Friday, October 10, 2008

Taking Drastic Measures to Bait & Hook

Let’s face it. Society has a sadistic bent, a lust to see others in turmoil, from the distant, lion-tearing days of the Colosseum to the present preliminary judging on American Idol, where wannabe singers have their dreams crushed with slashes to the jugular in front of millions of viewers.

Exploit that. If you work in any kind of marketing, you use what hooks. In fiction, the ultimate carrot, that glorious pot of gold, is conflict. Although we usually don’t like to be in the midst of anything bad or ugly ourselves, we do like to read about characters who are and aim to worm their way out of it.

Lack of action and struggle is boring. Yes, a work may be the perfect archetype of great literature if it exposes fascinating characters with beautiful language, but without the family feud that led to tragedy in Romeo and Juliet, the love story would have been forgettable and not worth the ink. The Oddysey would have been akin to I'll Be Home For Christmas with Jonathan Taylor Thomas rather than the epic it was if the journey home had taken ten kinda bumpy hours versus ten years of struggle.

In addition to good conflict, you also need a character who tries and keeps trying. No one wants to read about a victim who doesn’t strive to win. If yours curls up, hides and empties countless boxes of tissues and ice cream and doesn’t move, that wimp will drive your work into the toilet.

I’ve taken turns in my stories that have made me shake, laugh, bellow and cry, even just today while I was writing. Don’t back down from that which seems uncomfortable, perilous, excruciating and impossible. If you throw emotion into the work, heighten the stakes, and build up the adversity, readers will be impacted and hooked.

Conflict is the heart of any good story. And it’s best if it comes from all angles, inside and out. Don’t shy away from nightmares, agony and pressure. If your neck starts to tingle and tears start to fall, that’s good. Readers love when characters are in so much trouble that there seems no way out. So heap it on, dig the hole deep and start burying, leaving him or her with only a drive for self-preservation and a teaspoon. If your conflict and turmoil feels impossible to overcome, that’s what will make your book a page turner, something that can’t be put down. If you want readers who read and keep coming back for more, close the deal. Bait and hook. Go for the throat. Kill the best friend. Kidnap the kid. Make your work riveting. You can do it.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

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