Saturday, September 18, 2010

Those darn hooks

I know, I know, I've been told often enough -- you need a hook. Never mind that I'm a fan of the slow opening, the getting to know the setting and the characters as an introduction to the story. Think James Michener.

That doesn't work for today's readers. Action must start in the first paragraph or they will slam the cover shut and go on to the next book on the shelf. Characterization and setting come later, almost as an afterthought.

Kathy Reichs has mastered the hook. Each chapter ends with a little twist, a dare, a come-on that makes you turn the page, eager to read what happens next . James Patterson's hooks have hooks.

I want to master this technique, because I want people to read my book with excitement and not yawns. I want people to tell me, "I couldn't put the book down."

So I am going through my WIP, checking my hooks as carefully as any fisherman checks his tackle box. I want my readers to be well and truly caught from the first sentence to the last.

I had a woman tell me years ago that she was trying to read my book (my first one), but every time she picked it up she fell asleep. She apologized immediately, explaining that it was on her bedside table and by the time she opened it she was already halfway to dreamland.

If I can come up with a beginning hook that would keep even her awake, I think I will be able to call myself a writer.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

BookMarks Festival

A couple of friends and I attended the BookMarks Festival of Books in Winston-Salem yesterday (Sept. 11). My only complaint is that there were too many wonderful speakers and too little time.

The main reason I wanted to go was to see and hear one of my favorite authors, Diana Gabaldon (that's her in the photo). If you haven't heard of her enormous success with her Outlander series ... well, where have you been? I was hooked on the first one. Who knew you could mix paranormal, history and romance in one big volume?

I was fortunate to be able to attend two appearances. She gave a book talk right after lunch. I knew the seats would be taken early, so I hurried my companion to the tent where she was to speak. But -- on the way I had to stop and look at a book stall, and then again to talk to a writer who was handing out his cards to passersby. By the time we got there, there were no seats left under the tent, so we took two just outside.

Then it started to rain. I thought about my umbrella, still in my car -- in Monroe. I thought of getting up and seeking shelter. No way. I come all this distance, and I wasn't budging. My friend put the program over her head and hunkered down. I used my program to protect my camera.

It was totally worth getting damp. Ms. Gabaldon is delightful. She talked about writing her first novel in secret , even from her husband. She told how she landed an agent without having completed the first book. And shared that there might be one or two or even three more in the series. Everyone gave a cheer at that. Then she read a bit from her last book with a wicked grin. (For those of you who have read it, it was the passage wherein Jamie confronts Lord John after that gentleman and Claire comforted each other following Jamie's supposed demise and I won't go any further.)

Later on, she particpated in a panel discussion. I felt sorry for the other two presenters. Almost all the questions in the audience were directed at Ms. Gabaldon. And no wonder: her answers were candid and witty. Not that theirs might not have been, if they were given the chance.
There is something inspirational about seeing and hearing an author you admire. I am more determined than ever to finish my historical novel. It won't be nearly as good as hers, but it will be as good as I can make it.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Making a list, checking it twice

As promised last week, I sat down and developed a timeline for my runaway novel. The action takes place over 10 years, so the character must grow in age as well as in wisdom. I found some chapters out of order and rearranged them -- something I might not have noticed until a final read-through, at which time I would have thought, "Oh no, back to the drawing board -- er, computer."

By checking page numbers, I also noticed that some chapters come close to 20 pages while others are around 10. The obvious solution is to lengthen the short ones or shorten the long ones. Remembering someone saying at a CRW meeting that any chapter over 20 pages is too long, I decided to cut the longer chapters in half. Now I need to put a hook at the end of these new chapters. More work.

The most important thing I did was to sign up for Eliza Knight's on-line workshop, "Edit Your Book in a Month." I spent most of yesterday afternoon using the "search" tool to see how many times I had used certain overused words. I used "just" 285 times in 400 pages, and quit counting after 33 pages when "as" showed up 100 times.

Asked to search for our favorite word, I chose "well" as in "Well, I just wanted to say ..." or "She knew very well that ..." Well turned up 194 times and I hadn't even realized I was using it!

I guess I have my work cut out for me eliminating useless words, weak verbs and words that end in "ly." It will be worth it if I end up with a stronger story that won't cause an editor to toss it aside after the first, "Well, I just..."