Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Hooking Hook [and I am not talking pirates]

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Writers often hear the old dogs mutter after a swig of their whisky that ‘you have to hook them real good and let them squirm, trying to pull free’. It should be a swift, merciless action with no margin for error, hidden like a sword in an umbrella, and it should be dealt at the very first sentence. Everybody in the business emphasize on stunning the reader the very first page, because after all, a book is an investment of as much money as it is of time. The agent, editor and reader have to be persuaded you are worth their time and money. So, you hook ’em real good.

But what exactly is the hook? How do people within the industry perceive it as opposed to the reviewers and readers in general? Is the hook all that important as it was suggested in a post a month ago [I struggle to remember where this was posted]? I was curious and decided to ask the people on Twitter. These are the results:

@nicolamorgan: Here's you go: "A good hook is a fluorescent life-jacket for your book - without one, no one will see it before it sinks." ~ Talented author Nicola Morgan delivers the dictionary definition, though with more flare. This is the rule of thumb. It’s a must-have, though it is not exactly explained what it is. In 140 characters, it is no surprise. This suffices.

The hook can also mean concrete things:

@MihaiDarkWolf: Sparkling conversation or a good action starting scene. ~ Reviewer and blogger Mihai Adascalitei enjoys the dynamic entry.

@BookChickCity:
Either a well written fast-paced action scene or great dialogue. ~ Reviewer and blogger Carolyn tends towards the same need for adrenaline.

However, some readers, if unsure what does it for them, know what certainly won’t entice them:

@BookChickCity What doesn't is a dream sequence, so cliche and over done!

@ALRutter
Can tell you what doesn't! Either a weather report or a city description - anything where there are blocks of prose

From here on the hook tends to morph into something less tangible, less of a situation that the writer knows it works, but something to do with the big construction blocks of the novel:

Voice

@GuyAdamsAuthor
For me it's all about voice. Not that I don't like action upfront or a book that starts with a bang.

@nextread a good voice doing something interesting.... but it's different for all authors.

@Hagelrat as a reader character, if I like the voice in the first few pages you got me.

@jrobertking
I'm weird, but what hooks me in a book is a great voice. Tolkien had it, and I followed him to Mordor and back.

Characters and Plot

@alebodden11
I like it when the characters have strong personalities, and also when the language flows along with the plot =)

@ALRutter I actually like it when the main characters is confused and we're confused right along with them (A Madness of Angels)

@MihaiDarkWolf Plot & characters. If none of them catches my attention, most probably I will have a hard time reading the book.

@ALRutter The characters. If I don't like the characters, I can't read the book.

To other qualities:

@Weirdmage
Any book that has a story that keeps me reading when I should go to bed.-Total experience more than any particular hook.

@SamSykesSwears
A good story is a good story, whether it's gritty, high or low fantasy. Hooks are just icing.

@MarkCN
I look for someone who can write an above average sentence, and then who has an imagination.

@niallalot Wit. Inventiveness. Character. All three and I'm in love. One will do in a cinch.

The results are varied as are the people and their involvement with literature. Some are just fans, who can’t keep their noses away from a book. Others are reviewers. Third are authors. There is no way to be certain what you need as a hook, because your work will appear in front of many people. I gather that agents and editors will demand to see potential right at the start and I gather that your book has to hold the casual customer browsing through the bookstore. What is most optimistic however is that most book lovers are patient enough to let a book grow on them.

5 comments:

T.S. Bazelli said...

Hmm, for me the hook is what grabs my attention in the first page. It's what makes me turn it to the next. It's a combination of voice, and character. Sometimes it's a unique premise or setting. In all cases, there must be a question that needs to be answered: who is this person, what's going on here, or where is this?

Harry Markov said...

@ TS: The hook is very elusive as far as definition goes. But so far everyone agress that it is a must have. I have always been taught that the hook has to be action and or dialogue to catch the attention.

Weirdmage said...

Actually I'll keep reading if there's a character in the book who's more or less bad, that I hate.-But it has got to be obvious that he's getting his comeuppance. I'll even read the next book in a series waiting for the "asshole" to get killed. The satisfaction when he does is totally worth it :-D

The caring about the character is the important thing.It doesn't matter if it's love or hate. -It is as they say: "The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference."

Charles Gramlich said...

It's a tough one. For me, it's either action or a "situation." Like the ones I posted on my blog today. Most were "situations" that you already were interested in.

what doesn't work with me is dialogue. I just don't want to start a book with the characters who I don't know talking.

Harry Markov said...

@ Weirdmage: Hah, I actually root for the bad guys, but sometimes I do find it necessary that someone kill them already. Hah. :D

@Charles: Yes, situations work best and if action packed, all the better. I tend to agree with the dialogue. I thought that it might be interesting, but it can push the wrong buttons for a majority of readers. Peculiar. Because I started my novel with one of those. The story needed it.