Hooks and Plots, Part One

Hooks are set-ups, sometimes only a sentence, that grabs readers and keeps them reading. A good writer has hooks in the first few lines of the story, at the end of every chapter, and at key scenes. Plots are vague outline that your characters might follow or might not. When people say a book is either character driven or plot driven, they haven’t met my characters.

052120 hook

My chapter of Romance writers of America has a biennial contest for Hookers. That is, people who write excellent hooks in their first pages. Because it’s that important. When Darynda Jones spoke to my chapter, she stole this quote from Michael Hauge: There has to be a vibrant sense on the first page to hook the reader. People will forget what you did or said, but will remember how you make them feel.

But how do you get the hooks in the right place? And what makes a good hook? Ms. Jones is a Plotter, so she uses a synopsis for her agent. Then writes out a Skeleton Key. Also called the basic plot, this system lets you sketch in your plot points and hooks, so you don’t get lost as you write the story. And while it is like a road map, you can take some side paths. Pantsers, don’t worry. These are guidelines, not rules. Ultimately, you need to flesh out your skeleton in your own, personal writing way.

052120 Plot-Skeleton-Format

Ms. Jones also shared these four hooks to draw the reader in. These are set out as ideas for opening your novel, but can also be adjusted for opening a chapter or scene. The first is, ahem, drawing the reader in. Which means you have to start big, like a movie opening scene, then pull in and focus on the main character or characters. Your reader will come in with you. Some examples were The Duke and I, or Prince of Tides. Another version is to start pulled in, and move out to show the context. Like The Mazerunner.

052120 b&w hook

Second, create empathy for the character. Readers have to like and in some way identify with the characters or why bother reading. Kristin Higgans did this beautifully in her book, Good Luck with That. She focuses on the four teenage girls who made friends at the summer fat camp. Pulling back, we learn how much their family and self esteem contributed to their weight issues.

052120 shooter

Three is a challenge, but worth the effort. Set the tone and mood for the whole book. From dark and sultry to light and flighty, and anything in between. Look at your last chapter, then at your first. Is there a similarity in feelings the reader can pick up? Molly Harper and Joss Whedon are masters at this.

052120 heart break

The last way to grab your reader by the throat is to elicit emotion. I highly recommend Elizabeth Moons’s Remnant Population for this. It’s a science fiction novel, but even if you don’t like the genre, this book is a must read. Think of it as a Wagon Train story, only set on a planet, not in the Old West. Put your heroine in jeopardy, let your hero suffer an injury. Throw in a twist. Make sure whatever you set up at the beginning of the book pays off at the end. Let Sally save the ranch, Let Cody win the rodeo top prize. Readers will be expecting this.

052120 secret plan

Well, if you are still awake, I hope you got some worthwhile chunks of knowledge out of this post. I will look more at Plot on Sunday, May 28th. Thanks for reading, hope to see you then.


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