Thursday, May 8, 2008

Setting the Hook in Fantasy Writing

Good writers engage a reader’s imagination, enticing them to keep reading. When readers turn the page, the fantasy writer’s job is to lure them to want to know more. Fantasy writers must generate questions about what happens next or awaken musings to wonder why an event occurred. Without these essential elements, interest wanes, the book is closed and set aside. If the initial hook works, it engages the reader to want to know more and prods the imagination to consider the possibilities.

When you walk into a bookstore, how do you determine what book to buy? Potential book buyers scan titles within the genre that interests them. Effective titles work as the first hook. A catchy title gets the book picked up to learn more. An appealing cover appropriate to the fantasy genre helps raise curiosity to know more. Once the book settles into the hands of an interested customer, the cover blurb works as bait. An effective blurb snags the attention and drags it along enough to open the book and scan the first few pages. Does it meet their expectations? It’s important that the fantasy writer develops an effective hook within those pages. It’s the hook that sells the book.

Setting the Hook
Consider the hook to be the DNA of your fantasy novel. Popular crime dramas take a drop of this chain-like chemical, and follow the detail it provides to solve the most baffling cases. DNA is embedded in the nucleus of every cell. Fragments of this chemical chain incorporate genetic code. When writing fantasy, the hook contains the code that advances and directs the storyline.

Once you hook a reader, it’s important to sustain the right amount of tension. The goal is to keep readers interested. As curiosity is satisfied, stir a new question or two in their mind by baiting them with a new hook. Evoke another emotion. Keep the reader hungry. A literary hook spawns questions. Tension and conflict make the reader turn the page looking for the solution.

What to Avoid

How many times have you flipped through flowery description that attempts to set the scene at the beginning of a book? Description dilutes intended conflict. The story is not about descriptive detail, although it’s important to set the scene. If the detail doesn’t generate a question, it isn’t a hook.

A Good Place to Start

An advantage to writing is that the author has the opportunity to convey conflict and struggles experienced by the characters both inwardly or outwardly. These conflicts are a good place to start. They generate curiosity. Try to include conflict within your first sentence or paragraph. Don’t confuse conflict with physical fighting. It can be as simple as your character experiencing day-to-day turmoil stuck in a dead end job and wondering what they are going to do to change it. They have a family depending on them so they are stuck. Or are they? That’s the hook.

Remember to include tension throughout your fantasy novel. Offer the reader a bit of resolution to one thread as you create a new hook. Too much constant tension without relief desensitizes the reader, they’ll grow bored. Hook the reader at the start of the book, and at the beginning of each scene or chapter. One hook should lead to another uniting the DNA of your fantasy novel into an interesting, compelling story.

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