|Me with my brother and sister: |
learning the art of hooking at an early age.
At our recent retreat, my goal was to improve my hook. But before I could fully embrace the challenge, I had to know more about what the heck I was doing.
Author Nathan Bransford says a book's hook is "the quest and the central conflict, described as succinctly as possible, designed to make someone want to read more." Every novel, he says, is a quest--a journey that takes the reader from the beginning of the story to the end. The conflict is what your character must overcome to get from points A to B. Put them both together and you have it. A hook!
In Noah Lukeman's The First Five Pages, he devoted an entire chapter to hooks. (Chapter 14, if you're reading along.) Literary agent Donald Maass talks about hook in Writing the Breakout Novel. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find any credible book on writing that didn't address The Hook.
But the term 'hook' is thrown about pretty generously. Hooks open chapters, end chapters, begin paragraphs and generally appear throughout a novel. They're what keep us reading when we're really too tired to do so. We just can't put the book down, darn hooks!
What concerned me about my manuscript was not the hooks that appear throughout my story. It was THE HOOK. That one element that makes my book The One someone will want to read. It's what pulls readers in even before they decide to purchase the book. It's the bait that gets them committed to spending hours of their precious time immersed in the story.
A hook is sometimes apparent in a title. For example, Nathan says Snakes on a Plane reveals the movie's hook. Quest? Get the snakes off the plane. Conflict? Ahem, snakes + plane. Conflict, natch. In Moneyball, the hook is: Baseball manager on a budget takes an unprecedented approach to building a winning team. Showtime's Dexter has a unique hook: A Miami police forensics expert moonlights as a vigilante serial killer. Dexter's quest? Catch and kill criminals. Conflict: keeping those close to him from finding out what he does after hours.
For me, my hook was present in the story; it just didn't become known until chapter four. Maybe even five. So making my story's hook stronger simply meant moving chapters around (and tweaking the details) so that the hook now appears in chapter two--the beginning of chapter two. And who knows? Before I'm done, it might become chapter one.
For now the challenge continues: keeping the reader involved in the story so that he or she stays with it. The only way to do that is to raise the conflict, keeping the line taut. And as a result, land my fish once he's caught--all the way to the end.