This month’s topic is about hooks. A hook is the opening of a story that captures the readers’ attention enough to keep them reading the rest of the book. It usually means the first sentence.
I have been to several writing workshops that have used the opening line of Ken Follett’s The Key to Rebecca to illustrate a good hook: “The last camel collapsed at noon.”
Here’s another example from one of my favorite novels, Tahn by L. A. Kelly: “Tahn crept up the stone wall like a reptile silent after its prey.”
Would either of these openings make you want to read the next sentence, the paragraph, the entire chapter? Maybe, even the whole book? I have never read past the first chapter of The Key to Rebecca, but I’ve read Tahn many times.
Take a look at your favorite books. Were you hooked from the first sentence? Why or why not? Seeing how other authors opened their novels is the best way to learn how to capture your readers.
Due to health issues, I will be taking a break from this blog and hope to return later this year. Thank you for following Wordsmith Six.
A DIFFERENT SET OF EYES
Stephen King is the one author I hear mentioned more than anyone else at writing workshops and in articles about the craft. There’s only problem: I don’t read horror. So I was excited to learn King actually wrote a book I could possibly enjoy. It’s a fantasy written for his daughter called The Eyes of the Dragon.
The book takes place in the Kingdom of Delain. Sorcerer Flagg poisons King Roland and frames the heir to the throne, Prince Peter, who is imprisoned in a tower. He then gains control over the new king, Peter’s younger brother Thomas. With Flagg’s influence, Thomas makes decisions that erode the kingdom. But Thomas has a secret Flagg doesn’t know about.
King makes sure you know the motivation behind each character’s actions. Although the narrator constantly inserts his opinion, the book is exciting. Peter attempts one of the most unusual and daring escapes I have ever read. If you want to know what happens, read the book.
A TOURNAMENT TO REMEMBER
I waited a long time to read Michael Jecks’ medieval mystery novel, A Tournament of Blood. I made myself read the previous books in the series first. This was the one I was excited about because it concerns one of my favorite parts of the Middle Ages, the tournament. Jecks puts his crime-solving duo, Sir Baldwin Furnshill, the Keeper of the King’s Peace, and Bailiff Simon Puttock in the middle of one. Simon is in charge of organizing the event which puts him at odds with several people, including his teenage daughter who falls in love with a squire with dishonorable intentions. Then the murders occur. Baldwin and Simon must figure out who the culprit is, even though their suspects keep dying.
The best part is when a knight accuses Simon of murdering his son and challenges him to a trial of combat, a battle to the death to prove Simon’s innocence or guilt. Baldwin becomes Simon’s champion although he hasn’t fought in sixteen years.
There are plenty of colorful characters throughout the book. Jecks has a way of showing all their viewpoints so it’s hard to figure out who is the murderer. I like that Baldwin tempers his desire for justice with mercy when the killer is revealed.
Although there is a touch of language and sex, the book is a great read. Details bring England in 1322 to life. I love that there is not only a character list but also a glossary of terms that is very helpful in a historical fiction. Check it out.
IN THE BRAVELANDS
I love The Lion King, so it’s no surprise that I enjoyed reading the first three books of Erin Hunter’s Bravelands series: Broken Pride, Code of Honor, and Blood and Bone. They intertwine the stories of three African animals. Fearless is a young lion who is made an outcast when the cruel Titan destroys his pride. Thorn, a baboon, tries to fight his destiny and move up to the highest class in his tribe. Young elephant Sky discovers she has the rare gift to read bones.
The animals are ruled by one code: kill to survive. The code is broken when several murders occur, including the death of the leader of the animals, throwing the Bravelands into chaos. Different species vie for the position of Great Parent with horrific results. Fearless, Thorn, and Sky must somehow find a way to restore peace to their land.
The books are filled with action and intrigue. Characters are not always what they seem. There are plenty of cliffhangers to keep turning the pages.
I just found out there two more books in the series. They’re going on my reading list.
Let’s face it. Writing is tough. It’s back-breaking work. You can easily get discouraged when there are no results on the horizon.
In Brian Jacques’ Martin the Warrior, there’s a scene where the hero is in a desperate situation. Sentenced to death and tied outside in the pouring rain, he remembers all that he’s been through. Then he shouts to the storm a reason to survive, to keep living.
I was so struck by Martin’s words that I decided to make up my own reason to keep writing based on his speech. So here is my writer’s declaration:
I am an author!
I will write; I will not give in and die!
Do you hear me?
I will live to see my book published!
I have that posted above my computer. I look at it every time I sit at my desk. It has helped me get through times when I just wanted to give up.
Create your own writer’s declaration. You can use mine, if you like. If you can’t think of one, find encouraging quotes and put them around your writing space. Look at them every day. Then write one word, then another, and another. Keep going. Don’t give up.
Happy New Year, everyone! Thanks for following Wordsmith Six.
Does your writing space make you cringe? Mine does. I have papers stacked on top of reference books. Short story sketches lay upon the notes of my novels. It’s a colossal mess. I wonder how I can create anything in the midst of all this chaos.
So, my goal this year is to get it cleaned up and organized. That’s a daunting task, but if I work on it five to ten minutes a day, it will get done. Having the clutter gone means less time searching and more time writing.
There are countless articles on organizing your writing space. Do what works for you. You don’t have to be the World’s Greatest Organizer as long as you can quickly find what you need.
This past year, I spent a lot of time writing projects in order to get my name out in public. My novel suffered as a result. I’m changing that in 2020. My first priority is my novel. I want to have it finished to market by the end of the year. There are two contests I may enter, but other that, I won’t get sidetracked by competitions or anthologies this time. This novel and the following books in this series are my heart. It’s time it receives my full attention.
To complicate matters, since I will have short stories out come next year, I will need to have a professional online presence. This will start with social media with the goal of having my own website and blog in place by 2021. That means I must come up with content to fill all those outlets, which takes time, time away from my novel. It will require some planning to still work on my book. Marketing is important, but it means nothing if I don’t have anything to promote.
Figure out what your priorities are for the coming year. Should you write your heart or write for every little opportunity out there? How much time should you spend on promotion? Your year will run smoother if you plan now.
Stephen King writes 2,000 words a day. Debbie Macomber writes 5,000. Michael Crichton wrote 10,000. So what does this mean for you as you set your writing goals for next year? Keep in mind that these are bestselling authors who don’t have another job that takes up the majority of their day.
The trick is to set a goal that works for you. You want one that’s not so high you can never reach it. If you can write 2,000 words everyday and still hold down a separate eight-hour job plus meal and travel time, then good for you. Way to go! But if you’re like me, that goal is too high. I need to sleep.
I use time instead of word counts to calculate my daily writing. My goal this year was to write one hour five days a week. When I wrote my hour, I put a sticker, usually a smiling sun, on the wall calendar in my office. If I reached my goal for the week, I put another sticker with an inspiring message on Sunday. It’s encouraging to see all those happy stickers shining back at me.
In 2020, I’ve decided to change my goal since I have much I want to accomplish. I aim to write 10 hours a week. That’s a big challenge, but my novel is calling.
Remember, however you decide to keep track of your writing, your goal must be attainable. The key is to write something every day. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once said, “Anything is better than stagnation.” His daily word count was 3,000.
THE UNEXPECTED IN THE EVERYDAY
Ever notice that ideas can come when doing the most mundane chores? Washing dishes, folding laundry, or general housework can spark the next story. I came up with some cool scenes when I cleaned out horse stalls. Doing these mindless activities helps free my mind so new ideas can float inside. That doesn’t mean I’m excited to do the next load of laundry, but you never know if an idea is hiding around the washing machine, waiting to burst forth.
LISTEN TO THE MUSIC
Ideas can form just by listening to music. Many classical pieces, especially symphonic poems, already tell a story. You can use elements from them. I have a plan for a future novel which is based on various parts of a symphonic poem: a hunt, a wedding, and a castle. Or you may imagine something totally different than what the composer had in mind.
This isn’t limited to instrumental pieces. Even song lyrics can spark an idea. So, go ahead. Listen to the music. See where it leads you.