Sunday, August 22, 2010

Hook, Line, and dud?


Lucifer stalked across the stone floor of his castle, demons scattering in his wake. He stopped and glared at the thousands of human souls locked behind the enchanted metal bars of what he called the holding cage. The souls cowered, begging for mercy.

      “Take them to the pit,” he said with a snarl to his servants.

      “Yes, Lord Lucifer.” A demon bowed and hurried to do Lucifer’s bidding, but stopped, frozen in place by invisible restraints.

       “What did you call me?” Lucifer asked, fury swirling in his soft spoken question.

       The demon trembled, but remained silent.

       “What did you call me?” His voice boomed, bouncing off the stone walls of the chamber.

       Did this hook draw you in? Yes? No? Would you want to read on to see what has Lucifer so up-set?

        How about this one.

        Catherine stared at the blood spattered man. Her mouth was forced wide from the gag pulled tight between her teeth. She screamed, the sound filling her head, but was muffled by the cloth. Bound at her wrists and ankles, she struggled, but it was no use.

      Look away. Don't watch. But she couldn't drag her eyes from the horrific scene. Blood sprayed, splattering the wall as he yanked the knife out of the dead woman's chest.

       Did this one grab your attention?

       As writers we've all heard about, 'the opening hook. The first line or paragraph of your manuscript.

       The hook's job does exactly what it states; hook the reader and not let go until the end of the story. Just like in fishing. You want to snag that big one.

       Writing an affective hook is a hard thing to accomplish. It should intrigue, leaving readers eager to read on to the next paragraph and the next. The opening doesn't have to exploded with action and suspense, but it should pose questions your audience wants—needs--answers to.

       Along with grabbing your reader's curiosity, a hook should give an idea of what is happening or where the story takes place. You could start your scene by introducing your main character--not his or her back story--but the problem or conflict he/she will face and hopefully overcome. You could start with an interesting place, or an interesting time in history. Mood setting is another way to open your first chapter.

       Though no matter what your hook is, make sure it fits into the story. Some novel's openings are so dazzling you believe the rest of the story has to be just as great, only to find they fall flat. On the other end we've all read novels where the opening is slow, but we carry on, and it ends up being a great read.

      You may ask yourself, if that's the case, then why the worry about writing an intriguing opening? Well, readers genuinely have more time to get to the good stuff where as agents, editors, and publishers don't. They are excessively busy--slogged down with hundreds of manuscripts--they don't have the time to get to where the story really takes off. The best time to grab them is right away with your hook.

    Okay, so you've written your opening hook: introduced your main character, hinted at his/her coming conflict, or you've wowed the reader with an interesting setting. Don't stop there. Just like fishing, if the hook isn't set deep enough it may fall out or the line may snap. Same goes for writing. No matter how strong your initial hook is, if you don't keep the readers interest in the following paragraphs, well, you might lose them.

     Really, your first chapter or prologue is all one big hook. If you've held the reader’s attention through to chapter two, then chances are good they will continue reading.

     We all know how important chapter one is. Many of us—me included—have struggled not only with the opening line or paragraph, but with the whole opening chapter.

     This is where our understanding of rules really comes in handy.

  1. No or very little back story.

  2. Keep passive voice to a minimum

  3. Use active verbs

  4. Show

  5. Stay in one character's head. No head hopping.

  6. Introduce conflict

  7. Make sure you begin the story at the right place. 

      Is your head hurting yet? Mine is.

      Sadly there is no hidden formula, no magic pill you can swallow that will make writing an opening or chapter one any easier. But don't despair, you'll get it. I have rewritten my chapter one four times and my opening hook seven or eight. I've lost count.

      Until next week, happy writing.

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