Friday, August 10, 2007

Question About Hooks

I recently entered a "hook" contest in which I was advised to rewrite mine to focus on just one of three major characters. This bothered me a great deal—I feel it is dishonest. The three characters' plots intertwine by the end, and they all get equal playing time. Why send a hook that focuses on one character, but then send a partial (if requested) featuring totally different characters? The one the judge wanted me to target doesn't even appear until Chapter 3, and the story isn't uniquely hers (even if she appears the "most conflicted" as the judge advised).

So—what do you prefer to see in queries with multiple protags? Is it OK to have a hook focus on one character, or would you rather see a strong hook for all 3?

Without reading your hook it’s difficult for me to really assess what’s going on here, but it sounds to me that the judge’s feedback was based more on the story overall and less on the hook. My guess is that her feedback is saying that your description of one of the characters was more enticing than the other two and that maybe that character is your hook. In other words, maybe it’s less about writing a hook about just one character and more about writing a book about just one character.

Your description above is a little confusing, and if that’s any indication of how your hook reads you’re probably in trouble. The difficulty of writing a hook with multiple characters is that it does usually get confusing and makes the reader wonder if that’s really your hook. For example, Tempt Me, Taste Me, Touch Me by Bella Andre is a novella collection and therefore a book with three different stories. Her hook, however, is universal: On a road trip to California wine country three women give in to a world of sensual delights. There’s the hook in one sentence and it neatly encompasses what is about to happen to all three women. It also grabs your attention.

My suggestion is you look at things in two different ways. First of all look at your book. Is the hook really what happens to each character or is there something universal that connects them that is in fact your hook? Or is my interpretation of the judge’s suggestion correct? Is the hook in fact that one woman’s story, and should she really become the central character of your book? Of course that’s a lot more work, but would it make a stronger book?

Also refer back to the posts I've done on writing a hook in five words, but no more than one sentence.



jjdebenedictis said...

I'm thinking your hook is of the ~300 word variety, rather than the 1 sentence variety. That might be why Jessica is confused; your question made sense to me.

Remember that a hook is supposed to make someone want read your novel. A hook is snappy advertising, rather than an honest synopsis. It's okay to pare away important details or even characters.

It won't hurt you with either agents or readers if they discover there's more substance to your novel than they anticipated. That's always a happy discovery.

Dwight's Writing Manifesto said...

I was caught up in the same dilemma as the questioner.

Reduce my complex plot to one sentence?

Compare my *cough*original*cough story to some popular title? After all the advice I've heard not to do that in a query?


But then I took a good look at a lot of two sentence log lines. Many of them have VERY LITTLE to do with the plot of the story.

They are a hook. The job of a log line hook is ONLY to get the agent to request additional pages. It isn't a synopsis of the plot.

I'd encourage the question writer to step outside herself and rethink their novel in Varietyspeak. I completely understand. I hated the thought of reducing my novel to a catchphrase.

I haven't been to a sitdown pitch session, and assumed I'd work out a log line before I went to one.

But then the author/writing coach I was working with said the following to me:

"Dwight, imagine this: An agent reads your partial and likes it. Before they ask you for a full, they pick up the phone and CALL YOU and say, 'Mr. Wannabe, tell me what's so special about your book that I would want to read a Full.' What are you going to say?"

She swears that's the way it happened to her. Seems a little far-fetched, but I resolved myself to not blow the opportunity if it came my way.

And my hook has thismuch to do with the plot of my story.

Think outside the plotbox.

Anonymous said...

So what the *heck* is a hook contest?

Someone's running a contest on story hooks alone? No further material?

Oh, my aching head. What next?

Anonymous said...

You know, I completely forgot I sent this to you. Thank you so much for the reply!

I actually did figure out a solution. The hook is based on someone who connects all the characters. And no, the book is not about one character - it depends on all three, and would fall apart without their POVs. (Hopefully you'll soon get a chance to see what I mean!)

The new hook stands at 93 words in five sentences. I'll work on paring it down further. Thanks again.

Dave Fragments said...

I saw this same problem but not in writing.
I used to do research in chemical engineering and late in my career, I had to get scientists to discuss what they did in a particular lab or pilot plant.
I had several people who always said - "I do something different every day. My Research is unique." That's the different charcters in the book scenario.
Me and my fellows used to watch them for a few days and reduce their operations not to experiments, but to the processes involved in the labs or pilot facilities. That required us to step back from the work and look at the work with different eyes. It's the forest and trees cliche'.

You can create chapters, characters, plot lines and all that to write the novel. But to write a hook, a synopsis, or a query, you must step back away from the details and look at the whole story. What actually happens in the novel?

In my engineering case, instead of the day-to-day drudgery of measuring pH, analyzing chemicals, creating catalysts and all that neato, fun science - these labs did analytical research and created new substances, uses and procedures. the former requires a PHD, the latter requires a good command of English.

Aimlesswriter said...

Another question: How does a person pitch an agent in person? I'm thinking of pitching at NJRWA in October. Aside from tripping over my own tongue...I know I have X amount of minutes to get my idea across. So I speil my hook/book blurb and then I'm sure I should say something else. What other information should I try to include during the brief time we hae together?

Anonymous said...

Aimless, just run a search on this blog for "pitch". You'll find some excellent information, including "The Art of The Pitch Session" on June 12 & 13.

Also check out Miss Snark's blog for advice.

Anonymous said...

The question of hooks makes me think of a movie: Me and You and Everyone We Know. I read a review of it, thought the title was intriguing, thought I'd give it a chance, so I added it to my Netflix queue. Then the DVD arrived, and I didn't feel compelled to watch it. I let the DVD sit in the envelope for several weeks, never getting "hooked" into wanting to watch it. Finally I made myself put it in the DVD player, and liked it, yet I struggled with a way to recommend it to friends.

What's it about? It's about a bunch of different people, of different ages and social backgrounds, whose lives intersect as they try to get by in the world. Which is certainly a good thing to make a movie about, but it doesn't hook. Which is too bad, because it was an excellent movie.

But when I get a "hooky" movie from Netflix, I can't wait to watch it, because I'm curious how the hook plays out. A washed-up pop star finds a woman to help him write a new song, and as they write he falls in love. A child bride in rural India is widowed, and forced to move into a convent for widows. A transexual woman is reunited with a son who she had conceived in her previous life as a man. Which is not to say that these movies aren't richer or more complex than their "hooks"--but something had to get me to move the DVD from the envelope to the DVD player.

So the same thing is true of books. Something's got to make you open the cover. What is it?

Anonymous said...

It's funny - a good hook can sometimes be the easiest - or the hardest thing to come up with. When I came up with the idea for "Tempt Me, Taste Me, Touch Me" I had just seen the movie "Sideways" and thought, Wouldn't it be great if it had been about three women who roadtrip to the Wine Country and find three fantastic local men. Voila! The book - and the three connected novellas - were born.

Fortunately both Jessica and Pocket Books loved the idea too - because (lucky me!) it sold on hook and blurbs. No chaps.

I think that's one of the biggest benefits to a great hook - you can sell on less material. Which is always a good thing. ;-)

~ Bella Andre

Anonymous said...

I always am intrigued when I read the description of movies and series in the TV guide. They're just one sentence but tell the essence of the show.

That's what I suspect we need to do with our books.