2-Sentence Hook?

Can you actually hook a reader in two sentences? I have problems with my elevator speech and that’s a lot longer than two sentences. However, the answer is yes, and I know from experience, you had better hook your reader, or literary agent, right away if you want to make a sell.

The next question for me, is how do I write a 2-sentence hook? My story is complicated, and I don’t even know where to begin.

A 2-story hook has three components. These not only provide the gist of your story, but also an abbreviated outline of what you are trying to accomplish.

  1. Character –  Who is your hero or heroine? You don’t want to give that character a name in your 2-sentence write up. Give them an identity.                     Not Anne, but a young orphan girl.                                                                                Not James, but a young boy born into slavery.
  2. Core Desire – What does your character really want? To be loved, respected? To become famous or rich? What is motivating your characters actions? This is something I’ve discussed in previous blogs. It has to be relatable.
  3. Obstacle – The inciting incident threatening the core identity of your hero/heroine. It doesn’t have to be a big problem, but it does have to be big in your character’s mind.

You can embellish your hook by adding more description or upping the stakes (the clock is ticking).

A young corpsman involved in an IED explosion in Afghanistan loses his memory and struggles to regain his identity.  He is misidentified and placed in the home of total strangers.

My first attempt at a 2-sentence hook. It leaves a lot of questions, but I guess that is the hook. Hopefully your reader will want to know more.

Something to think about.

-Jan R

 

 

2-Sentence Hook?

Avoid Speed Bumps

1490400252235When you’re writing a novel, you want your story to keep moving forward from beginning to end. If your reader stops at any point while reading, you have set up a speed bump and created an opportunity for your reader to slip out of their suspension of disbelief.

You want them to continue at a nice, smooth pace until the end, accepting every coincidence and slightly questionable story line. They should be lost in the story not in your words.

Common Speed Bumps of Aspiring Authors

Beautified Prose/Written-eese

“The firedrop from the pommel of Tambre’s sword shot past the shimmering silver mist of her involuntary dispersal.”

Now that was a pretty sentence, but you can’t tell me it didn’t slow you down and make you think about what the author was actually trying to say. If you’re like me, you had to read it several times

Trying to impress others with your words is not the way to go. Be natural, be yourself, and it would probably help if you closed the thesaurus as well.

On-The-Nose Writing

Prose that mirrors real life without advancing your story.

Paige’s phone chirped, telling her she had a call. She slid her bag off her shoulder, opened it, pulled out her cell, hit the Accept Call button and put it to her ear.       

“This is Paige,” she said.

“Hey, Paige.”

She recognized her fiancé’s voice. “Jim, darling! Hello!”

We don’t need to be told that the chirp told her she had a call, that her phone is in her purse, that her purse is over her shoulder, that she has to open it to get her phone, push a button to take the call, identify herself to the caller, be informed who it is.  I think you’re getting the point.

Narrative Dumps

Prose that comes out of nowhere and does nothing but describe, is known as a ‘narrative dump’. It can bring your story to a stand still and pull your reader out of the action. Instead of progressing through your storyline, they find themselves on the outside looking in.

I’m not saying you can’t use description. Description is good and helps your reader visualize characters, settings, and much more. But it should be used sparingly. It should add to and enhance your sentence, not distract and overtake it.

One word of caution when using research material to make your story more authentic, remember your research and detail are the seasoning for the story. Don’t make them centerstage. You don’t want to overwhelm your readers with unnecessary information.

Head Hopping

If you switch POV characters to quickly or dive into the heads of too many characters at once, it can Jar the reader and break the intimacy with the scenes main character. In other words, going back and forth between POV characters, can give a reader whiplash. You should never have more than one POV character per scene.

You should also avoid run-on sentences, close the thesaurus (I think you know what I’m getting at), and purchase a copy of ‘The Elements of Style’ by Strunk and White-I’m just saying 🙂

-Jan R

Avoid Speed Bumps

Are You Providing That Emotional Experience?

forbetterforworseimageI can’t count how many times I’ve heard the phrase, ‘show don’t tell’. We all know you’re suppose to show and not tell. Why? You want the reader to experience the scene as if they are one of the characters walking through the story beside the hero/heroine.

If you’re like me, you know what you’re suppose to do, but you don’t really understand what to do to make it happen. How do I show and not tell? It’s a lot harder than it sounds. Once you start writing that novel, you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

There are 5 tools for showing:

  • Dialogue
  • Action
  • Interior dialogue
  • Interior emotion
  • Description-Sensory

If you’re doing anything that’s not one of these 5 things, you’re not showing.

Why is it so important to show versus tell? Showing provides your reader with a powerful emotional experience. If you want to be a best selling author, that’s what you have to do.

It doesn’t matter how great you do everything else in that novel, if you’re missing that emotional experience, you lose. If everything you do is bad, but you have a great emotional experience, you may still win.

It all comes down to the take away. Every great novelist will tell you, you have to give your reader that powerful emotional experience, or they wont be coming back.

Something to think about 🙂

-Jan R

Are You Providing That Emotional Experience?

Queries – You May Be An Amateur – But Don’t Make It Obvious.

imagesI have to admit I’m guilty of a few query don’ts. Okay, maybe a lot 🙂 I didn’t know any better. Like many of you, I just thought I did. You don’t know what you don’t know. I hope you are researching and doing your homework at every stage of the process. You don’t want to send out queries with the following blunders.

  1. Queries with typos in the first sentence.
  2. Queries that start with a nugget of wisdom: the submitter trying to be cute or philosophical. “Every step we take in life moves us in a direction.” Really!
  3. Queries that use very small type or brilliant colors in the background. Maybe if you add a fancy font it will jump off the page. Remember-the agent probably suffers from eyestrain. They live on the computer. Keep it simple-follow the rules.
  4. Queries with overcomplicated directions for replying. It’s great that you are confident you will receive a response, but the agent/publisher doesn’t want your travel plans. A simple street or email address will do.
  5. Queries longer than one page. Remember –  concise, clear, straight to the point. If you waste words and wonder all over the place during the query, the agent/publisher will think you do the same in your novel.
  6. Queries with more than one agent in the “To” line. Each query has to be individualized to the agent you are querying.
  7. Queries that start, “I know you receive hundreds of queries a week.” or “I know how busy you are so I’ll get straight to the point.” By writing this, you have already taken up a full sentence of their valuable time. Don’t state the obvious.
  8. Queries that make grandiose claims. My writing is comparative to Nicholas Sparks, or I would expect my novel to sell 150 million copies since that’s how many women live in the United States.
  9. Queries that state, “I worked very hard on this novel.” So! That doesn’t necessarily make it good.

Something to think about.

-Jan R

Queries – You May Be An Amateur – But Don’t Make It Obvious.

What’s Your Biggest Obstacle?

signsmall_thumbI’ve stated in previous blogs, that there are a lot of reasons why your manuscript was passed over, and many have nothing to do with the manuscript itself, but I thought it would be nice to hear it from an agent.

You just submitted a query for an awesome piece of work. You’ve had several agents request full manuscripts and one even gave you a call, but just like that it was over. What happened?

You may have submitted an amazing piece of work, but the submission before yours hit the ball out of the park, and the one after yours did likewise. Those two works raised the bar and affected the impact you novel had on the agent.

Maybe you presented a very well written novel, but the market is saturated with the genre you are offering. Agents may have manuscripts for the particular genre you submitted on hold for the next few seasons.

You made it to the personal phone call. Where did you go wrong? Maybe you were missing the synopsis or logline for your next novel. Agents don’t want to just sell a book, they want to represent a career. Another guess would be that you were resistant to editorial thoughts presented by the agent.

The biggest obstacle one can have in getting a novel published is quitting. If you’re going to do a little bit right, have that little bit be the fact that you don’t quit. – Barbara Poelle, agent

Something to think about.

-Jan R

What’s Your Biggest Obstacle?

Third-Person

rsz_alternate_pov_showcaseI write in third person. It just comes natural to me. I like the ability to get into each of my charater’s heads at some point. Not all at once, mind you. That’s called head-hopping. Something I have been guilty of in the past. I use Shifting Limited? I never heard that phrase before. I just called it Limited, since I was in one head at a time.

Third-Person is an excellent choice to build suspense and create tension. Remember, If the POV character doesn’t know what’s around the corner, you don’t either. If the POV character trusts a person, that you have determined to be dishonest, the tension will build.

What are the different types of third-person narrative? Here’s a refresher for those who have been around the block a few times, and an enlightenment for the newbies.

Omniscient – This narrative is all-knowing, allowing the author to enter the minds of anyone they want. It is the preferred narrative in classic literature.  The works of Charles Dickens would be good examples.

Cinematic – The author describes events as impartially as possible. Consider yourself a fly on the wall. You see everything going on around you, but you can’t hear the character’s thoughts. Ernest Hemingway used this narrative.

Moments of high drama and physical violence, or the necessity to compress time are better served from this more distant perspective.

Limited – The narrative is limited to a single person’s perspective. If the character doesn’t know something, then the reader won’t either. This is the most prevalent approach to writing literature.

Third-Person Limited is much like First-Person with one crucial distinction. You aren’t trapped within the character’s perspective. You can look into the character’s head and know their thoughts and then back away when you would like to mute them.

Shifting Limited Or Multiple Limited – The point of view changes throughout the novel.  To avoid head-hopping, the point of view character should be limited to one per chapter,  scene, or some other easily definable chunk.

Something to think about.

-Jan R

 

Third-Person

Query Do’s And Dont’s

imagesVJWWCJKOIf you’re a serious writer, or serious about becoming a serious writer, you probably know what a query letter is. In case you don’t, it’s simply a letter you would send to an agent or publisher requesting representation of your novel.

And while it is just a letter, it’s a very important letter that has to catch the attention of the agent it is addressed to and convince him/her that you have something to offer. It is your foot in the door that will hopefully make all your dreams come true.

When you have finished your masterpiece and are ready to pitch your work to an agent, remember, there are query do’s and don’ts.

Do

  • Check the agent’s or publisher’s website to verify contact information. You want to make sure your query get’s to the right place.
  • Play by the rules. The agency or publisher will be specific about what they want included and how they want it presented.
  • Track your submissions. You don’t want to send queries to the same agents every quarter. They notice.
  • Proof your email on different email services. As a test, you could send it to a friend or significant other to ensure there are no formating issues. I like the way one agent put it. “Your beautiful document could look like a ransom note on the other end.” I never thought about that 🙂

Don’t

  • Be coy.
  • Teasers don’t belong in queries.
  • Send anything to more than one person at the same agency. They talk and will find out. It makes a bad impression.
  • Send queries out to companies at large. Be specific in who your query is addressed to.
  • Follow up on an unsolicited query unless you think it didn’t arrive. If the agent didn’t respond, they aren’t interested.
  • Use a mass mail service or mass mail your own query. Keep it personal and individualized to each agent you send it out to. They are not looking for a generic letter. We all hate form letters.
  • Offer contrived empathy, such as “I know that you must be overwhelmed by submissions . . .”
  • Describe more than one project at a time.
  • Attach materials to your query unless specified by the agent your are querying.

Something to think about.

-Jan R

Query Do’s And Dont’s

Stay Active – Revisited

active-passive.jpgWhen you write, you want to use the active voice. It’s clean, concise, and simple. The active voice is easy to read and understand.

Subject + Verb

  • Susie sang.
  • Michael ate.
  • Jeffery kicked.

Subject + Verb + Direct Object

  • Susie sang songs.
  • Michael ate soup.
  • Jeffery kicked cans.

These examples are basic, and can be embellished with adjectives, adverbs, modifiers, etc. to dress them up, but the Subject/Verb order should remain the same.

95% of your sentences should be written in the active voice. You want the doer/subject at the beginning of the sentence.

When you use the passive voice in writing, you have to introduce new parts of speech just to make the sentence mean the same as it would in active voice. The result is a wordy sentence that makes you wait to find out who the subject is.

Passive voice – Direct Object + Dead Verb + Participle form of Verb + optional Preposition + optional Subject.

The winner was written on the community board by Carol. (Passive)

Carol wrote the winner on the community board. (Active)

As you can see, passive voice is not simply a reversal of active voice. It has additions, and I haven’t discussed the fact that many passive sentences are incomplete.

The message was sent.

So the above sentence is grammatically correct, but it’s missing information. Who sent the message, and to whom was it sent?

Why would anybody use the passive voice? Well it comes in handy if you’re a businessman or politician. It allows you to avoid responsibility.

  • Your position has been eliminated. vs. I eliminated your position.
  • Your taxes will be raised. vs. I will raise your taxes.

When you’re writing a novel, you’re not trying to avoid responsibility. You’re trying to draw your reader into an exciting adventure that keeps your reader turning pages until the very end.

Keep your sentences active. Something to think about 🙂

-Jan R

Stay Active – Revisited

Dead Verbs Don’t Move! (Revised).

imagesWhen you’re writing a novel, you want to use concrete, everyday verbs. Examples of these are jump, smile, run, look, show, and eat. You can picture the actions in your head and there is no ambiguity.

He ran down the street and jumped over the fence.

Replace weak or dead verbs with concrete verbs as often as possible. I say as often as possible, because there will be rare occasions when the weak or dead verbs are necessary.

Weak verbs usually end in ‘ate’ or ‘ize’. You know the ones. Some examples are finalize, incorporate, anticipate, categorize. They leave a vague sense of action without spelling it out. As a reader you have to reach for it, and these verbs can really way down your sentence.

The bookkeeper utilized her expertise to manipulate the numbers.

Dead verbs don’t evoke movement or images. They stop the action. They allow us to generalize instead of provide the details necessary to picture what is going on. They tell us what’s happening when we want to see. Examples of dead verbs are was, is, were, are, could, had.

Cassandra was angry.

Versus

Cassandra picked up the flower vase and threw it into the wall. She stomped across the room, slamming the door as she left.

I think you get the picture. Something to think about. I hope this helped.

-Jan R

Dead Verbs Don’t Move! (Revised).