The Hook of the Novel
A STRONG HOOK is vital as you have 30 seconds to catch the interest of a reader. You start as near to the problem as you can, with action and dialogue - not a long description of the place or the weather. Save the back story and explanations for later.
1. WHAT is the premise of your novel, including the problem your character will have to face? Preferably in one sentence. It may start out fairly trite or cliché, but you make it stronger by adding character motivation, problems and complications, and all the other nuts and bolts of novel writing. Most importantly, you add yourself. You can extend this into the blurb which you can check from time to time to make sure you are still on target.
2. WHO is your main POV character? Choose the person with most to lose. WHY is she is in this situation with this problem? We’re presenting the issue she faces here, not the solution, and certainly not all the back story. That will come out little by little as the story progresses. The best novels are character driven. Choose a narrator based on who is changed most by the story’s events. Powerful points of view from characters we care about. In fiction they need to be larger than life. Interesting, engaging, feisty, highly moral, or in the case of the antagonist strongly immoral. Yet with human flaws. They need to be deep and multi-layered, with strong motivation. Find something about them or their life which creates inner conflict. Look for the unusual, the unexpected or memorable.
3. WHERE and WHEN is the novel set? A sense of time and place is an intrinsic part of the book, as important as character. Write about what you know or know about what you write. Research only enough to get started, to give an overview of the period or place, and deal with specifics later.
You don’t know what you will need until you start writing. Story must come first.
WHAT, WHO, WHY, WHERE, WHEN - All of this should be evident in the first page or two, if not the first paragraph.
Here is the first page of Luckpenny Land, first in the Luckpenny Series and still a bestseller.
‘Anyone would think I was asking to go on the streets.’ The stinging slap sent the honey gold hair swirling about her face, enveloping her burning cheeks in a wash of colour that for a brief moment lit up the shabby kitchen.
Any ordinary face would have been hardened and cheapened by the cold light of the single Tilly lamp, but not this one. The girl’s face was arresting, alive with the urgency of her request. There was strength in the way she firmed the wide mouth, resolution in the sweeping arch of the brow, in the smoke grey of the eyes fringed by a crescent of dark lashes above cheek bones that would hold their beauty long after time had wrought its damage.
But there was no one to be captivated by Meg Turner’s youthful beauty here, certainly not her uncompromising father. Even her two brothers had withdrawn from the scene to a safer distance the moment supper was over, Dan to check the flock for any new lambs, Charlie reluctantly to clean out the sheds.
The remnants of the kitchen fire fell together with a small hushing noise. There was no other sound in the room, save for that of the rain that beat against the window. Outside, great waves of it washed down the hillsides from the high mountain tops, gushed into the overfilled beck and pelted onwards to the River Kent and the distant sea. They were used to rain in Lakeland and paid little heed to it, and the glowering skies seemed eminently suited to her mood. Meg wished she was out in it, letting it wash over her face and limbs, cleansing the pain and frustration from her as it so often did. The wind was rising, she could hear it whining in the great ash trees that lined the track to the farm and gave the name Ashlea to the place that had been her home for all of her nineteen years.
Inconsequentially, she remembered leaving a blanket loose on the line. She’d have to search for it in the bottom field come morning. Nothing that wasn’t battened down would survive the helm wind that scoured these high fells. Though the wind could not penetrate the walls of the farmhouse which were four feet thick, solid enough to withstand the worst mountain weather, and keep her within, like a prisoner.
Meg began to clear the table with jerky, angry movements, swallowing the bitter tears of disappointment that threatened to choke her. She supposed the slap was no more than she deserved. She shouldn’t have dared to repeat the rebellious statement she’d made to Dan earlier when he had caught her pulling pints at the Cock and Feathers.
‘Get your coat on,’ he’d bluntly told her. ‘You’re coming home with me.’
She hadn’t been able to believe her bad luck, having deliberately chosen the inn because it was far from the market area of town where her father conducted his business. Not for one moment had she considered the possibility of her own brother choosing to drink there. But losing her temper would get her nowhere. Hadn’t she discovered so a dozen times? Nevertheless, since it had taken her weeks to find this job, she wasn’t for giving in easily.