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Monday, October 2

Day Two: Idea to Novel Workshop: Develop Your Hook

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Welcome to Day Two of Fiction University’s At-Home Workshop: Idea to Novel in 31 Days. The first twelve days will focus on developing the story and getting all the pieces in place so we can more easily plot the entire novel.

Today, we’re working on developing that all-important hook.

Step One: Determine Your Novel’s Hook

Hook is a term used in a variety of ways. It might be the hook of a query letter, a hook to make a reader keep reading, or a hook line in the text that stands out and makes a reader smile and think, “Great line.” No matter how it’s used though, a hook is anything that makes the reader want to read more. It “hooks” the reader, captures attention, and piques interest in the novel.

In the brainstorming stage, the hook is the gotcha—it’s the twist that will make the novel compelling and fresh. It’s the “ooooh” factor that probably got you excited about the idea in the first place. It might be a plot point, a character goal, or a conflict. It could even be the theme.

Why the hook is important: The hook is what sets the novel apart from other books, and makes the novel different. The stronger the hook, the better the chance of selling the novel. (No pressure, right?)

In harsh terms, the hook is why a reader (or agent) should care about your book and not pick up someone else’s. It’s also how readers choose the novels they read, because one book will stand out and be more appealing than another—one “hooks” more than the other. If you’re just writing for fun, a hook isn’t vital, but if your hope is to one day publish a novel, a good hook is a necessity.

Types of hooks can include:

The Protagonist Hook

There’s something different about the protagonist. She has a power, she’s someone unexpected, she has a compelling occupation. Often the protagonist has decided to do something unexpected with that ability or skill. The protagonist is what hooks readers to want to read more about this person.

The Core Conflict Hook

The core conflict of the novel revolves around a special or unexpected event or situation. The problem itself draws readers in, and they want to see how this issue is resolved and what happens.

The Theme Hook

The theme explores an idea in a compelling way. Often these novels are more literary in nature, but a solid theme hook can also drive a more commercial novel. The hook poses a philosophical question the reader finds intriguing and then explores it.

The Setting Hook

A setting hook offers readers a world (in the most general terms) that intrigues them and makes them want to explore it. It’s unusual and a place readers might want to visit regardless of what kind of novel is set there. It usually triggers a sense of adventure or what kinds of adventures might occur there.

The Concept Hook

The basic idea is unusual and poses a question that begs an answer. The concept is so intriguing readers want to see how the novel unfolds. These are often posed as “what if” questions.

Explore what’s compelling and different about your novel.

1. List three critical things about your protagonist.

2. List three critical elements of your conflict.

3. List three critical things about your theme.

4. List three critical things about your setting.

5. List three critical things about your novel concept.

Does anything on your lists jump out as a strong hook? What feels compelling or offers a new twist to an old idea? What best shows the strength of your novel?

EXERCISE: Write down your novel’s hook.

While you want to find the “ooooh” factor, this hook doesn’t need to be agent-ready quality. Focus on what makes your idea fresh and compelling. You’ll also have time to develop this further as you learn more about your novel and characters.

Those following along with the PYN book: Workshop Three goes into more extensive detail on developing your hook, with exercises and examples to guide you.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at what will drive our plot.

Follow along at home with the book, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure. Get more brainstorming questions and things to think about, in-depth articles, and clear examples of every step from idea to novel.

Paperback: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indie Bound  | Google Books | Books-A-Million | Chapters/!ndio

Ebook: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Overdrive | Kobo | Inktera | Chapters/!ndio

A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.

Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and her Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It), and Understanding Conflict (And What It Really Means).   
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  1. This hook lesson makes me think. I hadn't considered so many books. Great insight, as always.

    1. Thanks! You don't need them all every book of course, but the stronger we make all of them, the better the book tends to be.

  2. Really enjoying this series. I'm using it to keep me on track with my current WIP, since I've decided NaNoWriMo isn't for me.

    1. Thanks! It's not for everyone :) I've done it several times and enjoyed it, but I always seem to get swamped around this time of year.

  3. Oh, good, you defined types of hooks stories can have. Thanks. I don't remember reading anything but: 'Do a great hook' before. And it seems like I've read thousands of writers books.
    NaNoWriMo didn't work for me either (replying to Dominique). I don't do deadlines well, it made me Not want to write for a couple weeks after, that was way counterproductive to me! But I enjoy their information.

    1. Most welcome :) It works for NaNo and non-NaNo folks alike.