On Hooks & Crooks

The Whidbey Island Writers Conference is small and intimate. Just the place to get all your questions answered and pitch agents/editors without pressure. Or just socialize and take classes, which is what I did. So nice to be the student once in a while, and I got the lovely opportunity to work with Mary Buckham, a great teacher, who bent my brain about hooks.

Now, as a journalist we learned to write hooks. Fast. In 5 and 3-minute timed exercises. And the subject matter was completely new to us. Talk about pressure! Then studying screenwriting, I learned to get all those hooks at both the beginning and end of chapters/scenes. For screenplays the 3rd, 5th, 10th, 20th, and 100th pages demand turns and hooks too.


But Mary pressed me to create multiple hooks in one line ON PURPOSE. It's not that I've never created multiple questions for the reader in one line, but doing it on purpose, and knowing how they break down, was really empowering.

Using Donald Maass' theories of the various types of hooks (from "Writing the Breakout Novel"), she helped us combine many into our opening lines. Here's Maass’ list of hooks (but you should buy his book to understand how these play out and to see his examples):

* Action or danger
* Overpowering emotion
* A surprising situation
* An evocative description that pulls a reader into a setting
* Introducing a unique character
* Warning or foreshadowing
* Setting a tone or theme
* Shocking or witty/clever dialogue [internal or external]
* The totally unexpected
* Raising a direct question
[list excerpted from Donald Maass’ "Writing the Breakout Novel"]


So try choosing 3 of these. Or 5, or 7... see how many you can create in one line. For example:

“He buried the money, the jewels, and the girl in the same spot so that when he returned ten years from now, he’d only have to dig one damn hole next time.”

Can we say creepy!!! But this one opening line introduces a unique character, a surprising situation, foreshadowing of ten years from now, a shocking kind of internal dialogue, and the totally unexpected. But more than these, it raises multiple direct questions: what happened to the girl, and why did he dig more than one hole this time (and who’s in it the other one)?

That’s 6 in one line! In an industry with so much competition, less is not more. More wins contracts.

Go forth and do damage, Angels.
Your Editor Devil