Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Patrick Bateman Hates Your Hook!

“Not quite blonde, are we? More of a dirty blonde.” - Patrick Bateman 'American Psycho'
Your first step after finishing ur book is to send query letters to literary agents. A query letter has three concise paragraphs: the hook, the mini-synopsis, and your writer’s biography.
I'm going to share with you some Hook examples that have been submitted and commented on by a real literary agent-I got all of these from her personal site that she no longer updates, but keeps up for the reference of us writers: Miss Snark, The Literary Agent.

Examples: (Miss Snark's comments are in italics)
BAD HOOK:

“What did you see in there?” Cole asked the rookie cop, Murphy, even though she recognized the vacant stare, blank expression, and isolation as signs of PTSD. Murphy slowly turned her head until their eyes met.
“The Devil has Come.” Murphy muttered over and over, “The Devil has Come.”
(your hook starts here)
FBI Agent A.J. Branson has been tracking the serial killer who he dubbed, The Keeper, for seven weeks, 35 young women spread out over 7 cities and 5 states, and he has no idea who he is.
The only clues left at the scene are a dismembered body, semen, a poem and a large bloody hand print that has a large scar spanning across the entire hand.
Cole Saunders and Ben Hartgren are fist to investigate a bizarre murder involving a close friend. Her dismembered body is found in a desolate farm house. The only clues left at the scene is a missing right breast, in it’s place, a poem is left, and a bloody hand print left on the sheet.
As A.J. gets word his killer is in Minnesota, failure swims on the surface as yet another five women will die if he doesn’t stop him. As A.J., Ben, and Cole step into the shoes of a maniacal crazed psychopath and delve deep into each death poem, their worst fears are realized when they discover it’s not just one killer they seek, there are two.

The final confrontation occurs in a small country church where each must face their worst nightmare, alone and unprepared.

I can't begin to tell you how over over over serial killers I am. Dismembered bodies, poems, clues...blechhhh. It's been done to death (so to speak). I don't even read pages for these any more I'm so sick of them. The reason I'm sick of them is that in most cases, the antagonist is must some sort of boring ass psychopath who's exacting revenge on his firstlove/mother/agent whatever. Booooring. Give me some substance in the character, some kind of genuine motivation, a character who is genuinely frightening not just a cartoonish Jason/Freddy/ChainsawfromTexas. And failure doesn't "swim to the surface" unless it's a shark who needs dental work.

REALLY BAD:

Sixteen-year-old Tabby Victrola is confused when her friend Dominic asks her to sneak into a man's apartment and steal a plastic bottle of kids' bubble-blowing solution.
The question on Tabby's mind is why, but she goes through with the robbery anyway, thinking it'll be a piece of cake. It is, with just one exception: Tabby panics when the sleeping man stirs, and she decides to hurl a bowling ball at his head.
Once safely back at home, Tabby tries to forget about her crime and starts blowing the bubbles from the bottle on her family members and best friend. Then she figures out why they were worth stealing--they give people instant midlife crises.
After Tabby's mother leaves for New York to join the Rockettes,
her father buys a vintage VW van
and jump-starts a macrobiotic diet,
Macrobiotic Diet
and her best friend Juliette ditches her for Kant and the tattoo parlor, Tabby is left feeling very alone, not to mention very pursued by locallaw enforcement. Can Tabby evade the police for long enough to get some straight information out of Dominic, reverse the effects of the bubble solution, and reclaim life as usual?

Sometimes there's just nothing to be said.

GOOD HOOK:
Frank needs help. Seriously. Between his infatuation with his boss and his compulsion to kill, he’s heading for trouble.

A satisfying little killing spree in which he takes out both his mum and his psychiatrist in one happy day soon spirals out of control and he can’t help but feel that the terrorists he has fallen in with are doing it all wrong. They have such an impersonal style of killing.
Amateurs.

But then his boss tells him how much she loves him, the police vow to protect him from the crazy terrorists, and he discovers psychedelics.
Of course, just because Alice loves him doesn’t mean he stops wanting to sink his fingers into the soft flesh at the base of her throat. Some pleasures are worth the risk and the drugs just make it harder to know when to stop.

And as for the police? Well, they’ve got it coming. The terrorists’ plans only need a little tweaking to make them perfect.

This is a hook. And a damn good one. Scary little sod ain't he?

ANOTHER GOOD ONE:
Middle-grade fiction, 20,000 words

When ten-year-old Lulie comes across an antique ring that seems to grant wishes, she's torn. Sure, she's thrilled that magic has entered her boring life. But she's freaked, too. She knows magic's not real, so either something's gone majorly wrong with reality, or she and her mentally ill Uncle Bobby have a lot more in common than she'd care to admit.
Every time Lulie makes a wish now, it comes true. Coincidence or magic? A fire drill that frees her from a surprise math quiz might be pure dumb luck,
but how about her beloved uncle acting almost normal for a change? Still, Lulie frets that either she's gone off the deep end, or she's meddling with folks in a way that she just has no right to.

What to do?

She confides in Isabelle, her best friend since kindergarten--Isabelle, who used to be good old Izzy but who is working at turning herself into somebody named Belle. Lulie shows her the ring anyway.

Big mistake.

A feisty fifth-grader with a maybe-magical ring ought to be sitting pretty. Could be, though, that Lulie's luck has taken a turn for the worse.

I love this. Notice how you get a sense of character without "description", and the conflict is a natural flow in the story? This is really good. It doesn't follow the XYZ template (and shouldn't!!) but every element is here implicitly or explicitly.


4 comments:

Mariah Irvin said...

Thanks for sharing these! I had a good laugh, and am inspired to write interesting stories.

Kevin Atteridg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LENORENEVERMORE said...

haha...
thanks Pen-pen, you are a genius!!!

xo*

Jessica said...

Siggghhhhh. I LUV Miss Snark.

Thanks for posting these!