I’m going to spend the next few months going through the story creation steps outlined in Stanley Williams’ excellent book, The Moral Premise. For those of you who’ve been following me, you know that I’ve become a student of Story Structure this year. This is my next educational step in my writing career. Trust me, the steps never end. But this is a big one. Writers like Larry Brooks, KM Weiland, and James Scott Bell all approach structure from a slightly different angle, but they all converge at the same point. I’ve written four novels. All with basic writing skills at par with published authors. The one thing they all lack is structure. If I may be so bold, I imagine this is the struggle 90% of new writers face. Thus my deep dive into Dr. Williams’ book, which I recommend you buy so that you can follow along and greatly improve your story structure.
Step 1: Strong Ironic Physical Hook
When you think of the hook, you’re probably thinking of that opening scene in the story. The grabber. The one that makes the reader want to continue on. But that’s not the hook we’re referring to here. This is your elevator pitch in one sentence. What is your story about? If you can’t make it sound interesting in this one sentence, you don’t have an interesting story.
A global plague wipes out most of mankind and the survivors split into forces of good and evil. – The Stand
A woman gives birth to a second child so that she can guarantee a matching donor for her cancer stricken firstborn. – My Sister’s Keeper
A dystopian society selects two children from each of its regions to fight in a battle to the death. – The Hunger Games
God sends his only Son to Earth to be sacrificed by men so that these same men can escape the punishment of hell. – The Book of Matthew
The Birth of your Idea
The Hook is, in essence, your initial idea. That “aha!” moment you had while driving to work. The idea, however, probably needed a bit of pruning. They spring from the “what if” question. What if there was a future society that made people fight to the death for their entertainment? Okay, been there done that. Past societies have done that. Now the writer sits with her notepad and that idea and makes it unique. Let’s make the fighters children. Let’s make it all televised, a huge event like the Super Bowl. Let’s make this a requirement by the totalitarian governments. And so on. You’ll take that idea, grow it into a back cover description, then prune it back to the one sentence that will grab and editor’s attention.
Let’s try a New Idea
This is how I test myself. You come up with your own example. You may choose to use it or not. By the way, when you read these things, do the examples! It’s how you stay sharp.
Here’s mine, done on the spur of the moment:
Idea: What a killer stalked his victims on facebook?
I know. Been there done that. But let’s see if I can come up with something clever here. Trust me, this takes all my creative resources. It’s early and my coffee was horrible.
First itteration: A serial killer creates a facebook fan page called “Who Dies Next?” and selects a victim based on the suggestion of the other players.
Not bad. Needs work. My apologies to the romance and cozy mystery fans, but this is where my mind’s at today.
Second itteration: A computer genius creates a game on facebook that allows players to be serial killers, then physically kills those killed in the game.
Sounds confusing and tough to pull off. Hmmm…how about this…
Third itteration: A man crippled by a gang as a kid takes revenge by selecting the winner of his “Serial Killer” facebook game to physically stalk and kill his tormenters.
Okay, now I’m getting close. I’ve even got an empathetic antagonist. There’s some details to work out, of course, but I’m intrigued. If you’re not intrigued by your hook, then keep trying. For you romance types, I’ll make the facebook game “My True Love,” and my wheelchair bound heroine can live vicariously through her players until one of them must know who she is…and stalks and kills her…NO NO, bad. I’ll behave. He stalks and wins her heart, along with her paralyzed limbs.
So let’s hear those hooks! What did you come up with? Don’t overthink it. You’ll have time to iron out the kinks later. Write down something that intrigues you. What would hook you into a story?