So I’ve debunked backstory and I spoke upon point of view, but how can you hook your reader? The best way I can answer this question is you need to take a no prisoners approach to your writing. Put your main character in terrible trouble and keep the tension high until the climax of the story.
I want to use Swords of Destiny as an example because it was with my second book in the Lord of Columbia Series where I upped the ante and placed Cain and the others in trouble and did it often…from Page One.
I want to be vague as to not spoil the work for any potential readers and other examples will be used as well, but you will pick up information where you will transform your manuscript into creating two things:
By creating problems and losses you’ll create an unstable environment for your characters to the point to where your readers will want to turn page after page to see what happens.
I remember when I read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, where J.K. Rowling followed this mantra.
While she used a rather omniscient point-of-view in the work (at which point she could’ve done anything and still would’ve made money), tension started from page one, Chapter One.
These days, this is what you want to do. Readers don’t want a bunch of hash; they want a story and a character whose situation increases in tension with each passing chapter.
Swords of Destiny Model
Again, I’m being vague here, because I’m not spoiling anything for anyone, but I will pinpoint the trouble.
Trouble begins in Chapter One, but by Chapter Three, such trouble deepens. By Chapter Five, things get almost hopeless.
There’s a break in the action in Chapters Six and Seven, however in Chapter Eight, all hell breaks loose…and I’m not kidding.
Chapter Nine is another break until a downward spiral begins come Chapter Ten.
Chapters Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen, and Fourteen are tense as hell.
Chapter Fifteen is downright disgusting, but at least they can celebrate something.
Chapter Sixteen is relieving until Chapters Seventeen and Eighteen, there’s massive breakdown.
Chapter Nineteen provides another break, as does Chapter Twenty, before the ‘Oh Shit’ moment comes in Chapter Twenty-One.
Chapter Twenty-Two, Twenty-Three, and Twenty-Four bring more tension, before Chapter Twenty-Five kind of concludes it.
Then the main event comes in Chapter Twenty-Six and beyond, before, well, the end comes in Chapter Thirty-Two.
Let’s use an example we’re all familiar with.
Like I said, Chapters One and Two tension begins.
Chapters Three through Five are break, and for good reason, though with the Death Eaters back in action something else begins: Tension, tension, and more tension. That’s a constant in the work with the constant threat of a Death Eater attack.
Of course, we have the Draco Malfoy incident where he’s spotted with Death Eaters in Diagon Alley.
Snape, who we believe at the time might be a spy, is now Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.
Horace Slughorn takes a liking to Harry, however, Dumbledore enlists him with a mission…mission impossible to extract a haunting flashback from Slughorn. Imagine having to coax a traumatic experience from someone.
The Katie Bell fiasco took place, Ron drinking poisoned wine is a double whammy.
Draco’s constant actions and collaboration with Snape created more tension, the book just had a dark cloud over the characters and we all knew something bad was going to happen and we didn’t want it to happen.
All the way until we get up to the Astronomy Tower after Dumbledore is borderline poisoned.
Dissecting in Generic Terms
Okay, I wanted to use two real-life terms just so you can see how authors, both rooks like myself and vets like Rowling, but how can you be so sure that you’re following a hook your reader story structure?
First off, definitely read Hooked by Les Edgerton as he lays out a detailed blueprint in a 200-page book that’s more than easy to read.
But, for a little flowchart, try this:
1. Inciting incident: The first incident or problem that sets the story in motion. In HBP, the inciting incident is what? The Death Eaters have returned.
2. Initial surface problem: This is the first problem after the inciting incident, which should be linked to it.
When Draco is in Borgin and Burkes, this is the initial surface problem.
3. Surface Problem A: Changes in Hogwarts Staff
4. Surface Problem B: Katie Bell Incident
5. Surface Problem C: Extracting Slughorn’s Memory
6. Surface Problem D: Ron’s Poisoned
7. Surface Problem E: The Cave Incident
8. Surface Problem F: The Astronomy Tower
9. Story Worthy Problem: Harry finds he must ultimately lead the war against Voldemort and find his Horcruxes.
Note, there are far more surface problems than what is outlined in subplots, such as Ron’s relationship with Lavender, Quidditch, Hagrid’s situation with Aragog, and Harry’s realization he’s in love with Ginny.
You might now be wondering what all these problems mean.
Again, the inciting incident sets the story in motion.
The initial surface problem is the first problem that comes into the picture which is related to the inciting incident.
The initial surface problem is then linked to everything that happens in the story.
We know that Dumbledore knew that Draco was Voldemort’s spy this entire time and that sooner or later he’d find a way for the Death Eaters to infiltrate the school.
This causes Dumbledore to take Harry in and over the course of the school year, show him how to counter Voldemort’s moves, this time, for good.
Tomorrow, we’ll talk about subplots.