Don’t have a hook? You don’t have a novel.

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I’M SPEAKING TODAY at the annual Silver Leos Writer’s Conference on the campus of Texas A&M – Commerce. Bobbie Purdy, the visionary and energetic director of the writing get together, gave me a topic that should be on the minds of everyone who is even contemplating writing a book: If you don’t have a hook, you don’t have a novel.

Hooks are important.

Hooks are critical.

Without one, you are simply throwing words into the wind.

If you are a writer, searching for the right hook begins a great period of tribulation.

You have sat for days on ends, and far in the darkness of some nights, and you have breathed life into characters, done awful things to them, gave them words to speak, made a few of them laugh and killed off a few, provided, of course, they needed killing.

All of the nouns are in place.

The adjectives have been added, changed, switched, revised, cut, and added again. The verbs are far too passive, and you know it, and you don’t care, because the pages seem to read better that way.

You have a beginning that, you believe, fairly leaps off the page, a plot that has as many twists and turns as a dirt road in North Georgia, and a definite ending that dredges up a few surprises along the way.

You have a novel.

The last period is in place. You have a stack of 347 pages, not counting the title page. And you love your title – short and full of imagery.

Now comes the hard part.

An editor has a question.

What is it?

The agent has a question.

What is it?

The publisher has a question.

What is it?

Even your friends and your spouse have a question.

What is it?

Do you know? Can you tell them? Do you have a hook?

Creating a hook may be the most important writing an author will ever do.

The hook reaches out, attracts the attention of potential agents, editors, publishers, and readers, and lets them know exactly what to expect if they find your novel tucked away amidst that vast sea of retail and Internet bookshelves.

So often, we write those 347 pages and can’t tell anyone in a sentence or two exactly what the book is about or what the story happens to be.

The hook carries impact.

The hook captures the imagination.

The hook says, “You won’t ever be able to walk away without reading this book, and if you do walk away, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.”

I thought I probably knew what a hook was all about.

I certainly understood the critical importance of having one.

But it wasn’t until I heard Jodi Thomas speak at a recent NETWO writer’s conference that I really grasped the idea.

Jodi was talking about one of her books, and she said, “There are five women in this small Texas town who are called to the emergency room of the hospital because their husbands have been injured in a fiery explosion out on an oil rig where they work. A nurse tells them that the men have not yet been identified, but one is dead. Here are five women, and one is suddenly a widow, and none of them know who the widow is.”

Now that, I told myself, is a hook.

That’s about as good as it gets.

If those three sentences don’t make you want to charge into The Widows of Wichita County, then you’ve lost both your curiosity and your imagination. You may as well stay snuggled up to some reality show on television or go out and plant another row of pole beans.

Your hook, which is really your elevator pitch, should be short and punchy.

They get right to the point.

They are filled with irony.

And, more importantly, they lure you right into the story.

Try these, for example.

I tucked my son in bed for the night, and he whispered, “Dad, there’s a monster under my bed. So I knelt down, looked under the bed, saw a pair of frightened eyes, and heard a soft whisper: “Dad, there’s somebody in my bed.”

Or:

The last man on earth sat alone in his room, staring at the darkness. There was a knock at the door.

The secret is being able to boil your 347 pages down to fifty good words, or less, that make your novel different, more intriguing, and much more enticing that any other book in the marketplace.

Success or failure often depends on those fifty words.

Make sure you choose the right ones.

Provided with a good hook, agents, editors, publishers, and readers no longer ask, “What is it?”

Now they’re asking, “What happens next?”

You’ve done what you need to do.

They’re hooked.

Caleb Pirtle III is the author of Dark Side of Night.

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