Romance Writers Want to be Hookers

After the amazing Maggie Marr spoke to my RWA chapter in September, our afternoon speaker was Debbie Decker. She’s the author of the Key to Her Heart series and a Speech Pathologist. She also works at a food pantry and a regular judge at the California Dreamin’ Hooker Contest. No, authors are not judged on how many tricks they can turn in a weekend.

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Stories need Hooks! Love ’em or hate ’em, ya gotta have ’em (That’s the title of Debbie’s talk).

The contest asks writers to submit the first three pages of the story. To make sure your reader keeps reading, the book needs a hook. Some people submitted the first three pages and the judges could find no hook. Some submitted a hook that started on page 26. Be sure when you enter a contest, you understand what is required of you. So many submissions to this contest didn’t have a hook.

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In fact, hooks are used in music, art, books, movies, and life. Musicians hate to perform Bolero because it’s so boring. But the start with the snare drum gets your heart beat going to the same beat. It’s a hook. It’s why people love to listen to it.

You can probably guess the hooks in books. Your Cover is the first hook. Your Blurb is the next. The very next is in your first three pages. Or it should be.

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Debbie then played music from movie. While we listened she had us visualize what’s happening and when we were hooked. The theme from Star Wars filled the room. We heard the Boom of the music. Then words crawl across space, then a fight scene. Are you hooked? Next, the theme from Star Trek. “Space, the final frontier.” Many of us know this part by heart. The tones of the music pull us in and the captain’s voice sets the hook. The voyages, his next words, tell us we aren’t going to be totally adrift. This is a future universe but we will be familiar enough with the ship and crew to enjoy ourselves.

Like fishing, you want to get the hook set and then drag the fish (or reader) along with the rest of the world that’s evolving. Stephen King said, The first line sells this book, the last line sells the next book.

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The first scene sets the tone, the mood, the place and the characters. We all read, often we read as authors. We know when a story isn’t going to keep us happy. We need to write a book based on And Then What? Luke and Han liberated Leia. And then what? You would not have been happy if that was the end of the story, would you?

Think of how you would be telling your day to your spouse or roommate or dog. You don’t waste time on the boring details, you get right to the stripper who showed up at the office without management’s permission. That’s how you hook your readers. Expose the real world of your characters.

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What is the wound that makes the story happen? In Crazy for Trying, Adam trusted many people and never saw the set-up for embezzlement coming. Valerie lived while her husband, her son, and her unborn child died. The over-powering emotions of distrust and survivor’s guilt get the story moving. But the Inciting Incident is Adam’s chance to save Valerie from a bad person trying to force himself on her. That action opens the book. From the start, the reader knows this world is not a safe place and help might come from the strangest person.

Your hook must tell the reader the time period. Star Wars was a long time ago, but to us, it seems to take place in the future. Share the time of day, the season, and where in the world you are. Otherwise people will make their own conclusions and be upset if they are wrong. For instance, I’m reading an amazing story about biobots and indentured humans. Somehow I got two characters mixed up. I was thinking they were one character, but eventually I realized my error. I may be the only person to do that, but still, it could have been a little clearer.

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Specific hooks in movies are pretty clear. For the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, we hear the prayers for George Bailey and move to a conversation between two angels. We see George briefly at the bridge as he contemplates jumping in. We want to help him, especially if we are James Stewart fans. But even so, we are hooked!

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Gone with the Wind is another great example of a hook. The Civil War is about to start, all the young men are talking with bravado about winning the war, and Ashley Wilkes rebuffs Scarlet O’Hara. As the story unfolds, Scarlet hangs on by whatever means she can to the plantation where she grew up. As God is her witness, she says, and means as long as she has Tara, she will survive. Tara is the love of Scarlet’s life.

Now you know what a hook is, where it goes, and how to set it firmly in place. But you aren’t done yet! You need to tie the hook up at the end. Relate the opening line with the ending line. I recently read One Look by Christie Ridgeway. The story hooked me with the opening line about our heroine buying what she needed to break the family curse. At the end, the hero breathes in the scent of hope and spring that his mountain girl brought to his life. She not only broke her family’s curse but her hero’s as well. Amazing conclusion with lots more stories in the series to come.

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From start to finish, you need to have hooks in place at the start, at the end of chapters, and at the end so your readers will look for the next thing you publish. Make it your talent and hook those fish! Thanks for reading, I’ll be back on Thursday.

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