Monday, October 12, 2009

The Hook

The Hook – the one sentence that must a) grab the attention of a prospective agent and b) ultimately, grab the attention of prospective readers.

The Hook – not such an easy thing to write, but probably #2 on the Top Ten Things A Writer Must Do to Become A Published Author list. Okay, maybe there’s not ten things to do, but it sounded good, and I went with it!

The number one thing to do is, obviously, write a novel. Not just any novel, dear readers, but a novel that others beside yourself and your momma want to read. Sorry, Mom’s are great and all that jazz, but Mom’s recommendation isn’t going to make prospective fabulous agent want to read what you wrote. In fact, if you mention your mother’s recommendation in your query letter, an agent is more than likely not going to want to keep reading your query, let alone your fabulous novel.

Wait . . . what if . . . My mother would be horrified to know I wrote this novel. Hmmmm, would that make an agent keep reading? I mean, if I can horrify my mother with my own writing . . . oh, wait, maybe not so good after all. Scratch! That!

So, we all need a hook to sell our fabulousness (i.e. idea done brilliantly) to prospective agents and readers. This is the one sentence that you need to always have ready in case you bump into ultimate agent in an elevator, a hotel lobby, their favorite coffee shop, on the subway, in a chat room, or wherever.

I’ve been struggling with my hook because I’m attending an online conference this week and have the chance to pitch my book. I get five minutes, no more, and probably less depending on my pitch. Yes, Robyn, I’m working on it!

So, I decided to pull some of my favorite books off the far too dusty bookshelves and see what made me buy them in the first place. Here are the results . . .

Being immortal is not all it once was – Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips

Jared is torn between three possibilities and must decide what price – if any – he is willing to pay for happiness – Margarita Nights by Scott Mitchell

The Messenger of Magnolia Street tells the haunting story of three childhood friends who reunite to fight the unnamed presence that is slowly draining their beloved town of goodness and light – River Jordan.

Jared realizes that love is not enough to save a slowly deteriorating relationship and must discover if he has the courage to, potentially, face life as just Jared, instead of as one half of a couple – Margarita Nights by C. Scott Mitchell

Matt (Matilda) Black possesses the unique ability to speak with inanimate objects and witness the dreams of other people - A Red Heart of Memories by Nina Kiriki Hoffman.

Tyrone is a margarita drinking gladiator ensnared in the tendrils of the gayvine (telephone, telegraph, tell a gay man) and at the mercy of a very fickle Fate. Can he survive the catty whispers and find happiness without his partner of five years? Are potentially endless nights of loneliness worth leaving his partner of five years when he discovers that love isn’t enough to sustain their relationship? – Margarita Nights by C. S. Mitchell

When bookstore owner Sylvia Lynn hears her grandmother’s voice on the phone, she knows she must finally return to her childhood home in upstate New York – Solstice Wood by Patricia McKillip.

Jared’s far from perfect life begins to unravel when he realizes he is no longer in love with his partner and has feelings for another man. Is he strong enough to walk away from a fairly good relationship to search for something better? – Margarita Nights by S. Mitchell

When Dorothy triumphed over the wicked Witch of the West in L. Frank Baum’s classic tale, we heard only her side of the story. But what about her archnemesis, the mysterious Witch? Where did she come from? How did she become so wicked? And what is the true nature of evil? – Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire.

Jared is his own worst enemy. He knows he isn’t happy in his current relationship. He’s scared to death to walk away from a semblance of happiness, afraid he’ll end up alone. He must decide whether partial happiness is enough for him, or whether he has the courage to risk everything truly find happiness – Margarita Nights by Scott

The day I returned to Templeton, steeped in disgrace, the fifty-foot corpse of a monster surfaced in Lake Glimmerglass – The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff.

For the most part, each and every example above is the first sentence off the book cover. The only exception is Wicked, and that example is from the back cover of the book. Yeah, it took more than one sentence, but the first sentence did make me read more of the description, which ultimately led to my buying the book.

I was hooked with each of the above examples . . . well, at least enough to keep reading the book jacket and ultimately purchasing the book. Okay, I will admit, that I purchased The Messenger of Magnolia Street because of the first paragraph in the book which reads as follows . . .

God is walking through Shibboleth, rummaging through the pockets of his memory, the distant past and the near future. The people of Shibboleth are sleeping, unaware of his presence or that he is considering them and their present circumstances.

He turns the corner of Magnolia and Main, observing that time has not passed well here but has come tearing its way along with such deceptive quietness that the people live unaware, tricked into silence. This isn’t the way that the story of Shibboleth, keeper of an eternal key, was meant to unfold.
(The Messenger of Magnolia Street – River Jordan – 1)

Okay, more than one paragraph – really, first paragraph and part of second. Still, the very first sentence on the page grabbed my attention. I wanted to keep reading more because of that very first sentence.

Now, an agent and/or potential readers, need to want to keep reading more because of the hook.

I know this. You probably know this. Everybody probably knows this. Still, the hook is not so easy (at least for me) to write. The hook is stressing me out. I need more coffee right about now. Heck, I probably need something in my coffee right about now.

In the end, I can only do the best I can do.

In the end, I can use the above examples to help craft my hook.

In the end, I have to sell my book to . . . well . . . me first.

I have to write a hook that would make me pick up this book and want to read me. Yes, I have to convince an agent and/or potential readers as well, but if I’m not hooked, how in the heck can I expect to hook an agent and/or potential readers?

Now, since questions seem a necessity of life: would you read any of the books above after reading the what I consider the hook for those books? Yes, I know, it’s not the actual hook, but close enough for me. J

S

p.s. Yes, I did it. I inserted potential hooks for my own piece of brilliance. I couldn't resist. So, since I did it, you tell me . . . which potential hook works for you? Any? All? None? I do expect brutal honesty! Oh, and the one about Tyrone is purely a shout-out to Traci from Words, Words, Words . . .

4 comments:

SJDuvall said...

I like two of them.
First:
Jared’s far from perfect life begins to unravel when he realizes he is no longer in love with his partner and has feelings for another man. Is he strong enough to walk away from a fairly good relationship to search for something better? – Margarita Nights by S. Mitchell

That one is good, but I would go with stronger wording than a "fairly good" relationship. Maybe something like: Safe, comfortable, etc.

The other one I like is:
Jared realizes that love is not enough to save a slowly deteriorating relationship and must discover if he has the courage to, potentially, face life as just Jared, instead of as one half of a couple – Margarita Nights by C. Scott Mitchell

Maybe I'm so drawn to this because I'm feeling that way now (not exactly) but I can connect with the character, and to me, that's important.

Not sure if I'm any help at all, but those are my thoughts.

Scott said...

SJ - thanks!!! Hey, at least I've created a connectable character and situation! I guess that's a good thing.

Robyn Campbell said...

Scott, I love the one you sent to me. The voice is so clearly the voice that I imagine the novel in. At first read through I didn't, but after the next reading I really liked it. Maybe I was tired.

And the clever turn of phrase made me wonder if the editor would be looking at that or Scott's writing ability. But I think she will realize (while reading your pitch)how well you can write. Good luck! :)

ElanaJ said...

Good luck with your pitch this week! I hope it goes well.