Monday, April 4, 2011

The Novel, Guerrilla Style Part 7: Hooks set and Realized

I spent an hour wandering the aisles of a fishing supply store a few weeks ago. Admittedly, I spent most of my time looking at the bright and shiny, big and small lures, tackle and hooks. My mind raced with possibility. I am no great fisherman, and in fact, I am no fisherman at all. The last fishing excursion I had was in the backyard of the Monroe Street house. In the warm days of the spring of 2008, I stood near the house and cast again and again trying to land the fly in the bird bath some 20 feet away. Not a proper fishing excursion by any means. The truth is, I really don't care much about catching fish, but casting is fun. So, meeting the technique of casting the fly into the birth bath, I feel confident that I could, should I choose to try, catch fish on a day set aside for such an activity. Practice, yes.
Setting hooks in your novel is not unlike the two activities mentioned above: walking the aisle of a fishing store and casting toward the backyard bird bath.
Think about the fishing store analogy as research and ideas about the excursion to come. When you read novels, and I hope you are reading, it is like shopping for lures, bait and especially hooks. When reading, you will get to know the ways writers hook a reader. For instance, in the second part of Ian McEwan's Atonement, we as readers follow Robbie and the retreating army through France to their rally point at Dunkirk. Also in this portion of the novel, McEwan paints a portrait of London before the blitz. We see Celia on the lawns around the Thames enjoying the day, and band music in a fictional setting of a city yet to be leveled by the Nazi blitz of the Battle of Britain. On the surface, these scenes, these small snippets of the story arc do not seem like hooks, but they are. We do not see the realization of these hooks until the end of the book, or the final denouement of the story. These hooks, London and Dunkirk are well executed scenes with haunting and potent detail.
As I read this novel, I took these scenes for what they were, wonderful storytelling wrapped up in the tableau of World War II. As a writer, I knew these scenes were the sort to hammer something later, and when there was still half the book ahead of me, I knew it was going to be good.
You, as a writer, must engage in reading from this moment forward and you will look for these hooks in everything you read.
The second part of the analogy, the practicing in the backyard part, start setting hooks in your writing exercises. Setting the hook takes practice. It's part of the exposition of the story. A writer must engage the reader enough and trust the reader enough to give them small pieces of needed information. To bring John Gardner and the Fichtean Curve back into this, the suggestion is mini climaxes and these being only small hooks set and realized instantly.
Some other terms may be, literary harbingers, foreshadowing, flash forward or even a red herring.
Now, to “realize” these hooks.
I must refer back to an earlier Novel Guerrilla Style post. In “Anthony's three in one system” I explained my method of writing three drafts at one time. If the first draft is the pen and ink step. The second draft is the transposition to the computer. The third draft is the natural place to set the hooks.
Imagine, if you will, that in this system, I will write 5,000 words long hand. The second draft is a cleaner, more fluid version of the first. In the second draft, I'll generally take the 5,000 words of the first draft and shrink them by half. Once that's done, I'll resume the first draft again. I have a good understanding of my work at this point. During this third draft in its current plot position, I have seeds in earlier portions of the novel. As the third begins, I find that hooks are easily reveled therefore easily get the realization that happens later, but written concurrently. Does this make sense? The final punchline is this: it takes practice. Study it in what you read and practice it in what you write.
Your task this week: find the realizations in your piece and work backwards, work back to the logical place and set a hook. Then ask yourself, does this make your piece more complex and more engaging.
As always, good luck and happy writing.

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