Thursday, August 15, 2013

Know Your Hook-- Your Secret Weapon

Ever watched a movie or read a book where the writer let you in on a secret? Isn't it amazing how the knowledge of something deep about characters or plot can drive us to keep reading or watching?

Think about your favorite stories. I bet almost all of them have some kind of secret that's used as a hook. It may be a real secret--something one of your characters is purposefully hiding. Or it may be a secret that's a bit more subtle-- hidden love, for instance, or something that happened to your characters when they were young that shaped their mindset today.

Your "secret" is also (in most cases) your hook. If you're prepping for conference season and working on your pitch, consider this. Your pitch doesn't have to be difficult to write. It's the thing that drives your story. That deep heart of your book-- the thing that keeps you writing. It's often tied to the moral of the story as well, since it cuts so deep down into the characters' story arcs.

You should incorporate this hook throughout every chapter of your story.

Now, you may be thinking, "Oh no! I don't have what you're talking about. My story is just about two people falling in love, plain and simple." If that's what you're thinking, don't despair. Most likely, your book does have a hook, but you just need to find it. If you don't know your hook yet and you've just started writing, not to worry--it'll probably come in the process of writing your first draft.

So how do you make use of your hook, your secret weapon?

  1. Find your hook. What's the secret? Usually it's interwoven with the conflict of your story. Maybe you write suspense, in which case the secret might be a killer or thief. Maybe you write romance, in which case the secret might be hidden love, or something that happened to the heroine/hero prior to the start of the story that keeps the romance from developing. I think of Denise Hunter's Seaside Letters, and how the hurt of the heroine's past with her former fiance keeps her from opening her heart to the hero. You need to figure out what makes your story unique, and then develop that--make the most of it! Think of what you do when you go into a job interview. You make sure you know the high points of why you're right for the job, and then you highlight those as much as possible. You want to do the same thing here. Know your strengths--the fibers of your story--and pull out those secret weapons throughout, so they can be well-developed. 
  2. Incorporate the hook through the dialogue. Make your characters uncomfortable. Readers love this kind of thing! Is your character hiding a secret past? Have another character almost stumble upon it. Use words with double meanings that might be misconstrued by your characters. Think of all the things that would make you uncomfortable if you were had a secret to hide, and then use those against your characters. You may feel cruel. It's okay. You're a writer.
  3. Incorporate the hook through descriptions. In my most recent WIP, I've really been working on this. The moral of my book is living a vibrant life, so I have been making a point to incorporate imagery of color throughout each chapter. You don't want to be too overt about using descriptions to convey your hook-- it's a delicate balance. However, so long as you are subtle about your imagery, you can create a story world that affects readers on a subconscious level and is very powerful because it allows every element of your story to line up: characters, plot, the moral premise, dialogue, and setting. Use each element carefully and purposefully. Find words that are not only precise, but also convey a sense of your theme and hook in the story.
In the end, think of your hook like your own personal secret weapon. You want to make the most out of it you can. Especially as you revise your novel (and as you write a pitch!), look for opportunities to hint toward that secret weapon all throughout your story, because it will ramp up tension and keep readers turning the pages (and editors alike)!

Can you think of examples of movies or books that know their secret weapon and use it well? What's the hook you are working in on your current WIP? How are you developing it throughout?


Ashley Clark writes romantic comedy with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blogFacebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.


Jeanne Takenaka said...

Ashley this is great! I'm definitely coming back to study this as I prepare for ACFW. What I'm working with right now is actually a question: Is the fulfillment of a dream worth the price of betrayal. :)

Ashley Clark said...

Ohhhh, that sounds great!

Angie Dicken said...

Great points here, Ashley! I like the movie Sliding Doors, where you are presented with the "what if" scenario, and the truth scenario, that deals what life looks like when the secret is revealed vs. hidden. Anyway, great movie. I am trying to be better about allowing my story's secrets to come out gradually, instead of just stating it all at the beginning! Great talking to you today!

Ashley Clark said...

Thanks Ang! Always so fun talking to you! :) And you're right-- it so helps to let the secrets come a little at a time!