Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Of Hooks and Snarking

Miss Snark has been running a marathon Crapometer recently, this time dubbed the "Happy Hooker Crapometer." No, it's not for that type of fiction. The entry rules were to send a hook, not a full query letter, just the 250 words that would make an agent want to read your story. Miss Snark would read all of the submitted hooks (hence the marathon part, since she got almost 700 entries) and those that hooked her could send an additional first page for critique. Since I'm nearing completion of my novel, and this year hope to start submitting to agents, I decided this would be a great exercise.

If there's one thing that I've learned, it's that writing a good hook is hard. Incredibly hard. I have never slaved over three paragraphs so much. I went through dozens of variations, at least four or five major versions that I'd put significant time into before I reached anything even vaguely respectable. I guess it's a good sign in some ways--I mean, if summing up your 70,000 novel in less than 250 words is easy, either you're a genius or you've got a mind-numbingly simple novel. 250 words is not a lot of space, and there's this insane desire to cram everything in that you like about the book (and it's your book, so you probably like tons of things about it that don't belong in that hook).

Suffice to say, Miss Snark's was not impressed. No, I'm not going to point it out--public critique is one thing, reveling in it another entirely. As painful as it was to see my carefully crafted words torn to pieces, it's a huge help.

While writing the description of your book in only 250 words is hard, the toughest part is determining what's important enough to serve as the focal point. In my hook, I missed giving a clear picture of the antagonist and the main character's motivation. These needed to be the core, but instead I focused on world-building, thinking that was the essence of my story. While portraying the world is important, it isn't enough (and from the other comments, it's pretty plain that my work setting that up wasn't clear enough either.)

Not a fun time, but I'm glad anyway. Why? Because I get to hear what an agent might have thought receiving this hook in the mail a few months down the line. Rather than conveying back to me how I missed the essential motivation of the story, they would have sent a "not right for us at this time" letter, and I'd be left wondering why. The Crapometer has given me the chance to glimpse that reaction, and do something about it.

Miss Snark has started reading entries that passed the hook phase. Should be good reading, and although I didn't make the cut I'm sure I'll continue to learn from her snarky advice.

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