Monday, October 23, 2017

Mary Buckham: Pantsers, Hooks, and Websites

Today, #IWSG is very excited to welcome Mary Buckham, USA Today bestselling author. Here's what this successful writer has to say on some key issues for all of us who want to make our books the best and create a fan base of readers.
Visit her website.

Welcome, Mary!

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:

Visit Mary at any or all of these online locations:
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nashvillecats2 said...

Some excellent questions with some equally excellent answers.
Thanks for a most interesting post.


Pat Hatt said...

Have to have your site welcoming and not dead in the water indeed. I still go by the seat of my pants most times, but I have points to hit.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Only a trap when you haven't mastered it - very true.
It takes time to learn to master hooks. I was horrible at first, and while I've gotten better, there is still much I need to learn.
And I can't imagine writing without knowing the structure and story line.
Thanks for joining us today, Mary!

Christine Rains said...

Fantastic interview and great advice. I'm a pantser with first drafts, but I'm a solid plotter in rewrites.

The Cynical Sailor said...

Great advice on hooks. It's something I really need to work on in my own writing. I know as a reader how important they are. Those books with good hooks keep me turning pages and reading well into the night. Cheers - Ellen

Juneta key said...

Great interview and infomration

Gwen Gardner said...

I recently read A Writer's Guide to Active Setting. It helped me so much! I just got complimented by my crit partner on my setting, so something stuck in my brain. I definitely want to check out the other books.

cleemckenzie said...

Thanks so much, Mary. It was wonderful to read your answers to the questions. I really appreciated your book on Writing Active Hooks, so I'm looking forward to the others.

Mary Buckham said...

What an amazing group of supportive writers, not that I expected anything else! Gold stars everyone for jumping in, reading and sharing. Amazing insights! Christine and Pat ~ you're spot on in knowing that as long as the structure of a story is solid when all is said and done, whether applied by focusing on key plot points or in the revision process, then you're good to go. Thank you all for feedback on this post and my books, you rock!!

Unknown said...

Yup, pantser AND workshop junkie here. ::Hi, Everyone!:: I pantsed my first novel, so I've have been revising and housebreaking it for longer than I care to admit. Hooks are great, and once you learn them from Mary, you can use them in all sorts of types of writing.

Pantser, serial workshop junkie, and "hooker"

Mary Buckham said...

Rhonda, too funny! I do love the visual of a serial workshop junkie. Isn't that what we do to hone our craft and keep it honed? As long as we continue writing and moving forward, which I know for a fact you're doing! Thanks for swinging by and posting.

Rose L. said...

Thank you for taking the time to share your wisdom with us all! I'm very excited to get my own copy of your book and really dig in deep. Thanks!

Mary Buckham said...

Hi Rose! What a lovely compliment. Thank you! I'll send you some cyber writing mojo!! All the best ~ Mary B :-)

Mary Buckham said...

Hi Miss Betty and thank you to Dianna for sending you. Your question is HUGE and even too large for one blog or a dozen, but I'll try to get you started in the right direction. First you'll want to make sure your manuscript is as strong as possible, so learning the craft of writing and plotting is a must. Connect with other writers either online or in person who read and/or write what you're writing to help give you feedback when you're ready, and a strong sense of what issues you might need to work on next [plot, POV, characterization, Scenes, etc.] Take baby steps so you're not overwhelmed. When your manuscript is as strong as you can make it, and, you have feedback that says - yup, you're ready, only then do you look for an editor or agent. Most traditional publishing houses require your manuscript be submitted via an agent so finding that agent can be vital. Some smaller press or regional press publishing houses and Harlequin, still allow you to submit without an agent, but they are getting fewer and harder to find. In the meantime, study your craft, take classes on the skills you want to acquire, and read anything you can get your hands on about agents and editors [check out Writer's Digest's FB posts, magazine and books because they tend to be very good about sharing tips, techniques and interviews with editors and agents. Just don't jump in before you're ready. Also take advantage of places like the Insecure Writer's Support Group [who are hosting this blog] as a wonderful resource. I hope this helps and all the best with your writing journey!!

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I'm always interested in ways to prove my hooks. Thanks for the tips.

Mary Buckham said...

You're more than welcome, Susan. We can't have enough hookers of the right kind

Jeff Salter said...

Great interview with terrific tips.
I guess I'm a hybrid of plotter and pants-ster.
I know two things:
1. the less I plot, the harder it is to shape my initial draft into something readable.
2. the more I "pants", the more delightful surprises come my way --- both ABOUT my characters and about WHAT they're up to.

Mary Buckham said...

Jeff, your approach explains why your stories are so wonderful! Thanks for swinging by and sharing. Cheers!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great interview. I learned a lot. I want to be an efficient writer so now I realize that I should think about how to do that more.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Hooks have to shine in the query letter, too. I read so many submissions that just fall flat with no hook.

Mary Buckham said...

L. Diane ~ absolutely yes, hooks belong in a query letter! So glad you shared that, because hooks are meant to intrigue, to raise questions in a reader's mind and isn't that what we want in a submission letter or query? Thanks for sharing!

Mary Buckham said...

Natalie ~ that's the right approach. What we focus on is what we get. Which is quite powerful when we realize how many times we can slide into a habit based on a negative pattern rather than an intentional pattern. Think about complaining or finding an excuse or justifying why we can't/won't write or challenge ourselves as writers. The list can go on and on, so here's to your sharpening your efficiency skills! Go you!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Lee and Mary - a great post ... and I can see why I enjoy some books and not others ... or when I get bored at a stage in a book. So thanks for these excellent tips - it's to engage with our readers, or potential readers ... a really helpful article - thank you ... cheers Hilary

Mary Buckham said...

Hiliary ~ so glad you were able to swing by and spot on observation. Some books we enjoy because of characters or theme, but if the author does not give us a reason to keep re-engaging with the story via strategically using hooks, we can be less involved and less inclined to have that story stick in our heads. Powerful craft tools can make all the difference between okay and Wow!

Michelle Wallace said...

Thanks for an informative post, Mary!
It makes sense to first get the first draft down and worry about the hooks after. Now I'm keen to check out your craft book that shows examples of key locations without hooks and then with the hooks added.

Toi Thomas said...

This is a great post. I'll admit, hooks are not a strong suit for me.

NCHSEditor said...

Your Hooks book stands as a classic! Do we have more advanced methods of writing hooks? Perhaps several truly innovative hooks have appeared by some cutting edge writers. Will you write an Advance Active Hooks book soon?