In my last blog entry I talked about finding your novel ‘hook’ — the one or two sentence description that strikes at the heart of your story and sells it to the right reader.
It’s useful to work this out early because it forces you to hone your sense of the story that you want to tell, in a way that helps you tell it.
It’s hard to find the center of a completed manuscript if there’s no center there to begin with.
You want to make sure you put the ‘there’ there.
Scratching is what you do to find ideas.
You scratch at the world around you, searching for whatever will spark your imagination.
‘Scratching’ generates your raw materials. These are the ideas that you want to explore, but in and of themselves lack forward movement. You could say you want to write about love, or the hidden lives of families, or the return of the repressed. These ideas are important to your storytelling, but useless on their own. They sit there. They look at you. Okay, genius. Now what?
My scratching for my novel THE DECADENTS produced these materials: love, forbidden desire, friendship, reincarnation (the return of the past), the secret emotional legacies handed down within families that play out in other relationships.
Then — to find the ‘spine’ (and the beginning of my ‘hook’) — I ask: who are my characters and what do they want?
One of my favorite sayings is “desire rules the world”. People who go after the things that they want — and how they succeed or fail — create the society that we live in.
Desire creates politics; creates history; creates stories.
Your narrative begins with desire, and ends with how it does — or does not — get fulfilled.
After my last entry, readers suggested to me the following:
THE DECADENTS is about a reincarnated Hollywood ‘It’ girl who gets involved in a love triangle with two older men that ignites traumatic memories and starts repeating an erotic obsession that, twenty years ago, ended in tragedy. (Steve Prosapio)
Sounds to me like it’s about the reincarnation of a murdered actress who finds three of the men involved in her disappearance, and how they fall into the original behavior patterns that led to her murder, even though she’s not fully aware of her past life.
This, I think, might be my spine…but not my hook.
The spine is when different ideas hook together and the basic narrative reveals itself.
But the hook is the center. The center is where all the different elements meet, and crystallize, so that one or two sentences suggest the entire novel.
Which means my ‘hook’ needs to include the group of wealthy hedonistic thirtysomething friends that the dancer gets involved with, because the group dynamic is a major part of the narrative.
When I put this to a reader — the writer Stacia Kane — she came back with this:
Perhaps something about how the relationships of a group of wealthy, hedonistic friends are forever altered when a new woman enters their circle and it turns out she is the reincarnation of a murder victim, and her former self seeks to use her as a tool for revenge?
I played with this and came up with:
A group of wealthy friends in Los Angeles is forever altered when a young dancer with memories of a past life gets involved with two of the men, igniting a drama of erotic obsession that echoes events from twenty years ago, when one of their own disappeared.
I think I’m getting closer, because what these last two examples suggest that the previous ones did not is this: transformation.
Because stories are not just about desire and conflict, but change.
Somebody wants something and has to overcome obstacles to get it, but in order to overcome those obstacles he or she has to transform.
So I have some more thinking to do, about my ‘hook’ but also the novel itself.
I’ll let you know how it goes.