Thursday, April 05, 2007

By Hook or By Crook

One of the most important components of a short story is the hook. In a story, the hook serves the same purpose as it does on a fishing pole. It is where you put a mental worm to entice the reader and get them to bite, hopefully reeling them all the way in so they will go ahead and read the story.

In short stories, the hook normally is the first line or second line, definitely in the first paragraph. It’s just enough of a tidbit that it will entice the reader’s mind and make it hungry to find out what this is about. Just like many components of writing, it can be its own art form. And sometimes can be difficult as heck to come up with.

With the changing times and faster pace brought on by TV, music videos, cell phones, PDA’s, IM’s, PC games, game consoles (basically springing up concepts of instant gratification or fulfillment) hooks (short and fast ones that is - for there is always a hook somewhere) are becoming more and more of a necessity in novels as well.

The concept is very much like what they teach you out in the business world about the 30 second pitch. Most people have an attention span of 30 to 60 seconds to get grabbed by something and make an impression before the rest of it becomes so much background noise. So when preparing to go out there and seek employment, you are encouraged to come up with a 30 second blurb about yourself to make an impact on the prospective employer, give them useful information, and hopefully make a good lasting impression. (As they say in the field, no matter what the truth is, if you make a bad impression in those first few seconds, regardless of all that happens after, that first impression will stick around forever.)

So what makes a good hook?

Hooks can be composed of text or description, what matters is the reaction they bring out of the reader.

Here’s the first line of “Price of Mercy” (my latest novel which is now looking for a home.) The first line reads:

“I’m sorry, dearest, but your services are no longer required.”

BOOM - right off the bat, our fertile imaginations explode with questions and assumptions. It is obvious the speaker is acquainted with whom they are speaking. Might even hint of a rather close relationship. The second half of the sentence tells us that there’s trouble. Immediately we want to now what services are being spoken of and make us wonder why they are no longer required. Also peaks our curiosity as to how badly this may affect the possible protagonist.

Of course this tiny piece of worm would not be enough to get the reader to bite, but you’ve irked the curiosity just enough to get them to move on to the next sentence.

Jarrin blinked, his throat going dry, sure he’d heard wrong. “No longer…?”

Now you’ve met the protagonist, and from his reaction your original suspicion that the first sentence was a dose of bad news is reinforced. More of the worm has been exposed (and with any luck!) things are looking mighty tasty.

“Required? Yes, you heard right.” The baroness’s voice was even. She was sitting in her favorite divan, her pampered poodle, Precious, curled up on her lap.

By this point, they’ve hopefully bit and you start in on the business of showing time, place, setting.

Martha Wells came up with an awesome hook in The Wizard Hunters (The Fall of Ile-Rein Book 1)

It was nine o’clock at night and Tremaine was trying to find a way to kill herself that would bring a verdict of of natural causes in court when someone banged on the door.

Instantly the reader springs with several questions at once. Why would Tremaine want to kill herself? Why does she need it to look like natural causes? What has driven this person to this course? (CHOMP) The reader has bit the hook. The curiosity has been enflamed and now must proceed or never get answers. They’re hooked!

Grab the nearest book at hand and check out those first few lines. See what beautiful worms they dangled before your eyes on the hook to get you to bite. Come back here and share those great hooks and lets be enticed together.

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