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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Hooks and Payoffs

What's the one thing we all want to know more than anything?
How to HOOK an agent.

Yeah. We can say we write because something in us compels us to write or we enjoy it, but the truth is if you're reading blogs on how to improve your writing you want something more. We want validation. We want to see a book with a great cover and our name. We want to see our story on the big screen and go to lunch with J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyer.

*cough* Um, anyway. We hook an agent the same way we hook our readers. With the writing.

Yeah, funny how that works isn't it? Where does the writing start?

The all important first sentence.

The first sentence sets the tone for the entire story. It has to drop us into a situation, introduce a concept, character, setting, conflict--something that will make us want to read the next sentence. We want to feel emotionally connected in some way--curious, concerned, angry, tickled (if its humor), etc.

Some ways to hook a reader:

1. Open with a major change in the protagonist's life (inciting incident)
2. Set up a unique setting
3. Show the protagonist in conflict with someone or self
4. Start with realistic and snappy dialogue to show your voice
5. Ask a question that the reader MUST learn the answer to
6. Start with humor--if the story is supposed to be humorous. This is hard to do and if you start with a bad joke it could backfire on you--see below.
7. Start with suspense or mystery


Now for the No-nos? K.M. Weiland wrote an excellent post on Sunday with some examples. I'm going to list them, but highly recommend you go read the original post.

Don't lie to your reader to hook them by:
1. Starting with a dream--waking, none of it was real
2. Someone playing a joke to make it look like something scary/bad happened--unless the story is about someone who jokes like this all the time.
3. Hyperbole--overly dramatic statements when nothing really happened (ex. "my life if over!" when the parents simply said "be home by eleven" or something similar)
4. The false alarm--the "just kidding"

Why is it bad to stretch the truth a bit to grab the interest of the reader? They will not trust you, get frustrated and walk away. Remember, as writers, we may only get one page to convince someone they want to read the whole book.

Each hook needs a Payoff
I know this doesn't have anything to do with the post, but I thought the shirt was funny.

Hold on, what do you mean "each hook"? I thought I only needed one at the beginning of the book.

I learned an invaluable lesson from Lynnette Labelle when I took her Hook Line and Sinker class in Feb. If you want to keep a reader interested you need to end each scene and chapter with a hook. That way the WANT to keep reading.

Now each of these hooks MUST have a payoff. You can do this immediately (next scene starts where you left off and you get the payoff) or delay it (you end a scene with something shocking but the resolution isn't in the next one.)

Have I dumped a ton on you? Seriously, follow the links and it will make sense.

So, tomorrow I will start posting the First Sentences that you have sent me. Come by and comment on which ones hook you and why. Hopefully we will start to see what works and what doesn't.

You still have time to email them to charity.bradford@gmail.com with Unicorn Bell: First Sentence in the subject line.

Format the email as follows:
Title:
Genre:
First Sentence:

3 comments:

Huntress said...

I wrote a manuscript around my first sentence.
Then re-wrote the first sentence.

Queries and first lines are the hardest to fine-tune. Give me a 100K manuscript to do instead.

Ellie Garratt said...

Fantastic advice and much for me to think about!

Ellie Garratt

mshatch said...

I read K. M. Weiland's post. It was right on.