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You did a great webinar on plotting. There are a lot of pantsers out here, what tips do you have for them?
I always recommend that writers play to their strengths rather than fight against them. However, since many of us start writing as pantsters that we don’t know if writing by the seat of our pants is a strength or a liability. Since the term ‘plot’ makes a lot of writers break out in hives, it can be easier to change to thinking in terms of story structure and forget the term ‘plot.’ Once we do that, whether we pin down every thread of that structure before we start writing, or use our understanding in the revision process as a tool to help us determine where to tighten, to cut, or to shore up a story’s structure, we can move forward. Some writers want all the details pinned down, while others need to pin things down because they are juggling a new-to-them genre, or a multi-level story structure. Others are writing the same type of story they’ve always written and feel comfortable jumping in and flying into the mist because they know their type of story so well, they trust their process. Both approaches work. Knowing the primary structure of a story can only strengthen it. When you use that structure, before or after a first draft, plotting becomes an important tool, not a straightjacket.
What do you advise writers who want to remain creative in their story development, but crave efficiency?
I think the real issue here is separating efficiency from capability. To be truly creative and able to channel that creativity into a finished manuscript you must be the master of certain tools. It is not enough to simply be able to understand and write competent sentences. The deeper your understanding of the elements of a story, the more able you are to bend those elements to your creative intent. Writing does require discipline and I don’t mean that applied only to writing a certain amount every day or in a set process. I mean you can use the discipline of knowing your craft to further your creative intent. It only becomes a trap or impediment when you have not truly mastered it.
Here is an example from the field of visual art. Picasso could not have created his masterpieces without having first understood the discipline of drawing. But once he had mastered that key element he put it to work furthering a unique and individual creative vision.
You have a book called Writing Active Hooks. First, what makes an active hook, and second, where do we need them?
The term hooks is used to mean a variety of things for writers and that can confuse us. We’re told to constantly hook a reader, but not how or where, which is why I wrote the series on Writing Active Hooks. An active hook raises questions in a reader’s mind. It does a specific job for the author by intentionally engaging the reader. A hook is passive when it does not raise an immediate question for the reader and thus does not compel them to continue reading.
Hooks can be used on every page, but there are several places in your manuscript where you’ll want to pay particular attention. Why? Because these key locations are logical places where a reader can set your book down. At a minimum, hooks should be applied several times on the first page and at the beginnings and ends of chapters.
Should hooks be used at the beginning of our stories? Our queries? Our blurbs? Our ads? Do each of these have to be different or should they be somewhat the same?
Yes to all of the above. In each of those situations, you as the author want your reader, whether they are an agent, editor or customer in a bookstore to be motivated to keep reading or to click through to learn more. You have the power to motivate any reader, and hooks are your best tool. Knowing the ten most universal hooks gives you the tools to layer your hooks. Readers do see patterns, so using the same hook repeatedly is a sure way to lose them.
I’m still hooked on the topic of hooks, so can you tell us what authors do wrong most frequently when writing them? Is it starting in the wrong spot or too much backstory or something else?
The biggest problem that I see is writers not actually using hooks period, followed by using hooks that are ineffective and improperly placed. It can be a challenge to think about including hooks in your first draft, until you are experienced at employing them. Then, they become second nature.
I usually recommend that writers new to hooks simply write a first draft and get their story down. Then in the rewrites find the opportunities to add in the hooks that will compel readers to keep reading. This why in the hooks writing craft books that I’ve written I use many examples of key locations without hooks and then with the hooks added, showing this process in a number of different genres.
Your website is so fascinating because it’s lively and active. What elements would you suggest a writer include on his website to make it fun to visit?
Make your website about meeting the needs of your visitor. Why did they come to your site? What are they looking for? Ask them. If you have an email list or group of key people find out what they see as something only you can provide. Pay attention when you go to other websites. What are you looking for? Be aware that your website is there 24 hours a day representing you, connecting with potential readers. It is an investment in your career and future so don’t neglect it or ignore it.
USA Today bestselling author Mary Buckham learned to get into and out of trouble at a very early age. Time has added to her opportunities—detained by Israeli intelligence; strip-searched by a Greek border patrol while traveling with a priest, sneaking into Laos. When not personally avoiding nuisances caused by her insatiable curiosity she creates lots of disorder in her two Urban Fantasy series—Alex Noziak and Kelly McAllister. In her spare time, Mary writes Writing Craft books including, A Writer’s Guide to Active Setting, Writing Active Hooks and Break Into Fiction® co-authored with Dianna Love. Coming in September 2017, Mary begins a monthly series of webinars for writers. Want to learn more about writing hooks, body language or branding? Find more info here:
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