Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Beginnings and Hooks

Okay, so sometimes I come across a new blog I love and have to run back through entry after entry of great stuff. Tara Maya writes about different ways of beginning your novels - Relay versus Marathon.

This is a great way of looking at "story" in the novel form. Clearly, your initial hook does not have to be the driver of the whole plot. It can be. For example, in Naomi Novik's first Temeraire book, His Majesty's Dragon (HMD), the story begins with the capture of a French ship, and discovery of the dragon egg which will hatch into Temeraire. This is the seminal event in the major arc of the book. It is also the moment when the main character's status quo ante (prior life) is destroyed. This is the Marathon method.

On the other hand, in C.C. Finlay's The Patriot Witch (PW), the story begins with a lesser hook - the main character, Proctor Brown, is a farmer and a minuteman, and is hoping to court the daughter of a loyalist businessman. The first chapter consists of Brown attempting to press his suit, while the historical and alter-historical elements of the American revolution put themselves in place to interfere with Brown's hopes and plans. He wants this marriage badly, and is dropped into dramatic situations that require him to make tough decisions. Shortly, he turns to having worse problems, then worse again. This is the Relay method.

Of course, it could be argued as well that HMD is an episodic novel rather than a single arc, with new mini-goals for the captain-and-dragon team popping up every fifty pages, and so it could be looked at as a different kind of marathon. But the major question of the novel HMD is not "how will the dragon beat X" where X is whatever plot issue is in front of Laurence and Temeraire, but "how will Laurence (and Temeraire) find a place to fit in?".

The key here, to making the Relay work, is to make sure that your initial hook is closely related to your overall arc. This could be thematically, or um, plotfully, if that could stand for the word I don't have.

Basically, make sure that the initial hook contains elements that are equivalent or analogous to similar elements in the full book. In the case of PW, the initial hook for Proctor Brown contains the exact elements (colonist versus loyalist, hidden magic) and at least one of the same antagonists (Major Pitcairn and his men). Thus, if the reader buys into the initial hook, they will happily transfer to the new hook when the story becomes larger.


Tara Maya said...

Thanks for the shout out. :D

It's funny, when I was trying to think of examples to use in my post, I had a hard time, even though I knew I'd read many books with each. Your examples are great, and helpful to me.

Dal Jeanis said...

And thank you for your wonderful discussion. I still haven't finished paging back through your blog, but I intend to!