Sunday, November 11, 2007

Plotting with Hooks

When you structure your plot, you want to remember that the story, the chapters and especially the opening should hook readers — capture their interest so they want to continue reading the novel. Four basic kinds of hooks help the author with this task.
1. Theme
2. Opening line hooks
3. Premise
4. Plotting hooks

Certain themes capture the readers interest and when they see a book that suggests this story plot, they are drawn to it. In romance, it’s marriage of convenience, secret babies and cowboys, but in readers overall, it can be espionage, kidnaping, missing persons, family relationships, family saga, heroism, small town living, or a multitude of themes, but some topics seem more popular than others and change with the times. Christian fiction tends to attract readers when it deals with real life issues being challenged by a world without a Christian world view. This might be novels about failing marriages, alcoholism, dysfunctional families, life-threatening illness and the affect on family and avoiding promiscuity in a promiscuous world.

Next, opening hooks are important. These are situation, captivating characters, or unique story lines that capture a reader immediately. As I mentioned in an earlier article, opening lines need to grab the reader and hold them. I mentioned Randy Ingermanson’s opening of Double Vision—Keryn Willis was in the shower when she figured out how to kill Josh Trenton. A great line that is sure to draw the reader into the story.

Here’s just a few that I like:
Paige Williams harbored a restless kinship with the living dead from Violet Dawn, first in Kanner Lake series by Brandilyn Collins.

The letter arrived special delivery, signature required. from Vanished, by Kathryn Mackel

"Unbelievable!" from A Proposal to Die For by Yvonne Lehman

My brother was dead and I couldn’t find his body from Mozart's Sister by Nancy Moser.

If I had known what success would cost me, I would have paid my fees for failure and called it a day from Split Ends, by Kristin Billerbeck

When you read these lines, I’m sure you can see that they make you ask questions. They arouse your curiosity. They have a unique ring to them. This is what makes a good opening line that will draw in the reader.

Premise hooks have to do with the basic supposition of your novel. Readers make assumptions about how a story will go and when you give it a twist, they are caught in your net. Think of movies like The Village, The Secret Window, The Sixth Sense, and so many others that leave you surprised. You can do this with your stories by asking yourself, if you begin a story a certain way—making the reader assume it will follow a typical pattern—and then give it a twist, where could the plot go. Something as simple as Cinderella-type story, the reader assumes the romance will be with the prince, so what could you do to make that story different? Have the prince be a rotten guy and she’s saved by the prince’s friend who’s also a price. This is just one example.

Other twists could be when friends turn into enemies, people have to turn in their loved ones to prove their innocence, or a person who longs for something realizes that the thing he want the most isn’t really what he wants. These twists surprise the reader and take them on a journey they hadn’t expected. Your novel will stand out in their minds.
Finally, another form of hook is in the plotting. Authors can set up "time bombs" which means that a problem must be solved before a certain time. This can be in romance or thrillers, even stories of family problems or financial crises. Think of the TV show 24.

The "jack-in-the box" is another technique that has to do with the surprise elements. Often this is a thriller when the reader knows what will happen but the characters don’t. This kind of tension is created by foreshadowing problems or leaving clues to something being amiss. Sometimes neither the characters or the reader knows exactly what’s going to happen, but they know something will – just like the toy jack-in-the-box that will suddenly pop up.
Leaving questions unanswered is another. This might be secrets of a character or information that the reader knows is forthcoming, but they don’t know what it is. The author drops hints through introspection or sometimes action or dialogue.

"Mom, when John comes home, do you think he’ll be like before?" She heard the tremor in her own voice. "Do you think--"
"Don’t talk about it. Let the past stay in the past."
Her mother spun on her. "I said stop. I can’t live through that again."

As a reader, think how that would draw you in. What’s wrong with John? What has he done to make them so terrified? These techniques work well when woven through a novel to keep the reader flipping pages.

Hooks are important to create a novel that will be memorable and will keep the readers glued to their chairs. I love it when I receive reader mail that says, "I couldn’t put down your book" or "I missed my appointment trying to finish your book." I just smile and think "thank you."

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