The Hook

I gravitate toward the long form. When people ask me where I’m from, I ask them if they want the short story (I was born in California) or the long story (I didn’t grow up there). I find the long story to be much more informative and entertaining. I stink at short stories and am amazed at the skill of those who can pull them off.

Gypsy Spy is an epic espionage thriller composed of three novel-sized acts. I didn’t set out chasing a word length, I simply wanted to tell the story. When it was done, I was left with a work that was destined for independent publishing as the traditional market wouldn’t touch my word count with a ten-foot pole. It could certainly be cut back a bit—after all, what work couldn’t use a little more editing—but to get it to traditional length would require as substantial loss of story or the breaking apart of the acts. Neither option was attractive to me.

I recently attended a prominent writer’s conference. One of the greatest opportunities offered at serious writer’s conferences is the chance to actually pitch your work to agents and editors. Traditionally published and independent authors both have to pitch and market their work if they have any hope of ever selling a book. The difference between them is that the independent doesn’t have to go through the entire process of putting a proposal together, sending out query letters, and having a one-sheet. Frankly, until I was preparing for the conference, I had never heard about a one-sheet.

Think of the one-sheet as the resume for yourself and the work you are presenting, the short story version of who you are and what you wrote. As if boiling down your life and art to a one page synopsis wasn’t daunting enough, experts suggest that it is essential for your one-sheet (and for your marketing efforts in general) to write a hook for your novel.

The hook for a novel is analogous to the tagline for a movie. It is meant to encapsulate the theme and essence of the story while at the same time drawing the reader in. Tagline’s are great, a bit of marketing genius that challenges even Twitter’s brevity. As brilliant as Alfred Hitchcock was, his star doesn’t outshine the cleverness of the ad men.

Psycho “Check in. Relax. Take a shower.”

The Birds “… the next scream you hear may be your own.”

Ridley Scott’s team took a riff from The Birds tagline to promote perhaps the most intense science fiction horror film of all time, Alien. “In space, no one can hear you scream.”

Taglines run the gambit from straight promotional (“greatest film ever”) to funny. The tagline for Shrek was “The greatest fairy tale never told.” A funny tagline for a hilarious movie. The movie The Men Who Stare at Goats was also funny, but in a different way. And unlike Shrek, it had a basis in actual government research programs. Even so, its tagline is classic humor: “No goats, no glory.”

Dramatic films have their taglines as well. The tagline for the film Momento is effective because of its intrinsic contradiction: “Some memories are best forgotten.” The tagline for The Prestige encapsulates the entire essence of the film: “Are you watching closely?” If you haven’t written a hook for your novel, I trust these examples from the movie industry have given you some good ideas.

When I was composing my one sheet, I had just come off an intense, near 12-hour shift at the day job to finalize my preparations for the conference—not the best circumstances for creativity. Writing a hook seemed an impossible task. How was I to take a 280,000 word novel and boil it down to a sentence? It took some doing, but by the grace of God I was able to get it done in six words.

“One orphaned Gypsy against two Superpowers.”

If you have a favorite tagline or have a hook for your novel, please share it in the comments.

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