Fifteen Hooks To Put Zing In Your Story

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Fifteen Hooks To Put Zing In Your Story
(and Sell Your Manuscript and How to Do It and Still Write the Book of Your Heart)
by Dianne Castell (aka: Dianne Kruetzkamp)

New authors are told to write the book of your heart, and your work will sell. Write fresh, compelling, fast-moving, stories that excite you. Remember to be true to your own unique voice. And while you're at it, toss in some of those tried-and-true hooks that make the book salable.

Huh? How'd tried-and-true get in there? How can a story be fresh, new and tried-and-true? How can it be a story you truly want to write and include a secret baby, a marriage of convenience, amnesia (good grief!) or twins switching places?

It can. And here's how to write that story without sacrificing your work, your voice and your sanity.

Instead of trying to conjure up stories about cowboys, runaway brides and dark secrets-that's enough to dry up anyone's creative juices-first concentrate on the basic premise of your story. This is the idea running around in your head at all times of the day and night. It's the plot that won't go away and drives you nuts until you write it down beginning to end.

At this creative stage you forget hooks even exist. You're only concerned with the aspects of the story you feel must be there to make it truly yours. How does your story start? How it end? What are the key scenes? What do you like most about your story? Sum up your story in one sentence.

Define your characters and give them unique, memorable qualities you and the reader can fall in love with. Write character profiles. Determine internal and external conflicts. (Conflict is not a hook. Conflict is the story).

Figure out appearances, mannerisms, strengths and weaknesses. Only now, after you've done all these things and truly have your story in place, do you think about hooks.

So, what exactly are these tried-and-true hooks that threaten to louse up your creative genius? They are elements that have been used over and over but are presented in distinctive ways to fit and enhance the specific plots.

Consider the hook of "a secret." In the movie ET, the kids have this great secret. The story is getting ET home, the hook is keeping his presence a secret. It's not the story, but adds to it. In The Parent Trap the plot is getting the parents together; the hook is the secret that the twins have switched places. In Zorro, the heroine's parentage is a secret. In Star Wars it's the hero's parentage. Usual Suspects has the biggest secret of all. Who is Keyser Soze?

These plots are totally different, but use the hook of a secret to enhance the story on two levels. The secret keeps the viewer guessing, adds unpredictable twists, and puts zing to the basic story line. The use of a secret also pulls the viewer into the story because it is something everyone relates to.

Extraterrestrials who insist on phoning home, men who run around in capes and masks, people who live in a galaxy far, far away and little men who mastermind murders may not be common place, but secrets are. Everyone can relate to keeping secrets and the consequences of telling them.

Now look at Indiana Jones. Archeology is boring. Digging in dirt to find dead people's old stuff is downright butt-numbing, unless Indiana Jones is doing the digging. Hooks are what make these stories fly. Jones is a cowboy. Hey, he has a hat, whip, wears boots, rides a horse, has great chin stubble and is sexy as all-get-out. Close enough.

Cowboys are hooks because everyone knows they are honorable and steadfast men, and they promise excitement. While looking for his artifacts, Jones reunites with

an old lover,
old enemies, has
an ongoing feud,
is a protector of valuable things, people, and all mankind. These are all hooks that not only spark the story line but elements we can related to. They are also part of everyone's lives. These hooks suck the viewer into the story. Many hooks used in books, movies and TV shows might work for you.

Consider the popular secret baby hook. One reason it's so well-liked is because everyone loves babies and everyone is a part of some sort of family. Relating is very easy for the reader, and not knowing all the members of that family peaks interest and guarantees plot twists and surprises.

Variations on the secret baby book are the abandoned baby or baby found stories. Everyone wants to know what happens to that baby!

A marriage of convenience is a fine hook. Marriage is something everyone knows about on one level or another, but marrying for a reason other than love gives it an interesting spin that's sure to be unlike most marriages.

Reunited lovers
reunited enemies,
bad boy/girl coming home
are useful hooks because everyone has lovers, enemies and bad asses in their lives. Falling for them is bound to lead to a lot of trouble and makes for a dandy story.

Everyone loves to be a matchmaker. Fixing people up on blind dates is a national pastime. Runaway brides make the reader root for the underdog, and everyone wants the underdog to win.

works well as a hook. Who wouldn't like to forget something in their life? The reader is kept on the edge wondering what will happen when memory returns to the victim.

Cinderella, Cinderfella
hooks work well. The idea of making someone into just what you want them to be appeals to us all.

anything are terrific hooks. Now there's double trouble.

Hidden identity or mistaken identity
are fascinating hooks because it keeps the reader guessing, and everyone dreams of being someone else at one time or another.

There are also hook careers to consider. These are exciting jobs that make for an exciting book. Using them doesn't altar the main story idea but can make it more attention-grabbing. There aren't many stories about dentists or accountants, but there are tons about cowboys, vets, doctors, cops, ranchers, PI's, nurses and all things military. Try using one of these professions, and see how little it affects your main story but adds pep to you characters.

The same is true for locations. Settings such as The Old West, the new West, New Orleans, San Francisco, New York, Little-made-up-town, USA are good places to set your book because they conjure up a definite atmosphere. The fun part is to see what hooks-and there are a lot more-put extra oomph into your work.

So how does this story of your heart and the tried-and-true hooks fit together? Let's say the story of your heart-the abbreviated version-is about two people who have no business falling in love but do. You want a strong, independent, self-reliant hero and heroine. These two don't like each other one bit, are heads of families that despise each other to the bone, and even go out of their way to make life miserable for