Monday, July 18, 2011

How To Hook 'Em

Photo by Karol Pomplin

So what's the secret? How do you get readers to care?

You know the feeling. It's 1 a.m. and you're curled up in bed and can't turn the pages fast enough. Or maybe it's twenty minutes until your hair appointment and the heroine is about to find out the answer you've been waiting for. So you decide to cancel your appointment. (Please DO NOT do this to your stylist—unless of course it's my book you're readingJ.)

Here are some things to think about when creating your hook:

·       Pique curiosity. Raise questions. Make them turn the pages to find out the why. I don't know about you but when questions are raised I find myself leaning in, wanting to read more. I have to know the answer. Before I know it, I'm a quarter into the book. Pique curiosity but don't forget to deliver.

     Curiosity plays a big part and so does suspense. Not knowing what will happen next will keep your readers wanting to know more. Think back to all your favorite books and analyze them. Write down why you feel they hooked you. You'll be surprised at what you can learn.

·       Rework that opening line until it sparkles. The world of wonder is a wonderful thing. Make them question your opening sentence. Here's a good example from Becca Fitzgerald's Hush Hush:

I walked into biology and my jaw fell open.

Now doesn't that make you wonder why her jaw fell open? There are a ton of great first liners. Feel free to share them in the comments section.
·       Give your character a unique voice and a unique name (but don't go overboard) and don't forget the flaws. Readers can relate to characters who have flaws. We all have them.
·       The inciting incident must be present. Did you catch that? Let's say that again:You MUST include an inciting incident. What's an inciting incident? It's the moment something happens. Something that makes your MC (main character) react. It's what gets the story going. The goal. A good goal makes for a good hook.

·       Nothing worthwhile comes easy. Make it tough for your characters. Really tough. Go ahead be cruel. Make them suffer. I give you permission. And don't forget urgency and stress are always a great combo. Keep raising the stakes. Which leads me to…
·       How high are the risks? Now, I'm not talking about a little threat. The stakes must be vital. It has to be something worthwhile. Something that forces your character into wanting (or not wanting it) so bad he'd/she'd do anything to either get it or get rid of it.

If it's not that important to the character then why should we care? After all, we are going through their journey in their POV.

·       White space makes for a faster paced read. Eyes travel down the page faster. Don't be afraid to add white space in there. Editors and readers love white space. So once you hook 'em, it's easier for them to stay hooked when the author makes for an easy read.

·       Always prompt your story forward. What's happening now? Backstory is b-o-r-i-n-g in large amounts. Sprinkle it in. Only a dab will do. Large info dumps will put your readers to sleep. Unless it's a How to Beat Insomnia self-help book, then you definitely do not want to invite a siesta.

    Think about all those wonderful stories that grabbed you by the throat and didn't let go. I'd bet most of them were written in a way that showed the story in the "now."

·       Give them a secret. Why not? Everyone has a secret or two. Besides, it'll pique curiosity and have readers wondering what he/she is hiding.

·       Rewrite a cliché. Be creative with metaphors but don't get too happy. I am learning that creative clichés and original metaphors really hook me. I don't know what it is about reading artistic similes, but they keep me wanting more.

    As I'm reading, it makes me wonder what else will the writer come up with. A good example is: Leanna Ellis's Forsaken (Coming to print this August 2011).

·       Be sure to NOT introduce too many characters at one time. This can distract your reader rather than hooking them. Think of it this way.

     If you are in a room full of a dozen people, it will be harder for you to get to know every single person at the same time. We want to create empathy for the main character. It's hard to do that if you introduce too many people at one time.

·       Ending lines. Always end at a place where the reader will wonder what will happen next. Again. Raise questions and pique curiosity. Add a tense situation/conflict/suspense. Don't you just love cliffhangers? Sure you do. It's what keeps you turning the pages.

Does the last line of chapter one hook you? If not, why not? Reshape it so the reader will want to know more. Think about news commercials and/or movie trailers. They always seem to know how to hook you. Why is that?

Because they make you wonder what will happen next. They are withholding valuable information hoping you tune in to find out. If you already know, then there is no suspense. Why even bother to read on?

What are some books that hooked you and wheeled you in and why?

BTW In Sept I'll be taking Lynnette Labelle's Hook, Line, and Sinker class. If you care to join me check it out HERE


Brenda said...

Holy doodle, Mart! This is an excellent post!!!

Jenna said...

Great post, Mart! I love a good hook and try to make all my chapters end with either hook or cliffhanger.

The last book I read that hooked me so well I literally could not put it down was Mary Jo Putney's The Perfect Rose. Read until 6 o'clock in the morning to finish it and then had to go to work. But I would have seriously hurt anyone who had tried to make me put it down. I aspire to that kind of hooking! :)

Ebony Dreams said...

This was great and very useful. I have a lot of books that have hooked me lately.

A new hook on something old school will pull me in, just as easily as someone writing something new. Just depends on the writer and the voice.

BarbaraB said...

Very interesting and helpful, Mart. Thanks.

Sheri Fredricks said...

You could teach a class on hooks all by yourself! Great post. This is a keeper.

Zee Monodee said...

Awesome tips, Mart! I'm keeping this one :)

Jennifer said...

Great post!!! High stakes is what I try to open with. The point when the tension is highest and something is at risk. Thanks for posting this blog-it was a good one.

Karen Cioffi said...

What great tips, Mart. I love new metaphors, they do add something special.

I'll link to this post in my newsletter.

Victoria Adams said...

Great post Mart

Jessica R. Patch said...

Great tips, Martha! Loved them. I love stories with secrets and off the chain twists. :)

Martha Ramirez said...

Thank you, Brenda! Glad you enjoyed it.

Jenna-wow up until 6am. Now that was a great hook!

Ebony-Good to hear it was useful. You're right. Voice is what captures me every time too.

Sheri—You're so sweet! Thanks!

Thank you , Zee!

You're welcome, Jennifer! Sounds like you are opening with the right goods.

Karen-Thanks so much for linking me. Appreciate that!

Victoria and Jessica—Thank you!! Secrets are always good.

Angela Ackerman said...

Just brilliant. I'll tweet this--thanks so much, Martha!

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

Alix said...

Super fantastic post, Thank you very much, it was serendipitous I stopped by today, I love it when that happens!

Martha Ramirez said...

Appreciate that, Angela!
Thank you, Alix.

Anonymous said...

Great post. I'll have to look into the class further. It sounds interesting.

Savannah said...

Fabulous words of wisdom Mart:)Great post, thanx for sharing!

Martha Ramirez said...

Thank you Susanne and Savannah!

Lisa Kumar said...

This was a great post, Mart! All very common-sense things we tend to forget.

Susan said...

loved it, but one little thing: you wrote "peak" and you meant "pique"
Peace, SK

Martha Ramirez said...

Why yes, Susan, I did mean that! Thanks so much. Fixed.