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  • By Victoria Mixon

    Never doubt that thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has.—Margaret Mead

    We’ve backed up through your novel ala E.L. Doctorow’s taillights in the past few weeks, starting with the key to the best possible CLIMAX, followed by the key to the best possible DEVELOPMENT. Guess where we are now? Yep. That’s right.

    How do you design a HOOK that gets your reader’s imagination in a half-nelson and simply won’t let go?

    1. Surprise
    2. You recognize that one, don’t you? Of course you do!

      Curiosity killed the cat, and it will kill your reader, too, and they won’t care. That’s how good your surprise has to be: worth trading their life for. Because they actually are giving up a piece of their life to you, hours of time they could spend on something else, and they will never get that piece back again.

      Make it worth their while.

      What on your first page was the reader not expecting to see there? Don’t try to gross them out—surprise will be quickly superceded by repulsion, and that’ll be the end of THAT. But what have they never seen on a first page before? This is called “fresh” and “new,” and it is the Golden Egg all agents and acquisitions editors spend their lives hunting.

      Even further, what about the whole point of your HOOK—which is the climax you’re going to reach, approximately 1/8-1/6 of the way into your novel, the whole point shows just how dreadful of a pickle your protagonist has gotten themself into? How is it a real, head-spinning surprise? What does your reader simply not see coming? What is the anti-thesis to the expectations they’ve kind of been building ever since that first page gave them a whirl for their money?

      First page: Point.

      HOOK climax: Counter-Point.

      These are the two main threads running through your novel. The tension between them, which must be as powerful as humanly possible, is what keeps your reader on the edge of their seat. And the moment at which Point and Counter-Point finally collide is going to be—way, way, way down the line at the CLIMAX of your novel—the whole reason you’re writing this.

    3. Mystery

    4. The thing about curiosity is the reader doesn’t know what the heck is going on. And they love that! Amateur critiquers are always telling each other, “I don’t understand what’s going on here.” OF COURSE YOU DON’T. That’s why you have to keep reading!

      Ever wonder why thrillers and mysteries are the highest-selling genres out there? Because curiosity is the single greatest motivation for reading that has ever existed. Thrillers are stories in which the reader doesn’t know what’s going on (oh, why do those people in black keep trying to kill the protagonist I adore?) but are intensely emotionally motivated to find out (fear! excitement! more fear!). While mysteries are stories in which, well, the story itself is a mystery.

      What on your first page poses a question the reader desperately wants the answer to, but can’t get without turning the page?

      And what about the climax of your HOOK is an even deeper mystery the reader now can’t live without solving, but can’t solve without following your protagonist into the full exploration of their fictional nightmare?

      Point. And Counter-Point. The climax of your HOOK is the moment when your protagonist first becomes aware of the existence of both threads at once, making the danger that they might collide suddenly extremely real indeed.

    5. Conflict

    6. Which, of course, leads us straight to conflict, the essence of fiction. Your reader isn’t reading to find out how things are always just ducky for everyone concerned. Your reader is reading to find out what to do when all hell breaks loose.

      What on your first page sets up conflict? It doesn’t have to be the single, overriding conflict that’s going to fuel this novel. That comes out of your Point and Counter-Point, which aren’t fully realized in contrast to each other until the climax of your HOOK. But it’s best in all ways if the conflict on page one can be some microcosm or symptom of that single, overriding conflict. This is part of holographic structure.

      Is it the bottle of whiskey in which your protagonist’s loved one will drown themself in the end? The bare feet that will trigger the silent escape that destroys your protagonist’s plans? The cat that runs in front of the car that veers off the road and puts your protagonist in traction right when their dreams are about to be realized?

      In this miniscule dew drop is reflected the whole world of your characters’ hell.

    7. Charm

    8. This is the final layer: you need to take up residence in your reader’s brain and never move out again. You’re not just surprising. You’re not just mysterious. You’re not even just chock-o-block full of bone-breaking conflict and an endless series of quite intelligent and forceful attempts to resolve those conflicts.

      You’re fun to hang out with!

      Push your reader away with shock, fear, anxiety, mystery. Pull them in with reassurance, strength, entertainment (humor, if you can!), answers. Be secretive—be honest. Be twisted—be straight-forward. Be subtle—be heartrendingly naked. Push-pull push-pull.

      This is charm, people. This is addictive charisma.

    9. Resonance

    10. And don’t forget this detail. You’re going to need it later.





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    8 Comments

8 Responses to “5 Ways to Make Your Novel Inescapable”

  1. This is a great list of creating a hook. Thanks so much for breaking it down like this.

  2. Simone Cooper said on

    Section 3’s statement on early conflicts and on small ones reflecting the larger ones is really well put. Thank you!

    Now I have to figure out how to do this without the reader feeling beaten about the head and shoulders with the obvious clue bat. Oh! That “charm” thing! _That’s_ what that’s for.

    :-)

    –simone

  3. I can’t see anything in my own story anymore, so I’ve laid this list over a Newberry Honor book I’m reading.

    It’s all there. Terrific.

    K

  4. Great pushing and pulling here!

    You ARE fun to hang with. And knowledgeable.

  5. [...] Five Ways to Make your Novel Inescapable, by A. Victoria Mixon. [...]

  6. [...] Link to A. Victoria Mixon, Editor [...]

  7. The line, “they actually are giving up a piece of their life to you, hours of time they could spend on something else, and they will never get that piece back again” is sobering. Reading it makes me feel the heavy responsibility of delivering a good story.

  8. It’s true—it really is a sobering responsibility, Deborah. One we writers must learn to handle as graciously as we can.



Authors


MILLLICENT G. DILLON, represented by Harold Ober Associates, is the world's expert on authors Jane and Paul Bowles. She has won five O. Henry Awards and been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner. I worked with Dillon on her memoir, The Absolute Elsewhere, in which she describes in luminous prose her private meeting with Albert Einstein to discuss the ethics of the atomic bomb. Read more. . .


BHAICHAND PATEL, retired after an illustrious career with the United Nations, is now a journalist based out of New Dehli and Bombay, an expert on Bollywood, and author of three non-fiction books published by Penguin. I edited Patel’s best-selling debut novel, Mothers, Lovers, and Other Strangers, published by PanMacmillan. Read more. . .


LUCIA ORTH is the author of the debut novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, which received critical acclaim from Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, Booklist, Library Journal and Small Press Reviews. I have edited a number of essays and articles for Orth. Read more. . .


SCOTT WARRENDER is a professional musician and Annie Award-nominated lyricist specializing in musical theater. I work with Warrender regularly on his short stories and debut novel, Putaway. Read more. . .


STUART WAKEFIELD is the #1 Kindle Best Selling author of Body of Water, the first novel in his Orcadian Trilogy. Body of Water was 1 of 10 books long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize. I edited Wakefield's second novel, Memory of Water, and look forward to editing the final novel of his Orcadian Trilogy, Spirit of Water. Read more. . .


ANIA VESENNY, represented by Beverly Slopen Literary Agency, is a recipient of the Evelyn Sullivan Gilbertson Award for Emerging Artist in Literature and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I edited Vesenny's debut novel, Swearing in Russian at the Northern Lights, and her second novel, Sandara. Read more. . .


TERISA GREEN, represented by Dystel and Goderich Literary Management, is widely considered the foremost American authority on tattooing through her tattoo books published by Simon & Schuster, which have sold over 45,000 copies. Under the name M. TERRY GREEN, she writes her techno-shaman sci-fi/fantasy series. I am working with Green to develop a new speculative fiction series. Read more. . .


GERALDINE EVANS is a best-selling British author. Her historical novel, Reluctant Queen, is a Category No 1 Best Seller on Amazon UK. I edited Death Dues, #11 in Evans' fifteen popular Rafferty and Llewellyn cozy police procedurals, which received a glowing review from the Midwest Book Review. Read more. . .


JUDY LEE DUNN is an award-winning marketing blogger. I am working with Dunn to develop and line edit her memoir of reconciling liberal activism with her emotional difficulty accepting the lesbianism of her beloved daughter, Tonight Show comedienne Kellye Rowland. Read more. . .


LISA MERCADO-FERNANDEZ writes literary novels of love, loss, and friendship set in the small coastal towns of New England. I edited Mercado-Fernandez' debut novel, The Shoebox, published through Abbott Press, and her up-coming The Eighth Summer. Read more. . .


LEN JOY is the author of the debut novel, American Past Time. I worked with Len to develop his novel from its core: a first chapter short story that agents had told him to throw away. Read more. . .


In addition, I work with dozens of aspiring writers in their apprenticeship to this literary art and craft.

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