Friday, April 22, 2011
Hooks, for those of you who don't write, are the bits at the beginning of a book designed to reel in a prospective reader, agent or editor. If you've ever picked up a book in the store, read the first page and decided on the spot that you had to buy that book you've experienced a well written hook.
The hook is arguably the most important part of a book. Certainly for an unpublished author seeking publication it's the most important part. If I can't get an agent or editor past the first few pages it's really irrelevant how good the rest of the book is.
Since I've been getting into the querying process I've been thinking a lot about hooks lately. Because Aetherstorm has a prologue I need to have two solid hooks, one for the prologue and one for chapter 1. The way I see it there are as many hooks as there are writers, but the ones that work well fall into a few categories.
1) Action: Think about any James Bond movie. I think action hooks work really well for movies but don't work so well in print. They are commonly used though, I'd have to say this is the most frequently used hook technique I've seen while critiquing manuscripts from other aspiring authors.
2) Character: Catch 22 starts with a great character/funny opening. Yossarian is just sitting in the hospital, censoring mail from the enlisted men, but because he's bored he plays games with the mail he censors. It really gets you inside his head and rooting for him before you're done the first few pages. You care about him and want to know where he's going.
3) Mystery/suspense: A woman wakes up to a creak from downstairs. Was it the cat? The house settling? Or an intruder? Very effective hook, as long as the reader is asking the right questions and it doesn't feel contrived.
4) Shock value: Many horror genre movies and TV shows like Criminal Minds use this hook. Two young boys are fishing on a public dock, one turns to stare, goggle-eyed at the water. The other follows his gaze and proceeds to vomit. Camera turns to show their POV and we see a bloated corpse rocking gently on the waves. Effective but risks turning some readers off.
5) Comedy: Get the audience laughing and they will flip pages. Comedy is tricky though, you need a deft touch or you risk falling flat on your face.
Of course the best hooks use multiple devices. My prologue starts with character/suspense, then moves on to character/shock value. Chapter 1 starts with suspense which builds with some shock value to heighten tension, then a major shock, the lead turns and flees and things transition into an action sequence with some comedic elements.
I am sure I have missed at least a few good devices for hooking an audience. What about your experience? What are some of your favourite hooks?
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
I wrote Ætherstorm almost completely without contractions, against my normal inclination and style, because I wanted to give it a bit of a feel of the Jules Verne and H.G. Wells stories I've been reading lately. Now I hear back from several readers that they don't like it, it makes the dialogue feel stilted and unnatural.
>sigh< Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Anyhow, enjoy this cute picture of a steampunk kitten while I go through and fix all the broken dialogue.
By the way, if you're ever looking for a picture to describe contractions, such as 'it's' or 'they're', don't do a google image search for 'contractions'. The bulk of the images returned have nothing to do with the shortened forms of words.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Lord Octavian (Otto) Dragomir
Dragomir is the villain. He is the most brilliant scientist of his generation, but like so many scientists of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, he feels that the betterment of mankind is such a noble goal that individuals should, in fact must, be sacrificed. Today we think of the scientists who performed potentially lethal experiments on human beings as sick, twisted and evil, but not so long ago it was perfectly normal. Until the 1960s for instance, it was regular procedure at one American hospital for any woman having a gynaecological exam to be injected with a cell culture of cervical cancer, often causing that woman to develop cervical cancer herself. Dragomir is the product of that sort of thinking.
Normally Dragomir is so wrapped up in his own work that he is completely unaware of anything that happens outside of his own laboratory. As long as he receives a steady supply of 'subjects' for his experiments there is little else he wants or needs.
He was deeply involved in the experiment which released a steady flow of aether into the world nearly a hundred years ago, but from the beginning he always considered that experiment a failure. For most of the intervening time he has worked on developing an experiment that would produce a perfect rift to the aether, which would give him enough for his experiments without having to kill any more subjects for the small burst of aether he can use as they expire.
There is, of course, more to him than I can, or want to, express here. I could write a book. In fact, I have. ;)
Sunday, April 17, 2011
I've been polishing away, snipping excess verbiage here, adding bits of plot there to smooth out the story. The other day I thought about adding an entirely new element to the world. It would add an some interesting world-building elements, but obviously it's not necessary to the plot. In the end I decided to let it go. If this book takes off maybe it will form the basis for a sequel.
All of which gets me thinking, at what point does editing start to make a manuscript worse instead of better? I'm never going to be 100% happy with everything, I know that. Even if it gets published I am sure there will be mistakes that make me slap my forehead, but at the same time I know that's okay.
I think it's ready. One more read-through and edit, and I'm moving on. I think I'll do a series of shorts next. I'll only come back to this one as comments trickle in to fix specific things.
Friday, April 15, 2011
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Zylphia is one of my favourite characters in Ætherstorm. She is the flight leader for wing three and the best pilot aboard the zeppelin Kharkov. She is smart, tough and has no problem keeping up with the boys. She is the only woman in the crew of the Kharkov, but she doesn't pretend to be a man in an attempt to fit in (I for one am tired of that cliché). As I was writing the story I had a picture of a woman in my head, only as I was looking at pictures for this blog-post did I realise it was Amelia Earheart (pictured above).
As this is the nineteenth century she does not have an easy time fitting in to what most people see as a man's role. The term 'sexual harassment' has not been coined, and people in that era would not even understand what it means. Being the best pilot aboard and friends with the captain are all that keeps Zylphia's life from turning into a misogynistic nightmare. Even so she has to occasionally put a man in line, using extreme measures if necessary.
Since she was twelve, she has known nothing but living in the streets and living on the Kharkov. In spite of the downsides she much prefers the Kharkov and wouldn't know what to do with herself if she couldn't fly every day.
Zylphia is, of course, the love interest. She keeps Konrad on his toes, especially in the early stages of their relationship. If I were to write a prequel novel about any character in Ætherstorm it would be her, as she has the most interesting (and developed) back story.