Brainstorm your novel hook now for your NaNoWriMo novel!
By Janice Hardy
A great idea helps every novel get off to a great start, but not every idea starts out great. Some need a little work to find their true potential. The key is to find the novel hook within the idea that will grab readers and make them want to read on.
In the brainstorming stage, the novel hook is the gotcha—it’s the twist that will make the story compelling and fresh. That “ooooh” factor that probably got you excited about the idea in the first place. It might be a plot point, a character goal, or a conflict. It could even be the theme.
The novel hook is what sets your story apart from other books, and makes the novel different. The stronger the hook, the better the chance of selling the novel. (No pressure, right?)
In harsh terms, the hook is why a reader (or agent) should care about your book and not pick up someone else’s. It’s also how readers choose the novels they read, because one book will stand out and be more appealing than another—one “hooks” more than the other. If you’re just writing for fun, a novel hook isn’t vital, but if your hope is to publish one day, a good novel hook is a necessity.
Does a Novel Hook Have to Be Unique?
No. A hook doesn’t mean an original or unique idea. It’s easy for writers to get caught up in thinking that they have to be unique to be published, and throw out great ideas for not being different enough.
Just being different doesn’t mean you’ll have a good hook.
What makes a novel hook strong is the type of reaction it gets from a potential reader. A novel about sentient snails might be unique, but it probably doesn’t make you want to read it.
The Wizard of Oz told from the Wicked Witch’s point of view gives you a new perspective on something you already love—and probably something you’ve always wanted to know yourself.
Strong hooks can be unique, but they can also be fresh takes on a much-loved idea. Look at how many times Romeo and Juliet has been done. Same story, new hook, by changing something and approaching it in a fresh way. So while hooks are important to a novel, don’t feel pressured into feeling you must be unique and compelling. That’s a lot to ask from a writer.
When in Doubt, go for the Most Compelling Concept.
Hooks are most often found within the protagonist, the core conflict, the theme, the setting, or the concept, but they can be anything that piques interest and shows off the compelling aspect of your novel. They might be phrased as a question, or just a statement about a situation or a character.
- What if a killer shark attacked a beach during a major holiday? (Jaws)
- A world where everyone over thirty is killed (Logan’s Run)
- A healer who can use other people’s pain as a weapon (The Shifter)
There’s no formula for a good hook, but it typically presents an unexpected combination of things or a surprising question or image.
Types of hooks can include:
The Protagonist Novel Hook
There’s something different about the protagonist. She has a power; she’s someone unexpected; she has a compelling occupation. Often the protagonist has decided to do something unexpected with that ability or skill. Your protagonist is what hooks readers to want to read more about this person.
The Core Conflict Novel Hook
The core conflict of the novel revolves around a special or unexpected event or situation. It’s the problem itself that draws readers in, and they want to see how this issue is resolved and what happens.
The Theme Novel Hook
The theme explores an idea in a compelling way. Often these novels are more literary in nature, but a solid theme hook can also drive a more commercial novel. The hook poses a philosophical question the reader finds intriguing and then explores it.
The Setting Novel Hook
A setting hook offers readers a world (in the most general terms) that intrigues them and makes them want to explore it. It’s unusual and a place readers might want to visit regardless of what kind of novel is set there. It usually triggers a sense of adventure or what kinds of adventures might occur there.
The Concept Novel Hook
The basic idea is unusual and poses a question that begs an answer. The concept is so intriguing readers want to see how the novel unfolds. These are often posed as “what if” questions.
To find your novel’s hook, explore what’s compelling and different about your idea.
List three critical things about each of the following:
- Your protagonist.
- The story conflict.
- The overall novel concept.
Does anything on your list jump out as a strong hook? What feels compelling or offers a new twist to an old idea? What best shows the strength of your novel?
Now, take the strongest of your hooks and brainstorm how they might become a great idea. Look at your hook and think about how you might turn it in to a story. Explore:
Something in the idea has to be able to cause trouble, and hopefully to a lot of people. If it can’t, there won’t be anything for the protagonist to strive for. No matter how cool an idea sounds, if there’s no conflict, there’s no novel yet. No idea is too crazy at this point, because it’s all about exploring the idea’s potential, and you never know where one idea might lead.
People you can put into this idea or this conflict:
What people would be affected? Who would benefit? Who would be hurt? What kinds of people would be needed for this situation? What connections might those characters have to the other people in the story? Conflict often comes from those connections, and they can help you develop the plot later.
Goals and stakes:
Without knowing what the characters want and what they’re risking to get it, the novel will be pretty boring. Goals and stakes move the plot and make readers care about what happens.
See if any themes have started to develop. They often do, even this early, with recurring concepts between possible character types and the conflicts discovered.
Keep the brainstorming going and ask:
- Who wants what and why?
- Who would be against these goals and why?
- Is there one major conflict or problem that needs solving?
- Where can huge failures occur (because that might just turn out to be what your protagonist is after)?
- What situations would lend themselves well to the growth of a character?
Brainstorming is a great way to dig deeper into an idea and find out how strong that potential hook might be. Any idea that falls flat after a few minutes of brainstorming is one that probably would have you banging your head against the keyboard by chapter three. Brainstorming let’s your creativity flow and allows you to generate as many potential directions for an idea as you can.
by Janice Hardy (@Janice_Hardy) October 15th, 2017
Do you have an idea for a great hook? Do you think it’ll also make a great novel? Are you planning to do NaNoWriMo this year? Have you planned your novel in advance?
This post is a taste of my free at-home workshop on Fiction University, running all October long. If you’re looking for some motivation (and a lot more tips and exercises) for your newest novel idea, come on over and check out Idea to Novel in 31 Days. It’s also perfect for anyone planning to do NaNoWriMo next month.
Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the fantasy trilogy, The Healing Wars, and multiple books on writing, including Understanding Show, Don’t Tell (And Really Getting It), Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure and Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft. Her newest release is Understanding Conflict (And What It Really Means).
She’s also the founder of the writing site, Fiction University. For more advice and helpful writing tips, visit her at www.fiction-university.com or @Janice_Hardy.
BOOK OF THE WEEK
More Help On Writing Your Novel (if you’d like to use it)
Do you have a great story idea? Do you want to turn it into a novel?
Janice Hardy takes you step-by-step through plotting and writing a novel with her book Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure. She’ll show you how to find and develop ideas, brainstorm stories from that first spark of inspiration to a complete story, develop the right characters, setting, plot, as well as teach you how to identify where your novel fits in the market, and if your idea has what it takes to be a series.
With clear and easy-to-understand examples, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure offers ten self-guided workshops with more than 100 different exercises to help you craft a solid novel. Each workshop builds upon the other to flesh out your idea as much or as little as you need to start writing (useful for both plotters and pantsers). You’ll find multiple options that allow you to find the right process that works for you.
Here’s What You’ll Learn to Do
- Create compelling characters readers will love
- Choose the right point of view for your story
- Determine the conflicts that will drive your plot (and keep readers hooked!)
- Find the best writing process for your writing style
- Create a solid plot from the spark of your idea
Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure also helps you develop the critical elements for submitting and selling your novel once it’s finished. You’ll find exercises on how to:
- Craft your one-sentence pitch
- Create your summary hook blurb (which makes writing query letters and cover copy easier)
- Develop a solid working synopsis
Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is an easy-to-follow guide to planning and writing your novel, or fixing a novel that isn’t quite working.
For those who like a hands-on approach with easy-to-use worksheets, a companion guide, Planning Your Novel Workbook is also available in paperback.
Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Awards. Write Romance, Thriller, Crime, Horror, Science-Fiction, and Young Adult? Short fiction: 4,000 words or less. $20 fee. Grand prize $2500. Deadline October 16th, 2017
The Insecure Writers Support Group Annual Anthology Contest. This anthology is for mystery/crime/thriller writers! For IWSG members only, but it’s easy to join just join their FB or Blog group. NO FEE! Word count: 3500-6000 Theme: Tick Tock. The story revolves around a clock, is time sensitive, or has something about a specific time. No erotica, R-rated language, or graphic violence. Deadline: November 1st
The John Steinbeck Award. A prize of $1,000 and publication in Reed Magazine, California’s oldest literary magazine is given annually for a short story. Up to 5,000 words. $15 entry fee, which includes a copy of the prize issue, Deadline November 1, 2017
STRINGYBARK MALICIOUS MYSTERIES SHORT STORY AWARD This Australian contest is looking for “any tale, (up to 1500 words) with a mysterious element and perhaps a sting-in-the-tail.” Prizes of more than $1,000 (AUS) in cash and books. International entries are most welcome. $12 Entry fee. Deadline November 5, 2017.
Writer’s Digest Short-Short Story Award; Up to 1500 words. $3000 first prize, plus entry to the annual WD Conference. Other money prizes. $25 entry fee. Deadline November 15, 2017.
10 Major book publishers that read unagented manuscripts. and 20 Literary Journals that publish new writers. Both lists compiled by the good folks at Authors Publish magazine.