Saturday, May 27, 2017

Does Your Book Live Up to the Hook? by Victoria Chatham

Our Round Robin topic for May asks: Has so much emphasis been placed by other writers advice, publishers, reviewers, etc. on authors to have a spectacular opening page/1st chapter that the rest of the story sometimes gets left behind? What are your thoughts and experiences with this?

I found this question to be an interesting premise. As a new author, now an unbelievable twenty years ago, it was almost pounded into me that I had to have that opening hook if I was ever going to catch an agent or editor’s eye. Back then I didn’t have a clue what a hook was. To a certain extent, I still don’t. What might catch my attention and pique my interest may be totally different for someone else.

This theory is proved every time I read Ray Rhamey’s Flog a Pro blog on the Writer Unboxed site. If you are not familiar with WU or Ray Rhamey, take a look here at http://tinyurl.com/m4hh2u3. I am often caught out by what I find appealing and worth reading, only to have Ray flog it and then in the very next blog it will be vice versa. Equate the hook, if you will, to how long is a piece of string? The answer to that is infinite and variable, depending upon its purpose or your interest in it.

Good advice from a tutor in one of my early writing classes was to just write the damn book. As she explained, the first draft is all about getting the story out of your head and onto the page in all its messy, sometimes illogical, glory. Anything can be fixed later and, as Nora Roberts says, you cannot edit an empty page. Every writer has their own process, but getting hung up on that first line or chapter can waste so much time. For some authors, it is such a debilitating hang-up they never get their book written.

I cannot remember the name of the author who advised starting and finishing every page with a hook.
I’m not sure that I agree with that, but I do try to honour the promise of those first few lines and begin and end each chapter by continuing that promise. It’s all about intriguing your reader enough that they want to keep turning the pages and if you can offer a reason for them to do that, they will. It may be a line of dialogue, or a character’s thought or suspicion, or even setting a potentially spooky scene which I have heard referred to as the empty elevator scene. The doors open. No one is in the elevator. The character hesitates. Why? What has raised his or her suspicions?

Satisfying a reader’s curiosity and expectations is what we, as writers strive for. Promising something with a brilliant opening and then failing on that promise is simply cheating that reader.

I’m sure others have plenty to say on this subject, so please visit these fine authors to see if you share their views.




12 comments:

  1. I think you are right, you can't promise something in the first pages that doesn't in some way relate to the rest of the story. And I agree, different hooks attract different readers.

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    1. I think my biggest disappointment ever was John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids. Great opening, and I thought if fell apart line by line after that.

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  2. One of the adages for writers that I've heard often is that if there is a smoking gun there darned well better be a dead body - or else that gun is a distraction, thrown in there for what? I guess that's another way of saying don't make a promise you don't keep.

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    1. I like that analogy! Thanks for visiting.

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  3. Hi Victoria, Great post. I do so agree that you have to get it down because it's thereafter that the real craft of writing kicks in. Fortunately I enjoy editing. anne stenhouse

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    1. Me too, Anne. Sometimes I think I'm more of an editor than I am a writer. Of course, it could also be that as a Virgo I tend to be somewhat picky!

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  4. Victoria, I agree that what's a hook for one person may be a pillow to sleep on for another. So, basically, I write for myself. If someone else is different enough from me to fail being caught, then it's just as well to let them know in the first sentence!

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    1. I love your prose, Dr. Bob. 'may be a pillow to sleep on for another' is very apt.

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  5. It's interesting how similar our past advice is and still holds today. I try to have a hook at the beginning and then at the end of each chapter - to keep the reader turning the pages. Good post.

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    1. When I teach introductory creative writing, I'm more about getting my students writing rather than worrying about that first line. I've found that very often they will come up with a right neat start, either taken from something they have already written or after a brainstorming session. Thanks for stopping by.

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  6. I enjoyed your down-to-earth blog post. You are correct. Fiddling with the first line is a waste of time until the story is written. After I learned that, finishing a story became easier for me because I knew the first line wasn't engraved in granite. Thank goodness computers have a delete button!

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  7. Victoria, I very much agree with the advice of simply writing the book first. If you're terrified about having every page be amazing, you'll end up staring at your laptop. :)

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