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Posts from the ‘Novels’ Category

H is for Hook

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It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing fiction, journalism, marketing copy, or an essay; if you want to claim your reader’s attention, you need a hook. The hook is what makes the reader want to continue reading and comes within the opening paragraph.

Since I mostly write fiction, I’ll be concentrating on that, but hopefully this will be helpful for writers in all fields.

Think of all the stories you’ve read, whether they’re novels or short stories. What makes you continue past that first paragraph? For me, it’s the promise made that this is going to be something I will enjoy reading. The author doesn’t always follow through (I’ve stopped reading novels and stories that had great openings because they didn’t fulfil that promise), but for the most part I can usually tell that this is going to be my kind of read from what’s in that first paragraph, or even in the opening line.

We see lots of advice on not to use certain things for openings because they have been done so often they become cliché: someone looking in a mirror, the weather, someone talking, someone waking up. And yet, a good writer can take these clichés over-done openings and make them into something new and original. Here are some examples below:

“Polly cut off her hair in front of the mirror, feeling slightly guilty about not feeling very guilty about doing so.”  – Monstrous Regiment, Terry Pratchett.

monstrousThis is the opening to one of my all time favourite novels. Polly Perks is cutting off her hair, so she can pretend to be a boy and join the army to look for her lost brother. When people use mirrors, they tend to do so to describe the character’s appearance, which is a cliché, but in this case, Pratchett used it to show us something about Polly’s character rather than her appearance. Cutting her hair off is something she is expected to feel guilty about, so we can tell immediately that she’s in a world where society believes women and girls should have long hair. The fact that she doesn’t feel guilty enough tells us that she’s independent and can think for herself. I’m immediately interested in Polly.

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” – Neuromancer, William Gibson.

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I like this opening because it gives me a sense of something being not quite right. The language is stark, and the image is foreboding. It’s also unusual as far as a weather description goes. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a sky that colour before, so perhaps it’s somewhere other than earth? I’m pulled in to read further so that I can find out more about this place.

 

“A merry little surge of electricity piped by automatic alarm from the mood organ beside his bed awakened Rick Deckard.” – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Philip K. Dick

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This opening has someone waking up but it’s the mood organ that makes me want to read on because I immediately know we’re either not in this world, or if we are it’s somewhere in an imagined future.

 

 

“They’re made out of meat.” – Terry Bisson

“They’re Made out of Meat”  is one of my favourite short stories. Not only does it open with dialogue, but the whole story is a conversation between two disembodied voices. There is no narrative, no description, no action, just dialogue. Everything about this story is a literary ‘no-no’, and yet it works perfectly.

Of course, these are all notable exceptions. I’m not saying that we should all go out and ignore the advice on not using cliched openings. These are examples of what a skilled writer can do with something that is considered a cliché.

A good opening line or paragraph sets an expectation of who or what the novel, story, article or essay will be about. It also sets the tone of the piece of writing, whether that be matter of fact, foreboding, humorous, etc. In speculative fiction, it also often gives us a glimpse into another world.

“I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife’s grave. Then I joined the army.” Old Man’s War –  John Scalzi

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This opening starts off normal enough for a seventy-five-year-old man. Then boom, Scalzi turns that impression upside down and we’re immediately asking ourselves questions because joining the army is probably the last thing we’d expect a man that age to do.

 

 

“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.” Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

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I love this opening. If you know anything about the galaxy or solar system, you immediately know that this is earth we’re talking about here. There’s a self-deprecating humour in the way it’s written that is so English and so endearing that I immediately want to read on.

 

 

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.” Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka

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This one is so matter-of-factly talking about something so odd that it is an immediate draw. There’s no sense of panic, no terror, which creates a kind of morbid fascination. Just what has happened to Gregor? We need to know.

 

 

I’ve often found that I don’t know the opening line until I’ve written the whole story. I start at the beginning, of course, but it’s mostly just a placeholder until I’ve written the whole thing and know how it ends. Then, when I’m going back to edit, I look at the opening and fiddle with it until it becomes the hook I need for that particular story.

What was the most memorable opening line you remember reading? Or better still, give me an example of an opening line of your own. Here’s one of mine to leave you with:

“Whispers flitted across his mind. Distant voices murmuring words he could not quite grasp; like moth wings, they brushed memories he had tried for so long to forget, wafting loose the shrouds he had wrapped around them over so many years with so many empty wine-skins.”  The Lost Weaver

Author Interview – Aderyn Wood

AderynWood (2)In my continuing series of author interviews, I’m excited to introduce Australian writer and fellow cat-lover, Aderyn Wood. After reading and thoroughly enjoying her novella, The Viscount’s Son, when I learned that she had a new book coming out—a novel this time—my interest was piqued. I asked Aderyn to chat with me about her new release.

 

 

The Borderlands - E-Book Cover[CJ] Aderyn, The Borderlands (gorgeous cover, by the way) is very different from The Viscount’s Son. Apart from being a novel length work, it’s also a different genre. I don’t often foray into YA, but I do enjoy a good read, and this is definitely a good read. In your own words, what’s the most important thing you’d like readers to know about The Borderlands?

[Aderyn] Thanks CJ. I love the cover too! The artist Taire Morrigan worked hard to create a visual representation of a key thread in which Dale undertakes a journey to find the mystical Borderlands – on her little sailboat called ‘Joy’.

This is a tough question. I think I’d like readers to know that The Borderlands is probably more of a coming of age story than a typical YA fantasy. It’s also an adventure story. YA fantasies tend to focus on a secret magical talent of the protagonist; and romance. Of course Borderlands has these elements but I wanted to add a sense of adventure to this story too. So Dale goes through a number of challenges, physically, emotionally and mentally, as she embarks on an adventurous journey, all of which enables her to learn about who she truly is and develop as a character.

[CJ] The artist definitely did a great job of bringing that thread to life. I did love following Dale’s adventures in Borderlands, as well as getting to know her. At the beginning of the story, she is a loner who doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere, even at home. She’s also very easy to invest in because she has such a great voice. Of course, there’s a reason for her not fitting in, which goes beyond the usual teenage angst (which I won’t go into for fear of giving out spoilers) but I loved her independent spirit and wit right from the start. What do you like most about her?

[Aderyn] I love how smart she is and how she can see through to the core of a person’s identity. In the story she befriended a couple of other misfits in the form of two old homeless people – Gareth and Joan. Gareth and Joan live in an abandoned old hospital by the river Clyde (set in Scotland), and Dale spends much of her time with Old Man Gareth – her only real friend. Through them, Dale shows us how she sees people for who they truly are inside; she doesn’t judge according to appearance or social status. She values people for who they are. But this also means that she can spot cruelty and pretention easily, and she has little tolerance for people like that. Unfortunately for Dale, most of the students at the exclusive international school she attends (St Nino’s) are bullies or snobs.

[CJ] Her relationship with Gareth definitely shows us the depth of Dale’s character. Many teenage female characters are written as weak/needing help, only interested in fashion and boys (one of the main reasons I don’t tend to read a lot of YA). Did you deliberately set out to overturn that stereotype?

[Aderyn] I didn’t set out to challenge any stereotype, and if I’m going to be honest, I don’t read a lot of YA myself. I simply wrote this story as truthfully as I could, about a girl who felt so different from her family that it caused great tension, especially as she is not able to fit in with peers at school. I set out to show how someone like that would cope in such a situation. Her mother, a fervent social climber, doesn’t understand Dale and would prefer that she did something more fashionable with her hair, or went shopping, rather than reading or painting. Dale drew on the strengths she did have, particularly her intelligence, curiosity and sense of adventure, to overcome the challenges that came her way.

[CJ] You convey all those things about Dale very well. More than anything, The Borderlands struck me as a rite-of-passage story. Along with the reader, Dale learns a lot about herself and her strengths as well as who she is. Is that the kind of story you set out to write when you began, or did it develop as you wrote?

[Aderyn] I agree, that’s how I see this story. While I didn’t set out to write this initially, it very quickly became apparent that the story was all about Dale and how she comes of age. The second book in the series begins a year after the events at the end of Book One, and readers will see a different, more mature Dale, but will understand how she grew to be that person through the trials she experienced in this first book of the trilogy.

[CJ] Great! I will look forward to seeing the more mature Dale, and how her character develops from here. I’m sure readers will love seeing her development in The Borderlands, which is available now on Amazon. I know you’re an indie publisher, Aderyn. There’s a rather steep learning curve in indie publishing—which I found out through releasing my own book of short stories. What did you find the most useful thing to learn through publishing The Viscount’s Son that helped you with The Borderlands?

[Aderyn] The most useful thing I’ve learnt so far is to just keep writing. Yes, it’s wonderful when readers buy your book and even better when they review it or email you with messages saying how much they enjoyed it – that truly is wonderful! But the reality is that indies are mostly unknown authors and they are not going to sell millions or attract a lot of attention initially. According to my reading, most indie authors only start receiving a regular income (and not even one they can necessarily live on) after they have released 5-15 books. So I just keep writing.

[CJ] That feeling is great, isn’t it? I love hearing from people who read my writing. But you’re so right—we have to keep writing. What’s the best piece of advice you could give to a writer poised to take the plunge into indie publishing?

[Aderyn] I think it’s important to be positive. l have seen a few authors complaining about sales or the whole publishing industry in blog posts and forums. While constructive criticism of publishing certainly has its place, I think being too negative can make authors come across as bitter. I can feel doubtful and deflated at times, but a positive outlook gives a better impression to potential readers. I really believe in the saying ‘Nothing succeeds like success’. So look at every sale, every review and every new reader as a success and celebrate it.

[CJ] That’s so true, Aderyn. I think people respond better to a positive attitude. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me! I wish you all the best with your novel, and I’m more than pleased to recommend it to anyone who loves a good story and great characters. I can’t to see what’s in store for Dale next.

[Aderyn] Thanks CJ! I always enjoy reading your author interviews, you ask great questions. I’m also looking forward to seeing what will happen with Dale next! I hope to release the second book in the series next year.

[CJ] I’ll be watching out for it. Well that’s it for this interview. I hope you have enjoyed learning about Aderyn and The Borderlands as much as I did.

Aderyn Wood enjoys reading and writing fantasy fiction most. Her debut publication, ‘The Viscount’s Son’ is a paranormal novella and has earned many five star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. ‘The Borderlands: Journey’ is her second publication and she hopes to release another stand-alone fantasy book later in the year. Aside from fiction, Aderyn loves gardening, cooking and drinking the odd glass of pinot noir. Like most fantasy authors, Aderyn enjoys the company of her cat, who stays by her side during the long and lonely hours of writing.