Welcome to the CAN Blog on Fiction Writing. I always enjoy stopping by to share with you my many years of writing Christian romances, romantic suspense and women’s fiction. You can find more about me and my books on my website at www.gailgaymermartin.com
Today I want to talk with you about hooks. Hooks are an important technique to arouse a readers interest in a story and to keep them reading. Reader or writers, these techniques are excellent for both. Who doesn’t want to read a gripping story that tugs you to the end? I think we all do.
Every novel can use a variety of hooks to keep the reader turning pages. Hanging on to the reader’s interest can result from story hooks based on a theme or a twisted premise. Opening hooks keep the reader captivated by using accepted techniques that grab the reader’s interest. Finally plotting hooks can move the reader from the end of a chapter or scene into the next without realizing it. A hook makes the story memorable. It involves the reader so deeply that all sense of time vanishes, resulting in late dinners and missed appointments.
Certain universal fiction themes have been proven through the years to attract the interest of romance readers of both secular and Christian fiction. These themes tend to grab emotions or provide unique backdrops for the stories. Some of the standard romance themes that have proven themselves are: medical romances, office romances, holiday romances—Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Mother’s Day. Other themes involve: undercover agents, cop heros, women in jeopardy, single moms, mom’s with twins, reunions, exotic locations, forced proximities, hidden identities, hidden agendas, kidnaps, characters on the run, abducted children, heroine transformations, second chances, match-makings, and marriages of convenience.
The opening of “Christmas Moon” uses the marriage of convenience hook.
“Rose…I want you to marry me.”
Rose Danby’s spoon clanged into the sink as she spun around to face her employer. She searched his face, expecting to see a grin, but he looked serious. He was handling the joke with the skill of a stand-up comedian.
“So…what’s the punch line?”
Paul Stewart faltered. “It’s not a joke. I was thinking that—”
“It’s not a joke?” She felt her forehead rumple like a washboard. Though she would want to marry a man as kind and handsome as her employer, she was his twins’ nanny. “What do you mean it’s not a joke?”
His gaze searched hers. “I’m sorry. I shocked you.” He moved closer. “It just makes sense.”
“It makes sense to you, maybe, but I don’t get it.”
This theme, like the others mentioned, grabs the reader’s interest from the opening lines and draws them into the story. This particular marriage of convenience theme also has a twist.
Twisted Premise Hook
A premise is an assumption the reader makes from the story’s beginning, based on what is usually expected—a doting husband is in love with his wife, a beautiful woman who has everything is happy, a successful businessman is confident, an engaged couple is planning a wedding.
When hints suggest early in the story that things aren’t what they seem, the reader’s curiosity is nabbed. He or she can’t put down the book until the reader understands the story’s twist. If a book opens with the death of a fiancé, the reader assumes he is dead, but what happens if that is not the case and it’s all a set up? Think of movies like The Sixth Sense, Ghost, Rosemary’s Baby, and others that lead the fascinated reader on a twisted journey.
Page One Hooks
Good writing uses a variety of techniques to grasp the reader’s interest from the book’s first pages. Some of the methods to open with are: action or dialogue, at the point of change,
with a sense of urgency, with captivating characters, with a humorous or novel situation, leaving the reader curious, puzzled, or intrigued, or with the reader wanting to know what happens next.
Notice the effect of these samples from well-known Christian authors.
Action: Angie Hunter stared out the tiny window of the Bombardier turboprop, keeping a death grip on the armrest as the plane bounced and dropped in the turbulent air above the still, snowy mountain range. (From Legacy Lane, Robin Lee Hatcher)
Dialogue: “Listen kids. Stay right here while I get the car.” Standing under the shelter of the covered mall entrance, Debra fixed her gaze on one precious child then the other. All the while a downpour hammered against the roof above them. (From Footsteps, DiAnn Mills)
Humor: Two things had been on Cat Simmons’s mind. Gage Farrell’s handsome face. And a dirty undershirt. (From Hope’s Garden, Lyn Cote)
Intriguing, Curious: Keryn Wills was in the shower when she figured out how to kill Josh Trenton. (From Double Vision, Randy Ingermanson)
What will happen next: The noises, faint, fleeting, whispered into her consciousness like wraiths in the night. (From Brink of Death, Brandilyn Collins)
Opening lines as those above hook the reader and give the promise of an intriguing writer’s voice and a compelling story. Remember though that those lines must deliver the story that it’s suggesting.
Two standard plotting hooks are: the time bomb and the Jack-in-the-box. The time bomb refers to a story line that has an explosive time limit—time is running out. A young woman is heir of her wealthy uncle but most find a husband within the month or she loses the fortune. A kidnapped child must be found before his next life and death medical treatment.
The Jack-in-the-box technique is a plot with surprises. From hints, foreshadowing or rising conflict, the reader senses something is going to happen and the waiting helps to cause tension. For example, the hero is in love with the heroine, but hints he has a secret that would destroy his relationship with the heroine.
Chapter and Scene Hooks
Most readers prefer to put down the book at the end of a chapter or scene. A good writer can learn techniques that will draw readers into the next scene or chapter without them being aware. End each chapter with action, a vital piece of information or a thoughtful question that pulls the reader into the next scene. Don’t stop the scene at the end, but carry some of it over at the point of interest. In A Love for Safekeeping, the heroine senses someone is following her. She darts for her car, hits the remote to unlock the door, and these two lines end the chapter.
A hand clamped down on her shoulder.
A scream tore from her throat.
The next chapter opens with a continuation of the action.
Another technique is to shift action and point of view (POV) from one character in a scene to a new scene involving another character’s action and POV. This works well especially in a dramatic situation. In Loving Hearts, the hero and heroine end their relationship. In frustration, he takes his sailboat out too late in the season and a storm comes up on Lake Michigan. Meanwhile she has second thoughts and tries to call him to beg his forgiveness. When she learns he is on the boat and knows a storm is brewing, she panics. The reader is moved between the two characters and experiencing their independent struggles.
Hooks are vital to writing a page-turner. A combination of hooks: plotting, theme, twisted premises, openings, and closing scenes or chapters can be used to capture the reader’s interest. Not every chapter or scene needs to open and close with a dramatic hook, but these techniques should be scattered throughout the story. The goal of a good writer is to write a book people can’t put down until the end.
© 2016 Gail Gaymer Martin