Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A TV Guide Approach to Hooking Your Reader

Ever read those little TV Guide blurbs? When I was little, I used to love flipping the television to the TV Guide channel and watching all the shows scroll past. I think it’s because I’ve always liked to know all my options. :)

Some of those blurbs have made me wonder, “Who wrote this and what in the world were they thinking?” Ever had that moment? Last week I saw a Boy Meets World episode that had recovered on my DVR (yes, I still watch Boy Meets World) and the caption was, “Corey and Eric find lingerie in their mother’s bowling bag.” Seriously? First off, who came up with the idea to make a whole episode out of this? Secondly, please tell me there’s something else going on in the episode! And perhaps most embarrassing of all, I actually remember this episode from when it first aired! So clearly something about it was worth remembering.

A well-crafted blurb will make you tune in to something you would’ve never otherwise considered watching or reading. A cupcake baking marathon under water with only Reese’s pieces, butter and squash as the ingredients? What channel is that on? A reunion of the old ABC Family Night casts? Sign me up! Don’t laugh—you know this has happened to you too!

So how do we use this power of interest to our advantage when it comes to catching the attention of agents, editors, and even, eventually, readers? I’m glad you asked. To help with this question, I’ve made a list of things to ask your book. These should apply to all hooks you might need to craft, whether they be pitches, query letters, or even proposals.

1) What do my characters have to lose? What are they most afraid of? If we’re only reading/hearing one or two sentences, we need a reason to worry about your characters. “A baker is robbed at gunpoint while icing sugar cookies” is a lot more interesting than “a woman pursues her dream of becoming a baker.” Because we all want to know . . . what happened to the cookies?

2) What rhythm, voice, and tone do I want to achieve? One of my favorite examples of this point is Kristin Billerbeck’s Spa Girls Series: “Three Friends. One Spa. And an infinite amount of oversharing.” See how she gets straight to the point with only a few words and how her voice really sparkles? If you’re working on a pitch, query, or proposal, you have a very limited amount of space to show off your unique writing voice. Use every little bit of that space to your advantage! You want to pick words, tones, and rhythms that are “you,” because you’re selling your voice every bit as much as you’re selling your plot.

3) What are the most important elements of my story? Often, editors get a bad rep for being grouchy, but let’s face it—you’d probably be cynical yourself if you were getting thousands of e-mails a day with queries like, “Sandra struggles with a broken ankle on her twenty-third birthday, but when her cousin twice-removed challenges her to a hockey match anyway, she runs into the cute cashier she saw at the grocery store three days before, and sparks fly as he helps her redo her bandage.” When you walk into a library, a book has to prove to you that it’s worth reading, right? Think of your own work in the same way. Pull out only the most important and interesting details. There will be time for all that other stuff later.

What do you think? Do you have any hooks you’re working on that you’d like to share with the group for feedback? Can you come up with some examples of hooks—television or literary—that work well? I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

*Bird photo from

Ashley Clark writes romantic comedy with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story time. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blog and her Tumblr. She's also on Facebook and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.


Wendy Paine Miller said...

I love coming up with ideas and working hard to craft a blurb that zings, sings...or a word that rhymes with. ;)

I agree, sounds like a goofy Boy Meet World episode. :D

Fun post, Ashley!
~ Wendy

Lindsay Harrel said...

I miss Boy Meets World. I loved watching it on TGIF as a kid. :P

Great advice. Things have to catch our attention in this busy world or we won't give them the time of day. Same thing goes for our stories.

Sarah Forgrave said...

Great post, Ashley! This is one of the hardest things for novelists to do...boil their 100,000 m/s into 10 words. *gulp*

And that Boy Meets World description cracked me up. I had all sorts of questions running through my mind, the first one being, "Who puts lingerie in their bowling bag?!" :)

Ashley Clark said...

Glad to know the Boy Meets World example resonated with everyone else too! ;) Hehe!

@Wendy--Thanks, girl! Finding the right hook really can be fun, can't it? I agree. I like coming up with the ideas and tweaking the wording too.

@Lindsay-- I miss Boy Meets World too! The reruns come on early in the morning, so I've been recording them. And good point about the world being busy! It's so true! We really have to prove to readers that our story deserves their attention when they have so much else competing, especially in the digital age.

@Sarah-- I so agree! I just recently finished up a synopsis, and working my whole novel into those few pages was so difficult! It's hard to see our most important story components. That's why I always get my critique partners to help me out. Otherwise I'd be lost!

Jeanne T said...

Fun post, Ashley. I am old enough that I remember TV Guides in hard copy, pre-cable. But enough about age.

I appreciate your example of a blurb and a hook. Words that catch a reader's (or agent's, or editor's) attention quickly. I love hearing good ones, but crafting one scares me blank. I can't usuall come up with them on my own. Enjoyed your post!

Mary Vee Writer said...

Great post Ashley.
So hard to boil our words down to the cream.

Ashley Clark said...

Thanks ladies! Jeanne, I'm by no means a hooking guru (that sounded entirely too close to a derivative of "hooker," which would also not apply-ha!), but something I've found helpful when crafting hooks is to have fun with it. Usually the best hooks come to me just as I'm about to fall asleep. If you concentrate too hard, you'll usually keep your writing voice from shining through. Instead, just write down what comes naturally to you if you had to summarize your book to your best friend using one sentence, and then go back through and jazz up that sentence. Don't be afraid to play around with wording, rhythm, even rhyme! They are scary to write, but they don't have to be! Try letting yourself have fun with it and then editing it later. That always helps me!

Julie Musil said...

I love this approach! I'm crafting a pitch right now, so this helps me narrow it down to TV Guide size. Thanks :)