Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Hook 'Em on the Way In; Punch 'Em on the Way Out

Hi, Suspense and Mystery Fans.

Jill Elizabeth Nelson here with a sneak-peak behind the scenes at one way all writers, but suspense/mystery writers in particular, work to capture your interest in our stories. At the end of the post, leave a response to the final question, and you will be entered to win a copy of my upcoming release, Frame Up. The book releases in January 2014, but the winner of this drawing will get their copy as soon as I have my advance copies, which could be as soon as next month!

Imagine a fish eyeing a tasty morsel dangling on the end of your fishing line. If you jig that treat just right . . . it strikes! Now the fish is on the hook, and you can reel it in, taking the creature exactly where you want it to go. A hook in a story works much the same way. With every individual scene and chapter, a writer must present a tasty morsel in such a way that the reader is compelled to follow your story wherever you want to take them. A dull hook will lose a potential reader within a paragraph or two, or even a line or two.

Readers who seek primarily to feed their intellect or to gain information will pick up a work of non-fiction. Readers who buy novels are hungry primarily for an emotionally resonant experience that satisfies them at gut level. This emotionally resonant experience hinges on maintaining and escalating tension moment-by-moment throughout the story, but especially in the opening lines of each and every chapter and scene.

Here is an opening hook that does NOT work. (Don’t worry. It’s not from anyone’s published book.) Why does this hook not work? Ask yourself if this opening contains any element that communicates tension or emotion.

Hayley Jones walked off the plane and onto the tarmac of the small airport.

Certainly, the sentence conveys vital information—the name of the character, what the character is doing and where; however, information minus emotion equals stagnation. There is no hint of a story here to intrigue us to read on!

Here is an opening that works in one simple line. (Again, not from a published book.) Why does it work? (Hint: Is there any word choice that evokes emotion or tension?)

Aimee huddled in the corner of the room.

This line contains all of the informational elements from the line that didn’t work—the character’s name, what the character is doing where—but it also captures that all-important element of tension, as well as suggesting the emotion of fear. Someone huddled in the corner of a room cannot be in a good situation, and the reader will crave to know more. There are a gazillion different directions a writer can take the story from here, but the reader is hooked and will avidly follow where the story leads.

While the opening hook is vital to a story, the punch at the end of each scene and chapter plays a role of equal importance. During the editing process, our hooks and punches are among the first aspects of the story that we should inspect.

Hooks and punches can be subtle, with the action primarily mental or emotional, or they can be high action and overt. But subtle or overt, these elements must be relevant to the story and contribute to the novelist’s supreme goal—to provide the reader with an Emotionally Resonant Reading Experience.

I think of the punch as a “gasp moment.” If a writer leaves the reader sucking in his breath, naturally he must turn the page to find out what happens next—and that next thing should be a sharp, fresh hook.

How can a writer deliver that all-important closing punch?

One approach is a twist or a surprise. The reader is now knocked off balance by an unexpected, yet plausible, development and must keep on reading to find out how this turn of events affects the characters.

Another approach is “the resolution.” A scene concludes with a character forming a resolve that defies the odds and the reader has reason to anticipate will be tested to the max. The resolution must be of the sort that keeping or not keeping it will dramatically impact the character’s well-being, as well as the lives of other characters.

Another type of punch is the cliff-hanger. The chapter or scene closes with a central character in a dire predicament, so naturally, the reader must turn the page to see how the character escapes—or not.

A more subtle and yet highly emotional punch could be called “the moment of truth.” This type of chapter or scene closing might depict the central character discovering a new realization that stuns her and sheds a different light on everything that has gone before and inevitably will impact all that is yet to come.

Here is a closing punch that does NOT work. Why not?

Tristan picked up his menu. “Let’s get some dinner. We could be here a while.”

Where is the tension and emotion? Let’s see if we can infuse these necessary elements into the mundane act of ordering dinner.

Tristan gripped his menu. Fine! If that’s the way she wanted to play it, he could be Mr. Cool-as-a-Cucumber. He unlocked his clenched jaw and sat back. “Let’s get some dinner,” he told his brother. “We could be here a while.” Tristan’s gaze cut to the elegant female seated at the corner table. He could wait her out. No sweat, right?

Now the reader has a conflict to sink their chops into. If the writer has set up the scenario properly, there will be valuable stakes involved in who waits out whom, and the reader will ache to find out who wins the contest of wills, and they will also feel Tristan’s internal conflict of determination edged with a hint of self-doubt.

Dear Readers, please share with us an "opening hook" or "closing punch" from a book you particularly enjoyed. That quick little share will qualify you to be in the drawing for Frame Up.

31 comments:

  1. Opening line in Ruth Logan Herne's Falling for the Lawman....quoted Ecclesiastes "to everything there is a season (etc.)...But it couldn't and shouldn't apply to constantly crowing roosters!
    lol She is such a fun author!!
    Am excited about your new book and would like to be entered in the drawing!
    jacsmi75 [at]gmail[dot]com
    Thanks!

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    1. What a fun opener for a book. The tone is set right away. Thanks for sharing, Jackie. You are entered for the drawing.

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  2. "My face burns with the heat of a hundred stares." This is the opening "hook" of Jolina Petersheim's, THE OUTCAST.

    Thank you for sharing this sneak peek into the writer's process. I loved reading what does and doesn't work. Fascinating! I certainly am in awe of the talents of authors. Thank you for sharing yours!!

    texaggs2000 at gmail dot com

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    1. Such a poignant opening line. Thanks for sharing, Britney. You are entered in the drawing.

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  3. Sounds like a must read. Would love to win.

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  4. In the opening paragraph of Tracy Guzeman's The Gravity of Birds: She had dressed to fade into the forest; her hair was bundled up under a long-billed cap, her clothes drab and inconspicuous. When at last she heard his car, she crouched behind a clump of birch and made herself as small as possible, settling into a shallow depression of ferns and leaf litter. --this book is truly gorgeous, and the stories entwined within each other, keeping secrets until the end.

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    1. Niiice. Thanks for sharing. You're in the drawing!

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  5. Richard Mabry's "Code Blue" begins...

    "The black SUV barreled out of nowhere, its oversized tires straddling the centerline. Cathy jerked the steering wheel to the right and jammed the brake pedal to the floor. Her little Toyota rocked as though flicked by a giant hand before it spun off the narrow country road and hurtled toward the ditch and the peach orchard beyond it."

    "Frame Up" sounds wonderful. Will be looking for it when it comes out.

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    1. Oooh! Definitely must read on! Thanks for sharing. You're in the drawing, Judith!

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  6. Thanks for the comparisons. They really spoke to me. I hope to win a copy of your book so I can see for myself how you handle the hook and punch.
    Deborah Malone
    debbiejeanm at gmail dot come

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  7. I love when a book starts with drama and action because it usually gets off to a great start.

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  8. "Lieutenant Alan Crane peered down the center aisle of the church to where two uniformed police officers stood." Opening hook from "The Fallen" by Chris Digiuseppi and Mike Force. The sequel to "The Light Bringer"
    I would love to win...always make sure I read all the Love Inspired Suspense.

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    1. Ah, subtle tension straight off in the first sentence. Thanks for sharing! You're in the drawing, Pamela!

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  9. "Flames roared into the sky. A concussive boom punched the oxygen from the air". Opening lines from Talon,by Ronie Kendig.

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    1. Oooh! Great job by Ronie! Thanks for sharing, Beth. Your name is in the drawing.

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    2. Congratulations, Beth! You are the winner of my next book, Frame Up!

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  10. "The sound of eight tiny reindeer had nothing on a half dozen eight year olds clog dancing." The beginning of A FOOL'S GOLD CHRISTMAS by Susan Mallery. Reminds me of Christmas and small children having fun.

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    1. LOL. The opening has a touch of humorous voice that woos the reader on. Thanks for sharing. You're in the drawing, Brenda!

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  11. "Mama? Mama?" The little voice was barely audible, yet it was enough to reach into Lindy Southerland's subconscious and rouse her from a troubled sleep.
    "Opening hook" in the book "Standing Guard" part of The Defenders series by Valerie Hansen.

    I'd love for a chance to win "Frame Up". It sounds like and good book and Love Inspired Suspense are some of my favorite.

    jump5er[at]hotmail[dot]com

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    1. Yes! Very sharp hook. Thanks for sharing. You're in the drawing, Sarah!

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  12. Opening line of Mine Is the Night, by Liz Curtis Higgs:

    The distant hoofbeats were growing louder.

    Thanks for the giveaway opportunity!

    bonnieroof60(at)yahoo(dot)com

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    1. Nice, Bonnie. Liz is one of my favorite authors, and a lovely person too. Thanks for sharing! You're name is in the hat for the book.

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  13. " You will not touch her again," he growled. Chapter 33 of Easy Bake Coven !!! :-) makes me want to read what goes from there.. enjoying this cute little fantasy !!!!!!!!!!!!! thanks for the chance to win a great prize !!!

    Rosemary Foley rfoley(at)salemstate(dot)edu

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    1. A confrontation style hook. A nicely gripping approach. Thanks for sharing! Your name is in the drawing for the book.

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  14. "Flames licked higher, swallowing everything in their path. The curtains, the recliner....her father and sister."

    Opening line of When the Smoke Clears by Lynette Eason...awesome series!

    Melissa O
    mo1202007@yahoo.com

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    1. Wow! Now, who wouldn't read on after that opener. Thanks for sharing, Melissa. Your name is in the hat for the drawing.

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  15. Eddie donovan didn't like crowds. Crowds were unpredictable, dangerous.
    Crowds held a multitude of malcontents, any one which could be the death of him,in the most literal way. He was surrounded by people, and sweating.
    From "A Deeper Darkness" by J.T.Ellison.
    I love the cover picture on your book Jill. I would love to win it.
    MAXIE mac262(at)me(dot)com

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    1. Nicely creepy opener. Thanks for sharing. Your name is in the drawing!

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  16. "Christmas vacation was coming to an end and the Rousseau brothers were determined to savor every second of freedom before the public school system once more took them prisoner." (from the prologue of my book, Death Dangles a Participle.)

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    1. Nice! We get the mindset of the Rousseau brothers right away, and it's an attitude with roots in common experience. Your name is in the hat!

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  17. the opening of pride and prejudice

    bn100candg at hotmail dot com

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