Jessica M. Simpkiss
Is it interesting?
Part of my responsibilities as submissions coordinator is to read a portion of the manuscript, to help agents determine if it’s well written, if it has potential – basically – is it interesting?
Interesting … that’s a fascinating word. What’s interesting to me might not be interesting to you or the next person or the next. So how do you know if your book is interesting or not? Oftentimes, agents read a wide scope of genres and every genre has its own idiosyncrasies specific to them, but at the end of the day, no matter what genre, the story has to be interesting. It has to pull the reader into the story, invest them in the character or the plot, and it has to do it quickly.
Often, as I’m reading pages, I get to the end of the submission and while it might be beautifully written, I can’t find the purpose. If I can’t find the purpose, then why am I reading it?
So, how do you know if your story is interesting or not? Look at your HOOK!
Great story hooks set the story’s tone and let the reader know, “ok, I’m about to read a story about [insert your theme here]. Essentially, a great hook makes the reader care enough about your story for them to invest the time that goes into reading your book. If you’re lacking a great hook that presents itself quickly (typically in the first paragraph, but I’ll give you the first chapter) then you’ve neglected to hook your reader (pun intended!)
So, what makes up a good hook? Wrong question.
What makes a great hook?
A great hook starts immediately, page one, sentence one. No back story or setups. Just, action!
A great hook leaves us asking one or more of the following: who? what? why? where? when? It should not be answering questions, it should be doing the exact opposite. It should be leaving your reader with more questions than answers. The questions presented in the hook are what your book should set out to answer in the pages to come. Without a good hook to draw the reader in from the first page and a sense of purpose by the end of the first chapter, you run the risk of losing your reader (and we don’t want that!)
Here are some of my favorite hooks.
We slept in what once had been the gymnasium.
–– Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale.
Who’s sleeping in the gym? Why are they sleeping in the gym? What happened to their homes? Are these children or adults?
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
–– Jane Austen, Pride & Prejudice.
Who universally acknowledges this fact? What time period is this story taking place in?
We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.
–– Hunter S. Thompson, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas.
Who is we? Why are they in Barstow? What drugs have they taken, and why?
And one example from my current work in progress
In the darkness, it was hard to tell if the red color fanned out of either side of her was her hair, or the blood already leaking from the back of her skull.
Who is dying? Why is she dying? How does the reader know she’s sustained an injury to the back of her skull? Where are they that it’s dark?
In all the above scenarios, the reader is left with only intriguing questions after just one sentence. As the first paragraph and chapter unfold, more questions will mount and (if you’ve hooked them) keep the reader reading to find the answers!
(don’t forget to answer ALL your questions! We’ll touch on this in the days to come)
What about you? What’s your hook?
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