moment, but hopefully you get the idea. I leave you with Sandra Kischuk’s Writer’s Toolbox post about literary hooks and a few great exercises to strengthen your writing. Have fun!

*A pantser writes by the seat of their pants, through intuition and habit, as opposed to those who write using outlines and/or storyboards. I’m a combination writer, myself.


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