2 Techniques for Writing Stronger Hooks

Complicate Your Hooks

A great Hook concept that is also written well can pack a punch, but consider how you can add complications to layer the effect and really knock the reader over.

Complication is a form of layering that can add tension to your story while further embedding the reader into the scene. For example: let’s say the car is not just racing toward the cliff (which could be stopped if he hit the brakes or changed direction), but that the driver is fighting for control of a gun and the brake is blocked by the small case of diamonds in the foot well. Those are complications that make an "easy out" impossible for the character.

The character and the reader are trapped in an untenable situation. Moreover, the gun and the diamonds add subtext, because they hint at other backstory, like a robbery or a double-cross. We didn't just complicate the action, we added physical elements to the scene that were complicated all on their own.

Remember: adding complication adds tension and suspense, and that's great way to capture an agent or editor’s attention.

Pile On the Layers

Sometimes more is more.

A wonderful teacher named Mary Buckham teaches that, in an industry where bestselling writers use multiple types of Hooks in one line, writers must out-do the bestsellers to get published.
That means offering not just one Hook, but several.

Where a Romance usually has three Hooks, write five. Where a Steampunk has four, write six. How do you do this? You layer the amount of questions a reader will ask in response to your Hook.

Using the previous example, the reader might ask: why is he heading toward a cliff AND why are there diamonds in the car AND which character brought the gun AND why are they still fighting when they are both about to die?

Here’s another example: “Tony Ferret buried the money, the jewels, and the girl in the first grave, so that when he returned in ten years, he’d only have to break his back digging one damn hole.”

Make the Final Question a Real Ringer

In one line we introduce a unique character and a surprising situation, we foreshadow events of ten years from now, we offer a morbid kind of internal dialogue, and we set a shocking tone/theme of the book. We layered at least six Hooks (i.e. created 6 questions the reader might ask).

Of course, the reader's first inclination will be to ask "What happened to the girl who's getting buried this time?" But we end leaving the reader with subtext that includes the biggest hook of all, and the real ringer: "Why did he dig more than one hole this time, and who’s in it the other grave?"

Now the only question remaining is “How many Hooks can you create in your first line?”

*This material was excerpted from my First 50 Pages workshop which runs Sept. 5 - Oct 14, 2016 https://editordevil.blogspot.com/p/blog-page_2.html

End on a High Note

*random squirrel as example of something unexpected
How you end your work counts as much as how you start the work. Your story's first impression (including the hook) determines whether or not the reader will continue past page one. The last impression determines whether or not they'll buy more of your work.

A good hook isn't enough to drive interest in this publishing industry, where there is more competition to be published and less money and fewer resources to spread around.

Polish Your Endings

Your “endings” (the end of sentences, paragraphs, chapters, Acts, and books) are giving agents and editors and readers a “flavor” for how you’ll end your book. This is important because it helps them see whether or not your work, on a scene-to-scene and chapter-to-chapter level, can:
1)  establish and grow reader interest/caring for the main characters (hero/heroine);
2) maintain tension and suspense (of what will happen, not necessarily danger);
3)  increase dread of the protagonist/villain; and
4)  develop a plot and layer subplots to convey a story ride that will lead to an eventually satisfying conclusion, whether it’s an HEA (happily ever after) or not.

Avoid Boring Wrap-ups

As an editor, even I can get bored. When a piece starts with a bang and goes out with a whimper, I immediately want to set the work down. In fact, there are times I’ll edit a chapter that’s really juicy only to get to the end and find that the writer “left” the scene or chapter on a dull note. That’s how your readers will respond, too, and that’s what you want to avoid. 

So your challenge is to keep momentum going, to create bridges from one moment to the next, from one scene to the next, even when you are leapfrogging a story line three scenes down the line. Easier said than done, right?

Leave 'Em Guessing

Leaving your reader with the anticipation of “what happens next?” is one of the most powerful things you can do in your work, and if affects plot, character development and the power of your story theme.

To excite the reader enough to turn the page from one chapter to the next is stereotyped as a genre device. Most folks, in movies and book publishing, call these moments between chapters or scene or Acts “cliff hangers” and, yes, they are just as necessary in literary fiction, memoir and non-fiction works as they are in genre fiction.

Cliffhangers also occur between books in a series or between movies, such as Harry Potter and Twilight, which both concluded the immediate book's plot (who wins the battles) while letting larger issues (who wins the overall war) roll to the next book in the series.

What writers forget to consider are the spaces between paragraphs, or even between scenes within a chapter. These are the micro moments that keep your reader reading. Each one of those endings can use mini cliffhangers to drive momentum or at least end when the energy is still high.

So don't forget to polish your endings and leave your readers on an uptick of energy. Or at least give them something unexpected!

Good luck, my little angels.
Your Editor Devil

Hook Your Reader Hard and Fast

Let's talk about story Hooks, since everyone struggles to write these effectively.
Regardless of your genre, a good way to start a story is to reveal a situation that is about to explode.
Most books start on the brink of catastrophe or a character's catharsis (read “awakening”). Events are literally about to go wrong, and your readers are going to have to witness the devastation and recovery/enlightenment. You need to be sure which is the case for your story to truly create the best opening.
That’s what we call the story's Promise: to take the readers on a ride and deliver them, along with the character, to a new location and/or state of being.

Open with a Bang

Ask yourself this: “Is the character's internal or external world about to explode, and how can I best represent this building tension in the opening lines?” That explosion can vary from literal world destruction to a simple marriage argument (when are those ever simple?), from a lady’s dog about to stray into the road to a confirmed bachelor about to meet the woman of his dreams (which might “destroy” the world as he knows it).
Jessica Page Morrell writes in her book “Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us: A (Sort of) Compassionate Guide to Why Your Writing is Being Rejected”:
The best beginnings are like forces gathering, about to be unleashed on the reader. With the first words, the writer establishes his credibility, introduces viewpoint and voice, and makes the reader care about people and the story unfolding. Obviously this is a tall order for a few sentences or paragraphs to accomplish. Also, since fiction and memoir are based on adversity, typically an opening introduces a character or person under stress and they story world staring to tilt off balance.

Rarely do we read stories that start with something going right. There’s no tension when the world is perfect. The exception would be a character experiencing a lot of happy “rights” in order to build tension because something is about to bring that character’s world to a crashing halt.

Hook Your Reader Fast

A Hook typically involves the unique problem/situation that your character must address in the story. Maybe it’s a nun who gets pregnant. That’s a situation that MUST inherently, physically change with or without the character's consent. Or a race car driver who nearly died in his last race. There’s no inherent change for him, unless we see him get back in his car. Then the reader will suspect something is about to steer off course.
A Hook may only hint at the unique problem/situation. That means a story of a confirmed bachelor doesn’t open with him showing resistance to marriage, but him not taking on his sister’s puppy when she unexpectedly has to move abroad. That shows a layer of his commitment issues without throwing too much in the reader's face too soon. His self-centered nature is revealed just enough in the opening that we know he is going to fall. How he falls and the unique turns he takes along the way to change make up the rest of the story.
Basically, when you start a story you want to capture the readers’ attention so they ask, “What will happen next?” In fact, every time you end or open a chapter you should be creating that response for the reader all over again.
TIP:  Hooks are not just for opening the book. They are for opening EVERY chapter, EVERY scene. You can also use them to end scenes and chapters to get the reader to turn the page.
Morrell sums this up well:
The best openings of a story, novel, or memoir are contagious—they make the reader yearn for more because you chose the best words at the best moment to launch the events that follow while raising questions that demand answers.
Your Hook doesn’t necessarily have to be the first line of the book, but nowadays you might as well put it there, considering the immense competition and the little time your story’s given by an agent or editor. My advice: go for the jugular fast, but keep it natural to your character and story.
Here’s a good example from Kristen Higgins' Catch of the Day: “Falling in love with a catholic priest was not my smartest move.”  We are intrigued to know how she fell for him and what she’s going to do about it. Moreover, we want to know what HE’S going to do next. Will he forgo his orders to love her in return, maybe even marry her? Or will he break her heart?
Remember: raising questions that DEMAND answers creates reader engagement.

Give Supporting Characters Time to Grow

Many authors like to come on strong with secondary characters. Like it’s an art they want to show they’ve mastered.

Yes, you should come on strong with all characters by creating memorable details, but don’t deliver an information dump that halts the story's pacing for a character that doesn't matter as much as the hero/heroine/villain. Just as with main character introductions, sprinkle don’t douse.

Renni Browne and Dave King explain, in their book "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers," that when authors introduce a character all at once, they are "stopping the story cold for an overview of [the] character." These include personality summaries, back-story or flashbacks, and full physical descriptions. Long intros are "plain obtrusive."

You also commit a big author sin when with long introductions: you break the reader from the story and make the author present. The reader can just feel the author's wheels spinning, typing out each line of unnecessary description.

Browne and King explain that when you deliver characters’ information in excess, "you risk defining them to the point that they’re boxed in by the characterization with no room to grow."

Instead, try to:
...introduce a new character with enough physical description for your readers to picture him or her... a few concrete, idiomatic details to jump-start your readers’ imaginations... But when it comes to your characters’ personalities, it’s much more engaging to have these emerge from character action, reaction, interior monologue, and dialogue than from description.

When character introductions are given too much time and attention, they also block plot, and since action is character, you inadvertently block the character from acting out their true persona, making them feeling unreal to the reader.

So give your secondary characters time to grow through scenes, through action, through dialogue, and move on with the story.

What NOT to Write in Your Story Opening

Writers, you need to wow the reader from page one, especially if you are trying to get an agent or editor in traditional publishing. So here are a few tips of what NOT to do in your opening.
Never start your story with:

1. The "to be" verb variations: what a waste of space. If you can avoid the "he was"/"there are" constructions, please do. There are myriad verbs out there--strong, potent, visceral verbs that are just waiting to be adopted and molded by a loving author!

2. Falling asleep or waking up: overdone and boring, and a real snoozer! Very few writers can pull off a character sleeping without putting the reader into a coma. Your story probably has a better place to start than sleep.

3. Dreaming, which is not the same as waking up/sleeping: not because it's boring, because dreams can be vivid and exciting, but because it's trite and we don't know the character well enough yet to give a rat about their psychological dramas. Try starting in their real world first, then contrast that by moving to the dreamscape world and contrast the two. Then the reader will feel the tension!

4. The weather or storms or skies: this is what folks talk about when they got nothing else to say. Frankly, it's a lazy way to start your story. EVEN IF your story is about weather, it's always better to open with a character we can start to care about.

5. A line of dialogue: we don't know anyone in your story yet, so we have no reason to care about what they say. Most times we don't even know who's talking, so it's speech by an "empty head" and agents/editors dislike that.

6. An inciting incident: we just aren't ready to jump off the cliff with your character yet. If you jump into high action too soon, we haven't built up momentum/tension/fear/anticipation with you yet. Let us be with the characters a few minutes and start to care about them before you throw us to the wolves.

7. The word "it" or "something" or any variations of the two: again, wasted space, wasted words. We need to be wowed, not bored with your opening language. And poor choices in words convey to agents, editors, and even the general reader that you are not a seasoned writer.

8. Adverbs to boost your boring verb: if you have to add the adverb, you probably chose a weak verb to begin with, and editors/agents will think you are a freshman writer. Master writers go for strong verbs.

Use this list to challenge yourself to write stronger, more sensory and verb-oriented openings. Good luck!

The Editor Devil

3 Tips to Boost Your Story's Opening Lines

In my First 50 Pages class today, I shared 3 tips that students could use to boost the opening lines of their novels:

1. Leverage your verbs! Language matters in your opener, and if you choose strong verbs, your other language choices will follow naturally from there to paint both your story and your character with more creative flair.

For example: If you have a character with a spiky attitude, pick spiky verbs. If they are yoga-mama, then pick cooling verbs. OR create contrast by doing the reverse (this always works to create interest).

2. Hit 2-3 senses in your first paragraph. You need to land the reader physically in your story, either in time/space or in a character's body. And the senses do that naturally.

This approach will help you avoid leaning on internal dialogue/thoughts to carry the story. They will show, not tell, the story on your behalf. Plus, readers will believe you, because they are sensing the story as they read so the scene will feel real to them. Even random dancing penguins on the snowy tundra would work better than no sensory detail at all.

3. Make your first lines of dialogue wow us. The first "spoken" lines (by any character) should be engaging. The tone and style of the words used should resonate with us and make us salivate for the characters' next words. Do not use throwaway lines, like "how are you" and "I'm good" or I will have to hunt you down with my red pen!

Dialogue in storytelling should feel like nothing you would expect to hear. And a clever cheat is to have characters speak in the reverse of what their energy implies. For example: what if you let that yoga-mama above speak like the Spiky chick, and vice versa? That's engaging!

My First 50 Pages Class Returns!

My First 50 Pages class is finally back on the calendar!

I've taught a lot of conferences, and yet I still see students making the same obvious mistakes in their opening pages. Most of these mistakes are avoidable. Unfortunately, agents/editors/judges assume from such mistakes that the author is a newbie or untalented, when in fact the author's story as a whole might be amazing.
At the Las Vegas Writers Conference I was on a panel to critique first pages. We listened to the story being read and raised our hands when we would "stop reading the manuscript" if it had been submitted to us. Well, I raised my hand the most, because it's my job as a book doctor to know what those five agents, and the next five agents, and the next 20 editors want and hate. That's part of my job: to screen and filter out problems that get a manuscript rejected.
The other part of my job is to help you bring out the magic that gets your manuscript read from start to finish! And that's always more fun--to focus on the strong points of a story and the gifts of the storyteller.
Writers work so hard to finish a manuscript, and then they work even harder to get the attention of an editor or agent or even a contest. But the opportunity gets blown because the writer is working in the dark as to what gets their work rejected.
Since I'm exposed to those conversations with agents/editors/contest judges all the time, I've got some insights in this arena. That's why I designed this five-week workshop to polish your sample pages to avoid common pitfalls that get a manuscript thrown into the rejection pile.
Not only will I review your first page, but I'll team you up with other authors (you can opt out of this if you want) so you get feedback along the way. We all need readers to help us see our blind-spots, so the more we support each other in our editing process, the better the results I find.
One of my goals in this workshop is to teach you how to think like an editor. That way you'll write and edit stronger manuscripts in the future.
You'll learn how to make characters, dialogue, and hooks read like a bestseller. You'll also learn tips/tricks to make the rest of your manuscript sparkle, including:
1) First page "Do's and Don'ts"
2) Power hooks that engage
3) World building techniques that bring the story to life
4) Character development seeds to plant early
5) Dialogue that engages and sells itself
6) Critical story elements you must establish by page 50
7) Key "turning points" to keep readers turning the page
8) Scene-writing techniques that improve pacing/tension
9) Genre requirements to meet
10) Layering story/character arcs
Click here for more information and the PayPal registration link: http://editordevil.blogspot.com/p/blog-page_2.html
If you are a former student, feel free to email me directly for a discount rate:
ChristineFairchild AT yahoo DOT com
Cheers to you all!
Your Editor Devil

Using Dialogue to Build Character Development

Here is an encore post from my character development book:

Characterization is the painting of a character in a story through narrative, dialogue and action. Done well, the character will come to life on the page as if they are a real person.

Done poorly, and the author has succeeded in creating cardboard. And the reader will never forget it.

As Noah Lukeman puts it in his book The Plot Thickens, "...character is the basis for all further talk of journey, conflict, suspense—and is the cornerstone of plot..."

Characterization is achieved by the author through the careful delivery of external (descriptions of how the character looks, walks, drinks their coffee) and internal information (how they act in any given situation, who they interact with, the decisions they make, the decisions they don’t make). Note that these do not break down the same as internal and external dialogue.

Nouns and verbs chosen for dialogue directly affect the intensity of tone and the reader's perception of the character. These words can reveal whether the character is dominant or submissive, passionate or dispassionate.

Also, the choppiness of dialogue sentences and whether the character speaks complete sentences may tell the character’s attitude or even education level. Consider how terse dialogue is spoken by a character who is combative, how sensitive phrases might be used by a caretaking character. Doing the reverse can be even more interesting. Consider how jokes from a bank robber make his/her character more interesting.

Remember: In fiction, what they say IS who they are. Even and especially when the character is lying.

Make Your Writing Rule!

Nobody likes to be bound by rules. As The Editor Devil, I especially hate rules. But the rules of scene building help you better meet the goals of storytelling. Here are a few that help you move the story forward not backward, show not tell, and entertain not bore your reader.

Rule #1: Each scene in your manuscript should move a story forward, even if it’s moving your characters backwards in order to give them some new hurdle to overcome. Let me repeat that: Every scene must move a story forward. As scenes progress, the interplay of characters and events and landscape must change. And the plot must advance. 

This change from scene to scene is what creates a story arc. All scenes must progress the reader toward the final showdown and resolution, the final actions between the main characters and the final character epiphanies. One way to gauge whether your scene is advancing the story is to ask yourself, “What is the payoff of this scene and could the story live without it?”

Rule #2: Every scene must include tension and relief. That means you must have story conflict on a larger level, and scene conflict on a moment by moment level. Harmony is for love scenes and Hallmark cards. So get characters butting heads.

Typically scenes will ebb and flow with tension. Too much tension all the time and the reader will become numb. Too little, and they will feel disinterested. A scene/situation should never be repeated (unless your story is “Groundhog Day” which had a reason to literally repeat scenes as part of advancing the storyline), so look for “repeating” situations in your story and edit them. Making every scene unique helps keep the tension feeling fresh to the reader.

Rule #3: Every scene must involve the goal and motivation of a main character. Whether it’s your hero, heroine, or villain, their goals and motivations drive the story.

One way to look at it is “how does this scene/situation enable the character to change (for better or for worse)?” Yes, you can have goals and motivations for minor characters. These are called subplots, but they don’t drive the story overall and can’t hold up scenes on their own. Writers often want two create scenes with minor characters. I don’t recommend doing this, but if you do, these minor characters must be advancing or affecting the goal and motivation of a main character, even when they are working on their own subplot.

Hope these rules give you guidance on stronger scene development, whether you are writing or editing...

Happy storytelling!
Your adoring & wicked Editor Devil