Sunday, June 5, 2011

More About the Hook

I recently blogged about Nancy Ellen Dodd’s new book, The Writer’s Compass.

In this book, Dodd writes about the hook, or that sentence or paragraph your short story or novel begins with, which is supposed to pull in readers.

I honestly have not spent a lot of time thinking about the hook. Obviously I know that there has to be some interesting line or paragraph at the top of your story that entices readers. But I didn’t know how to construct one.

I am looking into Dodd’s book because she has some good tips about constructing the hook of your story. This is mainly because I am having some short stories I wrote professionally edited (read: I’m being professionally told just how much time I have to spend rewriting them). The editor advised that I rewrite my hooks.

In terms of the hook, Dodd asks us first to define who our audience is. “If you know your audience, then you should know or learn what interests them.”

Your Hook Can Be Founded In Current Events

Dodd also suggests we find ways to interest our readers through current events.

"What do people care about? What are they thinking about as you write your
book? How can you incorporate something from today into your story hook? What
are the concerns or fears of this particular audience? Is there a new science
discovery or a major catastrophic event or a political scandal or war that will
be on people’s minds? Your story may not have anything to do with that event
(you don’t want to date your book by being too specific to a reader of a certain
era), but it may have impacted your protagonist and how she is thinking, just as
it has your reader. The story may have evolved from that moment or be what is in
the back of the minds of the characters in your story world. You don’t even have
to mention the event, but you might allude to it in a way that your reader will
get the comparison."

The Theme of Your Story Can Be Your Hook

Another way that Dodd advises we mine for our hook is “by placing the dramatic question or your theme in your hook.”

The theme of your story is the “over-arching message you want your story to convey to your audience.”

Dodd argues that if “the writer’s theme doesn’t come across clearly, the reader is left unsure about what they are supposed to take away from the story.”

Mnemonic Device as a Hook

Dodd explains that a “mnemonic device is used to plant a word or a thought in someone’s mind, often through an image or a metaphor that represents an idea. Every time that device is mentioned, the reader’s subconscious remembers the idea that was planted.”

Dodd uses the example of the word “green.” Green can mean jealousy or environmentally protective.

Her example of a mnemonic hook for the word green is: “Now that I’m not green anymore, I don’t know who I am.”

In the above case, green can also mean Kermit. But in the very least, the sentence is mysterious and therefore pulls the reader in as he now wants to know more.

Anyhow, I hope this sheds a little more light on what the hook of your story is. It does for me, and now I have a better idea of how to recraft the hook for my short stories.

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