Yep – really!
If you want to catch yourself a fish, you need a rod, a whole lot of patience, and maybe a bag of maggots.
But before you even get to the river you need to make sure your hook is hooky enough, or you won’t even catch a cold.
Too often writers grind away and churn out thousands of words on the back of an ill-thought out premise that isn’t hooky enough. That book can be edited and finished and have all of the necessary ingredients, but even though you love your book baby, nobody else does.
Somehow it doesn’t work.
SNAG THAT AGENT OR PUBLISHER
with the sharpest, deadliest hook you can create.
The hook is the special factor about your story that makes it different from all of the other stories in the world. The best hooks are memorable, compelling, provocative; even controversial.
Writers need to spend serious time honing their hook. Brainstorm that metaphorical twist of metal from every angle. What could make it sharper? More unusual? Stronger? ABLE TO CUT THROUGH THE VERY SOUL OF THAT AGENT YOU LONG TO SIGN WITH?
WAIT! WHAT EVEN IS A HOOK?
The hook can be an unusual setting – like Bod, a kid who lives in a graveyard in Neil Gaiman’s THE GRAVEYARD BOOK. His guardian is a vampire, for heaven’s sake.
It can be a terrifying set up – as with Lemony Snicket. Count Olaf is clearly not great with safeguarding.
In YA what would happen to a Jewish girl undercover in a Nazi boarding school? Read ORPHAN MONSTER SPY by Matt Killeen to find out. A Naziboarding school. What a hook!
Maybe your protagonist has a crazy unusual ability. Like Marinka in THE HOUSE WITH CHICKEN LEGS by Sophie Anderson. She can help dead people cross to the other side. No joke.
Whatever it is, that hook of yours needs to capture attention. Think – why should people read mystory? What partof my story best hooks in the reader’s mind? Can that part be developed further?
HOOK = ATTENTION
The hook is what makes your book marketable. What makes it pitchable, what literally hooks it into the brain of the industry folk you need to impress. A great hook can always be summed up in a sentence, and shows off your uniqueness as a writer in a way that other people can relate to. They GET IT. They can feel empathy with it.
I got signed on the strength of a MG that my agent could not stop thinking about. She acknowledged that mentally, she was already working on it because it was hooked right in there. There was no escape for her!
SEARCHING FOR THAT SPECIAL IDEA
So how do you find that magical, wickedly sharp idea? Here at Write Mentor we think the greatest way is to get out there and live your best life. Try new things, go walking, go to concerts and the cinema, to the pub, the library: even stay alert in the queue at the supermarket.
The first time I took my second child out in his buggy, I missed an armed robbery in my local newsagent by three minutes. I often wonder what would have happened if I’d left the house slightly earlier. Life is a total random mash of interlocking mayhem – just get tapping into it and write down what you see. What strikes you? Captures your attention?
Always have a notebook to hand. Keep a journal. Remember your dreams. Write a stream of consciousness every day. Check out the book WILD MIND: LIVING THE WRITER’S LIFE by Natalie Goldberg. She has plenty of great ideas to really link your writing into your primal mind.
Everything you need is up there already, just trust in it.
On a blank page write everything that you LOVE writing about. My list would look like this:
Boarding school, cuckoo clocks, Victoriana, historical asylums, psychological disorders, twins, doppelgangers, invisibility, the sea, chocolate, peacocks.
Mix it around and see what it triggers. If you’re excited by what you’re writing, people will be excited to read it.
READ YOUR BUTT OFF
If you want to write MG or YA you MUST READ WIDELY IN THE GENRE.
There are no shortcuts here. You need to keep equally abreast with new work coming out and the mega successes and the classics. Writing for kids and finding your unique hook means you need to know what hooks have already been hooked. If you spend months writing an epic manuscript all about these five kids who like lashings of ginger beer – well, more fool you. That brainwave you had about two disgusting old people who like gluing birds to trees? That hook is LONG gone.
When you read – keep notes. Which books do you love? Why? Which leave you cold? Why? How does the author keep you gripped through the middle? Are the endings satisfying? Would you have written anything differently?
Think about the book that you as a twelve-year-old would really REALLYhave loved to read… and BANG! That’s your hook right there. Go on… grab it. Polish it, and make it diamond-sharp.
You must go for it.
Because it’s yours. Only you can do it.
Carolyn Ward writes MG and is represented by Chloe Seager of Northbank Talent. Living near Wolverhampton in the West Midlands, Carolyn has an English degree and works in retail.
She became a mentor in Write Mentor’s first year, working closely with three talented writers and enjoying every second. She went on to develop her editing skills and now freelances for Bamboo Editing.
Three years ago she co-founded a local writing group based in a community pub and is also on YouTube as half of the Word Witches writer support duo. Between the MG edits she writes flash fiction and can be found all over the internet and on LingoBites foreign language app.
In her spare time she runs a telephone reading group for lonely older people with the charity Independent Age.
For more look on Twitter for: @Viking_Ma, @bambooediting, @WitchesWord and @CarolynWardWriter on FB.
Search ‘Introducing Word Witches’ on YouTube.
To find out more about being a telephone volunteer check out the website IndependentAge.org