Tag Archives: hooks

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I love my writers’ group.  I’ve probably said that so often, you’re sick of hearing about it.  But I’m back to work on my mystery, and I finally read the first chapter to them on Wednesday.  I’ve rewritten the stupid thing so often, I was happy with the content, but I’d lost all  feel for it.  And, as always, they let me know what worked and what didn’t.

When I start a book, I’m in plot and character mode, and I have to concentrate on description.  I never get enough in there, so I have to go back and add it.  Now, in our group, each person  has their niche of what they nail best in critiques.  Mary Lou is a whiz at word choice and hooks, adding backloading for each paragraph and the ends of chapters.  Kathy Palm–a YA author–makes me think about emotions and description.  There were a dozen people there on Wednesday, and each person gave me good feedback.  I left my chapter at a happy place–a stupid thing for an author to do for the first chapter.  You want a hook to encourage the reader to turn the page and read chapter two.  So I fixed that.

On Thursday, I rewrote the entire thing, and it’s LOTS better than it was.  Thanks to Scribes.  It might even be good enough to survive the entire manuscript.  I’m pretty happy with it.  I admit, though, I go back over and over again to tinker with my first chapter, so it might change again.

The whole process made me think, though.  Even when I read books, I tend to reread most of the first chapter again.  What do I look for in them?  Characters I care about.  That’s probably as important to me as everything else.  Sure, I need a hint of what the book’s problem is going to be, but I don’t mind slow starts.  As long as I have a character I care about and a hint of where I’m going, I’ll keep reading.

I just picked up two new authors to ME.  Almost everyone else in the world has read John Grisham, but I’m not a fan of lawyer books, so I’ve avoided him.  Except he’s been around long enough, I thought I might want to give him a try.  So I picked up Sycamore Row and read the first few pages in the book store.  Then I bought it.  Why?  I liked his writing style and his voice.  Yes, he started–bam!–with an intriguing hanging.  But that, in itself, wouldn’t hook me.  It was his choice of characters that reeled me in.

The other book I chose is a good, old, 1811 London mystery.  with all of the fog and cobbled streets that go with that era–WHERE ANGELS FEAR by C. S. Harris.  The book starts with a prologue–a beautiful, young woman walking into a trap, and you know she’s going to die.  It brought back wonderful, fond memories of Martha Grimes’s pub mysteries and her fabulous prologues.  I love them, but I kept going and read the first chapter of the book to see if I wanted to read more.  This sounds cruel, but it’s easy to kill a person in a dramatic fashion.  It’s harder to keep the rest of the book interesting.  And I liked Harris’s main character so much, I started her book first and I’m waiting to give Grisham a go.  (My daughter’s reading that book, though, and she’s loving it).

In both books, the first chapter ends wih a mesmerizing line.  C. S. Harris ends with He’d promised Melanie he wouldn’t kill her husband.  But she hadn’t said anything about not making the bastard suffer.

The other thing that intrigues me in a first chapter, I have to admit, is the setting.  It can be mundane, as long as it offers something a little unusual.  For Harris’s book, she says, “She blamed the fog.  She wasn’t normally this nervous.  This afraid.”  A great hook.  But Jenna Bennett sets her Savannah Martin series in Nashville, Tennessee and makes her small town of Sweetwater, an hour away, sound intriguing because she grew up there and knows almost everyone.  The setting becomes personal.

For my chapter, I tried to include a great main character, some interesting side characters, a Midwest setting, and a story question that would pull you in.  And some humor.  What hooks you when you pick up a book?

It’s cold in Indiana.  I hope you can hibernate as much as possible.  Happy writing!  And happy reading!

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Writing: serials

If it was good enough for Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle, why not me?  Both famous authors wrote stories, piece by piece, for monthly or weekly newspapers during their careers.  Most of Dickens’s novels were written as instalments, and he adjusted them as he went, according to peoples’ reactions to each “shilling.”  Doyle wrote his famous Sherlock Holmes’ stories for The Strand magazine.  Holmes made Doyle famous, but the author grew tired of him.  He wanted to write somthing new, more serious.  So first, he demanded an exorbitant fee for new stories, thinking The Strand would turn him down.  They didn’t.  Then, frustrated, he actually killed Holmes off, plunging him and his arch enemy Moriarty over a waterfall to their deaths.  Public outcry made him change his mind.  In a new Holmes story, Doyle explained that Holmes had other serious enemies, so he faked his death.  An interesting dilemma–a writer trapped by his own creation.  But it still happens today.  Writers can be trapped by best-seller success.  If a character or series sells big numbers, readers and editors want more.

I’ve played with writing one part of a story at a time on my webpage, and I liked it.  I’ve never tried it for anything longer than a short story, but I’m about to change that.  I’m going to try to write a longer Babet and Prosper, one chapter at a time.  People have been writing in installments for a while now on Wattpad.  It’s not new, but this will be new for me.  And I want to approach how I write chapters a little differently.  I think I’ll need more of a hook for the beginning of each chapter, and I want some kind of a cliffhanger or hook at the end of each one.  Now, I generally hate cliffhangers at the end of a novel.  I hate them even more at the end of TV seasons.  If I liked a book or TV show, I don’t need to worry about the protagonist all summer before the fall season starts, or sometimes, for months or a year, before the next novel comes out.  It annoys me.  It feels like a cheap gimmick, so I’m not talking life or death at the end of each of my chapters.  I’m just talking really good hooks that would normally make a reader start the next chapter.

Ending hooks haven’t always been my strong point.  I wish they were.  My writers’ group pays close attention to them, as they should.  The end of a chapter shouldn’t be a resting place where a reader feels a scene’s been completed.  Instead, a scene should introduce a conflict of some kind–big or small, then deal with that conflict, and then end with the hint of new tension ahead, so that instead of closing the book, satisfied for a moment, the reader turns to the next scene or chapter to see what happens.  The trick is to always keep the reader turning those pages.

The other thing I learned when I wrote stories in parts for my webpage was that I really focused on that one, small number of pages, and I was more willing to play with them and try new things.  There can’t be any “down” scenes for a serial.  Readers don’t need a “resting” place when they only get an instalment every other week or so.  I need to keep the story moving to keep them interested.  Scene and sequel should get interesting.

Yikes!  I’m starting to scare myself:)  Too much pressure.  But I’m looking forward to giving this a try.  Wish me luck.  I plan to put up Chapter 2 soon.

http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

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Writing & Worrying

I’ve started working on a third romance novel. If you read my news earlier, I signed a 3-book deal with Kensington e-books. I’m ahead of schedule on deadlines, so I can do happy dances and buy a special bottle of wine. I can celebrate. But once Monday morning looms again, I’ll be back at my keyboard, trying to pound out 7 to 10 pages to finish a new chapter. It’s what grounds me.

So why the “worrying” in my title? I’m ahead of schedule and happy with the book I’m working on. But… I’ve never been good at writing the same-old, same-old. I really enjoyed writing the first romance. It has a lot of humor, which I didn’t think I’d be good at, but it fit my two protagonists. I was “hearing” them in my mind, so the humor just came. The second romance had a smart-ass protagonist, so she came up with comebacks that I’d never think of on my own. But both romances followed the norm. Boy and girl meet. There are sparks, and eventually they get together. A proven formula. So what did I do for book 3? Fiddle with it, of course. Lord forbid I should feel comfortable and repeat what had worked for me.

One of the things that kills book series for me is when I feel like the writer found a formula and I can memorize the rhythm because it’s the same, book after book after book. By the time I’m on the third book and I feel like I’ve read it before, just with different names and settings, I’m done. Now, mind you, most of these series run a long time, so readers obviously don’t have a problem with it. But I lose interest, and it’s the same with my writing. I like to change it up. For this book, I want the protagonist to be interested in the wrong guy, but it’s made it a challenge to find a set-up that lets the reader know the right guy is in the wings, but neither of them know it. I have the first fourth of the book finished–at least, a draft to work with, and I’m still doing the juggling act of Paula saying “I want him,” but the reader knows she should kick him to the curb. And it’s been fun.

I might have to tweak my early chapters, but my daughters kissed quite a few frogs before they found their handsome princes, (and even then, one of the princes didn’t work out), so it’s a pretty normal happenstance. I just have to make it work.

By the way, I have three Mill Pond, short-short romances on my webpage, if you’re interested:
http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/. You can click on them at the end of the left column.

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Twitter: @judypost