12.23.2006

HH Com 387

Sarah Richards escaped the stifling confines of blue-collar Munston, Massachusetts long ago for a better life in sophisticated New York with her husband Jack. But when her first child is born, the jarring transition from "me" to "mommy" leaves her struggling to relate to her husband and to define herself without the career she reluctantly abandoned.

Watching her daughter Sarah become a mother, Margaret recalls her own days with newborn Sarah and the years that have passed her by, like pages of a magazine carelessly leafed through and discarded. Nearing retirement age, she continues to work her assembly-line job, having become neither the full-time mother she'd expected to be, nor the actress she'd secretly dreamed of being.

When Margaret comes for a week-long visit to help with the baby, the women find themselves re-evaluating the choices they've made in life. Through memories and conversation, Margaret and Sarah expose their history and the ambitions and generational norms that have shaped them. Ultimately, they face the emotional gulf that has grown between them and help one another find new paths to fulfillment.

Told through the alternating viewpoints of the women during a pivotal week in their lives, Painted Wings presents the mother-child bond from both sides, while also telling the individual stories of the women: what they hoped for in life versus what they got.

That's it?
They sit around talking about their lives/choices/regrets??

Dear dog in heaven...no. no. no.

There are no stakes here.
There's not a hint of conflict.
There's nothing other than the usual girlie chat at the local SudsyDudsy Laundry and Hooch Parlor.

Yuck. Don't worry about the hook. Worry about the book.

11 comments:

BernardL said...

This sounds like 'The View'. Author, if you can come with a real sarcastic character, with knock dead funny lines, this could work. Just don't pattern her after Rosie, and you'll do fine. Your add-in character needs to be intelligently comedic, not mean. If you want to make this work, it will have to be funny, with a naturally humorous flair. Of course, to get past a Snark, the humor will have to be in the hook.

CM said...

I wonder if you're being fair to your own work. I mean, I'm trying to figure out how you'd write a hook for "The Joy Luck Club." Which is, basically, a bunch of mothers and daughters sitting around and talking and remembering.

If you want to make this more compelling, maybe you can tell us about what happened THEN--the things that they're remembering. This could be a great story.

Or not. I dunno.

Zany Mom said...

I do think you have a good story here. I think it's tough to write a hook for it though. I like emotional journeys and character-driven stuff (I write it, too). But writing that elusive hook for it is so much harder.

Maybe rather than reminiscing, make the stakes more immediate? ie, does Sarah intend to return to work, but then find herself wanting to stay home, thus losing her career? Does she welcome her mother's advice, or does she want to do things her own way, thus straining her relationship with her mother? Does the stress of having a baby push her marriage to the edge? (It did for me). I think if you can find more immediate stakes and consequences in your story it might be easier to write a hook for it.

I Said said...

Here's the problem with the more character-driven story, the multi-layered, relative, deeply human and meaningful reading that unfortunately comes through as a big yawn in description. It's a tough sell to any agent looking for action and conflict over and above the questioning of life. As cm said, it's hard to convey the depth. How would Faulkner's As I Lay Dying hook interest? A family gets pissed as they carry out their matriarch's wish to be buried in a town miles away and run into all kinds of problems getting the body there.

Good luck.

Clarice Snarkling said...

I fear that I will be snarked in pretty much the same way this hook was.

So many of the more contemplative, character-driven books out there get by on reputation rather than hook. I read The Joy Luck Club because it was The Joy Luck Club, and everyone had recommended it to me. I knew it was "about mothers and daughters." I read As I Lay Dying because it was Faulkner; I would have read it no matter what it was about. But, author (and others who like these kinds of novels, and aspire to write them), think about what got you past that first chapter in those "quiet" novels you love. What made you keep reading to the end?

Some of my favorite character-study books are Richard Ford's books about Frank Bascombe. Here are three books where nothing particularly epic happens. There are no murders, or devil's daughters, or wizards. And while what attracts me to those books is the language, there's definitely something that keeps me hanging on through page 400-plus. I'm going to try to hook a Richard Ford book this weekend. I figure if Richard Ford's hookable, anything is. Author, practice hooking a few of your favorite literary novels, and then come back to your own work. I'm interested by what you have so far, but I'm convinced that there are more hookable elements in the novel you've written.

Southern Writer said...

I would read your novel because quiet, character-driven stories are my favorite. When my mom died, I inherited a few of her books, and one was Barbara Delinsky’s “For My Daughters.” I would copy it here for you, but I don’t think Miss Snark will okay a comment that long. You can find it on Amazon. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

author here...
thanks to MS for the pointed comments and posters for encouragement and suggestions.
Having read many of the hooks posted, I knew mine was not compelling, but think I now have a better idea how to make it so. Yes, it is a quiet, character driven novel which is probably a very tough sell, but I'm certainly not helping myself with this hook (or lack thereof).

jamiehall said...

This is stuffed with backstory. Does the real story start during the week-long visit? Then start the hook with that, and work in the most essential realizations and relevations and relationship adjustments.

shelby said...

I like this as much as I did over at EE. It's still something I would read. I think the suggestion to raise the stakes in the hook is a good one. While I am still interested in this novel, it's not quite at the "put down the diaper cream and pick this up" stage yet.

I think the mother's failed acting dreams is compelling--the resentment that comes along with that. Does the daughter have similar failed dreams? If so, I'd balance this out a little.

With The Joy Luck Club you could have a hook that says "Mothers and daughters explore their pasts together," or a hook that says, "Chinese immigrant mothers and first generation daughters explore their histories--histories the mothers are reluctant to talk about and the daughters are even more reluctant to hear."--That kind of thing. I think more detail would be helpful in this hook.

And hey, I'll read your quiet, character-driven novel if you read mine ;).

Anonymous said...

Your protagonist sounds incredibly shallow in this hook. It's a conflict almost all new moms face--but either approach it with humor and freshness, or it's just self-pitying blogging that belongs on ivillage.

I'm not your audience, though, and neither is Miss Snark. Remember, she needs someone's hair on fire.

(I don't know if there's a big market for books like this anymore, which used to be called midlist, but I do know that they're the sort that an agent might fall in love with, if it stirred the right chords in her or him.)

Anonymous said...

I wonder if your hook might be improved by adding more detail on what the mother and daughter actually talk about, since presumably this is where the conflict comes in. If things have gone wrong in their lives that have prevented them achieving their goals, then I reckon you need a hint of what those things are.