Thursday, September 4, 2008

Hook'em Horns--or at Least Hook 'em Fast

Raised in the South, married to a Southerner and in possession of a male child in the South, I can’t help but hear about football. My son was in the process of watching Clemson get trounced by Alabama last Saturday when he couldn’t take it anymore, he
got up and left the room. We had friend over for dinner on Saturday and they had the
same reaction—they got disgusted and stopped watching at halftime.

It struck me that’s how I felt about a book I started this past week. I hate not finishing a book and I can actually recall the few books over my lifetime I haven’t finished—because they are so few. It’s sort of like cleaning my plate, I hate to not finish what I’ve
Started. So, in this blog, I want to discuss two things—what hooks me from the beginning and what loses me sometime soon after that.

And, I’m going to go in the opposite order—just because I was also taught to end on a positive note. Actually, I was taught “If you can’t say something, good, don’t say anything at all,” but I can’t seem to follow orders very well.

So, what I don’t like…one of the first books I can remember not finishing was Ulysses by James Joyce. I read on another blog that some people absolutely loved this book, but I couldn’t stand the lack of structure. I like a plot, and I appreciate proper grammar and so on. Another book in my rush to read the classics in high school that I didn’t finish was Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Contrary to the popular theme of dark nowadays, I’ve had a long trend of preferring light. Or at least some light mixed in with the dark so the reader doesn’t suffocate. More recently, and I realize this may be seen as a hit against erotica but it’s more a comment about stories that compress the plot too much and have people fall into bed within a day and in everlasting love within a few hours after that. I lose interest if I can’t respect the characters in the morning.

Now, the hooks…in an online course I took recently (I moderated two and paid for two this summer), the instructor Lois Winston finally helped me get the hook ‘em in the first sentence concept. I’d heard this for years, been taught about the seven basic story lines, but still didn’t have a measuring stick for judging—does my first sentence have a hook? And voila, she simply boiled it down to the same idea of a hook anywhere in the book. Will your first sentence force the reader to read the next sentence?

Or will your reader get up off the couch and give your team up as a lost cause?


Lexie O'Neill said...

Dear All,
Sorry I'm so late today! And I hope you can understand my ramblings:) Today was a pick the kids up, get one ready to start braces, go by the library, kind of day.
Hope all are well!

Savanna Kougar said...

Lexie, good post. I like the way you explained how you came to the 'hook'.
I've noticed, that of course, I enjoy a good hook -- or a well-exectuted hook will draw me, but if the story doesn't follow suit, I quickly lose interest.
I've also put down books where I felt 'forced' by the hook, as if I were a dang fish.

Lexie O'Neill said...

:) We're having fun with the metaphors, aren't we? And I agree on all counts.

Terry Odell said...

I'm trying to grasp that hook thing, but I'm more a '1st paragraph' person. That first line is too much of a challenge, and I'm afraid it'll feel forced. And I don't know if I'm getting any better. I hope readers will give me a page before deciding.

First book: Sarah Tucker’s hands shook with anger as she fumbled the keys into her gift boutique’s lock.

Second book: In the steamy cocoon of the shower, Colleen’s fingers found the dimpled scar the bullet had left on her thigh and the long, straight one where they’d repaired her femoral artery.
(A little convoluted)

Third book: The thud from the front porch was definitely a knock.
(Maybe a tad better)

Fourth book: Under the table, Sarah’s toes found the cuff of Randy’s pants and inched their way up his calf, the coarse hair tickling her foot.
(My editor likes 'heat', and this was a sequel)

Fifth book: Some cakewalk.
(See what I mean about needing a paragraph?) Second sentence: A routine mission turned into a straight-to-video movie.

Savanna Kougar said...

Terry, I agree with the first paragraph. I've never purchased a book on a first line only. Yeah, I may have been intrigued, and read further. But if the story doesn't take off from there...who cares?
It's like the hype of a news headline, there's often so much and really not much of a story, so then I just become immune to them.
Personally, my fave of yours is the second book.
When possible I like my first line to represent the tone of the story, or at least, represent the first scene which will launch the story.
IMHO, too often the first line really has little to do with the actual story. Although, I have noticed my publisher Liquid Silver really isn't into that hype first hook, but more into a certain type of story.
Actually, in my edits, so far, the first line has never been a problem.
Although, with Murder by Hair Spray, the editor might want me to shorten it like Flavia did in RT.
So, who knows???
Terry, I think you've done a fabulous job on the first sentence.

Lexie, just can't resist metaphors with the word 'hook' -- lol.

Terry Odell said...

Thanks, Savannah. I will admit the first lines in my books are never the ones in the first draft. If I antagonize, I'll never write the book.

And let's not talk about titles. I'm on page 179 of my WIP and still have no clue what the title's going to be.

Savanna Kougar said...

Hey Terry, the story is ALL. And every writer is different. Titles and first lines can come later.

Guess what, I was just over at your blog on His and Her Brains. Wonderful presentation! And very helpful.
Reading Men are from Mars, and Woman are from Venus -- all those years ago -- has really influenced my stories and my life.

Terry Odell said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog, Savannah. I'm inviting everyone else to take a peek. I've been blogging about "His Brain/Her Brain" all week. There are some definite differences in the hard wiring.